Setting the Stage for a New School Year

By Brent Vasicek on August 4, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5

Setting the Stage

It's almost show-time. In a month, students will arrive at Studio 24, otherwise known as my classroom, and there is much to be done beforehand. This month my posts will focus on how to have a great beginning to the school year. For me, it starts with picking a good theme. This year we are actors earning our Academy Awards in our entertainment-themed room.

New Challenges

The 2010-2011 school year will be a unique one for me because I am teaching a 4th and 5th grade blended class. The hardships associated with the economy have affected our Michigan schools greatly. One solution to save money is to maximize the use of seats in each classroom. Miami Elementary has about 400 students with about three teachers at each grade level. The fourth and fifth grade numbers were such that combining two grades in one class allowed the cost savings of one teacher. Stay tuned to find out how one teacher can juggle both grade levels at the same time.

Using My Past

Because of my medical background (see my intro post for details), I love learning about how the brain works, and I will attend virtually any seminar that talks about practical ways to apply brain research to the classroom. Look for brain friendly tips sprinkled throughout my posts this year. I also love summer camp, so early on I figured, why not merge the fun of camp with the rigors of learning to create our own mini-Disneyland? Judging by my students’ genuine sadness when "Disneyland" closes on the last day of school, this approach to teaching really seems to work.

While many people thought I was insane to leave medicine to become a teacher -- and work twice as many hours for half the pay -- I have found the decision to be the best one I have ever made. Much of my success with students comes from being committed to my philosophy of teaching and to staying focused on the students. In the coming months, I will show how you, too, can create a great learning community in the classroom.

What's in Store

Brain tips, building rapport, creating the environment, differentiated instruction, team building, technology, and more. You will find it all here over the next nine months.  What topics would you like to see covered? Let me know in the comments section below. Together we're sure to have a good run this year.

Break a leg —

Director Vasicek


I think it would be a great challenge in The 2010-2011 school year will be a unique one for me because I am teaching a 4th and 5th grade blended class.

Good Luck!

Good Luck to you as well. With a little patience and a lot of organization, it will work out. ~Brent

I am excited to read your posts! I have taught 5th grade for 3 years, but when my school suddenly closed last year I found myself having difficulty getting a job. Less than a week before school started, I received an offer to teach a 3rd/4th combined class, so I am learning 2 new sets of standards, as well as juggling the 2 groups since there is not a single time in my day where I have only one group. It's challenging, but keeps me on my toes!

Erika, What a great attitude! My strategy for the first 4 days of school is to do everything as a class. While it may seem a "waste" of time to some, it really pays off 10 fold later on. Looking forward to hearing how your year goes! Brent


The entertainment theme sounds like a great idea for those grade levels! I am looking forward to reading more of your posts.

Also, I am looking for ideas and tips on differentiated math with 3rd and 4th graders.

Thank you! Sarah

Sarah, I will try to do some cool math posts this year. One thing I do is similar to those exercise shows you see on television. I create three similar math problems with varying degrees of difficulty (similar to a low impact, medium impact, and high impact exercise) for our morning math. I tell the students to complete the problem which creates challenge without ending in frustration. If they get done with a problem early, then of course they may attempt the next highest level while others are still finishing. Thanks for reading. ~Brent

As a future teacher, current student at Oakland University, and Chippewa Valley Schools alum, I'm excited to read your blog posts and learn how to become a great teacher!

Wow! So many connections. Maybe you can stop by the classroom this year to see a live episode of Studio 24. I hope you can borrow many of the ideas I will be posting throughout the year. Keep the comments coming. ~Director Vasicek


I am looking forward to your upcoming posts!

Next year I plan to use a theme in my classroom; Hollywood was my top choice. I would like to see how you incorporate your theme.

I would also like to hear more about brain research and how you link it to curriculum, differentiated instruction, and your implementation of technology.

Jeanell, Thank you for checking out the blog. I will definitely be posting pictures as the room transforms into a Hollywood like atmosphere. Also main brain tips will be sprinkled in the posts throughout the year. I hope you enjoy. ~Brent

I can't wait to read more of your posts!

~Thanks, Deana. Next week is all about picking a theme for your classroom. Director Vasicek


Summer camp in the classroom is a lot of work, but the pay off is huge. I am forever greatful to one of my college professors, Dr. Evanski, who gave me permission to think of injecting summer camp into a classroom. I will definitely be blogging about this throughout the year. ~Brent


Thank you for the list as well. Classroom management and music are top priorities on my list to talk about as I feel they are key to some of my most successful years in teaching. I have yet to do a Disney-related theme (I am marinating on this one). The "Closing of Disneyland" reference came from a student as he tried to describe the end of the school year. He couldn't have said it better. Gotta love how kids can sum up a feeling with a few simple words. Thank you for reading. ~Brent

Becky, Thank you for reading this blog. I appreciate you taking the time to come up with a list of topics to cover. I will do my best to touch on those topics throughout the year. Check back soon. Brent

Allie, Thank you for the compliments. I do love to have fun in my classroom. It is tough to achieve a good balance between fun, curriculum, and disicpline, but when you do amazing things can happen. Stay tuned.

I would love to see how you incorporate your theme, as well as brain research ideas.

You have such phenomenal ideas, Brent! It is always wonderful to learn more about brain-based research. It is great to see some of the ideas you have for the posts this year. When you get back, I am curious to see which subject is your favorite to teach. - Victoria

Brent, Welcome to! I am excited to read your posts this year! Smiles, Megan Power

Hello Brent,

I'd like to know how to incorporate lessons that cater to the different learning styles in a 4th grade classroom.

Thank you!


Hello! I would love to know more specifics about how you bring summer camp fun into the classroom! That sounds like great fun, for me as well as the students! :)


Hey Brent! Welcome to the scholastic online community! :)

I LOOOOOOOOVE your theming- the "Director Vasicek" signature is too cool! Kuddos to you. I can't wait to see what you are doing with Disneyland in your classroom. I worked for Disney for several years (in Florida- not CA); it's actually where I met my husband. I teach 1st grade and we go on a virtual field trip using Google Earth to Walt Disney World when studying cardinal directions. :)

I'd like to know about: *Anything you'd like to share about Brain-based research (I'm also an avid fan) *Your classroom management system *Hands-on projects/unique angles on teaching a subject *How you use music in the classroom

Good luck getting ready for a new year.

See you when you get back from camp!

Cheers, -Ashley C.

Brent, I am interested in more information about the brain and how it works. It is important to designing effective classroom instruction. I look forward to your posts.

Allie, Becky, and Laruen-

It is great to hear from all of you! At the moment, Brent spending some time at the children’s cancer camp he mentions in his first post, and is without internet access, so expect to hear back on your comments when he returns in a few weeks.

Be sure to check back next week when we post another message from him!

Thanks for reading and sharing, The Editors at Scholastic

*Comprehension Skill Lesson Tips

*Making math more hands-on and practical so that students internalize it better.

*I know that in learning about the brain that you need to review a lot. I would love to hear some exciting ways to review.

*Ways to incorporate Bloom's Taxonomy.

*Ways to incorporate Multiple Intelligences.

*Lessons for teaching fractions.

*Easy ways to incorporate geography into social studies.

Brent - your classroom sounds fabulous and fun too! I wish I could be a kid in your class. Awesome job. Allie

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