Eye Spy

Reflective teacher

This summer I participated in the #clmooc. It was a fantastic, although slightly overwhelming experience and I’m still returning to our Google+ home in order to draw inspiration from it.

Ironically, the idea that inspired me most didn’t come from any of the projects we created, but rather the #followfive practice. Each week we were asked to choose five people whose ideas or work inspired us. I began to wonder what impact it would have on my teaching if I were to take that concept into the real world and choose teachers I work with to follow. This year I’ll find that out. I’ll be entering my colleagues’ classrooms to learn from them and their students.

Since I’m teaching five periods a day, I only have a limited amount of free time to do this though. To make it manageable I decided I would only follow two. My goal is to focus on seeing lessons develop rather than only seeing the end result.

I’m hoping my #follow2 experience will make me feel more connected to what happens outside my classroom and beyond my team, and I’m excited about how this experience will add richness to my own practice. I’m also looking forward to the conversations that will come from these moments and the chance to explore new ideas.

I’ll keep you posted.


What Can I Do?

Challenge, Technology

I’ve always tried to involve my students in the decision making process at the start of the year, but the way I have approached this has evolved.  When I was a new teacher it was about creating rules and defining consequences.  Now I focus more on what we should do to have a safe, comfortable and creative classroom, rather than all the “don’ts”.   To help my students explain specific behaviors instead of speaking generally I often ask them, “What does that look like?”,and that’s what I said today when students said class should be fun.  Their response? Projects and hands-on learning.  Even though they struggled to explain specifically what was fun about these two things (many had never been asked before to think this way), what soon became clear was that my students were really saying they want to be actively engaged in the learning.  So how can I use technology to address this desire and provide my students with some “cool” projects.

Fortunately, as I was thinking (okay surfing Pinterest) I came across this blog post discussing the use of the Mad Lips App in the classroom.  It was exactly what I was searching for, creative, hands-on, and interactive.

My Take: One of the concepts I want my students to understand is the integral role research plays in the writing process. I want to show them that research isn’t always about producing reports and essays, people who write fiction do extensive research to create authentic pieces of writing.  Inspired by the blog, I am going to have my students research a famous person from Medieval times, and use what they find to write a short monologue from the point of view of the person researched explaining a critical moment in the person’s life.  They will then record it using Mad Lips.

Why use an App?  Using research to produce a product will help students understand how a writer synthesizes information and uses imagination to breathe life into facts. Certainly, my students could simply write the monologue, but recording it teaches them about voice, and the decisions a writer makes about how to present a character.  Recording the monologue can also help students practice editing and the time limit given to record teaches precision and word choice.  Writing and recording the monologue in character also provides me with the opportunity to show students how to use research to create something new, rather than simply copy what has already been done.  Using this App also forces students to think creatively, to consider how this person would speak, what tone they would use, and how they might want others to perceive them.  Oh yeah, and it’s fun, which I realize should not be the only purpose for integrating tech, but it should be one of them, especially since that’s what my students requested.

Happy New Year!


Tomorrow is the first day of school.  Lunch is made, clothes are ironed, and I’m headed to bed early.  But before I go, I decided to take up the thirty day blog challenge and set some goals for the year.  I tried to keep them fairly simple.

1. Remember no matter how grown up they try to be, 8th graders are still kids.

2. Smile, even if I don’t feel like it.  Eventually I will.

3. Pick someone who’s hard to like and be their biggest advocate.

4.  Assume people mean well and react accordingly.

5. Be kind-especially to the negative people.

6. Take a risk.

7. Get enough sleep, and drink water.  It’s hard to have positive energy when I’m tired and run down.

8. Write.

9. Stop worrying about other people’s opinions.

10. Have fun.

Here’s to another exciting new year.

Sound and Light

Story telling
Let's Go to the Carnival

Image courtesy of http://tinyurl.com/nskadzq

I was really intrigued by Kevin Hodgson’s Soundscape story that he created during this week’s Make Cycle for #clmooc, so much so that I decided to try my hand at making one.

Getting Started

After listening to Kevin’s story, I began thinking about how sound and silence could be used to create transitions that help the listener/reader follow the plot.  I decided that I would try using silence to indicate places in my story where I wanted to transition from one scene to the next.  My idea was to create a story within a story.   I think it worked, but the true test will come from the listener.  Will it make sense to someone who doesn’t know what I was trying to accomplish?

