Thursday, January 7, 2016

Preparing for the Principalship

I haven't discussed it much here, but I am a candidate for a principal's certificate. In fact, I almost have that certificate in my hot, little, hand.

That's pretty crazy.

I am almost finished with classes. I've taken and passed the PRAXIS exam. My projects are completed, and all but one is written up and submitted. I must complete my technology work, but there's a plan in place to make that happen around my full time job, parenting, part time job, finishing classes, etc etc etc. I have to complete some self reflections, write the paper, complete my work on tech, pay for the certificate, and finish classes.


The past 12 months went SO FAST.

So, what have I learned?

Well, let's start with the facetious, I suppose.

I am a really good test taker. I took the PRAXIS exam quickly, leading to 3 weeks of nerves over not having done well as a result. Many of my peers mentioned that they were in the middle of writing when time ended, but I had plenty of time for each section remaining as well as for the test as a whole. Nonetheless, I not only passed, but scored much higher than the passing score.

Great teaching goes beyond the classroom. A few years ago, my husband and I began discussing our frustration with attending innovative conferences. Our needs there appeared to have been met and we were no longer growing. It's one of the reasons I took this path, but the conversation led us to conclude that we need to begin presenting rather than simply attending. As a result, I joined him and our friend Kate Baker in creating presentations for Flipcon 2016.

Some of the requirements we were required to complete for NJExcel included a series of pre/post assessments. In my pre-assessment, I admitted on several occasions that "I do this, but not outside my classroom." I've now taken steps to do those things outside my classroom too. As a result...
This references my performance on each of the six ISLLC standards.

I felt compelled when presenting this last night to add a


In addition to the presentations mentioned before, I've presented at a statewide conference (EdcampNJ), at several district professional development sessions, and at a faculty meeting. This brings me to my next point....

Ya gotta take risks.
My teaching is all about getting students to take risks. My classroom is about taking risks, because most of the time, I don't know if something will be successful or not. But really, how often do I take risks in my profession?

As a result of NJExcel, I did some internship work in an elementary school. When the idea was proposed to me (Hey, come work in an elementary school on the K-2 math curriculum), I wasn't 100% on board... or 20%, if I'm being honest... but I wanted to challenge myself, to grow, and to maybe work in an elementary school one day (I've always been enchanted by the stories of high school teachers who end up as elementary school principals... deep down, I hope that's one day me!), so I jumped on the opportunity. I LOVED spending time in that elementary school. As a result, I plan to seek positions that are for K-8, or K-12, rather than high school specific, though I'm not really interested in closing off any doors just yet.....!

Taking a leap into administration will not always be comfortable. Presenting to adults, working on a math curriculum, and building a master schedule wasn't so comfortable either. But I came out of it, survived it, learned a lot from it, and will do better next time... hopefully with fewer jitters and no shaky hands!

And, since I'm listening to a fantastic and inspirational book on creativity (Big Magic by Liz Gilbert; definitely listen to the author read this on audiobook--I just want to go up to her and give her a big hug because she's awesome), done is better than perfect, so I'm ending it here... despite all the loose ends and more points I need to make!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Learning Socially.

July has so far been very professionally full. As I mentioned, I attend the ISTE conference at the end of June/beginning of July and have done some other work I'll maybe mention later.

But more immediately, we just got home from Flipcon15. This was my second event, and the social aspect of this conference were drastically and remarkably different from the social feelings I had at/after ISTE (I discussed this here).

I was thinking a bit about this in the context of myself, and so was beyond pleased when my friend Kristin Daniels pulled me aside at the end of the conference and said that "we" (I'm not sure when I became part of we, but I like it) need to figure out how to better involve the new people.

Challenge accepted!

I mentioned to Kristin and our friend Jason Bretzmann (who also blogged about this conversation here) that I felt so lost at ISTE and attributed it to not having a "tribe." You need to find a way to get new people to build their tribe so they have people to hang out with, to learn with, and to just build that comfort zone.

Since we stayed after the conference for one more evening, we put out the call to see who wanted to join us for dinner and a wide range of people joined us.

And, since I was in the middle of the table, and had veterans as well as newbies around me, plus lots of great minds, I asked what ideas everyone had.

Here's what came up (I tweeted them to Kristin, so this is verbatim):
  • preplan local meet ups before flipcon. Build that tribe before the big overwhelming event
  • first session should be job alike.
  • @ken_bauer says job alike first AND last... meet people first then firm up connections and share learning last.
  • at social events, let people sit, then break up tables. Mix in newbies and get vets to meet new people
  • @DaretoChem says have a social coordinator at each hotel. This person is the point for where after hours activities happen
  • a social lounge if no session is meeting your needs
  • newbie lounge... social time plus foundational learning (twitter 101, what is flip 101)
There's some great ideas here, but I'm a big fan of the social coordinator idea. That might just be that I WANT that job, but there have been many events where just knowing that ONE person has been helpful for me, and the social coordinator can be that person, the person getting everyone to socializing, and getting people meeting others!

