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The Real Fight To Learn

April 30, 2016

College:  I was graded on my creation of interdisciplinary units.  I remember building a unit on China for elementary learners. It was awesome.  Cooking in math, Chinese money to simulate classroom economy, deep thinking about how the culture compared to our culture, exploration of history. Architecture to explore science force and motions of structures.  All while learning reading, writing, math, science, and social studies standards.  Great learning experiences for kids.  I never got to teach that unit.

Here’s what unfolded in my career instead…

Teaching Job: Total excitement and joy, China unit ready to go when the time was right! But I was handed a pacing guide to follow, that in NO way could be taught using Interdisciplinary teaching. Everything was segmented and separate.  China was NOT in the curriculum, everyone said. Unit gathers dust. Bummer. I was excited about that unit.  Tried to get excited about lessons I could get a little creative with that would still fit the “PACING GUIDE.”

First Few Years:  Testing was the focus. If it’s on the test teach it, hard.  Tell it, retell it, lecture it.  Science and social studies? Rotate them for 30 minutes a day… or week, if there’s time.  Creativity officially squashed.  The schedule ran the learning.

Next Few Years: Discovered Project Based Learning and Inquiry Based Learning. Saw the magic of having kids of all abilities, special education, gifted education, twice exceptional, ALL kids in integrated project situations. I felt my creativity coming alive… until….   Pressure from colleagues to “Follow the Book,”  Nobody embraces different. Except the kids did.   Collaboration took hold, they were working together, learning from each other, and creativity was coming alive.  But that pressure ensued… return to the pacing guide, follow the book.  We had to spend more time developing assessments and rewriting standards… over and over again.  I couldn’t survive it.

Next Few Years:  Left the regular classroom, tired of the pacing guide madness and not being able to teach science and social studies because it “wasn’t tested.”  Moved to Gifted Ed pull out program, fell in love with learning all over again because I had the freedom to TEACH, LEARN, and GROW.  Returned to my roots… interdisciplinary teaching and learning.  Worked to incorporate STEM, and Project Based Learning, and Inquiry… all the things that make learning come alive.  Open ended experiences that let kids DRIVE.   My creativity was back. It was glorious. It saved me as a teacher, and a person. But I was the only gifted ed teacher in my building… and that?  It’s lonely. Isolating. A silo. People said things like, “Well, your kids are just playing, not really learning.”  Thank goodness for Twitter – it saved me those years.  It’s ultimately what took me someplace else.

Most Recent Couple of Years:  Now? Innovation Coordinator.  Coordinates innovation.  There IS no pacing guide. Discovered making and creating, fell in love with Design Thinking, and play… more play.  STEAM is part of the everyday world.   Design Thinking brings empathy in and allows kids to think about others while they create, solve, and explore the world and their connections to it.   A team?  I have one.  We share ideas, inspire each other, and cook up plans together. They are so fantastic it’s a whole ‘nother blog post for another day.  But, they have made all the difference in my world.

everyteachereveCrazy journey, right?  Almost 14 years of fighting for creativity and learning, just so that I could provide it to my learners.  I’m sure it’s quite similar to others’ journeys through education and I’m thankful for every. single. step.   It’s made me know that I am home. I will spend the rest of my education career helping others get to the magical place I’ve seen when learning isn’t about a THING or an ACRONYM, where learning is about authentic experiences, removing ceilings, and engaging with the world.  While the world argues about whether or not gifted ed is fair, starts movements like #CS4All, and marvels at the obvious idea that art belongs in STEM, I’m just going to focus on my own mission…..   Let’s MAKE school more, pun totally intended. Making, dreaming, doing, designing, and becoming a better version of ourselves.  Teachers and students.  ALL of them, ALL of us. Learners.

We don’t need detailed pacing guides. We don’t need more silos.  We don’t need debates about acronyms.  We need the chance to teach creatively, collaborate authentically, and fall in love with learning again.


The first time I admitted, “I don’t know.”

April 24, 2016

I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember being terrified. I remember it was like ripping off a veil of false image, an image that, as an educator, I was taught to have in years of my own schooling, and then years of college.  Saying it out loud was like removing years of being the “expert” and knowing it all for the kids I had in front of me.  It was like shouting to the world, “I’m an impostor.”

Would the kids be disappointed to have a teacher like me?

Would I even be qualified anymore to teach them?

Would saying it out loud mean that I had faked my way through years of curriculum?

In fact, I had.  And in faking my way through as an “expert,” I had served nobody. No one. Not myself. And certainly not the kids I taught.

So, I said it.  I admitted, openly, what I had hidden for years about the things I taught.

I don’t know. 

And then I joined them to find out.  No longer in front of them telling them what I know, but sitting along side them, on the floor, at the table, in the grass.

“You really didn’t know?” a five year old once said to me, surprised, as if I had admitted my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Specialist’s degrees on the walls of my office were all counterfeit.  Or at least, that’s what it felt like to me.   But the truth is, my not knowing meant far more to him at five than I could realize.

My not knowing meant that we’re in this together. Learning. Collaborating. A reciprocal environment where learning flows in, around, and together we become something more today than we were yesterday.

