Author Archives: krystalmills

Teacher Inquiry: My Wondering (Post 2)

I spoke in my previous post about teacher inquiry as a process in which teachers use their own skills, power, and creativity to solve a problem that exists in their classroom; a problem that if solved would improve student achievement in some way. I challenged you to state a wondering of your own, as well. This wondering should be something that you’re passionate about finding an answer to!

(Click here to read the introductory post….) 



Teacher Inquiry

Retrieved from:

My wondering for my Master’s course requirement came at the end of this past school year. I had many different wonderings floating around in my head at the time. They dealt with whole class instruction, engagement,  behavior, and other issues as well. The process of defining a wondering is key because it is this question which will drive the entire inquiry. Since it was the end of the school year and I was not going to have my students in front of me during the inquiry, I identified an inquiry that I could explore in the summer months.

As a Math teacher, one issue arises for me each September. Students come back from a summer of rest and relaxation, and I am so happy to see them! Unfortunately, I find that many students tend to regress in their skills and we spend the first couple of weeks of school bringing them back up to speed. I wish I was able to start the grade level curriculum more quickly, and so I started to wonder… I wondered if there was a way to work with students over the summer to help maintain their math skills to lessen this regression. My students and I were also participating in a technology pilot at the time, which ended up having a significant impact on how I organized my inquiry. When it came down to defining my wondering, I knew I wanted to follow my passion for Math, and try to incorporate technology and attempt to increase or at least maintain student achievement.

My wondering for my inquiry was: How can I use technology (Khan Academy, Sumdog and Google Classroom) to help my grade 7 students maintain their Math skills over the summer months? 

In upcoming posts, I will discuss where I went from here with my teacher inquiry. So, any wonderings coming to mind? Please share by commenting below! I know many are already back in classrooms, although I do not personally start back with students until September 8th. I wonder…could we ever create an online group of teacher inquirers this school year? Any interest – please let me know and we’ll see what we can do!

Teacher inquiry

Getting Started with Teacher Inquiry

I am proud to say that I have officially finished 9 of my 10 Masters courses (insert applause here). It has been a busy 12 months! My program really has changed me as a teacher – my planning, instruction, and how I regard assessment.

One course that I took a couple of months ago was “Action Research”. Before beginning the course, I was shaking in my boots. I envisioned research methods from my undergrad degree – reliability and validity, controlling variables and looking for statistically significant results…Shudder… I remember thinking, “It’s almost the end of the school year. I DO NOT have time to conduct RESEARCH!” As it turns out, I learned in the first week that action research has many other names, including “teacher inquiry”, and it was nothing like what I had pictured. I have come to prefer the term “teacher inquiry” to “action research”. I find it less intimidating – if that makes any sense! But, they do refer to the same process.

So, why have I chosen to share with you, my first venture into teacher inquiry? Well, as a requirement of my program, I had to conduct a teacher inquiry of my own. One of the major elements upon the completion of a teacher inquiry is to share what happened – the results, what I learned, and what it all means. So, as part of the “sharing” component I decided to share here on my blog with all of you. It’s too much to share in one post, so you can expect a few upcoming posts highlighting the whole process.

teacher inquiryWhat you need to understand, if you are new to teacher inquiry, is that it is a simple, yet complex process. Time-consuming, yet rich in professional development opportunities. The entire process begins with what is called a “wondering”. This is a question that you wish you had the answer to. It may be something that you think about on the drive home, or discuss with your spouse or colleagues, or something that rolls around in your mind as you try to sleep. As educators, we all have wonderings, of sorts….How can I help So-and-So be more organized? What can I do to increase student engagement? What can I do to improve achievement with this unit? How can I incorporate more technology into my course? What can I do to make So-And-So stop blurting out in class? How can I get all of my students to actually LEARN their times tables this year? These were all potential wonderings for me as I started the process of teacher inquiry. I encourage you to think about a question, a wondering, that you would like help with. It should be something that would improve life in your classroom and in return, increase student achievement – which is what it’s all about – helping kids learn and have success. 


