Ditch That Textbook – Chapters 15- 19 #D100BloggerPD

It’s been almost two years since I’ve been part of the D100 blogger PD group and I’m thrilled to be back. If you haven’t had the chance to catch up with us this round, we’ve jumped into reading Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller, which helps teachers to free their teaching and revolutionize their classroom. I’m fortunate enough to work in a district that truly promotes and embodies this practice throughout all 8 of our schools in the district.

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“What do you do when your work life is so full you don’t have time for the people who matter most?” This is the primary focus as Miller opens up chapter 15, “Choose to Cheat.” At the time when I first read this book, I was a first-year teacher who wholeheartedly gave everything she had to her career and wholeheartedly gave nothing to everyone and everything else. I did not prioritize any of my friendships, my relationship, or my family. But, reflectively, and I think most importantly, I didn’t prioritize myself, my mental, emotional, or physical well being. The idea of “work-life balance” made me audibly laugh. At the time, I didn’t know what boundaries were, let alone how to set them. I truthfully didn’t even know the word in the context of my personal/professional life until last year when someone asked me the question “did you set any boundaries?” To which I responded, “what’s a boundary? What do you mean?” Looking back, reading this chapter as a first-year teacher, sure I read Miller’s words, but certainly did not know how to put them into practice. In his writing, Miller states that as teachers we often cheat, but with the wrong people, or in the wrong circumstance. I was cheating all along my first-year teaching. I cheated on my family, my friends, my relationships, all for my career, both in the classroom and out. I thrived in the classroom and pushed myself to the limit. I prided myself on the classroom I built and matched my worth as a professional on the quality of my classroom. This is common of so many teachers because the stakes are so high, and our hearts are so easily overtaken by the 28 faces that look back at us every day. What every teacher eventually needs to come to grips with however is that the cheating often needs to start in the classroom or within your career, but the way I’d like to articulate “cheating” is just setting boundaries. When we can successfully set boundaries in our lives, professionally and personally, all the things that I cheated on i.e. my mental, physical and emotional health, become easier to navigate and make a priority. Sometimes, as Miller says, “we have to set aside really good, really exciting ideas, and that’s okay” because it will make us more balanced and also takes away from us doing “too much.”

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In his next chapter Miller talks about the MED or the minimum effective dose, defined as the “smallest dose that will produce the desired outcome.” What Miller suggests is that teachers work too much and do too much in their day-to-day. Cutting back their work to the “MED” could “optimize [their] time and resources as educators.” So how do we do this, while still making sure we’re effective teachers? By setting boundaries, or knowing when to stop and also by keeping it simple. Remembering that students or your audience will only take in what they deem to be interesting or necessary for a test, or life. All of the extra efforts can be futile if no additional results are being produced. Of course, if additional results are being produced that otherwise would not have been, then certainly maintain the work that you’re doing, but consider how you could optime your efficiency or time when doing so. Miller alludes to “marking” or “grading” papers and how it consumed hours of his time, and for what? His students looked at the grade and tossed it into the nearest garbage can. So, he made a change. Instead, now his kiddos blog and he is able to help them on the writing process as they’re writing and editing. He creates buy-in with an authentic audience and gives the students something strategic and specific to work toward. They are able to work side-by-side with one another and the product and outcome are substantially more meaningful, powerful and worth it in the long run, instead of wasting countless hours grading worksheets and papers. Thinking about ways to amp up your lessons, while also saying “no” to monotonous activities and plans that don’t take your teaching and your student’s learning to a higher level, is a perfect way to start boundary setting in your professional life.

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When looking to amp up the teaching and learning happening in your classroom, many teachers choose to be a “Connected Educator” as Miller would say, through building their PLN online. Most social media hubs are bubbling over with incredible opportunities for professional development in your pajamas that allow for “inspiration, motivation, challenge, camaraderie, apps, and often most importantly, humor.” This blogger PD, though tardy, because I don’t know how to set boundaries with others to prioritize previous commitments, *see the importance of that above* is a great way for me to continue my professional learning, gather ideas to amp up the teaching and learning in the classrooms that I enter, but also keep me connected to educators both in my district and across the nation.

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I also am an OVERSHARER by nature. I like to pride myself on being an open book, maybe often times to a fault. However, Miller validates this characteristic of mine by suggesting that as educators, we SHARE EVERYTHING! By sharing what we do in our classrooms and districts, we are able to gain ideas, philosophies, practices, tips, tricks, tools, and most importantly heroes and friends. It’s great to be able to communicate with others and collaborate virtually just through sharing. But there’s more to be said than just sharing ideas. It’s easy to get swept up in the dark hole of social media and fall into the comparison trap when you start sharing. You begin to judge yourself based on what others are doing in the classroom. As a way of combating this, I like to share my vulnerabilities with the educator world in hopes of creating space for individuals to share things that they’re failing at as well or things that they struggle with. In doing this, it’s my hope that we can hold space for one another to feel okay to try and fail, but also learn from ourselves and one another in doing so. After all, it’d be selfish to only share your great things.


