Exciting lesson ideas, classroom strategies, book lists, videos, and reproducibles in a daily blog by teachers
























Break Through and Live Outside the Box!

By Angela Bunyi on October 15, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Tennessee was one of two states that was awarded phase 1 money allocations (of $500 million) through President Obama's Race to the Top initiative. With this process has come swift changes and mandates, including a legal requirement to weight report card grades with our state TCAP scores. This, added to many district and school changes, leads to a common plea for help! After some reflection, I dedicate this post to staying in the struggle, remembering why you entered the profession, and committing yourself to thinking, living, and breathing outside the box. Our roles reach far beyond a test score. 

In this post, I have included several out-of-the-box photos and ideas. A class video is included as well.

Photo: Students act out and demonstrate various amendments in a class video.




A School Visit From David Catrow



Perhaps you've heard of him? I thought so. Our fantastic librarian, staff, and school family won the Scholastic Book Fairs National Contest last year and Scholastic was kind enough to send David Catrow our way for a day. Of course he was amazing and was a wonderful addition to our small school. One story he shared really stuck with me, and I think it has significance for you this week.

How to Draw a Bird

Catrow met with the 4–6 grade classes and shared his story of growing up. He shared how he always knew he was an artist, even at a very young age. He shared an important event that happened during kindergarten art time. The teacher drew a bird like the one pictured below on the board. She instructed the students on how to draw a bird and went over the steps with the class. After this, the students went off to draw birds of their own.


Catrow eloquently talked about his process of drawing a bird, one that didn't have sticks for legs and toes, and how he couldn't connect to this concept of a bird looking like the drawing being modeled in class. He shared his thoughts of how delighted his teacher would be to see him, an artist, show this fantastically beautiful bird that he had created. And he remembered her shoes moving toward his desk as he looked down at his drawing with pride. To his surprise, she picked it up, crumbled it in her hands, and pointed to her drawing on the board. She repeated her directions,"This is how you draw a bird."


My heart sank for him and for all the children who have had teachers like this in their lives.

And then my heart sank for teachers.

I couldn't help but make a connection with this story on a larger scale. Sometimes I feel like Catrow, but my "teacher" is not a teacher at all. My "teacher" may not have a face, but can be commanding: “Teach like THIS. Think like THIS. Use this scientifically proven program and log every word you say for that intervention log.” Maybe you can relate? This is how I feel sometimes. I don't think I am going too far saying (again) that I sometimes feel as though we were trained at college to think like doctors and are turned into pharmacists when we enter the profession. We are being handed the prescription and being asked to move forward without question — by Friday afternoon with reports, to be exact.

I came into the teaching profession to play a different role. Didn't you? For those who have been teaching for awhile, think about all of the students who have kept in contact with you throughout the years. If they are like my prior students, some graduating college now, they have the same message as my students do when they contact me. They share stories of how they are going into the teaching profession or journalism because of you. They share memories of their favorite spot in your classroom where they learned to soar in new, creative ways as they never had before. They share things you might not have remembered doing, but that mattered significantly to them. And you realize what really matters overall.

And then I think about what they don't share.

They don't share their enthusiasm for my helping them earn fantastic test scores that year. In fact, I'm pretty sure they don't remember how they did under my guidance. I'm certain of it. I doubt their parents remember these scores, either. I'm just as confident.

I beg you, don't forget why you came into this profession.

I had visions of hands-on projects, reading time, working with students, writing stories, making a difference . . . all of my best teacher experiences as a student rolled into one person. Me. That's what I wanted to be. So, with that said, regardless of whatever pressure you feel or whatever mandate you are required to enforce, don't lose your core beliefs. And realize that it doesn't have to be a fight for you. In my state, due to the Race to the Top regulations, the tenure and contract renewals will be tied to test scores. I don't care. I'll go out in a blaze of glory, if need be. I'm not even going to worry about it because I have a vision, a plan, and I continually work hard. (And because I already know that I will be asked this: Yes, my scores have been strong.) I believe it is because when you are doing something that is right, remembering that there are no shortcuts, other forces will support you and will not allow you to fail. I am confident of that.

What Kind of Teacher Are You Choosing to Be?

Photo: When a student asks me, "Can I do this instead?" for an assignment, I simply point to the posters without a word. My students understand what that means. I've already shared the significance they have for me, and my vow to remember them always.

You have a choice. Yes, there are mandates. For example, we currently have math standards in our system that are prescribed for the year. Luckily, they are minimum standards and are being created by teachers, not Central Office, but one can't help but feel the squeeze. Really, it's not the end of the world. I do see a benefit of collaborating on common core goals, but you still have a choice about how you teach and the option of allowing time for what your students need.

Teaching the Amendments Outside the Box

So, here's what you can do in your classroom: Allow your students to live outside the box. Recently, in my room, we rushed through the Bill of Rights and important (and by important, I mean tested) amendments. And it didn't feel right, but I felt the pressure to move on, knowing the subject had been addressed in 3rd and 4th grades. What was one to do?


