Showing posts from September, 2016

Zen and the Art of Teaching

Teachers are mocked: Bad TeacherThe Substituteand Summer School, even Ferris Buellers’ Day Off depicted teachers as slow and out-of-touch. Filmatic teachers’ speak in monotone voices or screaming echoes. Hardly ever, are they portrayed as “real people.” We are real people actually with real families and real problems, and real personalities.  If ever we get a glimpse of a realistic educator their circumstances concern inner city gangs or minority racism. Which of course are great stories of diversity and strength but hardly indicative of most teachers.  I have worked at three schools in my ten years of teaching, all of them different, all of them unique. Each one of them changing me as a person and teacher. Each one setting the ground work for me to become the teacher I am today. I didn’t work in East L.A. or the Bronx, or even Detroit.  My students were challenging, funny, frustrating, demanding, and rebellious.  But also, my students were inspiring, humbling, and remarkable. Thi…

A Makerspace: How to Incorporate it into Your Classroom: Organic Compounds Posters

The makerspace in my classroom is used almost daily. Students used it last week to design organic compounds posters. These posters were the culminating activity after students were taught about the 4 types of organic compounds and what makes up organic compounds. After the direct instruction was finished, videos watched, and labs completed, I wanted students to create a poster, they could share with the class, of all the information in this unit.

When students created these posters, they had already used the makerspace several times and were well-prepared to chose supplies and design.The entire makerspace was open to students, rather than just going to play-doh as with the giant cells, students were more adventurous and chose random supplies found below in the cardboard boxes. Noodles, beans, buttons etc. were chosen to create the posters.

Students had one entire class period of 50 minutes to research and collaborate to determine how their poster was going to look. The second day they …

A Makerspace: How to Incorporate it into Your Classroom: Giant Cells

The makerspace in my room is used for many different things. This particular task- a group effort, was designed to make a giant cell. Each table was given an organelle. They had to research what that organelle did in the cell and create a simple model out of play-doh or any other makerspace material. They completed this task in a group of 3-4. 

This was an explore activity after students had begun writing their children's books on cells. Students had already created analogies for each of the organelles, drawn and labelled both plant and animal cells, and were quizzed on the different types of cells including prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.

The makerspace in my classroom is stocked with every art supply imaginable from glue, paper, buttons and of course various colors of play-doh. I set out various colors and they chose what colors to make each organelle. They also had a choice of anything in the makerspace. I also provided the giant paper, I went to the supply room and tore off gi…

"Thinking-outside-the-Box" Why is there a box?

A box, a container, a pen to corral, a keep sake, a presentation device. They can be small to encase jewelry, shoes, or even school supplies. They can be large like a sand box or shipping container. No matter the size or design all boxes have one thing in common: to restrain or isolate. They are not places to thrive and express, and share ideas. Rather a place to protect and covet. This is why I have never understood the saying "Think-outside-the-box."

If you want students and teachers to be creative and autonomous then do not put them in a box in the first place. The standards and required information focuses us on certain topics yes, but that should never force us into a box either. Stifling creativity by putting someone in a box and then saying just be innovative and think-outside-the-box is counter intuitive. It is a way for the powers at be to control.

Like on Christmas morning, tear open the box to see what is inside and toss the broken, torn pieces into the fire. Lose…


a feeling
the trickle of fear, worry
will I succeed, will I be accepted by my peers
I will attempt
I will take a deep breath and open my eyes
face the uncertainty
I will be alright if I
I will dust myself off
I will continue to push the limits
toward innovation

a thought
it crosses my mind at first
but then it grabs hold of my
forcing me to replay
it over and over in my mind
until I face it, hear it
embrace it

the fear of isolation
the silence after success
the humble realization of
lack of importance
a bustling landscape of self-centered ideas
a stampede of forward-thinking individuals all
searching for their own successes
a cog in a very giant machine
a grain of sand on a pristine beach
feel insignificant
courage persists

Bright eyed, eager children
seeking the road signs to lead them
to their own thinking
to their own path
let go of the reigns and
let th…

How Do You Inspire Students through Difficult Content?

There are topics as teachers we love to teach. A unit where our passion and interest floods in like a gasp. Students feel the energy and enthusiasm as you talk about it. The activities are authentic and engaging and students enjoy the topic because you do. They are interested and curious about the topic because you make it inviting and inspiring. Then there are the topics that you dread. You struggle to find a way to make it innovative and interesting. These are where we struggle, these are where we get exhausted before we even enter the classroom.

