Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.

Gaging Station Bridge

Having not prepped for altitude, I was bound to have some problems. Luckily, taking Diamox regularly most likely prevented me from experiencing altitude sickness as severely as I might of otherwise. In addition to the altitude anxiety, I was also testing out my heel from plantar fasciitis for the first time in over 6 weeks. Inherently I knew this was super dumb, but I figured that I could limp my way back down the trail if I had to and had a number of pain medications just in case. Finally, the last bit of anxiety was whether or not we would be able to summit Olancha peak. It had snowed three days prior and although we had all learned how to snow-shoe and how to camp in the snow, the peak was bound to be a much different animal. The high temperatures during the day and freezing temps at night would no doubt make the trail up the peak a treacherous icy challenge that I wasn’t excited about.

Olancha is a tiny blip on the map near Highway 395. It is in the Southern Sierra range and one of the first high points as you come out of the Ridgecrest desert. To access the Olancha Pass trail, you turn west onto Sage Flats Road from Highway 395. The end of the road is the trail-head. The top of the pass is only 2.5 miles up, but the climb of 3500′ feet into the elevation of 9400′ feet will tax your oxygen intake.

With all this in mind, I made my way to the pass with increasing confidence. When we got to the top, there wasn’t really a fantastic view. There was a marshy stream area and we could hear the chorus of frogs confirming the marsh was in full swing. Beyond that was a forested saddle.

If we continued onto the trail we would get to a “cowboy camp” and then could summit Olancha. But our wizened leader decided to go with Plan B and give us a fun challenge. He gave us a point on the map, Gaging Station Bridge that was on the PCT over the Kern River. We were to split into groups to make our way using our map and compass off trail.

This was incredibly fun. We ended up finding an old jeep trail and a couple other treasures along the way. The most exciting for me was the biggest juniper that I’ve EVER seen. It was a truly magnificent specimen of one of my favorite desert plants. Near the King of the Junipers (thus named by me!) sit two rocky thrones, one looking very natural and the other only slightly human modified. The tree and the thrones overlooked the valley where the Kern River meandered in sidewinder bends nestled in greenery and the promise of wildflowers. We could also barely make out the bridge that was our destination. This trek was only about 3 miles since we were heading “as the crow flies” as much as footed beasts can through manzanita and desert sage shrubbery.

Upon approaching the bridge, we could see the cliff swallows swooping in and out catching insects to, I assume, feed their babies in the nests. It was Golden Hour and the thrill of reaching our destination in such beauty overwhelmed me with happiness.

The icing on the top… we were now on the PCT which is the trail of my dreams.

(To be continued..)

Olancha Pass

I’ve been recovering from Plantar Fasciitis… Oh, yes, you’ve heard of it?! I hadn’t heard about it until I finally dragged myself into the doctor, exhausted, crooked from limping, and desperate. Now I’ve joined the PFF club! It seems that everybody who is anybody in the hiking community has had an experience with such fun as PFF.

I struggled with the PFF with 6 weeks before going to the doctor. As he injected the cortisone cocktail into my heel, I asked hopefully, “Will I be able to hike in 3 weeks?” I don’t know if it was how bravely I was receiving the injection (not very) or how pathetic and hopeful I was (very), but he told me that I most certainly could hike IF the cortisone worked. Just to be sure he understood, I told him, “It’s a backpacking trip, that I’ve been planning for ages, but it will be about 20 miles!” He insisted that I would be able to do anything I wanted to do.

Walking out of his doctor’s office, pain free for the first time in 6 weeks, gave me hope.

Fast forward 3 weeks later, his confident words were still in my head as we prepared to hike 3500′ gain in 2.5 miles up to Olancha Pass at 9215′. I held on to the fact that he had been right so far. I had been pain free and had even begun to test it out with doing more strenuous Yoga exercises. But, I hadn’t been hiking, I am embarrassed to say. 

Luckily, I wasn’t the only person recovering from an injury and about to embark on a strenuous hike. Two of my trail buddies’ were also recovering. How can someone say nicely, “I’m super glad you were injured too!” ???

