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The Value of Creating Multi-Grade Learning Opportunities

May 6, 2014

With the arrival of our 3D printer last Monday, students have been very excited about it. From putting it together to printing the stock models pre-loaded, students were able to quickly see the machine in action. It didn’t take long, though, for students to want to learn how create their own objects. You know, really use it.

With so much raw energy and desire to make it happen, the only piece we were missing was knowledge of FabLab. As a class, we watched some great intro videos to FabLab and played around with it as watched, but it wasn’t enough for students to truly make what they wanted. They worked together and were able to answer some of each other’s questions, but it was also clear that we could use some help.

Enter Chris Shedd, an amazing 6th grade social studies teacher at Burley, whose students have been creating and printing some amazing pieces for the last few months. Not only has he been a great sounding board for me, but his students have been great resources for my seventh and eighth graders. When we talked about how to help my students, he had an amazing infantry of sixth graders at my door ready to help during our structured study hall period. He also had his trademark enthusiasm for continuing this on a regular basis, which is awesome. It’s rare to find teachers that can keep students not only engaged but also excited about what they learn, as well as finding ways to help them learn not only their course content but a variety of other skills that will serve them well in whatever they do in life, and Burley is lucky to have a teacher of Chris’s abilities.

At first, my students, who are a year older, which is really five or six years in middle school years, were somewhat hesitant to ask questions and learn from younger students. I don’t think this is specific to my students in the least. I think if you took any older students at the school and paired them with younger students, they would be hesitant to work with them, as they’re too young or little to help them with anything. I’m sure this is a problem that would be prevalent at other schools across the country as well.

The question is why? Why do some students get embarrassed when working with younger students? Why do older students hesitate to ask younger students questions?  What would it take to get students of all ages to work together. Like Aaliyah said, age ain’t nothin’ but a number.

I’ve heard some great stories of multi-age classes in Ireland and how well students can work together. These stories are inspiring and show us that we have more work to do here to create multi-age scenarios here where all learners feel comfortable working together.

When I think of why there’s some hesitancy and unwillingness for students in different grades to work together, I can think of a few obvious reasons that prevent this from ever being fully realized at school. Students are often segregated by grade, as a student in sixth grade spends the majority of his day completely separated from a student in eighth grade. Different grade-level standards can also be a barrier, as students in different grades are at different places, but that doesn’t mean that some common ground can not be found if teachers truly wanted to make it happen. Scheduling also prevents this, as different grades have different lunches and exploratory rotations, which could make scheduling time for students to work together a real challenge. Older students, generally, are told to see themselves as leaders and role models for younger students. While this is an important role our eighth graders play at Burley, we also can’t forget the second piece of that advice, and that’s to help older students realize that they can learn from younger students, and that there’s nothing wrong with a sixth grader knowing something an eighth grader doesn’t know.

On a larger scale, there’s much work to be done. However, watching the sixth graders work with the seventh and eighth graders, once everyone grew comfortable with each other, I think it was beneficial for all students. Not only were my students able to ask questions they hadn’t answered themselves, but they were able to learn and become more comfortable with FabLab. And for the sixth graders, I’m not sure how many other opportunities they’ve had to work with older students since arriving at Burley, and I hope they’re getting as much out of this setup as my students are.

And this is just the beginning. As we keep exploring the many intricacies and possibilities of 3D printing, we’ll have more questions, and as more classes grow interested in exploring 3D printing, Chris Shedd and I will have a huge all-star team of student teachers ready to help anyone interested.


Using Padlet for a Digital Jigsaw

May 1, 2014


Created with Padlet

The jigsaw activity has always been a great collaborative activity, especially because it provides multiple opportunities for collaboration within the lesson. Another aspect of the jigsaw I appreciate is the flexibility it allows for time. This can work as a short warm-up activity or as an extended lesson in class, depending on what is needed.

Padlet is an awesome site for completing a digital jigsaw activity. As my students learn their poetic terms, they need opportunities to both refine their definition of the term as well as to create their own examples, which allows for them to demonstrate understanding. With Padlet, I created five different groups and gave each group one term. Working together, the groups had to communicate and collaborate about who would be responsible for which piece, as well as making sure their other members understand what is going on.

In taking Bloom’s Taxonomy into consideration, I wanted to make sure that students had an opportunity to progress through the various levels to demonstrate a deeper understanding than just knowing a definition. The lesson starts with the definition, which finds students working at the lowest level of Bloom’s, the Knowledge level. The next step, the creation of examples, finds students in the middle level of Bloom’s, in the Application level. The added step, where groups evaluate each other’s work, finds students finishing at the highest level of Bloom’s, the Evaluation level.

