Filed Under (teaching) by on March 27, 2014

What do you get when you ask students to design a new animal living in an assigned habitat and require them to include a pager motor and a battery?  Why, Niche Bots, of course!


Green Valley 4th graders selected animal types and habitats from a hat and worked in teams to design animals that had specific eating habits (carnivores, herbivores, omnivores) and lived in the assigned environment.  Their creation had to exhibit at least one adaptation to the  animal’s habitat, include a characteristic of the creature’s eating habits, and it had to move. Creativity was in overdrive as these students designed their creatures and applied what they knew about closed circuits to make them move.

To wrap up the projects, students used iPads to create trading cards about their Niche Bot.  Using an App by Read, Write, Think, students explained the creature’s eating habits, behaviors, and structural adaptations.



Filed Under (Learning, teaching) by on February 6, 2014 and tagged , ,

One of the benefits of using technology in the classroom is that it has the potential to create learning opportunities that just can’t be
Photo Jan 09, 10 10 48 AM accomplished easily using traditional  methods.  Green Valley Elementary fourth graders recently experienced this first hand.
Using a free app developed by NASA, students used augmented reality to to explore characteristics of  numerous spacecrafts.  Students opened Spacecraft 3D on the iPad, selected a spacecraft to explore and pointed the iPad’s camera at a small piece of paper called a marker.  A three dimensional model of the spacecraft  appeared over the marker. All of the models could be maneuvered and rotated and some, like the Mars Rover, featured animated effects, allowing the students to manipulate the spacecraft.
Not the typical classroom lesson.
Mr. Decker instructed the students to choose a spacecraft and identify the features that made it suitable for the planet it was intended to explore.  Students quickly made associations and discussed why a wheeled spacecraft, like the Mars Curiosity, wouldn’t work on a gas planet like Jupiter  and why the Hubble Telescope can’t collect rocks from Mars.
Armed with this knowledge, the students took screen shots of their spacecrafts and used Pic Collage to create a digital posters. The posters named the spacecraft and shared important features.
In one class period students were able to explore 3D models of NASA spacecrafts, evaluate spacecraft design, and communicate the knowledge digitally.  The students applied important 21st Century Skills while learning, and as a result, they were  highly engaged in learning.  Photo Jan 09, 10 39 20 AM

Filed Under (Learning, teaching) by on February 5, 2014 and tagged

lab In early December, 25 million students from around the world participated in the Hour of Code. Green Valley 5th graders and Back Creek 4th graders were among those who were introduced to code.  The students watched tutorials taught by  Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Bosh and others and then put the information into practice as they completed a series of 22 puzzles.
Students approached the tasks enthusiastically, moving Angry Birds and Zombies through mazes that became increasingly more complex. Directed to ‘ask three before me’, they sought help from each other before coming to the teacher for advice.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear a student cheer triumphantly, arms raised in victory, when completing a difficult puzzle.

help All of the students received certificates of completion once finished, but that wasn’t what they really took away from the experience. They practiced logic and problem solving and learned how to work together to when faced with difficult task. Students from both schools plan to continue to practice the tutorials found on the website.


Filed Under (Elementary Engineering, STEM, teaching) by on February 5, 2014

The students in Mrs. Vest’s class were recently challenged to construct trees.  Gumdrops and toothpicks were the materials that were used and the trees needed to be free standing, at least three inches tall, and include at least three different gum drop colors.  A pretty tall order considering that the students in Mrs. Vest’s class are pre-schoolers and under five years of age.
The students worked through the challenge and in addition to practicing colors and measurement, they developed critical thinking skills.

success              measure                build

Filed Under (Elementary Engineering, Learning, teaching) by on January 14, 2014



Learning about letters and how they form words is top priority for emerging readers.  Back Creek Kindergartners made many connections to reading when the took part in this name writing activity.  In this elementary engineering task, students were challenged to not only spell their names, but also to design each letter out of a different type of material.

grace This  challenge encouraged students to think creatively about the letters in their name.   They were highly engaged and very focused on the task at hand.

Once finished, the students toured the room and viewed the names of their classmates.  Students noticed similarities and letters in common with their own names and complimented each other on the creativity that they observed.





Filed Under (STEM, teaching) by on November 15, 2013

Back Creek Fifth Graders gained a deeper understanding of sound as they participated in a STEM activity last week.  Students had to design and create an instrument that creates sound. Once the design process was completed, if the instrument didn’t produce a sound, it was back to the drawing board!

