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Articles from December 2017

Little Inventors at Edwards Elementary

Little Inventors Graphics

If you have not heard of “The Real Video Game,” a “Work-o-Tron,” the “Desk Fluffinator,” or an “Allergy Protector,” you will someday. These are some of the many inventions that third graders at Edwards Elementary have come up with as a part of a Little Inventors project.

It is another collaboration between 3rd grade Edwards teachers, and Sara Nelson, an Iowa State University College of Education professor. Nelson has collaborated with Edwards Elementary teachers a lot in the past, most recently with 3rd grade teacher Patti Allen, whose relationship goes back nearly a decade.

The catalyst for the idea came when Patti and Sara were looking for STEM education ideas, and they encountered an article about Little Inventors (, a group based out of the United Kingdom that showcases student ideas. Sara contacted the group via Skype and they have been in contact ever since.

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Elementary ESL Pilot Update (December 2017)

For the past two years, Ames Community School District elementary English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers have been learning about the newly-adopted ESL Standards from the English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century (ELPA 21) consortium (more details about ELPA 21 available at

As teachers studied the standards and talked about how to instruct students to meet them, it became clear that the instructional materials that teachers had in their classrooms to teach students were not consistent or aligned with the standards.

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Fundations Professional Development, November 29, 2017

On Wednesday, November 29th, the K-2 teachers met with Wendy Robinson, Heartland Area Education Agency’s literacy consultant, to continue Fundations training at the District Office Boardroom from 2:30pm – 4:00pm. The work began with a quick check across the entire grade level team to share where teachers were in the sequence of lessons, things that were going well, and areas they needed more support to improve their implementation. After this initial sharing, teachers engaged in learning around accurate letter sound pronunciation, improving fidelity in the dictation routines, and sharing effective strategies for using the parent support pack provided in the teacher’s kits. Teachers shared that they appreciated time to share ideas and see a model of the dictation routine in action.

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Fundations Update (November 2017)

Fundations Logo

In June 2017, the Ames Community School District adopted Fundations for phonics instruction in grades K-2. The purpose of this communication is to clarify recent questions about our Fundations implementation.

District staff worked to get Fundations materials ordered and in the hands of classroom teachers as quickly as possible over the summer. During teacher workshop week, K-2 teachers were provided Fundations training with Wendy Robinson from Heartland AEA. Ms. Robinson has received training in Orton-Gillingham instructional programs in addition to her extensive training in linguistics and literacy. Training with Ms. Robinson continues monthly for each grade level to provide ongoing support to our teachers as they learn to use the new program.

Initially, we had planned to have the Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC) serve as an external evaluator during Year 1 implementation. Our staff worked with the IRRC to develop a walkthrough plan for building and District administrators to collect implementation data through classroom observation to help make data-driven adjustments in professional development.

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Abilities Assessment Pilot

Abilities Assessment

Abilities Assessment Pilot The week of November 27- December 1, students in the 3rd, 5th, and 7th grades participated in an abilities assessment pilot. The purpose of the pilot is to strengthen the identification process for the Extended Learning Program (ELP) by adding an ability assessment as a piece of culturally-sensitive convergent data.

The purpose of an abilities assessment is to gain an understanding of a student’s thinking and reasoning skills without assessing prior knowledge. The assessments selected were the NNAT3 and the CogAT7, which have been shown to be more culturally sensitive. Students participated in both to more accurately analyze which assessment provides the most valuable information in order to best serve our students.

The Ames CSD is looking to adopt one of these assessments for the 2018-2019 school year. Once implemented next year, the multiple data points obtained will allow schools to gain a more well- rounded picture of student abilities.

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#FOOD4FRIENDS AMS Food Pantry Drive

AMS Food Pantry Drive

The Ames Middle School Cyclone Leadership Council (CLC) organized a food drive where all of the donations went directly toward filling the middle school food pantry. Homeroom teachers collected food on two days, October 31 and November 7, and students were able to dress up during those days. Lisa Kirsch, a staff organizer of the event, said, “Our goal is to restock the AMS Food Pantry for students in need while allowing our students to contribute to this worthy cause and have fun dressing up with fellow students.”

The initial goal set by the CLC envisioned success if each homeroom could bring at least 10 items for the food pantry. At the end of the two day drive, 2,250 food items were collected among the homerooms in grades 6-8, far exceeding expectations. The initiative of students and generosity of the families at the middle school made storing the food the most challenging part of the drive.

