Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie

The Pedagogy of a Rural Educator

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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 25 – Student Collaboration

The ideal collaboration between students–what would it look like?  

Not this!! I love having students collaborate on assignments, projects, and other classroom activities. I have had many questions like, “can we work together on this?”. My answer is always yes (unless its an assessment, then its sometimes yes)! However, its sometimes a challenge to define “work together”. There are three things I say equal good collaboration:

1. All students are involved. No-one is a by-stander, just allowing the others to complete the work and copying answers.

2. All ideas are valuable. Everyone in the group has the opportunity to share their ideas and have them heard.

3. Communication is essential and multi-faceted. There is not just one way that students communicate, so we should not limit them to just one.

Although these seem to be three things that should always be present in a classroom, everyone that has ever done a group project in a class knows that they are not always true!

As a teacher, we have to teach our students how to do this. It isn’t natural for them, and many have been conditioned to play their role and never strive to change that. It has to be a conscious effort to work to change the pre-set ideas of students about group work and collaboration.



30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 24 – Trends

Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why?

Standards-based grading. I don’t know a lot about it, but it seems to be a really great way of evaluating students.

If you haven’t heard of standards-based grading, here is a short definition of it from The Glossary of Education Reform:

In education, the term standards-based refers to systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating understanding or mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education. In a school that uses standards-based approaches to educating students, learning standards—i.e., concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education—determine the goals of a lesson or course, and teachers then determine how and what to teach students so they achieve the learning expectations described in the standards.

In the United States, most standards-based approaches to educating students use state learning standards to determine academic expectations and define “proficiency” in a given course, subject area, or grade level. The general goal of standards-based learning is to ensure that students are acquiring the knowledge and skills that are deemed to be essential to success in school, higher education, careers, and adult life. If students fail to meet expected learning standards, they typically receive additional instruction, practice time, and academic support to help them achieve proficiency or meet the learning expectations described in the standards. Standards-based learning is common in American elementary schools, but it is becoming more widely used in middle and secondary schools.

If you would like to read more  about this, visit the site by clicking here.

I believe that using standards-based grading in a school would be a great way to show how much students know. I truly believe that numerical and letter grades that we have used for so many years can be misleading. I do not believe that every student who has left my classroom with an “A” knows all the information I expected of them throughout the course. I also do not believe that the students who left with a “C” truly only knew 80% of the material I expected of them. Although I believe my grades are becoming more accurate as I teach, I still don’t think they are a true representation of what skills and knowledge my students have when they leave.

One challenge with standards-based grading is that is usually has to be a school-wide decision. It is very challenging to translate standards-based grades to traditional grading systems. I would love to hear more from people who have used this system in their classroom or school. Please comment below!


30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 23 – Community

Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started.

I definitely don’t do this enough! I have heard of so many educators using community members as experts in the classroom, and I need to do it more. For my first two years, I didn’t live in the community I taught in. This was a big challenge because I didn’t know anyone other than fellow teachers and a few parents of students. Now that I have lived in the community for 3 years, I know more people and need to use them!

One thing I would like to do is invite professionals that use different sciences on a daily basis. Here are some ideas for professions in my small, rural town that use science:

  • Medical personnel – This is obviously the first thing to come to mind. Doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical professionals use biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and even some physics every day!
  • Farmers – These guys are using science all day, every day! They use biology, ecology, chemistry (mixing chemicals, pH of soil, etc.), and lots of technology.
  • Conservation Officer – We have the county conservation office in town. The conservation officer utilizes ecology, biology, meteorology, and chemistry.
  • Park Ranger/Game, Fish, and Parks Officer – The amount of ecology these men and women study and apply is phenomenal.
  • Engineer – Although we are a small town, there are a few industrial businesses located here. I’m not sure of it, but I’m guessing there is at least one engineer employed in our town of 1100! Engineers use a lot of physics, some chemistry, and obviously engineering skills!
  • Firefighter – The fire department here is fully volunteer, and they use science in their line of work. They must know about water pressure (physics), the best way to fight fires (related to chemistry), and things like CPR & first aid (biology)!

I think I could go on forever with ideas of people to invite to the classroom. I’m going to make a goal of inviting at least one person to speak in my room by the end of the year!

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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 22 – PLN

What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?

“If you aren’t on Twitter, you need to be!”.

I bet I said this 20 times last Thursday and Friday. I was asked to attend the Midwest Regional Noyce Conference in Omaha, NE. This is a conference where pre-service teachers, teachers in the field, Master Teaching Fellows, and faculty and staff from many different colleges and universities come together and share ideas and experiences. The common thread through all is that they were in some way involved in the Noyce Scholarship Program. This program is specific to science & math teaching and works to get highly qualified teachers into high-need areas, like urban and rural schools. I received one of these scholarships while I was in college. During the conference, I was part of the “Voices from the Field” panel, as well as a co-leader in a presentation about building a PLN!