I’m including a link to our course text, in case teacher inquiry sounds like something that you would like to explore this school year. In my opinion, the book was extremely helpful and user-friendly:

The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research: Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn Through Practitioner Inquiry


So, as I leave you to reflect on your own personal wondering, know that teacher inquiry is simply a structured method to help you find the answer(s) to that question. It is empowering, and helps teachers to find the answers to their own questions. So, what’s your wondering?


Canadian teacher middle school blog, lessons from the middle, teacher author krystal mills photo

My students are all published authors – thank you Picaboo :)

2015-06-23 18.17.35I mentioned a while back that my students were working on memoirs and that my students were each going to put their memoir in to a class book. Well, we completed our book and even added some of their art work, in addition to their memoirs. The books arrived just last week and the quality is awesome (and they took less than 2 weeks turn around time from when we submitted the final proof). The kids did a super job and the site that we used, Picaboo (which is actually a yearbook site) was fantastic to work with. We used the site to self-publish, essentially. However, they also sent me a copy of their actual yearbooks to get an idea of quality – and both hard and soft covers are really well-made.

Not all of my students could afford a yearbook this year, but the Picaboo yearbooks were only $10 a piece – that’s pretty affordable. There are no minimums for orders and so the teacher could order one book for the class library, or each student could purchase their own copy. Picaboo also offers free ebooks, so students could still share their work with parents etc.- just online. 2015-06-23 18.14.52

The day the books arrived, I allowed my students time to mingle and check out each others’ published work and even write “yearbook” type comments – since every student did get a copy of our class book of writing, “From the Minds of 7B ~ A book of Memoirs”. They thought it was great, because again, they hadn’t all gotten yearbooks and this way they did get to sign messages to each other and it was almost MORE special since it was something that only our class was a part of.


Even my reluctant writers were pretty proud of their work and I think using a site, like Picaboo, to self publish is a must to give purpose for writing. This site is affordable, easy to use, and has tons of extra options for anyone who wants to “get fancy” with their class writing project. And again, at the end of the day – the site is a Yearbook making site – and I would recommend looking into them if you’re getting started with yearbooks in your school or classroom. Their customer service was wonderful!

Really, it’s pretty cool (in my opinion) to create a class book of writing, include artwork, class photos, cool backgrounds and borders – and all for $10 a book. I’m proud of the work that we did this year in writing and I’m happy that each of my students has become a published author before the end of the school year.


Elora of Stone

Helping Middle Schoolers Avoid the Summer Slide

~Happy to have another blog post from guest blogger Catherine Ross. Summer slide. How can our kids avoid it?~

summer slide

Every summer, an evil monster waits in the dark looking for its next victim – a young mind ready to stay idle for over three months. What evil monster? Why, the dreaded Summer Slide indeed! Children lose mammoth educational ground during their summer breaks because they are away from regular studies for a long time. Summer slide affects middle school children the most as they are in the most crucial phase of their education – the middle school years not only help kids discover their favorite subjects and areas of interest, but also help them set the foundation for advanced studies. While parents get busy planning family holidays as soon as summer sets in, ensuring that the learning doesn’t stop sometimes takes a backseat. So how can summer slide be tackled among middle school children while simultaneously making the most of the sunny, breezy season? Below are a few ways to make learning seem like a game and prevent summer slide in middle school children.

Setting goals

summer slide


Middle school children must understand that it is important to stay connected to their last year’s syllabus. What they’ll learn in the next grade will build upon what they learnt in their previous grade. So it’s essential to know their last year’s math, science, and grammar syllabi. Set goals with your middle school child and try to make the learning experience fun. Examples: solve 100 math problems in a week, read four short stories in two days, conduct three science experiments in 5 weekdays, etc. The time limits will make it challenging for a middle school child to achieve the goals and eventually help in preventing the inevitable slide.


summer slide 4


Setting a goal of reading four short stories in two days doesn’t necessarily translate into reading four short stories in one day. Or, solving 100 problems in a week doesn’t mean the middle schooler will solve 50 on the last day of achieving the goal. The whole objective of ‘setting goals’ is to ensure that the middle schoolers continue to practice their lessons through the break. So oversee your child’s daily routine and make sure she plans out the tasks sensibly. If a child has to read four short stories in two days, she should ideally read two a day, and solving 100 problems in a week will mean solving 14 a day on an average. When your child gets bored of solving problems and reading stories, switch to fun games for kids online that are both educational as well as fun.


summer slide


Plan mid-summer rewards for kids on successfully achieving their goals. Why would they want to complete the tasks assigned to them within a limited time if there’s nothing waiting at the end of it for them? But avoid rewarding them with very fancy gifts and instead choose books, stationery, puzzles, board games, etc. In other words, choose rewards that have an educational value.

