Past Scholarship Winner: Austin Fitzgerald

Today’s Feature Friday post is a little different. We will be interviewing our past scholarship winner, Austin Fitzgerald. Austin won our scholarship in 2018 when she put together the Mindstrings Violin tutoring program. You can see her original video she submitted here. 

Austin has been at the University of Chicago for two years now. She has kept in contact with MindStrings and has been working on a way to become qualified for the program to accept donations. 

Since then, she has also become involved with a program on her campus called South Side Free Music Program. Her role is a violin teacher offering free lessons to the youth on the south side of Chicago. She is using this resource to hopefully have MindStrings expand to Chicago where she is located, however, COVID-19 threw off her plan. While Zoom and other online video call platforms may be an option, the majority of the students she would teach do not have this accessibility in their homes. This is something she is still working on. 

Another way Austin has found to serve with her music ability while at school is by playing the violin to cancer patients at UChicago’s hospital. This is part of her MindStrings outreach program and she is working on recruiting others to do this with her. 

Austin is double majoring in Pre-Medical and Anthropology with a biology minor, she has been busy in her studying! She is the current Co-President of the African and Caribbean Student Association at the University of Chicago. On top of this, she has been exploring her interests in childhood development and social mobility through her job as a research assistant at the Thirty Million Words Center for Early Learning + Public Health. Way to go Austin! 

We are extremely proud of Austin and all of her accomplishments at college, especially during this difficult time where the pandemic has halted some of her plans. 

If you would like to learn more about our scholarship and see how you can apply, check out our scholarship webpage. 

Enneagram In Education: Type Five

This is part of a series using enneagram in education. For more information on why enneagram in education, refer to this post.

Enneagram type 5, the investigator, or the outsider.

A few words to describe this type: 

Perceptive.

Isolated.

 Visionaries.

Logical.

Problem Solver.

Observer.

Let’s pull this into a classroom setting. If you’re an enneagram type five, you are the one sitting there quietly taking in every word the teacher says. You may not be taking notes because you are internalizing everything going on in the lecture. Group work is not ideal for your learning type because you want to bring in information on your own and have the time to process it. Often if there is a topic you are having a hard time with, taking time to think over and internalize the information will help you understand it more than any other way. 

How to get the most out of your education as a type five:

  • Be open with your teacher about your silence during class. Just because you aren’t saying much doesn’t mean you aren’t taking it in and learning. Teachers are not always aware of this. 
  • Work on your social skills in group settings and taking in valuable information from peers, even when it’s stressful. 
  • Find topics you love and are passionate about. 
  • Give yourself plenty of alone and quiet time in a learning/studying setting. 
  • Be confident in your intelligence, especially in settings that are harder to be a part of, such as group work or large classroom lecture settings. 

“Behind Fives’ relentless pursuit of knowledge are deep insecurities about their ability to function successfully in the world. Fives feel that they do not have an ability to do things as well as others. But rather than engage directly with activities that might bolster their confidence, Fives “take a step back” into their minds where they feel more capable.”

– The Enneagram Institute

Type 5’s go to type 8 in growth and type 7 in stress. 

Are you a type 5? What is important for you to have a successful learning environment? 

Announcing A 2020 Scholarship Winner: Hilton Stallworth

This is part of a series of interviews with our scholarship recipients for our 2020 Build A Better Future scholarship sponsored by Honors Graduation. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our 2020 program, click here”. 

Hilton Stallworth applied to our scholarship this last spring and we were incredibly impressed with his project. Hilton was enrolled in the magnet program at Enloe High school to be exposed to more rigorous classes and educational activities. Shortly after starting, he noticed that he was one of the few black students enrolled in these classes. The majority of his black peers were only enrolled in the standard public school classes. As he went into high school, there was an increased amount of students enrolled in the school, there was still a small number of black students pursuing advanced level classes. This being detrimental to both the students in the standard classes who aren’t performing highly, as well as the few in the advanced classes sometimes feeling discouraged and ostracized as if they didn’t belong there. 

