One Word 2016

My one word for 2016 is…


I think my favorite definition of POSSIBILITIES is:

A thing that may be chosen or done out of several possible alternatives.

Every day several possibilities lie before us and we get to CHOOSE which ones we want! This is exciting (which was almost my #oneword). To me, this word is hopeful (another almost #oneword), inspiring, positive, and powerful.

I’m so excited about the possibilities before me – both known and unknown. And one possibility that I grabbed already was getting back into #youredustory – thank you, Jo-Ann Fox, for the inspiration!

To Ceremony Or Not

This week’s #youredustory question:

 Why are, or aren’t, graduation and promotion ceremonies important?

Graduation Ceremonies

Yes, I do think these are important – maybe more so in some communities than others. It is a way for the rest of us to celebrate the accomplishment of those that have worked hard to meet a goal. That being said, I need to clarify that, for me, graduations are at the end of high school and college – be it a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate’s. I am also a firm believer that ALL students should be recognized, by name.


Not a fan of these. I had a whole rant written here but deleted it. Why? Because I would rather focus on what my school does.

The 'Tunnel' Photo by: Maricela Cuevas
The ‘Tunnel’ Photo by: Maricela Cuevas

The last day of school has a celebratory feel. In the morning, each classroom has their own traditions. Starting at lunch, the Luau begins. Each year, we BBQ hamburgers for the students and staff. Then teachers sign up for a game station (I do a wet sponge challenge each year. Students race with a wet sponge on their heads). Then about 30 minutes before school is dismissed, all grades K-4 form a tunnel, or aisle, for the departing 5th graders to go through. The tunnel ends at my classroom door, so the 5th graders file into their classroom to say their final goodbyes. As they all go through the tunnel, the rest of the students give the 5th graders high fives. I love this tradition.

Why do I like this so much? First of all, it’s understated and simple. Secondly, it still acknowledges the fact that these students will not be at our school next year, and that they are moving on to the next phase of their lives. Then there are the parents. Parents, siblings, and other family members often join us for the festivities. The parents love this tradition too. I talked to several, who don’t have 5th graders, who really like this.

So, we celebrate the 5th graders without going ‘over the top’.

Thank you to Maricela Cuevas, Vanessa Reyes, and Elizabeth Zuniga for the photos.

The Good, The Bad, The Frustrating

The school year ended, for me, two days ago. As most of us do, I reflected upon the year: What went well, what fails did I have, how will I change things for next year?

The Good

There were many good things that occurred this year.

  • Google Maps – This was a big one for me. I slowly began to integrate Custom Maps into my curriculum. The result? A fun interactive way to do State Reports.
  • Splitting the 5th Grade Curriculum with my Partner Teacher – Amber Pursley. She taught ELA and Science; while I taught Math and Social Studies. Together we planned for Writing and ELD. This arrangement allowed for each of us to be creative and push ourselves and the students.
  • Teaching more digital citizenship to my students and staff.
  • Having students enter films in the California Student Media Festival. They didn’t win, but we got our feet wet!
  • Getting a 3D printer via Donors Choose & Chevron.
  • Having a student do research on the 3D printer on her own. She knew more than any of us – and it was one of my shyest girls.
  • Having an AWESOMESAUCE class! They were kind, respectful, worked well together.

The Bad

These were more like ‘FAILs’ (First Attempt In Learning), so I can change it up for the future. Maybe it should be called ‘What I learned’.