The beauty of being able to share for me happens through lots of different venues, social media, my blog, and now my podcast. Since I work in a district that has always created space for me to be autonomous, I feel that I have had far more success and passion than if I were to work in a place that did not allow for that. Miller suggests in his chapter “Find What Makes Them Tick” that it’s important to determine what works when it comes to motivating students. Since I no longer have a class of my own, I’d love to take a look at what this could look like for myself, or for the teachers that I work with. As I said, my ability to choose, and allowing choice both in the classroom and amongst the teachers that I work with creates “freedom” in the work environment. Digital tools allow us to choose how to create and what product we will end up with, just as I have done with my blog or my podcast. However, I’m not even close to being the “master” at any of these digital tools. I love taking what I know about something, and diving in with another teacher, to move toward mastery on a subject. Acknowledging that someone else on my team, or another teacher that I work with, “knows more than [I] do about something disrupts the comfortable balance” that we get from being in the “all knowing zone.” But truly, anyone can be an expert about anything, especially in this day and age, so why not use our best resources EACH OTHER, and our kiddos, as a way to move toward mastery. Finally, talking about your students, or your “purpose” when trying to motivate is extremely important. On our team, we like to call this our “why.” Why we do what we do every day. In my podcast, I talk a lot about analyzing our actions and how they move us toward or away from our “why.” Keeping our why in mind both when we’re working teachers and with students, and keeping that as our main focus when planning, keeps us aligned with the work that we choose to do. Additionally, Miller talks about choices, challenges, curiosity, cooperation, and friendly- competition being important qualities of motivating students and teachers that you work with as well.


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Thanks for supporting the #D100bloggerPD book study. As the study continues in the upcoming weeks, the hyperlinks to each #D100bloggerPD crew member’s post will be added HERE, to keep Matt Miller’s tips from Ditch That Textbook in one spot. We hope you continue to follow along with us! Next up, IT WORKED with Chapters 20-24.



Episode 2- Week Ending 8/26/18

Listen to episode 2 of The Peak and the Pit here. 

One of my favorite past times in the classroom is to sit back and watch children’s individual personalities unveil themselves and how those personalities manifest in the formation of peer to peer relationships. I watch this take place, because, I’m an ego manic, kidding, kind of, but I love trying to identify the parts of others personalities that I feel a strong connection toward. I do this actually to identify parts of myself that existed in my youth, that instead of getting rid of, I’ve just replaced with something else in adulthood. Allow me to explain myself. I, like many people I know, was fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that provided me with a stable schedule and structure. This by all means does not mean I ate a home cooked meal at the dinner table, and shared my stories about my day at 6:00 pm and had a bed-time story read to me at 8:30 with a cup of warm milk next to me. P.S. not shaming that lifestyle if this is the one you were blessed to have, but for clarification, I meant that my structure were my expectations. I knew my expectations. Wake up, go to school, try your best, come home, do homework, go to dance, eat dinner, go to bed. Structure, in that there were methodical steps to my day and my life had meaning and purpose through completing those “things”. If you’re one of the lucky ones, like myself, you’ve developed your understanding of your life’s purpose as filling your schedule with “things” to do and being the best, or doing your  “best” at those “things.” For me, I understood (I’m using the past tense very delicately here) my worth and value in the world as filling my schedule with as many things as possible, because to me busy meant best. My purpose was to wake up and try my best, hear others validate my work ethic, leadership skills etc, so that I could feel good about myself and use that to fuel me forward.  This was my life, as I’m sure was many other’s lives for all of my K-12 education, even in to my collegiate career. However, what I slowly began to realize was that once the scaffolding of school, and sports; sorry not sports, let’s be real, my only experience with sports was putting my helmet on backwards in t-ball at age 8, running to third instead of first after hitting the ball, and quitting all within my first and only practice; dwindles, our sense of purpose in the world can become cloudy. No longer are we receiving validation from external sources, and instead are forced to sit with ourselves and begin to understand that our worthiness doesn’t come from how busy we are, or how filled our schedules are, or if we do every single task at our job the BEST it can be done. But instead our worthiness comes from just being human, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like to know when we’re excelling at something.

Suffice to say that my PIT of the week would have to be me trying to crawl out of this trap of seeking purpose from being busy and having others validate me. Being back in the district and working as a coach means needing to put myself out there and establish connections with lots of different staff members. This means that my schedule is flexible in that I can be in multiple buildings in one day, which can often appear as a lack of structure to my brain. The lack of structure, leads to lack of busy work, which leads to lack of purpose and here we are spiraling out of control down the rabbit hole. You see where I’m going with this. Meeting lots of new people also puts me in vulnerable positions more times than I can count. Amidst this spiral, I finally hit a low at one point during the week when I was walking through buildings introducing myself and feeling like I wasn’t being seen or heard, and that I was just “in the way.” But, instead of making this moment of “neglect” or not being “validated” about the circumstances, the environment, or the fact that it was the FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL, I turned it in to a pity party for myself, blamed the lack of structure as a reason to justify me not being the best I can be at my job, and then not living in my purpose as an educator. Like I said “spiraling” –but don’t even try to say you don’t do this too.

