Hello, no handshake here!

Teacher Challenge Week 1

Challenge 1:
Greet EVERY student EVERYday.

When I first heard that this was going to be one of the challenges I thought, “Sign me up!! EASY!! I got THIS!” I figured I did that anyway so, easy breezy, D O N E!!

Well, at Valley Vista we have a TWO minute passing period. Our school is very small and well, there is really no where to go so why not get the students right to the next class. Plus, having a two minute passing time allows us to shave time off the total school day while not losing minutes of instructional time. GENIUS PLAN!! Until…you try to greet every student.

Period 1: No problem. Greeted everyone!

Period 2: Problem: If one student stays after to ask a question from period 1 the door greeting time is lost. I even shuffled a couple of students to the door with me so I could double-duty. Greet and answer questions. Not very conducive to building community and actually, really bad manners. Ended up making eye contact with about five students at once. I’m sure it didn’t make them feel welcome!

Periods 4/5: I decided to alter my plan. I would answer questions calmly and then go to door to greet remaining students that were entering.
During the class I made sure I went over to each student and touched their desk, made eye contact, said hello, and thanked them for coming to school today. I actually preferred this and it was well worth the couple of minutes it took to make them feel welcome.

The following should be a separate blog post but whatever I’m writing about it here:

Something that is not in the challenge that I’m doing anyway is saying goodbye and walking the students out. I liken it to having house guests, you greet them and walk them out. Saying goodbye is a great time to give shout outs, high-fives, and generally just words of love. Some students are embarrassed by my awkward boldness of shouting out positive things, but I see the secret smiles and shy looks of satisfaction. Teenagers are a complicated beast…they want and don’t want love at the same time. I choose to give everyday, as much as I can. They need it, we all need it.

And, really, it all starts with eye contact and a “Hello, thanks for coming to class today.”

I would say Week 1 was a success but I know there is room for improvement. Next week: Pictures!!

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The Power of Sharing

I’ll try to make this quick because I have zero time to write this right now but here goes…

Last weekend I saw this tweet:

I read this teacher’s post–I do not know Mr. Burt but his blog post caught my eye because he is also an alternative education teacher.  If you read his post you will see my comment at the end of his post.  I immediately felt compelled to connect his students and mine. We do not even teach the same subjects, but we definitely teach the same students.

Alt ed students often get a bad rap for being the “bad kids”, however, many of them
are seriously lost and broken from circumstances beyond their control.  Some of them choose a destructive path to deal with their pain and others are buried so deep in depression and anxiety that they physically have a hard time making it to school.  For whatever reason, and whatever behaviors that have lead them to alt ed, here they are, bleeding in the seats and ready to burst.

Long story short…I was so hyped on the rawness and openness of Mr. Burt’s students blogs that I wanted my students to comment and connect with them.  Today, I took over the computer lab and two of my periods made comments.  I was impressed by the comments my students were making–I only caught one student commenting with the intent to get more twitter followers.

The first class ended and I went along through my day until I got this tweet:

Let me explain:  This student is not even my student.  He was in the computer lab when I went in there and I just asked him to do it.  He commented on one of Mr. Burt’s student’s posts and he related to her about his mom.  His post is the first comment(but read both comments they are very heartfelt).


Basically the student who wrote the first comment decided to write a rap about the absence of his mom that was inspired by Mr. Burt’s class blogging about their Crucibles. Honestly, he is not a student on my roll but I think I have just added another one to my heart.  I will mentor and follow his trail now, and perhaps I will have him when he is a senior.

This is the power of sharing.  This is how it is supposed to work.  Across grade levels, across curriculum, and across the physical barriers of land.  This is a great start to the #alted connections that I am looking to make and grow for our students.


*Please excuse any minor/major errors.  I wrote this lightning speed.

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Operating at 10%

Today I had a learning day with my colleagues Chris Long and Gabe Roberts.  It was a pretty low-key session.  Chris was showing us all these amazing ways we can use Canvas LMS.

