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Wake County Teacher Has Hands-On Learning Experience at NCCAT

Teachers from across North Carolina joined NCCAT for “Mission Possible: Covering Social Studies and Science Content Using Literacy” in Ocracoke.

Knightdale kindergarten teacher April Zolnierowicz came away from the “Mission Possible: Covering Social Studies and Science Content Using Literacy” with even more than she had imagined to take back to her classroom in Wake County. The program presented by the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching, a recognized national leader in professional development programming for North Carolina teachers, took place in Ocracoke in June.

“To be honest I could use each thing that I learned that week in my kindergarten classroom,” Zolnierowicz said. “(NCCAT faculty member) Amy Jo Spencer was an excellent teacher because she made learning fun and used the eight multiple intelligences to teach us like we are taught to teach our students. I also like the fact that everything she showed us was free and easy to use.”

During the four-day program at Ocracoke educators were able to examine the North Carolina Essential Standards and make connections to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, ELA and Writing Standards. They investigated text sets and the role they play in integrating multiple contents. And teachers were able to create engaging cross-curricular instructional units with culminating projects for assessments.

“It was very useful to learn about Portaportal,” Zolnierowicz said. “It is a neat program to organize information, useful websites, etc. I look forward to teaching my school librarian about this program to help organize our school’s website. Another thing that I could use in my class is the getting-to-know-you “interview” in which we had to ask 5 questions to someone we didn’t know about. It was neat to learn about each other in a fun way. The next thing that I can’t wait to use in my classroom is It was a cool tool to give quizzes. The part I really like about is that you can immediately see you test results and see which kids needed more practice to master the objective. I could use this program for pre and post tests as well.”

Zolnierowicz and participants also used and Kid Rex to understand these tools to help students look up information.

“These websites are great for students because they are safe and kid friendly,” she said. “I work at a Title One school and most of the students have free and reduced lunch. Amy Jo taught us about several free field trips that we could do at school such as: virtual field trip to the North Carolina aquariums and free fossil discoveries at”

Zolnierowicz’s favorite activity of the week was the scavenger hunt of Ocracoke Island.

“We had to take pictures of three forms of transportation, three restaurants, three tourist attractions, the school and the library,” she said. “This was neat way for us to learn about the island. In my classroom I could do a scavenger hunt for kindergarten students to learn about and tour the school. On the tour students could look for the library, gym, office, cafeteria, playground, bathroom etc.”

Spencer showed that it is important to give students choices when it comes to writing.

“It is OK for some students to draw a picture (especially in kindergarten), while other students may want to write a story, poem, letter and list,” Zolnierowicz said. “As teachers we have to make sure students are free to express their feelings in their own way and the way that works best for them. This will increase their confidence and make them enjoy writing, since writing is communicating with a pencil. Another activity that I will use in my classroom is giving a child a picture and letting them work in groups and communicate to a partner about what they think the picture is about using complete sentences. I am going to use this in my kindergarten class next year as morning work or brain breaks in order to improve student communication. Paddlet and are excellent websites that I can use as an “exit ticket” in my class. Amy Jo also taught us about being careful not to put labels on students. It is important to teach children that we are all equal.”

Sara Hallas, education coordinator for the North Carolina Coastal Federation, also led sessions in the program. NCCAT and the federation have been partnering at Ocracoke for the past six years.

“Sara spoke to us about the importance of oysters in an estuary,” Zolnierowicz said. “She also taught us about ways to decrease pollution which is great to teach students about during earth week. We also did an experiment to show the effects humans have on the environment. I think it is important to teach students about this because they are the future and they can make a change if they become educated. Sara also taught us about different types of plants that can slow down the speed of water which helps decrease erosion. In the future I am thinking about making a rain garden at my school. We also got to go in the estuary and learn about different animals that can survive in it.”

Zolnierowicz is looking forward to returning to NCCAT in the future and hopes to take part in another program with NCCAT faculty members Spencer and Alton Ballance.

“It is such a great way for teachers to share ideas and remember the real reasons they became teachers,” said Zolnierowicz, who was a student at the school she now teaches in.

Click here for the full Calendar of Programs at NCCAT


Increasing teacher effectiveness is fundamental to improving public education. NCCAT provides teachers with new knowledge, skills, teaching methods, best practices and information to take back to their classrooms. For more information about NCCAT’s professional development programs, visit or call 828-293-5202.

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