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2011-2012 SCASD-PSU Teacher Inquiry Conference Abstracts and Papers

Mark Your Calendar! Implementing Due-dates to Influence Task Completion of Third and Fourth Grade Writing Assignments
Melissa Gleason, Intern Radio Park, 3rd Grade; Katie Little, Intern Radio Park, 4th Grade

As beginning teachers, we noticed the challenge of monitoring a classroom of students who individually perform at different rates. After discussing our observations with our mentors and other colleagues, we found that a common thread existed in the completion of writing assignments. In an effort to guide students to complete writing assignments at a more consistent rate, we studied the influence time constraints place on students’ in-class writing assignments. We implemented different intervention strategies that required students to complete their assignments in a timelier manner, while being held accountable to a due-date. Our inquiry allowed us to carefully apply strategies in our classroom to not only study the task completion of our third and fourth grade students, but also to develop and explore as professionals.

Beyond Elementary Mathematics: A Glance into Learning Styles and Their Effect on Student Attitude during Mathematics Instruction
Paige Brizek, Intern Mount Nittany Middle, 6th Grade; Nicole Guerriero, Intern Gray’s Woods, Kindergarten

Knowing that all students learn differently, we became interested in determining the learning styles of our kindergarten and sixth grade students. Some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, some are kinesthetic learners, and some are a combination of two or three styles. We were also aware that math is not everyone’s favorite subject. During our inquiry process, we decided to look at what effect teaching to students’ learning styles has on students’ attitude towards the instruction of mathematics. This study takes a deeper look at teaching to students’ learning styles and the potential effects that it has on students’ attitudes toward math from both a kindergarten perspective and a sixth grade perspective.

“We need a brain break!”–Incorporating physical activity breaks throughout the day
Candice Riddle, Intern Easterly Parkway, 3rd/4th Multiage

Third and fourth graders are naturally very social and wiggly. Throughout the year, I noticed that my class was having difficulties staying focused when working, whether it was a silent activity or a time they could talk while working. Through my inquiry, I wanted to see if short physical activity breaks would help my third and fourth graders increase their on-task behavior. In my presentation I will share some strategies that I learned were most effective in increasing on-task behavior.

Building Classroom Community by Gaining Students’ Perspectives Through Small Group Discussions
Kate Donehower, Intern Park Forest, 1st/2nd Multiage

After months of morning meetings to build community, students in my 1st/2nd grade classroom were arguing, teasing, and having several conflicts a day. Were morning meetings really encouraging positive student interactions? What else could I do to help my students become respectful of one another and resolve conflicts, aside from morning meetings? By meeting in small groups called “lunch bunches,” I learned more about my students and gained their perspective about classroom issues and how they wished to resolve them.

Calendar Math: Using Differentiated Instruction to Meet Students’ Needs
Amanda Eshbaugh, Intern Corl Street, 5th Grade
Angela Ciarlante, Intern Ferguson Township, 4th Grade

Calendar Math is a program used in elementary grades to utilize a calendar as a vehicle for math instruction. In our fourth and fifth grade classrooms, Calendar Math was taught using whole group instruction while covering multiple math concepts. We wanted to implement differentiated instruction to see how this could affect student learning and to ensure that Calendar Math is reaching the needs of all students. On our journey, we worked to discover new strategies to effectively deliver and assess Calendar Math content.

BOYS! BOYS! BOYS! A Look Into the Best Teaching Strategies for a Male-dominated Classroom
Lauren Scholl, Intern, Park Forest Middle, 6th Grade

What are the best strategies for teaching a classroom full of energetic young boys? I was determined to find the answer to this challenging question. This inquiry began by focusing on the individual learning styles of students in a sixth grade class of 17 boys and 8 girls and how they interact with each other. Taking this background into account, I was able to research and test a variety of classroom management strategies aimed at improving student performance. The result was a more productive and collaborative learning environment for all students. Finding the best way to engage these young and active students was a task that I needed to investigate to support my decisions on how to be an effective teacher. Throughout the course of this inquiry, I collected data that will hopefully be of use to me and other teachers in future classrooms.