At one point during the session Chris was standing behind me giving me directions to use keyboard shortcuts and I was at a total loss. Then he noticed my GoogleChrome was not set up entirely right, and then something else happened with saving images and files that I wasn’t doing right.  He also thought I was a “sketcher” and kept saying I could just do “sketches” and I just kept thinking, “I can’t sketch anything that is recognizable, why would I sketch!” (Sketching is on my to-d0 list but that is in another post.)  At any rate, finally, in a joke of frustration or a moment of realization Chris exclaimed, “Well, now we know you are only operating at 10%!”  We laughed and moved on to the tasks at hand.

Chris gave me a tip to find a cheat sheet of keyboard shortcuts and just pick two a week to master.  So I did.  These are the two I will work on this week:

Press ⌘-O, then select file. Opens a file from your computer in Google Chrome.
⌘-Shift-I Emails your current page.

Tonight, as I was reflecting on my day and thinking what could I share, I thought of Chris’s comment.   Is operating at 10% a bad thing?  Not really, but operating at a higher percentage rate would sure make keyboarding and Canvas LMS a whole lot easier and faster.  I always claim to have a beginner’s mind–and I wish I was using the phrase to sound Zen like and open-minded, but the truth is, I am a literally a beginner.

The best thing about operating at %10 is that there is ALWAYS room to learn something new.  I’m excited to see where I’ll be when I can operate at about 12%, which should be at the end of this week–once I have mastered these two new keyboard cuts.  

The one thing that I did learn today is that Chris Long has a 10% zone of operation when it comes to drawing stars or the Google Drive symbol.



PS:  I used my one of my new keyboard cuts 2x during the writing of this post.


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I was literally just writing a blog post about Visual Notetaking, Doodling, Sketchnotes, Scribbles, etc…when I had a blogiphany.  I quickly saved my other post as a draft and started this post.

I have recently (two days ago) been inspired to share something everyday. Two people and their work have inspired me to do so:

Brad Ovenell-Carter:

  • His blog — Scrolling through his blog I saw some very brief posts.  Call me naive, or                         just learning, but I didn’t know I could do that!
  • (You are probably wondering why I’m not writing his sketchnotes down as an inspiration, well, that is currently being plugged into my post about visual notetaking.)

Austin Kleon:

  • SHOW YOUR WORK — On the inside flap of his book he writes,                                 “Share something new everyday (but don’t turn into human spam). Keep an amateur’s mind–where the possibilities are limitless.”
  • I like this quote for myself, but even more for my students.  They need to see what limitless can look like even while they are sitting in a classroom, actually, especially while they are in a classroom.

With my newfound goal of sharing something everyday(at least for the next month) I have the freedom to keep shares short and relish in the process of showing.

On page 5 of Kleon’s I interpreted what he wrote as the following:  Showing is growing. My goal is to see what will happen when I take this idea back to my classroom and share/show it to my students.



PS. Don’t worry I won’t completely steal Brad Ovenell-Carter’s idea to #showyourwork by using Kleon’s book for all of my short posts.

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It Hit Me At The Goodwill: Remix Revival

Trying to re-figure out what has already been figured out.

Let me start by confessing my sins.  I have not really read any educational/creative/non-fiction books since college. Sure, I have flipped through and googled those kinds of books, read reviews on those kinds of books, and talked to people that read those kinds of books, but as far as the thirsty, let me get at this, kind of reading, I just haven’t done it. Eeeek!! I know. I have read a lot of fiction, student essays, kid books, articles, blog posts, social media posts, yoga books, food articles, and song lyrics.  I guess I have been focusing on other areas of my life and now I am ready to turn my attention back to information gathering/personal/professional development in a more “formal” way using books.

During the last year a learning fire as been reignited in me–mainly due to an increase in my twitter activity.  I am inspired daily by the awesome educators just putting it all out there for the world to see.  Somewhere between David Theriault and Sean Ziebarth (which isn’t very far) this remix concept became a blip on my radar.  I believe it is somewhat like revising lessons but it also involves stealing, adapting, adding, deleting, showing, and sharing. I guess at its core the word remix is a remix of the word revision. So, that means this whole concept is not really that new either? O-well, remixing sounds more fun than revising so I’ll go with it.  I’m in the beginning stages (a beginner’s mind) of just about everything right now.