I told my students before the lesson that anyone could post to any part of the wall at any time, and there was no way for me to be able to tell who was posting what. “You shouldn’t have told us that,” one student said. “You should have said you could track everything.” I explained that with that knowledge, they could basically do whatever they wanted on the page, but that I was trusting them to do the right thing. Besides, if you know I’m lying to you about this just to scare you, when would you take me seriously? I also explained that I could delete and shut down the page if I had to, but that I didn’t think it would come to that, and, as expected, it didn’t. I was impressed with how, even though there were some off-task comments, how respectful students were with posting in the right places and not purposefully covering their classmates’ posts. Even more impressive, however, was that during the evaluation part of this lesson, one student noticed that another group had struggled with their part. Instead of writing that on their page for the class to see, he went over to those students and talked to them about what he had seen and what he thought they could do to improve their part. I’m sure those students were very appreciative of how it was addressed, and they quickly improved their part without feeling any public embarrassment in class.

I’ve also used the jigsaw concept when reinforcing literary terms like plot, conflict, theme, etc. One of our more artistic teachers drew a gigantic jigsaw puzzle on butcher paper and each group had a piece to complete based on a short story they had read. For example, students would not only describe the setting, but they would describe and draw the setting from the story they had read as a class. This was done as a review activity, and the puzzle was assembled on the wall as a great tool for students to use whenever they had a question on literary terms.

I’ve found for the jigsaw activity to work well whether students are just being introduced to new concepts or reviewing previously taught concepts.

A Class in 3D

April 30, 2014

“Are you sure you remembered to order it?” a student asked me as we started class today. He was referencing our 3D printer and how long it was taking to come.

“Yes, I’m sure I ordered it.”

“When’s the last time you checked the mailroom?”

“Yesterday afternoon.”

Students unpack their 3D printer

Students unpack their 3D printer

I understand their frustration. It was seeming to take way too long for our 3D printer to come. In kid days, two weeks is more like two years, and after all the research and reading we’ve been doing about 3D printing, these kids were more than excited to delve into it.

Halfway through first block, our amazing custodian, C.J., came into our class carrying two heavy boxes, one with the “Makerbot” logo on the side. The kids immediately knew what it was and gathered around the box while one student grabbed scissors to open it. As we slowly took the contents out of the box, the kids tried to guess what pieces went where and immediately wanted it plugged in so it could print.

Students read the Makerbot instructions

Students read the Makerbot instructions

Of course, we hadn’t even taken the safety clips off yet. Instead of reading the instruction manual during my planning period and slowly setting up the printer in a quiet setting, we dove right in. Two students read through the instruction manual and directed other students on the preparation of the machine. From cutting off the safety ties to mounting the spool of plastic, the kids worked together to set up their 3D printer. Since we ran out of time, the kids will print their first items tomorrow. They’ll also be blogging about their experiences as they go. In the time we had today, the teamwork they displayed as well as their problem-solving capabilities was enough to quash any doubters who feel these kids aren’t ready to grab 3D printing by the horns and truly own it.

Watching this process, I was extremely proud of my students. As we continue on this 3D printing journey, I’m excited to watch how they continue to develop their collaborative and critical thinking skills.

A student works on connecting our 3D printer

A student works on connecting our 3D printer

A Challenge in 3D

April 29, 2014

My students worked hard to earn their 3D printer. From soliciting family members to hosting a car wash at our local running store, where they raised nearly half our funds, including washing their superintendent’s car, they wanted to raise the roughly $2,000 needed for a Makerbot. In watching how they hustled between cars, how they asked for updates on the printer, and the ideas they came up with for using the printer, their genuine excitement and motivation only increased mine.

Now that our printer is in the mail, students are more excited than ever to print, from customized phone cases to robot figurines. The only problem? None of us has ever printed anything more than paper. However, like I tell all of my students, when you don’t know something, find the answer. They’ve taken to the internet to watch tutorials, to work together, and to ask questions to find ways to make their ideas become reality.

As we embark on this new adventure, we’re finding resources like Make2Learn, which has great resources on using FabLab, to watching other classes at Burley and throughout Albemarle County, the students’ knowledge of 3D printing is rising exponentially each day. Not only are they excited to see their creations, but they don’t have the patience to wait for answers, so they’re going after solutions aggressively. Sure, they become frustrated when they can’t find the answer to something, but they also know the answer is out there if they keep looking.

Years ago, I was asked to create a Prezi. No problem, except for the issue that I had no idea how to make a Prezi. Instead of spending an hour watching tutorials, I assigned my sixth graders the task of creating a Prezi about something in the novel we were currently reading. None of them knew how to make a Prezi, which made class so interesting that day. Some kids moved to work with each other and ask questions as they went about creating their Prezi. Other kids worked by themselves, clicking different things until it started to make sense. Others watched the tutorial videos on Prezi before starting. By the end of class, most kids had finished their Prezi, but they had all taken different routes to get there. And by me not knowing anything about Prezi, they couldn’t ask me how to do anything, nor could I “fix” something on their screen if I’d wanted to. It was a truly organic process that showed me how powerful it is to put learning directly into students’ hands and get out of their way. With our new 3D printer only days away from arriving, I hope the students are ready to pull me along with them on this new journey.

