Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 2009: Casey Cebulski, City of Lakes AmeriCorps Member and Activity Planning Superstar


March 2009 America Learns Strateg of the Month 
 AmeriCorps Minnesota

Minneapolis Public Schools Special School District 1

When we read Casey Cebulski’s Cave Monster strategy, we were blown away by the thought behind it.

Casey CebulskiCheck this Out.
Casey is a City of Lakes AmeriCorps member.  He works with third and fourth graders at Andersen Elementary in Minneapolis, MN.

Several weeks ago, one of Casey’s students suggested that they play Hangman.  Harmless, right?

Well, maybe not.  What does Hangman represent?  “Basically,” Casey writes, “Hangman is a game that by losing, you portray a person hanging from a noose. That's how criminals [used to be] disposed of, as well as a way to end one's life.”  Do children, especially children growing up around violence, need to reinforce their learning with games that communicate hanging?

Now, whether or not you or your students have ever associated Hangman with any form of violence really isn’t the point here. 

What we absolutely LOVE is that Casey models a process of asking, “What could be the unintended consequences of playing this game?”  It’s about really looking through various lenses (from students’ academic goals, to the types of activities that engage one’s students, to students’ neighborhood environments), to determine what’s best for one’s students.  Once Casey has that answer, he acts.

In this case, Casey acted by creating an awesome Hangman adaptation called Cave Monster.  We hope you’ll have fun playing the game with your own students; but, even more, we hope you’ll bring some of Casey’s lesson planning prowess to your own tutoring or mentoring practice.

Additional Notes About Casey Before You Read “Cave Monster”

Casey’s thoughts about his AmeriCorps experience: 
  • “The biggest lesson I learned while being in AmeriCorps thus far is to always keep an open mind.  Not every student is going to learn and grow the same (it goes without saying), so you constantly have to be aware of who you're trying to help and make sure you're there for them.”
Lisa Lambert’s thoughts on Casey (Lisa is Casey’s supervisor.):
  • “His creativity has been a huge asset in his work, as he has developed many unique ways to engage students in their work and help them understand basic math and reading concepts.  His cave monster strategy is just one example of the way Casey creates appropriate, unique games and hands-on methods to engage the students he works with. Casey's students love the cave monster game so much that Casey is often able to use it as an educational reward during his tutoring sessions that reinforces the work his students have been doing with him and in class.”
Check out Casey’s art!

The Strategy

Cave Monster

Created by: Casey Cebulski, City of Lakes AmeriCorps (Minneapolis Public Schools) (America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topic: Spelling
Grade Levels Used With: Third and Fourth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group
Materials: - Paper and pencil
- Spelling word list(s)
- Grade/reading level books
- List of sight words

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: During a group reading session, a student suggested we play Hangman with the week's spelling words. Knowing the implications of what hangman represents, I felt that the game was too violent for the elementary school level. 

I came up with the scenario where the students are in a cave exploring. They have to guess letters to one of their weekly spelling words, or words they had trouble with while reading.  If they guessed wrong, they'd slowly wake up a monster living in a cave.  (After all, they ARE in the monster's home, bumping into them while they sleep. You know, it's rude.)  Should they get the full monster up, they'd be chased out of the cave and have to start over again.
Step 1: Draw an open cave. Nothing fancy, just get the overall outline.

Prepare a sheet of paper with the appropriate number of spaces drawn for the word or phrase to be guessed.

Step 2: Get your students ready by explaining that they are a team (or teams, depending on group size) exploring the cave.
Step 3: Ask your students to guess letters based on the number of spaces, but warn them that with every wrong letter guessed, a monster begins to wake up.

Every time a student guesses an incorrect letter, draw part of the monster’s body.  Start with the eyes, then the nose, ears, mouth, etc. (Get creative, try to have a design that would take quite a few guesses to finish.)

I also really expressed to the students the need to really look at which letters were already guessed, and to sound out the few letters that were already there.

Step 4: If the monster is completely drawn, the students are “chased” out of the cave.

The students then have to start over with that word or phrase.
Step 5: If the students get all the letters and finish the word, the monster goes back to bed. 

Start a new round of the game.
Step 6: The game was an immediate hit. 

Being an artist, it was easy for me to come up with various creatures to inhabit the cave.  I drew anything from SpongeBob (you don’t have to use a monster at all) to Darth Vader.  Don’t worry about your drawing skills, though.  The students will love the activity.

Ever since that day, my students ask ME to play the game.


Please share your own thoughts with us and with Casey by entering a comment below.

Program Staff Superstar! Amanda Resch on Motivating 100% of City Year Chicago Corps Members to Complete Regular Service Logs





Every so often, we’ll post interviews with and tips from program directors and program coordinators who are using the America Learns Performance Measurement & Learning Network.  

These Program Staff Superstars have either found innovative ways to use the Network or have hurdled significant challenges while implementing it.  Meet our first  Program Staff Superstar below!

Meet Amanda Resch

City Year Chicago


Amanda Resch is the Director School Partnerships at City Year Chicago.  She has managed the America Learns Network there since Fall ‘07. 

Amanda ReschWhat Makes Amanda a Superstar? 
If you coordinate a volunteer or an AmeriCorps program, you probably know that it can be challenging to motivate 100 (or even 15) tutors or mentors to complete weekly, biweekly or monthly reports on their service.  Sometimes, program staff members don’t have time to use the collected data, even when 100% of their tutors or mentors are completing their logs. 

For various reasons, AmeriCorps programs using America Learns Network usually see completion rates of their America Learns Network Service Logs in the 80s and 90s;  BUT, over the past year, City Year Chicago rose its Service Log completion rate from the 50s and 60s to 100%! 

How did Amanda Make this Happen?
Click here to hear an excerpt of a conversation we recently had with Amanda.  She’ll explain how she and her City Year Chicago colleagues worked together to accomplish their goal. 

If you don’t have time to listen to the interview, here’s a summary of Amanda’s five keys to success:

  1. Communicate to Corps Members that you invested in the Network for them.   Make sure they understand what the Network’s benefits are for them.

  2. Make the Network a part of your program’s culture.  Make sure all staff members are on board, and implement the Network at the beginning of the program year, incorporating it deeply into Corps Members’ pre-service training activities.

  3. Make sure Corps Members understand that to be successful, they need to take time to reflect on their service and to use the ideas generated during their reflection time to improve their tutoring practice. In order to best support the Corps Members, you need them to share their reflections and plans with you via their service logs.

  4. Show the Corps Members examples of the types of reflections you’re looking for them to share in their service logs.

  5. Use the Corps Member training resources that America Learns created for your program.

Stay tuned!  We’ll be announcing our March 2009 America Learns Network Superstar in a few hours.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Nameless No More!

The IlluminatorThanks so much to those of you who participated in the effort to name the superhero who now represents the America Learns Network Superstars.

The winning name by far was…

 The Illuminator

The name was originally suggested by long-time Network member Val Harris at Project READ.  Project READ is an adult literacy tutoring program based at Lewis & Clark Community College in Illinois.

Other names that were suggested ranged from Sir Learns-A-Lot and Mr. Thinkler, to Captain Creative and Lightning McLearn.  Read all of the suggested names.