Although coordinated by AMS student leaders, along with Lisa Kirsch and Sara Knutson who serve as CLC co-chairs, the drive was a schoolwide effort. Students brought this drive home, families supported it, and homeroom teachers coordinated with their students to collect the food items. The food goes home with students in need for their families each weekend, and this drive directly impacted middle school families.

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Fellows 2nd Graders Engineer to the Story of the 3 Little Pigs

The Three Little Pigs is fairy tale about three pigs who built three houses of different materials. A big bad wolf blows down the first two pigs‘ houses, made of straw and sticks respectively, but is unable to destroy the third pig’s house, which was made of bricks.

Fellows 2nd grade teachers Holly Shirbroun and Shena Crawford, and their classes, recently explored this story and added a STEM component to the unit. Students were asked to collaborate with each other and implement engineering strategies to create a house to surround a paper pig using only gumdrops and toothpicks. In teams of two, students collaborated with each other, and practiced engineering strategies that asked them to design a plan, implement that plan, and afterwards make decisions on how they could improve their structure. The project was also used as a way to introduce new math terms that students will be utilizing as the school year progresses.

The engagement of the students was high as they communicated with each other on how to build their structures. Students were given opportunities to share their “best practices” that they discovered with the rest of the class (hint: cut the gumdrops in half!). The highlight of the activity came when students were asked to test their building structure. Mrs. Shirbroun kept this component a secret from the students until it was time to unveil a hair dryer dressed as a big, bad wolf. Students were delighted by the wolf and held their toothpick structures up against the blowing wind. They were especially satisfied when their structure stood tall.

Although not all structures stood as a whole, the enthusiasm surrounding the project encouraged students to revisit their structure, design new, and build again so they can have a chance to test again the wolf.

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Iowa Teacher of the Year: Aileen Sullivan

Aileen Sullivan, a veteran chemistry teacher at Ames High, was named the 2018 Iowa Teacher of the Year by Governor Kim Reynolds at a surprise event that was also attended by Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise.

Sullivan has taught at Ames High School since 1996 and is known for challenging her students, her colleagues, and herself to grow and improve. Superintendent Dr. Tim Taylor hired Sullivan in 1996 and dubbed her a “kid magnet.” She has “that hidden ability to understand and relate to young people that draws them in and allows her to push them to their potential.”

Sullivan, along with her husband Joel Sullivan, who nominated Aileen and is also a teacher at Ames High, found out that she was selected as the Teacher of the Year two months prior to the event and was embargoed from discussing it. “When I nominated her, my goal was for her to get the recognition she deserves as a teacher and leader in our district. None of what she does is very public and few people realize how hard she works and how dedicated she is to improving her craft and helping students.”

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Rev’n for Seven: Girls Swimming and Diving Win 7th State Championship

The Ames High Girls Swimming and Diving team were Rev’n for Seven as they entered the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) State Championships. The two day event was held in Marshalltown on November 3-4, and the Little Cyclones entered with an undefeated season with several contenders looking to dethrone Ames as the top program in the state.

This year’s team had the responsibility of carrying history into the State Meet. Since 2010, the Little Cyclones have won 6 state titles, with their only loss coming at the State Meet in 2014 where they were runner up to Pleasant Valley. Since that time, the Little Cyclones have forged ahead with a new winning streak and their eye on a seventh state championship.

Friday night consisted of the diving event where Ames qualified 3 divers in the top 10. The team was led by Jayna Misra, who entered the competition with the second highest qualifying total. After her second of 11 dives, Jayna took the lead and never looked back. Her combined score of 542.45 was the second highest total since 1967 and 57 points better than the runner up finisher. Senior Kaylee Clendenen had her best meet of the year, finishing 6th. The 33 team points earned during the diving portion got Ames off to an early lead in the team competition.

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Edwards Elementary Maker Theater

On October 13, third graders at Edwards Elementary staged a theater production in front of packed classrooms full of family members and fellow students. The “maker theater” was a collaboration between Edwards teachers and Iowa State University students in the School of Education.

Professors Sara Nelson and Christa Jackson worked with students and staff to combine lessons in literacy and geometry to help develop sets and scripts within the third grade classrooms. The scripts were based on seven children’s books and performed in the form of a reader’s theater. This style gives students an opportunity to focus on fluency and to express themselves while reading. This year’s maker theater was a pilot project with both teachers and ISU professors looking to expand the concept in future versions.

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