September 24

Impact of your work

I just saw a Tweet suggesting that the teaching staff might write an article for the future which shares information about the impact of your work.  It was humbling.  It certainly caused me to pause and think about what I’ve been doing.  It also prompted me to think about what I’m doing next.

What would the article look like if you wrote it?

I’ve already given this some thought.  You see, my former principal died recently and I attended the visitation with her family.  While I didn’t know her daughter, I felt like she was somebody I had already met because my principal had talked about her and shared stories of her children so frequently.  As I stood in line for an hour just to get to shake hands with my principal’s family, lots of fond memories ran through my head.  I thought about what a fierce advocate this woman had been for learning.  She had high expectations – of EVERYBODY.

We all seemed to try to rise to those expectations because she gave as good as she expected to get.  She was a tireless person who devoted herself to her school and the students and the community as a whole.  Even though she probably didn’t even stand taller than a five foot measuring rod, she was a powerful, impactful, and colossal woman who commanded attention and had a magnetic personality which made you want to follow her to the ends of the earth.  She was a spit-fire and fiesty.  I admired her and I still recall so many things she said and did to guide me toward being a better teacher, woman, and person.  At the same time she was stretching the expectations of folks, she was also lifting them up and supporting their efforts at achieving excellence and cheering us on to take more risks and push harder.

She was quick-witted and didn’t mince words.  When asked to be a reference for me when I applied for the job I now hold, she was asked to tell the worst trait she could think of about me.  Her response was, “She cannot write a short email for the life of her.”  Again, as she sat by the pool and talked to the woman who is now my supervisor, she was building me up.

Maybe some day I will be able to think about the future and write an article about the impact of my work.  However, right now all I can think of is that I wish folks would say the sort of things about me that I think about this woman.  I miss Rhonda Holton so.

September 15


This post is one I’ve adapted from my personal blog.  Hope you get Keep to be helpful for you like I have for my needs!

I’ve begun to notice that I’m slipping.

I don’t think it is something that we should be alarmed about.


Google Keep Ad

I just want everybody to be aware that I am.


Google Keep App Icon

For example, when I’m home, it is nothing new that I will get up to refill my coffee cup and wind up loading the dishwasher, hand-washing the skillet, wiping down the counter-top, and sacking the trash before…

I sit back down and realize, I have to re-fill my coffee cup.

At work, I will zip down the hallway to ask a teacher a question and another teacher will bump into me and ask me a question.  So, we head off to the second teacher’s classroom to work on her project.  Then, I dash to my meeting appointment with yet another teacher on another hallway.  Upon returning to my perch, I realize that I forgot to find the first teacher and ask my question.

Google Keep iPhone View

Another perfect example that is really nothing new is – I will leave the kitchen and walk into the bedroom and stand there for a few minutes…

…trying to remember why I came into the bedroom.

I’ve been doing that sort of thing for most of my adult life.

Or, at work I will go into the school office and somebody will ask me who I am meeting with during the day and my mind is a complete blank.

Google Keep Web View

I used to be able to blame it on having to think for two children under the age of three who needed dry pants and food to eat and something to drink and clean clothes to wear,

or two children in school with dance practice and ball practice and calves/lambs to feed and homework,

or two children in high school and me in graduate school while working full-time and ballgames/dance practice/livestock to feed and extra plates to set at the table unexpectedly and mountains of laundry to conquer and a household to keep and vehicles to maintain.

or working to meet the needs of 150-200 students whose names are on my rosters.

Now, I don’t really have those scapegoats and I even have a supportive, helpful husband.  Yet, I still have those sort of examples previously mentioned and even more.

Google Keep Note – golden color

I’ve never remembered numbers and that problem has compounded – if that is possible.

I can find a place in the grocery parking lot and look at the app on my phone to confirm I have funds to buy the necessities.  Then, after I gather up my bags, select a shopping cart, push through the doors of the store, and wheel through the produce section, I realize I have left my list on the kitchen counter and forgot how much money I have in my checking account.