  • That really great, “It’s only going to last a month” Road to the Revolution lesson. Yeah, that thing lasted like 3 months! My bad. I had it set up that students would be self guided with questions and tasks. Brilliant idea, right? Not so much. The students were answering the questions, but not retaining the information. So in the middle of the lesson I took out the questions and only had them focus on the tasks. The tasks covered the Stamp Act, Famous People, the Boston Tea Party, and the Battles at Lexington and Concord. Changes will includeDeadlines for each task, better oversight on my part (making sure they are using the resources that I provided for them, and NOT gamifying it. I’m sure there will be more, as each group of students has different needs.
  • Depression sucks! Started the year in a major funk. Fortunately, things got better!
  • Silent Sustained Reading (SSR). This one wasn’t so much a fail as it evolved throughout the year. By the end, I liked what I had. It started off as all students reading, or listening and following along, for half an hour. By the end of the year it had evolved into a half an hour of (your choice): Raz-Kids, reading a book, listening and following along, or Duolingo (there were 5 different languages students were learning). Students often switched it up and didn’t do the same thing everyday.
  • Coding – I started off strong, then it kind of fizzled. Not sure how to transform this. I do want this in my classroom. Will work on this problem during the summer.

The Frustrating

These were things that frustrated the living daylights out of me, and I had zero control. There were a lot this year, so I’ll try to stick to the most frustrating.

  • NO YouTube! – Not for teachers or students. At one point there were work arounds that my students found. We used them to enhance our learning, but they eventually got blocked. There were a myriad of reasons given: not enough bandwidth, can’t filter out the bad stuff, TESTING.
  • NO online editing software – I started the year off using WeVideo. My students have 1:1 Chromebooks so everything we do is online. We have 3 old iPods we use to videotape. We were in the process of editing our video class rules when ALL editing tools were blocked.
  • The ever-changing focus. First it was focusing on opinion writing, then it moved to speaking and listening, then it was ‘You MUST use Engage NY (aka Eureka Math) with fidelity, NO supplements allowed. Okay, full disclosure on this one. I supplemented, then stopped using it. So I guess that wasn’t so frustrating. A teacher’s got to do what he/she feels is best.

All in all, it was a good year. As they say, it’s all in your perspective. I chose to focus on what I could do and change. I tried not to worry about things that were out of my control. So, the ‘Good’ I’ll keep, the ‘Bad’ I learned from, and the ‘Frustrating’ I can only hope it changes for the better next year.

What Motivates Learning?

This week’s #youredustory prompt is:

What motivates learning?

Innate curiosity motivates learning.

I know it sounds simple, but we all have it. In the right setting we are encouraged and our curiosity is fostered. In the wrong setting, our curiosity is squashed and we become resistant.

So What Is The Proper Setting?

One in which we are encouraged to ask questions, probe further, and investigate that which interests us. Some great examples of setting that foster learning are: Genius Hour, 20% Time, Maker Space/Maker Movement, and Project Based Learning. In each of these examples, students are encouraged to take ownership over their learning, investigate, create, question, an expand themselves.

What Happens In A Wrong Setting?

In the wrong setting, students have little to no control over what they are to learn. Learning is mandated with a top-down approach. Pacing guides, mandated (use with fidelity, no supplements allowed) curriculum, over testing, high stakes testing, etc. I think you get the idea. Basically, traditional school.

How To Break Free

The excitement is evident. This excitement translates to learning.

Push and challenge the thinking at your school. Start small, and build upon your successes. Begin with Genius Hour. Prove to the powers that be that there IS a different way to teach and learn. MAKE learning fun for your students. Tap into their interests and build on that. Change the culture of your classroom and then the school.

Springtime: Countdowns & Reflections

This week’s #youredustory prompt:

Spring can be a tough time for teachers (with a stretch until spring break and then after it before summer). How do you help morale on campus as tiredness sets in and the kids get squirrely?

Many teachers and students look at springtime like a big count-down. I’ll admit I do too, but I also find it a time of renewal, invigoration, creativity, and exploration. While I too am tired and really looking forward to my summer plans – mainly the sleeping in kind; I also get that weird little bug that says, “Hey, try this” or “Try that.” And that’s exactly what I do.

Spring is my favorite time of year to start something new, rearrange the familiar, and get a little crazy! A few years ago, it was in the spring that I started ‘Genius Hour’. It’s become a staple in 5th grade at my site. I find spring the perfect time to experiment with new ideas. By this time in the year, I know what my students can handle, what I can push on them, and what is completely wrong for them. We know how to work together, what sets us off, and ultimately work as a cohesive unit. Now is the perfect time to try that idea you saw, read, or thought about. Work out the kinks with a group you know. That way,  by the fall it’ll be ready to go with a batch of newbies.