Fast forward to my PEAK which occurred 30 minutes later ON THE SAME DAY,  when I walk into a different building. In this building I am immediately seen, acknowledged and taken on a tour of the grounds by one of the sweetest ladies, who also told me that if there was ever food out on the table in the teachers lounge to help myself.  Probably why she won me over. Fast forward to two days after that when we’re sitting at a team luncheon and my boss, mentor, colleague, friend, kindred spirit, role model introduces this podcast to the entire group, and makes all 14 of us go around and share our peak and our pit of the first week of school. 14 adults sitting around a table, creating space for shared vulnerability in an effort to grow in our practice as educators but as humans, and validate everyone’s intentions.

So what does all this mean? My peak and my pit for the week? I’m working to realize that I believe feeling validated in what you do and say is important to everyone. Okay, I won’t speak for everyone, but certainly for me. But what I need to realize is that my purpose or worthiness as an educator doesn’t come from that validation or the busyness that I fill my days with. My purpose comes from understanding that trying your best is important, but that better isn’t always best. Sometimes, it’s okay to not pack your schedule, and just BE in the moment as you are and know that that’s more than enough.


#peakandthepit Challenge

What a wild ride this past year has been. At the end of last school year, I moved from the classroom as a 5th-grade teacher in Berwyn, to an instructional technology coach at Pennoyer for the school year, and then back to Berwyn as an iCoach. It’s a bittersweet feeling to be back at home in Berwyn since I absolutely loved my time at Pennoyer, worked with some incredible people and made some of my very best friends. Berwyn has always felt like home, though, which is why I’m thrilled to be back again. During my transition, a few people have asked if I’m sad about all the change happening in my life. Normally, my response to this question is, yes. However, living in a somewhat reflective state of mind recently, I’ve been able to take a minute to really evaluate if I am sad or instead just unwilling to embrace change. The hate I used to have for change prevented me from doing a lot of things for a long time, rarely professionally, more-so, personally. But, if this year has taught me anything, it’s to use the struggle of inevitable change as a catalyst to propel you forward for growth.

We live in a society that has social media in heavy rotation. Social media has given the opportunity for anyone to be a creator and a maker, for voices to be heard that otherwise may not have had the opportunity to do so, and provides a way to maintain a connection to individuals near and far. Despite the positive power of social media, our obsession with sharing has begun to cloud our healthy perspective of consumerism. Most of us now, are consuming content from a comparative standpoint instead of true inquiry or desire to learn. What we’re comparing is our current situation; which, if you’re anything like me checking social media before 6:30 am and after 7:30 pm, is a lovely sight of you horizontal in bed with at least two if not three chins, sweatpants on to compliment the oversized t-shirt that you may or may not have worn to bed for the past two days, makeup smeared on your face, and bad breath, while glaring at the images of someone’s posed, poised and perfect. Someone basking in the sun, tanned and toned, hair blowing in the wind laughing at something that probably wasn’t even funny with a caption reading “Life’s a beach,” looking like Jesus or Allah or a spirit herself was shining over them. It could also be an image of someone climbing a mountain or bungee jumping, or hang gliding or zip lining through a whole jungle of monkeys that all high-fived them on their way down and a whole slew of other things you could find scrolling through your hundreds of followers’ content. The further you get down on your feed, or as I prefer to call it, “The Black Hole,” the more and more you begin to compare and eventually dislike your current situation.

Let me clarify that in no way am I suggesting we stop posting the positive. It’s great! It’s a curation of your life, your special memories; YOUR PEAKS. I’m instead suggesting, for every 5 perfect pictures we post, or statuses we share, that we also post our reality or OUR PITS. For every tanned and toned picture, can we also slide over and share some cellulite. For every mountain climbed, we also share how we were covered from head to toe with sweat and maybe tears pouring down our face. This sharing isn’t meant to make people feel bad about their lives, but instead, to acknowledge the value in the “PIT” as well as the “PEAK.” This sharing is to recognize there is just as much, if not more to learn from the PIT. Most importantly, sharing the PIT to bring us back to reality, to bring us closer to humanity, because there is nothing we crave more than recognizing comprable struggle with another human being, that’s where our truest human connection forms.

How does this relate to me switching districts and being potentially sad about change? Well, instead of dwelling in the sadness of change, I can look at my current, EXTREMELY FORTUNATE situation objectively and find the PEAKS and the PITS of that situation and how it contributes or takes away from my life’s “WHY.” I can find gratitude and opportunities for growth instead of sitting in the comparison.  Recently, I took a weekend trip with two of my colleagues and good friends. At the end of our trip, over lunch, we each shared our peak and pit of the trip. Initially, we were kidding around with each other when doing this because we resembled (in practice, not appearance) the Kardashian Family on family vacay at dinner, but, eventually, it led to some pretty good reflective conversation which led to this blog post and this idea.

We’d like to encourage educators, students, and staff throughout our districts and nation-wide to share their #peakandthepit of their days or weeks. Sharing highlights of their week, yes, but also bringing attention to things that you struggled with, failed at, or didn’t go over well. The most important part of this challenge though is articulating how you’ll use that pit to help propel you forward the next day or next week toward your WHY or how it moved you away from or hindered your WHY and how you plan to change that moving forward. The reflection piece is what’s most important.

