Friday, July 31, 2015


This afternoon, I followed my husband down the road toward our home.  He crept along at 23 miles an hour in a 40 MPH zone, and I found myself repeatedly hitting my brakes to avoid a collision.  The more I tapped my brakes to slow my vehicle, the more slowly he seemed to be driving.  

No, Bruce isn't a timid driver.  It was the vehicle in front of him that was causing both of us frustration at the pace of all three vehicles.  I can only assume that the pace car leading our parade was driven by either a brand new student driver, or someone elderly and frightened.  Suffice it to say, I would imagine that the three vehicles ALL contained drivers experiencing some level of frustration.

Put the Pedal to the Metal.

Feelings similar to mine on the  road this afternoon are experienced every single day by high ability and gifted students.  It's been happening for years, but really reached an overwhelming plateau since NCLB.  Administrators are unwilling to consider acceleration of subjects or grades, fearing that the gifted kids will be (gasp!) LEFT BEHIND.   (Guess what, folks?  They already ARE!)

There's a great article entitled "Why are American schools slowing down so many bright students?"   The article highlights the most comprehensive research done on the topic of acceleration in the last 10 years, and it's important to note that  acceleration is not just skipping a grade (or two...).  The entire report, A NATION EMPOWERED, can be downloaded for free here.
 In my sixteen years as a TOG, I've been involved in about a dozen full-grade accelerations, and literally hundreds of compacting or challenging coursework, and independent studies with students from 1st - 12th grade.   The IOWA Acceleration Scale is a particularly useful took for determining potential success of an acceleration, and consideration should also be given to students with high ability athletic skill.  (In Pennsylvania, PIAA eligibility is determined by GRADE, not by age, which could cause a student a year on the bench, come sophomore year in high school, too "old" for the junior high team and not mature enough physically for the high school team.)

With the right level of support, and consideration for the whole child, acceleration can be the key to driving home at a speed that allows the wind to blow in the sunroof, with a smile on your face.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Deep Breaths.

My students hear me say it all the time;  "Just breathe."  Getting anxious about impending work, school, or letting yourself settle in to a feelings of overwhelming inadequacy does nothing to help the situation.  Take a step back, prioritize, and B-R-E-A-T-H-E.

BUT AUGUST BEGINS IN 31 hours!  (Not that I'm counting...) And every teacher knows that August 1st is pretty much the official start of the school year, no matter what the school district says.  I have friends who swear by googlecalendar (my personal preference), others who need the color-coordinated/highlighted month by month scholastic calendar, some who map everything on a giant desk-blotter calendar, and still others who write in miniscule letters, attempting to list everything on the calendar provided by the school district, which also lists all of the in-service days and holidays for students and teachers.  

I'm not sure that I'm ready -- at least in the alarm department.  I've been alarm-free since June 8th, and it accidentally went off on Sunday morning, confusing me out of a sound sleep, convinced that it was the dehumidifier insisting that it be emptied.  You know it's been a while when the last thing considered for the mysterious beeping at 6 am is the CLOCK.

The boxes are starting to arrive in the office, marked with teachers' last names in fat sharpie marker on the sides.  The "official welcome back" letters arrived via email this week from both the superintendent and principal. We're sporadically dealing with schedule adjustments, new students, and scheduling late August GIEP meetings with parents.  We know it's coming...

The gears may require a bit of oil to be fully functioning by August 24th, but they'll be humming just fine when students walk through the doors on the 26th.    The balance is the key, I keep telling myself.  Get something done for school, treat yourself to dinner with a friend.  Get something done for school, get one more chore done at home.  Get something done for school, clean out the trunk of the car and start loading all the bargains headed for school in there -- making room in closets in the house.  Connect with family, connect with friends, BREATHE.

And, occasionally, get a tad excited -- to the point that it's difficult to fall asleep -- and set the alarm.  Just for practice.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Two thirds of the way through most summers, I start to feel like I am wearing the same thing every single day.  This is okay, because my family rarely notices the repetition in my wardrobe, and I'm okay with the temporary nature of summer shirts -- they get washed frequently, and they often fall victim to stains from drippy fruits, eating on the run, and, well, you get the idea.  So last week when the new Gabriel Brothers opened in Lancaster, I splurged ($4 a piece!) on three bright shirts.

Today, I had a meeting at the high school, and decided to break out my "decent" clothes, so I put on the lime green shirt -- actually blew my hair dry, put makeup on, and even remembered to glam up with rings and earrings.  I was out in public for a total of more than five hours.

And not one single person, until my husband noticed it when he got home, pointed out the size label sticker on the front of my shirt.   Did nobody else notice?  Or has the entire town just chalked me up to being that eccentric?

When I reflected upon this phenomenon, I realized that I could chalk it up, once again, to the amazingness of small-town Lancaster County living, where very few people impose -- or recognize -- labels.


It may seem odd that a Teacher of the Gifted, who requires a specific caseload of students identified as gifted to justify her employment, would suggest that labels seem to hold little value in her community.  I graduated from a high school nearly 100 miles away from where I live now, with nearly 1000 other students in my graduating class.  There were plenty of the usual subsets:  BandGeeks, Jocks, Brainiacs, Thespians, Nerds, Potheads -- the list went on and on.  The subsets defined themselves by who they ate lunch with, and the participants rarely transcended one group into another.  

The same can not be said for my current high school.  I marvel at the seamless transitions of field hockey players rushing off to Student Council, soccer players changing clothes in the back of a minivan on the way to a marching band performance, and quizbowl contestants working to perfect an AP Studio Art project in the studio after school.  Is it because there aren't enough kids to fill all the spaces necessary to make a high school hum?  Hardly.   Is it the newly-defined 21st Century school?  I doubt it.

