Monday, September 7, 2015

The Road to Simple and Seamless

"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, 
we rob them of tomorrow." ~John Dewey

Photo by Jinoba

What do we need to do to make technology woven into our teaching and learning? 

What do we need to change to make it less of an "event"?

How do we move from the state of mind that technology is a special tool, much like a dessert, instead of the table setting that is a necessary and obvious part of the landscape that simply blends into the background?

The #compelledtribe blogging group topic for this week couldn't have been more timely for me.

Because these are the exact questions I've been asking myself.

Photo from Wikimedia

The number of classrooms full of students that I am teaching.

The number of classrooms full of students that I desire to bring to a new level of knowledge.

The number of classrooms full of students I hope to be able to help understand that technology isn't simply an event that takes place at a certain time of the week that they see me, but can take place anytime and anywhere.

The number of classrooms full of students I wish to connect - to each other, to their community, and to the world.

Photo by Jen Houlette

The road to get there may be many miles long.

Especially with an outdated, or missing map of the land.

And the road most likely will have twists and turns, barriers and dead ends.

Making the use of technology into something that is second nature, is sometimes quite a trip.

Is there a right way? Is there a wrong way? It's hard to say.

Unless you're in the vehicle at the front of the caravan on the road, it's almost impossible to imagine.

But here are my first steps down that road:

*Connect lessons to the content learning taking place in the classrooms and the skills the students need to be able to do.
In most of my classes this week, I was able to connect the technology lesson I was doing to a reading, science, or social studies standard that was a focus in their classroom.

*Make creating and sharing more important than consuming.
This week I overheard a few students ask, "What game are we going to play?" I had a small twinge of panic as I realized that our view on the use of  technology may be on opposite ends of the road. It's my desire to move students toward the realization that a technology device can help them create amazing things, not just entertain them with mindless games.

*Take risks - variety is necessary.
I've done more risk-taking in my first couple weeks in my new role than I have in a long time. I could not have imagined myself doing six Google Hangouts with multiple classes at once, or realizing with only 15 minutes notice one morning that I would need a Plan B when two kindergarten classes were left with devices in locked mode, or that I would be required to "wing it" when the internet froze in the middle of a fourth grade lesson. My students need to know that it's ok to take risks, and it's ok if things don't work out perfectly.

The road to simple and seamless is one we need to travel together, especially when technology is concerned.

Yes, we need to do things differently.

Yes, we need to take technology and the way we teach it out of the box we've put it in.

After all, the road is about the students, and this is why we do what we do:

Photo by Jen Houlette

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Poems for the First Day

Photo by Jen Houlette

The students are all on their way

They're eager to learn and to play

The classrooms are ready

for learning to grow

We're energized for the first day! 

Students and Teachers.... 
this is my hope for you:

That you will.....
know that you have amazing gifts
be able to share your voice
shine in your passions
create amazing things
realize learning is a journey
and know that you matter.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I Don't Know

Photo by Jen Houlette

"Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions,
never know too much to learn something new" ~Og Mandino

This week I had a lot of questions.

I also spoke the phrase, "I don't know" quite a few times.

As a question mark represents the unknown, I've been in the thick of an unclear fog and it's a little unnerving.

After many, many years of being quite certain what I needed to do to be ready for the first weeks of school, I'm going down a path I haven't been on before.

Starting something new isn't always easy. With new expectations, new relationships, and new responsibilities also comes new possibilities.

And even though this week wasn't easy, I was reminded this week of why I'm on this journey.

My one word focus for this year:

Art by Jen Houlette

As I wrote about on January 1st, I want to be open to allow these things to be created in my life:
and solutions.

Little did I know nearly 8 months ago that this is where I'd be today.

And while I still find myself thinking, "I don't know" ..... it's comforting to know that someday I will. :)

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's Almost Time

Photo by Jen Houlette

A few short weeks, and it will be time.

Time for schedules, lessons, organizing, preparing, decorating, planning.....and so on!

But most importantly, it will be time for building relationships, both old and new.

Over the last 20 years in the classroom, I have used a variety of activities to get to know my students: surveys, all-about-me activities, ice-breakers, sharing bags, partner interviews, and even the occasional "sign the box if you have this characteristic" game. :)

But last year was a year I did a lot of things differently. Yes, I still did a few of the things listed above, and they were great. But beyond knowing what makes each child unique, part of building relationships is giving time for students to talk about themselves....their ideas, opinions, and what makes our classroom a family that works together.