I have incorporated various tools to help myself find these topics more palatable and even find ways to find the passion and creativity I have with my favorite topics. Podcasting is the first thing I incorporated into my classroom. 1-minute expert segments where students share their ideas about the topic. Being only 1-minute, students do not feel intimidated about talking & sharing their thoughts. I listen to them and choose the most in…

Here Comes the Rain Again!

The dark, ominous clouds have rolled in. Flashes of lightning in the distance and thunder rolling in seconds later. The humidity is causing static to fill the air and the breeze, slight, is heavy almost like molasses. It reminds me of why I love a storm. The anticipation of the sky parting and a down pour splashing on the ground...spat...splat..splat. A melodic rhythm of boom, splat, boom splat. All the street lights begin to shine in the darkening landscape. To me a cleansing, a baptism into the new.

The sky outside is dark grey, thunder clasping at anyone who will listen. Lightning streaking across the horizon making sure that pedestrians are aware it is on the way. I am watching these inhabitants stare at the sky then run to their cars as the droplets begin to make contact. A bright afternoon has suddenly transformed into a shadowy period of empty streets and quiet sidewalks. Here comes the rain again.

There are so many great songs about rain. I made a playlist of them on Spotify. It…

Connecting the Dots: The Journey of a Pencil

I am long and skinny. Designed to come to a point when sharpened. I can help a thought come freely by sparking the imagination but I can also be used to write down the mundane like a grocery list or phone number. I deem myself worthy of these musings for I have been around for thousands of years. Once I was simply charcoal or chalk scraping on slate but now I am graphite scrolling on paper.

In my early years, I was naked and exposed. Staining the fingers of my users. Eventually, I became encased in wood surrounded by yellow paint and topped with a pink eraser. But, I am also found in mechanical utensils of various colors and designs. I am used to write prose, jot down notes, and compose symphonies. I can be permanent if glossed but usually I fade slowly by the passing of time.

I sketch ideas, draw graphs and charts, calculate math, and even find myself resting behind an ear or jammed into a ceiling tile. At one time I was the tool of preference but now only in schools. Although a form…

The Big Picture: Do You Know What I See?

                                The Personality Compass
At my first science meeting of the year, I was not surprised to find that my personality characteristics were vastly unique from my colleagues and team. While all of them fell into three directional categories I alone fell into the other. We took our places in the room and being alone on one side at first I felt the urge to just pretend I read the paper wrong and step over into another group. But, I didn't. I chose instead to be courageous and own my personality traits. This in fact is what makes me the quirky individual and forward thinking teacher that I am.

North’s are natural leaders, goal-centered, fast-paced, task-oriented, assertive, decisive, confident, determined, competitive and independent East’s are natural planners, quality-centered, analytical, organized, logical, focused, exact, perfectionists, industrious and structured. South’s are natural team players, process-centered, slow-paced, good listeners, non-confrontat…

Solitude: Quiet Reflection and Finding the Shoreline

My early morning begins with at least two of my four boys arguing about something. It is impossible to get through any morning with out it. Waves splashing, the salt burning my skin. It ends with my arrival at work, walking into my dark, quiet classroom. 20 minutes of isolation allowing me to focus on the day at hand. These minutes are about reflection and meditation. The calm, ripples of the water, a clear sight of the shore.

At home my solitude begins only with headphones and music for it is never quiet in my house unless all my children are asleep, which is rare. I used to seek a dark, corner where no one can find me. In the bath, warm water surrounding me. But now my solitude can be sitting on my bed typing up my blog post for the day listening to my favorite songs: usually alternative rock or classic rock. My favorite song currently is the theme from "Bloodline" the song is The Water Lets You In by Book of Fears. A fantastic T.V. show on Netflix by the way. The song is …

Respond not React: A Teacher's Journey

As a first year teacher I wish someone had come to me with this phrase, Respond not React. Challenging situations will arise but one must always slow down, breathe and with calm in your heart respond. I was not good at this for many years within my classroom walls, often letting students get me frustrated and reacting outwardly in this fashion. Students win when they get the best of you. They will try to get you flustered and angry to see if they can "get your goat." I have lost many goats over the years.

About ten years ago, well into my teaching career, I began to mediate and find ways to focus my frustrations down to a pin point where they could be dispersed rather than consume me. This is not to say that I never get upset or flustered in class, but being flexible and accepting of all opinions has allowed me to let things go more quickly than I often do in other situations. I stop, breathe, count to 4, smile (always smile) and refocus my energy.

