written by Andrew Ellingsen (part-time Instructional Coach) and Sarah Nowack (5th grade teacher) following up on an earlier blog post
Today was the day 5th grade students in Mrs. Nowack’s classroom have been waiting for since November – at long last, Lily came to visit! She spent an entire class period sharing her experiences with the class, showing them pictures of everywhere she went as the family traveled through Southeast Asia, fielding questions, and helping the students connect with the broader world in a real and tangible way.
Over the course of the period, Lily touched on a wide range of topics, including:
Students were clearly enamored with Lily, and the project has visibly influenced them! They grinned, giggled, gasped, and genuinely engaged with Lily and her mother Staci… More postcards will continue to trickle in over the next few weeks, and Lily shared that their family is already discussing plans for future trips to Europe, Africa, and South America. Stay tuned – we’ll be sure to keep you updated on where in the world Lily travels next!
written by Jonathan Carlson and Amy Pipho (DMS Physical Education teachers) with Andrew Ellingsen (part-time Instructional Coach)
One of the best known features of the Decorah community is our Nordic heritage. From Nordic Fest to the Vesterheim, Scandinavian culture is part of so many facets of our community. And Jonathan Carlson & Amy Pipho have found a way to bring that Nordic culture into the Decorah Middle School physical education curriculum by having students experience cross country skiing as part of the school day!
For the past week, middle schoolers have spent time outside each afternoon skiing on a track that was groomed by Decorah Park & Rec. In fact, the school’s financial investment in cross country skiing has been minimal -- the equipment is borrowed each year from the Winneshiek County Conservation Board, a local organization whose purpose is to “provide the public with wide-ranging opportunities for quality outdoor recreation while wisely managing our natural resources and encouraging land stewardship through natural history and environmental education programming.”
Cross country skiing finds its origins in Scandinavia, with the oldest skis unearthed having been dated at 4,500 years old! It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s in Norway that cross country skiing began to be regarded as a leisure sport rather than simply being a means of transportation, and skiing continues to be so popular in Norway that they joke that Norwegians are “born with skis on their feet.”
In addition to exposing students to a facet of Decorah’s cultural heritage, Carlson & Pipho are also introducing students to the diversity of manners in which they can engage in lifelong physical fitness. Mr. Carlson commented that for some of the students who don’t participate in organized sports in school, activities like cross country skiing and yoga often open their eyes to other possibilities. (Side note from Andrew: As a boy who couldn’t throw, couldn’t catch, and was not a fast runner, I wish this would have been my own middle school experience – I would have loved having opportunities like this as part of physical education!)
How do you connect your classroom with the community? Are there organizations you partner with? Join the conversation by commenting below!
Written by Sarah Zbornick, DCSD Instructional Coach
When I discovered that Lisa Witzke was doing pen pals with her 6th graders, I was excited to see how it worked. In the 1980s, I had a pen pal. With a #2 pencil (although sometimes I cheated and used a pen) and paper in hand, I wrote about my life in Iowa. Then I’d anxiously await a week or two to hear back. I don’t remember her name anymore, but I do remember that she was from Georgia and how exotic that was. And it was only Georgia the state, not the country. Ms. Witzke hasn’t been doing it since the 1980s, but she does start the process with paper and pencil. She began about six or seven years ago, working diligently to find reliable schools, teachers, and students from countries studied in sixth grade. Now she has connections with schools in China, Greece, Italy, and India. Iraq and Egypt are also studied in sixth grade, but consistent partnerships with schools in these countries proved difficult to establish.
With technology available in today’s classrooms, students experience pen pals on steroids. While nothing can replace the excitement of actually receiving a letter in the mail, Ms. Witzke further develops the relationship between pen pals with face-to face interaction. Not only have the students written to students and in Greece and China, they have also had the opportunity to skype with them. Once the letters are written, then a skype session is in place. This can be a bit cumbersome due to time zones and scheduling, but hearing the students’ comments makes it worth it. I was able to watch a skype session. I could feel the excitement (often displayed through smiling nervousness) as each 6th grader took the microphone to visit with his/her pen pal. They questioned each other and chatted about typical 6th grade conversation, such as What’s your favorite food? and What do you do for fun?
Pen pals give our students a chance to see the world outside of their own. It gives Ms. Witzke’s students an authentic audience, and they also become an authentic audience. This gives purpose to their writing. They can connect with students their own age to see that they are quite similar and yet individual.
What ways do you connect your class to the world?
Global Read Aloud project can write letters to each other about their reaction to the same book. Students can share narratives about their lives, and then compare and contrast with the lives of their pen pals. The possibilities are endless!
Written by Andrew Ellingsen, DCSD part-time Instructional Coach following a visit to the 5th grade classroom of Sarah Nowack
Sarah Nowack’s college friend Staci and her family have taken a leap that many of us have only dreamed of -- they’ve put life on hold and will spend eight months traveling the world. Staci and Mason have left their jobs and rented out the house, son Ian is taking a year off of college, and daughter Lily spent her entire summer completing her required coursework for the entire junior year of high school. (Lily will also submit homework while she’s on the road to fulfill some other academic requirements.)
As soon as Sarah heard about their year, she contacted Lily to hatch a plan that will play out over the course of the year. From time to time while traveling, Lily will send the 5th graders in Mrs. Nowack’s class postcards from around the world -- Decorah students will spend the year traveling vicariously through Lily and her family!
The first postcard arrived on Friday from Ephesus, Turkey. In her note to the students, Lily introduced herself and explained that Turkey is home to one of the ancient wonders of the world, the Celsus Library.
In just a few minutes, Sarah had guided students to connect multiple subject areas with Lily’s postcard.
The excitement in the room was palpable -- students are looking forward to tracking Lily’s travels, exchanging ideas with her as the year unfolds, possibly Skyping with her at some point, and even scheduling an in-person meeting when the family returns to the US in May.
Interested in following along with Lily and her family? You can learn more about their plans in this article published in the Des Moines Register or by following their family’s travel blog. As more postcards are delivered and students continue to connect their learning to the world beyond our school walls, we’ll share updates with the Team DMS community, as well.
How have you connected the curriculum to the world beyond? What extensions can you imagine implementing? Join the conversation and post ideas and questions below!
A blog dedicated to discussing instructional practices and reflecting on why we do what we do.
Blogs We Follow
Contact a Coach