Friday, September 25, 2015

"I'll send you a toenail..."

I've been good -- all day.  I've avoided screens of all kinds, except for three phone calls to doctors and professors, attempting to reschedule my life. Asking people with scrambled brains to make decisions is just plain cruel.

I stayed home today -- and unless there's a miracle between now and Monday, my sub is already lined up, as I have an appointment with the neuro dude.   Of course, I guess the miracle might be possible, what with the Pope coming to town, and all.  He seems like a decent guy, who might be willing to overlook my departure from his church 21 years ago.

In any case, I am not fit to wax philosophical on topics related to education -- or life.  I knew this yesterday, when I told a colleague I'd shoot the information to her in a toenail.  Oh the images that must have conjured -- I meant email, I swear.  It's just that my head doesn't allow the actual word I'm thinking about to come out of my mouth, and I cause people to laugh hysterically at me.  (Or at least Andrew Erb relayed a good tale, I'm told.  I am sure I will enjoy the retelling when I'm sane again.) 

In the meantime, I am binge-listening to PARENTHOOD on Netflix, with my eyes closed.  I've learned that high pitches, spinning and scrolling, and hammering and drumming, all cause me to feel it in my brain.  So right now, my happy place is a dark room and a soft pillow.

I may be off for the weekend, after 390 consecutive days of blogging.  It's tough to look at anything scrolling, and thinking is off limits.  It's also the most frustrating thing  to lie around waiting to not be confused anymore, with no idea when that will be.

But I know that there are stories out there to be told -- and I've extended the offer to some guest bloggers.  So stay tuned.  There are lessons in all of this -- I'm just tiring of being the student in the front row in Understanding Neurology 101.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Scrambled Eggs for Brains.

There used to be a commercial that went something like this:   "This is drugs."  (cue picture of the hot frying pan.  "This is your brain on drugs."  (cue picture of the egg being cracked into the frying pan.)  "Don't do drugs."

Never have I been more aware of the metaphorical connection of the almighty egg to a brain as I am today.  I'm scrambled.  I'm searching for words, and I'm typing with my eyes closed, to save my precious 2 hours of screen time.

I "taught" today, if you can call it that.  Pretty much, I sat in a dark room with very understanding students, wearing sunglasses, and occasionally humming "I wear my sunglasses at night..." to myself, wishing for the day to end quickly.  Two sections of self-motivated higher-level thinkers was more than I could handle, and I'm sidelined for tomorrow.

One student suggested that I write my blog, and change the font to Wingdings, because it would pretty much symbolize what my day, and attempts at communication, seemed to me.

I know it takes time.  I don't do well lying in a dark room and focusing on NOT thinking.  

Heck, it's my job.  But for the next three days, I'm officially on vacation from that career I love so much.

I have a whole new appreciation for those helmeted warriors hitting the gridiron tomorrow night, and those soccer players who leap into the air, intentionally hitting balls off the tops of their heads.  Be careful, my little babies, or you'll be as cracked as your teacher is tonight.

Eggs are a great source of protein.  One of the few suggestions given to me by the doctor, as I attempt to return to my previous state.  The irony of the need to scramble some eggs to assist in unscrambling my brain is not lost on me.

After all, I'm the one who slipped on banana pudding.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

One foot in the grave, and the other on a banana...

Want to know more about me than you could possibly imagine?  Ask my 2nd period students.  Today was the day where the Information Literacy kids explore the power of the internet, by searching for as many facts about me as possible.  Understand that I am fairly visible, and pretty much not stalked by the tweens and teens crowd, so I feel safe doing this activity.  If I were 30 years younger and lived alone, it might be a different story.

The white boards were completely erased, computers were at the ready, and the researched their teacher, finding random facts including my address, my maiden name, my family members, my previous addresses dating back to 1983, my anniversary date, the color of my house, how many trees are in my yard, previous employers, etc.  They were smart enough to check their facts.  They deduced that I was NOT the Susan Heydt with the thriving Makeup Studio.  (A simple look at my eyeliner disproved THAT connection...)  

And then it came.  A still unknown voice said, "SHE WAS BORN IN 1869!"

Stunned disbelief.  Yes, I was born in the 60s.  But not THOSE 60s.

The scribe at the board wrote it, and then immediately erased it, questioning the validity.  Thank God that at least one kid had my back on that one.
The period ended, and I headed to lunch duty 15 minutes later.  15 minutes after that, I was sitting in the nurse's office, with ice on an ever-increasing golfball, growing on the side of my head, with a headache and whiplash, not to mention various bruises in places that do not see the light of day, still sporting a bit of the banana pudding on the sole of my shoe.

My friends, I must tell you now of the danger of spills on terrazo floors -- especially spills with the viscosity of pudding.  One step in the wrong place, and I did a perfect 3 Stooges move, feet flying in the air, bouncing first my posterior, and then my head.  Gravity is not kind.

Life is funny.  Especially mine.  Explaining the unexplainable, the ridiculous, and well, the just plain crazy things that happen to me has become the norm, so having to fill out Worker's Comp. reports, and visiting their doctor, was peppered with brutal honesty.

Description of accident:  Slipped on banana.  (I opted to add the word pudding, to allow for the full picture, and share, in complete disclosure, the truth.)    

What was the last thing to go through my head at the end of A Lunch today?  Uh, the FLOOR.  And despite the fact that I was able to do all sorts of tests that seemed like I should be performing in the side of a road in a sobriety checkpoint  for a Worker's Comp doctor with amazing precision -- or so I thought -- I am concussed.  Stay off of computers, avoid bright lights, and don't attempt HIGHER LEVEL THINKING for a week.

