Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What would you choose?

Did you ever pick up a book, and start talking to its author out loud in agreement?

That happened to me today, as I cracked the cover on AJ Juliani's new book, Learning By Choice.  This is not the first time I've been a fan of AJ's -- and I'm not really sure when we first connected.  We follow each other on Twitter, and I frequently nod in agreement to his <141 characters there.

(If you happen to be a Kindle app fan, the download is quite reasonable on Amazon... but the reality is that you'll want to write in the margins and underline and highlight, and well, probably have something tangible for AJ to autograph, should you ever bump into him on the street.  Yes, it's that good.)

I know I listed a hefty list of books I'm perusing yesterday -- and I'm still actively reading every word of The Death Class, while scanning the Disney and qualitative observation books while mapping curriculum.  All of that came to a sudden stop with the arrival of Juliani's book, which gives me street cred to support what I've been doing in my room for several years.

I've seen it.  I've done it.  And I totally agree with his statement:  "Ultimately, choice consistently led to growth in the classroom."  

It's difficult as a teacher to watch as kids find their way, assuming the role of a tour guide in a foreign country.  Sometimes all visitors need are a few questions answered, and not the audio tour cassette, to truly immerse themselves and discover the unknown.   Traditional educators may look at choice as something out of their control, and to that I say, "Yup!"

Take the risk.  Talk to the kids as they travel through the process, and offer suggestions when they're asked for, and ask for reflections on the metacognitive process.  Because when kids control their learning, the biggest thing they learn is to take risks to satisfy their own curiosity, becoming more confident in the process.

While I was writing this entry this evening, I received a Facebook message from a student, which, in part, confirmed the value of choice:

"Thank you for supporting me and encouraging me, even when it came to Chemistry and Physics.  I am so excited to go on this trip! I feel the time I was able to be myself in your class has given me confidence and if I wouldn't have had that, this trip would be terrifying."

Certainly, unsolicited testimonials are the heart warmers of every teacher.  And the fact that allowing choice in my classroom has resulted in self-efficacy for this kiddo is research enough to prove student-choice is worth the risk.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Typical TOG Shopping Trends.

I love bookstores -- whether they are brick and mortar or the online guilty pleasure known as Amazon.  Last week, I spent some time giving input to a software developer working on a new product, and was rewarded with an Amazon gift card.  Given my propensity for keeping things like gift cards secure by putting them "someplace safe," I felt the only responsible thing was to log on to Amazon immediately, review what was lurking on my wishlist, and exhaust the full $25. 

Sure, I already had two things in the cart, but the total was significantly less than my target, so I glanced at my "Inspired by Your Shopping Trends."  (See photo above.)

If that list doesn't describe a typical Teacher of the Gifted's recent purchases, I don't know what does!

So what am I reading?  Well, this week, it's primarily things that inspire creativity:

The Mouse that Roared
How to Be Like Walt:  Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life
Analyzing Social Settings:  A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis
The Death Class:  A True Story About Life

Not your typical summer beach reading, I agree, but much musing is happening in my mind as I cull through these.

Is it any wonder that I might be cooking with unicorn meat by summer's end, while fending off attacks of garden gnomes with elegance and grace?

What would we do without Amazon?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Please Slow Down!

It's Sunday again, and we're heading toward the 3 day holiday weekend that leads many to comment, "Once 4th of July comes, the summer is pretty much over."

Really?  Why do we do this to ourselves?  Officially, we're a week into summer, unofficially, a month.  Heck, I even celebrated another graduate today at another graduation party.  

So why are we rushing?


 I am seriously considering making the PLEASE SLOW DOWN sign for my classroom.  Part of me fears that my incoming freshmen will think that this is all in an attempt to keep them from turning in research papers written on the fly, but my thought process here is -- well -- thought process.

You see, I truly believe that we are not spending enough time thinking.    And I'm not the only one who believes this, which is actually a bit of a blessing, when it comes to education.  If you want an excuse to try something with students, it really helps to be able to utter the phrase "It's Research Based."

The American Institutes for Research has a series of studies that support what has come to be known as Deeper Learning.   Defined originally by the Hewlett Foundation as "a set of competencies students must master in order to develop a keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to problems in the classroom and on the job, ” the research is showing that students that combine personal, academic, and social skills as part of their learning are much more successful than those in traditional classroom environments.

Is it possible to convince students of the value of this experience?  Probably not as the lead story on the news, or the first paragraph of a new syllabus.  It might mean introducing the concept of slowing down, smelling roses, and reflecting first -- and offering a chance to breathe and renew.

Chances are pretty good that there will be some odd stares and whispers.  As long as no one freaks out, or becomes so relaxed that sleep ensues, it's worth the risk.

Because the research says so.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Famous Last Words

Graduation was three weeks ago yesterday, and the graduation parties continue.  Honestly, I think this helps teachers with long term connections with students, because commencement exercises aren't truly "goodbye," as we continue to encounter seniors at various family-hosted celebrations throughout the summer.  