First, we spent some time looking through Scholastic's amazing links on women's suffrage around the world. This included researching dates, asking questions for Effie Hobby, who voted in 1920, and reading through the many primary documents found online. We listened to an NPR piece about the first woman gondolier allowed in Italy. (Of course, she is only permitted this position if all other males are not available.) I realized I couldn't do this with each amendment, but you make an impression when you can.

Next, my students created a green screen video on the amendments. Students selected an amendment, dug around in my bin of wigs, robes, and tools, and created a quick skit to demonstrate one amendment. With a parent's help, filming was done quickly and with few interruptions. Here is that video:

And for a grade, I simply asked students to view their video and show what they learned. I started simple and said it could be a Dinah Zike foldable book. Three made various foldable books. I noticed they didn't pull out a textbook or refer back to the video after watching it.


Then I was asked by one student, "How about a poster?" Six others followed.


"I'd like to create a slide show," one student told me. "I'll post it online when you are finished," I replied.


Download amendment  slide show.

"How about a video of my own? I might have to work on it at home, though. Would that be okay?"

And suddenly I felt a little better. The quality of work was ten-fold superior than any worksheet  (disclaimer — we do have those in the mix, too). I've made my impact, and I didn't even do the work. It all goes back to Catrow's story. If you allow your students to think, breathe, and eat outside of the box, they will soar. But maybe, more importantly, you should allow yourself to stay outside of that box as well.

With this being said, I have included a quick slide show of my own.

Best to you,



Comments (16)

Angela, Could you share some information about Dinah Zike foldables and how you use them? Thanks!

The creativity of your blogs is best.This is something very best on your part.Providing information in the best possible manner is your best attribute.I love when you share your views through the best articles.Keep sharing and posting articles like these.This article has helped me a lot.Keep posting this stuff.


You are welcome. :)



That was fantastic to read - I love your comment about being trained to think like doctors and then turned into pharmacists when we enter the classroom. There are times when I feel exactly like that!

Thank you very much.

You're welcome!

And the publisher is not Scholastic, so probably not (Sterling). However, the price for a new hardback is just over 10.00 right now on Amazon. Here is the ISBN number as well: 1402759959

Best to you,


Very inspirational post, thank you again!

I wonder if there is a way to log in to scholastic books and order a book like 1+1 via our book clubs?

Thanks Terri!

And for those not familar with Esme Codell, you should be! Educating Esme is most known (even my husband read this one), but my librarian gave me How to Get Your Child to Love Reading which is LOADED with reading lessons and suggestions. Well worth looking into her site- www.planetesme.com.

That's where I got the info too! Thanks for all that you do! You are simply amazing!

Yes, thanks Terri! It's 1+1=5 (not 3!). Here's the Amazon link. I took it from author Esme, who also recommends Mathematickles as Terri suggested.


Hope that helps Megan!


The book 1 + 1=5. There is a more advanced book called Mathematickles.


Hmm, I see what you mean! I tried searching for it online with no success. I have the literacy coaches daughter in my room. She purchased the book for me. It has an orange cover with a cat and another animal on the front. I'll continue searching. The author is not Rachel McAnallen. She has zippo online as well, which is a total and complete shame. She impacted me on math the way Calkins did for writing.

Angela P.S. If I find it, I'll post the link here!

I would love to use the book 1+1=3!! My search has not yet been succesful. Is Rachel McAnallen the author?


You are welcome! I am taking a guess that you related to it. Ha!

Okay, on to your math question. I am a huge fan of Rachel McAnallen's work. She is INCREDIBLE! She really pushes the need for students to use numbers with nouns to help make math more meaningful. 9 what? She dramatically says in her classes. 9 cucumbers? So, to demonstrate the importance of this, try reading the book 1+1=3. Using picture clues you can figure out what makes that equation true (nouns). So for example, it might be 1 unicorn plus 1 bull equals 3 horns. Now this book is filled with silly, fun examples like this. What I have posted in the slideshow are examples that relate to measurement, money, etc. They are TOUGH! Slowly, the answers started being placed up. Several from other classes, in fact. The nice thing is the lesson really worked. My students know better, and make sure to add the noun to the adjective during math now. :)

Happy Friday!



Right on! It is SO vital to surround yourself with other teachers that are willing to open their doors, share ideas, and ask for ideas as well. I fear that we don't do that enough in this profession, and it is equally as dangerous!

And, yes, it's the little things like jokes and silly events that they remember frequently as well. Some, I wish never happened (like me tripping over some cans once-ha!).

Enjoy your weekend!



now please explain those number adjectives? I'm so curious!

Love it! And you are right, when my students come back to visit, we don't discuss test scores. We discuss fun lessons that they enjoyed, things that they remember, and hilarious stories from class. And when they ask if they can come back for projects as part of their education classes, we discuss that you CAN find a balance, you CAN think out of the box, and you CAN be successful without a textbook or worksheet. The greatest word of advice? Surround yourself with good teachers that you can share ideas with, and that aren't threatened by "different" or out of the box! LOVE it!!!

Post a Comment
(Please sign in to leave a comment. Privacy Policy)
Back to Top