My Students Are My Family

Published November 10, 2013 by Mindi Vandagriff


My students are my family. I mean think about it. I spend more time with my students than I do my own family. My own children. They spend more time with me than they do their own parents. We are family.

This school year, I wanted the parents of my 60+ students to know that I am invested in their most prized possessions– their children. I want parents to know that I will take care of and protect and love and nurture their children as I would my own children. I think about my students all the time. I think about conversations we’ve had. Conversations we should’ve had. And conversations we will have. I reflect on things that I have said to them. I think about things that they have shared with me, an extension of their own family. I see things daily that make me think, “Oh! I can’t wait to share this with my students!” I am invested in them and I want them to know that deep in their hearts. I want them to know that along with their parents, I am a partner in this so-called journey through life. Your parents and I are connected through you.

We are a family.

That’s why I asked students to bring in a family portrait to share with our school family. This bookshelf is a constant reminder of people who love and care for them. I often catch students stopping by and gazing. Feeling love from a moment caught in time. Feeling love from family. In a way, it makes them feel safe in my classroom. And if students feel safe, they are ready to truly learn.




No More Unfair Bus Laws!

Published March 4, 2013 by Mindi Vandagriff

No More UnFair Bus Laws

This February, my class and I studied a lot of Black History. We kicked off the month with our Black History Month Project and students were enthusiastic about doing more. With the help of BrainPop, Jr., we talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks (a few among many). We talked about the courage it took for Rosa Parks to stand up against something she thought was wrong. I noticed that my students couldn’t recall an instance of inequality that even compared to what Rosa Parks went through in 1955. They just didn’t understand. So, I decided to make up some new rules (or so they thought). I shared these new rules with my students:

From now on:

1. Girls will go first in the lunch lines. No boys in front of girls.

2. Girls will get to go out to recess 5 minutes before the boys. Boys also have to line up from recess 5 minutes before the girls.

3. No boys are allowed on the swings. Only girls.

4. Girls get all of the working headphones, boys get what is left over.

5. Girls will have 1 page of homework every week, boys will have 2.

You can imagine the disgust on my boys’ faces. And the look on mine was dead serious. I let my “new rules” sink in for a minute before I said, “That’s how African-American’s felt once segregation was over, but unfair laws remained.”

I wanted students to make the connection between Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the inequalities that he so famously spoke about. I encouraged students to think about if they were riding that bus in 1955. If they were the ones the unfair rules applied to.

We spoke about speeches. We spoke about marches. We spoke about fairness and equalities. And freedom of speech.

I had my students make posters that would demonstrate how they felt about the bus laws in the mid 1950s. I told them about the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Then I asked them to write a short speech/chant that would show their feelings during the boycott. They pretended like they were there. They spoke from their hearts.

We used the Puppet Pals HD iPad app to bring our projects to life. Students took a picture of their posters and used them as the backdrop. Then they recorded their chants.

Finally, we made QR codes to attach to the posters. They are proudly hanging in our hallway. Readers can scan the QR codes to listen to the students’ projects.

I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that my students understand what Rosa Parks had to endure (as much as a third grader can understand) and what it means to stand up for something you believe in. #ProudTeacherMoment

Photo 1

Students created their posters and short speeches first.

Photo 2

Students took pictures of their posters to use as a backdrop for their “Puppet Pals” show.

Photo 8

Students picked out characters and added them to their show.

Photo 7

They took on the role of African-Americans in 1955 and spoke from their hearts.

Photo 5

Students saved their work on the iPads and shared with each other.

Photo 4

Finally, students used “Bump” to send their projects to me!

Photo 6

Saving paper! Students were so excited to “bump” me their projects!

UPDATE: I’ve added pictures of our display in the hallway. Parents and students used their QR readers on their smartphones/tablets to scan and listen/watch student projects:


Each student made a poster {one that they would’ve carried in the protest} and then we attached their QR code which linked to their protest statements.


Examples of Student Projects

{click the image to view their Puppet Pals video}

No More Unfair Rules!