I'd like to think it has something to do with the overwhelming bombardment of anti-bullying, social awareness, and transparent nature of the techno-social-media society in which these kids live.

Or maybe I really do live in Mount Joy -- originally named for a ship that broke through a river blockade in Ireland in 1688, that has broken through its own blockade of critical labeling and now celebrated as a place where happiness transcends labels. 

My wish is for this same magic to transcend other high schools as well!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Snarkiness for creativity.

My colleague and friend, Heidi, often uses the word "snarky."  I love when she does this, primarily because it makes my day a bit more enjoyable, as it's one of those words that doesn't get the recognition that it deserves.  ("Cheeky" is also a favorite -- maybe I'm a closet Anglophile...)  I've been doing a lot of reading on fostering and teaching creativity, and was very excited when I saw a picture and caption that immediately brought Heidi's SNARK to mind:  "Sarcasm is Good for Creativity."

Who knew that there is such a publication as Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes?  More importantly, how can we not be subscribers?  The July issue shares the sarcasm study, with some surprising findings.  The entire article can be found here.  Meanwhile, here are the highlights:

•Sarcasm is an instigator of conflict but also a catalyst for creativity.
•General forms of sarcasm promote creativity through abstract thinking for both expressers and recipients.
•Expressing sarcasm to or receiving sarcasm from trusted others increases creativity without elevating conflict.
•We manipulated sarcasm via a simulated conversation task and a recall task.
•We employed three different creativity measures and a well-established measure of abstract thinking.

If you think about it, thinking about any snarky statement made to you requires tapping in to a different part of your brain to process what your colleague, friend, or the dude at Starbucks, actually said.  And, apparently, the gaffaw over your shoulder at said speaker is your only defense to indicate that you are highly intelligent, and GOT THE SNARK.

I'm not sure this is license to insult, but anything that causes deeper thinking is certainly worth a try - or two! 


Monday, July 27, 2015

Social (Consciousness) Media

Often, inspiration for something comes from someone else.  A fair statement, correct?  If you answered NO, I refer you to the thousands of ice cubes dumped over countless heads in the name of ALS awareness during the Ice Bucket Challenge craze of last summer. I know the world seems like a cruel and crazy place a lot of the time, but it does seem like people will certainly step up, when invited by a friend.

 A couple of weeks ago, I casually mentioned on Facebook that my shopaholic friends could get their retail rush by perusing the ads and filling a backpack for a needy child, and offered to collect and distribute those offerings.   Shortly after that, my Dear Relative mentioned on her blog about the need for small dresses for children in Africa.  

It took probably as long to make three small "pillowcase" dresses for Africa as it did for Nancy to fill the backpack, and today we met for lunch, exchanging our offerings, each appreciating the efforts of the other for causes close to our hearts.

This evening, I found out that another friend is attempting to raise $1200 for tuition for two young girls in Ghana, rescuing them from an abusive situation.  Social media may very well raise that figure multiple times over, simply by telling the story.

In the fall, I will once again be charged with teaching about the dangers of the internet.  I'm wondering tonight how to responsibly teach the idea of social consciousness, allowing freshmen to see the possibilities of good instead of evil in this crazy interweb that is the voice for the "real world" in the twenty-first century.

Because there are hundreds of girls in Africa -- many with new pretty dresses -- who will be needing backpacks of school supplies, if we're all successful in our missions.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A breath of fresh air.

My "Fresh Air" kid, Amy,  just left.  Now don't argue that at 43, she's not a kid, because she had that same wonder and sense of excitement in her eyes as we explored Lancaster County for four days.  During her time here, she celebrated sunsets, commented on the lush farmland, squealed at the sight of baby ducks and goats, and consumed a soft pretzel from the oldest pretzel bakery in the United States.  Okay, so we didn't chase fireflies or make s'mores -- we have a more sophisticated appetite.  We explored the Quilt Odyssey quilt show with former student, Alexis -- now a fiber enthusiast.  We went to the Lititz Village Art Association's Outdoor Fine Art Show,  perusing the vendors, admiring their use of color and imagery.  We explored Central Market, dined at Annie Bailey's, and wandered Lancaster City.  We went to a small community theater and saw their production of Into the Woods.  And on at least three occasions during her visit, Amy commented about how laid back and wonderful my life is, and how this was the perfect escape from her corporate engineering job in Texas.

At some point, I started feeling a bit guilty -- and maybe other teachers feel the same way -- summer break is more than half over, and the gearing up for fall is happening, mostly in my mind.  I have bags of school supplies, bought on sale, in the back of my car, waiting for the wax to dry in the hallways so I can get back in my classroom and start creating the new year.  Summer break is exactly that -- a break from reality.  A fresh air experience for teachers everywhere, generating that same sense of celebration and astonishment that we hope to ignite in our students in the fall.  But for this long weekend, I had the luxury of putting aside the school planning, and forgetting about demands, and being a tourist in my own town.
And you know what?  When there is nothing urgent demanding your work-brain, being in the moment, wandering in a beautiful park on a Saturday afternoon with good friends, fresh Wilbur Buds, and a hot from the brick oven pretzel, it's very easy to understand why anyone stopping by and living my life would see my world as a breath of fresh air.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Five Months, and counting - backward.

Christmas in July.  An unusual concept, if you think about it, yet it's been around for years.   Back in the day when my kids were small, I taught in a local quilting shop, and July was the month that the Christmas fabrics were arriving in shops, allowing for plenty of time to create those holiday gifts.  So in the hottest part of the summer, the Christmas carols would play, cookies would be served, and the patterns and samples would surround the shop.