“How long are we reading today?” Taking a look at building students’ reading stamina with the help of The Daily Five
Alexis Jacoby, Intern, Lemont, 2nd Grade

Teachers know that it’s important for students to practice reading in order to become better readers. Reading can be a challenge for many second graders, and the thought of sitting quietly for an extended amount of time can seem impossible. In my second grade classroom, many students seem to have a difficult time staying in their seats during independent station to complete their seatwork, which sometimes includes reading. These observations led to my interest in helping students increase their engagement during independent reading time. For my inquiry, I tried to gradually build students’ reading stamina with the help of a reading structure called The Daily Five. As I moved through my inquiry, I wanted to examine how many days or weeks it would take for students to able to sit and read during their independent station.

Memoirs of Positive Communication with a Hesitant Reader, Writer, & Do-er
Heather Ochman, Intern, Mount Nittany Middle, 6th Grade

We’ll explore how a teacher-student relationship develops throughout the school year and discover how positive communication impacts the “This is so boring!” student...and the teacher.

Writing With a Purpose: Investigating Authentic Writing Experiences
Alicia Chace, Intern, Ferguson Township, 3rd/4th Grade
Kristen Wintemberg, Intern, Easterly Parkway, 2nd Grade

Teachers often want to make learning experiences meaningful to students’ lives to increase engagement in a particular topic. In our inquiry, we investigated the effects authentic writing activities have in regards to on-task behavior and interest in writing. First we explored several different types of authentic writing activities. From this research, we implemented a writing project in a second grade and a third and fourth multi-age grade classroom. Come join us to learn about different writing activities and their implementation in the classroom!

Get Connected: An Inquiry into Technology as a Communication Tool
Kristen Parker, Intern, Park Forest, 5th Grade

Communication between parents, teachers, and students can be difficult to maintain once children reach the upper intermediate grades. I wondered how the Internet, a tool that is relevant and available to fifth graders, could affect the communication between home and school. Through the use of email journals and a classroom blog, I explored whether the Internet is an effective tool to get parents involved in their child’s life at school.

Walk the Line: Investigating how expectations and strategies impact the time and behavior of first grade students in the hallway
Maria Congelio, Intern, Gray’s Woods, 1st Grade; Emily McAleer, Intern, Gray’s Woods, 1st Grade

After hearing our first grade students recite hallway poems and move their bodies to the “ready” position, we wondered why, almost simultaneously, the students forgot how they should be acting, and were instead talking, dancing, and skipping through the hallways. In order to understand our dilemma better, we started an inquiry project on how the expectations and strategies implemented during hallway transitions impacted the behavior and timeliness of first grade students. Join us as we uncover whether daily routines, strategies, expectations, and the final destinations have anything to do with first graders’ behavior in the hallway.

So Many Questions, Too Few Hands…A study of participation levels in a fourth grade classroom
Alison Harris, Intern, Radio Park, 4th Grade

Fourth grade students love to talk and share their stories, but why do so many shut down when asked to share their answers? I noticed that the same students were always volunteering to answer questions while the rest of my students seemed unengaged. I wanted to look at who was participating in my classroom and find ways to motivate the rest of my class to participate. I identified a variety of strategies to implement in my classroom to encourage more of my class to get involved. I used whiteboards, active participation, and think-pair-share in attempt to increase student participation. I wanted to analyze student participation after each strategy was implemented to see if it impacted the participation levels among my fourth graders.

"Wait, where did it say that had to be included!?": Sixth Graders and Project Grading Guidelines
Katelin Lindrose, Intern, Park Forest Middle, 6th Grade

Have you ever had students who told you they were done with a project when they were really missing key elements? I cannot begin to count the number of times that my students have turned in projects that were not complete. When told they were missing parts of their project, their response was almost always, "Wait, where did it say that had to be included!?" After hearing this response one too many times, I decided to inquire more into why my students were not following the grading guidelines that outlined every expectation for the project and how they felt about grading guidelines in general. Join me on my journey of interactions with students and teachers alike to find out how grading guidelines can be improved so students are more successful with following directions provided to them.

To Read or Not to Read: A Study into Daily Read-Alouds and Book Genres
Chelsea Swanger, Intern, Mount Nittany, 1st Grade

I would rather play than read! I cannot read a book about history; there are too many words! I only read Junie B. Jones books! These comments whispered throughout my placement classroom, drove me toward my inquiry. Throughout this study, I will reveal the impact of different book genres through daily read-alouds.