(PS, in that ISTE post, I wondered what happened to my social butterfly self. It turns out, according to NY Mag that there are different kinds of introverts, and I happen to be high in thinking and anxious introversion. It all begins to make sense.)

So, what would help you feel like part of a community at a huge conference? How does it assist your learning?

Friday, July 3, 2015

This year, the good

Sitting in my drafts is a post titled, "This year, the bad." It was a few paragraphs about the ways I failed this year, the frustrations, and the dismal.

When I met with my supervisor expressing many of these struggles a few months ago (believe me, a huge leap of faith for me, since this is a new administrator, but this step went far in building our relationship of trust and support... lessons for me in many ways!), we tried to resolve these issues, but as the year progressed, his message turned to something like, "get through the year and move on."

So this is me, moving on.

This year, the good.

Twenty Percent Time
For the most part, my students took #20Time seriously, took on real work, and learned a lot. Some highlights were the student who learned how to cook, the student who improved her drawing, and the student who designed, wired, and programmed an animatronic dog.

I must improve this, though, because many students still get trapped in the "this project isn't due for months and I have this homework/test/etc due tomorrow." Procrastination remains an issue, and if it's ok to fail, they're ok with failing on this task rather than on the more immediate ones they face.

But the big success is that I finally saw students doing #20Time the way I want them to do it. Constant state of improvement and learning, using the time wisely (though this is an issue particularly for second semester seniors... oh, I'll just do this at home).

I just found this post, which will be great guidance in improving #20time next year. This infographic from that post is fantastic:

This year, I gave my US History students an extremely nebulous project. I was nervous, but they blew. my. mind. They tackled the work, and took it to another level, learning deeply not just about the stuff in the textbook (the time period being studied), but they learned how the theme developed over time in America AND justified their own positions on how the US should proceed in the future on this topic. I am so proud of them.

Going Digital
I finally had the opportunity to work with students who are happy to go digital. Work was submitted digitally, whether in Google Classroom (which we pioneered with each other) or shown on tablets, all class announcements were sent via Classroom or Remind, and they even (eventually) stopped asking to go to the restroom and just did it as long as no one else was out.

The Moment
I've had a rough time feeling like a good teacher in recent years. Some feedback has not been positive. I pretty much came into this year feeling pretty horrible and that I should either quit or go back to school. I ended up going back to school, but I also have incredibly supportive administrators who once again made me feel like I'm doing well. I hate to admit that I'm one of those people who like/need external motivation, but I do, so feeling supported and like I'm on the right track has done astonishing wonders for the way I feel about my day, my work, and as someone who spends much of her day in her own head about her work, this has had a huge impact on me outside of work too. Everywhere, EVERYWHERE, I am much more positive. It's amazing the impact one person can have one another.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

ISTE 2015

Today is the last day of the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference. It has been quite a ride.

Throughout the three days (well, two so far), I keep thinking back to this quiz I saw randomly on Facebook a few weeks ago, 21 Signs You Might Actually Be an Ambivert.

ISTE is overwhelming. There's all these people. Many of them are Rockstars in the Educator twitter world. I found a quiet spot in the oasis, and it was great to know that there was a quiet place I could go to not be found and recharge.

What happened to that life of the party I thought I am, I asked myself (silently, from my quiet corner).

It's pretty easy to be the life of the party when there's people I know, but holy cow I can't deal when I don't know anyone. I'm really not sure how this will translate to moving to a new job, should I ever pursue that, but I digress.

So, what have I learned so far? I've actually spent a great deal of time seeking elementary math resources. I realize this doesn't make sense, but since I am working with an elementary school this summer in developing their K-2 math curriculum, this seemed like a good place to begin.

I've gone to a few sessions. The best one was more of a talk by one of the aforementioned Twitter rockstars about creating a culture of innovation. It was enlightening and reassuring and also made me feel like I have a really long way to go. Like I said, it's been a challenging series of days.

I've thought about things I want to do better... interestingly, it seems I'm already embracing some of the current trends (which means I need to get on the front end of something new, since the bandwagon has caught up). These include: Flipped Classroom, 20% Time/Genius Hour. As I reflected, I realized we didn't receive a bunch of comments on the 20% blog this year. I want to work on that. Was it because their writing wasn't really communicating much... maybe. Was it just not enough connections were made... maybe. I want to work more closely with another 20 time teacher to get more discussion going, to get better reflection writing happening, to make the reflection process meaningful rather than simply something the students complete to get a homework grade.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bad blogger

I have clearly not been a good blogger lately. I started a daily challenge to correct this, yet made it only two days. Yeah.

But things have been good and busy on the education front nonetheless. I've learned a ton in my NJExcel classes, and think I'm beginning to think like an administrator. Last week, we toured two elementary schools and I learned a ton about school safety and facilities, even discovering some of the things for which one might not expect a principal to be responsible....