Going out

summer slide


There’s another objective to summer besides trying and avoiding summer slide – enjoying summer! Museums, nature parks, and zoos never cease to teach us. Take kids out to these destinations and give them a chance to explore beyond their textbooks. Incorporate learning cleverly into these trips by studying maps of the places you explored, going back home and writing essays on the trip, documenting the trips to make a journal on their summer holiday, and more. After all, summers are meant to be outdoorsy!

Don’t forget to enjoy the sun while trying hard to avoid summer slide. Play while learning and learn while playing to make the most of both.


Author Bio:

Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at

Engaging Middle School Writers with Picaboo – Trust Me!

It can be difficult to engage kids in writing – that’s just a fact. Therefore, I am excited to share a site that I found called, “Picaboo Yearbooks” to publish a class book containing my students’ writing. My students have bought in and so I’m stoked! You can actually create lots of different things on the website, but I am using it to create a class book of writing to engage my kids, and so far, so good!

I had been searching for a “self-publishing” type of site and couldn’t seem to find just what I wanted, in terms of style, practicality or price. Picaboo’s books are affordable (less than $10 for a 20 page book – full color, softcover and less than $20 for a hardcover) so I’ll be able to purchase one to have in my class library – this way everyone will be a published writer this year. There are no minimums needed to buy a book, either. If I just want one book – I’m free to order just one! Also, the way that I am choosing to set things up, each student has their own page to create. All I had to do was make ONE login and they can all access our class book. They know to work on their own page and not to mess with anyone else’s page. They can also easily read and give feedback to classmates, as we create this one collaborative collection of their writing. Finally, they love that they can change the layout, and add fun pictures and backgrounds to their pages to make them even more polished. They are enjoying the fact that this book will be published and so have been putting forth commendable efforts, so far.

In terms of particulars, I was going to have students write directly into the template, and some are. For others, they rather use Word to create their draft and then they are pasting the draft into the website to get feedback from peers. There was a little bit of a learning curve, however, the site is very user friendly and the kids are having no issues with the technology side! They’re grade 7 – technology is their forte!

Oh, and I did contact Picaboo before I decided to do this project to get a sample of their books. They actually sent me a beautiful sample and I was sold on the quality! If you are thinking about doing a class yearbook or wanting to engage your kiddos by setting up your class with Picaboo so that they can all get published – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. They also have tons of helpful videos, and Live Chat to help out as well, if you use the yearbooks as yearbooks, since they are more involved than what I am using the site for.

I only wish I had incorporated Picaboo earlier in the year with my kiddos – we could have made a larger collection of their work. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Picaboo Yearbooks

This is a first draft that one of my students is working on in the Picaboo Yearbooks template…


Elora of Stone

Enter to Win A New Middle Grades Read: “Elora of Stone”

Elora of Stone, written by Canadian author Jaime Lee Mann, is the first in her Legend of Rhyme Series. Aimed at children in the middle grades, this book is fantasy, magic and fairytale combined into one. Her descriptive language paints a picture for the reader, making it a really enjoyable read! This, together with the twists and turns of the story will have your kids hooked!



From a teacher’s standpoint this would be a great mentor text to have in your classroom, as it is filled with descriptive language and wonderful word choice to use as models for your students. This novel would also be a great read aloud, and there are discussion questions at the back of Elora of Stone, which is a nice touch.

A bit about the book?

When four-year-old Asher Caine vanishes while playing near the woods with his twin sister Ariana, his family is convinced that he is gone forever. In the Kingdom of Falmoor, twins are cursed. Since the evil sorcerer Larque turned the good witch Elora to stone, all twins in the Kingdom are doomed to separate, either through death or mysterious disappearances.

