Kimmel Farm: Our Pre-History

This is the video we produced for our school's dedication. It chronicles the history of the land on which we are built, and the history of the families that owned the land. The following is how it was introduced at our school's dedication.

When we opened Kimmel Farm we felt it very important to preserve and
record our history as it unfolds. That's something that can be
overlooked as the business of school goes forward day by day. But we
also thought it important to gather the history of this place prior to
the school being built. This land has long served a purpose, just as
it does today as we work hard to educate our students.
Over the last week I had the pleasure of spending time with Jean Kimel
Topping and Edgar Miller, the previous land owners who agreed to sell
their property so Flat Rock Middle and Kimmel Farm Elementary could be born. They graciously shared their stories and family photographs with
We're named Kimmel Farm for a reason, and want our students to get a
sense of the rich history this place possesses- to know the reason for
that name. Knowing that history will help give our school purpose, its
own unique identity, and a sense of pride. It also sets a standard for
hard work and achievement.
Those were the motives behind creating the following video
presentation we'd like to share tonight. It's called Kimmel Farm - Our
Past, Present, and future.
Here's the 15 minute retrospective.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays from Kimmel Farm Elementary

embracing blogging

Below is a comment I left on Tom Barrett's blog in response to his posting of "Do You Have a Class or School Blog." Tom is an amazing educator and willing collaborator from Nottingham, England, and I learn much by what he has put out there. Thanks Tom! His post prompted me to reflect on what we have built at Kimmel Farm in just four months. Honestly, this is the first chance I've had to truly reflect on this now that we've started our holiday break. It truly is amazing now that I think about it. Here's my comment.

One of my "BIG 3 Goals" this year is to integrate blogging as part of the instructional routine at my new school. I was lucky enough to have been offered a job to help open a brand new school after spending over a year building a new mindset and trying to build connected classrooms at my former school.
Opening a new school completely equipped with
Activ Boards and other technologies was a daunting task. Access is not an issue here which made the "sell" a bit easier. Furthermore, I have a deep belief that blogging has power in every subject area and every grade level. While our class blogs are in their infancy, the staff embraced my vision for blogging and we now have 21 class blogs setup (linked off our school's main blog) and slowly growing into powerful teaching and reflection tools. There are others who still want to start their blog so that number will grow. We only have around 25 regular classes this year.
My plan is to support and help our teachers at
Kimmel Farm Elementary grow their blogs in the coming year and get a handle on just how powerful they can be to support not only writing, but also creative expression in any curricular area through digital media that STUDENTS and TEACHERS create. I'm so proud of the way they've embraced blogging. If you look at the blog list off our school's main blog you'll see they're made an investment in this tool. We used blogger because that's the product our district leaves unfiltered and recommends we implement. The biggest impact is that this is a way to showcase to parents and district leaders what we are doing. More importantly the students are excited to comment and participate in the ongoing discussion. Later, we'll add blogging buddies - hopefully from around the globe.

Here is a quick video with three reasons Tom thinks blogging is important from his post entitled
Why Bother Blogging. I think the faculty at Kimmel Farm gets that this has tremendous potential and are now willing to explore these options. For a brand new school that is building culture and community this is a huge step forward. This is one building block for what we can become - perhaps a cornerstone (to borrow the words of Tom Barrett).

Project Spark at Sciworks

The Question of Motivation

It's an age-old question for educators, one that has student-by-student answers, and it's one that isn't always completely answered. It's the question of motivation - how to find it in students, how to instill it, and how to nurture it. We know as educators that teachers have a lot to do with the motivational levels of students. Much of how much students are motivated depends on the individual teaching style, expectations, teacher recognition of student attempts to meet those expectations , and the social interactions of the students among themselves.
We're in an age of data-driven education. Thanks to brain-based research we now know more than ever about how students learn and what causes those neurons to "fire," and we work hard to implement proven methods. Still, with all we know, sometimes it's very difficult to find what motivates students. When a teacher works long and hard to design learning activities they think will be engaging and fun, and students respond with apathy it's tough to swallow.
Daniel Pink, author of
A Whole New Mind - Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future and Johnny Bunko - The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need, is set to release a new book Dec. 29th entitled Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink previewed some of what will be in his book earlier this summer in Oxford, England in a 20 minute talk at a TED Conference, and although his talk was applied to business, the content has huge implications for education.

