Taking Paths Less Traveled

Joyful Hiker. Mother. Teacher. Adventurer.

I started out my #CUE18 conference experience by attending the session titled “Climbing the SAMR Ladder: Designing Engaging Lessons for 21st Century Learners” presented by Julia Maynard, Michael Bloemsma and Jill Bromen of San Francisco USD.

They began their presentation with discussing their district’s demographics, and their technology goals. The phrase that stuck out most to me is: “We must focus on equity of access and equity of opportunity with technology.”

Equity of Access and Equity of Opportunity

I work in a district with high rates of poverty. Most of my students do not have access to the internet at home. This year my classroom got 1:1 Chromebooks and I have been learning how to implement them in my classroom while the rest of the school prepares to receive their 1:1 Technology in the upcoming year.

Many of my colleagues are struggling with the idea of so much student screen time and question the legitimacy of technology in their classrooms. When we think of helping students be ready for their future, however, we need to realize that students in places where parents make their living creating and developing technology already have a vastly higher advantage for the 21st Century job market. If we don’t allow our children access to technology now, they will not be in a position to compete with their peers.

I see that the push-back from my colleagues stems from a misunderstanding of how we should be using tech in the classroom. The SAMR model answers that question.

SAMR-Model

SAMR Model as depicted by Sylvia Duckworth

I love this image for the SAMR model. The first one I saw used an upside down pyramid that didn’t suit my logical brain.  This model works for me because we can talk about going deeper. Another image that would work would be starting in a boxed classroom and moving into outer space… maybe someone could draw a model to show that one!

For the teachers who are reluctant to use technology in the classroom, it is because they are seeing technology at the substitution or augmentation level. This represents the majority of the programs purchased for us by our district.

Michael walked us through some examples of what each step in the SAMR model looks like in the classroom and this is what I took away from their message:

  • Substitution: Students write a paragraph in Google Docs.
  • Augmentation: Students write a paragraph using Google Docs, use spell check, change the fonts for a clean published look.
  • Modification: Students write a paragraph, using Google Docs, prepare for publishing, and share with classmates for editing.
  • Redefinition: Student paragraphs are turned into newsletters and shared with the school or community abroad and post it to their google site for an online portfolio.

As I grow to understand the goals of technology in education, I realized that we need to shift our understanding of technology. Those resistant teachers have a great point! Substitution levels of technology are a waste of time. Pen and paper have much more meaningful applications, even if it is only in the beneficial kinesthetic action of thoughts from brain through hand to pencil and paper. The skills that our students need include using the 4 C’s and technology blended into a fun and engaging classroom atmosphere.

Please note!  I am new to this, so if someone can help me improve my understanding, please message me!

When ever my district or union offers to send me to a conference I jump on the opportunity. I love conferences. The crowds, the energy, the inspiration.  Spring #CUE18 did not disappoint! Unfortunately, it is hard to hang onto the glow I get from a series of great sessions. When at the conference the energy is practically manic. People talking, going, learning, inspiring at every turn. Coming home, Eminem’s song, “Back to reality, oops there goes gravity” begins to play in my head and I feel all that great energy start to slither out of me. It evaporates in a puff of smoke when I return home and my children are fighting or saying, “Hey mom, what’s for dinner?” Don’t they know that I am still walking on cloud nine and, being teenagers with egos the size of Uranus they don’t really care.

In the past, I’ve always started out with good intentions. The swag bag is kept by my desk with all the cards people gave me, the phone numbers and emails of the people I really want to reconnect with. Sometimes I place a large book order on Amazon. And then, reality just takes over. The swag bag gets lost in the junk closet (yes… I am ashamed, but I have #SpringBreakGoals ). With the light snuffed out, I go back to my day to day, applying to my classroom the few tidbits that made an instant impact and never go back to remember the rest. Granted, just those few tidbits that do stick are worth going to the conference. The books often do get read and that inspiration is also applied into my pedagogy. But, I want to figure out how to hold onto that glow!