It's particularly nice that there is time between each of these festivities, as it allows for some individual reflection on my part, because something deep down inside me wants to have "one more shot" at leaving a lasting impact on the kids, and to let them know that they've done the same for me.

Once again, Terry Heick at Te@chthought has penned the words to describe the very emotion attached to this annual ritual:

At the end of every school year, you lose dozens of relationships that changed you. That’s no small thing. Teaching is a personal act that binds teacher and student together even if that binding isn’t made in mutual affection. To teach and learn is to come together.

 Sure, I know that many of the kids with whom I am closest will reach out with messages on social media, or show up for the annual Thanksgiving Breakfast, or be appearing on my doorstep looking to use me as a reference for a summer job next summer, and that's all great.  I've already added quite a few nice notes and cards received from my seniors to my "happy file," that I use to create smiles when I don't feel like smiling.

It's comforting to know that other teachers are in this same cycle of goodbye.  Terry does a fine job with her list of  "30 Things to Tell Students You'll Never See Again."  Aside from the title, I applaud her efforts, because I can't imagine admitting that there are some that will be gone from my life forever.

Certainly all teachers gravitate to #28 -  I’m your teacher for life. If you ever need me, find me.

But I love #24 the best.   Because, as you well know, I am a rebel when it comes to thinking about thinking.

24. Don’t do what your teachers and parents have told you to do. They love you, but they can’t possibly understand the complexity of your life and hopes and thoughts and dreams and fears, and will try to anyway, unwittingly projecting their own insecurities and aspirations on you. And when you follow it, your life will be an underwhelming, room temperature, sticky wet noodle. It’s your life, and thus your work.

Already, some are on their next step in the journey.  The Coast Guard Academy has caused one to spend time at the beach stenciling her name on every item in her duffel bag, while another has boarded a plane to Italy for the summer.  Missions Trips are underway, and summer jobs are simulating the first step to financial independence as kids ask "Who the heck is FICA?", after examining their first paychecks.

Yes, all 30 points are wonderful, and terrible at the very same time.  Because nobody likes to say goodbye.  So, instead, I say to my former students:

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving - 9 am - Breakfast.  Put it on your calendar now!

After all, I made the reservation after the Senior Breakfast celebration, looking forward to the next time we all say hello.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Flickering Incubation.

 It's Friday, the third Friday of my summer, and I am still feeling like weekends feel weird.  Honestly, weekends and weekdays could easily blend together when school is not in session, but there is still this odd reassurance that school is "open", if I want to go there and work.

Over the summer, our district closes the buildings on Fridays, and the administrators work extra long days, squeezing a full week of work into four days.  Entering buildings on Friday - Sundays in the summer is verboten!  

I'm still in that "incubation" stage, casually flipping through the stacks of books I brought home for curriculum development this summer.  I can feel the light of illumination starting to flicker on, like a bad florescent light under the kitchen cabinets - not quite clicking on, but more on than off.  What am I to do with this musing in my mind?

And so the checklist begins!

Describe your vision, focus, objectives, and student needs.  CHECK!
Identify resources.  CHECK!
Develop experiences that meet your objectives. WORKING ON IT.....
Collect and devise materials.
Lock down the specifics of your task.
Develop plans, methods, and processes.
Create your students' experience.

It's still June, and I'm seizing the day.  Even if I don't have access to the big giant whiteboard in my classroom to sketch out the thoughts starting to flash in my mind...

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Gifts from the Gifted.

For the first ten, or so, years that I taught, I was responsible for transporting students in my personal vehicle to off campus seminars.  Quite frankly, this was a nice way to get some extra cash, as I was reimbursed the IRS mileage rate.  It also meant that kids were in my minivan, with access to seatback pockets, and storage compartments.  It was easy to determine which seminars were actually favorable, based upon the crap  assortment of mementos and paperwork left in my car.

Given how much time I spent in my vehicle during those early years -- as I was also taxi-ing my own three children to their various activities -- it became a place where various chachkees settled.  First, there was the giraffe that I made for myself the first time I went to Build A Bear.  Stanley also sported reading glasses, and straddled the bench seat in the mini-van, causing me to smile every time I looked in the rear view mirror.  Most of my students knew Stanley by name, and some added capes -- and in one case an entire fingerless glove, to his wardrobe.

And then there was the Yodeling Pickle.  It was a gift -- how would I even KNOW how to find such an item -- and served as a fine conversation starter, dwelling in the back seat pocket, awaiting discovery.  I still have it, even though the battery has long since died.

I keep all sorts of odd items in both my car and my classroom, attempting to connect with students or start conversations.  The ORB OF CONFUSION, so labelled by my students, is actually a liquid filled bouncing ball that flashes lights when bounced.  I'm pretty sure Alex Pierce actually tattooed the name in Sharpie.

Two years ago, it was Albert Einstein magnets -- sort of paper doll style.  He came with a variety of clothing, and was dressed by students during homeroom, or in the final seconds of class.  He proved to be quite the clothes horse, and by the end of the year he had two Barbie babes who accompanied him across the whiteboard, thanks to a closet clean out at Maddie Bowers' house.