So, we spent a lot of time with literature.

I brought some of my favorite picture books into our read-aloud time to start out each day with a piece of literature and a discussion.

It was just part of my effort in establishing the type of  atmosphere in our classroom: one with kindness, trust, creativity, and positive attitudes toward ourselves and others.

Here are some of the books we used:

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Spoon thinks all his other utensil friends
have it so much better than him. But he discovers
he has unique qualities too!
Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
By the same author as Spoon! Chopsticks are
together all the time, but after an unfortunate incident,
they have to learn how to do life on their own.

Bluebird by Bob Staake
This beautiful, wordless book is great for a discussion
 on friendship, bullies, and loss.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
What happens when you have the opportunity
to be kind, and choose not to? Very
intriguing thoughts arise from this story.

Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds
We enjoyed this story (by the same author as
The Dot, Ish, and many other great books).
Super story about creativity and what happens when
Marisol can't find the right color to paint the sky.

Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed
This book about unexpected friendship
has everything - moments that will make
you laugh, cry, and be intrigued.

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
No one seems to notice or care about
a student named Brian.  A great story for
discussing kindness, friendship, and making
sure all students are considered important.

The Most Magnificent Thing
by Ashley Spires
This story was a favorite of our class
and a great way to showcase that creative
ideas come with frustration and
multiple attempts.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
This is a fun, creative story about when Duncan's
crayons wrote letters to him expressing why
they were quitting. We used it as a way to talk
about how we are all unique and shouldn't
prejudge others based on their outsides but can
work together like a wonderful rainbow.

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi
Zero felt exactly how she looked ~ a big,
empty nothing. Great story about finding
how everyone has value.

Weird! by Erin Frankel
What do you do when a bully makes fun of you
for who you are? This book tells the story and also
includes great bully prevention notes in the back.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
Who hasn't ever played with a plain, old
cardboard box? Great book about using
creativity and imagination.

Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light
Louise loves to draw and create
imaginative masterpieces. What will
happen when her brother, Art, gets a hold
of one of them?
The Sandwich Shop by Queen Rania Al Abdullah,
with Kelly DiPucchio
This story about best friends takes a turn when two
inseparable girls discover they can't get over
the differences in what they eat for lunch.
Great lesson about acceptance.

I Wish I Were A Butterfly by James Howe
Most of us have felt at one time or another that we
weren't good enough, or wished at one point to be someone
else. This book is about recognizing the 
unique qualities in ourselves.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This is a chapter book, unlike the others.
However, it was an amazing read-aloud to start out
our year. The message about choosing to be kind
is one we referred to all year.

Special thanks to all the educators who write and share about their favorite books -- I've been inspired to pick up so many new titles in the last year!

Wishing everyone a great start to the school year. Use picture books with any age level -- and see where the conversations lead you! :)


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Carve a Tunnel

“Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo by Jen Houlette
Disappointment and anger were evident in his eyes.

Tight lips and crossed arms added to his posture and I knew something was wrong.

A few rude comments from another boy had started off this day with him feeling trapped in a tunnel.

Although he initially brushed it off when I asked him, the smiles were not easy to come by on this particular morning.

We went about our lessons, reading, writing, activities to boost their skills and confidence over the summer. And before we knew it, it was time for a bit of fresh air.

I watched as he took off like a rocket, running quickly around the playground from one piece of equipment to another.

Surrounded by many other kids, but yet alone.

He took off again and coming back my way I could see the anger still in his eyes.

Running mad.

Running on the outskirts of the playground.

Running away..........from something.

As he stopped and took a break by a picnic table, I saw him rest his head in his hands.

That's when I made my move.

He didn't know me really, and I didn't know him much either. I was just the substitute summer school teacher for a handful of days, after all.

But in that moment, I was his teacher and I cared about his feelings.

It was mostly small talk at first. But it didn't take long for him to open up.

What started as a few questions......."How are you doing today?" "It's great to get outside after all the rain we've had for two days, isn't it?" "I noticed  you run fast, do you play any sports?"..........ended in a much different way.

A talk about loss. A talk about separation. A talk about dealing with anger because little disappointing things remind you of bigger disappointing things.