At Kimmel Farm, we're building our school around problem-based learning through the support of our business and education partner, CERTL (Center of Excellence for Research, Teaching and Learning at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine). PBL is not a new approach to teaching. Some of the principles date back to the early 1900s. But it is an approach that takes into account student interest, prior knowledge, and connections to the real world of the learner. Through PBL, students are more self-directed, and teachers become less authority figures and more facilitators of learning.
The question of motivation won't be entirely solved by PBL. It's not a panacea. It will, however, bring into play much of what Pink speaks of in his TED talk at our school. Hopefully it will help our students overcome the "functional fixedness" that could make them less prepared for our uncertain futures. With PBL,
students will have more autonomy in their learning as it is more group and self-directed. Students should strive for mastery using PBL because it should be lessons that matter to them and connect to their lives. Students should feel purpose when engaged in PBL scenarios because they are working as social units to solve something important to the group/class.
This is a student-centered approach where our students will engage in real-world problems, learn to forge functional relationships to gain reasonable solutions, and focus on
multiple solutions instead of one right answer. These are all life-long skills that need to developed for success in any of life's endeavors, and at any age or stage of learning. The hope (and research says) is students will gain confidence and thus become more motivated with each PBL experience. Motivation will no longer become the question. We'll be addressing it through
teaching style, high expectations, positive social interactions, and the culture of learning we create.

Scenes from Fall Festival

Dedicating A Building

Photos by Denise Brodeur

On Monday, November 9th Kimmel Farm Elementary was officially dedicated in a ceremony held at the school. It was an event carefully planned and executed. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Donald L. Martin Jr. Ed.D led much of the program, which was highlighted by student performances by our kindergartners, singing lyrics written by our own kindergarten teacher Shayne Madison, and a group of 5th graders who performed an instrumental piece directed by our music teacher, Robert York. Thanks also to WSFCS School Board Member Marilyn A. Parker for her dedicatory address.
We were honored to have the invocation delivered by Reverend James C. Newsome of nearby Friedberg Moravian Church. We were also honored have Dr. Stanford Hill of the Center for Excellence for Research, Teaching, and Learning, affirm our partnership and dedication to making Kimmel Farm Elementary a model school for Problem Based Learning.
We honored the previous land owners, LA and Jean Kimel Topping and Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Miller, who agreed to sell the land so our school and neighboring Flat Rock Middle could be born. The building was presented by Perry Peterson of Peterson/Gordon Architects, PA and that was that. Our building was dedicated - "officially" open for public use.
The ceremony itself was formality, but it left one important question unanswered. To what are we dedicated?
We know we're committed to problem based learning and using the technology we're so blessed to have in our building. But really, to what we are dedicated is still an open-ended question. The answer to what we are dedicated is yet to evolve, and the challenge therein is for us to decide as educators and students what we are going to become. It's an ongoing conversation we need to have, and an issue on which we should reflect often. Too many schools don't.
As we honored the previous land owners we stated we thought it important to record our history as it unfolds, but also to gather the history of the place prior to the school being built. We're named Kimmel Farm Elementary for a reason, and we want our students to get a sense of the history of our land to give them purpose, identity, and a sense of pride.
We plan to host a celebration at the completion of our first year and seal a time capsule with contents that have yet to be created by our students. It will be interesting to see what we choose to put inside that time capsule, and to determine when it will be reopened. Perhaps it's something we seal, open in 10 years, reflect, add new products, and reseal for opening 10 years from then. Whatever we decide to do we'll only be putting snapshot of what we are to be in that first time capsule. Only when it's opened will we have some answer to what we have been dedicated.
Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks once said, "Sometimes you have to create the thing you want to be part of." All we know is it's great to have that opportunity, and exciting to think of what we can become.

Building Blogs

With the first quarter now complete the second leg of the school year is underway. Time passes quickly. Students were home last Thursday and Friday, but teachers were at school working hard to complete report cards, wrap up first quarter data and look at where their classes were headed in the second nine weeks.
Amazingly, many teachers added building their class blog to the to-do list during those teacher work days. We've been talking about the educational impact they can have, and how it's a very connected way to involve students in authentic reflection and writing.
With one workshop offered on Thursday and one on Friday 15 class blogs were created and readied for student use in the second quarter. There are numerous ways these blogs can be used in the classroom and many teachable moments can and should come from teaching students to blog. The
On an e-Journey with generation Y blog has a list of 20 reasons why students should blog, and they are all good reasons. I just need one to convince me the work involved with having a class blog is worth it all - authentic expression. Allowing our students to respond says we care about what they think, and that it is important enough to be published.
Students don't reflect enough on what they've been taught or on what questions they still may have after the teaching. Blogging is a way to do that individually, or with a collective voice as a class, and on a platform that invites responses in return. Check out our Blog List on the right side column to visit our classroom blogs. This list is incomplete and will grow - and so will our students.