This week was my first week back in the district and therefore a perfect kickoff to my year-long #peakandthepit challenge. My goal is to share my own #peakandthepit each week, but I’d also like to create space for fellow educators, students and staff to share theirs on my blog or on Twitter. If you’re interested in participating make sure to share out with the hashtag #peakandthepit on any form of social media. Below you’ll find my first share for the #peakandthepit challenge. Each time we share, I hope we grow closer, more comfortable with the uncomfortable and continue to lift one another up each day.


#peakandthepit Week ending 8/17/18- 

Peak: Working in a district that I call home, with friends whom I’ve admired for so long. The opportunity to work with some of the most talented teachers I know and call them teammates is absolutely incredible. Can we also talk about this workspace? Obsessed would be an understatement.

Pit: Self-doubt. Radiating through my body all week. As much as I do my best to suppress the voice in my head telling me I’m not deserving, or not prepared, she snuck back in my ear from time to time during the week telling me I don’t deserve the title of iCoach.

HELPING/HINDERING MY “WHY”: The voice in my head, programmed to tell me I’m not good enough is only pushing me to prove myself and my abilities even more. I plan to use this self-doubt or negative self-talk as a way to make me aware of things that I’m insecure about and work toward improving those things. This will allow me to be a continuous learner, and improve my professional abilities at work. I know that I am capable, and I know whole-heartedly that anything ‘I don’t know” I’ll work my hardest to find answers for. I know my work ethic, and my ability to push myself. When those negative thoughts surface, I’ll repeat what I know to be true; “You will work hard, you will do your best, every day, always.”

Blog Reflection 2

The process of creating and integrating curriculum and ideas for changing curriculum as a technology specialist was incredibly invigorating and exciting. The process, though difficult was extremely rewarding. I really appreciated and enjoyed that the project itself was also broken up into compartments with different deadlines for us to meet. It helped as far as project and time management goes. I work in a district that allows for failing forward, so, fortunately, I have not faced many if any challenges. Teachers were excited to get on board and try new things as well as learn with one another. I’m extremely excited about my proposal and project still and think that it has the potential to truly help change the face of many math classrooms and allow for true differentiation in the classroom. The most positive aspect of my journey has been hearing the reaction of my students and my colleagues. There haven’t been any negative aspects in my journey, yet but I’m sure they will arise as we continue. I think I would really enjoy a tech specialist and instructional designer position in my district and hope I’m able to find a role in which I can incorporate creativity and technology into multiple classrooms every day.

LAUNCH Book Study- #D100BloggerPD

“The classroom should reflect the world for which we are preparing our students. If we are asking them to create, innovate, and be outstanding as graduates, then our classrooms should be creative, innovative, and outstanding places to learn.” Chapter 8 of LAUNCH by Aj Juliani and John Spencer, opens with this incredible quote by Jennie Magiera. With this quote, Jennie creates a visual for educators, prompting them to truly analyze the culture and climate of their classroom asking, in a world of “preparing future ready students” are we actually making them “future ready.” This quote resonated with me, because having graduated college only two years ago, it was comical to read some of the job descriptions to positions my friends and colleagues had applied. “Entry level jobs are now requiring upwards of five years of experience, but only want you to have a bachelor’s degree. This sparks the idea I think Jennie so clearly defines; we need to give our students these experiences to become innovators and creative thinkers NOW!

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Chapter 8 of LAUNCH discusses “creating.” When people hear the word “creative” they usually assimilate it with a gene that you’re predisposed to at birth. “Susie is so creative; I wish I could make bulletin boards like her, but I’m just not a creative person.” But in reality, “creative work is, well, work.” (John Spencer) Spencer discusses that there is no shortcut to creative work or a specific formula to follow. It’s extremely challenging, complex and often feels like there are more failures in creative work than successes. He also makes the claim that when you really care about a project, you will “pour your entire being into what you make…and expend massive mental, emotional and even physical energy knowing all along that failure is a distinct possibility.” I think this resonates deeply with almost every teacher. Getting to work early, staying late, working on weekends, never leaving your “work” at work. This is the feeling that we want to create for our students. Letting them work in an environment, where they are invested in what they are doing, so deeply, that they would rather be at school working than anywhere else; to an extent of course. Everyone needs a brain break every once in a while. This feeling that has been created for them of “energy and engagement” will ultimately “lead to better learning.” (John Spencer)