No More Unfair Bus Laws!

No More Unfair Laws!


Published February 24, 2013 by Mindi Vandagriff

Every year the Greater Anna Chamber of Commerce has an Awards Banquet where community members are recognized for their outstanding service to the community. I am honored and humbled to be nominated this year for “Educator of the Year”. I am so thankful to be nominated for doing a job that I not only get to do everyday, but that I love and am so passionate about. I cannot articulate  what it means to me that I was nominated by a parent of a student. That speaks volumes to me and encourages me to keep doing what I love. It seems like every year I am blessed with the most supportive parents and with Anna’s best students. Seriously…. I. LOVE. MY. JOB.

Ballot boxes will be placed at Texas Star Bank, Independent Bank, the Anna Post Office and Brookshire’s. Citizens will have the opportunity to cast their votes from Tuesday, February 19th until Thursday, February 28th. I encourage you to vote for the most deserving nominee and also encourage your friends, family, and co-workers to vote as well!

The banquet will be held at the Collin County Adventure Camp where anyone can attend. Tickets for the banquet are $35 per person and can be purchased at the Chamber Office, 807 S. Interurban, Anna, TX.

Dipity Do Da

Published February 15, 2013 by Mindi Vandagriff


Last year, I asked my students to come up with new and interesting ways of presenting content. Not only was I fulfilling the state standards for teaching but also engaging students in new and interesting Web 2.0 tools.  Killing two birds with one stone. As my students and I researched interesting and engaging ways to present a timeline, I came across Dipity, an interactive timeline creator.  Now I am killing three birds with one stone.

Dipity came out of a private beta to a full launch a few years ago (2008). Dipity is a site that makes it simple for students to create and share interactive timelines about any subject or topic. It allows students to embed You Tube videos, Twitter, RSS feeds, Blogger, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook and more right into their timelines. Dipity makes timelines relevant and fun for students and best of all, students are creating timelines in “their language” of Digital Native. The original thought behind Dipity, a timeline-based lifestreaming aggregator, is that users could manage a variety of new social features and have in turn, turned Dipity into a viable alternative to FriendFeed and other lifestreaming services, as well as a replacement for standard RSS readers.

Dipity revolves around powerful interactive timelines which intuitively display content like blog posts, YouTube videos, and Flickr photos in small hovering rectangles that can be expanded. The site is very well designed, and while the timelines seem to lag occasionally when they refresh, they’re fun to play around with (and if you don’t like the timelines, there are a few alternative views like a Flipbook, List View, and a Map viewing feature for pictures or posts with Geotagging enabled).

The service itself should be familiar to anyone who has used FriendFeed, SocialThing!, or any number of similar sites. Users are asked to input their account credentials from services that include Flickr, Picassa, and Twitter, which are used to populate the timeline. Beyond these, Dipity allows users to automatically monitor keywords across services like Digg and YouTube (you can have new Obama videos automatically appear in your timeline), and RSS feeds. This is a great social feeds management tool but even further it can be used to create timelines across the curriculum, not just for social networking.

Dipity is the perfect tool for creating a timeline for any subject in your classroom. Students can bring history to life by embedding relevant You Tube video into their timelines. Timelines can be created by students individually or as a class and posted on a class website as a study resource. I started with a timeline of the days leading up to the fall of the Alamo (very relevant and timely content for my students right now).

Students can click on any of the above events to read the description, make a comment, share the event or explore the links associated with the event.  Below, you can see where I have added an image, a link to a website, and a video on YouTube.

Personally, I am ecstatic about the integration of this incredible Web 2.0 tool into classrooms everywhere.  Timelines on Dipity are dynamic in that they can be used for a plethora of ventures and are always changing.  Even if I don’t include a feed from a blog or social networking feed, the timeline is still interactive in that users can leave comments on every single event and react to other comments made on the events.  I hope that you will consider taking advantage of this fabulous Web 2.0 tool in your classroom.  You could start with something as easy as having students document their day on Dipity. Come on! Just Dipity DO it!