How Can Literature be used to Encourage Positive Social Interactions Outside of the Classroom?
Brandon Hallberg, Intern, Mount Nittany Middle, 6th Grade

Moving from elementary school to middle school can be a major change for students. The students have all been placed into this new school with students from three other schools, adding to the stress. When it comes time for the students to begin interacting with their peers, different social groups emerge. Because many students feel that they are a part of many different groups, the interaction between these groups is important. There can be both positive and negative interactions amongst the social groups. Using different forms of literature, such as popular books, I examined the possibility of impacting the students’ behaviors outside of the classroom.

Desks? Carpet? Free Choice? Oh my!: How does student placement in the classroom impact learning?
Mackenzie Kraus, Intern, Easterly Parkway, 3rd Grade

Most elementary classrooms contain a variety of different workspaces. Teachers design their rooms to include carpet seating, desks or tables, and a variety of other learning areas. While existence of these spaces is fairly consistent, the way they are used is not. Teachers have a variety of preferences concerning where their students sit during different activities. The students have a variety of preferences as well. In my fourth grade classroom, some students may request to sit at their desks while the rest of the class is seated on the rug. Others ask to work on the rug while their peers work independently at their desk. I began wondering how students’ physical placement in the classroom affects their engagement and overall learning. Through the course of my inquiry, I investigated how well students work in different places in the classroom during whole-group instruction and independent work.

Scoreboard, Nonverbal Cues, and Exercising: Ways To Increase Student Engagement
Marcie Bucciarelli, Intern, Park Forest, 1st/2nd Multiage

Throughout this year, I have noticed a lack of student engagement during instruction. While observing, I started to wonder what I could do as the teacher to increase their engagement. Through this inquiry, I hoped to increase student engagement during instruction by implementing numerous classroom management techniques. In addition, I incorporated student exercise, use of nonverbal cues, and a variety of seating arrangements as possible ways to support student focus.

“I just knew the answer”: Decreasing Calling Out Among Fourth Grade Students
Colby Derr, Intern, Gray’s Woods, 4th Grade

Students in my classroom were calling out answers or questions throughout most lessons during the day. They were forgetting to raise their hand and just shouting out whatever came to their mind. By using a self-analysis tool and other non-verbal reminders, I hoped to decrease the number of times students called out during a lesson or discussion.

“Wait! I’m supposed to share what I write?” Getting Students to Interact Throughout the Writing Process
Kylee Snoke, Intern, Park Forest Middle, 6th Grade

As I watched my sixth grade students throughout the day, I noticed that they enjoyed engaging in conversations and discussions during reading, science, and social studies; however, when it was time to talk about writing, they became silent. I learned that several students only liked writing if it did not have to be shared. What happened to writing for an audience? I attempted a series of interventions to engage my students in the writing process alongside their peers. The students brainstormed ideas together, conferenced about rough drafts, and published their writing to one another. I wondered if incorporating peer interactions throughout the writing process motivated sixth grade writers to share their final products.

How can iPads be used effectively as an instructional tool to improve literacy skills in kindergarten?
Elizabeth Bevan, Intern, Corl Street, Kindergarten

In my classroom, I strive to find original ways to incorporate technology in a classroom. When I was placed in the State College Area School District, I was thrilled to have unlimited access to an iPad cart. As the year went on, I grew to wonder how I could use these iPads instructionally but still allow independent work time to improve literacy skills. Through implementation of apps, I hope to find an improvement in phonemic awareness, site words, and the writing of high frequency words.

“Can I write about a magical, chocolate fountain?” Motivating kindergarten students to use more detailed and descriptive writing in their stories.
Madalyn Bamer, Intern, Ferguson Township, Kindergarten

What motivates a kindergartener to write more detailed sentences? Is it even possible? Can Kid Writing lessons have an impact on students’ letter and sound knowledge? I have seen all of my students develop and observed their growth as writers. As time ticked away in kindergarten, I became extremely fascinated in developing students’ stories. I wanted to see what I could do to get my students to write more detailed and descriptive sentences. I developed a series of lessons that focused on elements of writing that would make sense for Kindergarteners.