For years, the magnetic poetry strips on the front of my desk entertained individuals and pairs of students, and during the two years I taught "on a cart," I was the one with the battery-operated Christmas lights adorning my vehicle.  (The Impending Arrival of the Unicorn was the big deal at the junior high this year..., and the Ask the Unicorn button has been a favorite so long that I will mourn the loss of those batteries very soon, I fear.)

There are tons of "fiddlers" out there for offices.  There are zen sand gardens, and hourglasses with gel beads dripping through gears.  There are the ever-popular swinging "clicking" metallic galls that give rise to perpetual motion.  There are gadgets and gizmos, and bobble heads and Big Bang Theory figurines -- all of which generate connections with students. 

Besides, all these things make me smile when I think about them -- mostly because I recall a connection, a twinkle in an eye, or a giggle shared with a student - or two.  Sure, they're chachkees, but I prefer to call them memory makers.  And you'd better believe I'm shopping this summer for something new and different.

Because we all need reasons to smile! 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Just Kwahlax.

Baring a major power outage in the Lancaster County area, this blog should receive its 30,000 hit sometime on Thursday, June 25th. (My assumption is that most of my regular readers dwell within a 10 mile radius of my school district.)   Given that the inception was September 1st, I'm marginally excited at the idea of this milestone.   I sort of wish that I could actually identify who the 30,000 visitor actually is so that I could toss confetti -- or, at the very least, interview that individual about their motivation for reading this at all.  (With my luck, it would be someone visiting for the first time, which would offer no fodder or inspiration for another blog topic...)

I continue to ask myself my magical reflection questions:

WHAT?               SO WHAT?           NOW WHAT?

Yes, I did just speak of this topic less than eight weeks ago -- May 4th, to be exact.  I've always been a groaner of K-W-L charts, and W/SW/NW accomplishes the same sort of reflection, but on a higher level.

So imagine my surprise when I discovered my friend in New Zealand talking about the 21st Century KWL -- and doing so with excitement.  Honestly, Justine is a smart lady, and has yet to steer me wrong, so I spent some time studying the proposed chart for consideration.  Truth be told, it was actually something that Justine tweeted, that was actually the work of Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, and she's obviously been thinking about this for a while now.  Her 2011 version was a KWHL chart, adding "HOW" to the "KNOW, WANT TO KNOW, LEARNED" columns that we all know and loathe.  The "HOW" offered a chance to consider the 21st century concept of Information Literacy, as students approached the task of learning.

But Silvia didn't stop there.  Instead, she's given us a tool worthy of reflective praise.  (And, heck, I'm reflecting on it AND praising it right here in my own blog, so I guess it's working with at least one educator -- two, if you also count Justine...).

Now it's a very simple K-W-H-L-A-Q.

If I can find a pronunciation for this acronym, my poor mother may actually stop reading this blog.  But hear me out.  (Or, rather, hear Silvia out...)

"The new visual (posted at the top of the blog entry) is intended to give teachers and students more choices of make their thinking and learning visible using the following platforms, activities, tools, Visible Thinking Routines as an option or starting off point. The suggestions include tools and platforms that are specifically suited to connect, collaborate, communicate and create, 21st century style, one's process and make it easier to amplify and to document4learning. The framework is based on:

REFLECTION being an integral part of the learning process
the understanding that through technology tools our access to INFORMATION has exponentially expanded as well
our ability to take ACTION beyond affecting people we are able to reach face to face
that technology tools allow us to express and communicate in OTHER FORMS of media beyond words and text"

Did you catch the key words?  Admittedly, there is a lot of good stuff there, but the "Visible Thinking Routines" are the focus of my passion for the new KWHLAQ.  That's got ME written all over it.

So, I say, "Kwahlax and think about what you're doing."  (See what I did there?  Kwahlax is the new KWHLAQ.  Now it's a verb.  And verbs are very good things, because I know that I am not the only one in ACTION in my classroom!) 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

School's OUT? for Summer

I spent "an hour" from 3 - 5:30 pm today with an educational guru working on designing a tool to help teachers planning and implementing curriculum.  How do I tell time, you ask?  Well, when educators are talking about education, time sort of stands still.

Kids in classrooms certainly understand the concept of frozen clock hands.  That's not what I'm talking about here.  This is the sort of conversation that you have with someone that seems to flow so easily that it is astonishing how quickly the hands on the clock spin.

This was my third educational meeting of the day - a day that is, technically, Day #14 of summer vacation.  Yes, we've been out of school two full weeks, and many of us are connecting or reconnecting, with our colleagues, administrators, and classrooms.  As I've mentioned before, this blog serves as a connection for me between the reality in my classroom and the fantasy that lives in my mind, constantly writing and re-writing lessons.  

