A QR Field Trip to Ancient Greece

Today I told my kids that we were taking a virtual field trip, also known as a webquest, to Ancient Greece via our new iPads.   Similar to an actual field trip, the goal is not to rush off the bus, see one thing, run to be the first person back to the bus, and then stand around waiting, doing nothing, until everyone else returns to the bus. The goal is  to learn as much as possible in the time allotted.

Parthenon, Athens

The Parthenon in Athens

Photo Credit: Pedro Szekely via Compfight

Imagine that you are on a field trip to the Acropolis.  Everyone must stay at the Acropolis, no side trips to McDonald’s, but everyone is free to explore the parts of the Acropolis that he or she finds most interesting.  Some kids might go to the Parthenon, others to the Erechtheion, to the Propylaia, or to the temple of Athena Nike.   That’s how our virtual trip worked as well.  The kids scanned a QR code which brought them to a website related to Ancient Greece.  Once on the site, each student was free to explore according to his/her own tastes and interests.

Here is one site we visited.  Click on the picture to explore with us!

Explore Ancient Greece via the BBC

Explore Ancient Greece via the BBC

On a real field trip, after returning to the bus, you might talk with people around you about what you saw in your section of the park.  “The Parthenon is huge!  It looks like the one in the Percy Jackson movie!” or “My Nikes stood at the Temple of Nike!”  We had similar discussions on our virtual field trip.  Once we had explored the site individually, we shared our information in small groups, and then chose the most interesting tidbit to relate to the entire class.

In order to find the web sites most efficiently, some of us whose iPads had a free scanner app on them scanned the QR code to quickly connect to the site.  Those without a scanning app could also find the site by typing the URL address.

Facts about Ancient Greece

Facts about Ancient Greece



What was the most interesting piece of information you learned while visiting Ancient Greece?


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Flattening Classroom Walls!

After two years of blogging, and exchanging a plethora of comments with classes around the world from Canada, to New Zealand, to the heartland of America, we finally connected via Skype with a class in Connecticut, Mrs. Emerick’s 6th grade wave riders!  This visit is the epitome, so far!, of our blogging adventure.  We spent two half hour sessions chatting with our blogging buddies about summer reading books, sports, band, school uniforms, book trailers, brain teasers, Genius Hour, and of course, blogging!

06-01-2014 522

Mrs. Emerick on our Apple t.v. during our Skype visit

Capturing my students on the iPad as we Skype with Mrs. Emerick's class.

Capturing my students on the iPad as we Skype with Mrs. Emerick’s class.

We learned that we have a lot in common:

  • The book we read for summer last year, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, is what Mrs. Emerick’s students will read this summer!
  • We love to play sports and music.
  • We love blogging and Skyping!
  • We don’t love homework (teachers included).

We learned we have a few differences:

  • In Connecticut, lacrosse is favorite sport; in Florida soccer reigns supreme.
  • Mrs. Emerick’s class created book trailers on Animoto; Mrs. Donofrio’s class will learn how to create book trailers on Animoto.
  • The Floridians are on summer vacation now!  The New Englanders have to wait until June 23rd.


Next year we hope to Skype more often.  In addition to our high tech pen pal system, i.e. blogging, we will put the Pony Express to work as well and send each other some postcards this summer.  We are also hoping to share in each other’s curricula in new ways.

Participating in blogging and Skyping makes me think about all the ways education has changed since I was a middle school student in the early 1980s.   We barely knew what schools around the block were doing, never mind across the country or around the world!  The biggest technological advancements were erasable pens and dustless chalk.   Grades came home on papers in schoolbags.  Now we can visit schools around the world and engage with them through blogging, Vimeo, Skype, YouTube, and Educreations, among other technologies.  Parents can much more actively participate in their children’s learning.  Today I used my iPad to email a mom a video of her daughter participating in a Chinese tea and speaking Chinese.  Another mom asked me to post my grammar lessons which we record on Educreations on the blog next year.

Here is a photo of a classroom, 1978, and another now 2014.  I am in both photos!  Can you find me?

Mrs. Donofrio- Grade 5, 1978.  Sister Lois taught our class "nitty gritty grammar".

Mrs. Donofrio- Grade 5, 1978. Sister Lois taught our class “nitty gritty grammar”

Mrs. Donofrio-language arts teacher grade 7, 2014.

Mrs. Donofrio-language arts teacher grade 7, 2014.














What changes do you see in teaching and learning over the last 30 years?  Ask your parents to comment also!

Thank you to Mrs. Emerick and her 6th graders for helping us end our school year so fantastically!  The walls are tumbling down!