“Oh I understand, the correct answer is Option C”: a fourth grade investigation into student understanding of math concepts in correlation with formative and summative assessments.
Michael Marasti, Intern, Houserville, 4th Grade

With an emphasis towards teaching students material they will need to know in order to pass a test, how will we as educators ever know if we have had a profound impact on their academic development? My inquiry focuses on student understanding of mathematical concepts that are taught and used on a daily basis. I have spent several weeks determining how both formative and summative assessments have impacted my judgment of how my students learn. Should we let the test scores tell us what we think we know about our students’ achievement or should we allow the students to demonstrate for us their understanding of math concepts? Come and explore how fourth grade mathematicians believe they learn best.

“What is my grade?” Discovering how grading student work can affect student motivation to succeed in their personal growth and development.
Evangelia Shunk, Intern, Mount Nittany Middle, 6th Grade

To assess student growth and progress, teachers use various techniques in order to determine which areas require more instruction. Our country’s most commonly used form of instructional assessment is the five letter grading scale with a correlation to points to determine a grade point average. This concept has been used for more than a century but I have noticed that it may not always align with students’ needs. In my 6th grade classroom, I often find students expressing concern about their graded assignments. This has intrigued me to pursue which type of grading system will best motivate my students to show concern in their assignments and improve their overall grades. Through my inquiry I have used various forms of grading to discover my students’ improvements and personal growth.

Shades of Gray: Introducing Multiple Historical Perspectives in an Elementary Classroom
Eliza Altenderfer, Intern, Radio Park, 3rd Grade

History is written by the winners but what do the losers have to say about it? Is history a definitive set of events that are neatly organized as good or bad? How can we know which story is actually true? Using State College Area School District’s thematic units as a springboard, this inquiry explores how introducing multiple historical perspectives affects students’ ability to critically evaluate other informational materials.

“I’ll read to you…You read to me”: How “Book Buddies” increases literacy skills for kindergarteners and fosters motivation to read.
Corinne Tiesi, Intern, Gray’s Woods, Kindergarten

Young students typically look up to their older peers as role models and enjoy spending extra time together. “Book Buddies” is a reading program that allows for extra time to be spent between my kindergarten class and a 5th grade class. As I observed the students excitement to read with each other, I wondered: Does “Book Buddies” increase literacy skills for my kindergarten students and what are the 5th graders gaining socially from this experience? I worked with a group of four kindergarten students and four 5th grade students to observe “Book Buddies” and to see if there is growth from the kindergarten students with their literacy skills.

“Are you listening to me? How do I know?” Exploring Teaching Techniques to Increase Active Participation during Whole Group Instruction
Erin Clancy, Intern, Park Forest, 1st/2nd Multiage

As an intern, sitting in front of twenty-three third and fourth grade students, I often wondered, “Are they even listening to me? How do I know?” Through an initial investigation of analyzing on and off-task behaviors, types of teacher questioning, and student and teacher’s views on participation, the intervention process began. After implementing and intentionally incorporating total participation techniques all students became required to dig up their inner thinking and bring it to the surface.

“Wait – we get to do stations in sixth grade?” …Implementing reading and writing station work in a middle school setting
Mackenzie Sherbondy, Intern, Park Forest Middle, 6th Grade

After observing student participation during whole group reading and writing lessons, I began to wonder how I could change my teaching style to increase overall student engagement. If language arts or literacy stations are used almost daily in an elementary classroom, why not in a middle school classroom? How would this change in our classroom format affect student participation and how could I keep students responsible for their work? After researching different strategies for small group management and small group discussions, I was able to successfully implement station time on a regular basis. This presentation will focus on the changes I was able to make to my teaching style and how stations affected student attitudes towards reading and writing time.

“You can’t make me!” –Building a Healthy Classroom Community
Brandy Lincoln, Intern, Ferguson Township, 3rd Grade

“Please use kind words.” “Keep your hands to yourself.” “Was that very nice?” As our year progressed, I began to notice more interactions among students that yielded these reminders. I wanted so badly for my students to show they cared about one another, but many of them were not treating each other with the kindness and respect I wanted to see. Through my inquiry, I hoped to find ways to help my students become inherently motivated to treat others with kindness. I wanted my students to experience more positive interactions and to build healthy relationships. On a busy, third grade schedule, I wondered if it would be beneficial and possible to fit more community building activities into our daily routines. I relied greatly on student ratings of peer relationships, and have found effective ways to implement community-building activities into lessons, morning meetings, and the regular routines of our classroom.