Seriously?  My job is higher level thinking.  And humor also requires a basic understanding of your HOTS. (Higher Order Thinking Skills.)

Fortunately my husband, Bruce, has a sense of humor.  Even if I now call him Bryce.

Bear with me, folks.  It's a scrambled egg for brains kind of week.  On the plus side, I was not born in 1869.   I just may walk as if I were, come tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reply Hazy.

A little more than a year ago, I posted an entry entitled "Reply Hazy, Try Again Later."  My daughter frequently insists that I tell her the same information more than once, and here it is happening again.  I sat down tonight, ready to entitle this entry with the very same title.

Maybe it's LATER, now, and I'm trying again, if only to reuse the title that has resonated with me since my childhood.  This time, the Magic 8 Ball has become a metaphor for the assessment of Inquiry Based Learning projects.

Yesterday I mentioned the ongoing discussion about the new roles of teachers as professional "un-stickers," and the resulting challenges that accompany the fabulous work presented by students.

Rubrics are  great, defining exactly the expectations for the student in a traditional classroom.  "Here's the material, learn it, apply it, regurgitate it on a test or in a project."  Kids have learned to expect this, and gifted and talented kids use this as their own glass ceilings, meeting the mark, rarely choosing to exceed the almighty column on the far right of the table.  So what does a gifted teacher, or ANY teacher, do to make sure that kids are learning and engaged and producing and creating at a level commensurate with their abilities, instead of hitting a target well below their full potential?

Here's my solution:  Don't give them a rubric.  (Or have them create their own, but that's another story for another day.)  Instead, assign the need for the collection or creation of artifacts -- much like Charlotte Danielson now expects from teachers -- and stand back and wait.

And then...

Ask the students how they did, individually. 

Concept to Classroom outlines this nicely on their website:

Individual assessment can reveal the student's perception of the following:
How the student views her individual effort.
How well she participated in class.
The quality of her work.
How satisfied the student is with her work.
Things that she found difficult to figure out.
Things she found interesting and enjoyable.
How she might improve her performance.
How she viewed her work compared to that of an expert.
How her skills, knowledge, and habits of mind improved.
What she viewed as important about the unit of study.

Perhaps one of the best ways to really assess student learning from inquiry learning is through a narrative assessment. This narrative becomes an important report for the student, the family, and the teacher. It is very important to see how integrated the process of inquiry learning and the assessment of inquiry learning are -- and narrative provides a way for students to demonstrate not only what they know but also how it relates to their other knowledge, their ways of seeing the world, and the ways they assess and analyze ideas.

Thinking critically, and identifying the potential improvements that could have enhanced the product, will usually be the biggest problem encountered by the teacher -- particularly with the perfectionistic minds of the gifted learner.  In the times that I've asked for student reflection, I often play the role of cheerleader, trying to get kids to embrace the goodness of their already-impressive work.

So yes, the idea of a perfect assessment system is hazy, requiring another shake of the Magic 8 Ball of Assessment.  Student self-reflection may be even hazier, as they muddle the waters with their own innate obsessions.  The biggest conundrum  very well might be that the work appears unmatched by any previous effort by the student, who now declares his work at a 75%, as the teacher pencils three figures into the assignment with tears in her eyes, wondering why the brilliance was squelched for so many years.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Best Twelve Minutes.

It's not that the rest of the day today was bad -- far from it.  But the twelve minutes between 1:08 and 1:20 today were magical for me. 

 Audra teaches down the hall, and despite our full generation age difference, we are kindred spirits when it comes to autonomy and Inquiry Based Learning.  We chatted, commiserated, and shared student work with each other.  We know that Inquiry Based teaching is causing kids to be thinking in ways previously unseen by either of us.  We KNOW it is good.  We KNOW it works.

And we are clueless as how to to assess the kids fairly, without squelching their newfound brilliance.

Mind/Shift provided me with the perfect support for our argument today in their article, "10 Tips For Launching An Inquiry-Based Classroom", affirming all that Audra and I have defined as the best way to get the best out of our students.

" To make inquiry-based learning work, teachers have to instead become experts at listening to how a student is thinking and then ask the one question that will “un-stick” the students’ thinking and set them off and running again."

Why yes.  My role in teaching is no longer instruction.  I am now a certified, professional un-sticker.

Who is still trying to figure out how to assess brilliance.  ( We see it, and it is blinding us!)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

No Buts About It.

Disneyland and Disney World are touted as being the "Happiest" places on earth.  I disagree, even though I really did enjoy the trip the three times I've wandered the Orlando park.  Happiness for me, however, is when I'm working on lesson plans, and the most amazing resource suddenly presents itself, giving life to my lesson, and contemporary relevance to the topic.  This semester, our focus is Disney, with a giant dose of student autonomy and inquiry-based learning.

So today, I thank the fine folks at Edutopia who have given me the golden ticket, this time in the article entitled "Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves."  Sure, there have been many a conversation about the value and/or harm of positives and praise, yet somehow Disney/Pixar has found a way to deliver productivity and motivational messages to their employees, while preserving self-efficacy and positive self-image.