In a handful of minutes we talked a lot.

I made some connections with my own losses and hurt.

I instilled a little hope because I've felt the same way sometimes.

And maybe, just maybe, I carved a little light into his tunnel.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A New Experience at #ILA15

Photo from Unsplash

The setting was not new -- but the experience was.

In the shadow of the Gateway Arch, on the banks of the Mississippi River, lies the city of St. Louis. It was the location of our family vacation in 2003 as well as a few other short stops over the years I've lived here in the Midwest.

But this time was different, in purpose and in company.

St. Louis was the host city for the #ILA15 (International Literacy Association) July 17-20, 2015.

And it was my first time to attend a large, educational conference.

My district sent approximately 30 educators to the conference and I was truly grateful for a chance to not only spend time with my great colleagues, but to also learn more about literacy ideas and research. I was able to learn a variety of ideas about the importance of reading, brain-based strategies, technology tools, and ways to help students grow in many areas of literacy.

Southeast Polk Educators at ILA
--most of the group! :)
Personally, the trip was a little bittersweet as I spent the entire weekend with 3 of my colleagues from the school I've been at (forever!) and now I will be at different schools this fall. I truly appreciate the time we were able to spend together talking, laughing, eating, and learning together.


Instead of describing every amazing detail of the conference, I'll highlight some memorable thoughts:

"The key to positive reading identity is engagement." Donalyn Miller

"What doesn't have reading research behind it? Test prep and motivational pencils."  :)
Donalyn Miller and Teri S. Lesesne

"Motivation and background level can overcome reading level." Donalyn Miller

"Reading is for leisure and learning." Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris

"We want students to use technology tools that engage students to read, write, talk, and think." Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris

"Contraliteracy is our well intended practices that have negative effects on literacy development." Justin Stygles

"Reading shame comes from an internalization in deficiency." Justin Stygles

"Mentor text experiences integrate instruction." Maria Walther

"Surround mentor texts with collaborative conversations." Maria Walther

"When we read we bring with us our past experiences." Dana Karraker

"Students have learned compliance. Now let's engage them!" LaVonna Roth

Awesome buttons from Anderson's Bookshop

To the ILA organizers, speakers, attendees, and especially my district and all my SEP friends, thanks for a memorable weekend of learning!

Sign at Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis

Saturday, July 11, 2015

#EdCampSurfIA - Why not?

Why get up early on a Friday morning in the middle of the summer?

Why drive 2 hours away from home to meet a room full of people I haven't met?

Why make the decision to do this less than 2 days from the event?

Why not?

After getting my daughters up and off to swim practice,
I was on the road a little after 6 am!

Yesterday's EdCamp experience in Clear Lake, Iowa was well worth the early morning drive. It was organized by Steve Kwikkel (@SKwikkel), Principal at Clear Lake Middle School as well as Kay Schmalen, Nicki Barragy, and Emily Hill.

A unique venue for our EdCamp.
Instead of having the EdCamp in a school, we gathered in the historic Surf Ballroom. Located just about a block from the lake itself, it was like a step back into time.....a time of big bands, dancing, and music legends.
I  could have spent more time here
reading all the historic info!

  After meeting (for the first time) some long-time Twitter friends, Darin (@AnIowaTeacher) and Kory (@KoryTellers), I felt like I was in absolutely great company! Shortly after an introduction, the attendees started filling up the session board with ideas. I was amazed the board was filled up in about 5 minutes!  The majority of the attendees were first-time EdCampers. For myself, it was the 5th EdCamp in 10 months. Can you tell that I enjoy these experiences?

A view of the ballroom from the lobby.
After a few words from the organizers, we divided up into different sections of the lounge and ballroom according to our choices. The hardest thing was choosing a session, but luckily notes were taken for each section. If you're interested in some new ideas, click HERE for the whole collection of notes.

Here's a summary of the sessions I attended. First, I went to the Google in the Classroom session. We discussed various Google apps, ideas, and management systems. I learned some new options for using Google Forms.

After that session was over, I attended a small group (4 of us) about Blogging. We discussed different ways to use blogging in the classroom to collect student responses, share ideas and projects, and have students write more about what they are learning in different content areas.

My third session for the morning was about Gamification and Coding. This is an area that I don't know much about but am interested in learning more. I collected a lot of new ideas and resources to look at later. My 4th grade students loved the coding activities we did last year on and for the Hour of Code. I hope to attend a training on coding this fall and use it with some students during media next year.