“Take a Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes” – A Service-Learning Journey in a Kindergarten Classroom
Amanda Moslak, Intern, Lemont, Kindergarten

In collaboration on our combined service-learning and inquiry projects, my mentor and I took into consideration the Spring unit and a PTO presentation on Souls4Soles to determine a curriculum-related community need: school shoes for all students in the State College. With the implementation of the service-learning project about shoes, students are immersed into the project through lessons associated with common core standards and literature while they, "Take a Walk in Someone Else's Shoes".

Parents as Partners: How Can Parents Become Co-Teachers?
Leanna Elbin, Intern, Mount Nittany Middle, 6th Grade

How involved should parents be in their child’s education? Are teachers the only ones that educate children? I have always believed that parental involvement is crucial to a child’s education. While being in the classroom, I began to wonder if the students whose parents were the most invested in their child’s success, were the higher performing students. There are many ways that parents can get involved in their child’s education, but I chose to focus on their involvement at home and how aware parents are with what their child is learning.

Look here!... How to increase student’s time on task during whole group and small group instruction
Christa Catalano, Intern, Mount Nittany, 3rd Grade

Third graders can certainly be easily distracted! As I observed my students' during a variety of instructional and independent work times, it was clearly evident that my students were having difficulty staying focused. I decided to implement several different strategies in an attempt to help them stay focused and to increase their time on task. I wondered what strategies could be incorporated into the classroom and which strategies would be the most effective.

Reading Aloud using R-E-E-E-ader’s Theatre: Engagement, Enthusiasm, and Enjoyment
Alexandra Vlamis, Intern, Gray’s Woods, 3rd Grade

This inquiry focused on implementing Reader’s Theatre in a diverse third grade classroom. When students were presented with the challenge of ‘becoming’ their character and provided ample rehearsal time, data indicated an increase in their confidence when reading aloud. When performing their scripts, students appeared to be fully engaged, express enthusiasm, and enjoy what they were reading. I wondered: is this truly the case? Get into character and join me as I share my students’ experiences and thoughts regarding Reader’s Theatre!

“Purpose + Choice = Motivation” (Boushey and Moser “The Sisters,” 2006)
Wendy Cukierman, Intern, Park Forest Middle, 6th Grade; Shawna Hixson, Intern, Easterly Parkway, 2nd Grade

How can we ensure students’ academic needs are met when we provide choice during reading? Would students independently select goals that challenge their academic levels? This inquiry began as a passion for providing opportunities for students to have choices in classroom activities during reading. With the implementation of Café and Daily Five in a second and sixth grade classroom, students select independent reading books and establish specific areas for growth. This structure allows students to thoughtfully choose their goal and strategy in hopes of bettering themselves as lifelong readers through igniting their passion for reading. In this inquiry, we compared student needs with self-selected goals to determine if academic objectives were met.

Increasing Communication in 5th Grade
Kaitlyn Dussinger, Intern, Park Forest, 5th Grade

Positive communication skills in the classroom are of the utmost importance, especially in our collaborative context where co-teaching between two 5th grade classrooms is an everyday occurrence. Based on observations of social interactions among students, I wondered what impact this was having on the students’ communication and ability to be fully engaged in instruction. I also wondered about the students’ perspectives on communication and what the best way might be to enhance communication in two 5th grade co-taught classrooms. With student voice as a driving force, I, with the support and collaboration of my mentors, established a means to help increase positive communication in the classrooms

The Great Race: Moving Kindergarten to the Carpet
Gabrielle Tallarico, Intern, Ferguson Township, Kindergarten

Kindergarten is a magical place where learning is saturated with the imagination of creative, inquisitive children. Many educational concepts and themes are not taught, but rather discovered using hands-on learning and exploration. This type of environment, along with the development phase of the age group, lends itself to an education that moves forward at a slower, steady, and age-appropriate pace. There are some moments, however, that require drive and focus—for example, transitioning between one subject to another. My students tend to move from one place to another in their own special way, which is typically whimsical and curious. When all twenty of my children move like this, it is difficult to transition efficiently from one topic to another and make the most of active instructional time. In an attempt to make the most of this time, several transition strategies were implemented throughout the past seven weeks to test their effectiveness in moving my students from our table workspaces to the carpet for whole group instruction.