Late last week, there was a list of things flying around Facebook that all teachers should do during the summer; included in the list was connecting with colleagues over lunch or coffee.  It's an intentional goal of mine to do this more regularly, and I've been blessed during the last two weeks to be invited by two colleagues with whom I don't regularly plan to just chat about education.  It's been a great experience....

And something for which my husband is eternally grateful, as non-educators like nothing less than listening to teachers conspire!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dweck it right.

To say that I am a fan of Carol Dweck and her mindset research is a severe understatement.  Honestly, I'm close to groupie on this one.  Maybe even a potential president of a fan club.  Go ahead, call me a nerd.

Last week, in an article in Schoolsweek.UK, Dweck attempted to clear up some misconceptions about her mindset theory.

“The thing that keeps me up at night is that some educators are turning mindset into the new self-esteem, which is to make kids feel good about any effort they put in, whether they learn or not.

“But for me the growth mindset is a tool for learning and improvement. It’s not just a vehicle for making children feel good.”

I totally get the "thing that keeps me up at night" scenario -- and I usually sleep very well.  There are nights, however, when all teachers awaken, or count students prior to sleeping, creating checklists in their minds of potential strategies to engage the unengageable.  We worry about success, we worry about failure, (not just theirs, but OURS, since student failure IS our failure these days...),  and we hope that the biting of our tongues and the hairy eyeballs staring down the unengaged in our classroom will offer a bit of motivation, or at least a work ethic that is marginally more identifiable than what previously existed.  

Too many of the professional development sessions, articles, and books written about student engagement focus more time on diagnosing student inattention or identifying a reason for lack of success, rather than providing concrete strategies to offer assistance.  In her own polite way, Dweck has summarized her goals quite nicely:

“It should not be used for the purposes of accountability – I’m highly opposed to that. We don’t care if people have it, we care if they use it to make people learn.” 

Are we spending too much time theorizing mindfulness and not enough time teaching it?  Absolutely.  

And if we let Carol Dweck down, who are we really short-changing? 


Sunday, June 21, 2015


It's tough, particularly in the summer, to try to delineate the specifics of the gifted "program" in my district.  Much like the lesson plan templates offered, and the CMAP portals, gifted isn't as much about PROGRAM as it is about a PLAN.  This probably sounds like a linguistic splitting of hairs, but anyone with an identified gifted child knows that there is something unique and quirky about each one, implying that a PROGRAM could do little more than set up an additional set of hamster wheels in the obstacle course known as education.  

The reason gifted kids need gifted labels is not to access a secret society or program.  They need them so that trained professionals can work collaboratively with a team of other trained people, including the student and his or her parents, to design a PLAN that will meet the unique needs of that student.

That might sound like a textbook answer, but it is true.  There has to be flexibility, not only in the planning, but in the implementing of the plan.

There may be those who are frustrated to see a student set forth on a path to complete a self-designed goal, only to abandon that goal to start something else.  (Also known as, "Oh, look, a Squirrel! Syndrome.)  The question I've been asking myself a lot lately is whether we are allowing enough soak time for kids to reflect and see whether their passion is truly a passion, and whether a bit of guidance might help them find their way down a path to greatness.  After the last two years, I've decided that kids who abandon projects because they were not something desirable after a period of time, should be encouraged to do so.

Yes, my idea for the spine of a gifted "PROGRAM" is to encourage students' individuality and passion pursuit, by encouraging them to think, deeply, about abandoning projects instead of finishing them, if they've lost the passion.  The basis of gifted education should begin -- and end -- with student reflection.

It doesn't fit a model.  It's tough to write the curriculum.  It's very organic, and very confusing to anyone who has never actually reflected upon why something hasn't succeeded.  

Oh, and its permission-giving.

Stay tuned for the formatting, because it's finally starting to percolate to the surface!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The pits.

My partner in gifted crime, Sarah, and I have four rules to keep us sane in Gifted Land:

1.  Don't try to make sense of education.
2.  Don't fall of the ledge into the pit of despair.
3.  There's a mattress on fire under a bridge in Boston.
4.  Sarah has a baby. (okay, now she's 2 1/2, but still....)

Honestly, the four rules have served us well -- there is at least one that applies to every single situation.  Rules one and two help us frequently, and Rule 3 was adopted after the statement was made to us as a legitimate excuse for our inability to access our online GIEP writing program several years ago.  Rule 4, well, it just helps us make sure that Sarah doesn't overbook herself after school and on the weekends. 

Certainly there are days when we are all teetering on the ledge, staring at an abyss, and it helps to know that not only is the rule in place, but there's a partner in crime to verbalize it when one of us is too frustrated to realize we're on the ledge.

Climb out of the learning pit.

Today I discovered a brilliantly-written piece at Edweek by Peter DeWitt.  Certainly, we've all felt a sense of accomplishment while assembling something challenging -- DeWitt cites the wonders of IKEA products as an example.  The idea of fostering a sense of pride in such an accomplishment with students, while allowing them to struggle as part of the process seems unkind to some, yet engages others at a level beyond the norm.