A photo posted by @smallbutfeisty78 on

As a candidate for NJExcel, I must complete a series of projects in addition to internship activities. Through these, I'm learning a lot; one project focuses on I&RS (Intervention and Referral Services) about which I knew pretty much nothing. Now I know that this is a process available to support students who need greater levels of support emotionally, behaviorally, or academically. I look forward to serving on my school's I&RS team and looking for ways to improve the process for the school, the district, and most importantly, for the students.

Another project has me seeking to learn how a principal can build and sustain a positive school climate. Each time I tell someone about this project, I'm asked if the school's culture is not good. In reality, it's very good, but I want to learn how to create that. I've also identified ways in which our good culture can improve, after reading School Culture Rewired by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker. For this project, I must complete an action research project, which required me to begin by collecting data. I gave teachers a survey from the book, and this process was interesting and enlightening. From teachers disagreeing with the methodology of the survey to the number of teachers who didn't return a survey at all and/or how many I had to chase down and hand a survey and stand over to get results. Enlightening indeed.

This summer, I'll work with my principal on a few projects, and I will also work with an elementary school to develop their master schedule and also to work on curriculum for the district. I'm nervous and excited about both these tasks, since it will be so far beyond my comfort zone and areas of... well, knowledge, since it's so far outside my area of expertise and I know absolutely nothing.

I'm so excited about all that I am learning, the connections I am making, and the ways in which I am growing. Hopefully one day, I will feel ready to be a school administrator!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Reflections from Ednado

On April 25, the first Ednado conference for educators was held at Middletown South HS. According to their website, Ednado is described as "Ednado is about promoting innovation and inspiring educators to try new things in their classrooms. At EDnado, educators from Monmouth County and beyond will be able to learn and share what WORKS in their schools." 

My husband was on the planning committee, and described the conference to me as "Part edtech conference, part Edcamp, part education playground."

Due to issues, we brought our sons to the conference. They were charged with helping, but spent much of their day in the Makerspace.
A photo posted by EDnado (@ednadoedu) on

A photo posted by EDnado (@ednadoedu) on
As for me, I took over the EDnado Instagram feed. I could not have had a better time at this conference than I did taking over their social media. I went into every session for a time, I played in the Makerspace, I drew attention to certain areas by promoting where the scavenger hunt would be for tickets and/or prizes, I helped folks in the hallway directing some toward sessions that might better suit their needs, and interacted with a lot more folks than I would have as a regular attendee.

This was such an AWESOME role for me, because I believe I was able to get the pulse of the conference in a way I could not have had I been a regular attendee.

A takeaway for me was the Draftback extension for Chrome, shared by Adam Schoenbart in his presentation on Backchanneling. This extension allows you to see a video of all the changes made to a Google doc. I can't wait to try it out!

The feedback from this conference was that people really enjoyed it. They captured both technology comfortable educators and those who are not using technology at all; I was amazed by how many folks brought notebooks and no technology, but yet all learned something new.

I look forward to Ednado 2016! Check out all the Tweets from #Ednado.

The schedule from the sessions also includes links for the collaborative notes.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#AprilBlogaDay Day 2

What have you done today to make a ripple?

Today is "one of those days." It's the day before spring break. Folks are tired and just don't want to be here.

This post rapidly turned into a vent. Rather than venting or even looking for help on finding a solution to these issues, my ripple is going to be to let it go. I will get through today and will enjoy the next week off. We'll all come back in the middle of April (!!!!) rested and recharged and ready to finish the year strong.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

#AprilBlogaDay Day 1

Oh this poor, neglected blog.

There's a million reasons I haven't written here. Among others, life has become frenzied as I entered a program that will lead to my achieving principal's certification early in 2016. This, of course, is a great topic to discuss for the day 1 prompt for the blogging challenge to which I've committed for the month of April, "Are you where you thought you'd be?"

Yeah, no, I'm not.

I can remember being in my first year of teaching and thinking about how my mother had been at the same school district for her entire career.  At the time, she had not yet retired from teaching, but (as far as I know), she taught in the same district from age 22-55. I did not have those plans. I could not envision myself in the district I'd landed for more than a few years.

But yet, here I am, in the same district, for fifteen years.

It is an amazing district, and my career has developed and blossomed here with supportive administrators, lots of resources, and the type of student who is willing to try and go on an amazing ride with me in classrooms.

At that time, my desk was in the faculty room. It was often really distracting... you know that old SNL skit with Steve-O the copy guy?

That's how I felt.

So it was pretty surprising when my desk moved to a classroom... a classroom in which I taught nearly all of my classes. I stayed at that desk until my first maternity leave, when I transitioned to another school on campus and a new desk.

Since that first classroom, I've moved classrooms four times. My current room was a bakery at the time I thought I surely would not still be here by now.