In phase five of the LAUNCH cycle, students are creating. According to Spencer, this is the part that students tend to love the most at first because it is hands-on and multi-sensory. In my classroom, we are following the LAUNCH cycle as well and students almost always tend to jump to this portion of the cycle immediately, without even knowing. They are ready to create and ready to innovate without even having the background knowledge to execute. That is because creativity and the need to create is innate within us. We strive for that as human beings. But with creativity comes a lot of constructive struggle. Spencer and Juliani warn that these struggles can seem like mountains at times because students often have visions of creating something that doesn’t necessarily align to their actual skills, ability, or often times, resources. As teachers, we need to remember and foster the idea in our classroom that these “moments are not moments of failure but rather a normal part of the LAUNCH cycle.”  If we can embed a growth mindset in our students, they will be able to identify that we, in fact, learn MORE when we fail than when things come easy to us and we know the answer immediately. When you as a teacher hit these points in your classroom, or the management seems out of your control, Spencer and Juliani state you may want to call it quits, but these are the most crucial moments to model perseverance, persistence, and true team problem solving. Though frustrating and stressful, these moments will “foster the kind of innovation and imagination you home to see in your students.” (Spencer and Juliani) 

Spencer and Juliani also outline six challenges that both you and your students will face during this phase and suggestions, and resources for how to overcome these obstacles without giving up. Below I’ll give you a one to two sentence summary of each.

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Challenge 1: It Takes Time

In a world of instant gratification, it’s hard for our students and for us to realize that “creative fluency” takes time and it is in the moments where we persevere and persist in our work that our learning and growth truly take place.

Challenge 2: It Feels Scary

Fear is the number one reason that individuals do not reach their fullest potential. It holds you back. It keeps you in place instead of moving forward. Fear of flying? That’s cool I’ll just stay home? Fear of heights? That’s okay, I never wanted to go to the top of the Sears Tower anyway. (I refuse to call it the Willis Tower) Fear in this instance is “the force that pushes us away from creative risks” telling us we will never be able to do anything. We need to shut that voice off in our heads and encourage risk-taking and failure in our classrooms

Challenge 3: Classroom Management Issues aka NO CONTROL

We must understand that chaos is important in the LAUNCH cycle.  However, it helps us, as we give up some control, to have an action plan for management prior to beginning. Spencer and Juliani provide some reflective questions for creative learning spaces in Chapter 8 for you to reflect on problems before they even begin.

Challenge 4: Not Enough Resources

Just because you don’t have a 3-D printer in your room, doesn’t mean you can’t create true prototypes with your students. It’s about imagination nd dreaming and making things with your hands, even if it’s out of paper and cardboard. Spencer and Juliani describe it best when they ask us to think of a child with a box on Christmas. They’re more concerned about turning that box into a spaceship or a car or a house than the actual toy that came inside of it. Let’s bring that imagination back for our students.

Challenge 5: It Gets Boring

“There is an aspect of creative work that requires us to be dismissive of our feelings.” (Spencer) This is such a powerful quote for all types of work not just in the LAUNCH cycle. If a student “doesn’t feel like doing something” typically what they’re working on doesn’t require any “feelings” so they can persevere through those moments and get down to business. Students must keep trying, making, failing and starting again to really get down to the heart of creating. Students must understand that boredom is a choice, and also find the distinction between boredom and confusion which is an important distinction to model for our students.

Challenge 6: It Doesn’t Have Meaning

As long as your students truly care about a purpose behind what they’re doing, they will have the dedication and buy-in to the project at hand. Even when the process gets difficult, that dedication and passion about the topic is what will help them to push through those hard times and continue to create. In order to help you and your students find what has meaning to you Spencer and Juliani propose a few things:

  • What do you do when no one is telling you what to do?
  • What do you do when you’re supposed to be doing something else?
  • What types of information do you read and watch?


In closing, Spencer and Juliani leave us with an amazing quote about creativity in that it “is as much an attitude as it is an action,” which I believe is howe we should approach everything. What you’re willing to work for and give to something, is what you will get out of it. This is an incredibly important lesson to teach our children early on, so that they truly understand the sense of hard work, instead of having the feeling of being entitled to things they have yet to work for.

Screen Shot 2016-12-14 at 7.42.34 AM.pngIf you want to keep following along in our Book Study make sure to check out all of the previous posts in the series on Chapters 1-7 and then look for Jordan Garrett’s post from iLearn and Teach.

#TLAP in Reading

After meeting the incredible author and pirate, Dave Burgess last year at his Teach Like a Pirate conference, I was enthusiastic to really dive in with my students in their learning experience, instead of sitting passively as a “lifeguard.” This is a reference Dave makes in his book, Teach Like a Pirate. Quick sidebar; if you haven’t added this to your Amazon cart yet, do it now! You won’t regret it! The conference was at the end of the school year, so I never truly got the opportunity to liven up the classroom until this year.


My mentor, Colleen Noffsinger, Dave Burgess and me at the #TLAP Conference

My struggle, as I imagine with many other teachers, was trying to liven up my reading mini-lessons and also to get those apprehensive readers to buy into what I was teaching. Taking notes from my mentor, Colleen Noffsinger at Literacy Loving Gals, our school’s literacy coach, as well as the #TLAP community, I decided to amplify how I was teaching reading mini lessons in the classroom. I thought I’d share some quick and easy ideas I’ve tried and have found successful thus far. I’m always looking for the little “spark” to quickly implement into my lessons to liven them up for my kiddos.


