Monthly Archives: March, 2014

50 Days in the Schools #23: Nook e-readers Revolution-ize history class


The students in Rob Mahoney’s sixth-grade history class at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School are learning about the past with the most modern of tools: Nook e-readers.

The Nooks were donated last year by the Victoria McLaughlin Foundation, and Mahoney uses them to teach his students how to read actively, annotating and highlighting the text—something they couldn’t do in a regular textbook. That active reading then carries over into class discussions and other activities.

The Nooks come pre-loaded with the novels My Brother Sam Is Dead and Jeff Shaara’s Rise to Rebellion, both of which are set during the American Revolution and the time leading up to it, as well as several other young adult books dealing with the Civil War and the Middle East. (There are no other books or apps on the Nooks, and the devices are locked so students can’t add their own.) Mahoney brings in primary sources in class to supplement the Nook material.

The students read a chapter of My Brother Sam Is Dead each evening and annotate and highlight it as they go. Then they develop discussion questions based on the material and split up into groups to discuss the material in class. “Each student has to have three discussion questions, and they have to back up their opinions with material from the Nook that they have highlighted,” Mahoney said.

The groups start out small, with just three members, and get bigger as students get more comfortable talking in front of a group, culminating in a full-class discussion in which every student participates. “Half the kids are in an inner circle, they are the players, and the other half are outside the circle acting as coaches,” Mahoney explained. “They debate about major events in the book. The coaches take notes about what the players are doing well, and we have a two-minute half time so they can get a pep talk from coach. The next day we switch the roles so each kid gets to do both.”

Students make use of the instant dictionary on the Nook, which allows them to look up words immediately; they are required to write down the definitions of five words per chapter using the Nook’s built-in dictionary.

The class also reads a few chapters of Rise to Rebellion and discusses the different genres of historical fiction. “It’s very much aligned with the Common Core standards of reading and writing and analyzing,” Mahoney said.

Mahoney gives the students some time at the beginning of class to familiarize themselves with the Nooks, learning how to bookmark a page, check the battery life, and use the built-in dictionary. “They would not otherwise be doing anything academic with a screen,” he said. “They might be reading, but they would not necessarily be taking notes or annotating. That’s the biggest advantage, becoming more comfortable with using a screen for more than looking up silly things on the internet.”

There is one other advantage, which is that some students find the Nook more appealing than a print book. As one of his students said of a different book, “It’s really boring—but if it was on the Nook, I would have liked it.”


City flags at half staff to honor Boston firefighters

Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh and firefighter Michael R. Kennedy of the Boston Fire Department

Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh and firefighter Michael R. Kennedy of the Boston Fire Department

Per order of Governor Patrick, all the flags in the City of Melrose have been lowered to half staff to honor Boston Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, who lost their lives fighting the nine-alarm fire on Beacon Street in Boston yesterday. The City of Melrose today pays its respects to those who gave their lives for the City of Boston.

We are keeping in our thoughts and prayers the Melrose firefighters who lost their brothers; I am sure this is a very difficult time for them, their families, and their loved ones. We thank them for their service to our community.

50 Days in the Schools #22: Students create their own museum

Museum View
The seventh-graders in Morgan Crooks’s world history class don’t just study Ancient Egypt—they create an entire museum of ancient Egypt and display their creations in the school library.

The museum is a research project, so students started by choosing a topic and researching it, as they would for any other project, said teacher Morgan Crooks. They are required to use a combination of print and digital resources and take notes as they go. Then they have to make something to exhibit. Some create models, some do informational kiosks, and some make videos about their topic; every project has a writing component as well.

One student made an almost-life-size sarcophagus. “The lid had a design mimicking Tutankhamen’s funeral mask,” Crooks said. “Inside it looked like they had wrapped up a large stuffed animal or doll. They included jewels and amulets, and they had information about the sarcophagus on the inside of the lid.” Another student made a scale model of a pyramid. “Pyramids are a popular choice, but I don’t just want a pizza box cut into triangles and duct-taped together, so I asked for blueprints,” Crooks said. “One of the students decided that the blueprint would be the pyramid itself, so the nice limestone-faced pyramid was hinged so you could open it up and see the burial chambers inside.

Another student took the museum theme literally; he made a model of the Rosetta Stone and built a display case for it, complete with vitrine and display light, and he even brought a replacement bulb in case the light burned out.

Crooks assigns other projects in the course of the year, but he says what makes this one different is that the students share their creations with others. “With the standard middle school project, the students produce something and on show and tell day they tell you about it and you go on to the next kid,” he said. “That means only the students in that class get to see it—there is no wider audience.” With the museum set up in the school library, the other classes could visit as well, and it was also open to the whole community. During some periods the students were museum guides as well, standing by their exhibits to give an overview and answer questions for visitors.

Why ancient Egypt? “It’s the topic students respond to best,” said Crooks. “There are students who like Rome, Greece, the Stone Age, but almost everyone finds something to like about ancient Egypt, something mysterious, something they didn’t know before.”

Continue reading →

50 Days in the Schools #21: Mixing math with community service

Koslen with tabs

The students in Felice Kachinsky Koslen’s fifth grade class at the Horace Mann School have been working all day on a project that combines math and community service: They are collecting can tabs for the Shriners Hospital.

“We call it ‘Kids helping kids,” Koslen said. The money goes to buy toys, games, and other items for children who are undergoing long-term treatment for burns or getting prosthetic limbs.

The metal in can tabs is high quality aluminum that is worth more than the rest of the can, Koslen said, and the Shriners have an agreement with a recycler that gives them a good price for the tabs.

Collecting the tabs is a year-long activity, and Koslen takes the opportunity to teach her students an important lesson in mathematics: How to estimate large numbers.