Heading up Olancha Pass was very difficulty. My cardio/conditioning had suffered drastically from taking it easy on my heel for so long. The increase in altitude didn’t help at all! My ears were literally popping as we continued our ascent. The views were incredible though as we looked back over the desert of Owen’s Valley.  img_1521

The entire way I kept waiting for my heel to hurt, for my doctor to be wrong. Other things were hurting for sure! My shoulder was grumpy with me for carrying a 30 lb pack and my lungs were pissed that I was forcing them to work so hard after such a long hiatus. But, my heel just kept right on not hurting! 

I feel like I did really good too. At first I was lagging behind, grateful that the sweep was one of my injured friends. He doggedly kept on coming and I would wait for him. After we ate lunch I got a second wind and was staying with the entire group. Overall, the trip up the pass was arduous.

We reached the top of the pass after about 7 hours… Let me repeat… 7 hours to hike just under 3 miles. Now that I think of it, I cannot believe I survived what was to come on the rest of the trip.

(To be continued…. )

So, just had a total panic attack while driving home. First, Christiphor just left with Mikayla… basically Mikayla said they were leaving, but usually Christiphor asks or talks to me about when he leaves, so it stressed me out. Then as I drove away I just had this terrible feeling in my chest about him being in a car accident. He wouldn’t answer the phone. And Tony was being all rude about everything. Basically making it worse.

Finally he answered and I felt better, but then in the cajon pass there was this huge accident that had just happened cuz only cops were there. And the fire engines were stuck behind two other accidents. All I could see of the first accident was this mangled truck up on top of another vehicle with its driver side smashed in. There was smoke all around it that was eerily reflecting the lights from the cops and traffic.

There was traffic for miles and miles and as I watched them go by, reminded of the truck, I just started crying.

Then Tony was mean about that, telling me I was going to crash.

All I wanted was for someone to hold my hand.

Finally home now and feeling somewhat better. I hope I can get some really good spiritual recovery this weekend. All my stuff is strewn about my floor waiting to be stuffed into my backpack.

Ps. My mom got fun kittens.

Pss. And the cactus were blooming.

Of all the sessions that I attended at #CUE18 (and I attended a lot more than I have reviewed on my blog), Google Classroom Tips and Tricks – Part 1 and 2 presented by Alice Keeler (alicekeeler.com) was, by far, my favorite. Not only does Alice have a wealth of knowledge about using Google Classroom, there was never a dull moment as she flew through her presentation material.

There is no way that I caught everything that she shared with us Saturday morning, but the things that I will be applying to my classroom on Monday are going to change my student’s lives forever. How great is that!?

Before we even got to Tip 1, Alice had given us about a hundred tips. When she said “Tip 1” I was already mind-blown.

She warned us! Some people actually had to leave early because they were drowning in information overload, but I am so glad that I persevered.

Alice has worked with developers to solve numerous problems that she faced in working with Google Classroom. Just this idea alone has me excited to begin exploring Google Classroom innovation on my own. It never occured to me to hire a developer to solve my day-to-day technology problems. And I wonder what new possibilities will open up just from the very idea that it’s something that can be done.

Additionally, it really pays off to learn the keyboard shortcuts. We all know, as educators, that every moment of time spent clicking on our computers will literally add up to minutes of wasted time per day. The more shortcuts you know, the more time you’ll have to spend with your family, (which, by the way, Alice says that’s what we really should be doing… Why do we need Alice to tell us that? It’s like she has given me permission because she said it over and over in a conference that my boss paid for me to attend… Thank you Alice, it’s like a golden ticket!)

As I review my hastily typed and somewhat cryptic notes from the presentation, I realize that to type up all the tips and tricks she mentioned would result in a book.. which she has already created!

Instead, I will simply sum up the key elements and use this space to recommend you to buy her books or book her for a presentation. (Seriously… go ask your principal!)

  • Use Google Classroom to foster relationships by strategically using the comment section and other tools that we take for granted. Alice has numerous google extensions that will help you do this. Using video-cams for grading is a great way to give face to face feedback that students will actually be excited to review.
  • Mastery learning is perfected with Google Classroom. Didn’t do well on the test? Do it again… and again… and again until you get it right. No more toting back and forth those frightening stacks of papers. Or the dreaded late bin.
  • Use Google classroom to have students give feedback to each other. True learning comes when you are critiquing the work of others. When teachers provide all the feedback, they are the ones learning, not the students. Put all the learning power into their hands.