Now, it seems, Christmas in July is everywhere.  Hallmark offers seasonal (or anti-seasonal?) movies for the month, the new ornaments are released, and the fine folks at Mad Elf re-released their special Christmas brew.   Face it, would you really roast chestnuts over an open fire in December?   It's the perfect accompanying activity for the anti-smores crowd.

Yes, today is five months until Christmas.  (As if you needed to be reminded.)   


For teachers, thinking about Christmas in July is no different than dreaming about summer vacation in January.  It has nothing to do with the fact that Christmas is the next time that there is a break of time worthy of not writing lesson plans -- and everything to do with the official beginning of the next school year.  It's the ongoing mentality of teachers to be projecting their focus into the next significant event.  July 1st is the official Happy New Year date, when the new school year "officially" begins and the purchase orders can be officially processed.  

If you've ever been overwhelmed by the boxes at holiday time, avoid the school office at all costs during the month of July!  (And God bless them, every one -- the secretaries who inventory every single pencil and gizmo against the purchase orders, before releasing the precious new cargo to teachers, anxiously awaiting supplies.)

So yes, it's July, and I'm celebrating Christmas.  I've bought a few gifts to tuck away for my family, I've watched a few movies celebrating the magic that happens in December, and most excitedly, I've started to formulate designs for bulletin boards and room arrangement areas to make the holidays school year magical.

I believe in the magic of Christmas.  Even in July.

Friday, July 24, 2015

And the decree came down: "BE CREATIVE."

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

We've seen the triangle of arrows, we understand the need to save the planet.  How much do we do to truly embody this challenge?  I often purge seemingly useless stuff, just for the satisfaction of having gotten clutter out of a drawer, shelf, or the trunk of my car.  Today I realized that I've been going at this all wrong.

All thanks to Ellen.  Remember my lunch a few weeks ago with the Entrepreneurial Lunch Partners?   During that lunch, Ellen casually mentioned a reuse-it shop for creative people in Lancaster.  Somehow, the existence of this place escaped me, and today was the day to check it out.

I deem it to be darned close to heaven for the thrifty creative person.  (And I don't just say that because of the five pairs of white-feathered angel wings I purchased for some church drama in the future...).  Lancaster Creative Reuse looks a bit like my craft closet.  Collections of partially finished craft projects, assorted threads, trims, paper, tools, and a bunch of unknown stuff, until you know exactly what it is -- if you know what I mean.  And if you're a crafty sort, you know.  It's that tiny piece of metal that nobody knows what it is until it is the exact thing you need to finish your watchamajig.

 It's about creativity.

But what to my wondering eyes did appear?  A miniature bag, and eight, no six.... (wait for it...)  HATS!  Seriously.  A look of total disbelief crossed my face as I discovered a zippered bag containing six satin hats, from the Edward de Bono collection.    Edward de Bono, an internationally known leading authority in the field of creative thinking, innovation, and the direct teaching of thinking as a skill.   (Sound like the curriculum for Themes in Literature 2015-2016?  YOU BET!)  I was beyond thrilled, and happily forked over the cost of the hats -- which was a mere 90% off the online price.

I've used de Bono's Six Thinking Hats theory for years, and have a friend who actually used it in industry as a means for controlled brainstorming.  The many people shopping at the Reuse it today were clearly employing the strategies of the Hats, because they're creative, and the skills of the hats are now second nature to them.

If you aren't a creative person, well, you're missing out.  Honestly, everyone is -- you/they just don't know it.  Pick up a pencil or pen.  Doodle a bit.  Heck, put pepperoni on a pizza in the shape of a smiley face.  It will be the start of something new for you, and it will make someone else smile.  (Which is the hidden secret reward of creativity, after all.)

And if you buy some supplies and the craft you've taken up doesn't float your boat, I know a place that will take your donation off your hands, in exchange for a lovely tax deduction.  So what do you have to lose?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The very first time?

The cool thing about teaching high school is the amazing students that graduate and assume a new title of friend.  Today was one of those days, where I was thrilled to be surrounded by old and new friends.  The day officially began with breakfast with a recent graduate, working to identify the next step in her life.  

Honestly, I've known this kid for a few years now, but had never talked, at length, one on one with her.  She is poised, focused, and determined.  She's grown years in maturity, in the two months since graduation.  She has a kind and gentle heart, and has an open mind that is searching for the next adventure.  What a wonderful start to the day!

Some quick texting to another former student, and a play date was scheduled to introduce Alexis to the wonders of her very first quilt show.  Alexis started playing with fiber arts as part of her TDO during her senior year, and spent last summer at the ADAA conference as a result of that experience. My friend, Amy, was coming in from Texas, and Alexis had interned for her at the conference last year.

Viewing the quilt show through the very-first-quilt-show eyes of Alexis, reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother after her first exhibit experience.  It is so cool to see things from a different perspective.  While I am looking for perfect stitches, or colors that appeal to me, Alexis, the AP Art student, was commenting on texture, and color, and design.  It was invigorating to see the show through the eyes of someone looking at something for the very first time, because it took me right back to that same feeling.

As I write this evening, Alexis is at home playing with fabric, and contemplating the possibility of entering her own piece in a quilt challenge a year from now.  Amy is dabbling in my dining room, as she works to complete an index card design for today.  (See the photo above for the cool stuff she does!)

As we were talking about her card a day project, destined for 61 days, I reminded her of a blog that I was going to write for 30 days.  That was 326 days ago.  Not that anyone is counting.