When Ariana later learns that her brother is alive, she knows that must find him in order to save Falmoor. With their magic blood and powerful bond, the Caine twins must release Elora from her stone imprisonment. Only then will Larque be stopped from spreading darkness throughout the kingdom. Will the twins find each other in time? Can they save Falmoor from evil and remove the curse of the twins forever? You’ll have to read to find out!

elora of stone

Want to win a copy of Elora of Stone? Three lucky readers will win a signed copy of the book for their classrooms, as well as the option of having a live chat with the author for you and your students! Good luck, and also watch for installment #2 in the Legend of Rhyme series, Into Coraira, which comes out in May. elora of stone2

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An excerpt from the first novel in the Legend of Rhyme series, Elora of Stone

With one grimy green hand, Grimblerod reaches up into the thin white roots of the plants above. His other hand steadies the candle near eye level. The roots are twisted in knots, curling into each other, clinging to the dirt like tiny gnarled fists. Grimblerod pinches two long dirty fingers around a juicy grub.

Bringing his fingers to his face, Grimblerod studies the grub more closely in the candlelight. Satisfied with his prize, he pulls a leather drawstring pouch from the pocket of his tattered trousers and plops the grub inside.

Grimblerod’s stomach twists with hunger, but he has work to do. His candle is close to burning out, and beads of melted wax drip onto his hand leaving bumpy yellow trails along his skin. He has just enough light to get to the opening in the tree.

He grunts as he trudges along, piercing the deafening silence with snorts and other impolite sounds. Once he reaches the opening, Grimblerod blows out his candle and sets it down. He then shimmies his fat little body up a slender brown root into the fresh night air.

After surfacing, Grimblerod shields his eyes against the light of the full moon. Instinctively, he checks his feet, ensuring that he is still in goblin form.

The sound of crickets drowns out his rumbling stomach, and the glow of the moon guides him through the dark.

A thick, white mist creeps along, hiding him from sight. A gentle breeze rustles the leaves on the giant tree making them tremble in the night.

As he waddles along, an owl cries out in the dark. One might say it was a warning to the villagers of Rhyme of the evil acts about to occur.

It is the type of setting the best nightmares start with, and tonight, a mother’s most unspeakable dream will come true.


Elora of Stone

Do You Teach Your Students About Having a Fixed Vs Growth Mindset?

In one of the courses that I am taking for my Master’s of Education, I came across a topic that really struck a chord with me. I am taking two courses at the moment ( my March “Break” has been pivotal in maintaining my sanity with this 2 courses at once, business). In my Differentiated Instruction course, the idea of a “Fixed Mindset” versus a “Growth Mindset” came up. To put it simply, some people (kids included) believe that we are born with a certain amount of intelligence – it’s “fixed”. In comparison, hose with a “Growth Mindset” understand that putting in effort to learn new things expands our minds, and that effort is what makes us successful and “smarter”.

I don’t know about you, but I have certain students, who constantly question themselves and do not give their full effort! Like, ever! Oh wait, unless it’s a really simple task. It is extremely frustrating, as the teacher, to sit back and see that if s/he just TRIED they would achieve the success that they wish for. What I have learned is that people with a “fixed mindset” see effort and “having to try” as threatening to their intelligence. This exertion of effort actually makes them feel stupid because they feel like they should already know the material. They think that others just “get it” while they do not. Kids with a “fixed mindset” don’t realize that other students are actually working harder than they are (exerting effort to do well) and it is the effort of these other students that causes them to gain more academic success, not intelligence that they were born with.

I teach grade 7 and I think that junior high students could really benefit from being informed about “fixed” and “growth” mindsets. Recognizing the type of mindset that they have and looking at how they can make simple changes to actually “grow their brains” and make themselves smarter? I would have to think that idea would be appealing to kids!

I found an interactive quiz to share with your kiddos if this is something that you’re interested in. Below the quiz are two videos – a Ted Talk by Carol Dweck who has researched this phenomenon, and a second video about how the brain works that would be suitable for middle school and up. I also found another quick video comparing “fixed” and “growth” mindset.

