Hitting the Refresh Button

After being in a real elementary classroom for a week now, I’ve started to notice things I could never have learned in a graduate class alone. One thing I had never given much thought was just how short the attention spans are of elementary age children. The younger the age, the shorter the attention span. For teachers, this means you have to keep the lessons engaging and maybe even entertaining if you want to keep the students interested.


The science lab teacher I’ve been learning under does a great job of holding her kindergarten, first grade, and second graders’ attention by re-focusing their attention every 5-10 minutes or so. For example, with her first graders, she might start the lesson by gathering the students on the carpet in the front of the room and reading a short story. Then she will change their attention to another area of the room where they will watch a quick video. After sitting for 10 minutes or so, the students are ready to move around a little bit. Next on the agenda is getting up and moving around the classroom to grab their journals and have a seat at unassigned tables to do a short journal entry on a topic involving the lesson of that day. One really interesting thing in the science lab is the chairs on which the students sit. They are the Gaiam Balance Ball Chairs. Imagine yoga balls attached to chair backs with wheels. The idea behind the chairs is that it allows for the fidgety kids to have constant movement without disturbing the class as a whole. After the journal entries, the students are invited to explore the lab for the last 5-10 minutes. This typically means they can move around the room as they please to look through microscopes, play educational games on the iPads, observe the different class pets, and much more.

I’ve noticed through this system that the students rarely get out of control, and I really see the lightbulbs coming on. They are really learning. It’s as if by keeping up with their short attention spans, you are hitting a metaphorical refresh button each time you refocus. They become interested in what comes next and eager to advance along with you. I think keeping things fresh and new is the key with these young minds.

No method is perfect, and it seems as though there will always be those students who have trouble paying attention or behaving. However, I think that the main goal is to truly get to know my students and do my best to design my lessons in a way that is most beneficial to them.


Can You Flip an Elementary Classroom?

Flip Your Classroom, by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, describes the evolution of thinking that led to two teachers’ “flipping” their classrooms as well as provides a how-to guide for teachers interested in flipping their own classrooms or learning more about the approach. As described in the book, the concept of a flipped classroom is,

“that which is traditionally done in class is now done at home, and that which is traditionally done as homework is now completed in class.”

If you haven’t already heard of this approach, it basically means that which is traditionally done in class is converted into recorded sessions of the teacher actually teaching the material and watched at home as online videos that the students can easily access and re-access as needed. Students then return to school the following day to do what would traditionally be the homework. The advantage is that now the students have the teacher present in the classroom for when they have any questions or if they get stuck. This allows the teacher to learn where the students are struggling at the actual moment that it occurs, and the student gets immediate feedback and is able to learn and move forward in the classroom.

While reading this book as an aspiring elementary teacher, I started to wonder if this could work in the elementary classrooms. In elementary classrooms, students range from ages 5 to 12 years-old. Does this age even have computer time at home in the evenings? It sounds so great for middle school and high school students, but how could I adapt this style of teaching to fit younger students? Would it be beneficial to them as well? After doing a little research, I realized I wasn’t the only one asking these questions.

In-Class Flip

One teacher had the solution to do an “in-class flip” for her first graders. This type of flip included showing her video at the beginning of each class rather than requiring the students to watch at home. Since it was recorded, she was able to move on for those who understood right away and allowed those who didn’t understand to watch and re-watch the video as needed.

Videos for Homework

A second grade teacher described how she flipped her classroom during a unit on Explorers. She assigned their “homework” as watching explorers videos on National Geographic Kids or Biography.com. The idea was that her students would come in the following day with some knowledge of explorers so that she could begin her classwork from there.

Flip the Lesson

As my research went deeper, I discovered that Jon Bergmann had been asked this question quite often. On his website, JonBergmann.com,  Bergmann says, “Don’t flip a class: Flip a lesson.” He describes this method as choosing a lesson that you feel needs more than the traditional teaching methods. Make a short video asking yourself, what do my students really need extra help on. Be careful to think about how your students will access the video. (Some parents may not want their young child on YouTube.) You also want to be sure every child has access to the video. The best way may even be that the students watch the video in class. Lastly, you want to make sure you have a way to check if they watched the video or not. I think the main point in flipping a lesson verses the whole class, is that the videos should only be used as extra help for the particularly difficult lessons.

The good news is, it seems that there are several ways to “flip” the elementary classroom. The idea is to make sure you are doing what is most beneficial to your students with whatever method you chose.


Be Careful Not to Assume

For my technology class this past week, we were required to write a lesson plan that included using a productivity tool, such as a word processor or spreadsheet, as well as turn in the finished product itself.

I began this assignment thinking more about the actual lesson I chose, which was the water cycle, instead of the technology, which was Microsoft Word Processor. My approach was to use my productivity tool as a supplement to the lesson itself. This meaning that the students would learn about the water cycle via class experiments, discussion, and media, and finally use the productivity tool to assess their understanding by creating a chart of the water cycle using text and pictures in a table format. However, after turning in the assignment, I realized that I may have missed the point altogether.

I chose second grade. Second graders are not the most proficient in computer technology and require help from a teacher or other person with experience. I know this, but I didn’t incorporate the teaching of the technology into my lesson plan. I guess you could say I assumed that the students would know how to use the technology, or at the very least that it was obvious that the teacher, myself in this situation, would aid the students in the use of the technology as needed.


In my lesson, I mapped out how to demonstrate evaporation, condensation, and precipitation using a crock pot. I explained that the teacher should spark a discussion with the students about how this process worked. I even included a YouTube video with a catchy song about the water cycle that would easily capture the attention of a group of a eight year olds. However, I completely left out how to teach the young students how to use the word processor technology to create their water cycle chart. It didn’t hit me until I was presenting my lesson plan in class that I had assumed my students would know exactly what I meant when I told them they would be making a chart using Microsoft Word Processor.

I learned that, as a teacher, one of the most important things I need to remember when creating a lesson plan is to never make the mistake of assuming that my students know something that I haven’t taught them. Assuming can cost you valuable time and energy for a lesson plan you expected to run smoothly. Also, I would never want to set my students up for confusion or even failure by simply assuming they would know how to do something.

Even if I missed the point in the beginning, I feel that I learned a lot throughout this productivity tool lesson plan project. How can you teach if you don’t learn?