This inspired Hilton to partner with the Black Student Union and create the “All the Stars Initiative” to close the academic achievement gap within Enloe High School by both increasing black student enrollment in advanced classes as well as increasing the performance in the classes in which the students are enrolled. The initiative has three pillars; Outreach, support, and incentive. Naturally, it starts with outreach and being able to get in touch with as many Enloe black students as possible and inform them of the program and opportunities available. Second comes support in which students would sign a pledge to the program, but also to each other stating they would support one another’s academic ventures through structured tutoring and encouragement. Finally, there is incentive which gives students short term goals to continue to fuel their drive for higher education and excellence. 

Hilton hopes that the program will gain the traction and recognition it needs to attract black families to the school due to stellar initiative. The other hope he has is that the program will become successful enough that other schools in the area will be inspired to implement their own version of the initiative, eventually turning All The Stars into a movement amongst the black community. Hilton is hopeful that people will see the true value in a program like this to continue to foster and invest their time in it so that it can positively affect the lives of the resident black students. 

Now that Hilton has graduated Enloe High School, he will be attending NC State University. Since he is attending college locally, he will be able to remain in close contact with the new leaders of the initiative and the Black Student Union. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his plans to visit the students every few weeks came to a halt as they are all now doing virtual lessons. One thing he is doing, however, is attempting to work with the students at Enloe to figure out a way to have similar empowerment amongst the black students in a virtual format. Outside of high school, Hilton plans to actively encourage his black classmates in college to pursue academic excellence, as well as give back to their community. 

How To Dye Rice For Sensory Bins

Did you catch my post a few weeks ago on how to find success with dyed rice sensory bins? This post will give you tips on rice sensory bins, as well as our favorite tools for rice play. Today, I wanted to share how to make the dyed rice! Here’s my tried and true recipe plus some tips! This rice is taste-safe but does not mean it should be eaten by the handful. 

Materials: 

1 cup dry rice
1 tablespoon vinegar
Lots of food coloring! Liquid or Gel
Sandwich bags
Sheet pan
Wax paper/ parchment paper/ tin foil (optional but nice to have) 

Instructions: 

Place the rice and vinegar in a plastic sandwich bag. Squirt in lots of food coloring. The more food coloring, the deeper and better the color will turn out. 

Sandwich bag with rice, vinegar, and food coloring

Shake the bag until the coloring is evenly spread through the rice! 

Spread the rice on a sheet pan to dry. I like to cover my pan with parchment paper (or something similar) to keep the pan cleaner. If this isn’t possible, it’s fine to place the rice directly on the pan. In my experience, it has always washed off with a little soap and water 

Dump the rice on a sheet pan
Spread it thin. This is one cup of rice on one half of a standard size cookie sheet.

*The thinner you spread the rice, the faster it will dry. 

*For an even faster dry time, put in the oven on the lowest setting. If it’s a sunny day, place outside to dry. 

After about 30 minutes, you will have to break up chunks of rice that stick together.

The rice is dry once you can run your fingers through it and it doesn’t leave a residue of color on your fingers. 

Other Tips: 

Use the 1:1 ratio for rice and vinegar. You can do 2 cups of rice, 2 Tbs vinegar, and so on… 

The sandwich bag is a great way for kids to get involved in making the rice, they do great at mixing up the color into the rice! 

HOWEVER, we’ve had our fair share of little fingers puncture the ziplock bag, sending rice everywhere and food coloring places you don’t want. Teach your kids to mix the bag with flat hands and rub, like this!

If you’re looking to use less plastic, a glass bowl and spoon work great to mix as well. Make sure to rinse and dry the bowl and spoon before starting another color so you don’t mix colors.

Store in a gallon Ziploc bag or tupperware container. 