So this weekend, grab someone and take them someplace that you frequent, and view that place, or that experience, through the eyes of someone else.  It will be like you're experiencing that very passion for the very first time, all over again.  And you'll make a new friend in the process.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mother of the Year, in my book...

About ten years ago, I attended the funeral of a dear woman from my church who had never married.  At some point, she had adopted the role of surrogate grandmother to my son, Ben, and kept that relationship with him until she passed away.  It was a comfortable arrangement -- she sent notes of encouragement, cards for significant events, and went out of her way to speak to him every Sunday at church.  She entertained us in her home, and genuinely enjoyed sharing her expertise in jigsaw puzzles and proper conversation.  

Miss Anne, as we all called her, was never married, yet she spoke, lovingly, of her many children.  You see, she was a teacher -- for more than forty years -- and every single child that had been in her classroom became one of her own.  

Several years after become acquainted with Miss Anne, and her passion for "her kids," I served on a committee to choose the church's "Mother of the Year."  I was pretty adamant that she, more than any biological mother, deserved consideration, but was overruled by the committee, because, well, "that's not the way we've ever done it before."    

I was the only teacher on the committee, so I guess the rest of them just didn't understand the true connection between teachers and students.  They really are OUR kids, and in our hearts, they're there for life.

"I've Graduated, Now Nobody Knows Me."

I jokingly tell former students who ask me if they can use me as a reference for a summer job -- or beyond -- after graduation, that they are welcome to use me as a reference, as long as they stay out of the police blotter.  So many freshmen go off to college, and fail to develop meaningful relationships with professors and advisers during their first year, leaving them feeling fairly stranded when it comes to character references.  In one case, I provided a reference for a former student from more than ten years ago -- for some sort of government security clearance.  (I'm just hoping he'll get a peak at my FBI file at some point and let me know what's in it!)  

Yes, Teachers of the Gifted (TOG) write and complete many references and letters of recommendations.  Since the last day of school, I've completed more than a dozen -- two for former student teachers, six for summer jobs, one for a college application, and seven for scholarships.  It isn't really possible to "only recommend the best kids," because, quite frankly, they ARE the best kids!

As I've spoken to parents this summer about scheduling issues, injuries, homesickness, and other college remorse issues, I feel their pain, almost as deeply as they do, because they've shared their children with me for years, and a part of them lives in my heart as well.

I'm not alone in this, and I know it isn't a new phenomenon.  I learned from Miss Anne, Mother of the Year, to hundreds of children, who never had the benefit of computer files.  The thought of writing letters of recommendation on typewriters, from a file of onion skinned carbons, is almost incomprehensible to me.  Teachers all over the world have a Miss Anne in their lives who served as a mentor, passing the trend of holding students in our hearts from generation to generation.

And that's one aspect of education that should never be retired.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Elementary, dear Watson!"

I was reminded of the power of deductive reasoning yesterday when I was shopping with my daughter.  We both have a fascination with tiny things that others would consider to be entirely impractical, yet we tend to hold up the "cute little whisk" or the "tiny little spatula" and talk in a tiny voice to each other, filled with baby-talk excitement.  Yesterday, in addition to the miniature spatulas and whisks, we discovered the most adorable funnel.  Although I didn't buy it, it will be with me all year this year, in the form of some classroom art explaining the importance and process of deductive reasoning.

We've all heard of the power of deductive reasoning; especially when contemplating the mystery-solving brilliance of Sherlock Holmes.  Tons of facts, tons of false leads, and evidence and non-evidence to be sorted through, slowly accepting and rejecting the tiniest lead, until the ultimate answer is discovered.  It's a systematic process used in many careers -- and a skill that we don't spend enough time teaching students.  (Yet many professions use funnels as a metaphor or illustration for success!)

Consider the almighty funnel.  Entering the wide opining at the top, all sorts of information.  Consider the facts, let the kids decide what the causes and effects were to a given situation.  Watch the inquiry and discussion.  Watch the debate.  Guide them, a bit, but not too much!

Joshua Block, a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, uses this inquiry strategy frequently with his students.  (Read more about his class and work here.)  It's brain work.  It's collaboration and communication.  And it's engaging.  Oh, and the best part about funnel teaching?

It works both ways.

WHAT?  Yes.  Turn that funnel upside down, and introduce the concept of brainstorming.  Into the point of the funnel goes a single topic, and then the mind-whirling begins.  Idea after idea is generated.  Excitement ensues, and ownership follows excitement.    Once the pool is full of ideas, the funnel can be flipped again, with those involved working to solidify the best possible option.

Yes, simple funnels can serve as metaphors for both generating big ideas and whittling down to small solutions.

And they can also elicit baby-talking high voices in the housewares section of at least a few people I know -- including me.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Toolbox.

Mary Poppins has always brought a smile to my face.  What's not to like?  Dancing penguins, happy children, a bit of mystery, and putting the curmudgeony workaholic in his place.  

There are a fair number of days that I, too, feel a bit curmodgeonly,  especially when I feel as if I am re-doing the same tasks over and over, and getting nowhere in the process.   The concept is less prevalent in the summer, now that my children are grown, and only one is still in the house, so I am rinsing out the sinks and tossing loads of laundry in about 60 percent less often than I did ten years ago.  I've also convinced myself, somehow, that all of these chores should be done easily, done  right the first time, and let me move on with my day.  

One of my personal goals for the last couple of years is to consume 100 oz of water each day.  I drag around my 32 oz UCONN nalgene bottle, with the nifty splash guard, guzzling water like clockwork.  I was feeling really good about myself, and my water consumption progress, until one of my coworkers freaked me out with the idea that the water bottle needed to be washed waaaaay more often than I had considered.  I started taking it home on Fridays, putting it in the dishwasher, and was pretty disillusioned by the less than clear bottle.  Humpf.   Fast foward to two weeks ago, when I discovered this bottle brush.  Honestly, I actually become joyful with the amazing job this brush, and its two companions for straws and snap caps, does.  

