Friday, June 7, 2013


Dear Readers,

The school year and my time at Alexandria Country Day School (ACDS) has ended. I started this blog a year and a half ago to communicate examples of effective instructional strategies to our parents. Over time, through Google analytics, it became evident that the readers were not just our parents. We began to have hits to the blog from across the US and from around the world. I am guessing that the greater learning community of educators began to hear about the practices of our teachers through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

ACDS will have a new website this summer that will include the option to host blogs. As I am moving on to Washington International School (WIS), I am hoping that my replacement will start a blog at the new site as this will be the last post for the Innovative Practices at ACDS blog.

My transition to Washington International School means new learning opportunities for myself and the readers of Innovative Practices at ACDS, if you choose to follow me. The educators at Washington International School are known for their leadership in many areas of teaching and curriculum.

Here are a few:

I will soon be sharing about each of these topics via my Lessons Learned professional blog and the EdTech Co-Op podcast that I co-host with Dr. Mark Hofer of the College of William & Mary. Another topic that I often write and podcast about is the Information and Communications Literacies (ICL) combined library and instructional technology approach to "skilling" our students for an information rich world. Fortunately the instructional technologists and librarians of Washington International School have a strong ICL curriculum in place. It will be a wonderful opportunity for my professional growth to learn from my new teammates and to then share via my blog and podcast.

I would like to share my thanks to the ACDS teachers who shared their lessons with me and to you the readers for following this blog. I am very excited starting in September to be in the position to continue to share with you how fantastic teachers adapt and innovate their lessons to reach all their learners. Please look to join me as we continue this learning journey together.

-David Carpenter

Instructional Technologist
Twitter: davidcarp

Friday, May 17, 2013

Art Immersion in the Library

The library has a new look! 

Any visitor to Alexandria Country Day School is welcomed by beautiful art throughout the school. With the students often creating art around themes, it became clear to our art teacher, Ms. Tacktill, that we should try to put the artwork created around the alphabet together in a collection.

Much like the Barnes Foundation Museum in Philadelphia, Ms. Tacktill decided to exhibit the art to cover the walls at one end of the library.

It is quite stunning to see the new collection from the entrance to the library to then follow one's curiosity to get the full close up experience of being immersed in art as one is at the Barnes. Bravo Ms. Tacktill!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

With summer soon upon us, the students and staff of ACDS will continue their learning by participating in the annual summer reading and writing program. Several students will be sharing their reflections this year via personal blogs. Ms. Lockwood also is building community through a blog dedicated to sharing book recommendations. Whether you are a member of the ACDS community or an educator from around the world, do look to go through the Reading and Response Journals site to learn about this wonderful learning adventure that Ms. Lockwood coordinates each summer. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Reflection and Transfer in Physical Education

Ms. Zaleski challenged her Middle School students to think about their learning in PE from this school year. She wanted them to reflect about sportsmanship, skills, healthy habits and game playing. The students were to think about why we play games and how we play games.

To share their learning, the students worked in teams to design, create  and communicate how to play a game. This transfer task drawing on their learning from the year included the following criteria for the game creation:

  • Purpose
  • Equipment
  • Space Needed
  • How to Play
  • Rules

The assessment took the form of a communication and a performance project. The communication was through a three minute demonstration video. The performance occurred when the designers taught the game and had the other students play the game.

Do look to view a student created video by Ellie and Caroline where they share their "A Journey to the Center of the Elements" game.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Student Videographers

The previous post features a well produced mini documentary by four Seventh Graders. Here are two more that our Seventh Grade students created for the recent "Go Green" school assembly.

Monday, April 29, 2013

7th Graders Lead ACDS Green Initiative

Ms. Stein's 7th Grade science students ran the assembly this morning where they shared several presentations about their follow up efforts to the global warming themed Festival of Learning. Tomorrow will be the kickoff day for the following efforts:

  • Continued work in the community garden
  • Using containers for bringing lunch to school instead of plastic bags
  • Composting fruit and vegetables from lunch that are usually thrown away
  • Renewed efforts by students and teachers to recycle while in and out of school
  • Hypersensitivity to turning off lights and using water

Look to view the very thoughtful and well-designed video on global warming that Colin, Sam, Drew and Alex produced. 