I can be searching through my computer or Google Drive for something I worked on just a bit earlier and cannot begin to recall which file I need to update.

Whew!  Thank goodness for a new friend called Google Keep.

Google Keep Note – orange

Now, when I am at work, supposedly focused on formatting a spreadsheet of information or proofing a tutorial before posting to the web or revising a lesson plan, if it pops into my head that we are almost out of toothpaste, I can just add that to my online grocery list!

Or, when I am at home, supposedly focused on cooking dinner or cleaning the floors, if it pops into my head that I need to send information to a teacher friend for him to proof before we post it online, I can just enter a quick reminder or add to my list of reminders!

Google Keep Note – teal

If a friend suggests a book to read and I know I won’t remember the title because I will have to go online and renew some of the books on my bedside table in three weeks because I fall asleep when I sit down and things are quiet so I don’t read as extensively as I used to do.  Then, by the time I’ve finished that stack of books, I will walk into the library and wonder what on earth one of the titles suggested by my friends might be.  If that happens, I can just add the title to my To-Read list!  Using the list view, after I have read a book or picked up an item at the store, I can cross it off my list!

Google Keep List – blue

If I take the drapes down in the den and drop them off at the dry-cleaners and the ticket they give me gets blown off of the sun-visor of my truck where I’ve pinned it, I can just add a little note to remind me to pick them up!

If I want somebody else to remember the information or so we can work on knocking out a list together, I can just share it!

Google Keep Sharing View

If I want to get a little reminder that I need to get ready for a birthday party at a certain time of the day on Saturday so that I don’t get wrapped up in reading my library book or to nudge me awake after I fall asleep reading my library book, I can simply add a reminder along with my note!

My notes will sync to any device which has the app and I can access them through the web as well.  So, I always have access to the thoughts I’ve recorded on a note. So, I have the app on my phone, I access it using my laptop and my Chromebook as well.  So handy!

Google Keep Pop-Up Reminder

Well, I just got a little pop-up on my screen to remind me to get ready and go to a different school to facilitate a PD.  So, this post is done!

By the way, I was not compensated in any way for this post.  I just wanted to let you know that you might start slipping one day, too, and there is no reason you cannot hide it for a little while by using a little friend who keeps all your notes wherever you are and helps you hold on to your thoughts!

Google Keep Ad

September 10

Digging Deeper

One thing that school reform is forcing that I firmly believe is for the betterment of my field is that we are making concerted efforts to encourage students to dig deeper.  It is not enough for students to simply memorize facts, regurgitate information, and color in a factoid-identifying bubble.  Today, students are being expected to think about their choices and justify them.  They are encouraged to think critically and come up with a solution.  Classrooms should not be one person dispensing information and automatons dutifully writing it down in order to memorize, regurgitate, bubble.

An example of a wonderful resource for ideas that I noticed recently is TED Ed Lessons Worth Sharing.  As a classroom teacher, I collected every idea I could to help students learn grammar, usage, mechanics.  I knew deep within me that students really didn’t learn from those circle-the-noun-and-underline-the-verb-type worksheets.  So, I shifted to a mini lesson, investigation, application type format instead.  If I noticed that my students were struggling with misused modifiers, for example, I would provide a mini lesson focused upon such.  Then, we would search through published texts – books, magazines, newspapers, etc. to find examples.  Finally, we would search through our own writing to find examples or write with the intention of creating appropriately constructed examples.

This TED Ed Lesson focused on misused modifiers lends itself to such a lesson.  Using the concept from a previous post, I might start the lesson by posting the discussion questions on the board: When they’re used correctly, why are modifiers useful and valuable in a sentence? What benefit do they bring to our words? I might modify to suit my needs and ask students to create a list of the things they know and things they need to know in order to thoroughly answer the posted questions.  After students are provided time to think and respond, they might need time to discuss their ideas with a partner and expand their response.