A huge standard in 5th grade is moving away from answering explicit questions from the text and going beyond the text to analyze character, multiple sources of information and author’s craft. Interpreting text is hard for even adults to understand, so for students to conceptualize what I was trying to make them do, I took a page out of my literacy coach’s book when teaching interpretation of a character based on textual evidence.

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Students use their evidence to develop an interpretation about my “neighbor.” 

In order to teach this lesson and generate understanding, I gathered random objects into a bag and told my kiddos I found the bag outside of my next door neighbor’s house. Their job as detectives was to determine what type of person my neighbor is based on each one of the objects in the bag. Students then wrote down qualities that my neighbor was likely to possess and had to support their belief with evidence, showing them that interpretations are never explicitly stated but instead developed from our own ideas and textual evidence.  Thanks again to my literacy coach for this great idea. This one moment motivated me to continue to #TLAP.


Linking Ideas to Build Larger Theories: 


This #TLAP idea came from the simple word in the “I Can” statement. I saw the word “build” and thought, why not play a full class Jenga game with our ideas.  We are using Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate to model these ideas and these lessons in 5th grade which was recommended by the Lucy Calkins units of study. Essentially, each student was given a Jenga piece at the start of our read aloud and was told that when they had an interpretation about our characters or a specific event in the book that they should raise their hand to share. Students began raising their hand to share their ideas and would place their block in the center of the floor. If a student had an idea that “built” on the other person’s idea they would share and expand the idea aloud and then place their block on top of the other idea. Our Jenga towers were all different heights, but it was a great visual for the students to be able to understand that we are “literally” building on one another’s thoughts to create a larger idea.


Readers wear their interpretations as glasses while they read to fit/change their ideas: 


This was one of the easiest #TLAP ideas I’ve implemented. Again, taking the idea directly from the statement about what readers can/will be able to do, I purchased goofy glasses for each one of my students to wear. Again, while modeling with my read aloud, I informed students that they were to think of an interepreation in their mind about our read aloud. As I continued to read they were to think about how the text and new ideas that they were forming either changed or fit their interepation and ideas that they already had. As students began to share and support their ideas with text evidence they received a pair of glasses to wear and were then deemd to share again. It was such a fun way to create buy in and it really engaged them in the content that we were learning.


These ideas are all minimal, inexpensive, incredibly time efficient and oh-so-effective in creating buy-in in your learning. Moving forward, I hope to look for new ways to engage my students in this way. I encourage you to look for little ways to #TLAP in your room to make your day and your student’s day more exciting. You don’t need to be what people call a “creative person” to get creative in your learning space.

Reflective Blog Post #4

At the start of this course, I felt fairly confident integrating technology into my classroom through the use of 1:1 Macbooks. However, not so confident integrating technology using 1:1 iPads. This is because, last year, in my classroom, all of my students had computers and we recently transitioned over to iPads. Through this course, I have learned a great deal about new apps to utilize, new techniques to try as well as classroom management tips to focus on and try. I’ve definitely tried some of the new techniques in my classroom such as movie trailers. In the future, I would like to be able to utilize app smashing with a bit more significance and substance in my class. With the help of my PLN and my colleagues in this class, I feel that I will be able to do that with fidelity. In addition to that, I’d love to be able to share more of what is happening in my classroom to stakeholders as well as parents of students in my classroom. To do this, I plan to do some Google Hangouts on Air or Periscoping some of our classroom activities to bring more parents into the classroom. In doing this, I hope to break down the four walls of my classroom even further so that my students can benefit from real-world connections. These connections and skills are extremely beneficial to all parties involved and will help students develop empathy for others in our world and see beyond themselves.


Hack 7: Vigor v. Rigor

With the educational system constantly changing, it has become increasingly difficult as an educator to establish what “quality content” looks like for our students. In addition to that, there is no solidified “one-way” to teach anything. There isn’t one curriculum that we all follow, there isn’t one method that we all teach. Even from building to building in districts, there are often substantial discrepancies between what is being taught to students at the same grade level. Generally speaking “the unknown” causes significant anxiety amongst the human population and looms an even darker cloud over teachers: the group of the human population that NEED A PLAN!

This anxiety is what educational vendors feed on to build their business. They create and instill this “fear”  within us to make us believe if we don’t have the latest “common core aligned” reading, writing or math curriculum, we are preventing the learning of our students. If we don’t have the most recent revision of a teacher’s guide, we are made to believe what we are doing is not “rigorous” enough for their future.

But what does that even mean? Rigor? Michael Fisher talks about this idea a great deal in his incredible book, Hacking the Common Core. If you haven’t had a chance to read this work in the Hacking Education series, you can catch up via the D100 Blogger PD with the last six hacks. To do this, follow the links below to read some of my colleague’s amazing reflections. In Hack 7, Fisher talks about creating “vigor instead of rigor” in our classrooms. Essentially stating, “vendors who do not know [our] population of kids personally, should never be the ones directing traffic in [our] classroom.” Fisher proposes that we replace the “r” in rigor with a “v” for vigor. When we create vigor in our classroom instead of worrying about rigor, Fischer says, (and I believe most teachers and administrators would agree) that we create “authentic growth” in our students, generated from “organic and authentic learning moments.” Essentially, how will you create the “buy-in?” If students are not engaged in what they are learning, and the teacher provides little meaning for what they are learning, students are less likely to remember the content.


