Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pieces of Learning and Hurricane Katrina

With the 10 year anniversary coming up next month, we thought we would share some of our memories of the devastating Hurricane Katrina:

After days of anticipation and speculation, early on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States. When the storm made landfall, it brought sustained winds of over 100 miles per hour. Although the storm itself did a great deal of damage, its aftermath was catastrophic.

Image of Hurricane Katrina from Space
As we all watched the news reports, we couldn’t imagine the devastation caused by this hurricane.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Rose by Any Other Name

Barbara Vandecreek is the author of the Math Rules! Series published by Pieces of Learning. This post was written in May of 2006 and just made it to the top of the pile again. I thought it deserved a re-post. Please share it! - Tyler Young

by Barbara Vandecreek

I fell for it too... disguise the name of the class. We don't want to offend anyone, don't want the kids to stand out from the others. People thought it was invoking elitism to call students 'gifted.' The first district I worked in called the pull-out, "Challenge Class."

You know I still get a funny feeling inside when I meet someone and am asked what I do. New conversations always go to that, "So you're a teacher." Then predictably, "What do you teach?" Reluctantly I answer, "gifted." I've been teaching gifted for over twenty years. You'd think I'd get over it. I feel like I'm trying to show off or something, a false pride in working with smart kids. Do special ed teachers get the feeling that they're special? Coaches don't have any problem saying they coach. They're proud of it and expect applause. Some, not all.

A neighbor of mine once took umbrage when he overheard me tell a guest at a party that I "taught gifted." He puffed out his chest mockingly and told me that I sounded pompous. Did I really sound pompous or was that his projection? How do I know if it's in my mind or his? Why do people feel that way? Is it intimidating for them? After all, I do point out that I teach gifted. I'm careful not to say I'm a gifted teacher. I don't know if they catch the distinction.

Some of the names given to cover up the identification of gifted classes include KARE (the acronym includes the name of the school district), EDGE, EL (Exceptional Learner), Endeavor, and many others. The cute names remind me how teachers used to call their reading groups: blue birds, robins, and eagles. Everyone knew that the eagles were the smart kids. No one had to tell them.

I must say that within the last few years the state organization in which I am a member has been encouraging districts to call the gifted classes gifted classes. I don't think everyone does it yet. I know that because one question in the recent self-report each district must send to the state education department asks, "What is the local name your district uses for service, if any?" And, at a meeting of coordinators not long ago, a coordinator remarked that we need not use 'that' word. I sided with the coordinator who spoke up that if we called the class "Purple" everyone would know that the meaning of purple was 'gifted'.

It hit me October 3rd, 2004 and never again will I hesitate to call my students gifted or my classes the gifted classes. I was watching the television program "Sunday Morning, CBS" and the commentator interviewed Ringo Starr. At one point Ringo said, and I quote, "I play the drums. That's what I do. It's God's gift to me, so I do it the best I can."

Now when my students and I talk about the class they are in I tell them like it is. High intelligence is a gift. You can't buy it. You can't earn it. You can't pick it out from a set of choices. It is given to you, that's why it's called a gift. So, do the best you can with it. You don't need to defend it. Don't hide it. When someone gives you a gift you wear it, show it off, play with it, use it. Tell it like it is!

The local name my district uses for the service goes by no other name - "Gifted Class."

Click here to see the Series

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Language in a texting world

"Texting is fingered speech.  Now we can write the way we talk" - John McWhorter

Texting often gets a bad rap when it comes to its effect on the English Language.  Many articles, books, and lectures have featured debates about the long-term effect that texting will have on the way we communicate.

However, studies are now showing that students are able to communicate just as well as before texting was popular.  If anything, texting is encouraging children to use written language more often in a more casual and less threatening environment.

With every generation come cries that teenagers are destroying the language with their slang. People are now complaining that casual language used in texts and instant messages keeps kids from understanding how to write and speak “properly.” In fact, experts say that texting is far from destroying English, but innovating and enriching the language.