Hanging onto the glow of this conference is something I need to achieve the next steps on my career path. I have 1:1 Chromebooks this year, and the things I learned at the conference are certainly going to take class up the #SAMRModel, if only I retain the enthusiasm and a vast majority of what I gained from the 8 sessions I attended.

So today I am going to write a review of each of the most impactful sessions I attended. These, in a list, are:

Climbing the SAMR Ladder: Designing Engaging Lessons for 21st Century Learners presented by Julia Maynard and Michael Bloemsma of San Francisco USD

Flipping the Elementary Classroom presented by Ann-Marie Skaggs

Google Classroom: Community Space That Inspires, Empowers, Engages (And Makes Teacher’s Lives Easier) presented by Lainie Rowell

Doing More with Google Slides presented by Ryan Archer

Google Classroom Tips and Tricks – Part 1 and 2 presented by Alice Keeler

 

 

When I told people I had moved out of my home, and bequeathed our house to my husband in the divorce, people were shocked. Of course, it was a hard decision. After all, my daughter had learned to walk there, I had lovingly painted all the walls the perfect color and had spent countless hours tending to the garden. However, the house was a liability I couldn’t handle. It needed maintenance that I couldn’t afford monetarily, couldn’t do myself and wouldn’t have the time to do given my sudden change in circumstances.

The apartment search was a grueling enterprise. I didn’t want to disrupt my children’s school experience, and refused to move too far. In fact, I had made it a firm condition to myself that their lives would be as disrupted by this divorce as possible. (As possible are the key words here; kids are affected by divorce in ways that will take pages and pages to expand upon.) The immediate area was surrounded by older homes, and run down apartments that had recently been in the newspaper for a drive by homicide. Homes that were similar to the one my husband I had shared were so far out of my budget, it was disheartening. My husband is very critical of everything I do, and would take any opportunity to judge my choices, or try to take full custody of the children. Therefore, I knew I had to find a place that he couldn’t find fault with.

The costs were outrageous. Even tiny two bedroom places exceeded my budget. So, I had to get creative. In a new-ish apartment complex, just 10 minutes away from my children’s school, there was single bedroom apartment in my budget. I was skeptical, but getting desperate. This particular apartment was the smallest in the complex, but it had a loft. As I viewed the property, I could see the possibilities. My children were young, just kindergarten and first grade, so sharing a room-space wasn’t going to be a problem. The space was just like a room, just missing a closet, walls, and a door. It was upstairs, separated from the living quarters, adjacent to the master bedroom. Outside was a large grass area, with a nearby pool and many playgrounds. I signed the lease right there, without consulting anyone.

This choice was very difficult to make. I had looked at houses that were comparable in size and value of my current home. I knew many people who refused to alter their life style, and the husband ended up moving to an apartment or renting rooms. The stigma of the wife keeping the home was one that I had to move past. It wasn’t a typical decision, and it was one that forced me to answer many uncomfortable questions. Later I realized I was acting on instinct for the first time in a very long time. It was empowering. These decisions were the first steps in changing my life’s path for the better.

I hope that if you find yourself or a loved one in similar circumstances, you might find inspiration to be creative with the choices you make. Additionally, don’t be afraid to do things that are different from what you see others doing. Whether you have to move back in with your parents, or settle for an apartment in a risky part of town, only you know what your needs are. Just remember, you are the writer of your own story and if you are in the midst of a divorce, this story is now yours to shape.

Love and Light.

 

It’s been nearly 10 years since I made the crucial decision to leave my unsuccessful marriage. At the time, I was the clerical manager for my husband’s small mechanic business, a work at home job that had no real  personal income. All the money was controlled by my husband and even though keeping track of papers and receipts is an important job, it was not a job that transferred well into the work force. Certainly, it wasn’t a job that would support two children on a single income.