James Nottingham, the father of the Learning Pit, talks in great detail about the idea of Cognitive Conflict -- the idea of multiple ideas that conflict with each other, causing kids (or anyone with a brain!) to explore the concepts in greater depth, all the while trying to make greater sense out of the conflict that exists.

From conflict comes resolution, and resolution that instills pride in the resolver is the greatest thrill of all.

I just may rename my classroom THE PIT.  (Although I will have to reassure Sarah that it is a LEARNING PIT, and not a pit of Despair!)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Extracurricular Bonding Time...

Another graduation party this evening, filled with laughter and old friends.  It's interesting to watch the change in kids from one year to another -- TOGs are lucky that way -- seeing the shy become brave, and the outspoken suddenly become a bit less so, realizing that the introverts actually DO have something to say, even if they don't seem to say anything very often.

It's difficult to understand or predict the perfect "mix" of activities and curriculum for any single gifted kid, but it's pretty universally expected that a large portion of the music kids are also identified as gifted and talented.   It is not uncommon for me to actively recruit or suggest kids who are quiet or uninvolved in anything beyond academics in junior high to consider joining the marching band.

This is particularly bizarre to the parents of violists and players of other string instruments, but the marching band is so welcoming in our district that there appears to be a place for everyone.  (String players have gone on to learn "pit" parts, or joining the band front.)   The more important thing, though, is that six or seven years after joining the marching band, those same kids will sit at a graduation party on a Friday night, swapping stories, and marveling about the perceptions they had of students much younger or older than they were, when last they played.

The assumption is that the characteristics of freshmen don't change as they grow older.  (Or at least that's what the seniors think, as they graduate, leaving underclassmen behind.)  Those of us left on the front lines get to see the maturation process, and see students find their confidence, voice, or backbones, becoming the "feared" seniors to their own set of underclassmen.

Every single high school kid needs to find two things:  a teacher who has their back, and a group of friends that will be friends forever.  For me, that group of friends marched in perfect step and won the state championship one year, and  have stayed in step, minus the white bucks and black boots, ever since.  Tonight's graduation party for Zach was no different.  Band stories brought everyone together with an inextricable bond that can only be understood by the inner circle of band geeks.

I'm sure that similar connections are made in other social groups in other extracurricular activities.  At least I hope so.  Because TWO THINGS are all it takes to create memories that span a lifetime, when it comes to high school.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Error establishing a database connection

Today was awards day for the national National History Day competition.  I attempted to sign on to the nhd.org website to watch the live videostream of the awards ceremony, and was greeted with a less than satisfactory message.

"Error establishing a database connection."

Honestly, it made me laugh, because my first thought was "I KNOW that Jenna used databases during her research!"

There is a certain satisfaction, though, that the website of this national organization was overwhelmed with hits, to the point that it failed.  That means that people all over the world (yes, world -- Guatamala, Korea, American Samoa, Guam, China, were all represented...), were logging on in support of their own "Jennas", hoping for a glimpse, or, even better, a walk across the stage.

Although I was, eventually, able to get connected, for Jenna, there was no calling of her name.  And guess what?  It doesn't matter at all.  This isn't at all about the "It is an honor to be nominated" philosophy -- it truly is much more about the journey.  The trial and error.  The continuing revision to the project after Regional, and then State level, competitions.  And then the fun of spending a few days near the nation's capital with her mentor, Liz Lewis, touring many historic places, and learning well into the days following her high school graduation.

Starting tomorrow, Jenna, and many other senior NHD competitors, will wake up as students with new labels.  They have completed their high school duties, and are now officially college freshmen.

As one judge pointed out, each and every one of them has a tremendous resource in their pocket -- a comprehensive study of a topic of passion, owned by them.  College -- and life, for that matter -- is not about reinventing the wheel.  

It's about continuing to attempt to reload that database in your mind, and produce thoughtful, insightful, quality perspective to demonstrate competency -- or continue the conversation.

Congratulations to each and every NHD competitor - from the regional to national levels.  And colleges, beware; these kids are ready to challenge you on an unparalleled level of excellence.

Especially that kid from Donegal, Pennsylvania, who now claims Bridgewater as her school.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015


I spent part of today with my four year old grandson, who creates words of wonder.  By that I mean he uses words, and his Aunt Kristin and I wonder what he's really talking about.  This is not unusual for preschoolers -- especially for preschoolers who are trying to match adults in conversation word for word.  Let me tell you, he holds his own!

On the list today, in addition to securing more "Magic Tree House" books for mommy to read at bedtime, were some modifications to the red cape, and a zipper fix on the backpack.  Santa had delivered the red, yellow, and black capes at Christmastime, and they were quite well-received until Max visited with a red cape with a lightning bolt on it.

So Saturday, we added a lightning bolt to Carter's red cape. Today, the request for a circle, green in color, around the lightning bolt.

