Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Great Character Carving Challenge! (Powered by AR)

Ivy and Bean Pic

Looking for a way to integrate cooperative learning, research, tech integration and FUN into a super cool “autumnal lesson of awesomeness?!?”  Click the link below to take the challenge!

 Great Character Carving Challenge

Several years ago I combined my passion for art and reading to create some “Literacy-o-Lanterns” that were displayed in our Media Center.  The tradition continued each year until I had amassed quite a few pumpkin pics.  Through collaboration with our school’s magnificent Media Specialist, talented Technology Para-professional and book recommendations from my own children the project evolved into this year’s challenge.

Franny K Stein Pic

The challenge is simple…students are to work cooperatively in teams to complete a chart representing various authors and storybook characters.  The characters range from classics to newer student favorites!  This activity is ideal for a classroom that has access to at least one digital device for research (iPad, BYOD, or desktop computer).  However, technology is not required to participate.  This year we’re taking the fun to a whole new level using Augmented Reality (AR).

You might be wondering, “What’s the deal with this Augmented Reality stuff I keep hearing about?!”  FANTASTIC Question!!  The Great Character Carving Challenge is powered by AR.  This means that if you follow three easy steps your students will be able to access some additional book clues and YOU will be able to see this lesson’s learning targets.  The technology has been meaningfully integrated into this activity to engage students and to support their learning.  Besides that….AR is just plain cool!  For me, the technology represents possibilities, creativity and new learning (all really good things if you’re a principal).

         You’re just 3 Quick Steps away from using AR:

1.) Download the app called Aurasma on a mobile device.

2.) Using your mobile device, go to

3.) Open the Aurasma app and aim viewfinder at the pictures of the pumpkins on the PDF (see link above)!

**If you need ANY support in accessing AR please don’t hesitate to contact me via Twitter @GustafsonBrad.

Six Pumpkins Pic

Some of the “Clues & Book Facts” spaces on the chart have been left intentionally blank…they’re open-ended for a reason.  Use the blank spaces to customize this activity to skills your students are working on (author’s purpose, genre studies, digital citizenship and more).  Challenge students to dig into their research and cite multiple sources as time allows!  I’ll update this post closer to Halloween with some possible answers for the chart that’s on the PDF.  Here’s the link to the challenge once again…HAVE FUN!

Great Character Carving Challenge


Big on the Inside

Spruce and Lucy 91113

Photo Credit: Lauren Ingwaldson

The first couple weeks of school our social worker and I visited classrooms to read a children’s book, Spruce and Lucy, written by teacher/author Todd Nesloney. The theme of the book is simple, yet profound; everyone has something to offer the world.  After sharing with dozens of classrooms I’m still struck by the wisdom shared by one of our youngest learners who said, “We can be big on the inside.”

Before reading the book we used Augmented Reality to share a personal message created just for Greenwood Elementary students. Using the Aurasma app and our iPads we linked to Todd Nesloney’s uplifting greeting via the “About the Author” picture in his book. The video greeting featured an inspiring message where individual students were encouraged to, “Own their genius.” Nesloney credited Angela Maiers for the mantra, and it aligns perfectly with our school’s anti-bullying plan.

Our school is taking a stand against bullying! The approach we will use is based on the Olweus Anti-bullying program. Parents can support our efforts by familiarizing themselves with the definition of bullying and supporting terms below.

Bullying: “Bullying is when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending himself or herself.” It’s important to note that a person can be a target in one setting and then demonstrate bullying behaviors in another setting.

Target: A person that is experiencing bullying (we do not use the term victim).

Bystander: A person that is nearby when bullying occurs. We are empowering students to take-a-stand instead of standing by.

Take-a-Stand: Students should use the three steps we taught them about during our classroom visits; “stop, walk and tell.”

  • Stop: A bystander or target can tell a person that is bullying to “stop.” Pointing out that a bullying behavior is “not cool” and “not funny” is another way to show support for somebody being targeted.
  • Walk: Students that are targeted should walk to the nearest adult for support. Bystanders may also accompany them for support and encouragement.
  • Tell: Explain the situation to an adult. In addition to parents and teachers, our school social worker and the principal can help. Talking about a problem is an effective way to begin addressing it, and we will join with our school community to take-a-stand against bullying.

After sharing the definition of bullying with students and reflecting on the book, students began to make connections. This was a powerful thing to experience, and I’ll share just a couple examples:

One student openly reflected: “I’m going to make an inference…I think that Mr. Oak was bullying because even though there was only one example of an unkind comment that hurt Spruce in the story, it’s quite possible that he had a history of bullying and could have been repeatedly hurting Spruce.”

In a different classroom a student approached me after the presentation and quietly shared, “I learned from the story that even though we are kids and small on the outside, we can be big on the inside.” I was SO PROUD of this student’s courage and thinking. My sense was that he would be a champion on the playground throughout his elementary years; a perfect example of what an empowered bystander can be.