Student-Led Conferences in the 5th Grade

The students in the Alexandria Country Day Middle School met with their parents last week to review their learning from the year. In preparation for the conferences, the 5th Grade students were given the following set of questions centered upon our Portrait of a Graduate dispositions. The students spent time thinking about their learning and responding to the questions. Their teachers, Ms. Cook and Ms. Weaver, arranged sessions for each student to practice with an adult in preparation for meeting with their parents. This was a nice way to build on the scaffolding they already had in place with the questions listed below. The students typed up their responses to the questions and met with their teachers for feedback as they prepared for the conferences.


Independent Learner: Use three pieces of evidence from your work this year to describe how you have grown as an independent learner.

You should think about the following:
  • How did you solve problems or figure things out on your own?
  • How did you advocate for yourself if you needed something?
  • How did you organize yourself?
  • How did you motivate yourself?
Your response should include: At least one full paragraph. You might want to use three (one for each piece of evidence.) Work from more than one class. Work from more than one trimester. Look to reflect further about of your strengths, weaknesses and growth in this area.

Communicator: Use three pieces of evidence from your work this year to describe how you have grown as a communicator.You should think about the following:
  • How have you communicated your learning this year?
  • How do you prefer to communicate your learning?
  • How was your message received?
Your response should include: At least one full paragraph. You might want to use three (one for each piece of evidence.)
  • Work from more than one class.
  • Work from more than one trimester.
  • Work showing more than one type of communication (writing, speaking, VoiceThread, iMovie, Keynote, ScreenChomp or other tools)
Look to reflect further about of your strengths, weaknesses and growth in this area.

Community Minded: Use three pieces of evidence from your work or activities this year to describe how you have grown as a community minded individual?

You should think about the following:
  • What have you learned about your community (school, town, country, world) this year?
  • How did you act on this learning?
  • How would you like to act on it in the future?
Your response should include: At least one full paragraph. You might want to use three (one for each piece of evidence.)
  • Work from more than one class or activity.
  • Work from more than one trimester.
  • Look to reflect further about of your strengths, weaknesses and growth in this area.

Balanced: Use three pieces of evidence from your work or activities this year to describe your work/life balance.

You should think about the following:
  • How do you balance your time between things you have to do and things you want to do?
  • Was there a time this year you felt your balance was not right? How did feel?
  • How is your current balance?
  • What strategies do you have to be balanced in the future?

Your response should include:
  • At least one full paragraph. You might want to use three (one for each piece of evidence.)
  • Work from more than one class or activity.
  • Work from more than one trimester.
Look to reflect further about of your strengths, weaknesses and growth in this area.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Student Learning at 10:33 AM

One on one editing time with Ms. Parker

What does learning look like at ACDS? What does it look like in a Second Grade classroom at exactly 10:33 AM on Friday April 19th? What one finds in this "snapshot" review is an environment of student-centered learning where students work independently and in groups freeing up the teacher to work with students one on one. The well-designed series of learning stations presented here exemplifies how ACDS teachers guide their students to be independent and active learners receiving differentiated instruction in an active classroom. 

Students logged into their Raz Kids online reading accounts

Students in Raz Kids use Venn diagrams and question sheets to help with comprehension.
They also take online assessments.

Students learn vocabulary via the iPads

Students review the book report rubric in writing their reports

Time to analyze recent science work

Relaxing on the carpet with a favorite book


Thanks Ms. Parker for sharing your learning community with us!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Student Designers

Our students are designers. They go through the research and writing process across disciplines designing and planning how to write papers, prepare presentations and create projects. They storyboard scenes for their videos using mind maps and they use apps to design what slides in their presentations will look like. This process enables students to reflect and rework their ideas before going to the publishing phase of the process.

The Fourth Graders are preparing to do a series of Keynote presentations. In preparation for the assignments, they are learning how to think as designers to do storyboards of what will go into their Keynotes. They are using the Popplet app to do their storyboards. The images in this post show a Fourth Grader using the Popplet app to draw images and add text to each Popplet square on her iPad. This design process guides the students to think about how they will make their thinking visible in terms of images that they will either draw or download from the Web to add to each slide in their Keynote.

The students are learning as part of the Information & Communication Literacies (ICL) curriculum that image rich presentations are the best way to represent their learning. Text is used sparingly to focus the attention of the audience around central ideas that the students expand upon when giving their presentations.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Art at ACDS

Ask visitors to ACDS about their first impression and they will respond "the art!". Wherever one walks in the school, beautiful and original art is displayed. Our art teacher, Ms. Suzy Tacktill, is driven to help students be creative as they also also learn to appreciate art. The series of art and technology field trips this year is one example of how Ms. Tacktill challenges her students to make connections, see patterns and use their artistic abilities. 