As a whole group, the class would watch the video and students would be encouraged to make notes and answer questions posed earlier.  Students might be provided time to share notes with their partner.

Next, I might use the Think section as a way to familiarize students with high-stakes test taking skills.  I would probably use the questions and answers provided and incorporate one of the Taking the Test Apart activities.

As an extension of the mini lesson, students might look in other resources to find examples.  Then, they might look into their own writing examples to find examples.  In this case, if there are misused modifiers, I would ask students to share the examples and explain ways that the examples could be revised to make the writing clearly state the intent.

Further extension might include providing students time to read and discuss the materials linked in the Dig Deeper section while they are in small groups.  I would also love to extend this by encouraging students to create a wiki or a Padlet where they post other examples of misused modifiers or other examples which might serve as the focus for a mini leson.

Finally, I think it would be good to revisit the Discuss section.  I am a firm believer that students should write reflectively and incorporating the discussion questions into a reflective assignment would be a great formative and in some cases a great summative assessment.  Knowing that reflections don’t always have to be a written journal entry, students might branch out and use their own creativity to create a video, their own Padlet page of examples with reflective notes, an infographic, or a number of other products.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out the other lesson ideas collected at TED Ed Lessons Worth Sharing.

September 9

Why teach it?

After reading a couple of posts based on a central question, I was prompted to pause and think.

If you can Google it, why teach it?

What is your answer to that question?

One of the articles suggested that we need to “get away from teaching factoids and answers that are readily available.”  Last year I put together and facilitated a professional development session which focused on project-based learning – true PBL – not assigning projects as a culminating activity at the end of a unit.  For some teachers the task of creating a driving question became a task in and of itself.

The driving question of any assignment sets it up to be more student driven and inspire deeper learning (And the driving question might not be a question at all.  It might be a simple statement!).  To know more about the aspects of a driving question, visit the Buck Institute of Learning (BIE) website or watch this webinar outlining the components of a good driving question. Revisiting the original question about Googling and teaching, the most effective question cannot be answered by a simple Google search.

The key, it seems, is to create a question or a learning expectation that requires deeper thinking of the student.  A Team Teachers post gives a science suggestion:

Instead of “List the various parts of a cell,” ask, “List the parts of the cell in order of importance and justify the order chosen.”

eSchool News suggests some ways to approach re-vamping your course to ensure that it is of teaching value and not just Googleable.  The suggestions are simply a way for teachers to stop doing the same-old-same-old and consider the audience and what might engage them.  Consider where they are on the learning compendium and meet them there so that you can guide them to where they need to be.  Design lessons which require application of knowledge to real-world solutions.  Because we have so much information today – more than ever before in history and that information is growing exponentially by the second – as educators, we are charged with teaching students how to navigate and utilize the information available.  We are encouraging and fostering critical thinking and creative problem solving.

So, I think the question which most needs to be asked of teachers and how we teach today is to ask one simple question.  The question is one that was posed to the probable initiator to our original question of: “If you can Google it, why teach it?”  In an interview by NPR, a nationally known school leader was asked, “What are you most proud of from your time as superintendent?”

I take this concept and turn it into a challenge for the teachers I work with these days:
Is this lesson going to make the cut of top ten when you are asked: What are you most proud of from your time in the classroom?

September 8

Effective Mathematics

I recently read an interesting article entitled What is effective teaching of mathematics?  It set me to thinking with just a couple of statements.

It is suggested that expectations for students  students:

  • Construct their own understandings
  • Apply prior knowledge and skills
  • Are consistently challenged
  • Take risks
  • See purpose in what they learn

It suggested that students need the subject to be a bit problematic.  This encourages students to inquire, search for solutions, and resolve puzzles or riddles of the chosen topic.

I’ve seen teachers use concepts borrowed and adapted from Would You Rather?  The post for September 1st asks: Would You Rather…Install and maintain an electric hand dryer or a paper towel dispenser in a public washroom?

If I were using this example, I would ask students to work with a partner to come up with a list of things we would need to know before making the decision.  What would your list look like?

