Buzz on the Bee Project

I’m late in posting this, but it’s worth sharing. Just before Spring Break a trio of Mattawan high school students had a rare opportunity to share their ingenious idea for helping local bee populations at the Novi Home & Garden Show, one of the largest garden shows in the state! The student’s created the project as part of high school teacher Ben Tomlinson’s “Global Innovation Project” in which students are tasked with identifying a problem that has global reach, yet local impact. The students (Cara, Meghan and Mya) devised a clever little plastic bee that helps raise awareness of the decline in local bee populations, and is filled with seeds for flowers that help attract honey bees.

It’s a simple idea that earned them a trip to the garden show, and has proven that great ideas can come from anywhere, even a high school physics class! The project has helped students apply what they learn about math and science to real world problems in creative ways, and create solutions that benefit the community.

You can read more about the project and the girls’ adventure in the The Detroit News.

4th Grade Tech Day Was a Hit!

What do you get when you take 300 fourth graders, almost two dozen teachers and parent volunteers, and mix them up with a day of hands on learning with technology? The first ever student tech camp at the Mattawan Later Elementary!

Friday, March 6th was an exciting day at Mattawan Later Elementary.  Students were given a list of fourteen different sessions that ranged in subject from Skype for Education, StoryBird, iMovie, Garage Band, Google Slides, video conferencing with The Night Zoo Keeper, and Coding with Robots.  Run like a regular professional learning conference for teachers, each student chose five sessions they were most interested in and spent the day learning and working alongside teachers. The sessions were run not only by Mattawan staff, but also guest teachers from Portage, Gull Lake, and the Jackson ISD. The most popular sessions were the coding and robotics areas where the students had the opportunity to program their robots using an app on the iPad (see picture above). Skype for Education was also a favorite as the students had the chance to talk to a real life explorer that lives in the United Kingdom.  He shared a lot of interesting facts about his travels in the Arctic and other places around the world.  Other sessions allowed the students to dialogue with children’s book authors Lisa and Michael Cohn (Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence) and Jen Malone (At Your Service).

We were honored that Assistant Superintendent Dr. Robin Buchler was able to stop by and share in the learning:

“This activity provides our students with the opportunity to see the multitude of careers and vocations offered through technology.  As Mattawan begins an increased focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (STEAM), it is experiences like these, with resources from outside our walls, that opens learning to a 24/7 approach. Bringing in educators, authors, and business people to learn with and learn from is what our students deserve.  Watching them engage in their learning is invigorating!”

Special thanks to all of the teachers, parent volunteers, and others at the Later Elementary that made this event happen. It was quite a different experience from the normal school day, but the students and teachers overwhelming loved the opportunity to play, explore, and learn with one another. The “Ed Tech Baton,” a website dedicated to sharing great learning experiences with technology around the world, helped share the great learning with hundreds of other educators as and the day was even covered by the local CBS affiliate, WWMT of Kalamzoo! In the words of 4th grade teacher, Matt Karsten, we’re “proud to be able to provide opportunities for students to reach out beyond the classroom.”

Skyping Around the Globe

We’re extremely fortunate to have dedicated technology teachers at our elementary buildings. Not only does it give our students time to work on computer fundamentals, it also gives them the chance to explore some of the standards found in the Common Core while connecting with other learners around the world. For example, did you know that one of the College and Career Readiness Standards in the Common Core asks that students:

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.”

It may seem daunting, but with the help of a teacher, it can actually help students prepare for presenting in front of an audience, taking notes while listening to others, and experiencing other cultures. In the last few weeks, Mr. Osborn has been taking his Later Elementary students on Mystery Skype journeys around the globe to help meet the standard mentioned above. He’s had his class connect via Skype video conferences with students in Alabama, Florida, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Nicaragua!

A group of 4th graders in Mr. Osborn's class use a lot of websites, maps, and tool to try and guess where their partner Skype class is located.

A group of 4th graders in Mr. Osborn’s class use a lot of websites, maps, and tool to try and guess where their partner Skype class is located.

Using the Mystery Skype guidelines and connections from the Skype in Education website, Mr. Osborn is helping his students with communication and geography skills in a safe, teacher-led environment. Students are challenged in that they don’t actually what what state (or country) they’re connecting with, and through the video conference, have to ask several questions or receive clues to help them determine where their partner class is located. It’s a fun game that lets students think about how to craft good questions, challenges their searching abilities online, and lets them see that kids around the globe are quite similar; curious, eager to learn, and playful.