The following is an overview of the art program provided by Ms. Tacktill. To see a few examples of student art, visit our online art gallery

After many years of having the honor of inspiring and nurturing creativity in young artists, I have given great thought to the derivation of the inspiration which sets the stage for creativity. I have come to the conclusion that creativity does not end as the musician lays down his/her violin, nor does it end as the applause fades after the curtain goes down following act III. It does not begin in chapter one and end at the epilogue, nor after the artist signs her/his canvas. Creativity is, as I see it, a way of life.

It has been my goal as an arts educator to inspire my students to be creative thinkers and thereby creative problem solvers; to be sure that they recognize that their most important tool for success in the arts is not the one that they hold in their hand but the one that sits upon their shoulders, and that the ability to be a creative thinker will be with them in an art studio or in a board room or when they might be in the midst of one of life’s crises. It is this innovative creative thinking which will serve the students well throughout their lives.

I have been involved with the arts and education for my entire life - as an artist, as a student, and as an educator - and have taken the time to ponder and establish an understanding of methodologies and approaches which seem to work well. Communication is the key to the well-being of any relationship. The interaction of a student body, faculty, parent body, the community, and administration is a very intricate relationship which can be enhanced by the arts. Our students bring rich cultural backgrounds with them offer and these offer an avenue for educational enrichment. I see the arts as an intertwining thread through the curriculum and for the nurturing of self-esteem. It seems to me that for students to effectively experience the arts, they must be made relevant to them and that an important educational tool in the classroom is an understanding of the student body, along with its learning styles, and a willingness to adapt one’s approach to reach that student body. I feel that a willingness to explore the individual talents of our students creatively, with strength but not rigidity, is a tremendous asset.

It is the task of an educator in an arts environment to facilitate the use of the arts to make our children shine and to unite the community in celebrating the uniqueness in each of our children through listening, processing, and guiding in a sensitive and creative manner. Above all, it is important to create an environment which provides both physical and emotional safety and a haven where the students feel a strong sense of intellectual and creative safety.  

-Suzy Tacktill

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bonsai Boy?


The art and technology field trips continued this week with the Eighth Graders and their Kindergarten buddies traveling to the National Arboretum. Ms. Tacktill chose this open air museum to give our youngest students plenty of space to explore and to use the iPads to take photos. The learning goal was to help the students see nature as art. The main exhibit catching the attention of all the students was the Bonsai Collection

The beauty of the bonsai trees shaped by their human handlers was an inspiration for the older students to create digital bonsai trees with help from their buddies. The Eighth Graders used their iPads to take photos of the Kindergartners who contorted themselves into shapes similar to the bonsai trees. The Eighth Graders imported the photos into an art app. They then used their imaginations to create their own digital bonsai trees. 

Thanks to Allie for sharing her artwork. 

Image Source

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Music at ACDS

If one is looking for innovative practices at ACDS, just take a walk down the first floor hallway to the music room. Mr. Andrew Taylor, our music teacher, is one cutting edge educator who has students and parents abuzz about his classroom and instrumental programs.

The following is an overview of the music program provided by Mr. Taylor.

The music program is based on three pillars: Creation, Rehearsal, Performance. These contexts are the basis for learning as many ethnomusicological transmission methods as possible in the early childhood program, while the later elementary years use a gradual refining of each student's style through the music-theory areas of interaction - rhythm, harmony & melody. Improvisation is used as a fundamental skill in both initial creation of material which is then structured through rehearsal into composed pieces, and also as a fundamental expressive part within the performance of the developed works. Composed pieces are notated through as wide a variety of notation traditions and techniques as possible, including staff notation, graphic scores, tabs, chord signs, continuo, whatever is possible to use within the context of what the student has started creating. Middle school students are trained in the use of instruments which are widely used in contemporary local culture - drums, bass & guitar, keyboard, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, clarinet and flute. These bands can play rock, jazz, and concert music, once again using as many notation techniques as possible. They rehearse more regularly and are capable of developing prototype professional concerts with full 45 minute sets and recorded collections.

The sequence in each year, and in each project, starts with skill tuition on instruments, using improvisation and basic notation forms. Then, using simple songs which are well-known within the students' culture, structure and technique are modeled and deconstructed for analysis. Students are then asked to choose or create forms and fill them with new material drawn from their improvisations. These works are rehearsed, and during this process students adapt their initial creation to the realities of the ability levels of other students in their band. The performance provides the essential connection with community that style needs for its own development, and a context for assessment by both performer and audience.

