Winter Learning – Inside and Outside

By Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Long ago, in the sparsely populated Dakota Territory, Laura Ingalls and her family experienced a lengthy winter with devastating blizzards. To carry on in their cold and isolated setting, the Ingalls family learned to heat their home with alternative fuel (logs made from hay) and make a small amount of food and water last as long as possible. This is the premise of The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the sixth of nine books in her Little House series. The Long Winter is one of many examples of literature that make good reading during a winter break. 

In The Long Winter, readers learn about the difficulties pioneers faced in earlier times. At the same time, students on break keep their brains active by reading and thinking. To add an element of fun, suggest a blanket fort or curling up in a sleeping bag as two ways to create a safe and warm environment in which to read these winter adventures. 

My students at Wisconsin Connections Academy, a tuition-free public virtual charter school, learn a lot online. Stepping away from the screen and getting immersed in a book is still a wonderful way to keep young minds active and growing. In addition to reading, there are many options for learning during a midwinter break. 

Jan Brett’s books will fascinate young readers and artists of any age. Trouble with Trolls; The Night Before Christmas; Annie and the Wild Animals; Three Snow Bears; The Mitten – the list of winter weather literature goes on and on. Brett’s web site,, features her latest book tours, games, activities, and coloring pages, too. 

Coloring isn’t just for kids, either. Coloring books for all ages, even grown-ups, fill the shelves at craft stores. Look for an interesting theme like cats, flowers, fashion, or butterflies. Mandalas, repeating patterns in a circular design, make especially therapeutic coloring materials. Next, look at the vast and varied inventory of colored pencils – it could take quite a while to gather supplies and make the trek to the checkout!

Reading and coloring can be solitary and quiet pursuits. On the other hand, playing old fashioned board games in a group is a great way to practice both skill and socialization. Look for Yahtzee for the family math whiz. Word games like Scrabble and Bananagrams appeal to the verbal-linguistic types. History buffs often excel at Trivial Pursuit. Games of strategy like checkers and chess can be competitive or not, as best fits the family.

Everyday household activities can be amazing learning opportunities. Bring your beginning cook or aspiring chef into the kitchen to make sandwiches or cook a simple meal. Bake cookies, brownies, or other tasty treats – good luck waiting for these to cool! Math and science are natural extensions of cooking and baking, too. Double a recipe or cut it in half, and computing with fractions becomes a real-life skill. An experience with yeast and sugar can inspire curiosity and lead to research on chemical reactions. Without yeast, how do biscuits or muffins rise? There’s a query for the budding food scientist.

Take time to observe the many creatures that choose not to hibernate or migrate to the south. A small birdfeeder in a sheltered spot under a tree or shrub can attract a wide variety of bird breeds. Watching the visitors to a bird feeder can lead to reading bird guides or learning to use a camera well to document the brightly colored species that visit. Once the birds discover the feeder, however, keep it full. Those feathered friends will depend on their human cousins to provide until spring arrives. 

Restless? Try yoga. The physical and mental focus of yoga can energize both the body and the mind. Weather permitting, go outside! Shoveling snow, snow-shoeing, skiing downhill or cross-country – with snow and a little energy, winter sports are a fun way to fill the short daylight hours of December. Look around your community; some parks maintain ice rinks for skating, and many hills call out for sledding. 

School breaks provide a time to rest – a mental and physical break from school structure. But learning doesn’t have to stop. Opportunities abound during breaks, if parents and students know how to find them. 

Tracy Ostwald-Kowald is a Language Arts, Social Studies and Music teacher at Wisconsin Connections Academy

Trauma-Informed Care in PK-12

Patricia A. Markos, Ph.D., CRC

Institute for Professional Studies in Education, UW-La Crosse
Perhaps you have one, or maybe two, or even more children in your classroom who are exhibiting behaviors that are disrupting your classroom, negatively impacting the learning of other students. If you do, I’m not surprised. These behaviors may be due to mental health issues and/or past trauma. According to research from the National Traumatic Stress Network, one in four children experience a traumatic event before they reach the age of 16 (National Traumatic Stress Network, 2003). 

The incidence of mental health and trauma in children continues to increase (National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 2015). It’s important to note that children react differently to trauma and some may not react immediately. A child may be more reactive to trauma if they already have a mental health issue, if they have experienced previous traumas, or have little support from home (NIMH, 2015).

We know that trauma impacts children’s ability to learn, develop relationships, and act appropriately in class (Cole, Greenwald O’Brien, Gadd, Ristuccia, Wallace, Michael Gregory, 2014). Teachers and school staff then, play a critical role in helping children deal with mental health and trauma since they see children every day during the school year and are on the front line.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2014), some stress is normal and expected. It’s when stress becomes toxic due to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that happen frequently, are strong, and occur over a long period of time that there is increased concern. There are three categories of Adverse Childhood Experiences: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017). 