My Soundscape Story
The Outcome

I had a blast thinking about how to tell this story, but it was crucial that I had a plan or I would have been completely lost searching for sounds. I tried to use sounds that were  universal and easy to recognize(hopefully).  I didn’t want the listener to lose the story trying to figure out the sound. That to me is the drawback to the Soundscape,  I don’t think we are as adept at reading sounds and it’s very easy to misinterpret what you hear.

I did make use of the website freesound.  What a fantastic resource for finding sounds for story-telling! I also added my own twist to the idea of a Soundscape. Unlike the inspiration story, I chose to use tracks with words. Since it is all ambient sound, I feel I stayed true to the original intent of telling a story with only sound.

You can read more about Soundscape stories and the ideas that inspired me at Kevin’s Meandering Mind.


Sounds for my Soundscape story came from:

Shall We Play A Game?


Each year we create a game to play with our 8th graders while the rest of their classmates are in Washington D.C.  We have had some great games in the past, but I think it’s fair to say that this time we outdid ourselves with our Survival Game.

We kicked things off with a viewing of the movie Supervolcano.  It’s a little silly, but its documentary style was perfect for setting the scene.

We followed that with this hilarious newscast made by one of my colleagues.

To simulate the effect of a disaster, we shut off all the lights in the auditorium. Only the emergency lights and the flashlights we carried were lit. The kids ate it up and immediately began to get in character.  Then we led them to our classrooms.

When they got there things were completely dark; caution tape stretched across the hall and plastic cording hung from the ceiling to look like loose wires.

Setting the Scene            hallway

Seeing this, the students’ imagination took over and they let themselves become a part of the story we were creating.  As they created their first video diaries, fake tears streamed, coughs broke out and voices cracked while our students pretended to struggle with the ash fall.

Over the next four days we played a variety of games.  There were many favorites, like hog-tying chairs to show their expertise with knots, or bandaging their classmates’ imagined injuries, but there were two games that students would have spent hours playing. The first was a team building activity we adapted called “Cave”.  To play this game students had to move teammates from one side of a web to the other without touching the string.  It was a challenge that required them to listen well and pay attention to each other.

The other was when they planned and built survival shelters in a small wooded area beside our school.  This challenge called on their creativity and ingenuity. They were only allowed to use a limited number of man-made materials, and could only use natural items they found on the ground.  One group did such a good job they came out the next day to find students from the elementary school that shares our property playing in their shelter.

IMG_4184       IMG_4171

Our game culminated in a trip to our local YMCA camp.  The staff there really helped to keep the survival atmosphere alive.  The guides at the camp scanned our students on arrival for radiation using scanners they made out of tin-foil, and the director prepared a speech for them about an apocalyptic event that had just occurred. They taught our students how to filter water, build a fire using flint, make a shelter from trees and greenery and take on the challenges of the climbing wall and high ropes.

The whole week was a fantastic time, and the things our students learned through this game are something I know they will remember forever.  I also know there is a huge benefit to planning games like this, and I recall a time when these thematic events were the rule rather than the exception. But games on this scale involve a lot of collaboration and flexibility, something many teachers don’t always have the freedom to give as the demands of curriculum and testing pull us further apart.  I’m not saying it can’t be done, it’s just that some days it’s easier to take the path of least resistance.

Still, there are many elements that we included in this “mega-game” that I can, and do use everyday. Simple games like matching, roll a story, scavenger hunts, even role-playing games are easy to work in, and when done thoughtfully, they make the learning meaningful. The bottom line is, at least for me, that regardless of the scale, if you give students a problem to solve and the freedom to solve it in any way they can imagine, it will always feel like a game.





Inspired by last year’s #clmooc memes, I incorporated meme making into my classroom quite a bit this year.  It made what my students were learning feel more like play and gave them the freedom to be a little silly.  As a matter of fact, they liked them so much my students made memes for almost everything.

This year I am also inspired by the path our meme making took.  I enjoyed our foray into the usefulness and purpose of memes, and while I still prefer their humorous aspect, next year I’ll be using memes to help my students explore serious ideas too.