Plussing is a HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skill) strategy  that hasn't made it to the district-distributed flipchart, and I may be adding a page to mine, just to keep myself in the loop of this brilliant strategy.  Here's the magic:  instead of offering constructive criticism, the discussion between employer and employee includes the words "what if?" , attempting to build on the project without the use of judgmental language.  In an article entitled "You've Been Doing a Fantastic Job. Just One Thing", the art of effective feedback is explored.  Within that article, you guessed it, is the dude behind the Disney/Pixar Plussing research, Peter Sims.

“Animators at Pixar freely describe how painful it can be to have directors plussing their ideas until the smallest details, say a sliver of hair, seems just perfect,” he writes in his book. “But plussing allows for both pointed critique and positive feedback simultaneously, so that even such persistent criticism is not deflating.” 

The next few days will be difficult for me, as I stand back and keep the "solutions" to myself, as teams of students work to solve the creativity challenge tossed at them last week.  When given a challenge like that, everything is fair game, AND nothing is incorrect.

Some things just might need to be plussed a bit.  So this week, there will be math happening in the English wing, as we add more to the already blossoming brilliance. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Maize Maze Master.

On Friday this past week, I "taught" a lesson to two separate classes that was anything BUT traditional.  This year's teaching is not unlike wandering through a Maize Maze, moving forward, turning corners, and backing up to retrace steps and find a different direction that will be more successful.  The cool thing is that we are taking tiny steps, together, experimenting with questions, and finding answers.

The reason for the quotes around "taught", is that I did very little of that.  My classes had already brainstormed questions they had about our topic, and had divided those questions by category, and then identified the category of particular interest to each of them, allowing the entire class to go deep in every experience, in a way more meaningful than if we'd all viewed or done the same thing, in the same way, together.

Here's the hardest part for me:  Not standing on the platform over the Maize Maze with the megaphone offering clues to the end.  

 On the board on Friday, totally by coincidence, was a quote from Dr. Seuss:

Sometimes the questions are complicated, but the answers are simple.

 I love when the plans align.  I had simply opened a book, 365 Days of Wonder:  Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts, and written Dr. Seuss' quote, from the page for September 18th, on the board.

For it is in the uncertainty of not knowing, that these groups of students will find their way AND own what they learn.  Once again, Terry Heick at Te@chthought has articulated what I've seen in my classroom.  Her recent musing, The Power of I Don't Know, certainly supports what I see happening in my little corner of the world.

Heick shares, 

I don’t know, then, isn’t just a starting point for finding an answer, or a ready-made template for some academic essential question. Rather, it returns the learning to the student, and restores the scale of understanding to a universe of knowledge.

Heick's universe of knowledge is a wonderful place to visit.  Often.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Doodle All Day.

"Singin' pollywolly doodle, all day."  The song has been rattling around in my head for most of this week, as we explored another way to help transfer learning into long term memory.  Last year, I tried, hard, to find joy in Zentangling, proving to find more frustration than relaxation in the process.  (To be honest, I dabbled, but didn't really finish a single experience.)  I totally understand, and agree with the idea of multi-sensory experiences increasing engagement in learning, though, so I was excited to find Sunni Brown's TED Talk about the metacognitive value of Doodling.

Given that this semester's topic is Disney, and focus is metacognitive strategies for learning and exploring creativity, doodling seemed like a nice fit.  But is it truly possible to use doodling to make memories stick?  The folks at Mind/Shift presented a fairly convincing argument in their article.  So this week, we tried it.

Imagineers are an important part of the creative and design processes used by the Disney Corporation.  The Travel Channel had a video about their work, which provided a nice opportunity for the class to try the skill of "Doodle Note-Taking."   For 43 minutes, the kids worked on creating visual images, instead of taking notes, to help them to recall the key points of the video.  For homework, they synthesized what they had written/drawn, and created a visual image or map, representing the salient points, from their personal perspectives.

For some, this was a huge struggle.  For others, it was a repeat of what is done in nearly every class, every day.  It is interesting to me that the students who felt that they "failed" in their ability to doodle-note seemed more fluent in their abilities to explain why they were seemingly incapable of doing what they had hoped, while those who are regular doodlers were at a loss for words to explain their integration of pictures into meaningful note-taking, because of its second-nature stance in their lives.

I'm still hoping to Zentangle  the entire front of my planner this year.  It faces me every morning, before I open it.  It's a process -- much like metacognition.  And trying new things works -- if you give it a chance.  So we'll see how I progress.  Meanwhile, my doodlers have moved on to bigger and better things, focusing more intently on creativity and the creative process, based upon the Disney process of Inspiration, Collaboration, and Innovation.  

Creativity is messy.  And it will be wonderful.  (Even if some can't draw a single recognizable figure!)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

No Pavement Markings.

It's a common occurrence on the roads of Lancaster County in the summertime; the partial repaving of stretches of roads.  This year, it was especially prevalent, and accompanied by the installations of some curious road signs, bearing the message "NO PAVEMENT MARKINGS."

My husband and I have commented, somewhat sarcastically, over the last few months, about the time and energy involved in erecting and installing so many signs, wondering if the effort was in any way commensurate with the obvious alternative -- repainting the lines on the newly-paved roads.  The true answer, and reasons for the signs, are still lost to us.

Those road signs are not without purpose for me these days, to my surprise.  They've become a metaphor for my teaching.  Sure, I have a road -- it's called Curriculum.  My job as a teacher is to get my students down that road in a meaningful way.  And by meaningful, I mean significantly important to each student, requiring differentiation strategies to represent the capability of each, engaging them in ways that cause the explicit use of higher order thinking skills (HOTS) as often as possible, to increase understanding, and transfer that learning into long term memory.