Obviously costs would certainly be a starting place.  However, there would be other considerations that might come into play such as hygiene, safety, environmental impact, etc.  All of these things listed would definitely require students to perform research and make some computations.  Later, they would be expected to choose an option and justify their choice showing their computations and write realistic reasoning to back up that choice.

Again, students could work in pairs or small groups to determine which option would be their better choice and write a justifucation.  Then, students could work with another group to determine which computations and reasoning is more accurate and stronger to support their choices.

In envision the lesson unfolding with the teacher posing a question, small group discussions, whole class sharing.  More questions and comments, more discussion.  There would be time for researching and computing.  There would be more time for sharing of ideas and questions in discussion as a whole group.  Finally, the small groups could reach a consensus and write their decision with justifications and computations to back it up.  Groups could share their completed decision and justificaton with other groups and the teacher could lead a class discussion analyzing the completeness and complexity of each group’s work.  At the end of the exercise, each student might be asked to reflect on what was learned and what variables played a big role in their thoughts and decisions – those reflections would also be submitted in written form!

With such an assignment, students are not only practicing mathematical skills, but they are also facing a real-world decision with a purpose.  Now, not every day in a math class might see students working such an example because some basic skills need to be modeled, practiced, and built upon.  The research and thinking required for solving this problem reach far beyond a simple mathematics class, too.  Here is one example posted by a class.

I saw a similar concept that would play to the middle school or high school mindset.  Consider that we are going to write a message on the school’s chain-link fence by using cups stuck through the holes.  The teacher and students might brainstorm to construct the message.  Then, in small groups, students could choose which colors of cups would be used to spell out the message.  Next, students would decide how the message should be laid out by sketching it on graph paper.  Finally, students would compute the number of cups required, they could do a cost analysis, and the explain the choices made and cost of the message.  They might even determine the amount of time required to construct their message.  The exercise could be extended to determine the number of views their message would get.  Later, students might even be able to compute the impact of their message and consider a cost comparison versus the impact of the message on the population.

Simple concepts.  Engaging tasks.  Critical thinking.  Real math.

To me, the most profound statement in the effective teaching article is this:

Mathematics today requires not only computational skills but also the ability to think and reason mathematically in order to solve the new problems and learn the new ideas that students will face in the future.

I think the two assignments described here certainly fit that concept.

Category: math | LEAVE A COMMENT
September 3

One of my favorite tools for organizing and accessing websites – Symbaloo

More and more of our resources are web-based these days.  I hear teachers mention that having students navigate to websites is sometimes difficult or time-consuming and distracting from the lesson. 

My Symbaloo for Project Based Learning

A great way to make this less difficult or time-consuming and distracting is to set up a Symbaloo.  This tool is wonderful for organizing different resources and making them easily accessible for connecting by others.

My Symbaloo for Text Set Resources

Our students, referred to as digital natives, are app-centric and Symbaloo lends itself to that mindset.

My Symbaloo for ELA Resources

Other ideas for ways to use Symbaloo:

  • organize different web resources for small groups or stations
  • differentiate using different reading level resources
  • organize different genres of materials
  • provide quick links to often used resources
  • save resources when researching
  • provide suggested resources as a base when students are researching
  • organize different Google Documents that students access regularly
September 2

Developing Student Writers

When I was in the classroom, I had many wonderful opportunities to showcase the work of my students.  We traveled to a local college and participated in video broadcasts and recordings which served as professional development opportunities for teachers in the area.  We had college students visit and observe our class.  Videos were filmed within our classroom which were posted to the state department website as podcasts.  As a result, many times these observers would ask me, “How do you get these students to write so well?”

There is only one answer for that: they wrote every single day.

If you ask a basketball coach how her player became such an accurate free-throw shooter, the response would be: practice.  If you ask a football coach how his quarterback got to be so accurate with his passes, the response would be: practice.  So, if you ask a writing coach how to improve a student’s writing skills, the response would be: practice.