The students started by designing a blueprint of their instrument and mapping out  the details of their creation. Next, they put their plan into action and engineered an instrument that would produce a sound. Along they way the explored vibration, pitch, and frequency.

awesome guitar


  IMG_2499         sound

The instruments were well designed and quite inventive.  As a final wrap up, students Glogged about their design process, their creations and what they learned along the way.

Filed Under (Learning, teaching) by on October 29, 2013 and tagged ,

Navigating a new school can be a challenge for any young student. The PK class at Green Valley had a little extra help this fall!

Their teacher, Mrs. Williams, video taped welcome messages from key members of the staff.  Members of Green Valley administration, the  speech teacher, the school nurse, the librarian and the custodian were all recorded. The videos were then linked  to QR codes and hung near the rooms where students would most likely find these adults.  As the class learned how to move around the building,  the students used iPads to scan the QR codes and watch the videos.  butchqrThe activity helped the students get to know members of the Green Valley staff who were not available to meet them in person during the tour.

After the activity, the teacher brought the QR codes back to the classroom. The  students  continued to watch the videos and learn the names  and roles of Green Valley staff members.

Thanks to the innovation of a clever PK teacher, these students feel a little more at home at GVE!

Filed Under (Learning, teaching) by on October 16, 2013 and tagged


Back Creek first graders are sharing their reading skills in a new way this year. Their teacher signed up to participate in the Global Read Aloud program and joined classrooms from around the world  in an Eric Carle author study.
Last week, the BCE students Skyped into a classroom in Washington State and read the Very Hungry Caterpillar to the first graders on the other side of the web cam.  When finished, they were polite listeners while the class in Washington read Brown Bear to them.  Both classes are eager for the next session!
The Back Creek first graders didn’t stop there, though.  They created hand print caterpillars and wrote sentences about the things they would eat if they were the very hungry creatures.  These pictures were added to a VoiceThread  and the children narrated them.  The new friends from Washington State are in the process of adding comments to their work.

There are several weeks left in the Global Read Aloud program and more Eric Carle books to read. The first graders will share books and ideas with other kids who, just like them, are learning that reading a book can open the door to a whole new world.

Filed Under (Learning, STEM, teaching) by on October 8, 2013

Roanoke County Pre-K students practiced estimating, counting, graphing and sculpting  recently when they participated in the O.R.E.O.2013 project.   stackerThe students were asked to estimate how many cookies they would be able to stack and given two attempts to reach or exceed their estimation.  The students counted as each cookie was placed on a stack and quickly developed strategies for cookie placement, since they could not adjust the stack once the cookie was place.

Once the stacking was completed students created sculptures out of the cookie filling and crusts.  The sculptures were quite remarkable given the fact that these students have not yet reached their fifth birthday!

Although the O.R.E.O. project is officially over for 2013 both teachers plan to revisit the activity throughout the year to practice estimating, counting, graphing and creating patterns.


Filed Under (Learning, teaching) by on August 30, 2013 and tagged ,

‘I already love the 4th grade”  whispered one boy to a classmate. “They let us do stuff.”

Roanoke County Schools opened for business last Tuesday and on Wednesday,  4th graders became very involved in their learning. IMG_2186 A STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) project was the impetus of his comment.

Fourth grade students in this Green Valley Elementary classroom used STEM to learn about the five regions of Virginia. Each group was assigned a region and had to create a mystery box containing clues that would help their classmates guess the regions.

The box could contain only one word and had to contain a minimum of 10 items that represented the region’s products, industries, land forms, water features, animals, renewable and non-renewable resources. At least four of the items had to be 3-dimensional.

Each team received a set of materials for artifact creation. Buttons, cotton balls, play dough, pipe cleaners, colored paper, yarn, straws and cotton swabs were in limited supply and if they ran out they had to come up with another way to create.


While learning about the regions of Virginia, students practiced essential 21st Century skills – communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Journal reflections at the end of each class period helped students identify what they’d learned that day and what they’d need to find out in the next class session. It was a pretty tall order on the second and third day of 4th grade but the Green Valley students stepped right.

Once  the boxes were complete, students generated QR codes revealing the name of their region. Next week, classmates will make predictions based on the clues inside the box and use the QR code to reveal the mystery.


The project wrapped up today with students already asking about the next STEM activity.  It appears that the first week of school at Green Valley pretty much rocked!