Two weeks into my intentional use of Inquiry Based Learning, I'm getting it.  More important than that, the kids are getting it.  They are starting to realize that asking me what I expect is less important than defining for themselves what they can do, and reaching for that goal.  

I am the scattered dots on the road, serving to "suggest" where the middle of the road is.  I am not a double yellow line, keeping kids in a steady stream of traffic moving at the same rate of speed.  

And I'm kind of hoping that the orange signs in my neighborhood are permanent, and that they aren't replaced by yellow paint on the road any time soon.  I'm getting used to the idea of self-directed driving.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Boxed In.

Colleagues have each others' backs -- at least in my department.  Case in point, the events of Easter Monday, 2014...

It was an unusual day from the get go.  The district had originally scheduled staff and students to be off, but the number of snowdays that year took that plan right off the calendar.  Unfortunately for us, the calendar had been loaded into the security system, and none of the teacher badges worked in the building that day, forcing those of us who park in the back parking lot to hoof it around the building to the front door to get in.   Once in the building, it wasn't too inconvenient, except when trying to access the office, as it is also a "badge-swipe" entry zone.

After lunch, I was sitting in my classroom working alone, as it was my prep period.  The wing was empty and quiet, as the English classes were all in the cafeteria.  John was across the hall in his classroom, eating lunch at his desk.  He wandered into my room with a quizzical look on his face, and asked me if I would step into his classroom.

An odd request, but okay...

"I'm pretty sure there's something alive in that backpack," he said, pointing to a student satchel on the floor.  As if on cue, a loud scratching noise was emitted.  Clearly something with toenails scratching against the ripstop nylon.  

Honestly, I thought I was being punked.  The scratching continued.  John looked at me, and indicated that he wanted to open it to see what it was, but wanted a witness -- as the backpack belonged to a student.  All I could imagine at that point was that there was a ferret, or some other rodent, in there, and envisioned it popping its head out and scurrying off down the hallway.

There we were.  Two professionals, staring at a backpack, problem-solving.  Curiosity was killing us almost as much as the fear of what would be discovered.

Just down the hallway was the back door to the parking lot.  It's basically a wide entryway  with two sets of doors to the outside, with a swipe point in between, forming a sort of vestibule between the doors.  This seemed like the perfect small area to contain the creature demanding our attention.  We scouted, and realized that the doorways to the open hallway were about 2 inches off the ground, and concluded that we needed either a hockey goalie stick or another person, to assure that the critter wouldn't get into the school.  Enter, Brian.  The only other living person within the two intersecting hallways.  We lured him into our plan, and entered the enclosure.

John took the backpack to the far corner, close to the outside door, and opened the backpack, as Brian and I braced ourselves to keep the runner from sliding under the doors.


Clearly, there was no longer a concern about an eminent escape.  We turned to open the doors, only to discover that we were locked in the glass cage between the doors.  Without another human being nearby.  

It was an odd cell phone call that was made, asking for our freedom.  Before the posse of administrators made it to the wing to investigate, a student on the way to the bathroom wandered by, and set us free.

I'm not sure, to this day, why we didn't consider EXITING the building and walking around to the front -- perhaps there was snow on the ground, or maybe it was raining.  In any case, we've gotten more than a few laughs over this unique bonding experience.

Oh, and the reason it was in there in the first place?  The kid had found the turtle, and wanted to sneak it into John's desk, to see how he would react.  He hadn't been able to do that before lunch, and spent lunchtime wondering whether he'd have an opportunity after lunch.  As it turned out, no.  There was no opportunity.  Instead, the principal drove him back to the stream where he had found the turtle.

And we all lived hilariously ever after.  Even the turtle.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Don't Say It!

2nd Degree Misdemeanor, punishable by two years in prison and a $5000 fine.  That's the potential ramifications of a single careless post on social media that is determined to be a terrorism threat to a school, according to Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman, in a recent interview with Lancaster Newspapers.

Somehow, the prevalence of threats -- whether they are real or not -- towards schools in Lancaster County has spiraled out of control in the last week.  As an educator charged with teaching the responsible use of social media, I'm not sure where to even begin this year in teaching my freshmen about the fastest way to ruin the future through their use of social media.

What started allegedly as a student wondering whether anyone would react, posting a threat on an anonymous app, assuming his post would truly be anonymous, was anything but that.  In fact, within a little more than a day, the location of the computer and identity of the student was in the hands of the local authorities, with an arrest in the books.
But not until after dozens of administrators and police personnel, coordinating with the IT specialists, spent dozens of hours employing deductive reasoning skills to solve the mystery.

Nothing is anonymous.  Everything is recoverable -- despite what the IT specialists might tell you when your computer crashes. Especially when public safety is potentially at risk.  And that doesn't just apply to threats.  It applies to that stupid argument with your cousin, or the snarky comment about your boss, or the picture that paints you in a light less than favorable for a job you might want ten years from now.

In the "olden days," threats might have been phoned in, or sent in a hastily glued cutout "ransom note style" anonymous tip, or a message scrawled in lipstick on the school bathroom mirror.  These were only seen by a few people, and didn't generate the sort of mass chaos and reaction that happens with the instantaneous nature of social media today.

So think, talk to kids about thinking, and remember that once it's said, it's not going to be taken back.  Nothing is erasable or deletable, and everything is traceable.  And the implications of the lost time and resources spent in man hours by the  investigators are incalculable. 