It's a magical kind of joy.  The same kind of sense of amazement and wonder that we had when we first realized that Oxiclean would instantly take red wine out of a tablecloth -- and actually did our own science experiment at the dining room table after dining with friends.

Maybe this is a weird, nerdy obsession.

The Toolbox.

All of this gushing over shiny waterbottles got me thinking this morning, as I scrubbed the entire collection out to start the week: how many of the tools available to me in my classroom do I use effectively?  I'm told I can connect to my EPSON projector wirelessly, and walk around my room with my Lenovo YOGA, using the tablet to send signals to the projector.  I haven't bothered to do this, primarily because I use audio in almost every lesson, so it doesn't seem to make sense to disconnect and reconnect.  I have a file of resources on my desktop, that I don't access nearly enough, when searching for ideas to activate or summarize lessons.

Ainissa Ramirez mused on this very topic in her Edutopia blog entry entitled "Our Tools Shape Us" last October.  Her toolbox analogy is beyond brilliant, as she comments on the integrated use of old school tools and technology.  Those of us in the over 50 crowd have to work a bit harder, as digital immigrants, trying to remember where we left our passports to success with the ever-changing face of technology.

And we still need to keep our eyes on our students at home, who may find success simply because somebody cared enough to wash their waterbottles and make the sides crystal clear.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Forming and Reforming...

It's supposed to be official tomorrow.  Yes, the three coats of wax on my classroom floor have dried, AND (I think), the hallway is also shiny and passable.  I am itching to get into my classroom and start mapping out my year.

Why can't I do this at home?  Primarily because I don't have enough blank wall space.  Certainly, computers aid in the planning, but there is something pretty liberating about creating lessons and curriculum on giant whiteboards, with the ability to take a big step back to get a broader view of the big picture.  Armed with my ipad or cellphone camera, I can sketch, plan, snap a picture, erase, shift, and all that good stuff, as the planning comes together.  

Different people plan differently, I suppose.  There are some very lateral thinkers among my colleagues -- many of whom have the benefit of a structured curriculum with a textbook containing logically sequential units.  My moderate use of technology in planning makes me old-school, I suppose, although there are tons of resources available to teachers online.  Edutopia recently listed some of their favorite resources in an article for "new" teachers.  This will be year 17 for me, and I was furiously copying and pasting web addresses for future use from this list.  (So teachers, check them out!) 

Almost a year ago, one of my favorite Mind/shift bloggers, Katrina Schwartz, wrote an article entitled "How Looking at Student Work Keeps Teachers and Kids on Track."   I've always been a proponent of an audience for all student work -- at least one that is more significant than an audience of one teacher -- and Katrina demonstrates significant impacts that can be generated by ongoing formative assessments of students while working on projects -- particularly by classmates.  One student commented:

“Every time that I look at someone else’s work, I learn about their way of thinking,” Iza said. She admits that at first she was offended when her peers pointed out flaws in her work, but she has come to see the process as a helpful way to improve. “I think that I also learn a lot about how it’s OK for people to help you out on your work,” Iza said.
Hmm.  Students mapping their progress, and serving as motivators and critics for others; it sounds so perfect.
“Looking at student work, especially during the process, can help move a classroom culture toward the direction that school is for learning,” Romero said. “We want to be making mistakes and we’re working together towards better work all the time.” And when students make mistakes it often illuminates big misperceptions, that when resolved, can help a learner make the huge conceptual leaps that feel like breakthroughs.
I'm sure I'll be making mistakes these next few weeks, as I go through the process of drafting, photographing, and erasing the giant whiteboard.  I also know that there will be modifications in the process as the school year progresses as schedules change, or students become more engaged in a topic or activity than I had originally anticipated.  Fluidity, flexibility, and constant readjustments.  It happens during planning AND learning!

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Today is day 320 of consecutive blogging.  My "Blog for a Month" goal is so far behind me, that the only goal that now exists is surviving the next 45 days, to satisfactorily complete a full year.  I'm not usually obsessing about numbers, but it certainly seems to be ruling my life about now, as I, as the wonderful car song goes, "write one down, pass it around, forty-four blogs to post on the wall..."  (with apologies to whomever wrote the "Bottles of Beer on the Wall" song.  Oh, wait.  I have no desire to apologize for annoying THAT particular individual, given the number of times I've tried to eliminate the song from my head...)

Just last week, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team was celebrated with a ticker tape parade in New York City.  They set their sights on something very specific, and, pardon the pun, hit their goal, in grand style.  Goal-setting is something that we all do -- whether it be intentional or unintentional.   As kids, we skipped down the street, avoiding cracks, so as to preserve our mothers' backs, we've pushed ourselves as teachers to finish grading a stack of papers before leaving at the end of the day, or walked in circles around our kitchen islands at 11 pm, trying to make our Fitbits buzz, to satisfy an arbitrary step goal for the day.  As adults, we understand the importance of goals -- both as a means to chunk projects and as a means to celebrate success.  

Do we do the same for our students?

Honestly, most students wait for teachers to set the goals, defining expectations in rubrics provided with the assignments.  Some teachers go so far as to chunk the assignments -- even in advanced high school classes -- allowing a check in every few days or weeks to serve as a formative assessment grade to assure that everyone is on track.  While this is a great way for the teacher to manage the expectations for the class, it does little to teach strategies for success to the students.