Keeping Kids Engaged in Class

I recently read that if you aren't keeping your students engaged you might as well be talking to a brick wall. As an educator who has been around for a while I find there's a lot of truth in that statement. There are many definitions of what it means to be a 21st century school, but really what it all comes down to is keeping students engaged in authentic, real world learning tasks. The timeliness of this Edutopia article entitled How to Keep Kids Engaged in Class was too relevant to many of the collegial discussions we've been having at Kimmel Farm Elementary. I had to blog about it. I think it applies to every educator at every level, and while there are some tried and true methods outlined here, there are some new ones that I'm going to try. (Photo courtesy wooleywonderworks via Flickr under a Creative Commons 2.0 license)

An Appeal To Governor Perdue

How often do five year-olds engage in the political process? Probably not very often. But here at Kimmel Farm Elementary one kindergarten class is already lobbying for policy change at the state level. It involves protecting the honey bee.
After the class pumpkin plants failed to produce pumpkins, Mrs. Madison's students decided to investigate why. Using the model of problem based learning Mrs. Madison shared books, and researched with her students how pumpkin plants produce pumpkins. It was a truly authentic educational process. Their conclusion was there were no honey bees to pollinate the plants, and without pollination no pumpkins can grow. This extended the lesson, prompting student-driven research about how important the honey bee, our state insect, is to agriculture and our economy.
The concerns were forwarded to our school's Curriculum Coordinator, Carolyn Layton, who recommended the class contact Governor Beverly Perdue to report their findings and lobby to protect the honey bee. Kimmel Farm's Media Coordinator, Walter Carmichael, has a wonderful post on
his blog detailing this project entitled Problem Based Learning is at Our Core. The video appeal from Mrs. Madison's class to help our honey bees is here.

The Case for 21st Century Schools

The facts and figures change rapidly, but the trends and themes outlined in this video make the case for

  • educating our students in an environment that is problem based
  • requires critical thinking
  • requires oral and written reflections
  • teaches students how to use technology (integrating their oral and written reflections)
  • and is "connected" - globally.

The video is courtesy of The Fischbowl - Karl Fisch's blog. Karl is Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado and he is certainly a leader when it comes to forward thinking and 21st century school development. He, along with Scott McLeod, JD, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota have worked on developing the "Did You Know" series of presentations to keep us all looking at "the big picture. They've been used as conversation starters all over the world and especially in schools who are thinking about where we are headed. Watch and reflect. What does all this mean for students - even at the elementary level?

The Journey Begun - The Enormous Task

Today marks the 25th student day. The journey has begun. Kimmel Farm Elementary School opened its doors to students for the very first time August 25th, 2009 and the rest is history - in the making. Kimmel Farm offers to all who attend and teach there a fresh start in a state-of-the-art 21st century learning facility. What has happened over the course of the last 25 student days, and the teacher workdays leading up to it, is nothing short of amazing.
In the months leading up to the start of the 2009-2010 school year the core team worked together to lay the foundation for success. Their many hours of labor, their insights, and their keen decisions helped set the stage for a smooth start. Somehow "thank-you" doesn't seem enough. A new faculty and staff assimilated from many different schools formed Kimmel Farm's first faculty. The final stages of construction were completed, teachers moved in, classrooms were assembled, and the doors were opened to students.
There's no way to measure the amount of work that has already gone into opening our school. What is most significant is the spirit with which that work has been completed - by everyone. There's a synergy among our educators. They're already collaborating, using technology new to them the best ways they know how, teaching each other new ways to use it, and they're willing and eager to do even more. They seem to understand the enormous task of building the 21st century learning community for which we feel Kimmel Farm Elementary was built.
What we want for our students is to be able to clearly and effectively communicate, to be problem solvers, to develop interpersonal and collaborative skills, and to have civic pride and a global awareness. What our building does to facilitate this kind of education is give us and our students the tools. What will ultimately set us apart will be how we as educators collaborate, how we create authentic opportunities for this kind of learning, and how we allow ourselves and our students opportunities to reflect on the process.
The start of this blog is well overdue. I know we've missed opportunities to share the small, and not so small successes we've already encountered in just 25 days. However, there was work to be done. Now in development this blog will become the space where we share our successes, our insights, and reflections. The journey has begun, and so has the task.