A single post can change a life.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Bubble Wrap

The news recently has been pretty grim, which is unusual for Lancaster County.  In the last week, in addition to the threat at my school, two other districts have had incidents warranting a police search and presence to allow school to open.  Over the weekend, a fifteen year old girl went missing in the next district over, with posts all over social media repeatedly forwarded hoping to aid the family in finding their daughter.  (Update:  She is "home safe" at this time.  Lord only knows how long she'll be grounded after three days on the news.)

It's a scary world, some days.  And we spend an awful lot of time trying to create the perfect protective bubble of an environment for our kids.  Does this help?  Are we generating an artificial society to protect our kids, or are we hoping that by showing them a safe and wonderful world, are we secretly hoping that they, as a generation, will adopt this philosophy and save the world?

Former student, Bryce, is now majoring in education in his freshman year in college.  This evening, he shared the Forest Kindergarten vimeo,  with the comment "Thought you might find this interesting...and probably a bit terrifying.."

Um, yes.  A bit of both.

A couple of years ago, I viewed a similar video, which made the Forest Kindergarten concept look like Romper Room.  The kids in Wales scaled what looked like the walls of a city dump to enter the "Land Adventure Playground" where most of the rules were unlike anything any sane parent would ever utter.

In a time when schools are searching for every possible minute for Common Core Teaching, often taking away from things like adventure, risk-taking, and recess, it seems unfathomable that places like Land Adventure and Forest Kindergarten exist.  Yet they clearly offer a chance for failure, and the opportunity to try again.

Do we do that in the classroom?  Do we even have time to let anyone do anything more than once, intentionally?

And what is the risk that we take for not letting kids take risks?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Still Breathing.

Last night, as I slept the best sleep I've had in a very long time, my daughter in law, Jennie, was breathing, along with her labor coach/husband Scott.  They didn't sleep at all, and have a tiny new human named Mia Cecelia to show for their efforts.  They really know how to pick gifts for Grandparents' Day, huh?

What do I wish for this tiny new granddaughter?  The very same things I pray for her brother.  Peace.  The ability to center and find themselves in the midst of a perceived -- or real-- storm.  The skills to center their focus, just as their mother did bringing them into this world, and breathe.

It's no secret that breathing is a theme in this blog. (A simple search in the bar above will yield many references during the last year.)  The fact that research now supports the importance of focused reflection to improve learning is a wonderful argument for slowing down and smelling the proverbial roses.  Sure there are storms.... (insert dancing in the rain or comments about rainbows of your choice here.)  Slowing down, doodling in the margins, opportunities for metacognition all translate to greater learning, and lower blood pressure.

This afternoon I'm going to smell the downy head of my new granddaughter, and pull a Frank Barone, breathing deeply and remembering this very perfect day.

"Let me get a few whiffs from the fountain of youth.
There it is.
I'm sucking in the youth."

It will be wonderful.  And much better than sniffing roses, I am certain.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I M P A C T.

Saturday night.  Already, I'm finalizing plans for next week, after stumbling through last week -- which was the longest short week of my teaching career.  As quickly as a typical school day passes, compared to a day of Professional Development, I discovered that a day filled with student searches, police presence, and the early dismissal of 75% of the student body, leaving approximately 20% of the students in each of my classes, causes the hands on the clock to crawl.  Despite the fact that next week was scheduled to be our first FIVE DAY week of the school year, I only needed to write 4 days of plans, after shelving Wednesday's lesson plans due to the high absenteeism.

By yesterday, we were all both relieved and saddened to discover that the decision to post recklessly on social media that had put this unplanned "attack drill" into motion was a student in our own school.  I guess we'll spend a bit more time in Socratic discussion when we cover online safety in Information Literacy.  (And maybe at least ONE more will be shaken to the core of understanding that online is forever.)

Yes, negativity causes all of us to pause and take notice.  To take stock, re evaluate, and try to figure out how to avoid making the same mistake twice.  As I've said before on this blog, I am looking for the positive, always.  I came home yesterday, emotionally exhausted, and discovered a message from a friend, retelling a story shared by her daughter who had been in  my classroom today.

My kid just came tearing in the door and I ask my usual "How was your day".  This is the teary eyed response I received (almost) word for word: Mrs. Heydt is such a good person...just a really good person.  Awww, Mrs. Heydt.  Today I got to sit in on her BLAH BLAH class (sorry!) and I was kinda listening.  Those kids weren't her most motivated class.  There were a lot of kids who didn't want to be there, but she just kept answering questions.  So there was this girl that you could tell wasn't that interested in school....the kind of kid that you would expect to hang out with not-so-great influences.  Well, she didn't say anything the entire class she just did her own thing.  Then when class was over she jumped up out of her seat and ran over to Mrs. Heydt and was all excited and said 'I am going to join (something musical that I can't remember the name of)! She was really excited and Mrs. Heydt was occupied, but she dropped everything and gave her full attention to this girl and matched her excitement with "Oh my goodness!  That is amazing' Mom, it was SO sweet.  That girl was so happy that someone shared her excitement.  It was an awesome thing to witness".  So, there you have made a huge impression on my kid (again) without even realizing it.  She was so happy for that girl and so happy that you were too.....Happy Friday to me....she made my day.
 Please understand, I share this with you, not because the world needs to know about it, but because I need to remind myself that no matter how many emails are in my inbox, or how many papers are waiting to be graded, the most important part of my job is connecting with students and making them feel valued.  