I say to myself, these are…

Acceptance: Recognizing our Inner Strength

Growing up in my world of being bullied and teased relentlessly, created in me, a wall, too tall to traverse and too thick for sound to cross. This wall, still sturdy and impenetrable to many still casts a shadow over my personality. I go about my daily life sometimes forgetting it is there. Then situations arise where I retreat behind it afraid that others will not accept or appreciate my ideas. It is a human need to belong to something bigger than ourselves, family, friends, colleagues provide us these opportunities. Often, however, as individuals we can not find the level of comfort needed to let them in. To let them see the truth behind the curtain.

As a child, I always felt like the Wizard of Oz, or Willie Wonka, never Dorothy or Charlie. Many asked things of me, expecting me to deliver. But many just took with little regard of my feelings or needs. I knew I had something special, I knew I had ideas and creative thoughts, but being isolated behind the curtain and in the chocolate…

A Quick Book Review on 2 Amazing Education Books: Part 1

Fish In A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

This is a beautiful, poignant, insightful and relevant novel about growing up with Dyslexia. Like the main character, many children, including myself, grow up misunderstood. When I was in grade school I was always in trouble. I knew the principal on a first name basis. Not because I was a bad students, but because I, like the protagonist in the novel, would act out when I got frustrated. I was frustrated a lot because I could not understand the directions, or complete the math problems, or keep up with other students academically. Like Ally, I was not diagnosed with Dyslexia until 6th grade. This is an amazing book about life as a special needs child and the trials and tribulations a child with a learning disability face on a day to day basis.

The Writing on The Classroom Wall by Steve Wyborney

This is an insightful book about asking the right questions and getting your students to see the world from a different perspective. The author explains how w…

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates.....

Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. More often than not, these boxes of delicacies come in a prearranged assortment. Different shapes, sizes, even varieties. The diversity in each box is an attempt to accommodate the many personal tastes of consumers. To enable the chocolatier to sell as many boxes as possible.

Candies are divided by a paper wrapper and organized in evenly spaced rows. Each chocolate an individual with its own design and markings. Circular, square and even shell-shaped. Every morsel unique in flavor. Tidbits of caramel, fruit, marsh-mellow, and nougat dipped in dark, milk or white chocolate. Amazing goodness. No wonder they are the gift of choice on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day.

I have received many a box of chocolates in my life. Many were milk chocolate and delectable while others, nuts in the middle, I tossed immediately. Funny how most people do use their thumb and break the nibble apart to see what is inside be…

International Dot Day BDJH 2016!

International Dot Day!
September 15th is International Dot Day. All my class created dots and we hung them on the back wall. It was a day full of amazing discussions about what inspires them and ways in which they can be inspiring to others. As a class we also shared ideas on what makes something great? How there are varied degrees of greatness and what one person might feel is great another may have a distaste for. Finally, we shared ideas on how to be great every day.
Students responded to these questions in a positive and respectful manner. My favorite responses were geared around the "little things" that you can do daily to improve not only your own well-being but also that of others. Students shared ways they can make a difference at school by smiling, helping others, and staying positive throughout the day.
Another one of my favorites is one a student shared about failure and being great at something requires a lot of failure but a lot of grit and determination as wel…

Do What You Love, Love what you Do.

Teaching is a commitment. It is a calling. It is a choice. There comes a time in every one's life where you lose interest in something, where it becomes tedious and frustrating and no longer enjoyable. This has happened to me with knitting, yoga, and countless things over my life-time. But teaching, is something I love every day. There are days where my lessons are amazing and students are engaged and learning takes place. There are others where I think I have designed a successful lesson, I am so excited but it does not go as planned. I set out every day to find the joy in what I do. I love what I do and continue to do what I love.

I often hear other teachers complaining about certain aspects of teaching: behavior management, curriculum, new implementations, parents, students, etc. Frustrations are inevitable. But when every day is a struggle to get through, when you generally do not love your job, maybe it is time to retire or switch careers. You have to love children and be fl…

My Philosophy of Teaching

I have been writing, editing, and revising this for awhile now. My philosophy of teaching was written so I have a reminder every day of my purpose and path as an educator.

         Knowledge is a lifelong process. Observations, interactions, and assessments of daily encounters guide us through a constant state of learning. Through interactions with other people, individuals learn about their immediate surroundings and the world beyond. Discovery occurs with acceptance or rejection of common held beliefs. Education provides a challenging and inspiring learning environment in which children and adults alike can find commonality on an ever-changing planet.

