I’m still alive! (2016 Edition)

Oh hey, world! I just sorta forgot about this blog / got super busy / whatever other excuse you’d like to insert here! So sorry about the 2? year break there!

Life is going well. I’m on a dream sabbatical for the 2016-17 school year and it involves traveling around the world to a variety of countries to learn from different education systems and set up meaningful global collaborations for our teachers and students.

So far, @searls and I have made it to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Japan, and Singapore! Coming up this spring: Costa Rica and the U.K….and hopefully Spain, France, and perhaps one more Spanish speaking central or South American country! I’m in heaven and Justin is ever so patient and supportive, despite just wanting to be at home with his PS4 and many devices.

This year has also been handy to check off lots of things I’ve been needing to do for, oh, half a decade, including getting a gum graft (ūüėĖ) and sinus surgery (ūü§ēūü§ß). It is rather amazing to breathe out of my nose for the first time…maybe ever? Or for sure since third grade when my dad bought old blue, a very blue Oldsmobile station wagon with terrible “new” (actually used) car smell. I remember deciding to stop breathing out of my nose and I guess I just applied the decision to my entire life. Turns out when you fail to use your nose for 2+ decades and already were predisposed to sinus and ear issues, you just CANT use it anymore without intervention. So having the time to ameliorate these health issues, among other things, such as living out my passion for travel while contributing meaningfully to my profession and school district, has me¬†on a mission to spread the good news of Why every teacher should take a sabbatical.

In¬†the spirit of maybe actually posting again before the close of this decade I will keep this short and sweet (or as short as someone as naturally inclined towards verbosity is capable of), close for now, and¬†wish¬†you a lovely and cozy holiday season with the people you love, including all the¬†feels and copious amounts of free time to whatever your lil heart desires. ‚̧

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Why we need to slow down our lives

Love so many of the ideas here! Are you busy? Then force yourself, counter-intuitively, to slow down!

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As technology accelerates our lives, many of us feel an urgent need to slow down. One seductive solution: A secular sabbath. Pico Iyer makes the case, in this meditative excerpt from his new TED Book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

The idea of going nowhere is as universal as the law of gravity; that‚Äôs why wise souls from every tradition have spoken of it. ‚ÄúAll the unhappiness of men,‚ÄĚ the seventeenth-century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal famously noted, ‚Äúarises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.‚ÄĚ After Admiral Richard E. Byrd spent nearly five months alone in a shack in the Antarctic, in temperatures that sank to 70 degrees below zero, he emerged convinced that ‚ÄúHalf the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.‚ÄĚ Or, as they sometimes say around Kyoto, ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt just do something. Sit‚Ķ

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Book Overview / Recommendation: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

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The Obstacle Is The Way  by Ryan Holiday

I’m not sure how I stumbled across this book, but I am so happy I did! It has been the shove I need to get past some “woe is me, why did this happen to MEEEE?” questions I’ve been fighting with for a little over a year. This book shut all of that down by clearly laying out 3 black and white philosophical disciplines¬†in the tradition of Stoicism.

1. Perception – how we see and understand what happens to us (fair and unfair). It doesn’t matter what the obstacles are, but how we see and react to them, and whether we keep our composure in the face of them, or, even better, thrive because of them. Relates to our still overactive, primal fear response – we can perceive danger in negative situations and allow ourselves to sweat, feel stressed, or let fight or flight kick in, or we can learn to understand and filter those primal feelings and become disciplined in the art of perception so that we can clearly see what action to take in every situation. Perception is the¬†discipline of the mind.

2. Action – the movements and decisions that define us. Action must be undertaken with “deliberation, boldness, and persistence” because “Thise are the attributes of¬†right¬†and effective¬†action. When¬†something undesirable happens to you, how do you respond? Most of us fail because we opt¬†not to act. We let our fear overtake us and we act powerless or expect someone else to act while we ignore it or pretend it will go away, hiding behind the idea that it’s too risky to take action. “We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.” Action is the discipline of the body.

3. Will– our internal power, fortitude, and wisdom that cannot be affected by the outside world and suffering. The ability to resign ourselves to less-than-ideal circumstances without giving in to negativity or resorting to hopelessness and despair. The art of amor¬†fati – a love of fate –choosing to love everything that happens to you, good or bad. The idea that everything happens for a reason, and if eventually you’re probably going¬†to eventually reach that conclusion anyway, why not¬†choose it now and choose to feel good in every trial and tribulation?¬†The will is discipline of the heart and soul.

Besides the 3 disciplines above which are defined, redefined, and redefined over and over in a thousand ways that make them easy to grasp and understand, the book is peppered with engaging and interesting (true) historical and modern-day anecdotes of powerful figures who overcame adversity through force of will, controlled their perceptions ,and took action in their lives to move themselves forward and live a full and productive life. Some of the figures that make an appearance include Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, Heraclitus, Plutarch, Socrates, Cicero, Montaigne, Abraham Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, John D. Rockefeller, Margaret Thatcher,  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Malcom X, Thomas Edison,  Thomas Jefferson, Laura Ingalls Wilder,  Steve Jobs, among many others.

