The Art of Science at GEMS

Recently at Georgia Elementary & Middle School, puppeteer and GEMS alumni Sarah Frechette, along with artist Jason Thibodeaux conducted an artist-in-residency with 3rd & 4th graders.


Sarah and Jason showed the students how to use light to manipulate depth and space by combining hand-cut shadow puppets with flashlights. This is a modern technique that creates a style of shadow that flows like film and brings practical application to the students studies on light.


In just one week the 6 classes were introduced to their visual storyboard stories, cut unique hand-drawn illustrations into shadow puppets, rigged the puppets using rods and foam, added colorful acetate to their designs, and held a rehearsal in the classrooms.


On the last day of the residency titled Shadows Rock 2016: Shadow Showdown the students presented their final shadow puppet shows in the GEMS small gym. As the shadows shape shifted across the shadow screen GEMS 1st-4th graders watched stories covering such topics as Practice Makes Perfect, Shadows & Light, Life Cycles, Vermont Business & Industry, Me on the Map, and Famous Vermonters!


Combining science, math, history and ideas of working hard & friendship into the show give the shadows a purpose and allow the students to share what they have been learning in the classroom this year.


Sarah Frechette travels around the U.S and the world with her original puppets and shows ( Jason Thibodeaux just finished painting puppets at the stop-motion animation studio LAIKA for the feature films Coraline, ParaNorman, Box Trolls and Kubo.

Target 1: Personalized Learning involving collaborative inquiry, problem solving and creative learning opportunities.

Action Step:  Students participate in learning opportunities that promote collaborative inquiry, problem solving, and creativity for students.

BFA Elementary Drama Club Engages A Packed House in “The Reluctant Dragon”

The BFA Fairfax Elementary Drama program performed The Reluctant Dragon for a standing-room-only crowd on Thursday afternoon and evening.

Our drama program continues to grow year after year. This year approximately thirty-five students participated in this production. Many thanks to all the adults that supported this fantastic learning opportunity for our students. The arts are alive and prospering at BFA Fairfax.  Thank you for your continued support!

BFA Fairfax Launches Ultimate Personalized Learning Opportunity: Tague’s Scoop Shoppe

Today BFA High School Principal John Tague opened up his brand-new Scoop Shoppe to many hungry customers…even though it was a bit of a(n April Fool’s) surprise to him. There are many inventive ice cream flavors to try!



Tague’s Scoop Shoppe provides window service to its customers! Payment is then made to Carol Stanley at the next window (follow the “ice cream music!”).


This newest personalized learning opportunity was especially popular among High School seniors. When asked about the Scoop Shoppe, they responded:

“I’ve been complaining to Mr. Tague for four weeks that we haven’t had any ice cream, and that flavors such as “Murray Maple” should be a part of every student’s diet.  The fact that he listened to us and made a change is heartwarming.  I’m going to go home and tell my mom that I made a difference!”  ~Chris P

“Even in the U.S. Constitution it states that ice cream is a right.  The fact that we waited so long has been a travesty; an atrocity.  We have righted this wrong, and now I can sleep at night.”  ~Seamus R

Pi Night a Success at BFA!

bfapi1On Monday night, the BFA Fairfax Elementary School community came together to celebrate numeracy during Pi Night.


Over forty families attended this annual event where they engaged in math games, puzzles, block building, STEM, measurement, and estimation activities.


Of course they also learned how Pi and pie are related to circles! Everyone sat together and enjoyed pizza and each family brought their favorite pie to share for dessert.


Pi Night was supported by the BFA Elementary Math Department with teachers and para-educators planning and supporting the math stations.


Every family that participated left with a grab bag of math goodies. What a fabulous community event!


BFA HS Students Experience the Power of Communication

Students in Sara Villeneuve’s Public Speaking class at BFA spent the day learning from professionals who use their voice to earn a living. The students traveled to Burlington to visit TV station WCAX and radio station Planet 96.7.


Students were able learn about careers in broadcasting and journalism. They witnessed radio personnel on the air, met television studio personnel and watched a live news broadcast.


It was cool to see how they go through their day and how they do their job as well as the types of public speaking opportunities there are” -Senior Chris Pendris


“I was surprised that Channel Three was not like you see on TV. It was professional looking, but it’s really just in a warehouse” -Senior Alisha Lawrence


“It was cool to see how they got the radio broadcast on air. I always thought that there would be records and turntables, but everything is prerecorded. The only thing they do live is the commercials” Senior Nick Hill


“It was really fun to discover everything. The experience was just awesome!” -Senior Katie Badger

The trip was a great opportunity to connect with community partners who focus on communication skills and the use of effective voice. Teachers at BFA and throughout FWSU are focusing on developing ways for students to demonstrate proficiency in Clear and Effective Communication. Students will utilize their new knowledge to create radio broadcasts and infomercials. The infomercials will be filmed at LCATV later this semester.

GEMS Students Experience Cultures in Vermont and Beyond

Our Cultural Similarities and Differences unit began with a look at our own culture here in Vermont. Students were asked to choose a partner to work with and a country to research. For the next month-and-a-half, students read everything they could about their country. Mrs. Rider and the resources from the library were a lot of help. In fact, students were able to utilize several resources from the library’s website without leaving the classroom.

gemsculturefairKids were asked to answer this simple question:  “What makes your country unique?”  After choosing cultural aspects from a long list that included everything from Art to Taboos, the kids were off and running. They were also asked to think about how the geography of their country affected it’s culture. Most kids were able to see a clear connection. For example, countries located on or near the equator typically wear lightweight clothing and play summer Olympic-type sports. Learning was not contained to just one classroom. Mrs. Crosby, the 5-8th grade Art teacher, was able to extend this project within her curriculum.  She asked kids to research an artist from their country of study.  Students then made a final piece that was included in the Culture Fair.