Furthermore, I expected to have changed positions by now. I earned my supervisor's certificate in 2006, but have not successfully used that certificate. In the fall, I thought about how I would further my education when my program crossed my lap and in a whirlwind, I was entering the program to earn the next certificate. In the interview, I was asked where I see myself in five years. I replied that right now, I don't think I want to be a principal, but I also never expected to want to leave the classroom. In other words, what I wanted at 22 and what I want at 36 are not the same. I certainly don't expect my goals at 50 to be what they are now, so I'm opening doors now that will allow me the freedom to choose then what I want to do.

So, am I where I thought I would be? Absolutely not. But I'm open to wherever the road takes me next!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Close reading a text

So here's an old post I began and never finished. I began the year with an introduction of close reading a text using Outkast's Hey Ya! Perhaps you've heard the song.

As you can tell by the catchy tune and the fun and colorful video, this seems like an upbeat and happy tune.

But then I caught this acoustic cover on the radio one day and I almost cried on my way to the grocery store.

I knew I had a great opportunity to teach students how to close read a text. Here's what I did.

First, I played the Outkast video. Students sang along and danced (surprised me; I didn't think they'd know it!). We talked about what the song is about and what is the tone of the song.

Next, I played Matt Weddle's version and asked the same questions.

Finally, I gave students a copy of the lyrics and asked them to perform a close reading to tell me what the song is about and what is the tone. They were told to use the lyrics to support their analysis and that they should be marking up the lyric sheet, looking for key words/phrases/patterns in the text. I asked, "what words or phrases tell you what this song is about?" Then, we had a whole class discussion, modeling close reading. 

Finally, I gave them a historical text to close read.

This worked really well, and of course, I was singing Hey Ya all day!

Chalk Talk

It's been a super long time since I've posted, but here's something that could be helpful. It's a really old strategy that I learned about in a faculty meeting well over 8 years ago. Tech could certainly be used, but I haven't done it in any way but on a whiteboard.

Depending on the topic, I start by giving students time to gather and organize their thoughts. In this case, they were given a do now that asked "How did Thomas Jefferson feel about/treat Native Americans? Explain." This do now was a follow up to a podcast they viewed for homework.

Next, I put the central theme or question on the whiteboard and explained the Chalk Talk procedure:

  • You speak only using the markers. There are four markers available; when you've put up your ONE thought, pass it to someone who has not yet gone.
  • You may write a fact, opinion, question... anything, but it must be related to the theme and, of course, classroom appropriate. You may build off someone else's point as well.
  • When everyone has had a chance to add, only then may someone add a second point.
  • There is NO SPEAKING.
Depending on how controversial the topic is, it can definitely fall into organized chaos. I have had it devolve into two students carrying on an argument with markers. On task, but it became more about the argument than the central topic.

This can really be applied to anything--a gauge of what students know about a topic before beginning, a closure, a formative assessment. I've used it in nearly every class I've taught.

Friday, July 18, 2014

#ANEW14 Day 2

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening exploring the museum and DC, so an early morning reflection on yesterday's learning.

We began by examining the work of Jacob Riis to determine if a more compelling message was made with images or with text.  See the activity on Pinterest.  Next, we went into the museum to examine the News for All exhibit, which demonstrates the diversity of American news media.  Our task was to find two examples of persuasive arguments and to share them.  I shared a runaway slave ad and this cartoon.

Our archivist joined us again, this time to show us the story of women's suffrage, as told via the news.  It was so cool to see not only the words of suffragettes, but also what was said about NOT giving suffrage.  Our task was to create an image using text and pictures either for or against the movement.  I created:

I love the image and interpret it as questioning the ways women will use their votes.

We enjoyed lunch out on the museum's terrace.  This was such a beautiful way to eat and enjoy, but from my seat facing the museum, I was captivated by the news ticker.  The news was grim; a plane was shot down and the Ukraine was blamed, the Gaza strip was a mess, and the White House was on lockdown.  My husband texted, asking if I'd heard about the plane to which I (not sarcastically!!) replied "Yes. I'm in a news museum."

After lunch, we explored more ways to use media.  We were given a (presumably fictional) community service project and were given the task of creating a media message to garner community support using facts and quotes.  Interestingly, most groups used video to communicate the message.

Then, we were given time to collaborate again on our lesson plan development.  I'm struggling with the idea of creating something new (in researching, I discovered that not only has our idea been done many many times, but that there is also a new book exploring the topic.  Sweet.)  but also meaningful for my class next year.

After the sessions were over, I explored the Newseum!
There was an exhibit about how free the press is in various parts of the world.  What a powerful image, and the next one explains what we see:

The Ed Murrow exhibit:

And a friend and I explored the DC Mall after dinner.  My favorite shot (I didn't take many, since my phone battery was certainly on its last legs):

I'm excited for day 3!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

#ANEW14 Day 1!