SIDE NOTE: Creative type books coincidentally fall under the self-help category in Barnes and Noble.) I wonder, is that a hint that artists and creative thinkers might need some form of help? Or is it that the creative types know they need help so B&N is just keeping it real and putting the two categories side-by-side? Either way, when I’m in the market to buy books I like to get my hands on them so I usually end up at the local corporate giant bookstore. (That is obviously another blog post and a tangent I won’t explore right now.)

Here is my revelation and the true reason I started this blog post:

A couple of weekends ago my son needed a Milton Hershey costume for his 2nd grade wax museum project. He needed to dress like an old man so I immediately thought, “Goodwill!” The first time we went we found a tie, white shirt, and little boy suit pants. Score! But he needed business man shoes and we couldn’t find any. Well, actually we did find one, that belonged to a pair, which rendered it useless to us.  As the week went on I ended up running out by myself to look for shoes.  By myself…ahhh…is something that doesn’t happen often so I made a point of getting lost in the used book section.

IMG_3268IMG_3269While there, I couldn’t resist picking up this old writing handbook.  I noticed the spelling chapter was bookmarked with this friendly reminder the once owner wrote. Spelling is my nemesis but I have never referred to it as “Spelling Demons.”  Nor have I performed the exorcism the note suggests to rid myself of spelling demons.  Maybe that’s why my spelling still suffers? At that moment my mind flashed back to a lifetime of bad spelling and that’s when it hit me:  My whole entire life has been a remix.  No, seriously, ask my mom.  I was raised walking the tables of flea markets, yard sales, and second hand shops.  Most of the things I had already belonged to someone else.  In fact, I grew up watching my parents earn additional income with their “hobby”(obsession) of buying, refurbishing, remixing, flipping and reselling.  It was a way of life for us.  During my college years, which spanned about 10 years, it was the only way I was able to maintain a furnished place and clothes on my back.  I trolled the isles of second hand stores for years and would wake up early to drive/bike around looking for yard/estate sales.  There was no shame in my game. It was in my blood.  I always loved the idea that whatever item I bought or obtained already had a story and now I got to add mine to it.  Looking back it was the ultimate remix.

My 30’s and my children:  I become slightly germ phobic and wanted new things.  I actually earned money, got married, and my roots got lost in the hustle and bustle of the OC.  Sure, I would chip every now and then but lugging around two little kids kept me out of the game for awhile.  Until, I just recently started to open my eyes again.

My most recent purchases:


Beautiful, I know.  I couldn’t help but imagine what conversations had taken place on this red phone from Brazil.  I immediately thought it would be a good “Bat Phone” in my classroom. I would never be able to use it as a functioning phone in America, but I thought it would make a good classroom prop.  The red chairs, well, most people would buy 2 or 4 but I lovingly took all 3.  I wondered why these chairs looked so new, yet 1 was missing?  Where was the 4th one? What happened? And what work, stories, and food had been shared while people were sitting in these chairs? I would do a furniture mashup in my house or…take them to my classroom.  How could I take these yard sale treasures and remix them with my stories?  This is why I buy the stuff- for what the items were, could be, and will be.

So how does this relate to education and teaching?  Well, the whole remix thing is big now amongst certain circles.  I haven’t read any books to learn more about it yet, but I am discovering bits and pieces from here, there, and everywhere.

I actually kind of feel like remixing is just a natural extension of who I am and who we are as educators and even deeper as a society.  The more I look for things remixed, the more I see it, in EVERYTHING. Ideas, people, stories, writing, music, art, fashion, furniture, food, myself, and you. It’s mind-blowing but almost anything can be remixed to make new meaning for someone else.  It seems ongoing and endless.  The possibilities remixing allows are exactly the kind I want to create for my students in and outside of the classroom.  I want them to be able to be anywhere, on any day, in any situation and see something that they can remix for themselves.

Incase you were wondering...My remixed Milton Hershey.