The rice smells strongly of vinegar for a time. Leave the baggie or container open all day or through the night to get rid of the smell before sealing and storing. Once the vinegar smell goes away, I have never found the strong smell to come back.

The rice can last for years and years stored in an airtight container!

Feature Friday: Matthew Winters

Welcome to Feature Friday! Where we showcase a new teacher each week in an interview. For past Feature Friday interviews, go here. 

Today’s Feature Friday is highlighting Matthew Winters. Matthew is a Jr. High English/creative writing/yearbook teacher, and technology instructional coach. Talk about the jack of all trades in the education world! Here’s what Matthew has for us today!

What is your favorite part of teaching Jr. High? 

“It is the energy the students bring to the classroom. Most students are starting to figure out who they are as a person and what they like to learn about and it is a genuinely great time to teach students.  They are inquisitive and engaged in a way that encourages great discussions.  A lot of people have misconceptions about teaching junior high school, they have too much energy or they are frustrating, but nothing could be farther from the truth.”

What is one of your favorite units you’ve taught? 

“Every year I do a unit on Romeo and Juliet and I use Michael Ford’s ‘Hip Hop Architecture’ to teach students about rhyme scheme and poetry.  We break out the legos, build little cities out of lines from Shakespeare and famous songs, and end up making a 3D city of their own poetry. It gives them another perspective on poetry and how it looks and feels. During that same unit, we take an old sword fighting of Shakespeare’s book that I found and actually choreograph the fights in Romeo and Juliet using markers/pens as swords. It gives another perspective on a play that students often come into school thinking is a romance.  It helps them to visualize the performance rather that just seeing it on the page or screen.”

If you could recommend one book to read, what would it be and why? 

“A few years ago I met Dan Ryder (Twitter: @WickedDecent) at a conference, read his book with Amy Burvall (@Amyburvall) Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom. Since then I have used his thoughts on creatively accessing student growth, adding choice in a project, adding media in a variety of ways into our classroom, and looking out for more than just the academic portion of a student’s life in my class, looking for social emotional learning and creativity throughout the curriculum. That would be my recommendation, but better yet go follow both Amy and Dan on Twitter and learn with them.”

How have you seen education change in the years you’ve taught?

“Technology has probably had the largest impact. Over the last year, before COVID, I built up grant money to buy a classroom set of Oculus Quests. This gives students the opportunity to experience cutting edge technology in the classroom and it is just becoming more and more accessible to schools. However, personally I have felt a shift in how we are accessing students and realizing that students are more than just academic profiles. The shift towards discussions and plans on social/emotional learning, portfolios instead of tests, and student choice has refreshed a lot of teachers in engaging ways.”

How do you use student voice in your classroom and what outcomes have you seen from it?

“Student voice is a key part of my classroom. I try not only to encourage asking questions of the course and its curricula, but also how we do assignments, due dates, and how students present their materials. This has led to some really engaging moments discussing novels, but also discussing the purpose of English Language Arts classrooms and the ways that students are assessed. As a teacher, I have to let go of the classroom reins to some degree, but it has helped a lot of my students find the purpose in the classroom and some have reengaged with the course materials in interesting ways.”

What is your favorite way to use technology in the classroom?

“First off, technology for technology’s sake is not a way to run a classroom. Make sure that there is a purpose to using the technology and that it is appropriately engaging students. With that said, I love making videos with students. I started by doing a silent film festival with my students during my first year and now we do projects with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to show how to change the world. As an English teacher, making videos hits so many of the standards I need to have students learn in one project it was just simply a great choice, but also it is just so much fun to make videos with my students.”

What advice do you have for teachers who are worried about using tech in their classrooms?

“Take a bit of time every day. Learn a new skill and add to it the next day. By the end of the year, you will be so far from where you were that you forget what it was like to teach without technology. When I started 3D printing with students I had no background in the process. I learned each day by trial and error and now five years later I can do things that I had no idea I could do like prototyping frisbees for PE or printing models for set design or making branded items for my school.”