Wow… still mind blown Alice! How on earth will I share this with my colleagues?

  • Don’t grade in ABC Order… think about how you feel at the start of grading…. You give all the feedback and by the end you say “great job!”
  • Use filters in Gmail for Google Classroom…. if you organize your assignments by assignment number and use your initials (DM) in the comment section you will be able to use Google Filters in Gmail to your utmost advantage.

My notes from this presentation are going to be my bible for the next few weeks as I try out all the things that I learned in these three very short hours with Alice. I am so grateful that I arrived early to her session and secured my seat. Now… let me go stalk her conference calendar to see if I can get my district to send me to see her again….

The concept behind anything Google, is that you are starting with a blank page, with endless possibilities. The creativity that Google Innovators are sharing with the education community is as exciting as it is inspiring. Using Google Slides to make your own story book, choose your own adventure story and integrate it all into a screen controlling app takes Google Slides immediately into the deeper realms of the SAMR Model.

Ryan Archer, a Google Certified Innovator, led our session at #CUE18 through a fast paced overview on how to take Google Slides from meh, to wow!

E-books, using Google Slides is something I can take back to my classroom on Monday. My students already know how to make presentations in Google Slides. Watch 8 and 9-year-olds figure out the internet and you will be amazed. My students surprise me every time. To make an E-book, simply change the size of your presentation by going to File-Page Setup- and change the size to 8×11. Then let your creativity take you away! How are the most mind blowing ideas so simple!

Take E-books a step further and make a comic or flip book animation. Comic templates are available with a simple Google search. I was most excited about the flipbook animation. It isn’t complicated. In each slide, move the characters a little bit in the direction you want them to move, use duplicate slide, and keep going just as if you had a stack of paper. We all have those students that only want to read the comic books… I swore I would never have a Captain Underpants book in my classroom until I saw how much the students devoured them. Now, those books are the most often to be in the book hospital due to over-loving. The students can create their own comics and animations now to share with their friends. Book reviews just got so much better!

Choosing your own adventure stories require quite the beastly set of tricks, and certainly is not for those who have difficulty with organization or have not mastered the basics of inserting and manipulating Google objects. A must-do for a choose your own adventure story is to start out with a story board. For the younger students, you might want to keep to two or three levels, but for the more advanced students, this could be quite elaborate.

Sylvia Duckworth’s Template is fantastic. In fact, she has an entire presentation available!  To explain quickly, each click in the slide takes you to a different slide, but you have to use layering of objects and put a transparent layer over all the other material you don’t want clicked on. If you understand layering, it isn’t hard at all. It might be a bit tricky to get the students to understand, but a layering lesson would likely give them the tools to proceed successfully. I can’t say this enough…. the students are SO good at this, that they’ll take what you give them and show you something new the next time you pass them by.

A final note from this Google Slides session at #CUE18.. remember to use the Google search tools feature “labeled for reuse”. If you are getting images from the “explore” button in Google Slides (Compass looking button on the bottom right hand corner), then your images will already be labeled for reuse. If your students are taking Images from a general Google search, then you need to teach them how to insert the source link. This is made even nicer for their final documents if you teach them how to edit the link to show simple text such as “Image Source”.

I want to give a special thanks to Ryan Archer for making this session at #CUE18 an enjoyable one.

Coming into the #CUE 18 Spring conference I wanted to make sure that I focused only on enhancing what I am already doing in my classroom. This year I have been given the opportunity of 1:1 Chromebooks with my students. I have been using Google Classroom, and feel pretty confident with the basics. Not only did Lainie give me an abundance of new ways to use Google Classroom, but her pedagogical message was inspiring.

The message is building relationships and enhancing communication outside of the classroom. This can prepare students under the age of 12 to move into their teenage years ready to be a responsible and curious consumer of digital learning.