This program relies heavily on constant playing and notating, and the uncertain progress of creating and structuring works which students will be responsible for in front of their peers and community. We have less emphasis on planned delivery of music history lessons which don't involve playing. Instead, as students gain skill in the process of making and delivering music, their respect for those who have already established successful styles grows strong, and then the students inquiry naturally arises out of their desire to learn about how their own work fits into the fabric of musical history and development.

-Andrew Taylor

Friday, March 22, 2013

8th Grade Documentary

Mr. Girard's Eighth Grade history students recently completed short documentaries on Civil War battles. Take a look Grace and Lauren's excellent work with the Battle of Gettysburg

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bobcat Globe Newspaper

The Bobcat Globe Staff

The Eighth Graders are reporting on the Festival of Learning publishing their articles in the Bobcat Globe 2013 online newspaper. Take a look at the most recent news as our reporters investigate student learning at each grade level. Here is their lead article giving an overview of their goals for publishing the newspaper. 


The Bobcat Globe is back, and this year, it’s heating things up! With new reporters and writers, The Bobcat Globe, ACDS’s first ever Festival of Learning online newspaper (established 2012) has dedicated the week to cover anything and everything associated with climate change and the events surrounding ACDS’s annual FOL.

ACDS’s Festival of Learning has always been about students and teachers exploring a single topic that celebrates our world, its cultures, diversity, and rich legacies, but this year it’s personal. Students have learned and heard about various ways that their “world” will be different in the future.

One of those ways is how we use paper. As the call for Americans to become “greener” continues, students will notice more paper-less assessments, projects, and assignments. 

In conjunction with ACDS’s 1:1 iPad Initiative, the ICL (Information and Communication Literacies) Team, and the great teaching and learning that takes place every day throughout our building, The Bobcat Globe is simply another opportunity to  provide students with the skills necessary to feel comfortable in a paper-less world, whether reading, writing, or sharing information.

Thank you for reading!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Festival of Learning Blog

Ms. Stein's Sixth Graders are busily working as reporters and bloggers during this week of our annual Festival of Learning. The students are venturing out into classrooms to see what the students are doing to learn about global warming. Taking photos and interviewing guest speakers, the Sixth Graders are using their writing skills to post reports to the ACDS Takes on Global Warming blog. Do look to keep up on all the learning by checking the blog this week. 

Middle School Science Research

Our Middle School science students drew from our Information & Communication Literacies (ICL) curriculum to learn about biomes to then communicate their understanding using multimedia tools. Use the links below to view their presentations.
Temperate Forest Ecosystem Newscast
The Great Barrier Reef Slideshow
Worm Composting Slideshow

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Third Graders on a WebQuest

The Third Graders are on a quest to learn about regions of the United States. They are participating in our RegionsQuest WebQuest working in teams playing the roles of economists, sociologists, historians and geographers. The process of determining what information fits into a category (e.g., economics for how people make a living) is an important foundation skill for our young learners. Being able to read non-fiction text for understanding is also an important component of the Language Arts and Social Studies curricula.

The WebQuest engages the students to use information and media literacies as they view images and video as part of our Information and Communication Literacies (ICL) curriculum. The students working with their partners gather information about their chosen states from books as well as Web sites. They are recording their findings in a digital mind map using the Inspiration software. In time, the teams will analyze their findings looking for patterns of how people in their region make a living, experience a distinct culture and have a common history all influenced by geography. 

An enduring understanding for this unit of study is to have the students see how their categories of study overlap and influence one another. Already students are making connections with comments such as "I am taking notes on how there are mountains in Colorado which goes into the geography notes. But it also goes under economy because people have jobs working at the ski resorts."

Looking at the "communication" component of ICL, the student teams will be collaborating to write a script and use photographs of their regions to record a video podcast to communicate the results of their research. Their boss, President Obama, is expecting well-designed and high quality videos. Take a look at the WebQuest to learn more about how role playing, collaboration and project creation help students reach deeper understanding in their learning. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Modern Artists

By chance, have you spoken with a Kindergarten student about art? You might just hear about a famous artist who they are emulating in their art class. You also might hear about the upcoming art and technology trip with their Eighth Grade buddies. In preparation for the trip, the Kindergarten students are using an app on the iPads to give their impressions of abstract art. They will be reacting to modern art on their upcoming trip. Here are a few examples of the artwork being created by our young artists. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Transfer Task in the Second Grade

The Second Graders are close to completing their Germs and Healthy Habits unit of study in technology class. As mentioned in a previous post, they took notes from an online science book created just for them. The second step towards a final project is having the students write a children's story to demonstrate their understanding of bacteria, viruses and fungi. 