We used to speak like we talked, however, now it’s the other way around. Now, we can write quickly enough to capture qualities of spoken language in our writing, and teens are doing just that. John McWhorter’s 2013 TED Talk “Txting is killing language. JK!!!” states that teenagers are innovating language. He believes their creative development of the English language should be not mocked, but studied, calling texting “an expansion of [young people’s] linguistic repertoire.” As an example, he focuses in on the term lol. It can now be used not only to talk about something truly funny, but instead sets a tone that the person writing the text is conveying a lighthearted tone.

So, while LOL and ROFL may not have been part of our language 15 years ago, now may be the perfect time to embrace and celebrate our ever-changing language.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Nancy Polette, the person I want to be when I grow up!

Nancy Polette (pronounced nan’-sē po-lēt’) is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Her love of reading and passion for writing are an inspiration for everyone.

Nancy Polette with other members of the Pieces of Learning family at
a Texas Gifted Conference.
I had the honor and privilege of traveling and working with Nancy for several years through Pieces of Learning; she as a conference presenter and me as conference exhibitor. She never ceased to amaze me with her ability to captivate her audience, while teaching the teachers to get the best use of books in their classrooms. She is also a lot of fun after the work was done! Over dinner, she could tell some of the funniest and most interesting stories about her life as a workshop and conference presenter, as well as an educator for many years. She was always extremely popular and in high demand.  She has traveled more than 2 million miles across this nation presenting at educational conferences, staff development workshops and training teachers in library-use practices.

Nancy’s first official publication was a poem, which was published in a children’s magazine when she was only 10 years old. Of course, she later became a teacher and librarian! She has taught at both the elementary and college levels, while continuing to write professional books, novels and picture books, along with hundreds of literature guides for teachers to use in the classroom.

Her writing career really began when she realized there were not enough resources available for teachers to use in the school libraries. So she promptly wrote several resources and guides for the teachers and librarians to use.

She has been an educator for over fifty years and is the Professor Emeritus of Education at Lindenwood University near St. Louis, Missouri. Nancy believes that reading is knowledge and she worries that if kids today are not passionate about reading, they may not be as well-educated as they could be.

Nancy’s books continue to be best sellers for Pieces of Learning. You may recognize some of her titles, History or Hoax, Blunder or Brainstorm, Damsel or Daredevil, Gifted or Goof Off, Research Reports to Knock Your Teacher’s Socks Off, Research Without Copying, The Best of Nancy Polette, Eight Cinderellas, Genuine Geniuses, The Research Book for Gifted Programs K-8, Another Point of View, It’s a Myth, Activities for Any Novel, Activities for Any Picture Book, over 400 popular classroom literature guides, and many, many more.

Nancy is my role model.  I am so grateful to her for her kind and gentle words of encouragement to me during an extremely difficult time in my life. She helped me believe in me!

By:  Peggy Hord, Consultant Coordinator, Pieces of Learning

In honor of Nancy and her legacy at Pieces of Learning, we are offering all of her books 25% off. Order any of Nancy's books from our website before June 15th and use the coupon code POLETTE to get this discount and experience the teaching strategies that have made Nancy so popular with Pieces of Learning's customers!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Summer's Coming! Are you ready? 10 Tips for preparing for Summer Break

I know you are winding down and can only think about summer vacations, getting some work done around the house, and spending more time with your family (or at least away from your classroom), but do a few of the things on this list now and save yourself time in the fall when everything is happening all at once!

  1. Get your first week handouts copied and put in a folder for next year – so you aren't waiting on copiers or printers when you come back in the fall.
  2. Get end of year awards and handouts ready to pass out. 
  3. Make a list of things you didn't get to this year that you really want to teach next year.  Schedule them as things you will do the first Monday of each month throughout the year or every Wednesday first thing, etc.
  4. Update your required supplies list for next year’s group of students.
  5. Fill out your calendar with next year’s days off, in-service days, testing dates, etc. – Color-code them for better organization. 
  6. Set up classroom organizers for next year. Go ahead and color-code those folders, print new labels, and alphabetize everything.
  7. Clean your white boards/calendars/take down items pertaining to this year’s group of students.
  8. Have students start cleaning out their desks/lockers – have them take home items they will no longer need this year.
  9. Get prepped for next year’s lessons. Check out our Literature Activity Guides (Over 400 titles) and/or our Differentiated Bloom’s Units (over 50 topics) in either Hard Copy or E-Unit!
  10. Do you have storage containers for each section of the year (Fall poster boards/wall decor, winter holidays) – go ahead and get them in order for next year. Update anything that was damaged or discolored to have a fresh clean look for next year.