Today was the first day of my experience at the Annenberg-Newseum Summer Teacher Institute.  While my head is swimming, I've already been exposed to a lot of resources and how to incorporate them into my classroom.

When I applied for the Institute, my goal was to find ways to better engage my students in American History, but the Media teacher hiding in me (how much fun that one year was!) is super excited about the deconstruction of media and how the media creates messages for consumption.

The day started in the exhibits.  One group went upstairs to see the First Amendment and News History galleries, while my group visited a Civil Rights gallery (some of the resources from the Civil Rights gallery can be explored here).  Our task was to consider how the media can shape public perception of a social movement.  I was amazed and excited by considering this exhibit in this way.  The images are compelling:

All images from Newseum.

These images don't capture the message of media's shaping the public's perception, because at the beginning, I selected these images because of either the idea of power/police presence, or racial separation.  But this got an idea kicking around....

We then broke for lunch.  As a teacher used to cramming it all in in twenty minutes, I had some time to go explore the museum.  They have a really great exhibit on Pictures of the Year.  I didn't take pictures of these, but they are amazing.  The photos were broken into a number of categories; the most striking were tucked in a corner:  natural disasters and terrorism.  While there was a beautiful photo of a lion, and a super focused photo of a professional football player, the humanity that was captured in these photos is astonishing.

Next, one of Newseum's archivists came in to share some more Civil Rights era resources.  These were all print resources, from newspapers to magazines, and included an 1808 newspaper page that included both runaway slave ads and an ad for the sale of "two-hundred Congo slaves."  The idea here was to construct a museum exhibit using four of these pieces; what a great lesson this was!  As I thought more about what we were doing, it made me think of a course I took in college about the creation of memory.  What a great starting point for students to have a conversation about which stories we tell and which we omit, how we construct the story of American history.

We next were given the opportunity to meet with another teacher to plan a lesson using Newseum's resources.  My partner and I went up to explore the First Amendment and News History gallery, and threw out a bunch of ideas.  A lot of them didn't work out, between the reality of the resources or the execution of our ideas, but we decided to focus on a common unit we teach and to create a lesson plan that uses the resources to explore how the media was used to create the social/political/economic movement of the American Revolution.  In this context, we found a bunch of super interesting newspaper sources that work so well for this theme.  We found a Pennsylvania newspaper that stopped printing in protest of the Stamp Act.  A political cartoon (which I've used in class) drawn by Paul Revere in response to the Intolerable Acts.  A description of Lexington and Concord as "unmolested, unprovoked, wantonly and in a most inhuman manner..."  I think we have a great plan put together, so the next step is to go through all the resources and put it all together!

We also went outside to check out the view:

What a great day!

Check out the tweet archive.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


Wow, wow, wow!  I didn't really plan on going to Flipcon this year, though the timing worked out perfectly.  My husband wasn't going this year due to the insane number of snow days this year, and while it took some juggling, we were able to get childcare so I could go!

I got to spend the six long hours of the drive across Pennsylvania with Kate Baker, who also kindly shared her hotel room with me.

In those six hours, we talked about pretty much everything you could think of, from school to family to the doggie in the window I'd been eyeing.

I was super excited to meet some rockstars.  I mean, come on, hanging out with and learning from people I have so much respect for, but only know virtually?  I was thrilled to meet people I knew virtually, and it was awesome to shake hands and thank Brian Bennett for helping me back when I began my journey, but making new friends, creating new connections, and getting new perspectives was even better.

There was a ton of social/networking time, and despite being a last minute registration, I was able to purchase a ticket to the Carnegie Science Center event for more fun and networking.

But the real learning was in the sessions.

The keynote was Molly Schneider, who spoke about Living in Beta, being willing to TRY and maybe FAIL, but to use "moonshot thinking."  This is the whole point of 20% Projects, and I need to be willing to TRY using 20% in the coming year in my core courses.

We then had a breakout session of sorts, in which we had time to speak with our subject area peers.  Great resources were shared in the Social Studies session, and I found it really helpful to just be in the room with folks of varying comfort levels with flipping.  Folks were there who've written the book on flipping in Social Studies, and folks were there just wanting to know how to get started.  I felt like I was in the perfect spot, being able to get AND GIVE help.  YAY!

I was really inspired by the session run by Andrew Thomasson and Cheryl Morris, Fostering Creativity in the Flipped Classroom. See, I try to make opportunities for my students to be creative, individual, and to show their learning in ways that work best for them, but I know I don't do it super.  I loved their reminder to do the flip as a gradual release, and to not assume anything about student skill levels.  These two things account for a lot of the struggles I faced in the past school year.  I also really appreciated their points about revision and remembering that learning is a process.  