Carol Dweck’s book is titled, “Mindset” if this is a topic that interests you.

I also dug around and found “Mindsets in the Classroom” which I am adding to my Amazon wishlist. It looks fantastic and very user-friendly!


I think that the main thing that I got from the articles that I have read for my MSED on mindset, is that kids need to know that they have the power to “make themselves smarter”. Their effort is what matters – they haven’t been born with a certain amount of intelligence. Exerting effort to learn something new makes the neurons in their brain fire and can actually cause their brain to grow (whereby making them smarter than if they hadn’t exerted effort). Even sharing or reminding kids of that fact, and pulling the topic in when kids with “fixed mindsets” balk at challenges would be helpful with motivating and inspiring all kids to achieve.

I am excited to get back to class and share some of the things I have learned about mindset with my kiddos (the ones with clearly “fixed mindsets” especially). I would love to hear your opinions on this topic! Are you familiar with Dweck’s work? I have spoken to my kids on the topic of effort, but never in the terms of mindset and intelligence and I can’t wait to hear what they think!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

HUGE Sale at TeachersPayTeachers

Just in case you didn’t hear…

 TeachersPayTeachers is having a site wide sale AND many of us have our stores on sale, as well, for even more savings.

Happy shopping!

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Virtual Field Trip to AfricaGraphic by: Study All Knight

Take Your Students on a Virtual Field Trip To Africa

How does a trip to Africa sound? Your school doesn’t have the budget for that? No worries! If you teach grades 3-8 – listen up!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

Nature Works Everywhere and field scientist Charles Oluchina have joined forces to provide a live virtual field trip to the deserts and grasslands of Africa! I know, right? Pretty cool!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa


What will you experience on this amazing virtual adventure?

You and your students will visit Burkino Faso and learn how one African farmer helped bring back forest lands that were being lost to desertification. Then, you’ll head to Kenya to learn about the importance of grasslands and the effects of ecotourism. And all from the comfort of your own classroom! Technology rocks! Oh wait? Did I mention that this is all free? Yep! You just need to register and you’re set!


A Google Hangout  is being used for the VFT which is so smart! The VFT to Africa is streamed live on YouTube, on February 5th, at 12:00pm Eastern Time, or you can view it at your convenience. The field trip is about 40 minutes in length – which is great because that is about the length of a class period. You and your students will also get a firsthand look at a PBS LearningMedia collection of videos, digital games and educational resources from the new PBS series EARTH A New Wild.

In case you are interested but worried about dedicating the class time to such an event, here are the key terms and concepts that will be addressed during the VFT: People and Conservation, Desertification, Global Agriculture, Smart Development, Ecotourism, Habitat, Grasslands, Reforestation. Not only that, students will learn the science behind how nature works for us—and how we can help keep it running strong. 


Nature Works Everywhere and The Nature Conservancy have lots of other resources to check out as well.


Farming the Desert | EARTH A New Wild from The Nature Conservancy on Vimeo.


If you choose to attend the VFT, please come back and comment how it went!

Virtual Field Trip to Africa

Feeling the Love

As teachers, there are times that our jobs are stressful and we get to the end of the day and wonder if we actually taught anybody anything! Or, maybe that’s just me!

Well this was the opposite of one of those weeks. This week I was feeling the love! I came back from Christmas vacation to find a little card in my school mailbox. When I opened it, I discovered that it was from a student I taught last year, and who I had for Math again this year. She moved a couple of months ago. I only wish there was a return address on the envelope! I’m going to have to track her down!

So sweet, brought a tear to my eye.



I mean, come on! How lucky am I to receive such a special card – this one filled my bucket for at least the next few months.

And then as I was just getting ready to head home today, I noticed this on the board. Now, they’ve written this on the board before, but they usually add, “And ——– is her favorite student!” This message was anonymous, and it topped up my bucket – I’m good until the end of June, now!



Just in case you haven’t been told recently, YOU ARE AWESOME! Enjoy your weekend – I certainly have a little extra energy for the Master’s work ahead of me!


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