You may be putting in a little extra work right now, but you’ll appreciate everything you did in the fall!

Comment in the section below what you do the last few weeks of the year…

Here are some great options for quick activities to take up spare time and/or for independent work:
But I Only Have 45 Minutes
Thinker Cards
Mesmerizing Math Puzzles
Independent Study
Task Masters! Series

Research topics/professional development for yourself for next year:
Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom
Teaching Tools for the 21st Century
Teacher’s Book of BIG Questions
Cultivating Classroom Conversation
Creativity X4
Primary Education Thinking Skills Curriculum

Monday, May 4, 2015

4 BIG Reasons to get Excited About Teacher In-Service Days!

Teacher In-Service...

To a student these are exciting words to read on a school calendar.  It means a day off for no reason!

How most students imagine Teacher In-Service Days

How most teachers imagine Teacher In-Service Days
However, for a teacher, in-service days often bring images of long days spent listening to a speaker when you could be working in your classroom and getting caught up on your grading, lesson planning, etc.

As a company that offers speakers for Staff Development Workshops, we know the value of staff development workshops because we have seen the results from them.  So, as an in-service day approaches, keep in mind the following reasons why Staff Development is important.

1.  Staff Development allows teachers to learn new, exciting, and innovative ways to teach.

In education, strategies and methods are constantly changing.  Many teachers feel like as soon as they learn one way of teaching, things have already changed.  However, not all of these changes are bad.  We are constantly discovering more about how children learn and how we can better cater their school experience to their needs.  This is where staff development comes in.  A good staff development presenter will take a new idea or strategy and help you learn how to implement it in your classroom in a way that is effective for the student and doesn’t cause more work or stress for you, the teacher.

2.   Staff Development unites teachers to work together as a team.

Teaching is often not a team sport.  Often times, teachers feel isolated from the lack of conversation with adults.  Staff Development days are a good time for teachers to bounce ideas off of one another, talk about problems in their classrooms, and unite as a team of teachers.

3.    Staff Development gives the opportunity for teachers to ask the administration questions.

With the business of a typical day in a school, there is often not enough time to ask administration questions about policies, new rules or expectations, and overall general questions.  Staff development often gives the administration and teachers a forum to discuss problems, questions, and expectations.

4.    Staff Development gives teachers a chance to re-evaluate their methods.

In all things, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and do things the way you've always done them.  The same is true for teaching.  Staff Development provides you with the opportunity to research new methods and ideas and re-evaluate how you are teaching.

So, next time you see teacher in-service on the school calendar, try not to think about all the other things you could be doing.  Instead, see this time as an opportunity to become the best teacher you can be for your students.

For more information about staff development or Pieces of Learning’s Innovating, Interesting, and Imaginative Staff Development Workshops, contact Peggy at!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Virtual Field Trips

Everybody loves field trips, a day out of school and a sack lunch.  It doesn't get any better than that!
However, with today’s technology, it is NOT necessary to leave the classroom. Therefore, avoiding postponements or cancellations due to weather and, also, saving time and money. 
Today, we are going to take a couple of field trips, so put on your walking shoes.  Here we go!

Get ready for Science Class. Our first stop, the Smithsonian Museum.  

The Smithsonian is truly remarkable.  You can take a virtual tour in a 360 degree environment.  You will be able to “walk” through the museum, zooming in, looking left and right, up and down, walking forward and backward.  You can explore the ocean hall, ancient seas, dinosaurs, fossils, plants, the Ice Age, insectsbutterflies, geology, minerals and many other exhibits.

While we are in Washington, D.C., we may as well have our Social Studies and History lessons.  So, let’s visit the White House.

