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Connecting with the Community

November 1, 2017

A school is an integral part of the community.  Being so, it is imperative that the community is connecting to the school and the school is connecting to the community.  Both parties should reach out to help the other. The more information being shared between the two sides will enhance the learning potential for the students.

Schools should be consistently communicating with the community letting them know the direction of the school.  This week, the Woodbrook Bear Den focuses on the connections being made between our school and the Woodbrook community.

The Woodbrook Bear Den


The Woodbrook Bear Den: Lifelong Learning

October 20, 2017


The Woodbrook Bear Den: September, 22

September 22, 2017

Here is our latest blog post.  This week the focus is on Responsive Classroom, the C.A.R.E.S. traits, multiage instruction, construction, community outreach, and highlighting a new teacher.

Enjoy. The Woodbrook Bear Den


New Woodbrook Blog

September 5, 2017

With my new position at Woodbrook Elementary School, @lisaUNCWmom and I started an administration blog.  The blog is linked below.  When we write a new post, I will also add it here.  In addition, I will be adding more thoughts to this blog as a continue to learn.

The Woodbrook Bear Den


Thankful for the “small stuff”

November 7, 2016

I am fully aware of the common saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”.  I totally agree with this.  In fact, I think as educators we shouldn’t get lost in the trivial things that happen in the classroom.  Trying to micromanage the class and the behaviors will inevitably lead to less trust by the students.  It will be detrimental to your learning path as a teacher and/or administrator. 

On the other hand, I think we should be grateful for all the little things and “small stuff” that happen in the learning space.  It is these little happenings that make a space beautiful and full of love.  I stop and acknowledge the person who holds the door for the class or helps clean up a space without being asked.  I smile at the student who takes their time working through a challenging problem without backing down or complaining about it.  I thrive off of a collaborative classroom where students freely help each other.  That help might come with a pat on the back, a hug or helping with an assignment.  

These are all little acts that I thankfully see everyday by my amazing #MultiageAHES students.  They can be easily missed but these moments help build a community of learners. So, I don’t sweat the small stuff but I am happy the small stuff happens. 

Space to Work

March 16, 2016

The more I work, the more I learn.  Teaching is such an unique profession.  As soon as you think you have something figured out, something changes.  The variables involved in education are huge.  Each learner is so unique and special that the job is never the same.  It also means that learning should be happening all the time.  If eyes are open and ears are listening, learning will take place.

Recently, the idea of space has been a focus of mine.  Space is an important element in the learning process.  When I discuss space, I am talking about academic space and physical space.  In my eyes, academic space is giving students the freedom to make instructional decisions.  For me, this is of utmost importance in the classroom.  The more decisions students make, the more investment they will have in their learning.  Even if we give students physical comfort with space, that doesn’t mean they are going to invest in the process of learning.  I think they have to have a say in their work as well.  Don’t get me wrong, comfort is undoubtedly important.  I value it immensely.  Anyone that has ever been in one of my learning spaces would attest to that.  But in my opinion, it needs to walk side-by-side with academic choice or space.

Below are some pictures from the last 2 weeks.  In the captions, I will explain how space enabled the activity to happen.  This is a brief glimpse into our multiage classroom. You can follow our learning experiences at @mthornton78, @MrCraftMultiage or #MultiageAHES .

This student could easily measure the width without the ladder.  Even so, he wants to climb the ladder to measure.  Why should I step in?  The challenge was to measure the perimeter of the white boards.  It was really interesting to see how the different ways the students performed this task.


We are currently studying Virginia’s part in the Civil War.  We discussed the Battle of Bull Run on Friday.  Today, a few of the girls got together and made this really neat poster to show their understanding of the battle.   They came to me and told me what they wanted to do.  I stepped out of the way.  It worked!  It worked well.


This students wanted to build an Appomattox Courthouse.  It is still a work in progress. I love what she is doing.  I originally challenged her to build something similar in Minecraft but she wanted to use her hands instead.  Again, I stepped out of the way.


After studying electricity for about a week and a half, we took out our electricity kits.  Then we just let them play, learn, explore, and teach.  In this case, the students figured out how to hook up a motor.  Next, they explored and figured out how to make the motor color.  Very cool.


And yet another way to represent the Battle of Bull Run.  This is his device that he brought out for this activity.  His comfort level was higher when he was using his own device.


This message speaks for itself.  I have learned and continue to learn that giving them freedom and space will lead to amazing learning moments.


Can you make a banana and an orange conduct electricity?  They explored.  I watched.  I listened.  I learned.  As they worked, they called upon classmates to help with the challenge.


We are exploring money.  Of late, they are going onto popular websites and “buying” items that they really want.  They are given an allotment and they have to spend within their limits.  #RealLife


This student is taking a school-wide assessment.  She is comfortable.  She is taking notes using the floor.  This is a great example of both physical and academic space.



He is editing a group story via Google Docs.  It this moment, he is using the class’ active panel to do so.  In addition, he wanted to be comfortable so he hooked up the wireless keyboard and mouse. 

Within the last few weeks, we completed a writing/making project.  The students made something out of cardboard.  Then they created stories based on their creations.  Finally, they created comprehension questions for their story.  This was one of the final projects.  Check it out.  Box Stories 2016

These students are working on a Civil War wall and decided to make a poster of the Merrimack and Monitor.  They are using the state curriculum and perusing what is expected of them to build their wall.  