This session led my brain to wandering, and I started thinking about assessment.  How do we assess student learning in a not multiple choice focused class?  How do we give grades?  And, how do we as teachers of likely more than 100 students, keep it all manageable?  I thought a lot about my first grader's report cards this year, and how his teacher was able to give narrative feedback.  Could *I* do that?  Could I do it for the 60 students I had in US History last year?  What about next year, when I'll likely have closer to 100 students?  I don't know about making it meaningful and manageable, but what better way to focus on the process and to communicate to parents and students that we are a learning TEAM?

I learned so much that I can see using right away next year, though, from Crystal Kirch's presentation on "The Whisk" (it's really WSQ, but it's said like Whisk).  Check out her blog post to not only see resources and goals of the session, but the tweets from the session.  Neat!  

Crystal and I, cause I roll with the name-drop.
I loved this session because it confirmed a lot of the things I tried this year (Google Form content checks and Daily Learning Journals for students to communicate where they're struggling and also let me know how their day went), but more importantly, gave me ideas on how to clarify, simplify, and just make my process all around better.

So my head has been swimming, trying to wrap around all that I learned and experienced.  You can see the collaborative session notes from other attendees here.  And if you'd like to see all the tweets tagged with #flipcon14, check out, thanks to Brian Bennett for creating the link.  Finally, see all the shared photos in the FlipCon shared picture folder, created by Crystal Kirch.

Last, but decidedly not least, was the announcement for Flipcon in 2015.  In July!  My husband and I will be fighting it out to see which of us gets to go next time....

In short, this was an incredible experience.  I'm so thankful to my husband for encouraging me to go and being the person on the ground making it happen on the family management side.  I'm not feeling alone in this, that others have gone through all the same pitfalls, and that there are tools for me to be successful.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


This weekend, I attended Edcampphilly once again.  I'd hoped I'd escaped the wandering photog's eye, but no dice!
Photo Credit:  Kevin Jarrett (
I somehow found myself wearing my shy hat once again.  On the car ride in, Marc Seigel, Kate Baker, and I discussed a plan for leading a session together, but it didn't work out.  My confidence is way down, and I am very much in a don't have anything good to share place.

So, I went to a bunch of sessions.  I found out some really cool things Google has developed, thanks to Google Meister Rich Kiker.  I'll pretty much go to anything Rich is presenting, so I completely got what I came for in the first session.  Here's my notes from the session.  I really like the theme he centered his demo on; the idea that we should no longer prepare our students to use a particular platform (Office, for example) but rather teach them the skills so they can use whatever platform is thrust on them (Google Apps, for example).

From there, I bounced around a lot.  It was hard for me to find sessions to attend.  I chose not to go to the session on 20% time, since I'm already doing that.  I probably should have, since I would have gotten some ideas on how others are doing it so I could improve, but I went to something else.

Lunch was a delicious visit to the Shake Shack.  Yum.  So glad we found a large group going there since it didn't come up in my searching.

On our ride home, we talked a lot about how being Edcamp old-hats (oldies?), we've discovered that there are usually more folks new to Edcamp than those who've been to at least one before.  It really changes the dynamic of the day, and we need to participate in the sessions differently.  It's easy to sit in a session and take the learning, but it's tough (especially when I'm wearing my "shove Baby in the corner" hat) to lead one.   So, to somehow find that confidence to lead and share, or to find some ideas to start a conversation, or to find some takeaways to share with others!

Friday, March 28, 2014

20% Project for me...

In our Humanities elective class, students work on semester (or so) long 20% Projects.  (You can see what they're working on at; please leave comments!)

I have not formally completed a 20% Project, however, have been inspired to pursue different interests such as triathlon training again, this time for an ocean swim.  Eek!

Something that has always made me nervous as a Social Studies teacher has been the novel.  I'm nervous that I wouldn't teach it well, that the students are too overwhelmed to bother reading it anyway, that I'd overlap the English curriculum too much, etc, etc, etc.  But today I introduced that we will be reading dystopian novels.  I told the students that I'm trying something new.  We discussed what IS a dystopia, and which books they've read or heard of that would be considered dystopic (Wikipedia has a great list by decade).

Of course, there's the hugely popular novels being made into movies right now.  Surely lots of them will be reading this.  My hope is that they will read these novels, because they're fun to read, but also to be more engaged in our discussion of dystopia and utopia too.

My vision is that the activity will borrow heavily from Katrina Kennett's Edcafes.  I'm nervous because they'll potentially be reading five or six different novels, and I worry that it just won't work.  I fear that it will require way more of my leadership than I envision.  And, of course, I fear that my original reasons for never teaching a novel will all come true.

We'll see how it goes; fingers crossed!

Of course, it wouldn't be a 20% Project if I wasn't reading too.  I consulted this list on Goodreads and will be reading The Handmaid's Tale.