This book feels like a lesson in philosophy, mindfulness, and history all rolled into a how-to guide for taking real action and living a fuller life. Next up for me is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. What are you reading and finding fascinating?

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Summer of Spanish

It was the “Summer of Spanish” this year for us. First trip was to the rain forest of Costa Rica. We’re talking Jurassic-Park sized plants here:

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After a break to recover for a few weeks, we were off to Spain for a friend’s wedding and general Europe-y exploration times. It was delightful, if a little devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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A new school year is just a few weeks away, and I am equal parts dreading and anticipating. Trying to enjoy my free time and lack of anything specific to do while feeling slightly stressed about all I COULD be doing. Alas…this is the life of a teacher.

So thankful for the time to travel and explore the world with my better half. ‚̧

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Summer Reflections

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I have so many things that I’m thinking and learning right now that are rolling around in my head, and¬†it has suddenly occured to me that my poor little blog has seen very little action of late. I thought it would be a good start to at least list them all here so I keep them in mind and keep exploring them systematically over time.

  • standards-based grading (I’m co-hosting a google hangout #langcamp #langchat on the topic with @garnett_hillman next Monday evening 8 PM Eastern / 7 PM Central if you’re interested!)
  • digital badges and gamification (I’m not sold on this but think it has potential, particularly for Middle School learners which I’m transitioning to teach this fall after 6 years at the HS level)
  • teaching English grammar to ELLs (graduate course that is absolutely blowing my mind and making me want to a learn a lot more about the nitty-gritty of Spanish grammar too!)
  • basic computer programming and web design including HTML, CSS, and Ruby on Rails.

I’m busy trying to learn all of these things and relax at the same time while also thinking about how my new age group will differ from my older learners and how to modify the curriculum to bring in some of my new interests while still not trying too many new things at once.

Basically, my brain hurts. But in a good way, kind of like when you start exercising again after a hiatus and have muscle fatigue. Ugh, hurts so good.

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. I found it interesting so I thought if share-seems like lots of people found me searching for ideas for how to sub plan effectively. I’ll try to post more ideas on that topic as well as on my new edtech interest: using an iPad mini in the foreign language classroom! Happy 2013!!

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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First post from my new iPad mini!

My husband is a computer programmer & lover of all things Apple. We are also dinks (double income, no kids). Therefore every time Apple releases a new product we pretty much become first-day adopters. This is how I find myself posting to my blog for the first time in several months via my brand new iPad mini:

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Now, with the exception of accidentally posting prematurely, I have to say is device has me more excited than usual for potential use in education! A few reasons why I think the iPad mini may be a game-changer for teachers & students:

size: the iPad was a big step in the right direction but the mini is even better: more lightweight, easy to hold in 1 hand, and for some reason easier to type on for me? Also there’s something to it being smaller than an iPad but larger than a phone that maintains its legitimacy as a learning tool- if I am not yet ready to allow my students to have their phones out at all times I can’t very well have mine out, even if it is for an educational reason. The iPad mini solves this problem- it’s clearly not a phone!

iCloud: everything is everywhere all the time. While I recognize that as an early adopter, I may be further along this curve than most, I think its fair to say that in 5-10 years or so services like iCloud and Dropbox will have more or less eradicated the “I forgot it” excuse from learning environments. I also think that because kids will have the ability to work from almost anywhere we will see a gain in their engagement in learning outside of school & in their overall productivity!

intuitive & fun to use: iPad mini’s size makes it fun to carry around and easier to slip out & use, particularly for receptive tasks like reading, than other devices. It’s interface is so similar to the iPhone & iPad that kids will have no trouble picking it up & intuiting how to use it from day 1. This may also be a great way to welcome teachers in who have historically been reluctant to use technology to augment their teaching.

apps! As w high school spanish teacher I’m already thinking of apps I can use in the classroom to facilitate instruction with students and out of the classroom to enhance my professional productivity. A few that come to mind that I’ve used on other iOS devices & look forward to exploring on this new device include:

Dropbox – if you are a teacher & you’re not using this yet please contact me to invite you. Your life will be forever changed for the better- Dropbox allows you to sync your files between different computers & devices so that flash drives are a thing of the past. Imagine starting a document at home, saving it to your Dropbox, and finishing it at home that night. Then you log in to your classroom computer & your finished document is there too, ready for your lesson! Great stuff! Plus when you invite friends you get extra storage for free (they start you with 2 gigs free!)

Simplenote this is my go-to note-taking app for absolutely everything, from grocery lists to documentation of student needs and IEP info, to links to quotes & lesson ideas. It pairs well with Notational Velocity for a desktop app (syncs your notes via the cloud)

PowerTeacher Mobile– this is the grade book application used by my school district. The original iPad app wasn’t great (slow, not so intuitive) so I’m hoping it may have some improvements in place now. I actually find its mobile web app much more useful on a daily basis. You can find it by simply typing the normal URL for your attendance in safari & then saving it as a shortcut that winds up looking like an app on your iPad!