We know what we want, and exactly what we need to make things that much more exciting.  This does not just apply to four year olds.  I know this, because I am nearly 50 years older than Carter, and I, too, identify tweaks that can be made to make things "a little more perfect."  And those tweaks create a whole new energy and level of engagement for me, while working with something that has been around for a while.

So my word for this?  Renthusiasm.

Renthusiasm is that deep joy individuals feel when they rediscover, or tweak, something that has become humdrum.  I've been working on revising curriculum for the fall, and am absolutely oozing with renthusiasm for Edward Debono and his Six Thinking Hats.  I'm gushing over the work of the Disney Imagineers, as I consider how their work fits in to the concept of student reflection.  And I'm actually waking up at night trying to decide whether the new chairs I'm planning for my classroom should be Donegal Proud green, or whether a more relaxed mismatched set allows for greater boosts of imagination and student engagement.

In keeping with my REST plan, I'm also renthused after finding some UFOs (Unfinished Objects) in my sewing room that are now destined for someone new.

My summer is rich and full.  Full of REST and Renthusiasm.  I hope yours is as well!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

120 Miles Each Way.

June 6, 2015.  The Salutatorian congratulated by two of her biggest NHD fans.
We entered the room at the University of Maryland at precisely 2:15. We were the entourage;  mother, father, sister, great-aunt, grandmother, NHD coach, 2 former teachers, and a principal, all there in support of the achievement of one of our own.  It's the big time, national stage competition for National History Day, and Jenna was there to represent Donegal High School and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in the Individual Website category with her project on Clarence Jordan.  The judges raised some eyebrows as they greeted us in the hallway; apparently unaware of the power of a single enthusiastic student and her project, drawing in so many near and dear to her.

But, as I've said before, this is the power of Project Based Learning in general, and National History Day in particular.  Since September -- and probably before that -- Jenna has been affected on a deeply personal level by the work of Jordan, the founder of Koinoina Farm and father of Habitat for Humanity.  She visited the farm during a missions trip a couple of years ago, and never really shook the dust of the place off her feet.

Her research took her deep into the Cotton Patch Gospel, written by Jordan, which is also widely read by former President Jimmy Carter.  Who, by the way, typed out a letter on his own typewriter in answer to a letter sent to him by Jenna last October.

The judges noticed that letter on her website, and were seriously impressed.  It was they who told those of us in attendance that this was an unusual letter, given that it was typed, and not generated by a computer response, as President Carter is known for typed responses.  

I wish I could tell you more about the competition, or regale you with tales of the exhibits.  The reality is we traveled today to support a single student who exudes excellence.  The exhibit hall was closed for judging.  We spent hours on the road, and traveled more than 250 miles in the process.  We watched a student masterfully answer questions from judges for 15 minutes, fighting back tears of pride, because it was entirely evident to everyone present that Jenna's life has been changed by the power of this project.

And ours as well.

Awards will be handed out on Thursday, and I will be watching the online video stream, hoping for one more celebration moment with the recent graduate.  But, as the judges reminded her, no matter what happens in this competition, she has this research, this connection, and this knowledge which will take her far into her future educational endeavors.

They're so right.  And they don't even KNOW that she changed her major from Physical Therapy to Peace Studies because of her research.   Those of us in the entourage know, and couldn't be more proud.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Positively Positive.

When my sister and I were kids, we went to visit the sister of our neighbor, while vacationing out west.  Her name was Penny Peirce, and she painted pottery.  Forty years later, the alliteration procured, provided, and practiced through the inspiration of Penny Pierce and her painted pottery comes up in conversation much more often than if she had been named Jane Doe -- or anything else lacking common consonants that rolled off the tongue. 

I was reminded of Penny again today, when my friend, Sandy, posted the quote to the left.  Of course, I had to investigate this Dodinsky guy.  (Or was it Dod in Sky?  Typo for Dad?  Is dad in heaven?  Oh, the questions....)  Fortunately for me, Google is cooperative and easily provided background for a wonderful collection of quotes and inspirations to allow anyone to be "Positively Positive."

Dodinsky is a blogger, who started writing to help others heal the wounds of life.  It evolved into something much larger, and he now has housewives in Pennsylvania quoting him, along with the likes of Ghandi and Gretchen Rubin. 

While I don't aspire to become a published author, I can certainly appreciate the value of being positively positive, as well as the need for memes that support that effort.  When I started this blog, on a dare from a colleague and friend, I never really considered the effect the constant reflection and writing would have on me.  Over the weekend, I was discussing this with a friend, and indicated that blogging, unlike journaling, forces positivity.  Certainly the last 260 ish days have not all been rainbows and unicorns.  If I had been journaling in a blank book next to my bed each evening, several things would or could have happened:

1.  The book would be blank, or close to blank.  Or contain very few words.
2.  The book would be full of doodles and single words or phrases -- I may have started writing in complete sentences, but lists would have soon taken over.
3.  There would be bad memories that would bring me down.

Yes, words can bring me down, no matter what Christina Aguilera may croon.  Journaling negativity would certainly beget further negativity. If I'd blogged negatively, I'd be further bothered by constant reminders from others supporting me in my time of dismay...  A constant cycle of "poor me" instead of Positively Positive.