Next ---> lunchtime! Two local restaurants, The Anchor Inn and SIPS, gave us pre-order menus for lunch. At the Anchor Inn, we were greeted with a sign and a table ready with our food prepared. It was a relaxing, fun time to eat and talk. And BONUS - we had more than a 20-minute lunch (this is exciting for teachers).

Sandwiches, soups, salads, and more!
The Anchor Inn welcomed us for lunch!
Lunch with Darin Johnston and Kory Graham
*picture credit to Steve Kwikkel with Kory's phone :)
After lunch, I went to a session about Tech in the Classroom. There were some great ideas about connecting through Google Hangouts or Skype for projects and events. We also talked about how it's important to start small when you're a teacher that is just beginning to integrate technology. We discussed how to overcome some obstacles. There were some great ideas shared about apps, projects, creativity, and QR codes.

As the day was wrapping up (and the band was coming in to set up for the evening's show), I attended my last session about Tween Centered Classrooms. This was a great discussion about tweens and how their needs (intellectually, emotionally, physically, and more) need to be met in different ways. We all agreed that being present, developing relationships, and allowing some choice were at the top of these lists.

Although I didn't win anything from the prize table this time, I ended up leaving with a great feeling having met so many new connections -- educators that can help me as I continue my learning journey and friends whose paths I hope to cross again soon!

And...... I just had to catch a close up glimpse of the lake before I headed out of town. Wished I could have made the day last longer.

So, Why not join me next time?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Headed Into the Storm

I-80 West, mile marker 182, Grinnell, Iowa 6-28-15
Huge, billowing white clouds behind us.

Sun, rain, and dark clouds in front of us.

Caught between two beautiful pictures, but positioned to head right into the storm.

On our last of three trips back and forth to Grinnell, Iowa during the last weekend of June, we settled in for our ride home, only to be met with this scene as we merged onto the interstate. We had just finished a fun but exhausting weekend of swim competitions for our daughters and some of their teammates.

The looming clouds ahead, although beautiful, were also a sign of uncertainty.

How big was the storm?

Would we have to stop because of the rain?

Would we be able to still see the road?

Would other vehicles be able to see us?

As educators, we often see signs of an upcoming storm.......a student that is upset, an unexpected change of the day's plan or schedule, technology that stops working, a conversation that is overdue.....

How you do handle these storms?  Head on, full speed ahead? Gently, with caution? The way we respond to storms often determines the outcome, or "storm damage" as well as the way we handle the next storm. You don't want to be caught in a storm without an umbrella, or drown in the rain, but you also don't need to shy away from every raindrop.

As I start thinking about next year, I know there will be storms some days. But having a positive outlook and dealing gently with the signs of those upcoming storms will help me weather all kinds of situations.

Storms don't last forever, thank goodness! And the storm we drove through didn't either.

We made it through the storm fairly quickly, with sunny skies and fairly dry roads on the other side. 

What seemed to be a potentially stormy road trip didn't turn out too bad, and we enjoyed the rest of the ride home together.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Keys are unique and have different purposes.

Some are used daily to protect, to ignite, and to unlock.

Others are not as important until they are needed urgently and (ironically) cannot be found.

And a few are probably long forgotten, taking up space in the junk drawer.

One thing all keys have in common though -- they are a specific tool for a specific purpose. Unique and specifically fashioned for a task.

As educators, we're constantly searching for the perfect key to learning.

A tool to unlock our students' imagination, creativity, and engagement.

And just like there are many tools in a typical toolbox, there are many right answers to the question: "What is the best tool for _________?"

Teachers need to have many tools in their toolbox, because there isn't just one key to igniting learning. 

No one tool that works for everyone. 

No one right way to do things.

And that's a good thing! Our students are unique, with different preferences, learning styles, and abilities. Having a lot of tools in our toolbox is the KEY! Sometimes you'll have that key right there in your pocket, and other times you might have to search a bit for it.

But when you do find the right key for the right student, it can unlock new possibilities!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Taking Root

Stay true to your roots, but don't forget to allow
your branches to grow wide and your leaves unfold to the sun.

Time allows roots to grow deep.

Underneath the surface, the roots tell so many stories.