What would happen if we encouraged students to define goals for themselves?  Okay, sure,  initially there would be reservations, tears, questions, and frustration.  And the kids might even be upset as well.  Yet allowing our students to set reasonable and attainable goals, and then meet the expectations within a timeline they establish will solidify growth mindsets, and give strength and life to a set of skills necessary in adulthood. has a great article entitled "How to Help Students Set and Reach Their Goals,"  which outlines some great strategies for teaching students to become self-motivated in setting goals, along with actual lesson plans. And the best part?  The suggested method includes a mandatory Reflection in the process.  

And anytime there's metacognition involved, I'm game for trying something at least once!


Friday, July 17, 2015

Listening to just a few notes...

My music friends often tell me that anyone can learn to sing.  Then they hear me sing, and tell me that there are exceptions to every assumption.  Music, fortunately, has proven powerful in the life of my children -- both biological, and educationally-connected -- as a means to express emotion or ideas, or create a mood.

So this week, I've been challenged by my son, Ben, to finally agree on a "mother/son" dance song for his upcoming wedding.  His suggestion, something from Jimmy Eat World, sounded as if I, the mother, was dead.  My suggestion, "Shut Up and Dance" was not received well by him.  Of course, my next idea was to Google suggestions, review them, and send off a short list to the groom to be.

And he had the NERVE to accuse me of "just Googling Mother/Son wedding dances."   Apparently, the minutes of listening to the first minute of two dozen songs while reading the lyrics didn't count. So the search continues.  (I'm open to suggestions -- but don't even try to suggest anything by Rascal Flatts, Rod Stewart, or even my beloved Billy Joel.  I'm pretty sure that the fact that they're on Bride Magazine's list assures that they will never make ours!)

Music is powerful.  It is also historical.    Years ago, we did a Bible study with the youth group at church drawing comparisons between contemporary lyrics and scripture.  When my daughter took an American History College in the High School course with my good friend, Liz, the power and influence of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and others.  Former student, Shannon, rewrote the lyrics to the aforementioned "We Didn't Start the Fire" to reflect the year of her birth, and the historical events of that time, and performed it in front of the class, barely breathing through the multitude of events.  Arts Integration isn't just about drawing to illustrate projects....

So yes, music is powerful.  It's historical.  It's emotional. It's also very educational.

And somewhere on itunes is the perfect Mother/Son wedding dance song that fits the criteria necessary - 1.  Approved by Ben.  2.  Danceable.  3.  Will not make me cry.

I'm back to listening to 60 second clips....

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I can get some, satisfaction...

I am a quilter.  Okay, to be fair, I do very little actual quilting -- the act of layering a top

and backing around some sort of fluff or layer in between, and hand or machine stitching those layers together -- so I guess I'm actually a quilt-top maker and a quilt-finisher.  When my kids were little, I taught quilting at night in a local shop.  It gave me extra spending money, and let me talk to three dimensional people who had an address other than Sesame Street.  The owner of the shop would let me choose fabric and patterns, and create samples for the shop at no cost, I would teach the class, and when the fabric sold out for that design, the sample became mine to keep.  

It's been more than fifteen years, and I am still uncovering various samples and blocks, in various stages of completion, in my closet.  This summer, I've been moving the "stash" of fabric, and making tough choices - love it, lose it, gift it, save it for another day...  Some of my friends envision that I am chained to my sewing machine 24/7, given the recent number of photos of finished projects I've posted on Facebook.  

Yesterday I posted a picture from an excursion, where I purchased more fabric.  The new rule is that if I am purchasing fabric, it is NOT going in the closet, and MUST have a project, destination, and completion date set.  Jaime was in on this purchase, and the dare was that I would make matching dresses for the two of us.  (Fortunately for the world, we are rarely seen together!)  So when Jaime asked if the completion date would be forever from now, aka anything longer than 3 weeks, I heard the marching orders in my head.

As previously mentioned, I am a quilter - not a sewer.  Two things scare me about being a sewer - and the first is the remarkable similarity the word has to the place where Ninja Turtles and rats live, and the second is that the image of someone who sews causes people to think Project Runway as a skill level.  Fabric is expensive, and creating 3D clothing to fit human bodies rarely turns out well for me.  Yet everyone else with us yesterday was choosing fabric with unicorns on it, so it seemed that Jaime's choice was the logical one.  (Go figure.)

I knew if I didn't start it today, it would be two weeks before it happened, and the likelihood of it never happening would increase exponentially with each passing day.  So the pattern and fabric sat on the coffee table in front of me last night, as I convinced myself that finishing the Captain America quilt was the priority.  I cut the dress out this morning, and the actual cutting took twice as long as the assembly of the dress.

Today I am a sewer.  (The kind with needles and pins, not the smelly kind with the Heroes on the Half Shell.)  I have created, in under two hours, the vision that was in my mind yesterday.  And the best part?

I didn't procrastinate.  I finished two projects, and they have destinations.  And they both came out better than I could have hoped.   

I wonder if this new found skill of anti-procrastination could aid my preparation for the school year?

Let's consider the skills used:

Authentic Audience
Trial and Error
A tad bit of perfectionism (resulting in some "reverse sewing" with a seam ripper)

I have new notebooks, and some flashy new markers.  I can totally embrace the new, motivated, Susan. 

Starting next Monday.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Searching for Unicorns.

When somebody extends an invitation to lunch that begins with a meeting in a fabric store, how can anyone consider saying no?

Certainly, the shopping was anything but streamlined.  In fact, these particular individuals all seem to shop the way they -- and I -- think, using the HOPSCOTCH method.  It's rare to see the employees at this store stare, but there were more than a few eyebrows raised due to the obvious jocularity emitted from our group.

