Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie

The Pedagogy of a Rural Educator

Leave a comment

New Horizons


I’ve tried writing this post a number of times. I seem to never be able to find the right words.

After five years teaching at my Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie, I am leaving. My family is moving about 200 miles east, and I will be teaching at a new school next year. It’s still on the prairie, but it isn’t so little!

I’m not entirely sure of the challenges that will come with this transition, but I’m excited to meet them with a smile and determination. Cheers to new horizons and adventures!



Think Like a Kindergartner: The Marshmallow Challenge

This year I was looking for something a little different to start the year. I had heard about The Marshmallow Challenge, and thought it was worth a look. I know there are many other blogs out there about teachers using this engineering & problem solving activity as a way to start their year. I decided I should try it out!!

To begin with, I had to learn exactly what this whole thing was! I googled “Marshmallow Challenge” and found about 3.1 million results. (This is obviously not a new idea!) I decided to look at the first result, which looked pretty official. Visit it by clicking here! After learning what I needed to do, a fellow teacher and I went to the local grocery store. Thankfully, the materials necessary for the marshmallow challenge are pretty simple (spaghetti, marshmallows, string, and tape), and I could find all of them without leaving  my little town. I knew that each group needed 20 sticks of spaghetti, but a box of spaghetti doesn’t exactly tell you how many sticks there are! So, I bought 5 boxes of spaghetti (and used 1.5 – I guess we’re going to be eating pasta for a while at my house), 2 bags of marshmallows, and used tape and string I already had at school.

I knew that this would be a fun activity, and that the students would enjoy getting up and doing something after having sat and listened to rules and expectations all day, but I didn’t know how I was going to frame this up as a good “beginning the school year” activity. After watching the Ted talk on the website, I realized that I wanted to tell my students to think like kindergartners! Here is why:


1. Kindergartners have no fear of failure. They work hard to do their best, no matter what the expected result. I want my students to push themselves, and not worry about failure, because they know that, in the end, they tried their hardest and put in full effort.

2. Kindergartners constantly test their ideas, check their work, and don’t wait until the last moment! I have tried for years to convince my students that studying the night before a test is not the best way to do it. I thought this illustration was a good way to talk about procrastination on the first day! I challenged students to be more like kindergartners, and check their progress repeatedly, not just at the last minute.

In addition to being able to discuss these two points, the challenge also introduced ideas of working in a group, participating in experiments and activities, and using problem solving and critical thinking skills. I love that there isn’t one right answer, and that all the students seemed to enjoy themselves! Check out the gallery for some pictures of my student’s work!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Classroom Rules with Memes

This year, I decided to switch things up a bit for explaining classroom norms of behavior, rules, and expectations. It is so important to teach procedures and expectations in the first few days, even if you have the same students as last year. I usually make the “rules” speech on the 2nd or 3rd day of class. For classes of students I’ve had before, I shorten it to changes from last year and an over-view of other things they should already know. For the new freshmen, its a little more intense and detailed. Since most of my students have heard  the talk multiple times, I thought it was about time to make it a little more fun and interesting! This is not my own creative, special idea, but one that I saw on Pinterest (which I love!). I created a powerpoint of memes that can be used to describe rules and expectations for my classroom. I did not create any of them, just searched for them online! There were many more that I didn’t use as well. There are just one example below, but I encourage you to make your own powerpoint! I hope you enjoy it and use this idea in your classroom as well!



Image result for classroom memes


Yo ho ho, a Pirate’s Life for Me!

               I think its really important to make your room interesting and inviting for students, even if they are 14-18 years old! Every year I do a different theme in my classroom. I can’t keep it the same for 2 reasons: 

1. About 75% of my students return each year, so I don’t want them to get bored of seeing the same things over and over!

2. I’ll get sick of it!! If I had the time and energy, I would probably change themes each semester, just because I like new things!

This year, I was inspired by Dave Burgess’s book Teach Like a Pirate. So, what would I do but a pirate theme! I hope you enjoy my classroom!


This sign greets my students as they walk in the door.


My front door! Not the greatest picture, but its a treasure map! I free-handed the drawing. I figured it didn’t have to be perfect, since its supposed to be old!


The front of my room. Check out the pirate flag and sail across the white board!


Front of the room from the other side. This is my “student area”. Where they turn in papers, pick up corrected items, and have resources like calendars, the school memo, and supplies.


The bulletin board when you first walk in the room uses Dave Burgess’s PIRATE acronym. The table will have a calendar with homework assignments for the students to use when they miss a day.


I use this hanging file to hold extra copies of worksheets, handouts, etc. for the students to easily access. It is right next to the table for make-up work, so students can find what papers they need.


This board is an information center – it will be full of calendars, menus, and the school memo for the week.


The back of the room. The flags are made from scrapbook paper and ribbon, and the tissue paper balls were really easy to make instead of buy!


Here’s a close-up of the center of the back wall.


The walls are lined with quotes. The quotes either come from Teach Like a Pirate, or were ones that I found online. All of them make me smile!