They reach far and wide, become interconnected, and help to provide the tree with life-giving water and minerals.

They help to anchor the tree and provide a networked base.

Roots are incredibly important.

Roots are also incredibly hard to yank out of the ground.

They are stretched.

They are torn.

And so am I.

I have deep roots.

With my colleagues.

And my school.

And the only job I have ever known.

I'm taking my roots and transplanting them.

And some of my roots will be left behind.

It will be hard to move to a new, sunny spot. 

To a new plot of grass.

To a new point of view.

But I will take root again.

And I will grow.

I will continue to engage, inspire, and lead  ~ allowing my branches to grow and my leaves unfold to the sun.

Stay tuned for updates on my new journey as K-5 Teacher-Librarian (media specialist), working with students and teachers while combining two of my passions ~ reading and technology! 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Blogiversary :)

I hesitantly clicked PUBLISH and off they went........ my thoughts into the unknown.

My blog started a year ago, May 25, 2014, and ever since then I've been on a reflective journey.

It all started with my first post, "A Summer of Learning"  as part of the #10summerblogs challenge on Twitter. This group was made of both seasoned educational bloggers as well as newbies like myself. We supported one another with feedback and comments and learned some great new ideas along the way.

Since then I've dabbled in other challenges and written posts about my classroom, educational experiences, and professional learning that has taken place this year.

It has been a great journey and I will continue to walk down this reflective path by posting my thoughts, celebrating my learning, and sharing my voice.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

My Summer "Vacation"

“Unless you do something beyond what you've already mastered, you will never grow.”
– Ronald E. Osborne
Summer Flowers
Summer can be a time of relaxation, rejuvenation, and time to learn new things. The summer breeze will blow, and just as quickly it will be over.

In the meantime, my calendar is filling up with various activities to keep me going! Here are the ones I've penciled in so far.....

*Participating in Technology and English-Language Arts Curriculum work
        It's always interesting and exciting to be a part of the team that looks at our curriculum more closely and makes adjustments to our plan, assessments, and activities. I helped with the math curriculum last summer, so I'm eager to participate in shaping the vision for tech and ELA this summer.

*Two days of planning with Building Leadership Team for next fall
       Our building's leadership team will be looking at how we can make an even bigger impact on student-parent-teacher relationships & communication as well as instructional practices during the upcoming school year. We will be meeting two days to put some plans in place for when we return to school in late August.

*Model Teacher meeting
        A training day will be held this summer for the current model teachers across the district. We will learn more about our role and how our work contributes to successful student learning as well as our collaborative role with other teachers and student teachers.

*Reading Class
       To continue my own education as well as impact the future generation of readers, I'm planning on taking a 2-day class about reading. I've already read 3 out of the 5 books that will be discussed in the class and look forward to the conversations and new insights I will gain during that time.
*International Literacy Association (ILA) Conference 
       I'll be attending the national conference of ILA in St. Louis, Missouri along with other educators from my building and district this summer. I'm looking forward to this great opportunity to learn from many experts!

On the personal side.......
*Cheering on my daughters at their swim meets this summer and keeping track of their schedules (swim, work, camp, ACT, and more!).
*Hoping to take a vacation (or two) sometime, somewhere...
*Working on two scrapbooks for my daughters

Personally, I have a big year ahead with my oldest daughter being a senior this fall so it's definitely time to get the to-do list created and some things lined up ahead of time. It will be a summer and year to remember.

It's Appreciated

Feeling appreciated.....
sometimes it's a smile, a handwritten note, or a hug.

Students have their own way of saying "Thank You" and no matter what form it takes,
it leaves me feeling appreciated.

Flowers from students during Teacher Appreciation Week
Some snacks from my 4th graders. Did they all get together
and decide on cereal bars? :)
Best Teacher certificate made by a 4th grader
& Starbucks!!

So thoughtful. :)

I'm grateful and honored to receive extra thank-you's this week during Teacher Appreciation Week and it reminds me why I do what I do. It's for the kids!

As much as my students and families have shown their appreciation this week, I also feel an appreciation for them! They bring me smiles, amaze me with what they can do, and teach me new things as well.

So here's a shout-out to all the great teachers out there ~ my near & dear colleagues, my own teachers from years ago, and all the other teachers & educators I've met along the way.

Thanks - it's appreciated. :)

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