Once again, today was about connections -- this time with a student, a parent, and a colleague, who all share a love of life, and fascinating funnybones.  Quirky is not the right word, nor is there truly a word to describe these ladies.  One did comment on facebook:

"This is unlike any experience I have ever had to date." 

Honestly, I wanted to respond:  "My work here is finished."

Unlike anything...

How amazing would it be if students came out of my classroom feeling this way every single day?  Slightly giddy -- okay, maybe more than slightly -- and with their minds whirling at a speed previously unknown, trying to make connections that are meaningful in their brains.  And then the next day, experiencing the same thing, after a different activity?

Would this scare the OCDers out of their minds?  Would it thrill the ADD and ADHD population?  What about the nit-pickers?  

Unicorns.  We can't find them because we don't know how to think like them.  Maybe randomness is the key to success. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The cow ate my homework.

Today I had the honor of escorting a special four year old to the mecca of his fascination -- aka the LEGO store.  Science camp ended promptly at noon, and we headed to Chick - Fil - A for lunch, as it is one of the few fast food places soy/dairy/gluten-free four year olds can dine.  Traffic was awful, and I was relieved to skirt around the place by entering on the neighborhood street instead of off the main road.

Yet the parking lot was insane.  I've never seen so many cars.  We got out, and headed in, only to realize that we were the only people there not dressed as cows.


You read correctly.  Apparently too much Netflix and not enough local television this summer had kept me out of the loop.  My plaid shorts and green t-shirt certainly stood out in a sea of people with sewn on, drawn on, stapled on, pinned on, and/or taped on black spots on white shirts and shorts.  There were a few folks with masks, many with ears and tails, and one family that sported inflated rubber hospital gloves as udders.

I felt udderly unprepared.

The place was mobbed, with nary an unoccupied table.  We opted to eat on the go, because, after all, our destination was still 60 miles away.  After nearly an hour of waiting, we were on our way, munching on chicken and still giggling about the moooving experience that we had just witnessed.

Education Connection?

Why yes, this is a blog about education.  Thanks for remembering.

As I continued east on Route 30, alternatively singing all the words to Ghostbusters, Shake it Off, and Uptown Funk, with my grandson, I got to wondering about how traditions of tomfoolery bring people together.  Certainly Spirit week, including the celebrated Green and White Day would cause strangers visiting school to want to shed their offending colors, just to blend in, much like a certain grandmother, aunt, and grandson looking for wayward spots that have fallen off of other visitors that just might have enough stick left in them to stick to our shirts.

In 1995, the National Center for Education Statistics gathered details about the importance of student engagement in extra-curricular activities in high school, which demonstrated significant correlation between academic success and involvement in high school.  Yes, I realize this was 20 years ago, and there have been additional studies since that time, continuing to support the original research.

"Indicators of successful participation in school include consistent attendance, academic achievement, and aspirations for continuing education beyond high school. Extracurricular participation(1) was positively associated with each of these success indicators among public high school seniors in 1992. During the first semester of their senior year, participants reported better attendance than their non-participating classmates--half of them had no unexcused absences from school and half had never skipped a class, compared with one-third and two-fifths of nonparticipants, respectively. Students who participated were three times as likely to perform in the top quartile on a composite math and reading assessment compared with nonparticipants. Participants were also more likely than nonparticipants to aspire to higher education: two-thirds of participants expected to complete at least a bachelor's degree while about half of nonparticipants expected to do so. It cannot be known from these data, however, whether participation leads to success, successful students are more inclined to participate, or both occur."

So, my friends, pay attention to social media, or at least pull up your intended lunch destination's website on your smartphone prior to your arrival -- especially during the summer when the world works to pick up the slack and create the fun and excitement that school districts create during the other nine months of the year.  

And maybe consider keeping a few latex gloves in your glovebox, so you won't be udderly embarrassed. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gifts from the gifted.

 My resident woodworker, Alex, has gifted me with a few handmade items -- a custom made table for my grandson's Thomas trains, a 3D star Christmas ornament, a really cool Disney logo, and the immortalizing of Joey's famous quote, assuring me that I was not, actually, older than dirt, despite how I was feeling on that particular day.

As a Teacher of the Gifted (TOG), there are ample opportunities to develop a rapport with students that transcends years.  Inside jokes follow, from one class to the next, sometimes creating legendary status.  (This is especially true of anything involving unicorns, but I digress.)

When kids take the time to surprise me with a gift that is generated from a sincere gift of personal time, well, I cry.  Even if it is as a result of a bad quote about my ultimate demise.

These gifts are treasures -- serving both as reminders of amazing kids and their generosity of time as well as the connectedness of teacher and student in what seems, on the surface, like an ordinary classroom.  My classroom is anything but ordinary -- because of the extraordinary kind hearted students with whom I work.

The wooden sign is more than 7 years old.  Last year, I received the typography piece from Amelia, to add to my collection of the letter H.  Talk about a framed piece of happiness!

In fact, as I've reflected upon the collection of fun, happiness, and treasures I've received, it occurs to me that sending messages of support goes a long way.  A new challenge for me this year -- send more happiness and fun to friends and colleagues!  Maybe 2015-16 is the school year of Pay it Forward!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Mom said look for experts to help.

Special thanks to @sylviaduckworth for permission to use this graphic.
A year ago, if you'd asked me how I liked my PLN, I'd have blinked, politely, while my brain scanned my index drawer of acronyms trying to figure out what the heck you were trying to get me to talk about.  Fast forward to 2015, and not only do I know what a PLN IS, I can proudly tell you where I find mine.