It is the book highest on the list that I have not read (aside from Fahrenheit 451) and has been on my to be read list for practically forever.  Fortunately, a teacher is my school teaches it, so I have easy access to a copy too!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Questions from Mrs. Baker

It seems that there's been blogger homework assigned this winter break!  My friend Kate Baker, who write at Baker's BYOD, challenged me and ten other bloggers to do this task.  I've known Kate for a long, long time!  We went to high school together, and were in our 7-9 middle school at the same time, though I'm not sure if we knew each other then or not.  We know each other from marching band.  We reconnected through Facebook and discovered how close in age our families are, then learned that we're both teachers doing similar (crazy) things.  It's been so fun remembering Kate as a teenager and learning who she is as a grown-up mother of two!

Up first, part 1:  11 facts about me:

  1. I run far too many blogs.  Or, at least, I "have" too many blogs that I update far too infrequently.
  2. My husband and I are both high school teachers.
  3. I never, ever, would have considered myself a cat person, yet I've lived with two cats for 9 years.
  4. I am not interesting enough for 11 things about me.
  5. One of the things I miss most about my pre-kids life is the ability to lounge in bed reading a good book.  It's definitely not for me to go BACK to bed to do this, and I'm usually the one who gets up when they do.
  6. I HATE to be cold, but....
  7. I miss going skiing.  I haven't been since 2000, and keep trying to make plans that often fall through.
  8. I would love to live in another state.
  9. I've been abroad twice--first, on a trip called "American Music Abroad," which toured several countries for sometimes hours, and second on a trip sponsored by the Lions Club in which I was essentially an exchange student, living in different people's homes around Germany.
  10. I traveled with my college pep band to two NCAA Tournaments--first to Chicago (I recall that being a whirlwind trip) and second to Charlotte.
  11. I made a "bucket list" for my 30s.  I'm 35 and have only done one of the things on that list.
Part 2:  11 Questions from Mrs. Baker:

  1. What is your favorite type of cookie?
    My first thought is peanut butter cookies--either the kind where you take a fork and crosshatch or the kind with a kiss on top.  My must-buy Girl Scout cookies are the red box and the orange box; I have no idea the cookie names but they're both peanut butter.
  2. As a cook, what is your signature dish?
    I don't really have a "signature" dish.  Despite enjoying cooking, there's very few recipes committed to memory.  Do grilled cheese or pita pizzas count?  But among the things made most frequently around here are enchiladas, macaroni and cheese, and crock-pot lasagna.
  3. What was your best Christmas/Birthday/Holiday gift ever (either given to you or you gave to someone else)?
    I don't know if this is the "best," but it's the most storied in my marriage.  Before we were married or engaged... heck, we were still fairly new in dating as it went... I was inspired by a friend who went really BIG when it came to gifts for her fiance.  So, I decided to buy my then boyfriend a trip for us both to Hawaii.  He'd been before (but never with me!) and I had not, the price was great for right after school, so we went!  He doesn't let me live this one down, since he calls it a gift for him but for me, but if the timing had worked better, it could have been spun as a visit to his sister, who moved around the corner from our hotel a few months after our trip.
  4. Why was that the best gift ever?
    See above!
  5. What is your favorite tech tool?
    Google Drive keeps me way more organized than I used to be.
  6. Oxford comma, necessary or superfluous? 
  7. What is your favorite book?
    TOUGH choice!  I really couldn't tell you my one favorite of pretty much anything, and with so many great books, this is impossible to choose.  I love a great picture book--Mo Williems's books are readable, engaging and beautiful, and Love You Forever always brings me to tears.  A great piece of nonfiction that's stuck with me is Zeitoun.  Ready, Player One was also in audiobook for me, but was probably the best book I've read this year.
  8. If you could have 3 wishes, what would they be?
    To see the results of the parenting choices we're making now--who are our boys in 15 and 30 years?
    More time; I am not successful at this working parent thing, on top of being really hard-on-myself.  There's so much I want to do and see and be, but I cannot figure out how to make it all fit.
    More wishes?  No?  Ixnay?  Well then, I'd wish for something to help someone who couldn't help me in return.  I'd wish to help the man who lives under the bridge, the man about whom I think every time it gets so cold.  I'd eradicate the extreme poverty in this country.
  9. If you were to name one piece of clothing that describes you, what would you say?
    Bill Cosby sweater
  10. Would you rather visit the world 100 years into the past or 100 years into the future?
    Ooooo, good question.  A tough choice, but I think I would want to visit the future.  This may be due to Back to the Future 2 being my favorite in the series, but in reality, the news is grim and I've read a lot of dystopian fiction; I want to see the world my grandchildren will encounter to best prepare them and also to assuage my anxious mind.
  11. What's the kindest act you have ever seen done (either to/by you or another)?
    It's so hard to think of kind acts when I try to be intentional in doing them, mostly because we encounter so many very public, very huge kindnesses via the media.  The heroic acts of first responders during Hurricane Sandy is the first thing that I think of for this question, but these are things I can never do.  But since having children, I've seen how very kind the world is--the people who have offered help to a child who appears to be lost, the random gifts strangers have given to my boys, the people who hand over their tickets at an arcade--and these are the types of kindnesses of which we are all capable, little kindnesses that restore all of our faith that this is a good time and a good place.
That was tough, and boy do I seem hokey.