Does life suck sometimes?  Sure.  Would recording the miserable parts let me put them behind me and move forward?  I am not of a mind to think so. 

Besides, there's nothing alliterative about terminal, or interminable, negativity.

I'm positively positive about that.

Sunday, June 14, 2015


"Children are extraordinary.  Each in their own way."  claims one website.  I've heard colleagues say things like "All kids are gifted at something."  Honestly, the identification as "Gifted" is not widely understood, nor is it a cause for celebration.  

It is simply a state of intellectual being.

Somewhere along the way, it became a competition. I know it started before the "My son is an honors student at ABC Elementary School" bumper stickers, although that did little to support the population, causing criticism, finger-pointing, and a lot of "SMH!" when the alleged "gifted" child failed to perform in a way society deemed to be appropriate.

I've ranted spoken before about the nay-sayers and critics of identifying/identified gifted students who shrug their shoulders - or worse- when a high-IQ individual performs less than expected.  It astounds me how many people have an opinion strong enough to weigh in on the topic, without really knowing anything about the intricacies of such a diagnosis. 

While I've encountered many adults who critique or criticize giftedness, I've never heard anyone who questioned a label (in public) of a learning support kid.  (Imagine - "How the heck can HE be learning support?  He seems SOOO NORMAL?"  "She doesn't need an IEP, she can make change without a calculator!")

Somehow, somewhere, the idea of a label of "Gifted" became something of a badge of honor, despite the fact that it often carries a social stigma, an entire quiver of frustration in the classroom, and often an emotional inferiority complex so paralyzing that kids fear answering a question incorrectly.

So why have the label at all, if it's that scarring a process for all involved?

Because it's a diagnosis that requires treatment.  Not in the medical sense of the word, but in the educational sense.  A student identified as high-ability is fabulous.  Any parent of a high-ability child should be applauded for the work ethic instilled in their child, and the level of performance and proficiency demonstrated.  Having said that, there is an entire additional population of kids identified as gifted who have intellectual potential that is untapped.  
So the label exists to call attention to the potential of the kid who will never call attention to himself in the classroom. Gifted Expert, Carol Bainbridge, wrote an interesting article for AboutParenting.com recently.  I loved her quote: 

"But gifted kids aren't like other kids, any more than evergreen trees are like all other trees. Gifted children are children, but the term "giftedness" tells us a great deal about those children who are assigned that label. We need to help others understand that label, not work to get rid of it."

If you're an educator, or a parent trying to understand why your kid is identified, or maybe NOT identified, as gifted, consider spending some time this summer learning a bit about this under-served, and often under-identified, population.  (You could start at the one-stop shopping site, http://www.hoagiesgifted.orghttp://www.hoagiesgifted.org)

Yes, all kids have gifts and talents.  But not all kids are gifted.  If they were, we wouldn't need the label.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Strawberry Jam

This evening was another party - this time for the Amazing Audrey.  It's so cool to realize how small the community is when the annual graduation parties begin to happen, as I realize how close everyone is, and how many common interests gifted kids seem to have.  I've spent the last two graduation parties chatting with the long distance running coach, who shares many of my kids.

So yes, common interests.  Case in point - running.  Now, honestly, if you were to see me running, you should look very carefully behind me to see what is chasing me, because it is not something I do, or even should do, given my bionic knee.  But many gifted kids are members of both the cross country and track teams, and use their time on those teams to think, share ideas, and well, sort their lives out.  Some of these kids are incredible extroverts, while others are incredibly quiet.

Two years ago, Audrey, and her two friends, Michaela and Jenna, formed their very own small "band" as part of their TDO.  They called themselves Strawberry Jam - using the initials from their names to create the name -- and they "Jammed" once a cycle in a practice room in the music wing, each focusing a bit on an instrument that they wanted to become a bit more proficient at playing.  With two of the three band members claiming the title of INTROVERT, I truly wondered about the long-term success of their plan.

Of course they did an admirable job.  Why would I expect any less than perfection from three girls who have perfection goals as part of their genetic makeup?  But more than that, they solidified an already solid bond of friendship that will follow them to the far-reaching corners of Bridgewater College, William and Mary, and Williams, when they head off to college in the fall.

When I see friendships like these, I flash back to 1979, and my own graduation.  My mother point blank said that I'd find other friends in college, and leave behind the high school friends.  Now, honestly, my mother is rarely wrong, but she was certainly mistaken on this count.  The core group has hung together, cried together, laughed together, baptized and married children together, and has already stood graveside mourning the loss of one of us. 