To start the explanation process, I turned to Twitter, and hit up @sylviaduckworth for permission to use her amazing graphic today in this blog.  It could not be more perfect, as it illustrates the depth and diversity of a Professional Learning Network, and offers the vast connection network offered to teachers through social media.

In the last year, I've had discussions with present and former teachers, both face to face, and on social media, as a result of prompts posted by the folks at Te@chthought, or articles posted by Edutopia, Mind/Shift, of Smithsonian Education.  Recently, I participated in my first Twitter-chat, connecting with educators from around the world.  I picture myself in the gold shirt, standing just north of Pennsylvania, connecting with Justine in New Zealand and Tony in Spain.  (Wearing teal and olive green, respectively).  I know that standing near me are people in my own district, community and state, that are now part of the conversation that is education in my world.  

As a result of questions raised, I've sought input from others.  I've had breakfast or lunch with students, parents, and colleagues, connecting and finding inspiration in the brilliance that exists in others.  Yes, My PLN includes my students.  I truly learn more from them than many other more formal sources.

My mother may be confused by yet another acronym, although she seems willing to accept the flaw in her daughter that causes me to communicate primarily without the use of vowels, much of the time.

Except this time, mom, my PLN is offering HELP.  And you taught me a long time ago to look for the experts when I need help.

So I did.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer is Nothing but NET.

Kristin came home from her summer job at The Turkey Hill Experience yesterday and announced that she had scored two tickets to the Taste Lab today, featuring the lovely Tara Bennett.  Tara is a former student of mine, now an honors student at Shippensburg, who, like Kristin, is home for the summer and clocking in at THE.

Honestly, it's not a bad gig!  It's busy, but not too busy -- sort of a Hershey Chocolate World kind of place with a little education and a lot of hands on stuff to do.  Including THE TASTE LAB.

As I was watching Tara flawlessly work through a multimedia presentation that culminated with every single person sitting at the tables adding flavoring, infusions and variants to a pint of soft-serve ice cream, it occurred to me how nice it was that I wasn't responsible for this classroom of learners.

After all, the room was hot, there were major distractions in the form of gumball-like dispensers of candy, nuts, and pretzels, lining the walls, and everybody there knew they were there with their eyes on the prize of a self-designed pint.

This is the second former student who has taught a lesson to me this year.  The amazing Chloe Welch had graced my classroom with her brilliance in December, allowing me to switch seats from Teacher of the Gifted to Not Even the Teacher.  (NET.)   It's a nice place to visit, the NET seat, learning from others, experiencing new things with no homework, except for the nagging thoughts of whether I shouldn't have added both marshmallow AND chocolate fudge syrup.  

I learned a lot about Turkey Hill.  For instance, did you know that no matter how far you live from Lancaster County, the milk in your carton of ice cream came from cows within a 20 mile radius of where I live?  And that they use 40,000 gallons of milk from this concentrated radial area of cows every day to supply ice cream to 46 states, parts of South America and the Middle East?

So tonight, grab a Turkey Hill Iced Tea, or a bowl of ice cream, and reminisce about the lovely Lancaster County world in which I live.  And celebrate that during the summer, there is a lot to be learned from present and former students.  Especially when you are Not Even the Teacher in the lessons being taught.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Entreprenurial Lunch Partners....

This morning I awoke to this Facebook post from one of my students.  

Have you ever had a dream? All dreams start somewhere. This past year I was in Mrs. Heydt's Themes in Lit class and we all had our own tasks. We had TDOs which was like our own study hall to work on whatever we wanted to accomplish through the semester, and then go back and reflect on it. I chose working with the FBLA club (Future Business Leaders of America) and throughout the semester I found ways to help raise awareness, sales, and make the club more appealing for the coming school year. It turned out amazing. During presentations, my friend Ellen, inspired me. Her project was titled Hope Lettering. It presented her skills in lettering and the eager minds of individuals who need financial aid to go on trips. She is amazing at lettering and I wanted to make this a reality for her. I myself go on trips with church and school that require a lot of funding. I see the marketing potential for this dream, and it is there, ready for someone to grab it. So we did smile emoticon
We came up with a collection that will hopefully be done by the end of August. It is called, "Stronger". Our plan is to start small. Below is 3 examples that are going to be in the 5 piece collection. They are just rough sketches to get an idea of what Ellen does. We wanted to make something similar to a 4x6 photo or postcard for people to keep somewhere they go regularly so that they can be encouraged constantly. Ellen's vision is to make more personal orders. If you have any questions feel free to message me. I probably missed something because I am so excited to see this dream become a reality. P.S Feel free to share so the word can be spread!! 

I've talked on this blog about Hope Lettering before, and it was exciting to me that these young ladies have continued into the summer, working to birth this entrepreneurial adventure.  I had the pleasure of having lunch with both of them today -- to celebrate milestones on AP exams and to celebrate the enthusiasm and excitement in their endeavor.  One of my colleagues responded to the Facebook post with this commenting that he would entirely expect to see them on ABC's SHARK TANK in the near future.  

They shared ideas, plans, and dreams. They wrote on the back of placemats, to preserve the decisions and plans that surfaced during lunch.  Honestly, it was the most productive "working lunch" I've ever attended -- and could easily be deducted as a business expense with the IRS.  

Maybe I should invest in this company!  At the very least, I'll share the link to their website as soon as they are ready.

Oh, and if your summer seems laid back and boring, go find a couple of dreamers in junior high or high school, and take them to lunch.  You'll be amazed at how exciting your world can become through an infusion of vicarious enthusiasm.  Yes, they are small boats, and are on their way to causing