One-way for children to understand and accept their place in their community and the world is to have a pupil-centered classroom. Students learn best when they can rely upon and trust one another as well as their teacher. Knowledge seekers need to find out what is true for them individually instead of conforming to what may be true fo…

Teaching: A Classroom is Like a Swimming Pool

A classroom can be designed to be an Olympic pool, one organized and disciplined with rows of ropes dividing. A crowded public pool filled with the unending laughing and splashing of children. Or even an infinity pool, on the edge of a precipice where swimmers can peer over the edge towards wonderment and curiosity. The most successful classroom being a combination of the three. Size does not matter but the safety and excitement of the swimmers/students does.

Every classroom has those students who sit up front and center, eager to talk and share. They are the first to dive from the highest board and expertly land into the deep end. They can wade in any current and are successful learners because they take risks and are willing to fail. They have belly flopped numerous times but always get back up on the board and dive again.

Some students prefer the middle of the pool. They can swim to the center and try a new style of swimming but they are also near the edge so they can grab on when…

A Poignant Postcard from Venice: November 2001: A September 11th Memory

This is a post card that was received in Venice November 2001. At first glance, it is shocking however, read it because it is very powerful and meaningful, not at all coming from a place of hatred or disrespect. The title throws you.

September 11th: A Recent Memory for Me but for Students it is History.

The day began as any other, two crying toddlers, diaper changes, and breakfast served in high chairs in front of "Bob the Builder." I was making their sippy-cups of juice when a breaking news story broke into the programming "A small passenger plane has just crashed in to the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York." There was a smokey image of the tower displayed on the screen. My sons began to whine at the loss of Bob the Builder so I changed the channel only to find the same image every time. I popped in a Thomas the Train video to sooth them.

I turned the television on in the kitchen. It seemed so calm at the time. "A fluke, pilot error, this is not supposed to happen, the reporters were saying."At first it was reported as a small aircraft, then the second plane hit. It was surreal because the camera's were rolling and a reporter was relaying information and a shadow of an aircraft made its way across the screen. The reporter fell silent…

Social Inclusion: Where do I fit in?

As a student growing up, I suffered from Dyslexia and a speech impediment. This created a challenging situation for me. I was ferociously bullied. This led me to be extremely introverted. I was never provided a place to find like-minded students and discover that I was not alone. I look back and wish I had had a place where I could have laughed and bonded with other introverted and learning disabled students. The question I asked my parents every night growing up "Where do I fit in? Why don't people like me?"

A day in the life of a Pokemon Club:

2:36, the bell literally just rang. As my 8th period exits my room a crowd gathers at my door. Excited, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders peering through the window. Anticipating their entrance. It feels like the opening day line of a Marvel Superhero movie, wide eyed fans, the vibration of energy in the air. This however, is this years first meeting of Pokemon Club.

I have mentored Pokemon here for years, long before Pokemon Go catapulte…

Open House: An adventure in Playdoh!

This last week we had an open house at our school. Rather than stand in the front of the room and discussing my classroom design, expectations, or rules and procedures, I typed up a flyer and sent an email to those who missed open-house about those topics. Instead, at each table I placed Play-doh, paper, various craft supplies, and asked parents to create something they love about about science that they can share with their child. If they hated science, then make something you hate about science. They laughed.

It was awesome to see parents interacting and creating a simple thing to take home to their children. I explained that this is our makerspace and students use this process almost every day to tinker and create something that demonstrates their knowledge. This provides them the freedom of choice to show their mastery. Each group was only with me for 8 minutes but they felt an instant connection to the class and it was a different experience for an open-house.

Having parents see th…

An Interactive Word Wall: Is it Truly Interactive

A word wall is a place to showcase pictures or artistic vocabulary posters. They can be useful if they are colorful and do not contain too many words all at once. A lot of vocabulary words on one wall is daunting and students will not embrace it. An interactive word wall is one created by students using artifacts, drawings, even large concept maps and data tables to help see the bigger picture. A word wall if often designed and created by a teacher before the lesson. An interactive word wall should be blank until step by step students create, design, and post their artifacts.

An interactive word wall could be online, a digital version on a class blog is always awesome. I like to leave a big open space on my chalk board for students to notice. They always ask "Why is that space blank?" I answer "That is your space to add your ideas, questions, and artifacts about our current unit. The makerspace has provided them with various tools to tinker and build artifacts. Our class…

Grant Writing: Is it Worth It?

I heard about grants. I even went so far as to look up certain grants and the requirements one needed to follow to apply. It seemed so overwhelming and time-consuming. I thought, why spend the long hours researching and writing and editing I was never going to receive the grant anyway. There are far too many people fighting for the same grant. Mine would never be considered.