Fisher has some proposals for what you as an educator can do in your classroom tomorrow and long term, to make the change from rigor to vigor. He proposes, “tomorrow” you can do four things:

  1. Appraise your current week’s curriculum or lesson plan
    • Take a peek through your lessons for the week and see if there are any places you could liven it up. Meaning, if there are continued monotonous activities you are doing, take one, and replace it with something new and exciting. Throw in a game, visuals, manipulatives or even tech to spice up what you’re doing.
  2. Share your intentions 
    • Exactly as it says, talk with your team about how you plan on taking your lessons to the next level and try to develop engagement strategies together.
  3. Practice engagement habits
    • It’s important to ask yourself two questions when practicing these habits.
      • How often am I creating engaging opportunities for my students?
      • In what ways am I creating engaging opportunities for my students?
    • Fisher says that offering choices to students is the easiest way to answer these two questions.
    • How are you creating choice and promoting student voice in your classroom? The more choice we give students, the more ownership they have over their classroom. The more ownership they have, the more responsible they feel for their learning and take that external motivation to intrinsic motivation. This is a very nice transition into our final, “what you can do tomorrow.”
  4. Ask the students 
    • Just as I articulated above, Fisher writes, “student voice and input are essential to buy-in and real learning more than ever.”
    • Choices can come in the form of process or product. But even, seating in the classroom can be a choice. Giving students the opportunity to determine which way they learn best is one of the most important lessons you can teach them. We are truly doing a disservice to our students if we don’t help them figure out how they learn best.
    • As a fifth grade teacher, I am constantly providing choice for my students in nearly every way possible. What that choice looks like in my classroom is different in every subject.
      • Seating- we have flexible seating in my classroom and students are able to select a seat that they think they will work best at throughout the day, every day.
      • Content areas
        • Reading- students choose from a reading menu during reading workshop to select activities that they would like to complete during reading. In order to hold them accountable and also keep them on track, the follow a schedule and have selected times in their schedule when they can make those open choices. This could be a good solution for teachers who are a little bit afraid to let go of the reigns.
        • Math- students learn in a blended learning model. They are able to watch a screencast created by me and answer metacognitive questions. I am able to see all of their classwork live on my device as well so that I can monitor their work. They also have multiple choices when working on PBLs and unit projects. More on that here.
Just because we as teachers have curriculum that appears to come from a “vetted” source, doesn’t mean that it is the end all be all of learning. For a full implementation of taking rigor to vigor, you can take the steps above and amplify them a bit more.
  1. Appraise your curriculum
    • Take your year-long curriculum and see where you can “inject joy, creativity, awe, technology, PBL, STEAM, engagement, and personalization” says Fisher. The key to making this integration successful, however, is making sure that the verbs in your unit plans match the verbs in the standards so that you are still keeping validity in your teaching. Much of this appraisal reminded me of #TLAP or Teach Like a Pirate, in which author, Dave Burgess pushes teacher to dive into the water with your students instead of being a lifeguard.  This applies in this instance as well.
  2. Create a culture of shared curriculum design
    • Amplifying your units can seem like a big undertaking alone, but when you and your team put your heads together, it becomes much easier. Ask your colleagues and even your students to help you design something substantial and meaningful.
  3. Make learning fun again
    • Plain and simple, if you are bored, they are bored. Creating meaningful learning ensures that all students are capable, engaged and enjoying their learning experience, while most importantly remembering what they are learning. Fisher says it best when he writes that “vigorous learning makes acquisition and application of knowledge so memorable that teachers can simultaneously engage enduring understandings and work above the curriculum…” What an incredible concept!
  4. Introduce PBL and STEM/STEAM
    • Having problem-based learning as well as units or lessons integrated with science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics “open up multiple options for students to research and study authentic projects… and build opportunities…for deep learning.” Anything that provides an opportunity for hands-on learning will promote student learning and growth.
With change comes pushback from stakeholders. To overcome this pushback, it’s important to keep the following things in mind, according to Fisher.
  1. Regardless if you have time for fun or not in your classroom, if you care about learning and performance then you have to care about fun and engagement.
  2. If your administrator is on board with adding vigor to your classroom but also needs you to utilize your curriculum the focus here needs to be collaboration and communication to spice up your lessons.
  3. Your students not working at grade level should not be a problem here. Providing choice and interest in the content is what really matters when it comes to vigor.

Fisher sums it up best at the end of the Hack when he states that “finding ways to engage students in opportunities for deep, rich learning” is the true definition of vigor. We have to get rid of our “this is the way we’ve always done it” mantra to make way for re-invention of our lessons and our students learning. How do you plan to spice up your lessons and make room for vigor?

Continue following along in our book study and read the next installment from Grammar Mama on October 19. Also, make sure to join us tonight for the #D100chat on Twitter- with Michael Fisher himself as our co-moderator. Did we mention how much we love him?