Abuse includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017). Neglect is defined as physical neglect and emotional neglect. Household dysfunction encompasses mental illness, incarcerated relative, mother treated violently, substance abuse, and divorce. In an ACE study of 17,000 participants, 28.3% experienced physical abuse, 20,7% experienced sexual abuse, and 10.6% experienced emotional abuse. In the area of neglect 14.8% experienced emotional neglect and 9.9% experienced physical neglect. Household dysfunction showed 26.9% of participants experienced household substance abuse, 23.3% experienced parental divorce, 19.4% experienced household mental illness, 12.7% of mothers were treated violently, and 4.7% had an incarcerated family member.  

Here are the behavioral characteristics you may see if a child has experienced trauma. A child may exhibit cognitive behaviors such as poor verbal skills, memory problems, difficulties focusing or learning in school, development of learning disabilities, and poor skill development (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2017). There may also be behavioral characteristics such as excessive temper, demanding attention, regressive behaviors, aggressive behaviors, acting out, verbal abuse, startling easily, inability to trust others or make friends, belief they are to blame for the traumatic experience, show sadness, or are anxious, avoidant, fearful, act withdrawn and lack self-confidence. Last are physiological symptoms including poor appetite, and digestive problems, stomachaches and headaches, poor sleeping, nightmares or sleep problems, or wetting the bed or self.

So what is being done to help children who have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences? The answer is Trauma-informed Care. According to the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) in Milwaukee, Trauma-informed Care is “a framework of thinking and interventions that are directed by a thorough understanding of the profound neurological, biological, psychological, and social effects trauma has on an individual (p. 3, 2017).”  We also know that an individual is constantly striving for safety, relationships, and the ability to cope with reactions that interfere with daily living skills. 

Trauma-informed refers to the impact of trauma on a child’s life (Trauma-Informed Schools, 2015). SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015) describes the 4 R’s of trauma-informed: 

1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery; 

2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families staff, and others involved with the system; 

3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures and practices; and 

4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization (p. 3).

Walkley and Cox (2013, p. 124) describe several ways to help schools to develop a trauma-responsive system: 

Calm – Educators should strive to keep themselves and their students in a calm state. 

Attuned – Educators should be aware of students’ non-verbal cues. 

Present – Educators should be in the moment with their students, focusing their attention on them. 

Predictable – Educators should provide structured, repeated and consistent positive experiences for students. 

Don’t let children’s emotions escalate your own – Educators should remain in control of their own emotions and expression. 

Schools can effectively work with students feeling the effects of trauma in the school environment by being mindful when using trauma-specific interventions to 

1. recognize students’ needs to be respected, informed, connected, and hopeful regarding their recovery, 

2. recognize the relationship between trauma and mental health symptoms of trauma, and 

3. work collaboratively with students, their families, and other agencies in an empowering way (SAMHSA, 2015, p. 3). 

The WI Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has a website dedicated to Mental Health – Trauma (2017). The site includes 14 training modules on Trauma-Informed Schools, Trauma Strategies, Incorporating Trauma Sensitive Practices, Trauma and PBIS, Professional Development, Presentation Materials, Childhood, Evaluation, and E-Resources. The link for this information is: 

In conclusion, trauma and mental health issues continue to be a growing concern in schools. To address these issues the Institute for Professional Studies in Education at UW-La Crosse is sponsoring the Fall for Education Conference with the theme of Mental Health and Trauma in PK-12.  The conference is November 4-5, 2017 at UW-La Crosse and is free and open to WI teachers. We have room for 250 more teachers and administrators. If interested, please register at: 

American Academy of Pediatrics (2014). 

Cole, S. F., Greenwald O’Brien, J., Gadd, G., Ristuccia, J., Wallace, L., Gregory, M. (2014). Helping traumatized children learn, Massachusetts Advocates for Children Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. 

Crisis Prevention Institute (2017). Trauma-Informed Care Resources Guide. 

WI Department of Public Instruction (2017). (2016). 

National Institute of Mental Health. What Community Members Can Do (2015). 

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2017). 

SAMHSA. (2015). Trauma-informed approach and trauma-specific interventions. Retrieved from: 

Trauma Informed Schools (2015). Ohio Project AWARE Brief, NO. 4. 

Walkley, M., & Cox, T. L. (2013). Building trauma-informed schools and communities. Children Schools, 35 (2), 123-126. doi:10.l093/cs/cdt007  

Arch Building

Constructing an Arch is quickly becoming the favorite hands-on activity on board the STEM Shuttle.  The arch is constructed without any tools, other than the 2 or 3 student team members working together to demonstrate their engineering abilities.  The arch activity was introduced to the shuttle program in September.

The Mechanical Arm has been a favorite of the students since the program began 12 years ago, but without doing a survey, we can only tell you that students really get involved in all the hands-on work stations on board the shuttle.

The work stations on the STEM Shuttle take students 7 minutes or less to complete.  Several work stations are available to students, with 6 or 7 chosen for each school we visit.  Our 2 on board teachers work with a host teacher(s) prior to the shuttle mission to determine which activities will be available to the students. 

To learn more about the STEM Shuttle, please visit

Mobile Account Hijacking Is the Latest ID Theft Threat

By Meemic Insurance

More than 15 million Americans now fall victim to identity theft criminals each year, and the numbers are growing at an exponential rate with each passing year, according to Department of Justice statistics. 