Clickers in Chemistry

Student Response Systems, more commonly known as “Clickers”, aren’t new technology to our district. However, like many tech tools, they can be new to buildings or individual teachers. In this case, Heather Reeves, a Chemistry and Statistics teacher at the High School, was fortunate enough to have her MPEF “Creative Instruction Award” funded for a classroom set of clickers that she has been excitedly employing in her classes.

Students have clickers ready to respond as they move fluidly between group work and whole class instruction.

Students have clickers ready to respond as they move fluidly between group work and whole class instruction.

Why clickers? Imagine a typical classroom where the teacher wants to know how her students are responding to the lesson. She asks a question, and a few students raise their hand, several of them don’t, and many voices go unheard. With every student having a device to send in an answer, the teacher now gets to hear from all of her students to quickly diagnose whether her students understand a concept or not. Heather has her students work in small groups on processing new learning concepts, and the clickers allow her to check in with groups, or individual students, and quickly see where she might need to re-teach within the same class period, or adjust how she teaches a concept for the next day to make it more accessible by students.

Heather has already seen how much easier it is for her to move fluidly between small group conversations and whole group instruction, and her students know that all of their “voices” will be heard, electronically that is.

Creating an Intra-School Book Chat

There are hundreds of unique, creative, and engaging activities happening in our school district every day. So much so that I couldn’t even begin to share them all. So instead, it’s easier to share activities that cover a large number of students. For example, the 7th grade language arts students all engage in a common blogging experience that was started last year by Melinda Hinueber and Elizabeth Fiske. Building on the culture of collaboration in our middle school, I had a chance last year to work with them as they developed an intra-school book chat through connected blogs.

A student in Mrs. Fiske's 7th Grade English class reads another student's book snapshot before commenting.

A student in Mrs. Fiske’s 7th Grade English class reads another student’s book snapshot before commenting.

Using Kidblog, every student in 7th grade is setup with a private blog, and then grouped by class hour. The blogs are private to the outside world, but are all seen, read, and commented on by there students. Think of it as a “walled garden” where students can practice communicating online in a safe environment before moving into more open learning environments. The students use the blogs to share book “snapshots” with one another, chat about books they’re enjoying, and provide “mini reviews.” This week they’re posting the first entries, and sharing with their classmates. For the next blog, they’ll be sharing with other class hours and widening their readership. I’m excited to see students at an entire grade level getting exposure to reading and writing for the web in an environment where they have support from teachers and classmates!

Our First Technology Open House!

Last night we held our first district-wide Technology Open House, and it was a hit! With dozens of student volunteers, and hundreds of parents showing up, we had an amazing evening of learning, sharing, and exploration.


Students interviewed one another during the open house, so they could turn their experiences into movies to share with others.

The original goal of the open house was to show off a lot of the great student projects happening around the district, but with the school year still only two months old, we opted to create a blended experience of projects and student-led exploration of technology tools used within the district. We invited parents and community members to come explore some of the important devices, websites, and other tech tools that we use to better prepare our students for life-long learning and to enter the new collaborative and connected workforce of the 21st Century.

Groups of elementary students were on hand to share collaborative learning experiences with parents.

Groups of elementary students were on hand to share collaborative learning experiences with parents.

With a combination of teacher and student volunteers, we helped educator attendees about a number of learning resources that are available at home for parents and students to explore together, and at every table students were eager to talk visitors through special projects, or just everyday collaborative learning that takes place in the district. I heard from many parents that they were impressed and surprised that the type of activities and learning happening in the classrooms was also available at home.

Students sharing Google Presentations they worked on for a science unit. They were able to work on them both at school and at home thanks to our district's student Google Accounts for Education.

Students sharing Google Presentations they worked on for a science unit. They were able to work on them both at school and at home thanks to our district’s student Google Accounts for Education.

Thanks to Google Apps for Education, a lot of learning is happening outside of the school walls that wasn’t previously possible. Thanks to the district’s investment in Apple Macbooks and iPads, we have extremely durable, long lasting machines that students are familiar with and are able to produce a wide range of media projects. Thanks to teachers open to thinking about re-imagining where learning takes places, we now have many blended learning spaces throughout the district. Thanks to students willing to show off the technology, a large number of parents walked away with a better understanding of just how important technology is to learning in our district.