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Learning to speak Chinese

A Chinese Tea

A Chinese Tea

Tea and cookies

Tea and cookies


After weeks of practicing, two of our Odyssey students shared a Chinese tea with us, the result of working during our weekly Genius Hour.  Dressed in traditional attire, we enjoyed green tea and some tasty cookies in addition to listening to them converse in Chinese.  To my ear, they sounded wonderful!  I was very impressed with their determination to learn a foreign language, and Chinese at that, without any help from an adult.  They conducted the research on the computer, wrote their own script for the tea, practiced consistently, baked the cookies, brought in the tea, and they shared their knowledge all without assistance.  I was impressed! I’m sure they will remember this experience for years to come.


How many languages do you speak?  What language would you like to learn, and why?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tot gauw

We love Mrs. Etz!

We love Mrs. Etz!

Our beloved middle school math teacher is leaving us tomorrow.  For the past two years Mrs. Etz has taught our middle schoolers algebra and geometry with aplomb.  She has enticed them to solve equations, find the circumference, and follow PEMDAS through MobyMath, Math Counts, Math Tutoring, Math Class, and Carlene’s Cookies.  Her energy and patience know no bounds.  She is strict and kind, humble and inspiring, humorous and serious, loving and loved.  No one will ever fill her shoes.  Because we cannot bear to say “doeg”, we will say, “vaarwel” and “tot gauw”.   God bless you on your journey, Mrs. Etz.  We love you.

What is your favorite memory with Mrs. Etz?

last day of school 2014 017

Thank you, Mrs. Etz!

Thank you, Mrs. Etz!

last day of school 2014 004

last day of school 2014 010

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Welcome to Genius Hour!

Genius Hour!

Genius Hour!


As I type, my students Claudia and Megan are learning Chinese via their iPhones.  Maria is writing on her blog about the telegraph she made and on which she sent an SOS message, and Anthony is completing his blog post about the workings of car engines.   As part of the Odyssey program at our school, these kids are able to elect a new class called “Genius Hour”.  Other schools might name this type of class “Google Time”, “20% Time” or “Passion Hour”.  Whatever the moniker, the concept is the same.  Kids pick a topic to research based on their own personal interests.  They use a KWHLAQ chart (see photo above and chart below) to organize their thoughts and the research process.

Credit: http://langwitches.org/blog/2011/07/21/upgrade-your-kwl-chart-to-the-21st-century/

Credit: http://langwitches.org/blog/2011/07/21/upgrade-your-kwl-chart-to-the-21st-century/

K – what do I already Know?

W- what do I Want to know?

H- How do I find out?

L- what have I Learned?

A- what Actions will I take?

Q- what Questions do I now have?

I learned about Genius Hour first from a Tweet that directed me to a link to an article called “Genius Hour” by Kay Bisaillon and Lynn Woods.  After reading their article, I followed their link to Paul Solarz’ blog post, “Creating Passion Projects (Genius Hour)”.  The concept of Genius Hour originated at Google where, until the summer of 2013,  all employees devoted 20% of their worktime to researching ideas that interest them.  As a result, many of Google’s products, including Gmail, started as a seed planted, watered, and weeded by an employee.   You can read Katherine von Jan’s Huffington Post article, “Pursue Passion: Demand Good 20% Time at School”  to learn more about this Google philosophy.

(Sadly, but not really surprisingly, Google’s 20% time has recently all but been eliminated in favor of 120% time; Google employees can now pursue their passions and innovate on their own time.   Read this article by Christopher Mims for more information on the demise of this leading edge practice at Google.)

Creating a telegraph

Creating a telegraph

Finding props for a Chinese Tea Party

Finding props for a Chinese Tea Party

After completing their research, the students present their new-found knowledge to their classmates and then to the larger world.  They can write on their blogs, create a YouTube video, or send an article in to the local newspaper.   We love Genius Hour because we have the opportunity to pursue knowledge for its own sake and for our enjoyment.  We aren’t graded or made to take a standardized test to prove our mettle.  We appreciate the opportunity not to just fill the bucket, but to light the fire.

What topics would you like to research and learn about in school?

How would you share your knowledge?


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Shakespeare Challenge

Have you ever heard of Shakespeare Week?

What?  You haven’t?  Really?

Well, don’t worry; until this year, we hadn’t either.  Nobody had.  That’s because it’s a new celebration begun just this year by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  It was celebrated for the first time ever this past week, March 17-21, 2014, by 3,000 schools all over the U.K., and one school that we know of in the United States.   We are the one school!  We joined the festivities related to the Bard this past week, and we’re not done yet.  We’re going to keep going until we celebrate his 450th birthday, which is on April 23rd.


Shakespeare's Birthplace

Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford-on-Avon, England

 Photo Credit: floato via Compfight

In order to commemorate the life of the man who most influenced English literature, we have read Hamlet, watched video clips of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy (including a farce on Gilligan), created new words, hurled Shakespearean insults, studied the Bard’s biography, completed word games, memorized lines, and virtually visited Stratford-on-Avon.   On our last day of school before our Easter break, we plan to party hardy with the Bard, making his 450th birthday his best ever.