Before we start our tour, you will want to discover some little known facts about our Presidents and their First Ladies.  Power or Politics and Partner or Pleaser are great resources for this.  If you like being a detective, Jr. Social Studies Investigator lets you investigate Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

Now, let’s begin. There is no need to get dressed-up and you don’t have to worry about a security clearance!  President Obama and First Lady Michelle have welcomed thousands of visitors for a tour of their home, the White House.  They have been focused on truly opening the doors of the “People’s House” and making 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue more accessible to all Americans.  Today, we are going to take a 360 degree tour of the public rooms of the White House. We will see the Red Room, the Blue Room and even the Oval Office.  There is also a Map Room.  Can you guess what is in there?

We have seen some amazing things today.  Next week, let’s check out one of these virtual tours:

·         The Great Wall of China
·         A Jungle
·         Google Art Projects
·         Hershey Factory Tour

Well, I feel as though I have walked ten miles today.  I am ready to go home and rest. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

The History of Pieces of Learning

This is the first in a new series of blogs from Pieces of Learning. We are going to post 2-3 per month in an effort to give you new, fresh ideas for the classroom and to keep engaged with you, our customers. Please feel free to share and comment on our posts! Naturally, we are starting off with the background of Pieces of Learning – how it was started, our goals, and our evolution…

The History of Pieces of Learning

In February, 1988, Joe Wayman and Kathy Balsamo sat at the Ramada Inn Restaurant in Dayton, Ohio, to discuss the possibility of joining forces to begin a consulting venture that would also include Nancy Johnson. All had been consultants for the Illinois Gifted Program, involved with Good Apple's Challenge magazine, and authored activity books.
Creative Learning Consultants made its debut in Beavercreek, Ohio, in March, 1988. A logo was designed to symbolize that everyone is a piece of the education puzzle, always a piece coming in or leaving, and that our customers and clients - YOU - are important pieces of the education puzzle.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dr. Kenneth Smith reviews Serving the Needs of Intellectually Advanced Mathematics Students K-6

A Must Read If You Want to Understand How Your Gifted Math Students Think:

A Review of Scott Chamberlin, Ph.D.’s book, Serving the Needs of Intellectually Advanced Mathematics Students k-6.

By   Kenneth J. Smith, Ph.D.

I was not a math whiz growing up, yet I have the responsibility to train those who are. Therefore, I want to know how these special students think when solving problems AND how to best develop their full, rare potential.  No book or article that I have ever read on this topic has explained it better than does   Scott Chamberlin’s new book, Serving the Needs of Intellectually Advanced Mathematics Students  K-6.  I was recently teaching a 4th grade student how to use Pythagoras’s theory to calculate the placement of the tee, the bumper, and the cup on a miniature golf course he was designing. Before I had reached the end of the steps, he not only was able to apply the calculations but was able to connect the formula to the construction of girders in a building he had seen being constructed.  It is an immense responsibility to teach him—to develop the right program in which his great promise can be challenged, in which he can grow. Finally I now have a single resource for understanding what is going on in his head, for understanding how to nurture his gift.  And that resource is Scott’s Chamberlin’s book.  

Throughout the book, Chamberlin explained how mathematical giftedness is a compendium of potential talents--some or all of which may define a student’s strengths. This reminded me of groups of mathematically advanced students that I taught in which some students were obviously thinking spatially or geometrically while others were thinking more verbally or in terms of formulas.  Regardless of which profile my students illustrated, Chamberlin offered me understandable explanations of how they might use their different talents to grasp underlying mathematical principles to solve the same problems.  He further explained how I could recognize and nurture their strengths.
In a writing style that I found surprisingly readable (especially for a numbers person) Chamberlin began his book with a very readable literature review for the teacher or parent of these children. He went on to discuss how to identify these students, the need to provide for creative mathematical problem solving (as gifted adults in STEM fields will need to face), and the kinds of groupings that challenge these students to face “the rigors of what they will ultimately be expected to do in a mathematical setting (e.g., as an engineer…p. 76.)”  In short, it details what we might do in the classroom to maximize their instruction and their strengths.

For teachers and parents, this book unravels the multifaceted thinking in which different mathematically advanced students might engage.  It is an intriguing must read for anyone concerned about how these special students think and what schools and families can do to nurture them.