“Everybody fills a little cup with tabs,” she explains, “and we count the number of tabs in each cup, take the average, and do an estimate. So when they have a large amount of tabs, they don’t have to count the tabs—they count the cups. They are learning estimation and multiplication, and they make graphs to show the amount they bring in each week. They are also learning how to keep accurate records, so there is a tremendous amount of learning going on, but it’s also a community service.”

The Shriners send a representative each year to talk to the students about what they do and to thank them for the can tabs.

“I’m hoping it makes a difference, not only to the Shriners but to the children,” Koslen said. “They know they can contribute in some real way—they see the intrinsic value of helping other children.”

Fire at the Fuller House this morning

On Monday, March 24, at 11:30 a.m. the Melrose Fire Department received a fire alarm master box notification for 101 Cottage Street, the Fuller House, a six-story elderly apartment building. The fire was isolated in one unit on the sixth floor. The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time. The resident was not home when the fire began. Unfortunately, her dog was in the apartment and died as a result of the fire. Due to the fast action of the Melrose Fire Department and the excellent work of the staff at the Fuller House, the fire was contained and there were no human injuries. Our own ambulance responded to the fire, and as a precaution Cataldo Ambulance was there as well to set up a triage area for potential victims; fortunately, there was no need to deploy it.

Gymnastics team earns “Dynasty Drive” sign

    Dynasty Drive 2

    I was happy to be able to attend the Melrose gymnastics team banquet last week and present them with a “Dynasty Drive” sign commemorating their string of five championships in five years. Way to go, girls!

Learn how to prevent ice dams on March 27!


On Thursday, March 27, the Melrose Energy Commission (MEC) is hosting a free workshop at the Milano Center, 201 West Foster St., on ice dams and their prevention. This free program begins at 7 p.m.

Icicles hanging off the roof may look pretty, but they can cause water-stained ceilings, roof and gutter damage, peeling paint, and damage to interior walls. The water seepage can also lead to mold and mildew. Simple steps such as insulating, air sealing and properly ventilating your home can help prevent ice dams—and also save energy.

At the workshop, Travis Estes of Next Step Living, a Mass Save participating Home Performance Contractor, will be making a 25-minute presentation before fielding questions.

You’ll also be able to sign up for a home energy assessment.

For further information, click here or contact the Melrose Energy Commission at or 781-662-2616.

Important Details
What: Preventing Ice Dams Workshop
Where: Milano Center 201 West Foster St., Melrose
When: 3/27/2014 at 7 pm

Local Business Spotlight: Roman Music Therapy

Roman Music Therapy logo

Our community-based classes help parents navigate the early childhood journey. While sharing a playful and fun experience with your child, you’ll learn melodies which can serve as tools for each stage of their development. Because the melodies are associated with familiar and enjoyable bonding times, the songs capture your child’s attention and transform an everyday event into a joyful Interaction!

• Original songs, instrument play and movement
• Live music-making guided by a Board Certified Music Therapist
• Purposeful, age-appropriate activities and attention
• Opportunities to explore, play and grow
• Multi-week classes for infants, toddlers and preschoolers

Register Now! Early-Bird registrations receive a $15 discount before March 25!
Classes for newborns through 5 years old

Spring Session 1: April 7 – May 17
Spring Session 2: May 19 – June 28

Price for 6 weeks: $175

423 Main St., Melrose, MA 02176

50 Days in the Schools #20: Students trade reading logs for reading blog

Melissa Giordano

The students in Melissa Giordano’s fourth-grade class have traded in written reading logs for a lively website where they discuss what they have been reading, and what started out as a routine assignment has turned into an ongoing conversation about books, writing, and other academic matters.

Giordano started the blog as an alternative to the traditional reading log, which students use to record independent reading done outside the classroom. The students would do the reading, then pick a question from a list and respond to it. “It was tedious,” Giordano said. “They didn’t enjoy it and they didn’t put in their best effort.”

So Giordano did some research and found Kidblog, a secure blogging site developed by teachers for just her situation. She signed up and gave all her students accounts, and now, she said, “They have totally taken ownership of it.” The students post every evening about what they have read and ask questions about it or prod their fellow students to make connections. At the moment, the students are doing a research project about the states, so they are posting a lot of maps and other images, and before that they were reading mysteries and sharing book recommendations.

Giordano maintains order on the blog with a set of standards she calls FAAB: “They have to be Friendly, Appropriate, Academic, and use their Best work,” she said. “As long as they are FAAB, the blog is completely theirs.”

One benefit that Giordano hadn’t anticipated is that the students are learning to go back and revise their work, an important skill for the MCAS composition tests as well as real life. “I am a stickler for grammar conventions, so I will ask them to go back and reread their work and edit it, but now we will have other kids going on and saying ‘You didn’t use a capital letter’ or ‘That’s not academic enough,'” she said.

“Editing and revising is so hard for kids this age,” she said. “If they can see it in their friends’ work, see it on the computer screen, does that make it easier for them? If I model for them what a solid paragraph looks like, does that start to flow over into their work? The answer is yes, it is happening, and that’s exciting.”

The blog belongs to the class alone—only the students and their teachers and paraprofessionals can see it. Giordano said that it was important that the blog be private and secure, which is why she chose a site that was developed by teachers. Giordano also uses a more traditional WordPress blog to keep parents updated on what’s going on in the classroom.

Students are expected to do reading and blogging three times a week, but Giordano said many of her students are posting every day. “We think they can’t wait to get out of this building at 2:22 p.m., but if you give them something exciting, something fresh, something they can have ownership over, it’s amazing what you can get,” she said.

Visit with the St. Mary’s Current Events Club

St. Marys

It was great to spend this afternoon with the St. Mary’s Current Events Club! I was so impressed by their knowledge of the issues of the day and their desire to make a positive difference in their community!


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