Incase you were wondering…My remixed Milton Hershey.

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Cool. I started a blog, but am I blogging?

This blog may be a little premature, late, or right on time, either way, I can’t worry about the timing or the details anymore, I just need to start blogging.  Like anything else the more I do it the more it will naturally refine itself, well maybe not naturally but things have a funny way of doing that the more you actually do them.  I have to start somewhere…today.

It has been almost a year since I started this blog and I have not kept up with it.  First of of all, there is so much I could blog about that I have a hard time narrowing down one idea.  To tell you(me) the truth, this blog post sprang out of another blog post that I JUST saved as a draft.  I have lots of ideas for posts but once I start writing I get hung up on the details.  I worry about my writing, spelling, and grammar-yes, I’m an English teacher but I struggle with commas, spelling, than/then, the basics.  I’m in a constant state of Google when I grade papers.  Confession: I withdrew from my 4 unit grammar class in my last semester of college.  The textbook was from the 1950’s and the professor was probably born in the 1920’s  I didn’t want to fail so I withdrew.  All I know about the mechanics and semantics of writing is from high school.  Sure, I’ve learned by reading student papers, but it’s like anything, until you do something yourself you don’t really learn it.   I can’t learn writing by proxy, I actually have to honker down write.

My other problem when I start a blog post is I want to add frilly pics, links, shout outs, and background music to make it look cool.  Newsflash!! If I don’t do something there will not even be anything to even be an attempt at cool.  The only way to make something look cool is for it to actually BE cool. And trying something, even if it fails is cool.  (Except for my college grammar class that I most certainly would have failed.)  Not writing anything is not cool so I figure if I can at least write something I have a better chance of reaching my cool goal. And I’m not talking about being cool to others, I’m talking about just being cool with myself, keeping to my own timeline, because nowhere on this timeline-of-cool am I mentioned.

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Revising, Rollins, and the Lego Movie?

[I began this post at the end of the 2012-2013 school year and abandoned it until January 2014.  In the energy building up to edcampHOME I shlepped an ending together as a result of some friendly EDUencouragement from  Jo-Ann Fox and Linda Yollis.  Not knowing anything about these ladies I  said something like this to Jo-Ann in the Google+ edcampHOME community:

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 7.44.19 PM

Well, needless to say once I saw Jo-Ann’s post I knew I was way out of my league.  However, I made the challenge and I could not back down.  I posted something similar to the post below–but was never satisfied with it until now. This post loosely covers a time span of June 2013 to March 2014.]  

June 14, 2013

Last night I got stuck on my computer. Because I have a wonderful family getting stuck behind my digital heaven, during waking hours, is a rare treat for me. Anyway, with a brightly lit screen in front of my face and full access to the internet, my husband and kids asleep, I began my Utopian journey on Google. I know, I’m being followed, but who cares? I have nothing to hide. After checking the usual Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, oh, and sending a couple of Snapchats(on my outdated phone), I realized my goal was not to just waste time and creep on people…it was really to work.

Actually, last night was my first night of summer 2013 and all I had on my mind was revising my curriculum. I know, but what about summers off? Frolicking around in the ocean with my kids, not a care in the world, no work ever during the summers, pure non-work euphoria…well, it doesn’t exist for me.  There is no on/off switch even in the summer.  I am always consciously and subconsciously on the look-out for something I can “use” in class.


Of course, I tone it down and take long breaks in between work sessions but ultimately, there is always something that can be done in regards to curriculum creation, thinking, reflecting, and revision.  The truth is there is usually so much to do during the school year, with the students present,  that some of my best revisions come during my “time-off.”

So, that first night of summer 2013 as I searched and discovered, with the intent to revise curriculum, I felt like a kid at Christmas.  “Planning” anything for my classes brings me this weird mix of joy, anticipation, and nervous excitement–actually, maybe that is more like expecting the birth of a child, whatever, the point is this:  I can only guess what gifts the students will bring and only in real time do those gifts get revealed.   I need the students to put the finishing touches on the creation of learning.  It is my job to spark, ignite, or incite that fire.