Car Wash and Bake Sale to Raise Funds for 3D Printer

March 21, 2014

Car Wash and Bake Sale Info


We’ll be at Ragged Mountain from 10-4 on Saturday, March 22nd to raise funds for our 3D printer, and possibly other opportunities once we meet that goal. We’ll be doing a car wash and a bake sale. Any student and family help during that time is much appreciated. Students are not required to go, nor are they required to stay for the entire time. Any help is appreciated and I think it’s going to be a really positive experience for the kids.


Students are also welcome to bring baked goods to sell for the bake sale.


Ragged Mountain Running Shop is located on The Corner, across from the Rotunda and UVa. Their address and phone number is below:


Ragged Mountain Running Shop

3 Elliewood Avenue

Charlottesville, Virginia 22903

(434) 293-3367


Directions to Ragged Mountain from Burley:


  1. Head southwest on Rose Hill Dr toward Concord Ave – 0.2 mi

  2. Take the 3rd right onto Preston Ave -0.2 mi

  3. Turn left onto Grady Ave – 259 ft
  4. Turn left onto 10th St NW – 0.5 mi
  5. Turn right onto US-250 BUS W/W Main St
  6. Continue to follow US-250 BUS W -0.4 mi
  7. Turn right onto Elliewood Ave
  8. Destination will be on the right

Global Fiction Reading Invite – November 21, 2013

November 19, 2013


What: Burley Global Fiction Reading

When: Thursday, November 21, at the following times (all times Eastern Standard Time):

9:30-10:00 am est

12:15-12:45 pm est

2:15-2:45 pm est


On Thursday, November 21st,, students will read their stories to their classmates. We will also use to stream video of them reading their stories so that other classes, as well as family members, can tune in while our students are reading and be able to hear their stories. The link to our reading will also be shared with other educators in different parts of the United States and internationally. We believe this is a valuable opportunity for our students to share their wonderful stories not just with their classmates but with a global audience. Last year, our students received feedback and praise on their writing from classes and educators in Charlottesville, Michigan, Colorado, England, and Australia.

The link to our UStream will be posted to the Burley’s homepage in the lower lefthand corner in the Announcements section, but the direct link is

We would love to have you join us!

Please email Brian Kayser at if you have any questions.

Building an Authentic Audience for Students

November 4, 2013

Why Connect?

  • learning with and from each other

  • increases the quality of student work

  • opportunities for new ideas and working collaboratively

  • students receive and give feedback to others

  • free and (fairly) easy to do digitally

  • opportunities to learn about new cultures

  • hands-on digital citizenship learning

  • walls of the classroom are infinite

And finally…

“If I had known so many people would have been watching, I would have tried harder.”

– a student quote from our Summer School Expo in 2011

Ways Burley Students Connect to the World

The ccGlobal Holiday Projects

IMG_1153 IMG_1161 IMG_1192

2011 ccGlobal Project  (Walton’s page)
2012 ccGlobal Project

For these projects, classes signed up to participate through a Google Form. Each year there was a common theme. In 2011, the focus was on sending a holiday card with a QR code on it that would lead the recipient to a holiday greeting. Some classes created an Animoto video for this while others made videos. Since this was a multi-age project, there were no hard guidelines to follow other than to send your greeting to the other group members.

In 2012, the theme was “Your Favorite Holiday Memory.” Again, this was a multi-age project and had classes from all over the United States as well as Canada, Ireland, and Australia. One kindergarten class drew pictures and then recorded their voice on SoundCloud to describe their pictures. My students told their stories through a variety of mediums, from an audio file to poetry to pictures to a Wordle. Other classes chose their method to display their stories, but the common thread was that all students were talking about a favorite holiday memory and all classes were looked at by the other participating classes. Each teacher posted their students’ work to our ccGlobal Google Site and then a TodaysMeet link was added for each class, where students could give feedback without needing to sign in or use an email address. Besides the digital citizenship piece, we asked that students not use their last names and identify their school. Unfortunately the links to these comment boxes have expired.

For the 2013 ccGlobal project, we are focusing on a favorite holiday tradition. There is still the openness in terms of how students display their work, but like last year, all work, or links to work, will be housed on one Google Site.

Current Project Sign-Up

Technology used to help students connect:

Twitter ( – to build connections with other teachers, to have students tweet other class Twitter accounts

Ustream – to stream student events

Skype – to share work or to be an audience for other classes

Google + – to collaborate virtually with one or more classes (Dot Day hangout)

Edublogs – to share work and receive feedback

Google Sites – to curate work in one location

Snail mail – to share writing “the old-fashioned way”

TodaysMeet – to comment on each other’s work without needing to sign-in

Tumblr – to have students post their work in a quick, convenient way

Instagram – to showcase student work and for students to showcase each other’s work

(all of these technologies are free)


Our Blogs

BurleyWriters on Twitter

BurleyWriters on Instagram

2011 Summer School Project

2011 Summer School Project Feedback

download (16)

Global Readings

Global Reading Feedback

Global Reading Part 2


SuperSchool Project

Walton’s Ustream channel:

Burley’s Ustream channel:

Contact Information

Twitter – @bkayser11, @burleywriters

Instagram – @burleywriters