UPDATE: Great blog post on Custom Timeline Creators! Check it out here!

Black History Month Home Project

Published February 10, 2013 by Mindi Vandagriff

Black History Month Project

February is Black History Month, a time to commemorate the efforts of famous African Americans who have crossed boundaries, broken down barriers, and contributed to their fields.  Your child has been assigned a famous African American and will check out a library book at school.  Please have your child read their book nightly, research on the Internet, and write down important information about their person.  Your child will then write a report and make a newspaper doll that will represent their person.

Students will:

  • Research an assigned famous African American’s life and achievements
  • Make a newspaper doll representing that person.  The doll will be provided, but your child will need to make the doll look like the person (add clothing, add a face, etc.)
  • The doll should have an object in one of its hands that shows why this person is famous (Examples:  microphone, document, basketball, etc.)
  • Summarize the historic information they researched, using the research form provided in class
  • Give an oral report / presentation to the class

Most of the research and writing will be done in class. The main thing I want students to do at home is make the doll (again, the newspaper doll will be provided, students just need make the doll resemble the famous person they researched).

If you have any questions, please let me know. You can contact me via email at, by cell phone at (214)578-1620, or through our class Facebook page,

The project will be due on Friday, March 1st, 2013.

Root Beer Floats = FUN in science!

Published October 15, 2012 by Mindi Vandagriff

Who says science can’t be yummy? Today, our class not only enjoyed a classic treat, but made the states of matter something we could see… and eat!

First, students drew and labeled the three states of matter (in root beer float form) in their science journals.


After being shown the ice cream (solid form) and root beer (liquid form) in clear glass jars, students predicted what might happen when the two ingredients were combined. Students predicted that we might see a gas (fizz). Some students predicted that the root beer might melt the ice cream and others predicted that the ice cream would change colors.

Before we added ice cream to the root beer jar and root beer to the ice cream jar and predicted what might happen in each jar. Some students predicted that the same thing might happen in both jars because the same two ingredients were present and others predicted that the effect would be different because we added different things to both jars. We soon found out that the change was different!


When we added ice cream to the root beer jar, the foam didn’t rise as high as when we added root beer to the ice cream jar. Both fizzed (gas form) as we suspected.

Next, students got to try their own personal experiment! But before combining the solid and the liquid, students made observations (with their senses) about the different forms of matter and wrote them in their science journals. Then, the combining began!







Finally, we enjoyed our tasty root beer floats while we wrote a paragraph on “How to Make a Root Beer Float!”


M&Ms and the Scientific Method

Published September 21, 2012 by Mindi Vandagriff

M&Ms image used in accordance with the Creative Commons License. 

This week in Science, I wanted to introduce my students to the Scientific Method in a fun and engaging way. What better way to do that than with chocolate? I showed my students a bag of M&Ms and asked them if there was anything that they’d like to know about what was inside. They responded with questions like:

“How many M&Ms are in the bag?”

“What colors of M&Ms are in the bag?”

“How many of each color are there?”

“How much does the bag of M&Ms weigh?”

“How much does each M&M weigh?”

I wrote all of these questions on the board and then we chose a question that we were going to definitely answer by opening the bag of M&Ms. Students REALLY wanted to know “How many M&Ms are in the bag?” (It was actually a decent size bag) But before I opened the bag and actually counted the M&Ms, I had students guess the number of M&Ms they thought were in the bag. I then introduced the scientific term HYPOTHESIS, which means a careful guess. Students made their own hypothesis about how many M&Ms were in the bag. One student guessed correctly: 120 M&Ms.

Next, students broke into small groups and I gave each group a bag of M&Ms. They each came up with a question they wanted to answer by opening the bag of M&Ms. Once they made their hypothesis, they opened their bags, gathered their data and eventually answered their own questions.

And then of course…. we ate them.

Take a look below at some engaged students as we learn about the Scientific Method with M&Ms.



You can access the “M&Ms and the Scientific Method” full lesson plan by clicking here.