The students write the stories in their notebooks and do rough sketches of their illustrations. Their goal is to teach their readers about bacteria, viruses and fungi. They then use an art app on the iPad to draw their illustrations. The final step is to use the Explain Everything screencasting app to create digital stories. A future post will present some of the stories. For now, take a look at a few of the illustrations drawn using the Drawing Pad app. 

Art and Technology Field Trip: Grades 2 & 5

The Second Graders joined with their Fifth Grade buddies to take part in Ms. Tacktill's series of art and technology field trips. This group went to the Smithsonian American Art Museum contemporary art exhibition. As part of Ms. Tacktill's art literacy and appreciation curriculum, the students went through the exhibit stopping at each piece to share their reactions with each other. The Fifth Graders jotted down the responses into their iPads. 

A second learning opportunity had the student teams revisiting the art to view it a second and third time for further reflection. Along the way the Fifth Graders used their photography skills to take photos of the art and of their buddy. They would go on to import the photo of their buddy into an art app on their iPads. They then drew inspiration from the sculpture and mixed media paintings to digitally paint backgrounds around the photo of their buddy. 

The Second Graders looked for pattern repetition in the art as they recently studied it with Ms. Tacktill. They then used iPads loaded with a photo of a portion of one of the patterned paintings to expand the patterns. You can see examples of their creative work above and below. Nice work Second Graders!

Friday, February 15, 2013

7th Grade Science: Amazon Biome

Are you ready to take a learning journey down the Amazon River to learn about the rain forest biome? If so, visit the rich multimedia Prezi presentation created by Paddy and Cristian. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

What is the Weather Like at ACDS?

As the Fifth Graders begin their study of the weather with Ms. Weaver, we need to remember that ACDS has its own weather station. The equipment to measure wind speed, temperature and rainfall is on the roof above Ms. Weaver's classroom. The students have the instruments in the classroom to read the data to stay current on changing weather. 

We as members of the ACDS community can also tap into this information by accessing the ABC TV affiliate weather site for a direct report of weather conditions at Alexandria Country Day School. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

7th Grade Science: The Food Web

Bryan and Will continue their "BWF" production efforts to produce science videos to teach and entertain us. Take a look below at their food web video. 

7th Grade Science: Biome Projects

Map of the Yukon Biome (also Santa's homebase)

Mrs. Stein had her students research various biomes to then create projects to communicate their findings. Bryan and Will studied the Yukon biome in the Arctic region. The following is their creative video project. 

Checking for Understanding in Math Class

Mrs. Barnes is using a screencasting app to check for understanding with each of her students at the end of her lessons. The students open the app on their iPads to then draw numbers and symbols while audio recording their understanding of the lesson. This reflection process further develops the students learning as they process their thinking about the concepts and skills from the lesson. It supports the theme of "making thinking visible" which runs through many posts in this blog.

Mrs. Barnes then continues the learning by having students swap iPads to review one another's screencast videos. Students get to see and hear the thinking of their partner thus furthering their own understanding by either reinforcing their own take on the lesson or by learning new information. 

Image Source

ICL in the Second Grade

As mentioned in a previous post, the Second Graders are continuing their research to learn about germs and healthy habits. They are using their online book to read information and watch educational videos. Their efforts to gather and curate information is a big part of our Information and Communication Literacies (ICL) curriculum. The students are really enjoying being "in charge" of their learning as they take notes in their notebooks. The next step will be to use a screencasting app on the iPad to communicate their understanding. 

Digital Poster Boards in the 4th Grade

The Fourth Graders just completed a research effort using the Information and Communication Literacies (ICL) framework for research and project creation. They gathered information on a historical figure and then created an online poster board to communicate their understanding. They used media and visual literacies as well as design skills to create their posters using the Glogster web tool. 

Take a look at the "glog" about Marie Antoinette by Isabelle R. and the one about Mozart by Sofia B. Excellent layout design ladies! 

Monday, February 11, 2013

7th Grade Science: The Water Cycle

We begin a series of posts with the 7th graders sharing digital projects to communicate their learning. Bryan and Will start us off with a video on the water cycle that also involves a few penguins. Nice work gentlemen. :)