Something else happened for me this week too.  As memes were posted I began to notice the way in which everything was starting to connect. I became fascinated watching people bounce off, build and reinvent what others had started (Okay, I did a lot of lurking). Through it all I saw some common threads emerge:

1. We are all passionate about what we do.

math meme         hey girl
2. We all have a crazy, quirky sense of humor, that at times may verge on the sarcastic,but there is humor and hope in our shared understanding.

susan's cat

3. We all have a little bit of activist in us, and we want to share that message.


4. We like to play,


but have serious side too.


Taken collectively, our memes began to represent the culture and community #clmooc is creating. This was the most interesting takeaway of all.


Numbers Are Serious Stuff


When I read the reflection Kevin Hodgson posted about the creation of serious memes, it struck a chord. I knew I wanted to extend the conversation by responding to the way students are being quantified, and to show that our students are so much more than the data we collect. This led to the idea of representing a student through the symbols of ones and zeroes.

In the true spirit of a meme I probably should have used the same image as Kevin, but the expression in this photo was another important layer for me, so I used my own image edited in Wordphoto.  I then used the Halftone App to add the captions and the barcode at the bottom. I’m not sure if technically this is a meme.  It feels more like a political cartoon, but I’m happy with it.


Subtotals that make up my week

Number of times I viewed posts in the Google+ space: 26.  Number comments or likes: 5.  Number of times I searched the #clmooc on Twitter: 6.  Number of ideas I had for my first how-to: 3.  Number of fails: 2.  Number of colleagues and friends who look at me funny when I try to explain #clmooc: 8. Number of times I missed Follow 5 Friday :1.  Number of laundry items I am going to use in my next make: 2.  Number of lists I have made: 2.  Number of new tools I have found and registered to use: 2.  Number of memes made: 1. Number of ideas inspired by week 1: 5.  Number I hope to complete: 5.  Number I will: ?
Thanks for a fantastic and inspirational first week!

This list and reflection was inspired by Gregory Burnham’s very short story, “Subtotals“.

How-To Survive a Make Emergency


Don’t you just hate it when a great idea comes to you while you are out somewhere, and sadly, you have no way to capture it except scribbling on the scraps of drinking straw on the floor of your car, or a soggy cocktail napkin.  You are smack dab in the middle of a make emergency.  You need a make emergency kit.

Sure, sure, some of you are thinking, thanks to my Smart Phone I never have that kind of emergency anymore. But the truth is, at least for me, nothing beats the hand-feel of pen on page. Something about that feel just sparks the fire.  So here’s my how-to for creating your own survival kit.  Hope it helps.  By the way, I still like to scribble on scraps too.  Maybe that should be a make, drinking straw poems.  Hmmm, let me get my kit.

1.An eReader, because it’s easier to carry around books that inspire you this way 2.Sun block and lip balm, because it’s hard to make cool stuff when you have a sunburn  3.	Sunglasses, because makers are cool 4.	A disposable raincoat: perfect drop cloth, good weather protection, and you can make cool stuff out of it 5.	A journal, for stealing, remixing and thinking on the go 6.	A book to inspire you, motivate you and push you to make cool stuff 7.	Umbrella, because you never know  8.	Advil, for long hours spent in one position  9.	Tide Stick, for those times when you eat and make, and make a mess 10.	A bag of stuff: markers, paints, pencils, sharpeners…because you’ll need tools 11. A “smart” phone (not pictured) because you’ll want to share your “cool stuff”

1. An eReader, because it’s easier to carry around books that inspire you this way
2. Sun block and lip balm, because it’s hard to make cool stuff when you have a sunburn
3. Sunglasses, because makers are cool
4. A disposable raincoat: perfect drop cloth, good weather protection, and you can make cool stuff out of it
5. A journal, for stealing, remixing and thinking on the go
6. A book to inspire you, motivate you and push you to make cool stuff
7. Umbrella, because you never know
8. Advil, for long hours spent in one position
9. Tide Stick, for those times when you eat and make, and make a mess
10. A bag of stuff: markers, paints, pencils, sharpeners…because you’ll need tools
11. A “smart” phone (not pictured) because you’ll want to share your “cool stuff”