Going back to school was the single most important and valuable decision that I could have made. It was a difficult journey, but ultimately the most rewarding choice there was. I could have gotten a job at entry level, working 40 hours per week, living in a frightening apartment and send my children to day care. I tossed around freelance ideas: photography, writing (pre-blog era) or even breeding purebred German Shepherds. However, my dear friend, Alice, had already gone that route. She worked at unstable clerical positions, lived with her family until she could move into a small house in a neighborhood that experienced high crime. She worked every day at a job she hated, and at night she picked up her children from day care. When Alice learned that I was getting divorced she was very stern with me. “Dee,” she said, “You cannot make a living off photography or selling puppies, you have to get a REAL job. Go back to school.” Having witnessed how difficult it was for her, I decided to take her advice.

10 years later, I am finally a teacher with a masters degree. I earn $60k a year and I love my job. I have summers off with my own children, and my schedule corresponds to theirs perfectly. It wasn’t the most profitable careers I could have chosen. But, if I couldn’t pursue my passion of photography and puppies… working with children to make the world a better place makes up for any monetary difference there may have been.

Was it easy? Hell no. But the lessons that I learned to through the uncharted waters of public assistance, financial aid and all the steps it took to become a teacher were worth the struggle. For a long time, my motto was: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger… And that was the way of it for a long time.

There are steps that I took that got me here, and mistakes I made that might have saved me some time and money. If you find yourself, or a loved one in a similar position, I hope that what ever I have to share will help you as much as my friend’s experience and advice helped me.

Everyone’s experience will be different, but in my next posts I will write about my experience with finding an apartment, grieving my home, deciding on a career path, applying for college and helping my children cope with the divorce. Additionally, I will share college hacks for getting into classes, buying textbooks, taking notes that lead to high grades, navigating the generation gap and surviving group work.

Love and light.

 
Today was a beautiful day. It is one of those spring-like days when it is hot in the sun and cold in the shade. 
Yet, the last week’s frost has me on guard. My established kale and romaines handled it like champs, however the tender window tomato and cilantro that I sprouted on a whim would not have fared well. 

These were, like they tend to do, outgrowing their small pot of earth in the window. They were getting too tall as they reached for the direct sun that only shone for about an hour each day on their soft photosynthetic bodies. My kitchen window is in a dreary sunless location. 

Outside there is this strange phenomena of hedge mustard greens that have proliferated my entire yard. Today, I took armful after armful and layered the compost bin with their nutritious selves. I’m not following specific script, just experimenting with the innate knowledge that has collected over the past two decades of study and the newly acquired snippets from some new friends who are teaching me about permaculture. I layered the compost bin with some paper bags I had to acquire from the grocer when I forgot my reusable bags. (To be honest I will always have paper bags to use as layers because I am terrible at remembering to get the reusable bags out of the car!) The bags made a great layering system and I topped them off with more armfuls of the greens to add weight and moisture. 

This process remained in my immediate thoughts when I approached the bed of greens that would need to be removed so I could plant the tomato. (I like the hedge mustard, but it is not the taste to use in abundance for a large salad. It would be best served in small doses to add some bite to a salad of romaine. Thus, I am keeping some but the remainder will be used as biomass.) 

I set aside the tender greens in an orderly pile as I cleared the ground. Who ever lived here before had treated the ground wonderfully and the soil is rich and ready to provide. When I pulled apart the roots of my tender young window plants, I had to work quickly. Too much exposure to the sun would damage them beyond repair. Each one got into the ground at a good distance apart, although once they get established again I may have to thin them out as they aren’t spaced far enough apart for optimal growth. This is an experiment and I still have time to plant seeds should my plans go awry. 

The threat of another frost hung heavily as I looked at my baby plants, lonely in the sea of brown rich soil. The orderly piles of hedge mustard caught my attention and I placed them, roots exposed, around each of the plants. I created small markers out of the giant seed pods from the tree that sits over the entire yard so that I would know where my plants were as they quickly became lost in a sea of green nutritious abundance. I hope that the sun will destroy any chance of these mustard plants taking root. Some plants, sub as crab grass, can overcome such exposure but the baby hedge mustard greens are almost as tender as the plants I want to grow. 