I was very excited to share the amazing world of Twitter with everyone there. I started tweeting right away, hoping to connect with someone at the conference who was also a Twitter veteran. Unfortunately, the only people tweeting seemed to be sitting next to me – two other attendees from my university. At that moment, I knew my mission for the two-day conference. Get people on Twitter!!

I can’t express how much Twitter and PLN I’ve built on there have done for me. Here are a few examples:

  • Discovered the 30 Day Blog Challenge from @TeachThought
  • Collaborated with Jessica Anderson (@TriSciCurious) on a Virtual Learning Project where our students connected with each other to do a project. (Her students are about 1000 miles from mine!)
  • Connected with Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), author of Teach Like a Pirate, and I was able to see him speak live as well as on a Google Hang-Out.
  • Found out about South Dakota EdCamp, and connected with other SD educators before and after the EdCamp.
  • Have been involved in many chats, learned a ton, got support, gave support, and have really grown as an educator!

“If you aren’t on Twitter, you need to be!”

Check it out sometime, you will be amazed at the resource it is for educators!

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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 21 – Hobbies

Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

Sometimes I feel like teaching is my hobby. I spend my weekends looking for fun lessons, exploring Pinterest and Twitter, and grading papers. However, as much as I truly enjoy doing all that, when I don’t have to be doing that, I have a few other things I enjoy. Some of these I haven’t figured out how to use in the classroom, but I hope to someday!

Cooking: I love to bake and cook (and eat!). Some ways I’ve brought this into my classroom include:

  • Making Sauerkraut and bread during my biology unit on cellular respiration.
  • Doing a popcorn lab in chemistry where students determine the water content of popcorn.
  • Bringing in examples of proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates during biochemistry units.

Science: As I said before, I’m a science nerd! I love all things science. I follow many scientists on twitter and facebook, as well as other organizations that share fun science facts and stories. I use this is my classroom to:

  • Connect what we are learning with current scientific discoveries.
  • Find interesting introductions to units.
  • Discover videos that can be used to review information or inspire discussion.

Crochet: I haven’t figured out a way to connect this with my classroom – but I did see some cool patterns for scienc-y things!

Football: Again, not something I’ve really connected to classroom content, but I have used it as a way to connect with students and create more classroom rapport.

Trivia: I am a trivia junkie. My husband and I record Jeopardy! on our DVR so that we can watch it for hours at a time. We also go to trivia night almost every Tuesday! I do trivia with my students every Friday. They get extra credit on their daily assignment for any questions they get correct. I enjoy doing this because it expands my knowledge beyond science, and the kids get pretty excited to have trivia on Fridays.

If anyone has ideas on how to connect crochet and football with classroom content, let me know! I’d love to include some more of my hobbies in order to make my classroom more personal and interesting!

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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 20 – Student Work

How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves?

Again, not my strong suit! I would really like to improve in this area.

I typically do not curate student work. I have a hard enough time keeping myself organized! However, a few ideas I’ve had since doing the reflective teaching challenge include:

Students creating digital portfolios – including photos of work not done digitally – that could be shared via email or other digital means with their families.

Create folders for each student – they could place any work they have done in there, but I could file tests and quizzes.

Students blog – they could include anything they have done on there, including reflections about their experiences, not just “hard” evidence of their learning.

I think any of these could be used as ways for students or myself to help curate student work. I’m not sure which one I like the best, but I might have to try one next semester!

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30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 19 – Student Reflection

Name three powerful ways students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often.

I have to admit, this is a struggle area for me and my students. Most of the reflection that happens occurs when they receive their graded test. I know I need to be better about pushing students to reflect, and teaching them how that reflection is helpful.

Because I feel like I’m not well-versed in this (and I’m really behind on this 30 day challenge), I decided to look at some other blogs from teachers and compile some of their best resources!


Form of the Good (@RESP3CTtheGAME) – Student Self-Evaulation Rubrics

A Collection of Thoughts – Interactive Notebooks, Online Blogs, Online Portfolios.

Reflective Teaching – Socrative, Kaizena, Blogging

Classroom Collective (@classcollect) – Goal Making, I Can Statements, Conferences


Each of these amazing bloggers shared great ways to get students to reflect on their learning. I plan on trying to use some of these ASAP! I love that some are able to be used instantly and that others take a little more work and planning. Overall, I feel like there are so many ways to get students to reflect, I just need to get going on it an not be afraid! Thanks to the other bloggers for doing great work. (By the way, if you haven’t already, check out #reflectiveteacher to see posts from all the wonderful educators that took part in the 30-Day blogging challenge.)