VoiceRecorder – sadly the native iPhone app didn’t get carried over but there are a wide variety of third-party apps available in the AppStore, including this one which appears to let you take notes within the app as well. This has a lot of potential for streamlining my oral assessment process with kids!

Doceri– remote desktop app with potential to be used as a wireless slate with your smartboard, this is another app that I tried a few years ago & was disappointed in but think may now be more fully conceptualized & easier to use. I love the idea of being able to walk around my classroom & write on my iPad mini & have it show up on my interactive whiteboard. Plus, I think this has a lot of potential for student engagement because teachers can simply pass the ipad off to students & have them contribute ideas that way. This year, in particular, I would really benefit from this feature, because my classroom is rather small & crowded & I have rather large classes, so it is just awkard at times for the kids to physically get up & walk to the smart board to write on it.

These are just a few of the ideas I have in mind! What so you think? Will the iPad mini become a part of your life as a teacher? If so, how do you plan on using it? Please share any thoughts or questions!

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Maintaining perspective

It’s been awhile since I posted, and I haven’t really thought through in advance what I’m writing but it feels like it’s time to write again, so here goes!

Recently in my department we had the opportunity to take a professional day as a group of high school Spanish teachers to discuss philosophy, articulation of curriculum, and other issues. This was a rare and valuable opportunity to hash out differences that may have been lingering for years and start dialogue moving in a direction that was solution-focused rather than problem-based.

I was so thankful for this day. Recently, although I love what I do in the classroom, the politics of teaching have been weighing on me. These politics seem present at every level – nationally, state-wide, locally, in our building, and even down to our very department and language groups. Politics, I remember, were something I was warned about as a pre-service teacher. I remember kind of¬†naively¬†thinking “I won’t get sucked into those! That’s not helpful to kids! I’ll stay positive and out of the teacher’s lounge forever!” While these thoughts may have been admirable, I now realize how real politics are in the teaching profession. And while I am still convinced it’s important to try to avoid getting too “sucked in” to them, I admit that they sometimes need to be addressed.

Last week, I am happy to report, we were able to work through some of the politics that have historically interfered with our ability, as a spanish department, to collaborate effectively. We came together, communicated effectively, and compromised openly about curriculum and what we believe is best for kids. It was such a relief to leave this day – a weight had been lifted.

We still have a long ways to go…but we’re finally moving in the right direction. And it’s fantastic to be able to look¬†all of my colleagues in the eye as we cross each other’s paths during the day, ask how they are, and really want to know rather than avoid interaction. I also, for the first time in a long time, can picture myself working in this setting for longer than I have before. I still don’t know how long K-12 Education will be for me, but, 5 years in, I don’t see myself leaving any time soon.

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Home-School Connection

My level 2 Spanish students are presenting the culmination of a month’s worth of hard work this week. About a month ago I introduced an IBMYP unit on backpacking. Since then students have worked to research and create a 6-day itinerary to 3 different destinations of their choice, one of which had to be outside of the United States.

Although I provided two days in the computer lab for students to conduct initial trip research and later work on their visuals for their presentations, and about 3 days of in-class time for preparation prior to the presentations, the majority of the work was done outside of class.

As a result, students had to be very self directed and work through many issues using critical thinking. These 21st century skills were one of my goals of the unit.

Today I was absolutely blown away by the quality of their end products. The visuals they created, the hooks they brainstormed, the outlines they worked on boiling down into just 2-5 phrases on 3-5 notecards, together with days of rehearsal resulted in some absolutely phenomenal presentations.

So great, in fact, that I found myself emailing every single parent to let them know what a fantastic job their child had done. I had initially planned to email only a few parents but once I started the positive energy was infectious and I just wanted those parents to hear good news. It was then that I started to think about what parents typically hear – and I fear that it’s all too often something negative, or, potentially worse, nothing at all.

In sending out positive messages to parents now, I am building a rapport not only with my students (who will likely hear through the grapevine how proud I am of them) but also with their parents, who will appreciate the effort taken to reach out. In addition, if later in the year I need to contact with negative news, we will have a working foundation laid and they may be more likely to listen to what I have to say and take it more seriously.

Too often I forget how important the home-school connection is. Parents tell me all the time how their teenagers “don’t tell them anything” – as their teacher, I am lucky that this is not the case for me! I talk with these kids every day and get to know them well, from their strengths to what causes them anxiety. I also see students’ work ethic up close every single day and have insight into how much effort they are putting into Spanish class. Every so often, I need to remember to let parents in on this valuable insight I have into their children. I hope that in return, at some point, parents may provide me with valuable insight from home that can help inform what I do to help their children be successful in my classroom.

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