 …there was a star danced, and under that was I born. (Much Ado About Nothing, II,i, 335)

In honor of this event, we’d like to Skype another class for our first annual Shakespeare Challenge game.  We’ll ask your class questions, and you ask us.  The winner gets a prize.

Do you dare to accept our challenge?

Mercutio: A challenge, on my life.

Benvolio: Romeo will answer it.

Mercutio: Any man that can write may answer a letter.

Benvolio: Nay, he will answer the letter’s master, how he dares, being dared.

                                                                                                  Romeo and Juliet   II, iv, 8-12

Answer our post with a comment letting us know if you are up to a challenge on April 16th, sometime between 9 and 11 am, Eastern Standard Time.

Until then, visit some of our Shakespeare posts from April 2013 or try some of the sites above.

What did you learn about our friend Will Shakespeare?


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Silver and Gold

Welcome to the spring 2014 Student Blogging Challenge! (Hey, Kids! register here. )We hope to find some new friends and revisit some old friends this spring. I am reminded of a Girl Scout song I learned years ago, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”

Last year, we met some blogging buddies at Huzzah! and in Mrs. Krebs’ class.

This year, we have recently been introduced to some students in the classes of Mrs. Rovira and Mrs. Emerick .  We hope these students will become our new blogging buddies, a.k.a. high tech pen pals.

Whether we call them friends, buddies, or pals, we hope to find more of them through this spring’s Student Blogging Challenge.

Making friends around the world

Making friends around the world


Making friends through service

Making friends through service

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
Muhammad Ali


What makes your best friend “the best”? 





Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Meeting new friends

Hey Kids!

We’d like to introduce everyone to some new blogging buddies, Mrs. Rovira’s 7th grade class in Southern California.  They are middle school students and are looking to connect with other student bloggers.

Mrs. Rovira's blog 001

After reading some posts on their blog, I know that Mrs. Rovira’s class is reading Red Scarf Girl.  I also learned that they are from Orange County, a place I’ve never been.

Here is a blogging challenge for our new and old friends:  What book do you like, and what place would you like to visit?   I hope all our family members will participate as part of our last week of Family Blogging Month.

Mrs. Donofrio’s picks:  Gone With the Wind– when I read this book as a sophomore in high school, I’d set my alarm for 5 am so I could read before school.  This year, 31 years after I read the book, we are planning a summer vacation to Atlanta, the setting of GWTW, and I can’t wait!

The White House
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Steve Driskell via Compfight


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Dear Mother, I am at Bush Hill…

Laurie Halse Anderson conducted extensive research in writing her novel, Fever 1793.  As a piece of historical fiction, Fever, 1793 contains many allusions to real people and places that are important to telling the story of Philadelphia in the late summer and early fall of 1793.  The article Yellow Fever Attacks Philadelphia provides a primary source which authors use to write both historical fiction and informational text.  A primary source is an account written by someone who actually experienced the events.  A secondary source is written by someone who has researched the events, but who was not present during the events.   Read the above article, noticing people and places with which you are familiar from the novel.   Think about the words of Samuel Breck, a Philadelphia merchant who lived in the city during the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793.

Laurie Halse Anderson uses primary sources in her epigraphs.  They come from letters, journal entries, or newspaper articles written during the Fever.  After reading the words of Mr. Breck, and thinking of the experiences of Mattie, write a letter that Mattie might pen from Bush Hill to her mother at the Coffee Shop.  Use descriptive writing to give the reader a good idea of what Matie sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels.

Don’t forget to take the quiz on PhotoPeach to refresh your memory for some historical details you may want to include in your letter.


Fever 1793 on


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Right Way to Write

Storytime 126“Words, words, words.” As Hamlet and Polonius know in Act II of Hamlet, words can be confusing.   When do we need to let our readers know we are using words others have already used?  How do we communicate ideas that have already been penned by others?  Is changing one or two words from our source enough to make the writing our own?  Do I need to give formal credit to Shakespeare in a bibliography or footnote for my opening sentence, or is what I have already written enough?

We have been researching and writing informational texts.  This is tough writing!  How many original ways are there to say Mount Everest is 29, 029 feet?  Is this fact considered general knowledge and therefore safe from attribution?

We are also writing descriptions of family members for our blogs.  This is completely original writing, but still difficult to do well.  How can we incorporate some original turns of phrase and figures of speech into our prose?

We found some help on this website called www.plagiarism.org.   It has a lot of practical information.

We also decided to ask some high schoolers, and some grown-ups, what happens when students plagiarize at their schools?  (I have a video, but am having trouble embedding it into the blog.  Check back soon to see if I can solve this problem!  Here is the audio portion at least.  Plagiarism)

Do you have any tips for avoiding plagiarism when writing research papers?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email