For me, spring is also a time of reflection. I look back at the year and think, “Where did the time go? October and Halloween seem like a distant memory.” I also think, “Wait a minute; it took me this long to break them in, now they leave? This is so unfair!”

I guess I keep morale up in my classroom by being happy and looking for the good. Sounds strange, but as they say, “Change your perspective, change your life.” Look for the amazing in your students, staff, and self. Yes, our job is hard. We are burnt out by the time spring hits. The students have a bad case of ‘Spring Fever’ (and yeah, we teachers do too). But look at how far we’ve all come in just a few short months. In the end, our job is truly amazing! Spring should be a time of celebration of all our accomplishments.

Becoming a Teacher

This week’s #youredustory topic is:

“What was the defining moment you decided to be a teacher?”

Smoke Plume

So imagine that you are sitting in a smoke filled, windowless back room working as a telemarketer for some shady company one summer. Now imagine that you have decided to change your major, yet again. This is the story of how I decided to become a teacher.

Most people have some really great story about becoming a teacher. They were inspired by a teacher in their youth, maybe they were inspired by a parent who happened to be a teacher, or it was a drive within them that they’ve had since childhood. Yeah, my story isn’t flowery or touching; in fact, my story is somewhat embarrassing/depressing, in a ‘I can’t believe that really happened’ kind of way.

One summer I had returned home from college waffling over my latest choice in majors. I began college declaring I was going to be a Physical Therapist when I grew up. Then I changed my mind and declared I would be a nurse. Needless to say, neither one of those worked out and I needed to make some decisions.

That summer I was taking classes at a University that was closer to home and needed a job to pay for expenses. It was at this job, that I HATED, that I made the life choice to become a teacher – in a most uninspiring way.

I was hired to do telemarketing for a shady company. They sold magazines, and I was charged with calling places like Kmart and Sears in locations like Florida. My first day on the job, one of the other workers warned me that the company won’t mail out W2’s so I should keep all my pay stubs in order to file taxes (I did as suggested, and no the company never mailed out W2’s). All the other telemarketers were in their late teens early 20’s. I just remember a lot of cigarette smoke, no windows, and having to shower once I got home because of the stench.

One day at lunch I decided I needed to sit down and look at what majors my University offered. I had put in a few years and didn’t want to lose credits by changing universities (this was back in Michigan). And I was lazy and didn’t really want to apply at another university – too much work involved. So I pulled out the paper that listed all the majors available. I went through the list and thought, “Shit, nothing appeals to me”. I then decided to go through the list again – I was seriously NOT changing schools – and thought, “Okay, it will go on ‘the list’ [of possibilities] if I can even remotely see myself doing it”. I got to the E’s and found Elementary Education. I sighed and thought to myself that yeah, I can imagine doing this, but I’m only in the E’s there’ll be something else that catches my eye. I wasn’t all THAT thrilled. AND… I got to the end of the listed majors; Elementary Education was the only thing on my list of possibilities. So the next week, I went to my University and officially changed majors, again.

I told you it wasn’t the most inspiring story, but makes a great story to tell others. I clearly enjoyed the classes and my choice. Otherwise, I would have gone through that list and changed majors yet again.

I can honestly say that I have never regretted my decision. My journey to becoming the teacher I am today may have started off in a smoke filled, windowless room; it has taken me to amazing heights, down passion-filled roads, and connected me with inspiring educators. This is my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Why Do I Do What I Do?

This week’s #youredustory prompt:

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it” Simon Sinek – Why do you do what you do?

My first thought was, “My therapist would have a field day with this one [and me].”

Question mark sign

Someone once asked me how I could stay at the same job year after year and not get bored. Quite simply, it’s NOT the same job day after day, let alone year after year.