Last weekend, I celebrated with Mary, as her daughter, Rosemary was married.  While at the wedding, we solidified the plans for a high school girls' getaway weekend this fall.  Today, I received notice of the recipient of the scholarship named for Amy, our friend who succumbed to appendix cancer 14 months ago.  Facebook has reconnected many of my group of high school friends, closing gaps in both time and distance.
High school roots go deep, and those friendships are there for a lifetime, if you choose to make it so.  I suspect that while Audrey's running and training with the ROTC at William and Mary, she'll think about Michaela and Jenna, and that Jenna will smile and send a text when she grabs toast in the  dining hall at Bridgewater, spreading some strawberry jam.  Michaela will realize that even though she's an only child, she has sisters at her beck and call.  

Because teachers can think they know what happens between friends, but the reality is that all we really know is that we pray that our students find friends in high school that will carry memories, smiles, tears, and music, to the far reaches of their lives, and when they come back together, they'll talk as if they hadn't talked since yesterday.

Because that's what friends do.  Whether they're in a JAM or not!


Friday, June 12, 2015

It's okay to be irrationally crazy.

One of the cool things about intentionally following educational resources on social media is the discovery of legitimate theories that I can totally embrace, all the while wondering why I've never heard of the theorist before.  Urie Bronfenbrenner is such a theorist.

Granted, he was Russian, and many Russian surnames are light years more complicated than American or European surnames, but it does seem that the challenge of learning to spell BRONFENBRENNER in kindergarten already gave him a distinct advantage in the persistence and learning focus departments.  (Face it, learning to spell your name in kindergarten is a big deal.  And, if you're like my son Benjamin, when you get to first grade and realize that teachers will accept nicknames on papers, shortening your name to BEN for all eternity seems like an unfair shortcut that kids like Amy and Eve have been taking for years!)

Anyway, Bronfenbrenner's theory significantly compartmentalizes the various intricacies of environment on learners.  The microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and macrosystem influences described help to support and define the success (or lack thereof) of a student.

Starting at the innermost circle, the microsystem is those closest to the child. The mesosystem is the interaction between the microsystem and the larger influences, for example, the larger group of people who may be involved in the child's care or education.  The exosystem is the larger influence on the child -- perhaps the influences of a parent's job requiring time away, or affecting the financial support of the child due to injury or loss of job, and the macrosystem is the even larger society as a whole that may influence the child through regulations and laws, including Children and Youth Services, etc.

Many adults might be surprised if they were to examine the neediness of students today.   Many of those adults are politicians, attempting to compare school today to the school they remember from their youth.  The reality is that yes, there were single-parent families in the past.  There were kids who struggled financially, and there were "latchkey" kids who had little supervision.  

But classrooms today are so much more complex.  As teachers, we are often surprised by the situations of our kids.  Some parents maintain constant contact, allowing the school system to know when their child is ill, or emotionally stressed due to the illness or death of a family member.  

One day this past school year, one of my students posted a thank you for a bag of groceries  left anonymously on her front step.  I was devastated at the thought that I hadn't recognized a hungry child. There are many kids, with many needs, and even more that are unnoticed.  There are mental and physical illnesses, environmental stresses, financial stresses, and social stresses, including cyberbullying and plain old bullying.

Teachers keep granola bars in their desks for hungry kids, and real, quality tissues in their closets for the kids with raw noses.  Teachers have a stack of book covers and extra pencils, to help when mom wasn't home to help.  Teachers have small blankets in their closets for chilly kids, and work to make sure that everyone is celebrated for excellence in someone.

Teaching has changed, dramatically, in the last ten years.  Heck, in the last three years.  And while some politicians are pointing fingers at teachers for a lack of student achievement, they certainly aren't comparing apples to apples, and they certainly aren't aware of the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner.  If they were, they'd be working on fixing the systems surrounding the students, so that every single one of those systems hugs the child in a way that supports and encourages them, from macro to micro. 

Meanwhile, our jobs are to make sure that every kid in school has at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her.  

Urie Bronfenbrenner provided the science to prove the need.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


REST.  An acronym being touted as the safest way for 21st century learners to spend the summer online.  

Remain Cautious
Express Positivity
Stay Active
Tell Someone.

The folks at Edutopia are hoping that parents will speak with their kids about the importance of REST.  Too many of us fail to REST in the summer, because life is so darned carefree compared to the schedules we keep during the school year.

Certainly the online REST is as important for teachers as it is for students in the summer.  With no alarm clock and relatively unscheduled days, it would be easy to Remain asleep, Eat whatever I want, Sit on my bum and vegetate in front of the TV.  The weird thing is, I actually seem to feel more happy when there is some structure and sense of accomplishment to my life.  

During the school year, I have a planbook and calendar full of proof of my worth.  Not so much in the summer.  So this year I'm REST ing.

Reminding myself to exercise (with a pact made with my accountability neighbor, Sharon)
Expressing myself creatively (aka spending at least 30 minutes a day in the sewing room)
Shaping my upcoming school year starting in June instead of August, outlining the semesters including themes and bulletin boards.
Thanking those in my life for the roles that they play in supporting me throughout the school year.  

Yes, I'm resting.  I'm not comatose.  And this rest, if I stick to it, will make next year much more sweet.

So what are your REST plans this summer?