I wonder how many 40 second conversations I've missed because I didn't make eye contact with someone waiting for the bell to ring?  Because, clearly, if I make the effort, it can impact at least one person -- and in the case of yesterday, so many other people.

Yes, the positive message for me was that I impacted one kid, and never really noticed it, until a second kid's mom pointed it out to me.

I've really got to pay closer attention, in those waning seconds of class, for that time is golden, and waiting to be discovered.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Snails and Guppies.

The TDO proposals are rolling in, and some of the materials have arrived in my classroom.  Of course, last year's apple project is still decomposing on my shelf -- or maybe it is now a completely petrified fossil.  In any case, the room rearranging has begun, as we attempt to make room for the independent projects.  Boxes and bags containing research materials for independent NHD projects -- for those who couldn't fit the class in their schedules, art supplies, violins, trombones, music, flashdrives, three fishtanks, and a newly-designed terrarium.

Oh, and snails.  

Today I found out that everything I thought I knew about snails was completely wrong.  Blame the cartoon industry, designing upright-shelled creatures, smiling shyly to the right, while peeking out of the home they are dragging along, very slowly.

Rachael is researching ecosystems.  She has gathered quite the collection of snails, after yesterday's heavy rain.  (They're pictured to the left, in the lid of the terrarium.)  Not a single one of them was upright and smiling.  Now before you chalk this up to yet another "Not the Gifted Teacher" moments, understand that I really didn't expect that snails actually provided facial expressions worthy of cartoon smiles, but I did think that the shells were something that looked functional and practical, instead of more like a spare tire and wheel chained to a slimy body.

There are a lot of details to work out for each of the projects, and a search for authentic audiences for as many as possible.  There are a number of musical instruments being explored, and several are planning to use their new talents in the Talent Show in December.  There are apps being developed for Android, and Sign Language studies.  There may be cannibalism in the fish tanks, as Ellie studies societal response to over population in guppies.

Yes, TDO is a success, even if it ultimately fails.  For the goals of the project are embedded in the learning they all do about themselves, metacognition,  tenacity, and risk-taking.  Their projects will increase all of that, and more.

It will be well worth sacrificing the innocence of a teacher who thought snails living and transportation situations were much more adorable and desirable than reality.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Eat More Fruit.

Resilience. Yes, it's part of the Growth Mindset -- the idea of picking oneself up by the proverbial bootstraps and facing another day.  Attendance improved, significantly, today, after yesterday's events.  Parents were probably more guarded than their students, knowing many more "what if" scenarios than their kids.  Bags and backpacks were searched, and the day went off with only a five minute extended homeroom delay.  

As predicted yesterday, we were back to curricular questions, instead of "What happened?" and "What if...".  By the end of the day, we received a letter bringing the community the news everyone and no one wanted.  It's never good news when a student's life is changed so dramatically because of a poor choice.  

Were things different?  Why, yes.  There was music playing in the cafeteria during lunch.   It offered a smile on a rainy and dark day for many.  I'm not sure who thought of it, but it was inspired.  Tomorrow is Friday, and this very short week that seems to have lasted ten times the actual four days scheduled, will be in the books.  

I don't believe in coincidences -- and that is certainly the case today when the folks at Edutopia offered an article entitled  "Ways to Cultivate Your Emotional Resilience This Year", on their Teacher Development page.  

  • Build Community
  • Know Yourself
  • Create a Plan for Self Care
 Thankfully, my community has been built, and offers tremendous support.  I've gotten to know myself so much better through this blog - a  concrete representation of my narrowed focus on my educational process and planning.  It's both sobering and encouraging to write something that was read by 1400 people in 24 hours, when my usual readership is in the double digits in the same time period.  I get it.  Yesterday's blog was akin to a highway accident, visited by rubbernecking drivers, hoping for a bit more information.

Community, Self-Understanding, and Self-Care.  It's time to cultivate emotional resilience a bit further, and   I do believe that I will take the advice of the many lunch-packers at B Lunch, creating a Puzzle Box of goodness packed in my own kitchen.   Perhaps this revelation from Edutopia will encourage acceptance of my colleague who sometimes chooses to eat his pudding first, or consumes tiramisu for five straight days.  It's not crazy, it's "self care."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Glass is Full.

The world is a good place, I believe.  I have always been a "glass is half full" person, viewing not only as half full, but with the potential to be completely full, if the right person wanders by with a pitcher.   

My prevalence for such belief was reinforced today, as we started the day at the high school in lockdown mode, funneling every single student through single files lines, with police and administrators searching every single lunchbox, backpack, and instrument case, after a reported threat posted to social media.  I stood at the entrance, in my shirt covered with tiny pink flamingos, in stark contrast to the latex-glove-wearing police officers in bullet proof vests.    My co-worker, also assigned to controlling the opening of locked doors to students after the search, received a text from his wife, "Don't Die." Interestingly, that was our exact plan.

What determines a "credible threat" in the world today?  I really don't know the answer to that question.  I do know, however, that despite the criticism of social media by many, it was the very medium that caused the initial threat that also alerted the authorities long before the school doors opened.  (Remember, the glass is half full, and always has the potential to hold more.)  The administration mobilized the staff, and we all did what we needed to do to get through the day.  

On October 30, 1985, less than three weeks before the anticipated arrival of my firstborn, Sylvia Seegrist walked into the Springfield Mall, (less than five miles from my house), with a gun, killing three people.  It was too close to home, considering my husband and I had been in that very mall the evening before.

