Category Archives: Teachers

Math Differentiation…Byrdseed Style!


Do you have students who always finish early?  How about the ones who say they already know the topic at hand?  Consider replacing integers with fractions or decimals in their practice problems.  Why not encourage them to try arithmetic with binary…just like computers do!  Check out this link for some great ideas on using complexity and novelty in math differentiation!  Happy Differentiating!

Highlights from BOTB 2015

bookworm_red  Recipe for Sharing Your Love of Reading & Writing
  • 20 Books
  • Over 150 Authentic Book Projects
  • 3 Authors
  • 1 Playwright
  • A Dash of Competition
  • A Little Free Library
  • A Sprinkling of our Favorite Neighborhood Bookstore

Yields:  120 students receiving a message of inspiration, perseverance, and hope!


Battle of the Books took a different spin this year at Westside Community Schools.  The morning started off with kids arriving and putting their book projects on display.  For each book read, students chose one project to complete.  There were 3-5 project choices for each book ranging from dioramas, to writing a letter to the author, to doing further research on a topic in the book.

Drew, 4th grader at Swanson said:  I loved doing the Battle Of The Books activities, and reading the books! Most of the books were amazing! :)

Check out some of the student projects submitted!

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Next, Omaha Playwright (and Westside graduate, parent and community member) Ellen Struve talked about her profession and love of reading & writing.  Not only did she talk about her personal journey to becoming a playwright, but Ms. Struve also involved the students in creating their very own play!  Throughout her presentation, Ellen embedded information about characters, dialogue, conflict, scene, and setting.  Based on the engagement level and questions asked by kids, there will most likely be additional play writers emerging from Westside in the future!

We found 3 BOTB authors on Twitter and they graciously agreed to Skype with our students!  Katherine Fitzmaurice, author of A Diamond in the Desert was up first.  She emphasized all the research that went into writing the book and even showed us pictures of the real characters.  She also showed students a pile of rejection letters and the numerous changes suggested by her editor.  Her advice for students wanting to write a book:  “You have to really like what you’re writing about.  Believe in yourself and like your story!”  

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Our next Skype call was with Valerie Hobbs, author of Sheep.  Many students chose to write Ms. Hobbs a letter for their book project and she graciously wrote letters back to all of them!  Talk about making a personal connection!  Several students read Sheep and fell in love with Jack, the border collie who tells the story.

Many students were excited when Ms. Hobbs shared information about the newly released sequel to Sheep.  At the end of Sheep, Jack finds Luke at the Good Shepherd Home for Boys.  Together, they are adopted by a couple and the sequel Wolf continues Luke and Jack’s story at their new home, a sheep ranch in Northern California.  Ms. Hobbs’ writing advice for the students: “Do a whole lot of reading of the type of book you’d like to write.”


Our final Skype call was with W.H. Beck, author of Malcolm at Midnight.  In addition to being an author, Ms. Beck is a school librarian.  Her advice for students was, “Make sure to set aside time each day to write.  You can make a list, write a short story, or just write down your random thoughts.”

Click Here for a Portion of our Skype Call With W.H. Beck



We didn’t forget the competition portion of Battle of the Books.  Students worked in teams to answer questions about all 20 books.  They used their iPads and participated in a Kahoot! created by Mrs. Lusero.  Students also took an individual test on a Google form.

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At the end of the day, Marla Fries shared her love of reading by telling the students about her Little Free Library.  Marla is a WCS community member, retired administrator, and volunteer at Westgate Elementary.

After the event, one student was so inspired that she wanted to build her own Little Free Library!  Check out Ava’s work!

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Ellen Scott from our neighborhood bookstore, The Bookworm, also shared her personal story and love of reading with the students.  She presented the kids with an opportunity to be on The Bookworm’s Kid Advisory Board.  We are so fortunate to have a family-owned bookstore in our Westside community!

Friday, March 13th was truly a wonderful day to celebrate many accomplishments!  To all the students who participated, Thank You for all your hard word and willingness to try something new.  The EY Team learned a lot throughout the process and we look forward to hearing your feedback!

If you attended Battle of the Books this year, please consider leaving a comment and letting us know your favorite part!  Also, click here for a quick survey about the day.

Battle of the Books Schedule

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The 2015 Battle of the Books celebration is only a week away and we are getting geared up for an exciting day!  Here’s the schedule:

Friday, March 13 @ Westside Community Conference Center

9:30-10:00: Students will arrive and set up their projects (up to 2 per student).  There will be BOTB questions looping on the screen for students to answer.  During this time, students will have an opportunity to earn tickets for the prize drawings.

10:00-10:25: Presentation by Playwright Ellen Struve 

10:30-11:00: Skype call with Kathryn Fitzmaurice-author of BOTB book A Diamond in the Desert

11:00-11:10: Another chance to earn prize tickets by answering BOTB questions

11:15-11:45: Skype call with Valerie Hobbs-author of BOTB book Sheep

11:45-12:10: Lunch with another opportunity to earn prize tickets

12:10-12:30: Group BOTB competition using Kahoot!