The Culture Fair!  We had Kindergartners and 5th, 7th, and 8th grade students along with parents in attendance. Students were able to present poster boards, games, and research papers along with many other extras.

A sixth grader summed up the experience this way:

“With our posterboard finished, we set out to buy cheese and carbonated water made in France for the food section of the culture fair. It was a big hit. Everyone loved the combination of carbonated water and cheese. Now that the minor part of the culture fair was finished, we were ready for the big one. We were a little nervous at first, but then we became more confident over time. It didn’t feel like I was forcing myself to tell people about my country. Instead, the words kind of rolled off my tongue. We got so many visitors and yet, I still didn’t feel stressed. Everybody loved our game and our country. By the middle of the culture fair, our poster board was swarming with people. Every time I look back on it I feel proud of myself for doing such a good job handling all of those people. When the culture fair ended my mouth felt dry as a desert from all of the speaking that I did, and I couldn’t wait to see my grade the next day. – Sixth Grader, J.H.  

Target 4. Engaged Community Partners:  FWSU staff and students engage in authentic learning opportunities with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

Indicator of Success: Collaborative projects and partnerships are part of the fabric of the broader community.

Action Step: Plan and manage instruction to address problems relevant to students and their community; design and present solutions to authentic audiences.

BFA HS Students Register to Vote

At the request of the Social Studies Department, long time former BFA High School teacher Dave Clark, came to register 18 and 17-year-olds to vote. Thanks to a Vermont Constitutional Amendment (Proposition 5) passed by the people in 2010, 17 year old students who will be 18 by the General Election in November can vote in Vermont’s Primary on March 1 this year!


Over 25 seniors and juniors registered to vote for the first time in the upcoming Primary!

“It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. It allows me to take action on my opinion rather than just saying something and not doing anything about it.” ~ Senior Bastien T.


“I like how it was easy and accessible to register. It was good that the Social Studies teachers asked us to spread the word to 17-year-olds so we could bridge the age gap and get more kids registered.” ~ Senior Lucas W.

GEMS First Graders Explore Vermont’s Amazing Animals

gemsmac010GEMS First Graders in Mrs. Mackenzie’s class are exploring Vermont animals in winter. These students are curious how these animals survive the harsh winter weather conditions in Vermont.



Students are learning about non-fiction text features and how to use many forms of text both digital and print to gather information on our animals.






As part of their investigation, students documented their learning.






In a few weeks we will present reports to each other about how our animals survive Vermont winters.


Morning Meeting, CCSS, and Transferable Skills: A Design for Proficiency-based Effective Communication

morningmeeting1The Responsive Classroom website Information Library includes an article entitled Teaching Skillful Communication: A Standards-Based Approach to Morning Meeting. The authors point out that Morning Meeting is a viable setting for building communication skills. As FWSU continues its work in proficiency-based teaching and learning with the prioritized content standards and transferable skills, I took the opportunity to apply their ideas to our work.

Along with other local elementary schools, Fletcher Elementary School maintains a strong focus on the Responsive Classroom practice of Morning Meeting. They recognize that Morning Meeting is an effective practice for positively engaging students, both socially and academically at the start of their day within their classroom community.


This year we have an opportunity to grow our current work into future successes on behalf of our students. When planning for Morning Meeting is guided by the implementation of Common Core State Standards in Speaking and Listening and Transferable Skills in Effective Communication, a classroom has an authentic, personalized, format for teaching, practicing, and formatively assessing proficiency in these important areas of learning. Students are able to learn and use a variety of communication skills during this foundational time throughout the school year.

The Morning Meeting format allows for the deliberate and thoughtful teaching and modeling of skills that are used throughout the day to demonstrate evidence of learning in many academic areas. The Morning Meeting structure also allows for critical scaffolding necessary in the acquisition of these skills with teacher supports built into the Morning Meeting format.


In the charts that follow, you can see some examples of Common Core State Standards for Speaking and Listening in grade 5 along with the Vermont’s Transferable Skills in Effective Communication.



In addition to explicitly teaching these skills, providing sufficient, meaningful learning opportunities for students can be challenging. Identifying Morning Meeting as an authentic context for group discussion on focused topics – for example, sharing and follow-up questions, provides a rich context for speaking and listening standards, as well as proficiencies for effective communication.


Teaching Skillful Communication: A Standards-Based Approach to Morning Meeting” by Kathleen Sheehy and Emily Young. Responsive Classroom Information Library

linda keating


Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward


Everybody Dance!

The sound of rock music and engaged children laughing and dancing can be heard coming from the BFA Fairfax Elementary Cafeteria every Friday. The school lunchroom is a busy and energetic place. Lunch is also a really important time of day for students. In twenty-five short minutes, students must navigate the lunch lines, find their table, eat their lunch, and socialize in respectful and responsible manner.


Last year in an effort to improve the eating environment, our lunchroom monitors began playing music on Fridays while our grades three, four, and five students have lunch. In addition, we allowed students the option to dance when they were finished with their lunches. To our surprise our students immediately responded to this opportunity in a positive way!


We quickly noticed that lunchroom behaviors improved and students and staff were eager to dance week in and week out.


Now on any given Friday you you can witness students, staff, and the Abbey Group staff dancing to Journey or the Chicken Dance as we continue to work to enhance our school climate and provide a student centered learning environment.