Just like athletes, all practice isn’t necessary focused on one particular skill.  (The exceptional free-throw shooter didn’t only stand at the free-throw line for hours on end, she also did some dribbling, rebounding, etc.)  So, not all writing is something that is done with pencil in hand or fingers on the keyboard.  Sometimes a writer spends a bit of practice time reading mentor texts or talking and sharing writing with another writer or re-reading a draft or adding graphics to a blog post or infographic or…well, any number of other things.  Those elements are a valuable part of the writing process but they can be mini-lessons or focus times in addition to time spent actually writing.  Those elements should be extensions of writing time, not interferances with writing time.  In order to develop the skills of putting words on a page and stringing words together and developing meaningful pieces, the student needs to spend time writing and writing needs to happen each and every day.

When students entered my classroom, they knew that we were going to spend a chunk of time writing.  It was an expectation from the beginning of school and it was an expectation during the last week of the school year.  Sometimes they would even request that they be allowed extended time for writing!

Notice the pronoun in the first sentence of the previous paragraph.  That pronoun is we.  In order to have models for mini-lessons, I made it a point to let my students see me writing right along with them.  I used my pieces as models for revision, for think-alouds, for fish-bowls of peer feedback or writing groups.  When they recognized that I struggled along with them and that I believed in time spent writing, my students recognized that my expectations were realistic and were just that – expectations.  My writing provided an introduction for building a community of writers and that made all the difference in the world.

Take time to write.

Category: writing | LEAVE A COMMENT
September 1

Got Lost

I’ve gotten caught up in the hustle and bustle and hectic mindset of late and got lost.  Like most folks, we feel overworked and are understaffed.  Then, this week we learned that a colleague is moving away and we are literally one man down on our team.


Yesterday our supervisor asked us to make suggestions and encourage applicants to get the ball rolling toward adding a new team member.

I left the office with a scowl on my face and a scowl in my heart about my job.

For those of you who have known me for any length of time will attest to the fact that I have NEVER felt this way about my profession.  I’ve almost always LOVED my job.  (Yes, I said, almost – everybody has those moments, folks.  Don’t judge!)  Yet, here I was asked to encourage somebody to apply to become a part of my team when even I didn’t enjoy being a part of the team.


Still, I sent a message to a couple or three friends and thought I had done what was expected.


Then, I got a response.  And I got another response.  A friend called me!

She asked me a couple of questions and I began talking and I realized…

I STILL love my job!

Maybe I don’t love some parts of it.  Maybe I have been a bit overworked lately and I’m really tired.  Yet, I still love what I do.

I found myself explaining what the great parts of the job really are:

  • observing and collaborating with good teachers
  • sharing interesting, helpful, and dynamic resources which enhance learning
  • planning and facilitating quality professional development sessions which improve teaching and learning in the classroom
  • modeling and sharing tech-rich lessons and strategies that are effective in the classroom
  • getting to know teachers who enrich the lives of children
  • contributing to the growth and development of students
  • feeling that aha-moment when a teacher or student ‘gets it’

I heard myself giving a brief outline of quality lessons where students:

  • write with a purpose
  • collaborate and revise their work because they really want to do so
  • develop an inquiry mindset and strive to learn about a topic or learn more
  • read with passion and pleasure
  • engage in the lesson and collaborate as they learn and improve their skill set

I confidently assured this friend that if she was hired to be on my team I would be there to coach and mentor her.

What would you say if you were charged with finding a team-member and were encouraging somebody to become a part of your team?

How would you describe your job if you were responsible for selecting your replacement?

Is that how you are facing each day of work?

My theory has always been that I should teach each student as if he/she were the EMT who was pulling me out of the ditch and trying to save my life.  I almost lost that perspective.

As teachers, we are responsible for educating those who will take care of us in the future.  I take that seriously and I hope you do as well.  Please don’t get caught up in the hustle and bustle and hectic mindset all around you.  Don’t get lost.