12:30-12:50:  Skype call with W.H. Beck-author of BOTB book Malcolm at Midnight

12:55-1:30: Individual BOTB competition

1:30-1:45: Westside Community member and retired administrator Marla Fries will do a presentation on her Free Little Library

1:45-2:05: Ellen Scott from the Bookworm will do a presentation on our Westside neighborhood family-owned bookstore.  She will also be promoting a reading challenge!

2:05-2:20: Awards

2:25: Load buses and head back to school


Bus 1: pick up Hillside at 8:50, Westbrook at 9:00, Swanson at 9:10 and Sunset at 9:20

Bus 2: pick up WMS at 8:50 (any Algebra or Pre-Algebra students), Loveland at 9:00, and Westgate at 9:10, and Paddock at 9:20

Bus 3:  pick up Oakdale at 9:00, Rockbrook at 9:10, and Prairie Lane at 9:20.

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Coding Bliss

Girls Only!

Coding Bliss is a monthly coding workshop for girls.  The goal is to make coding fun and accessible to young women in the community.

The first event will be held on March 10, 2015 (2nd Tuesday of each month thereafter) from 5-8 pm.


  • 5-5:30: Networking
  • 5:30-6:00: Guest Speaker (Sandi Barr-Founder of Omaha Coding Women)
  • 6-8:00:  Coding Workshop-Introduction to HTML (led by Shonna Dorsey-co-founder of Interface Web School)


Science Olympiad Recap

Question: What do you get when you gather 110 students interested in science and allow them to think creatively, problem solve, experiment and collaborate?
Answer: Learning at its best!

The 2nd Annual WCS Elementary Science Olympiad was a huge success!  Throughout the day, students participated in a variety of events that challenged their thinking.

The Zoo School facilitated a Wildlife Safari event where students practiced their observation and inference skills.  The Barge Building event challenged students to create a foil structure that would float in water and support the most pennies.  Mystery Powders had students identifying substances based on their reactions to different liquids.  Other events included Rock Hound, Straw Tower, Mystery Boxes and Edible Vehicle.

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It was a great day thanks to the organization of Sheree Person-Pandil and John Thomsen from ESU #3.  We also had 9 amazing WHS students who shared their love of science by helping out at each event and facilitating a Science Bowl.


It’s so great to offer these types of opportunities to our students.  Seeing the level of engagement and enthusiasm from the students is what makes our job so rewarding!  Thank you to everyone involved in making this day a success!  Click on the link below to watch a short iMovie trailer of the day.

Click Here to Watch the Video

Nebraska SciFest Essay Contest

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From snow to rain, wind and sun, we experience the fascinating world of weather each day.

Nebraska SciFest is sponsoring a writing contest.  Students in grades 4-12 can choose from the following writing prompts:

  1. What is it about weather/meteorology that piques your interest?
  2. Tell us a weather-related story that left a lasting impression on you. What happened and what did you learn from it?
  3. Tell us why you are interested in being a storm chaser.

Essays must be postmarked by March 1.   For more details on the essay requirements, check out this link.

Good lucK!

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Coding Resources

Coding, Programming, Computer Science, Oh My!  

Have your students started coding yet?  If not, they should…everyone else is doing it! 😉

For the first time in my teaching career, I have witnessed problem solving at a whole new level.  When students are coding, I see engagement, problem solving, and grit.  Coding has allowed me to introduce higher level math concepts to our youngest students…and they get it!

There are several free apps and websites that introduce students to the basics of coding.  Many of these apps are also open-ended and allow students to be creative and design their own programs.

The wiki linked below is a work-in-progress.  Please leave a comment and let me know your ideas/resources.  Together we can give students an opportunity to learn the language of their future!

The Marshmallow Challenge


What can you build with 20 full pieces of spaghetti, one standard-sized marshmallow, a yard of masking tape and a yard of string?  The Omaha Public Power District challenges you to challenge your inner engineer and build the tallest structure you can!

Teams of three to four students currently in 5th grade are invited to participate.  Read more about the contest rules here.  OPPD is accepting electronic entries until 5 p.m., February 19.

Breaking Barriers Essay Contest

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The Breaking Barriers Essay Contest is a chance for diverse students in grades 4-8 to share their personal stories and how they use Jackie Robinson’s values to face their own barriers.

Details:  Write an essay about a barrier that you have faced. Explain how you faced this barrier by using one or more of Jackie Robinson’s Nine Values:

  1. Citizenship
  2. Commitment
  3. Courage
  4. Determination
  5. Excellence
  6. Integrity
  7. Justice
  8. Persistence
  9. Teamwork

Each essay should be at least 200 words long and not exceed 700 words
in length.  There is a limit of one entry per student. All essays must be factual and based on the student’s real-life experience.  Fictional stories will be disqualified.

Contest Deadline:  March 13, 2015

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You can read more about the essay requirements, official rules, and judging criteria by going to the website.