Still, this did not seem to be enough coverage. Then I became aware of the crunching below my feet and looked to see the pile of brown noisy leaves that had accumulated in the corner from the great winds of the last weeks. These leaves have come from some other yard’s trees; generously provided beautiful biomass that my garden needs for my ideas to become realized. 

I added a layer of leaves to the tomato and cilantro plot. The leaves seemed as if they wouldn’t stay long once the wind returned so I pulled up more handfuls of the hedge mustard and added a weighty layer just as I had done for the compost bin. 

I’m pretty satisfied with the little outdoor house I made for the seedlings. The layers already seem to be absorbing warmth and this cozy blanket should be enough to keep the seedlings from being affected by the frost should it return. 

Here in Southern California, and especially in my little micro environment here by the hills above UCR, I don’t think we will be hit by a hard frost. I could be wrong and Winter may make one last hard Push before Spring “breaks his back”, but if that is the case I will have created an abundance of nutrients for some new seedlings to be planted. 

What are your spring fever activities? Leave some beautiful words below so that we can enjoy the coming of spring as a community. 

Peace and love. 

As a first year teacher, the process of learning about myself and the teaching profession has resulted in a roller coaster ride of emotions and recognition.In the midst of Winter Break I felt cold and isolated; anxiety riddled my senses and I dreaded returning to the grind. Yet, as I saw my student’s faces, and heard about their experiences over the break, my passion began to glow again.

Late in the week, I was approached by a group of boys to tell me that another student had been using bad language on the play ground. The number of boys coming to me, and knowing the circumstances of the boys in the past led me to trust that they were telling the truth and I needed to speak with the offending student.

This student has been an enigma to me for the past couple weeks. He arrived mid year with no cumulative file and a confusing array of abilities and disabilities. He is an English Language Learner, and as I don’t speak his language. He doesn’t print legibly, yet he is excellent in math. We have been just getting through the day, learning rules and procedures. He fit in socially with the class for the most part and has been making friends and finding interaction. However, it wasn’t until I addressed the “bad words” that I truly began to understand the world he is living in.

In my classroom, the policy of honesty trumps everything else. If you are honest with me, then we can move forward, find solutions and work our way through anything.

When I talked to this student quietly outside while the rest of the class worked on their assignment, he told me adamantly, “I did not say bad words”. I told him that a number of his classmates had come forward, and that I wanted to know why he was saying bad words. Then he began to cry and told me of the playground situation. The other students had been creating basket ball games with the strongest players on one team and the weakest players on the other creating a situation where they would always win.

This was the real situation that needed to be addressed, not the bad words. He knows that he isn’t allowed to say those words, yet, the use of these words at this age tells me that he is trying to communicate his dissatisfaction with the injustices of playground politics.

After I explained to the other boys that no one likes it when people create teams that are stacked for winning, we came to an agreement to have the strongest players split up and attempt to form stronger teams and teammates with the less experienced players. The boys, being the sweet age of 10, agreed that they would do this. They knew that what they were doing wasn’t fair, and they had been caught.

This did not solve the problem of my other student not being honest with me. I tried to see if he had said a word that sounded like the word that the students heard. He said no, no, no. Finally I told him that I wanted him to be honest with me. He looked at me like he didn’t understand a word I was saying. Then I realized that he had been looking at me as if I was speaking another language! The realization hit that although he is going through the motions of learning the routines of our classroom, he has been understanding very little.

In my teaching credential program we read all about these situations. We read what to look for and what to do when it happened. This moment was the catalyst that brought all that subconscious knowledge to the forefront. But, I was ready! I grabbed my phone, which already had the iTranslate app installed and introduced it to my student. I told him that the phone would translate his words and my words. Then I told him to say something. He said, “Hola” and the translator replied, “Hello”. There was a little bit of light that grew in his eyes at that moment, but he was still skeptical, I could see.