A few years ago I started making full-page passes. I put magnets on the back so they can go on my white board. The magnets also make it easy for students to stick the pass to the bathroom stall and keep it a little cleaner!!


I made labels for my cupboards using Publisher in order to make it easier to find laboratory supplies.


Each lab group gets their own cupboard to hold their supplies. I made this on Publisher as well.


Even high school students forget their name sometimes! This is a place for me to hang those papers up so they can find it!


I have three doors in my room, so I thought I should try to use them a little more efficiently! This was a Pinterest find! I bought a shoe rack and then filled it with materials the students might need. It is filled with markers, pens, pencils, tape, and even a stapler!


Each pocket of the shoe holder is labeled – hopefully this will keep it organized!


Finally, I wanted to connect this whole pirate thing with my content area. So, I found some information on “The Science of Pirates”. The four sheets talk about trade winds, sharks, scurvy, and parrots.

 I really hope you enjoyed taking a look around my classroom! I am really excited for the students to get here and check it out! If you are interested in any of the files for things like labels, quotes, bulletin boards, or passes, I would be happy to send them to you! Just find me on twitter @sdsu_emko, or send me an email at! Thanks for reading!

Leave a comment

Teach Like A Pirate-Meeting My Teaching Idol

This week, Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, will be visiting my Alma Mater. I am beyond excited! I will definitely be tweeting throughout the conference, as well as writing a post about the event. The following article is from SDSU, written about how I became interested in TLAP, and the details of Dave’s visit this week. Enjoy!

Leave a comment

The Class of 2014

I don’t plan to do too many sentimental or really personal posts on this blog, but this year’s class was a pretty special one. I started my career in teaching with this class as my Freshmen. In a rural district, you tend to teach the same students over many years, because you are the only English, Science, Math, or History teacher. This class has been with me from the start, and many of them took 3 or 4 classes from me. (One student took all six of my classes!) They are the first class I have taught throughout their high school career, and I have to say they have been my “favorites” from the start.

It can be very challenging and rewarding to teach the same students for 4 years. Here are some of the top ways that this can be challenging & enjoying:


  1. Letting things go. This is a challenge for all teachers. You have a kid that really made you upset the day before, and now they are walking into your room again. Every good teacher knows that you can’t hold onto grudges with students, because you never know why they acted that way (home issues, etc.). Usually, it was just a bad day and the next day you move on. Students need to know that they have a fresh start everyday with you. Sometimes, students will have a bad quarter, semester, or year! This can be very hard to let go of when they are walking in your classroom again and again, for 4 years. However, you really get to work on being able to forgive!
  2. Switching things up. After reading Teach Like A Pirate last summer, I decided to try some new things in my classroom. This might sound like a great idea, but once the students you’ve had for 3 years have figured out your “routine”, they aren’t very happy when you try to change it on them!
  3. Remember that not all classes are the same. Although you have a class for many years in a row, the new group of freshmen may be very different from the graduating seniors. It can be easy to get in a “groove” with a class, and then have to completely re-think your way of teaching for the next one. For teachers who have a new group of students each year, this is normal! I sometimes have to remind myself that this year’s freshmen might need a different type of instruction to get the most from my classroom!


  1. You know the kids, they know you. After the students have been in your class for so long, they know what you expect in the classroom. You don’t have to do much re-teaching of standards of behavior, or classroom procedures. Also, I have the chance to really learn how a class learns. This helps me in my teaching, because I can alter my lessons to fit their personalities.
  2. Building report. I have to admit, I love nothing more than hearing an older student tell a younger one, “be nice to Mrs. Koehler, she’s my favorite teacher.” Now, I know its probably a bunch of bologna and sucking-up, but I’m OK with that! There may be a few students that are honestly saying it, but even the ones that aren’t so sincere, at least I know that they appreciate me enough to lie to an underclassman!
  3. Trust. Yes, students can sometimes be untrustworthy, even ones that you’ve known for a very long time. However, I feel like after I know the kids for so long, we build a trust between each other that is hard to break. There are times that I am more of a counselor than a teacher to “my kids”. By talking to them, listening to their problems, and trying to help them through teenage issues, I hope to build up that trust so that they will come to me with questions, whether they relate to the classroom or not. I always strive to be an adult they will approach with issues so that I can hopefully lead them to the right person or give them the best advice I can!

Honestly, the halls of our high school will always be filled with my memories of the class of 2014. I’m not sure how I will feel when I walk in the door next year and don’t see their faces. However, I can only hope that I will have many more classes of students that I consider “my kids”.


Twitter: A Terrific Tool for Teachers

In about a week I will be presenting at the South Dakota Science & Math Teacher’s Joint Conference. It is a great conference that I attend every year. This will be my first year presenting. After discovering the abundance of professional resources available on Twitter, I decided that I needed to share the great things I had found. I will be using this Haiku Deck to present, as well as some audience participation. I guess since you’ve been following my blog, you get a sneak peek! Enjoy!