The “2017 Identity Fraud Study” from Javelin Strategy & Research found that identity thieves stole more than $16 billion from 15.4 million individuals. Over the past six years, ID thieves have stolen more than $107 billion in total. 

While the identity theft threat has typically come in the form of malicious e-mails with bogus links that allow hackers entry into your files, there is a new threat emerging: mobile account hijacking. 

How It Works
With mobile account hijacking, criminals steal mobile devices, or otherwise obtain your mobile account information, and buy mobile devices in your name. They then sell these devices, purchased in your name, leaving you with the bill. 

Wireless carriers are now moving aggressively to counter the threat, adding features like two-factor authorization, password protections, PINs and other security features, but customers have to be diligent about using these countermeasures. 

A Growing Trend
According to Federal Trade Commission data, there were 1,038 known incidents of mobile account hijacking in just one month, in January of 2013. By January of 2016, the number had more than doubled to 2,658. 

All four major wireless carriers were reporting incidents. In some instances, thieves had loaded financial apps onto victims’ phones and racked up shopping bills in the victim’s name – and that’s where consumers are exposed to serious losses.

If the thief just buys a cell phone in your name and sells it, your carrier will take the loss. However, your carrier won’t cover other losses from charges that the thieves ring up with other vendors. 

Even more worryingly, some victims have seen thieves break into their bank and credit accounts and clean them out, or take out loans in their name, resulting in serious problems on their credit reports that can take weeks or months to clean up. 

Fortunately, you can protect yourself from most of these losses – and very affordably. Several prominent insurance carriers, including Meemic, provide identity theft insurance that covers mobile account hijacking and a variety of other possible crimes. Meemic’s plan, available as a rider to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy, provides coverage that includes the following: 

  • Direct losses (up to $15,000)
  • Reasonable attorney fees to help you re-establish your good name and to defend against civil suits arising from the identity theft
  • Lost wages from time off work taken to meet with attorneys and take other actions required to recover from the ID theft ($250 a day/$5,000 maximum)
  • Certified mail costs
  • Long-distance phone calls to creditors, merchants
  • Application fees needed to reapply for loans refused because of credit damage due to identity theft or fraud
  • Costs associated with removing civil judgments wrongfully entered against you as a result of ID theft. 

Meemic’s ID theft coverage can be added as a rider to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy for just a few dollars per month. 

Considering both the direct and indirect costs of all forms of identity theft, and the time and effort it takes to recover from it, purchasing identity theft coverage may be a smart bet. Check with your agent today.

Rules of the Digital Playground

By Carrie Paine
Over the years, I’ve spoken to my graduate students and continuing adult educators about digital citizenship and the evils that may lurk on the internet playground. As an educator for Wisconsin Connections Academy, a K-12 public online school, I promote these concepts to educators and parents alike. It’s vital to not only understand the dangers that may exist in the depths of the internet, social media and collaborative gaming realms — but to also know how to teach good stewardship of these spaces. I am speaking about students and their online habits. Today’s students are not only citizens of their countries, towns and cities, they are also international citizens through the internet. Just as students learn the rules of the physical playground, they must now learn the rules of the modern, digital playground. 

Between all of the available apps, social networks, games and other outlets where information can be shared and social interactions take place, it’s not easy for adults to monitor everywhere students visit on the vast web. Digital citizenship knows no age or boundaries, making this practice valuable to everyone who is active on cyberspace. 

The practice of teaching responsible internet usage at home and school has gained momentum in recent years, as children today live and breathe in the digital space. Just as we were drilled as children to stop, drop, and roll if we were on fire—educators must drill the safety rules of digital citizenship, and instill these responsible habits in today’s students. Here are some tips to get started:

Screen Time Recommendations

18 months and younger: No screen time.

2-5 years old: One hour of screen time is recommended per day, depending on the activity. This time may also be broken up into smaller, timed segments.

6-18 years old: No limit is currently set by the medical field, but as a mother of two boys, I limit the use to school work and one hour of game playing time. I also have a separate charging area in a general area of the house, and my kids are not allowed to take their phones into their rooms.

Social Network Rules 

1. Do not join social networks unless you meet the age requirements.

2. Do not “friend” people you do not know in person or consider to be a friend in real life.

3. Do not share personal information. Five things you should never share online are confidential information about your identity, financial information, your schedule, work information, and passwords or clues. But feel free to share information such as your favorite food. 

4. Pause before sharing photos of oneself — even Snapchat photos can be saved by others. If you would not share a photo with classmates or family, do not share on social media.

5. Remember negative brings negative. If you wouldn’t say something in person, don’t say it on social media.  

Gaming Rules

1. Students should not play a game that has a recommended age higher than their own.

2. Students should not play virtual games with people they do not know in person. Only game with friends they speak to regularly and spend time with in person.

3. Do not download any added tools without parent permission.

The digital playground gets larger each day, and it is important for parents, teachers and students to know some best practices to navigate their time online. 

Carrie Paine is a K-12 Technology Teacher for Wisconsin Connections Academy, an affiliate of the Appleton Area School District