What was I planning that had me so amped? Well, at the end of the 2013 school year a co-worker handed me this article, “Millennials: The Me, Me, Me GenerationWhy They’ll Save Us All” Love it or hate it, I thought it would be a good way to kick off the 2013-2014 school year.  The article was Eh? But the ideas behind it were leading, controversial, and telling.  I began looking for the perfect video clip to compliment, contradict, or agitate the ideas and opinions in the article.


After hemming and hawing about which direction I wanted to take the ideas in the article (as if I have any control over that once it gets in the hands of my students) I decided to find a motivating video clip that would inspire my millennials.  I mean, it was going to be the beginning of the 2014 school year and I wanted to start it off on a high note.   I needed something that would trigger my millennials to save the world.  (or at least graduate) Lofty goal, I know. So, I thought about who inspired me as a youth.  For some reason, probably because I was googling him, in my web induced bliss, I stumbled upon none other than THE Henry Rollins.  Ahhhh…youth, brains, muscles, big statements, music, poetry…sweat.

Side story: He actually did sweat on me once. Early nineties, City Gardens, Trenton, NJ me and Rollins. I was right in front of the stage and he was sweating…and spitting on me. I didn’t care at that age, I was young and rowdy, much like the students I teach today.

That is when I found the following video.  Henry Rollins addressing the Young People of today’s world and calling on them to find their own “true north” and to have “moral and civic backbone.” Watch the video.  Trust me, it is for all ages and the message has inspired me to encourage my students to go after what they really want, but at the same time become more altruistic.  This has become the common thread that has been woven through all of our units thus far, an underlying theme of everything, so to speak.

I know this post is not tech savvy and doesn’t offer many things to steal, however, throughout my teaching, regardless of the “new things” I incorporate or use, it always comes down to the same thing.  The human connection.  When I connect with my students as humans with dreams, hopes, fears, hurts, and ideas, it changes the dynamics and the learning that happens for us.  We encourage each other and take risks together.  I have failed more this year than any other year only because I have taken more risks to find my own true teaching/learning north.  Finding one’s true north and doing what is morally and civilly right is not always easy for teenagers…or some adults.  If I can model that in some small way for my students, especially if it involves using Rollins, then I consider my revision done…for now.  Because actually, I am already planning next year’s theme right now and it involves the LEGO movie!

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Searching for the perfect…

Searching for the perfect…

I can’t tell you how many times I have had a perfectly fine lesson in front of me and and looked at it and thought, “This could be better?” or “It needs something else?” or “How could I throw some technology in there?” Fortunately, or unfortunately this happens to me quite often. I say fortunately because I am usually looking to make any lesson better.  Unfortunately, because it takes time and work to reconfigure “my” lessons. That time usually takes away from grading or the current coursework. It’s like I get stuck on making something different, I would say better here, but sometimes it doesn’t always end up better. Sometimes I have too much going on too fast and sometimes it’s over before I know it.

There are usually two results that are most noticeable and my best immediate indicators of a solid lesson:

1. Students either look like they are melting…into phones or desks or each other.  IMG_0864


2. Students are up and moving, talking, questioning, gathering, laughing.


I prefer the latter. Actually, once I got used to my classroom being noisy and busy I began to dread the stillness. Not the stillness of work or reading, but the stillness of teenagers entering the dead classroom zone.  I could go on for days about different classroom tempos and volumes, but this post is supposed to be about searching for the perfect…

My current driving force to continue my search for the perfect…is the fact that the high school where I work does not assign homework.  To clarify:  We do not assign large chunks of work do be done at home.  This sounds great, at first, but try reading even a short novel or play with your class entirely out loud. It presents a problem of time. If we read something of length it takes forever and by the time we are finished reading well, we are all DONE with it. That leaves very little time to “do” something with what we have read.

For me, lesson design comes down to this: how can I gnaw off large portions of text, big ideas, and go deep when it ALL has to be done in the classroom? After pondering that question, I decided to do something different this week. Instead of reading “1984” I decided to basically teach around it.