I love walking away from an interview with new people on Twitter to follow! Thanks again, Matthew for the great interview. I hope we can all take these insights on technology and apply them to our classrooms. 

An Enneagram In Education Page Just For You!

Just jumping on really fast to let you know that I’ve made a new feature on the blog- an Enneagram in Education page WITH BUTTONS! I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s so satisfying to click on a link with a button instead of a long URL. Much more aesthetically pleasing as well!

Click on your enneagram type and it’ll bring you straight to the post about your enneagram type and the learning style that comes with it. It may teach you a thing or two about yourself in a classroom setting and how best to get the most out of your education!

As of now, I have not written about every type yet, so not all are up. By the end of the year I will have gotten to all nine types. Enjoy!

Cover photo by infographicnow

Rice Sensory Bin Tips

Hello, early educators and parents of littles who are ready to dive deep into the sensory bin world! Sensory bins can be daunting given the mess that can come with it. But I’m here to help ease your fears and bring more sensory play into the world. First, a few other resources for articles: 

One Big List Of Sensory Bin Fillers

Tips For Sensory Play In General

Here are my tips specifically for RICE sensory bins. 

SET BOUNDARIES: Before you even begin, set boundaries. Our number one rule is to keep the rice and tools inside the bin. This idea of rice in a bin to play with can be new for the majority of kids and we can’t just assume they know to keep the rice nicely in the bin. Give them good boundaries BEFORE you give them the materials. 

SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS: One thing I firmly believe is that we have to set kids up for success before we expect them to perform the way we want and expect them to. Even if you set them up for success, accidents still happen. The best solution I have found for keeping rice contained is to put the sensory bin on top of a quilt or rug. Then it can easily be shaken off outside or vacuumed up when you’re done!

KEEP THE BOUNDARIES: When lines are crossed, don’t be afraid to take a break from the rice. Separate the child and the bin however you can, take a minute for a break, and come back to try again for success when you feel the child is ready. 

FIND THE RIGHT TOOLS: Too many tools, not enough tools, or the wrong tools can make or break the sensory bin experience. We’ve done our fair share of experimenting with tools and here are our favorites. 

  1. Scoops and spoons 
  2. Small bowls 
  3. Ice cube trays
  4. Small people or animals for pretend play 
  5. Holiday-themed toys (usually from the dollar store) 
  6. Puzzle pieces for a puzzle find. Expect this to be messier because they’ll be pulling pieces out of the bin. 

PRAISE THE POSITIVE: Applaud and praise the correct behaviors. 
“I love how you’re sharing so nicely with your friend!” 
“You are keeping the rice in the bin so well. I am proud of you!”  

TASTE SAFE IS NOT AN AFTERNOON SNACK: Dyed rice is typically made taste safe (recipe coming soon!). Just because it’s taste safe doesn’t mean it should be eaten. It means you don’t need to call poison control if it ends up in their mouth at some point. With diligent supervision and boundary setting, babies as young as a year old can play with sensory bins full of rice. More on that in the next point. 

The first experience of a sensory bin looks like sitting right next to the child, helping them scoop and play. When rice is inevitably put in their mouth respond with, “Yucky! No no!” and help them spit it out. Repeat over and over. It takes multiple times to remind them and in multiple settings! Be diligent and they’ll understand. Take it away if you need to. 

IT TAKES TIME FOR RICE TO BE AN INDEPENDENT ACTIVITY: To go along with the last point, it takes time for any sensory bin to be an independent activity! If you’re a parent, handing your child a rice bin with toys and tools for the first time so you can make dinner isn’t setting them up for success. Rice bins are a side-by-side activity to teach your child self-control and pretend play. 

In an early childhood educational setting- model, model, MODEL how to play with any sensory activity. Set a responsible adult next to the bin with a handful of kids to monitor and keep the boundaries. 

Given time, independent play with rice is possible! 

Do you have any tips for rice sensory play you can add to this list?