The truth is, your students won’t lose respect for you when you admit you don’t know.  In fact, they’ll have more.  Because it’s real. It’s human. It’s the path to the kind of deep learning that they are craving.

So, just go ahead and say it.  “I don’t know,” and then be willing to let them teach you. Whether they are five, twenty five, or sixty five.

After all, we are all learners.

And somedays, that’s the only thing I know for sure.  And I’m actually okay with that.


It’s Not About the Stuff.

April 23, 2016

It’s not about the stuff.  It’s not about things to buy or expensive furniture.  It’s not about acronyms and what letters to include, (STEAM, STEM, po-tay-to, po-ta-toe).

It’s about so much more than that.

Making is not a “thing” it’s a way of thinking, connecting, and sharing.  It’s about WHO you are, what you are PASSIONATE about, and what you LOVE. What MOVES your soul?

I realize how cliche that sounds.  I realize there’s a battle waged in our schools over standards and  scores.

But I realize that saving our kids from that is more important than anything. And you know what… when we save our kids, we just might save ourselves, too.   We can get back to the heart of learning. Play. Intentional fun. Engagement in authentic experiences.  Work that is hard and fun, challenging and joy filled.  School that doesn’t just teach facts and knowledge but that builds character, understanding, connections, and learning experiences day by day.



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Google Photos for Your Whole School

April 9, 2016

Yesterday we had a school event and I got home and realized I hadn’t taken ONE photo. Not one.  As someone who typically Instagrams everything from cool cracks in the sidewalk to sunsets, and even uses “Instagrams” as a verb, I was shocked at myself… and a little mad.  After all, how in the world was I going to make a video of the event.  Wait…. I may not have taken photos, but other people did. Lots of people.  Lots of perspectives on the event.  Close ups, group shots, video clips.  Their phones, iPads, and cameras were snapping, clicking, and recording moments.   So, maybe I could ask everyone to email me their favorites, or worse, put them on a flash drive that would fill up in about 3.2 seconds.  No way.  Then I saw it like a little superhero with a cape…. Google Photos!  Just HOW easy would it be for me to create an album in Google Photos and send the link out to everyone?  Since we’re a Google Apps school, it was easier than shaking a Polaroid. (Note: If you don’t know what that means, please pretend you do… because I’m apparently getting older than I’ll ever admit.)

1.) Visit the album link:  I created this  Sample Shared Album and you are welcomed to add a photo it to try out the tutorial below.  

2.) Click the “+”  Button on the top right to add photos from your computer.

NOTE: Google will ask you to click “Got It” a few times when you first try this. 🙂

3.) To add photos, you must “Join” the album.  This gives you permission, and it will show up in your “Shared Albums” in your own Google Photos so you have access.  

4.) Once you are a member of the album, you will see a tiny image of an “image” on the toolbar up top.  Click it and you will get access to your computer to select any photos and/or videos you have to share.  Add a photo to the sample album to try it out! 

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5.) Select photos and click “OPEN” and your photos will be added to the shared album.  


*Create a monthly, event based, or yearly album for your classroom or gradelevel and add photos to it.  Share with parents and they can download the photos they’d like to keep.  No CD of photos to burn or flash drives to fill up!

*Get the Google Photos app on your phone, tablet, or iPad and easily access photos from your phone on your computer, and vice versa!   [Android] [Apple]  [Tutorial on the App]

*Install the app on a classroom set of iPads and students can add anything that saves to the camera roll to a shared album to share with you!  Create an album for each student, show them how to add to it, and have an instant portfolio!  A portfolio that parents can download at the end of the year… and students CHOOSE what to add.  

Hmmmm…. Portfolios…. another post, another day.  But that seed has been planted in my mind.

STEAM is not a class, a thing, or a trend…. it’s THE WORLD.

April 2, 2016

STEAM is the world.   It’s not a class, a club, or an event.  It’s the connection of learning with the world.   We debate the letters and what they mean, we reduce STEAM to a time in school, and we even argue it’s relevance.

All the while, STEAM is the world.  Good design?  It uses every aspect of STEAM, without formality and without even thinking about it.

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 8.49.29 AMYou need to measure to make it fit. You need art to make it meaningful, beautiful, connected. You need science to figure out how it will work.  You need engineering to make it better. You need technology to share it with the world, improve the efficiency.

How in the world did we get SO off track in our schools in America?  How did we ever think these things were expendable?  We left science for teaching “next year when it’s tested,” we threw art out when budgets got low, we reduced math to a book for an hour a day.  We called things like “design” fluff classes and “fun” that somehow became the “f” word in education.

Honestly, that ironically makes steam come out of my ears.

Now the very government that pushed testing down the on the administrators and teachers of America’s schools and crushed them is all “We need STEM”!

You know what we need America?  The time and space to get back to the heart of learning connected with the world.  Authentic lessons where STEAM is integrated because it’s imperatively already built in.  Assessment occurs because bright, intelligent teachers know from observation, discussion, and authentic reasoning where their kids are at.

Don’t tell me about Finland one more time.  Tell me what we can do TODAY to restore our schools to what our kids need. It’s not going to be a booklet, a handout, or program. It’s learning, and it’s time.