Multiage Learning: Our Journey to Date

October 5, 2015


This year, it has been my honor and privilege to help start a new learning experience in Albemarle County.  Agnor Hurt Elementary added a new addition to their school.  The new multiage learning space has over 115 students.  The students range from kindergarten to fifth grade.  There are no walls in the space and the students are free to move as they learn.  In fact, they are encouraged to do so.  Even though they undoubtedly know their grade-level, it is not emphasized in the space.  We emphasize learning regardless of age.  We emphasize progress regardless of level, and we push our learners to become independent thinkers and makers in the classroom.  Please follow along with us as we continue this amazing journey.  You can follow me at @Mthornton78 and my teaching comrade, Drew, at @MrCraftMultiAge.  You can also view our class work via the Twitter hashtag #MultiageAHES.

How do we do this?

@MrCraftMultiAge and I work primarily with third through fifth graders.  Everyday is a little different.  We do not have a set schedule.  We don’t go from math to reading to science to social studies. We created an interdisciplinary learning environment that fosters creativity and critical thinking without regulating our daily schedule.  Students work independently and collaboratively.  There are times for direct instruction, individual instruction and small group instruction.  For Drew and I, we rarely have a break because the learning is always happening.  Often, we decompress at the end of the day and marvel at how much was accomplished in one school day.  The lack of a set schedule allows us to get more done and allows the students to work without the headache of time.  In addition, when students have more say in their learning day, I believe more can and will be accomplished.

Over the last month we have had a lot of visitors come and talk with us about the space.  These discussions have helped us broaden our view and understanding of the space.  There has also been plenty of media coverage from the local news stationnewspaper, and even the Governor of Virginia.

Regardless of who has stopped by, there have been similar questions asked.  The question asked the most is…

How do you assess learning?” We are assessing learning the same way we have always assessed learning.  We informally and formally assess students on a daily basis.  We are utilizing online tools to help students learn independently as we monitor their progress.  One such site is Khan Academy.  They are given daily assignments and missions via Khan that enable them to learn on an individual level regardless of their age.  Drew and I can monitor their success as they progress and help them on an individual or small group level when needed.  There are also times when we pull big groups for direct instruction.  These groupings happen based on academic level not grade level.  This means students are soaring ahead of their “grade” while others are floating where they need to be but can also get help with some skills that should be reviewed.  Along the same lines, we are utilizing Raz-Kids to help with literacy.  This site allows us to individually monitor student progress which again allows us to pull kids on an individual level for direct instruction.  We are also doing novel studies, biography reviews, and working on grammar and writing everyday.  The students typically blog everyday using KidBlog.

Learning is organic.  If it is forced, students are more likely to remove themselves from the activity.  In the picture below, these students started to work on place value on their own.  They went from the trillions all the way to the millionths.  They were engaged, proud and happy.

Photo Aug 20, 11 18 57 AM


As we should, we value creativity.  It is really the foundation of the space.  It comes in many ways, and sadly I believe is often overlooked.  We really try to emphasize original thought and praise students when they are creative.  For example, the picture below is of a Golden Ticket.  We were all reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we asked the students to create a Golden Ticket and write about where they would go with it.  This student’s ticket is simple but really creative.  In 2015, the ticket would most likely have a bar code.  To me, that is creativity and it should be praised.

Photo Aug 28, 10 52 25 AM  Photo Aug 28, 10 52 22 AM

The amazing thing about student creativity is that it goes beyond what we thought would happen.  I love those moments.  For example, this student believes donuts could be used to help stop bullying.

Photo Sep 30, 9 50 35 AM

Collaboration and Project Based Learning

The students are always collaborating.  They want to work together.  Drew and I create projects for them to work on but they take them and make them their own.  There are projects happening all the time.  They just completed a project making 3D geographical maps of Virginia (example below).

Photo Sep 29, 2 00 28 PM

They also created cycle infomercials for each other.  After learning about cycles in nature, they wrote scripts and created infomercials.  Lastly, they developed quizzes for the class to complete on their cycle.  The students are making all the time but we specifically have a #make project on Fridays.  This last Friday, the students worked on making cars from cardboard, rubber bands, tape, and CDs.

They are also working on collaborative, interdisciplinary task sheets each week.  They can complete these independently or collaboratively.  Most choose to work together.  Here is an example. The students also collaborate on morning work each morning.  In fact, they are creating the work for each other.  Two students created this for the entire learning pod.

The Space

Having an open learning environment is fun, exciting and ever-changing.  The students are consistently rearranging the furniture to allow them to learn in different ways.  Below are some of the pics I have taken of the space and the students using the space. Follow along with us on Twitter to see more as they happen.

Photo Aug 19, 11 14 15 AMPhoto Aug 19, 8 47 37 AMPhoto Aug 20, 9 19 31 AMPhoto Aug 19, 12 08 16 PMPhoto Aug 26, 8 14 24 AMPhoto Aug 20, 11 29 10 AMPhoto Aug 31, 12 35 05 PM

Photo Sep 08, 7 47 56 AMPhoto Sep 16, 9 53 16 AMPhoto Sep 29, 2 15 57 PMimage