Daydreaming and doodling: an investigation into off-task student behavior and strategies to foster self-regulation.
Malory Dobson, Intern, Houserville, 4th/5th Grade; Marissa Williamson, Intern, Houserville, 4th/5th Grade

Our inquiry studies student behavior during independent work time and off task behaviors students display at the 4th and 5th grade levels. How can we help these learners develop self-regulation and decrease off task behavior. Join us as we take a closer look into what off task behaviors students engage in and patterns we found observing our four classes. After weeks of observing, we are discovering certain patterns of students who are off task. we are researching potential strategies to teach our classes and these specific students to help them self-regulate their behavior.

La Ti DOes music affect students’ on-task behavior?
Katie Knobloch, Intern, Radio Park, 1st/2nd Multiage; Naomi Silverman, Intern, Mount Nittany Middle, 6th Grade

In this inquiry, we used Pandora Internet Radio to bring a wide variety of classical music into the classroom. The music was used to determine if music has an affect on student on-task behavior. We implemented classical music in a 1st and 2nd grade classroom during morning work time, writers’ workshop, and independent work time on a regular basis. We also implemented classical music in 6th grade classrooms during transitions from station to station in math and during independent work time in writing. How does music affect the on task behavior of students in first and sixth grades? Our inquiry explored the effect that music has on the students in our classrooms.

Quarter-Life Crisis: Exploring Self-Identity as an Emerging Teacher
Lauren Sheehan, Intern, Park Forest, 1st/2nd Multiage

Throughout my PDS experience, I often thought about my personal and professional identity. I also frequently reflected on my actual teaching practice, as well as frustrations, road bumps, and successes I encountered along the way. I felt a tension between what I believed about teaching and what my actual teaching practice looked like. This led me to wonder: how could I explore my teaching identity and put it into practice in the classroom? Through my research, reflection, and data analysis, I found a disconnect
between some of my beliefs and practices, yet I also found areas of agreement. I was also able to more deeply establish my teaching platform, as well as explore how it came to be and how it will continue to change.

Stretching Student Writing: Using Mini Lessons to Take Kindergarten Writing up a Notch!
Amanda Hood, Intern, Gray’s Woods, Kindergarten

Do you remember the first time you picked up a pencil and wrote your first sentence? For nearly every student in kindergarten, their first year of schooling is a time where they are taught and given the opportunity to write—a skill necessary throughout life. When my students produced one to two sentence stories with vague language, I became motivated to enrich this self-expressing process for these developing writers. I was curious to see if the implementation of language arts mini lessons could assist these first time writers in expanding their writing to incorporate descriptive language. My study found that through the implementation of mini lessons, as well as the overall developmental maturity of student writing, their stories became more expansive and specific.

“You want to ‘Read to Someone’… Again?!” – How Can I Get First Graders to Vary Their Literacy Choices During the Daily 5?
Kirsten Zinsser, Intern, Easterly Parkway, 1st Grade

At the beginning of the school year, I was given the task of keeping track of students’ choices during the Daily 5. With the Daily 5 being a relatively new literacy program, which I had no experience with, I was immediately intrigued. As the weeks progressed, I began noticing that students would pick the same choices almost every day. Since there are only 5 choices to choose from, I began brainstorming factors that might affect a particular student’s choices. Was it peer pressure? Not enough variety within a choice? Difficulty of task within a choice? Throughout this inquiry, I utilized a range of data including systematic observations and student surveys, to find a way to increase student focus, while encouraging students to vary their choices.

iEducate with the iPad: Using iPads to Support Instruction

Abby Gay, Intern, Easterly Parkway Elementary, 2nd Grade

In my second grade classroom, we were very fortunate to receive a class set of iPads. These iPads were introduced to select primary classrooms. Technology in the classroom is an important topic in education and this was the perfect opportunity for me to do my own research on this issue. This presentation takes a deeper look into the impact that this technology can have in a classroom as well as its effectiveness in children’s learning. Additionally, I chose to inquire about the iPad’s ability to adapt to a wide varietyof learners’ needs.