On September 11, 2001, I was one of those parents who drove to the high school to pick up my son, thinking that was better than waiting for the bus to deliver him home.  (His brother was being picked up at the middle school by a neighbor.)  Today, as I saw parents responding to phone calls and texts from their kids, coming and signing them out to spend the day at home, I got it.  I was them, fourteen years ago this coming Friday. Yes, more than 2/3 of the student body left before the beginning of first period, with parental permission. And yes, we, as teachers, understood.

On October 2, 2006, I was working in an elementary computer lab with gifted kids, when Lancaster County -- and the world -- stood in stunned silence at the news that Charles Carl Roberts IV shot ten Amish girls at their school in Nickel Mines, killing five of them.  I'd driven by this school, and marveled at the peacefulness of the rolling hills and crisp white clapboard fences in this small rural community, less than 20 miles from my own home.

I still shop at malls, and drive through the countryside.  There have been dozens of incidents in dozens of schools, that made the news, with horrifying outcomes. There are also literally thousands of schools, and malls, and countrysides, that have had a peaceful day today.   So rather than dwelling on one threat, at one school, where I happened to be scheduled to teach today, I am choosing to celebrate the people who made a difference for me, and my students.  

A text from a student at lunch time:  "I'm texting as a are you?"

A text from a friend in the city:  "Hey... is everything OK????"

An email from friends in other buildings offering prayers and "thinking about you" messages.

A message from a parent:  "Anxiously awaiting your blog post for THIS day."

Tomorrow we'll go back to learning the intended curriculum.  Today we learned a lot about safety, communication, and what is truly important. For what really matters to me, at work, is the constant flow of friends, students and colleagues, carrying pitchers, and keeping my glass full of optimism for my world.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

She's weird.

I'm an unfaithful, faithful TV watcher.  I get hooked on TV shows early in the season, and either lose interest and abandon the show, or am so intensely interested that I  realize that if I miss an episode, it will ruin the flow of the show for me.  In this case, I sometimes intentionally stop watching a show, hoping to watch the whole season in the spring and summer, when life is less hectic.

In the case of Parenthood, I watched the first three or four seasons, and fell off the wagon.  I bought the DVDs and caught up, but somehow missed the last two seasons.  (I'm pretty sure it was UCONN's fault, as I used that night to work on grad school stuff.)  So discovering this gem on Netflix has given me a whole new binge-watching fascination.

If you are unfamiliar with this classic, give it a gander.  In the first season, we are introduced to Max, and the rest of his family, as he is diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome.  Autism has a profound effect on families, and the directors of Parenthood do a fine job illustrating some of the many quirks that are reality in many homes and classrooms.  And yes, a kid can be autistic and gifted.  Really.  I've had quite a few on my caseload in seventeen years, and learned so much from them!

But not every perceived obsession or overreaction signals an autism diagnosis.  Gifted kids are just darned quirky, sometimes.  Heck, we all have our obsessions.  Some of us -- gifted, and non-gifted, could be diagnosed with a veritable alphabet soup of disorders, if we spent too much time on WebMD.  There is a terrific article by the Institute for Educational Advancement (IEA) about "The Bright Side of Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children" that had me flashing back on one of my favorite scenes in Parenthood.  

After the diagnosis of Max, his aunt and uncle, Julia and Joel, begin to suspect that their daughter, Sydney, is also autistic.  The family pulls together, and Sydney is whisked away to be tested by Max's psychologist, who immediately calls Julia and Joel into his office for his official diagnosis.  Bracing themselves, they listen carefully to the doctor, who confirms their suspicions.  Something is amiss with Sydney.  She is different from other children.  

Sydney is gifted.

Joel and Julia exchange looks of astonishment, and then relax.  They spend some time hiding this newfound fact from the family, a bit embarrassed by this new revelation.

The reality is that this is not, necessarily, good news.  Sydney is gifted.  AND -- the writers of Parenthood fail to mention this -- she needs specialized goals and instruction to reach her full potential.  She may have a quirky fascination with a weird topic.  She might have a photographic memory, or synesthesia, tasting music or seeing colors where letters should be.  She may be alphabet soup, with a host of other diagnoses that require specialized interventions.

The world snarks at gifted -- and the reality is that it isn't something that should cause anyone to relax.  If anything, it's a call to action.  Because that newly-identified kid is already under-served, and has a whole lot of catching up to do to reach his full potential.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Speed of Life

In the next two weeks, all sorts of new things will happen.  Son #1, Scott, and his wife, Jennie, are expecting a baby girl.  Carter will become a big brother!  Son #2, Ben is settling on his first house, and the playground will be rebuilt by hundreds of community volunteers, after being destroyed by arson nearly three years ago.  Our daughter, Kristin, will come home from college for the weekend, hoping to be able to see her new niece on her way through our house to a concert in Shippensburg with friends.  I will start classes at Drexel, and host another Twitter Chat.  (Shameless plug - Tuesday at 7 pm, EDT!  #reflectiveteacher).

All of this independence on the part of my children leaves me to conclude something that I don't really like to admit;  somehow, I am now an adult.  Even worse, I appear to be the MOTHER of three adults.  I'm not really sure how, or when, this happened, but this four day weekend has given me time to slow down and contemplate, and all this contemplation has lead to one really big conclusion.