But most of all, thanks to Patty O’Strander, a 5th grade teacher at the Later Elementary who had the idea for this event. Thanks to her we were able to showcase a lot of great learning through the use of technology. The student volunteers were incredible, articulate, and spent a good deal of time instructing parents about a wide range of tools that we have in the district. It was a night filled with amazing learning, and we’re excited to host another Technology Open House in the future!

Flexible Learning through Mobile Devices

Four years ago our district started to switch from static computer labs to mobile laptop carts. At first, the loss of an actual “lab” space was a struggle, as the the labs were heavily used and typically staffed with para-professionals from the Technology Department. That meant everyone knew where to go to access technology, and had support readily available while in the labs. However, as the mobile labs have grown in number, we’ve seen a transformation occur in many buildings.

student working groups

Students at the middle school often find working in small groups around the school with their laptops can yield in more focused work time.

Many teachers and students have become great troubleshooters as the technology has moved into the classrooms. Learning spaces have become more flexible as well as we find ways for students to be more savvy with digital media consumption and creation. As students create video, audio, and other media rich projects, they need to be flexible to find quiet places to record. Mrs. Boydston’s Tech Lit class at the middle school is one of those classes that you will regularly find filming and working in small groups all over the middle school. It requires a bit more discipline on the part of the students, but once they have a good work ethic, they’re usually able to achieve a lot more in their small flexible work spaces than they could in a classroom with 30 others. The valuable lessons learned about group work, independence, and finding spaces that work best for the project have been made possible thanks to all of the mobile technology we’ve introduced in the district. It allows teachers to be more flexible in their instruction as well, producing classrooms in which students are much more engaged and actively working.

I’m looking forward to continuing this trend so that teachers and students can create more flexible spaces throughout the district, and create better models of how adults work in the real world; being flexible in a number of different work spaces based on the needs of group tasks and projects.

Creating a Blended Learning Experience in Science

Blended learning is the concept of mixing digital and online learning environments with traditional face to face learning environments. Several research findings show that working with students in such an environment is much more beneficial than a completely online class or coursework. Here in Mattawan, we’ve always known this; online courses are a good option for many, but allowing traditional classroom activities to be mixed with online resources allows for easier relationship building with learners, and tapping into important resources from the internet.

4th grade teachers collaborating and creating their own blended curricular activities for Science.

4th grade teachers collaborating and creating their own blended curricular activities for Science.

We’re also fortunate to have the time, and the leadership, to give teachers in the district the agency to use the best of real world and digital tools to help learners. At the Later Elementary, Science was traditionally taught using wonderful hands-on kits provided by the Battle Creek Math & Science Center.  As the materials in the kits don’t change often, it’s beneficial for teachers to bring in activities, videos, and other resources from Discovery Science, a subscription service that the Later Elementary uses with students. One group of 4th grade teachers, known by their teaching family name as the “Quad Squad” is currently pioneering the use of digital “Science boards” using Discovery’s resources so that students can explore activities and resources at home. By blending the resources from the science kits and the online tools, students get important hands-on learning in the classroom, and get access to digital tools that they can continue to explore at home.

Better yet, these resources have been curated by Mattawan teachers; activities such as virtual labs, videos, and science games have been carefully selected by teachers in our districts rather than a “one size fits all” educational solution purchased for everyone. Creating blended learning environments allows for each teacher to create resources and tools to better meet the needs and interests in their classrooms. We’re hoping that these can be used to provide a better 21st century learning experience for students at the Later Elementary.


  • Lemonade Stand games allows you to manage a small business based on a number of factors, including weather, current market demand for lemonade, and your ability to supply lemonade. Great tool for use with math or business students to practice basic entrepreneurship and math skills. - Ben Rimes

Tags: lemonade, math, game, activities, secondary, elementary, mathematics

by: Ben Rimes

Posted in Uncategorized

Mattawan Later Elementary Teachers are HAPPY!

The teachers at Mattawan Later Elementary are a happy lot. How happy? Well, let’s just say that their enthusiasm could break out into dance on any given day.

5th grade teacher, Mrs. Betz, deserves the credit for imagining, directing, and doing a lot of the heavy lifting as far as editing goes. I was just happy (no pun intended) to be along for the ride and help with some of the camera work and editing.