I do what I do because education is an ever changing entity. Theories, methods, and technology keep the classroom fresh and exciting. I am a person who loves to learn new things; I think most educators are the same way. Before teaching 5th grade, I taught 3rd for about 10 years. I never once taught the same lesson, exactly the same way, twice. I was constantly reflecting, and changing how I taught.

Change: it’s the beauty of our job. When we choose to continue to accept the positive changes, learn new techniques, and view each day as a learning experience, we can’t help but be fulfilled with “What We Do”.

So I do what I do, in part, because I’m selfish. I’m easily bored and need new challenges. Teaching affords me that luxury. Another reason I teach is because I get to inspire a love of learning through innovative and interesting ways. I get to show children how fun, and cool, fractions, technology, editing, creating, history, writing, and so much more can be!

I do what I do because it is inspiring!

Learning Is…

Define “learning” in 100 words or less.

This prompt made me think; 100 words or 1000 words ,I’m not sure I could ever articulate learning. But, here it goes.


Learning is…

  • messy
  • fun
  • ever-changing
  • diverse
  • hands-on
  • cerebral
  • loud
  • focused
  • collaborative
  • filled with tangents
  • revolutionary
  • intrinsic
  • playful
  • innovative
  • exploration
  • social
  • creative
  • in a classroom
  • thinking
  • trying new things
  • outdoors
  • everywhere
  • different for everyone

Learning is what you make it. I hope you’re making the most of your experiences. (Check me out, I’ve got words to spare!)

The Best Thing I Do

What is the best thing you do in your classroom/school/district/job?

I push the envelope and take risks. I often have an idea of some crazy ‘out there’ project. I know where I am, and where I want to go. I rarely have an idea of HOW I’m going to get to the end, and I’m okay with that. Furthermore, the ideas generally come in the middle of a lesson. I have dubbed them ‘Brain Storms’. I get a ‘look’ on my face, that my students quickly recognize. I then stop the lesson, and begin talking (quite rapidly) about my idea; and when I’m really excited, I get ‘flappy hands’. This leads to a tumbling of ideas. Many times, the students will interject their ideas. In the end, the idea becomes a reality and is a combination of my original vision and my students’ ideas.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by anarchosyn

I’m currently in the middle of one of my crazy ideas. I gamified a Social Studies unit. We are currently studying the reasons for the American Revolution. Somehow I got it into my head that it should be turned into a game ‘Road to the Revolution‘. In short, it’s a series of questions and tasks. The information the students need is located on a Hyperdoc (found in Google Classroom). [Please note: it is still a work in progress]

So yeah, the best thing I do is take risks. I have crazy ideas, follow my gut, try new things, listen to others’ ideas, and just go for it!

My Favorite Teacher

So this week’s question for #youredustory was:

How are you, or is your approach, different than your favorite teacher?

I struggled with this question all week. I came to the conclusion that I took the good qualities from her, and must have forgotten the not so great stuff.

Ms. Cotnoir came from New York City. We were a bunch of lily white, catholic school kids – 8th graders – in the middle of suburbia (just outside of Detroit). I was in awe of her. She posed questions to us that made me think (about abortion no less). She related to us on a human level. She wanted to get to know us. Those are the things that I remember about her. I don’t remember her being an especially inspiring to me in math or religion class (this is what I remember her teaching).

I recall one night a few friends went to the mall with her. I don’t remember exactly what we did, but I remember that we weren’t looked down upon. We were treated fairly. And she hated the local music stations. We argued that our favorite station played the top 10 ‘Pop Hits’ every hour. Looking back, I can see how she was less than impressed with our musical choices. She was more of a punk rock listening kind of teacher.

The memories and the stories could go on, but I won’t bore you all. So rather than discuss all the ways in which I differ from Ms. Cotnoir, I’d like thank her for: making me think, broadening my horizons, treating us like people, listening to us, taking a real interest in our lives, and being really cool! I’d like to think I am a bit like this with my students; because of her.