It was humbling, inspiring and amazing all rolled into one. On behalf of our entire school, please know that we posses an unswerving commitment to supporting the growth of your child’s “whole person.” Creating a safe learning environment where your child’s unique talents and attributes are understood and celebrated is just part of this endeavor.

In all you do… “Be Back!”

cart II

Have you ever been around a child that says something really cute…and profound?  The moments are priceless!  At a recent trip to the grocery store our four-year-old son, Finn, had one of these moments.

He loves grocery shopping because he gets to ride in the green racecar carts.  This weekend the store was busy and the cart selection was limited.  Our son was bummed.  (The kind of bummed that requires removal from the grocery store due to the world’s largest tantrum.)  The pre-schooler having the meltdown was escorted to the car while grandma and the rest of the content clan remained in the store to peruse the produce section.

As Finn cooled down in the car we reinforced the proverbial “crying doesn’t get you want you want” message.  (Parenting Disclaimer: In this case crying helped, because there…all of the sudden…a green racecar grocery cart appeared in the cart coral next to our vehicle.)  Embracing the serendipitous moment, we stepped out of the parenting pulpit and loaded our happy son into the hallowed green racecar cart.

We took it for a spin around the parking lot to test the handling and made our way towards the automatic doors to enter the store.  As the doors opened Finn yelled in his ultra-cute and super-happy voice, “I’M BACK GRANDMA!”

You kind of had to be there…but picture the entire produce section turning to observe Finn’s beaming face gliding into the store.  It was pure bliss.  I’m pretty sure they heard him from the dairy section, and you know how stores like to tuck the milk and cheese in the back corners!

The moral of the story is “Be Back” in all you do.  When life throws you curveballs and when times get tough….have your mini-tantrum…do lots of learning and reflecting….but make sure you come back!  When things are not fair and mud is slung….take some time to dust off….but make sure you “Be Back!”  And when you come-back make sure you do it like Finn; be bold & positive!

I’m sure my son’s passion-laden proclamation was more of a visceral response than anything else.  The beautiful thing is that as adults, we get to choose our attitudes.  We can greet our colleagues with a positive “I’m back” attitude.  We can go out of our way to make a difference for a student with an unwavering “I’m back” commitment.  The quote below was shared with me over 10 years ago by a beloved co-worker when I was teaching 2nd grade.  The quote changed my life.

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” ~Charles Swindoll

We can learn a lot from the defining moments and quips our kids share…so my hope for you is that this year you “BE BACK.”  Make a difference for kids, keep the faith, choose an attitude that adds value to others, and BE BACK in all you do!


Photo Credit:

NERF N-Strike Leadership


This entire summer my family reveled in an epic Super-Soaker adventure outside, so I’ve been wondering how to continue the fun during the upcoming winter months.  At a recent trip to the toy store I was elated to hear my kids wanted to spend their allowance money on NERF foam dart toys.

When it came down to selecting our toys I opted for the Elite NERF Strongarm featuring 6 dart “slamfire” technology.  (Did I mention the Strongarm fires up to 75 feet?!)

My three children selected NERF N-Strike Nite Finder EX-3s.   I’m fairly confident their decision was based on the light-beam targeting systems that were included.  I’m less sure that they understood the toll their selections would take on our battery supply at home.  I was also skeptical that the light-beams were anything more than a gimmick.  Unbeknownst to me, the light-beams actually came in rather handy while we were doing some friendly target practice at the kitchen table.  There was one point when the lights were dimmed and I could see with great clarity where each of my kids was aiming.  In fact, they repeatedly connected with more targets than I did despite my raining darts in the vicinity of the target area.

That’s when it hit me; we can learn a lot from toys.  Focus matters.  Precision makes a difference.  The health, safety, and welfare of students is always our number one priority, and part of my job as principal also involves balancing several different elements including student learning, budgeting, professional development, building climate, staffing, supervision, facilities, delivering on district initiatives, and communications.  However, a laser like focus on a few key priorities can yield a rather effective result.

Just like my own children’s toys, when we approach our work with “light-beam targeting” everyone else knows what our goals are.  Furthermore, they know where to aim too!  This year at Greenwood Elementary we have three strategic priorities that were developed in a collaborative manner at our team’s data retreat this summer:

1.)    Student Achievement: We will focus on achievement in Reading and Math and develop a site Q-Comp SMART goal in the area of reading.  Teachers will use research based practices to ensure students are clear on their learning targets in reading and math.

2.)    Relationships and Community: We will focus on building relationships and connecting to our students, families, and each other.  It’s intuitive to the professionals in our classrooms and research supports it…RELATIONSHIPS MATTER!

3.)    Meaningful Technology Integration: We will focus on how to harness the power and potential of the iPad and other technology to support student learning.  Moodle will be utilized to support our efforts in this area.

Our professional development will strategically align with the priorities above.  We’ll be focusing on what we see as difference makers for our school.  Whether you call it N-Strike Leadership or a light-beam focus, we’re ready for a GREAT school year!

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