I need to go back to work, where the speed of life is nearing the speed of light.  Tomorrow I will return to my classroom, where despite precise lesson plans all shiny and ready to be taught, it will be the unexpected that will be what fills the hours between 7:30 and 3. 

For it is there that, despite the speed of life, my age seems to slow down, as my world is filled with teenagers instead of adults, who offer the perspective of youth, and the ability to escape to home in the evening, where I can be thankful once again!

Sunday, September 6, 2015


Part of this weekend's TO DO list included brainstorming a list of questions that could be used this week in the Twitter Chat.  I'm co-moderating again on Tuesday.  Despite what some may think, there is actually a process that includes brainstorming a topic, generating and refining questions, and then publicizing the topic to lure teachers to the discussion.  

Quite frankly, it's like planning a party and inviting an unlimited number of people, and then worrying for the first ten minutes if the only people who are going to show are you and your two best friends.

The  format for the discussion basically works like this:

1.  Moderators brainstorm topics, and suggest questions on a shared googledoc.
2.  Questions are discussed, refined, combined, and finalized.
3.  The amazing Beth creates a s'more poster that can be pushed out in multiple tweets, and shared online in other social media venues that includes the topic and the question.
4.  The "usual" participants tweet, retweet, favorite, and post about the event, hoping to convince others to join in.  

Given the fact that the #reflectiveteacher chat includes moderators from around the world, times are listed for a variety of time zones.  The global perspective often offers greater discussion, and all sorts of additional research after the chat is over.

The biggest challenge for me is to limit my comments to 140 characters, which includes the hashtags and people to whom I am directing responses.  Brevity has become my best friend, while trying to communicate something as complicated as educational strategies or philosophy.

Yet I am strangely drawn to this new practice.  My PLN is widening, and I am connecting and learning in a way I've never learned before.  It's something new, and I'm sure it won't be the last "something new" I try, in my ever-constant challenge to connect with professionals as well as students, making meaningful outcomes for all.

So consider trying something new this week.  Heck, if you're not sure what, register for Twitter, and join me (and Beth!) on Tuesday night at 7 pm EDT (6 pm CDT, 11 am New Zealand), and follow the conversation at #reflectiveteacher.

It's an acquired taste, but you'll never know if it is for you if you don't, at least, try.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Making Connections.

It's the last hurrah travel weekend of the summer.  One relative is in Denmark and a friend is in California meeting her grandson for the very first time, both having successfully caught planes, trains and automobiles to complete their journeys.  I've connected with my husband, in our usual jaunt through two local antique shops, sharing stories, and catching up on the week's events.  I've played Trivia Crack with my daughter, chatted with my daughter-in-law-to-be about wedding invitations and my mother about the purchase of a new chair,  drawn monsters with my grandson, and supported the local farm stand with the purchase of yet another basket of Roma tomatoes, while dropping off empty egg cartons for their entrepreneurial adventure.  This weekend is about connections, in every sense of the word.

Tomorrow, I will connect with my lesson plans for next week, and finally order my shiny new passes from Vistaprint.  The year is falling into place nicely, and the honeymoon period with my learners is still going strong.  On Tuesday night, I'll once again try my hand at hosting a Twitter chat with teachers.  The topic this week is "Teaching Tolerance."  (If you're a teacher, join us, 7 pm EDT on Twitter -- #reflectiveteacher).

I know I'll reach the point where I'll need that tolerance advice.  I may even need to speak to myself about it.  But in the meantime, I'll connect with everyone, and thing I can, making sense out of nonsense, spaghetti sauce out of tomatoes, and lesson plans out of ideas.  The world thrives on connections.  

And so do I.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sit. Stand. Work.

Photo by edutopia

 The thrill of the hunt continued today.  Despite 3 new CVS location visits, I was unable to locate any more green chairs.  (Now reduced to 75% off!)  I'd really like to find 4 more, as I know that at least a few will fall victim to tomfoolery at some point during the semester.

After seven school days, I am more than pleased with both the chairs, and the reaction to them.  Kids come in my room and perk up, just a bit, and settle quickly into a comfortable space.  I'm still adjusting my opinions about whether I should allow students to sit with laptops in the chairs, working on proposals or written assignments, as the jury is still out on how effective that is in terms of productivity. The only down side appears to be the jealous glares of the members of the class across the hall.

In addition to the green chairs, I've also added a "standing table," -- a 4 foot long table that I picked up at Costco, which which is available to any student who would rather stand than sit in my room.  Standing tables are getting a LOT of attention these days, as is the idea of creating alternative spaces to engage students.  Edutopia has a wonderful article -- which includes the photo above -- that pretty much sums up the "Pick your battles" method to motivating learners. (I particularly loved the story of the boy in the rocking chair on the windowsill.  Fortunately I have narrow windows and no rocking chairs in my room...)

What do I do to show I care about my students?  I have lap robe blankets in my closet, for when the air conditioning gets too cold, or the heat is lacking.  I don't care if they charge their phones in my room, as long as they leave them alone, I bring in aloe tissues for sick kids, instead of the sandpaper tissues the district provides.  I have a stash of inexpensive school supplies that I pick up when places mark stuff down to 90% off, and I usually have a mint or a granola bar for the truly desperate.

Are my expectations for quality work high?  You bet.  Is it a battle to see quality in the work of my students?  Not since I focused on proving to them that I care.

Tomorrow I will check a few more CVS stores, hoping for four more chairs.  It's the thrill of the hunt, I tell you.

And the thrill of successful students.