Then, I said to him through the app, “[Student Name], I need you to be honest with me no matter what.” When the app translated this, the understanding and comprehension that had been missing during most of our conversation appeared. Finally, he shook his head, “Yes, I understand!” he said, and he really meant it.

We didn’t get to use that app more that day because it was time to go home for the weekend. But, I will have my phone accessible to him next week and we will see how many more lights I can turn on for him every day. I even contacted our English Language Department at the district and requested that I get an iPad for my classroom. I know that there are other students who would benefit from this as well, but none as much as this student. In the near future I plan to advocate for a class set of technology so that students have immediate access to the things that will benefit them the most. In this world of abundance, there is no reason why my students should be stuck with limited technological access.

This little storm that my students created on the playground opened up the opportunity for new growth to occur. Not only am I lighting up the coals in my student who comes to school each day as if it is a drudgery, but I am lighting up my own as well.

This is the reason that I decided to teach. It isn’t to make sure all my students master some arbitrary standard the the state determined all students should know and when they should know it. It is lighting the lights inside them and giving them the opportunity to love learning as much as I do. If I can spark in my students the love of learning, then I have will created a learner for life. I just need to remember the tools that I already have on my tool-belt so that I can create these opportunities despite the external pressures to meet standards.

This week, look at your students and choose one, or a group that has the same needs and make a goal to light a fire inside them. Make a goal to be the change you want to see for that one student. Next week, make another goal, and then another. We are not alone, so go light up some learners!

Share your own stories in the comments below. How have you rekindled your flames?

 

The past 6 months have flown by in a blur. When I was looking for a teaching job, I never imagined that come Winter Break, I wouldn’t want to go back. In fact, all through college, as I heard over and over the statistics of early teachers changing careers, I thought, “Not me!”

So, why, when December hit, did I spend the entirety of my break working toward and setting up alternative ways of generating income? Why did just the thought of grading my student’s tests bring on bouts of anxiety and a prickly feeling at the back of my neck? How did I go from being a super excited and optimistic student to a depressed, stressed out and anxious teacher?

It didn’t happen over night. In fact, I can trace the feelings back to around October. I remember my first weeks on campus, my smile a mile wide, enthusiasm burning high. I hit the ground running. Then, I tripped, then I fell and almost landed on my face. Not physically, but mentally. It began when I realized that nothing in college had prepared me for the challenges I was facing.

Nothing in college prepared me for a dozen or so English Language arts curricula, half-missing materials of other teachers and a room that had a single storage cabinet. Nothing in college prepared me for having to teach and schedule in 2 days worth of work in a 1 day’s worth of time. Nothing prepared me for administration evaluating me on everything from my lesson plan book to my walls. I certainly was not prepared for a situation in which I didn’t have a collaborative team of grade-level teachers in which to work with. Not even in the books that claim to cover all that college did not prepare you for, did they include the things that nearly broke me.

Today I went back to work after 3 weeks of much needed vacation. I had brought home three bags full of papers to grade, and books to use for extensive lesson planning. In total, I spent a single day doing that, and all my ideas about getting ahead flew out the door as quick as the days passed.

Yet, when I walked back into my classroom, I began to remember why I was there. I began to remember my student’s faces and wonder what they had done while they were on vacation. One of my students went to Mexico and he will be excited to tell me all about it. Other students will have had other adventures and stories to tell. Some of them might feel like I did, and not want to come back. Others will be very grateful to have the routine and predictability in their lives again.

Today when I walked back into my classroom, I began to remember all the reasons I was so passionate before. I can’t promise that I won’t be one of those teachers who changes careers after only two or five years of teaching.  I can say I was shocked that the thoughts crossed my mind. Honestly, another year just like the one I’ve experienced, would drive me away. Luckily, it is said that the first few months are the toughest.  So, I do know that I won’t be a teacher who changes careers in December. For now, I will continue to do my best and hope that my best will be good enough so that I can stay and see what teaching is like for a second year.