Then I discovered the Katy ISD Education Foundation. A local grant foundation offering grants to Katy ISD teachers. I read their requirements, attended a grant writing course in the district, and listened to other grant winners explain their process and how they were successful. This motivated me to take the leap. Rather than just write one grant-many hours of research, writing, and editing I wrote three. I received one.

My first grant application was for $1000 to implement a Lego Robotics team at my school. This was also the hope of several other schools who indeed received grants, I however did not for this part…

My Motherly Quest to Make Connections with My Children

Day 6 #blog365

The bustling world of You Tube, Nintendo DS, Pokemon, makes it a challenge sometimes to bring my family together. Sunday's are no device days. This often frustrates my digitally driven teenagers and tablet consumed six year old. But, I enforce it.

A day in Galveston, visiting the Zoo, going to a Movie, all options. But not necessarily in the budget. As parents my husband and I decided that one of us would stay home until all of our children were in high school. Well our little one came along and extended this for a few more years. As a teacher, well, inexpensive or free options are a must. The ultimate family night for us is playing board games.

My family has about 100 board games we have collected over about twenty years. Our favorites are Ticket to Ride, Titanic, Risk, and Taboo. The face-to-face time board games provide allow us to laugh, interact, and rekindle after a long week of school. Getting away from technology is not only important for my children but als…

After-School Clubs: A Way to Build Connections with Students

Day 5 #blog365

About ten years ago I was sitting in my room and the phone rang. It was a teacher from another school who wanted to know if I wanted to form a robotics team at my middle school. I had never thought of it actually, being my 5th year of teaching, I had settled into a groove but had not ventured outside the classroom walls with students. I jumped at the chance. This was not a paying position purely voluntary, as my science competitions have always been for me, but the opportunity they provide, is immeasurable.

I have had science club ever since, consisting of various different science or STEM competitions. In the past, I have mentored Lego Robotics, E-cybermission, Georgia Best Robotics. Once I moved to Texas I continued with my favorite, Future City Competition a competition encompassing not only STEAM, but also writing and speech. This will be my 9th year in this competition with three different schools. It is a worthwhile, challenging and engaging competition.

I have da…

Is Reaching Every Student Impossible?

Day 4 #blog365

How do we reach every child? How do we find the time to mentor and guide students to success? How do recognize their abilities and capabilities?

I have heard many teachers claim "This student just has no motivation, I give up." or "You just can't reach some students." or "Do you have this student, they are unteachable." Nothing makes me more sad then hearing teachers give up on a child. Every child can learn, they all learn differently and it is a teachers responsibility to find the motivation, learning style, and interests of every student. When teachers tap into a students mindset and listen to them, and find their strengths, the sky is the limit.

The most important skill in a teachers arsenal is learning every students name quickly. Build a mindful portfolio of every student not by 504 or IEP or ESOL folder, but by name and personality and student interest. Ask lots of questions and find a way to have a one-on-one conversation with ever…

Resonance: The Effects of an Engaging Classroom

Day 3 #blog365

Resonance:the quality of a sound that stays loud, clear, and deep for a long time.

Authentic learning, consisting of active, engaging, student-driven instruction are lessons that are not forgotten as students exit the room. They spark further conversations, ignite insightful debate, and create curiosity. These lessons follow students home and when they come back to class they have questions and new ideas, and often inspire us as teachers to dig deeper into the topic. When students see teachers passionate about a topic they see its value. "Learning is not always practical" I tell me students but "A necessary tool for growth and excellence."

I have created a #makerspace, however, it is continuing to develop as students add their interesting items and share them. It is always open for use. Brain breaks, projects, warm-ups, even just tinkering and designing are always an option for students in the maker space. Create a fun place for students to showcase the…

How Dr. Who has Influenced My Teaching: The T.A.R.D.I.S. Classroom.

Day One: #blog365

Dr. Who, a British cult Science-Fiction television phenomenon. A show about problem-solving, collaboration, FAILure, Tinkering, Design & Creation, dissonance, discrepant events and social interaction. It basically covers everything that a student-centered classroom should contain. A Blue Police box travelling the galaxy and beyond, finding trouble, discovering solutions, and saving the universe one day at a time. Sometimes not in that order.

In my classroom, I love to say "It's bigger on the inside" this class has endless crevices and paths that will lead you on "timey wimey, wibbly wobbly" adventures. Curiosity comes from challenging ideas that allow you to problem-solve and "think out-side-the-box." Creativity comes from seeing the myriad of paths and not choosing just one, venturing down each and finding your own thoroughfare. Students need to feel the dissonance that comes from not knowing the answer and a teacher not giving…