Now, let’s get real for a minute…how many English Lit majors actually read ALL of the lit we were supposed to read? Kudos to you if you did, but I was part of the population that sought outside sources before the internet made it so easy. My first resource was my mom, an Eng Lit teacher for life and knows everything. Second source was the library and reference books, essays and critiques written about the reading I was supposed to be reading.  Basically, I read everything I could about what I was supposed to read before I actually read it.  My third source was my fellow classmates. Lost and confused we bled together and figured it out.   Looking back it gave me a more complete picture of the literature, I learned different perspectives, and learned by working and thinking with others.  It actually seemed like a pretty natural way to learn.

So, when I was putting together this new “1984” unit, feeling sad I was not going to read the entire novel with my students, I realized what I was going to do with them was emulate what I did in college. Plus, add a Twitter chat using TweetDeck.  I decided to use a variety of text and multi-media sources.  I searched out summaries, news clips, articles, music, exceprts and all things related “1984.”  I realize I could have let my students do the digging and maybe next time I will, however, this time I was not ready to release that control.  I was afraid of what the results would look like, I was afraid of time wasted in class, I was afraid it wouldn’t be considered teaching.   I was not willing to let go, this time.

Here is a google doc of my tentative plan: 1984.

This time in my search for the perfect…I realized that the perfect lesson is illusive.  Just as I change, so do my students.   Somedays they are up and bright and somedays they aren’t.  Just like me.  What worked for Period 1 might need to be adjusted by Period 2.  The perfect is perfect in its imperfection.  There really is no perfect…

Salvador Dalí“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” –Salvador Dali

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Handball: Vocabulary in Action?


Handball is big. Really big, if you’re seven,  and most likely, if you’re a boy. Well, I’m 38 and a woman and handball is still big…because I have a seven year old son.

So, the other day when I was playing handball with my son it made me think about a couple of things.  This was not the first time I have played with him, I mean, come on, I have to help him hone his handball skills in order to dominate on the playground.

Like any sport handball is a highly competitive game.  Even between a mom and a son.  I cut him no slack and give him no breaks.  We play to win.  We play hard. We sweat, shout, argue points, laugh and never give up on a win.   I know that one day soon he will surpass me with his speed, strength, and skills. You see, he is a kid that is not bogged down by adult responsibilities and to-do lists. He can spend all day, if I let him, playing handball.  I need to play with him while I can still win.

Anyway, besides being a seriously competitive sport, handball has about a million rules and moves. Some of them I already know, but some I get informed of on the spot.  Because I do not speak seven year old playground, it seems like the game changes constantly.   I feel lost in the vernacular of elementary school handball.  I am impressed by this foreign language.  Not so much the moves or the rules, but the names for them.
My son’s vocabulary has grown just by playing handball. There will be many opportunities for him in life to use words like black magic, white magic, red magic, slicey, super slicey, supersonic serve, sling shot, under doggie, liney, people killer, and the one I came up with, skid mark. I just wonder where all of these words came from and what 1st grader knew them first?  My son didn’t even know this game existed before 1st grade and now it seems as if he can’t live without it.

Of course, this made me think of education and how if we were able to teach students vocabulary in the context of a handball game or something similar how much faster and proficiently they would learn it.  There is something to be said for learning with your whole body and the mind body connection and learning in a real world context.  I mean, how much more real does a game of handball get?


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One Piece

The puzzle is a great metaphor for figuring things out…life, school, relationships, health.  There always seems to be something that people are trying to figure out, just like a puzzle.  Sometimes it seems that there are so many pieces to figure out that it can be overwhelming.  I see this all the times with my students.  They fall behind on their school work, they have family or relationship drama, they have social media misuse issues, drug issues, life issues and pretty soon the puzzle of their lives is unmanageable.  Instead of all of this stress propelling them to be productive, it has the opposite effect.  They get paralyzed. And do nothing.  Absolutely, nothing.

So, I was thinking…what if all they needed was one piece of the puzzle to fit instead of trying to figure out all of the pieces?  It just seems like a teenager trying to figure everything out is counterproductive… when all they are really trying to do is figure themselves out.

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