To start, she created a platform so that we, the teachers, could look at Google Classroom from a student perspective. This was great, because the students see different features than the teachers see, and the nuances are powerful tools that I didn’t know existed. During her presentation I connected to my very own Google Classroom to apply her tips to what I am already doing in my classroom.

Her first tip is to number all the assignments #001, #002 etc. This allows for you to search the assignments, but also refer students to the assignment number rather than the assignment name which can get confusing if you name your assignments “Quiz”.

In using collaborative notes and allowing students to edit documents, you assume some risk of misuse. Lainie recommends that you remind students “There are no anonymous posts in Google Classroom”. Students who push this limit can easily be “muted” as a consequence.

The way that Lainie released the “lessons” to us was quite brilliant. She used the “saved posts” or “Drafts” as a tool. Her lessons were pre-set, but not yet released. With each lesson, she went over the instructions, and then released the question to the student. The student only needed to wait a moment and refresh their screen and they received the assignment instantly. We, the students, were then able to follow the directions we were given. This was great, because, as I am sure she knew, if we had been given access to the material before she gave us the instructions, we would not be paying attention because we’d be sucked into what we thought we were supposed to be doing. (Ever notice how teachers act exactly the way that students act… is it an education thing, or a people thing?)

A couple important tips about creating assignments vs creating questions: When creating an assignment, students might not be able to collaborate. When creating a question, there are more opportunities for students to respond to each other in live time.

I am incredibly grateful for Lainie to have her presentation available online at www.lainierowell.com.  She gave us so many resources she wasn’t able to cover them all in the short amount of time we had with her.


Early Friday morning at #CUE18, I wove my way around the hallway traffic all the way to the furthest end of the conference building. I am glad I got there early because by the time @teacherskaggs started her presentation there were very few remaining seats.

As an Elementary teacher, a flipped classroom sounds daunting. How on earth would I be able to flip my classroom for all those subjects? Well, turns out that I was stuck on details rather than creativity. However, given the definition @teacherskaggs gave us from the Flipped Learning Network, it isn’t so daunting.

Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter. Flipped Learning Network 

The Flipped Elementary Classroom looks more like organized small group instruction using technology with the focus of fun learning.

Remember that Volkswagen Commercial with the piano and the stairs? Click here to remind yourself. The fun theory is that if we make something more fun, more people will participate. This is especially important for our elementary students.

Every Friday at our school meeting our school does a group chant. It goes like this:

... after elementary school comes, MIDDLE SCHOOL! After middle school comes, HIGH SCHOOL! After high school comes, COLLEGE! and to get to college you have to WORK HARD! Because … if you work hard and follow the rules, GOOD THINGS HAPPEN!

As the students chant this and we move to our classrooms to participate in another day of book learning, I can’t help but think how daunting college is to these students. Elementary school is hard work and when you look ahead at the long road they have to follow, we need to really consider how we teach students to love learning. Using technology to add more fun to the learning process is not only a great idea, but essential for 21st Century careers.

In this session I received an overwhelming number of tool ideas to use to flip my classroom in addition to a list of tips to get started. Here are just a few of my favorites.


  • To provide students with distraction free video viewing, use Safe You Tube to get a link that essentially puts a You Tube video into its own little video box, with no suggested posts and no ads.
  • Use a shared Google Slide deck preset with 30 slides (one for each student), using student numbers, each student completes the assignment on the slide that corresponds to their assigned classroom number. (Having students provide feedback to other students brings this into the deeper levels of SAMR.)
  • Students can video themselves using FlipGrid and teachers can provide feedback.
  • Teach students to keep an online Google Site portfolio.( I want to learn what this looks like!)
  • Use Padlet for student interaction and collaboration
  • App Smash:  The process of using multiple apps in conjunction with one another to complete a final task or project.

Get Started Tips:

  • Find videos already made online or work with colleagues to share them
  • Try one suggestion per week to build your teacher toolbox
  • Use Teachers Give Teachers to share hyperdocs
  • For differentiated videos, create one video and differentiate how students show their work.

I want to thank Ann-Marie Skaggs for providing this information to us at #CUE18. I can’t wait to take it back and share what I have learned with my students and colleagues!