Part 3--Nominate Other Bloggers
Well, by the time I'm getting around to this, everyone who I might nominate has probably already done this.  So, if you're the one person who reads this thing of mine, feel free to play and let me know!

Part 4--Questions for YOU:
  1. What's your favorite outdoor activity?  What do you love about it?
  2. What is the most beautiful sight you've ever seen?  Describe the scene.
  3. Would you be 16 again?  Why or why not?
  4. What's your favorite holiday and why?
  5. If you could live in any era of the past, when would you choose and why?
  6. What energizes you?
  7. How would you spend an hour with no responsibility?
  8. How would you spend $100 with no strings attached?
  9. Describe your best Halloween costume.
  10. City or country?
  11. Can you currently play an instrument?  Which?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Reflections from Edcamp

Another great Saturday spent learning how to be a better educator at EdcampNJ!
With some running a session at an Edcamp experience in my belt, my husband and I had discussed running a session on our "Redesign the School" projects and student choice, but he was again unable to attend EdcampNJ, this time due to marking period grades.

I was excited to see some friends, both from the real world and the virtual one, and spend the day learning.

First session I attended Steve Tetreault's session on Intermediate uses of Google Docs.  I was super excited when he discussed how to use Scripts, since I had a failed attempt to do so (in the midst of an end-of-the-marking-period grading frenzy is not the time to figure out how to do something new); Steve showed us the many different ways we could use scripts and how to do it.  Win; I can't wait to use this TODAY.

I've spent some time playing around with this, and while I'm not sure how to start using it now(my students are having a hard enough time with the system I've already set up, so I don't think it's wise to start using something else...), it will make my life immensely better in the future.

Edcamp NJ 2013
You can see my striped back, right in the center of the photo.

Next session was a little more difficult.  There wasn't really a session that I was interested in joining, so I ended up hopping around a bit.  I ended up in a session on Flipping; it was great to meet the presenter, whom I'd just discovered on Twitter that week, and also contribute a little to a conversation.

Next up was lunch, at which point door prizes were announced.  I was selected to win a door prize, and chose a subscription to Flocabulary; I can't wait for it to arrive!

For session 3, I joined a session "Assessments that Don't Suck."  Funny title aside, I knew the session was being run by Paul Bogush, a middle school Social Studies teacher from whom I could surely steal some great ideas.  Additionally, I always seek new and better ways to assess student learning.  He didn't disappoint, giving a ton of great project based ideas.  

I followed Paul to his next session, the famous Body Language one.  Paul shared a list of resources in addition to his presentation.  Fascinating stuff, with immediate application to the classroom and, frankly, any relationship we have with other humans.

Once again, I did not win the Chromebook.  Grr.  But that Flocabulary membership will be AWESOME!!

At the Smackdown, I learned about quite a few new tools, but the one I'm most excited about was shared by Rich Kiker; I made a podcast of how to use it here.

Here's some friends and I being silly in the Photobooth!

Thanks, again, to the EdcampNJ folks for putting on another great day!

Check out all the shared notes from all the sessions here.
The photostream may be seen here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Flipping again

I've been trying to figure out how to flip my class this year, after a hiatus of a year.  They've had homeworks of viewing podcasts the past few days, but today was the day they got started on the real demonstration of learning!
Image Source:

The unit I planned is laid out here.  I tried to give students some choices on their activities--some choices are more artistic while others are more straightforward written assignments.  One of the disappointments of my first time flipping a core course was that most of my ongoing class activities were written ones, and I didn't want that to be the case this time.

So today they got to work.  There seemed to be a pretty even split between those who wanted to pursue the more creative approach and those who wanted to go the more straightforward path.  It was interesting; I felt I needed to keep reminding the students to refer to the rubric as they completed their work to determine the expectations.  I've been raised in an environment of rubrics for assessment and expressing clearly through them the expectations, but I've also been reading a lot about the ways in which rubrics force students to focus on the grade rather than on the learning.  What a conundrum.

Interestingly, I just discovered the work of Dr. Lodge McCammom, and viewed his TED Talk yesterday.  His co-presenter mentioned that she would be completely exhausted after a day of traditional direct instruction (and, presumably, that this is not the case when she runs a flipped class).

I was EXHAUSTED by the end of the day.  I was up and all over the (fairly large) computer lab.  I found that I kept going back to the same students in each section; they had lots of questions and weren't making an attempt to figure it out on their own.  Something to work on with them is that this is a safe space in which to make mistakes and that it's important to figure out things on our own or maybe even with a partner.
Image Source:
With that said, I got to engage in one of the best things about the Flipped Classroom--I got to engage with each student at least once during the period.  I was able to, hopefully, demonstrate that I care about them and want them to do well.  I think they may have just been happy to not have a test this go 'round.