Links to the previous D100 Blogger PD Hacks from Hacking the Common Core:

Hack 1: Reading and Owl of the Above 

Hack 2: Teaching and Learning Redefined

Hack 3: Miss K’s Classroom 

Hack 4: Ms. Frizzle IRL 

Hack 5: Responsive Literacy Responsive Literacy 

Hack 6: The Bazz Blog

Blended & Virtual Learning

*The following post was created as an assignment for graduate school, and was crafted around pre-determined topics of discussion.*

Blended and virtual learning are two buzz words that are overwhelming in education right now. But what do they really mean? Blended learning, according to “The Clayton Christensen Institute breaks it down into three components…”

  1. Online with some element of student control in the form of place, pace, or path.
  2. Physical location takes place away from home.
  3. “Modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.” (p. 99)

Last year was my first year of teaching, and upon starting my career as a teacher, I, like many others, was plagued with the problem of reaching and challenging each one of the minds in my classroom. Essentially, how do I accommodate students that are understanding mathematical content at a 7th-grade level and a 2nd grade level in a 5th-grade classroom? After succumbing to the fact that grade less/ageless classrooms were the solution, I decided to dive into my incredible advantage of working in a 1:1 district, and utilize the technology at my fingertips to create a completely blended and personalized learning model in my classroom. My goals in doing this were extremely similar to that of Mandell School, the institution addressed in UnCommon Learning, in that I wanted to personalize my students learning while providing meaningful collaboration, and identifying areas for activism both within their own educational career and beyond. Below, I’d like to take you through how I set up a day to day learning experience in my classroom within math. As a reminder, I am a 5th-grade general education teacher. Last year, I was in a co-taught room and had 9 students with individualized education plans, with students learning as low as a second-grade level, to students learning as high as a 6-7th grade level. My idea, was very similar to that of Mandell in that I wanted “individualized paths with heterogeneous groups.” (101) Below you’ll find the outlined model of my math classroom. If you’re interested in hearing more about how I personalize learning in a global platform, please consider attending IETC, in Springfield, where I will be presenting on November 18.

Personalized, Blended Math Classroom-

 In order to establish what student receives which level Blendspace, each student is given a pre-test at the beginning of every unit. If students test out of the unit, they move on to the next unit as means on not wasting academic time. Based on these results I then group my students as above level, on level, or below level and let them move throughout the content at their own pace.

At our school, we utilize, Schoology, an LMS platform that allows students to access online content that I curate or generate quickly and easily. Daily, in mathematics, my students log in to Schoology where they find an individually assigned link to access their Blendspace. If you do not have Schoology or a LMS platform that you trust, this differentiting can be super done easily through Google Classroom.


Blendspace is an incredible online tool, also knows as TES, that allows teachers, and students to pull content into a “checklist” of sorts from all different areas of the internet and self-created material. Below are two images that depict what Blendspace can do and is a sample of what my students see every day at the start of math. In the boxes below, I’m able to embed and link content that I want my students to work through on a daily basis in math. Every day, students know what they are expected to complete. Boxes one and two I change daily, boxes three and four I change weekly, and box six is changed with every unit. Box five is Khan Academy in which students are working on specific activities through Khan Academy organized in individualized folders for them, based on their NWEA Map Scores.


The image above is a screenshot of their Blendspace and is what my students see every day, regardless of the level in which they are learning. 


Below is a description with hyperlinks to my lessons as well as the websites that I use to make this come to life.



Students begin each day with box one, which contains their notes.  I create a screen cast of the notes that students need to take. This is done on a plain notebook file and I record my screen with Quicktime. After the screencast of notes is created, I upload that to Youtube and embed that content into the website, Playposit, formerly known as EduCanon. With this tool, I can ask my students metacognitive questions about the notes and monitor their understanding live. Meaning, that if “Nick” is not understanding something, and is answering questions incorrectly, I can go up to him, intervene and ask what specific parts of the notes he is confused about, before he even moves on to any class work. The answers come in live as students are answering and it it is all paced for them so they can move as quickly through the notes or as slowly through the notes as they need to. I’m also able to chat with my students which is great for those kiddos who are shy when it comes to raising their hand, or can’t express verbally what they need. The notes change daily, based on general pacing of the class and overall comprehension of content.


Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 9.24.28 PM.png

This is an image of what I see on my end when students are taking notes every day. I can gauge their overall understanidng quickly and effectively. 


Here’s an example of my screencasts that can be found on my Youtube Channel.


The second box is their in class work, which is on “GoFormative.” GoFormative allows me to see my students answers live as well. I can physically see what they are writing as they are doing it, live on my device. I can also create multiple classes to provide opportunity for differentiation and toggle between class views to see all of my students responses. As I’m noticing that students aren’t understanding the content, I can flex group and pull students based on their understanding. In addition to that, students have the freedom to approach group and leave group at their own will. If they only need to stay for one question to re-direct their thinking, they are free to do that, if they want to work through the class work together, they are welcome to do that as well. Again this Formative is self paced and as students finish and have the correct answers, students can move on to box three.



Here’s what the live view looks like on my end while on Formative. Their answers allow me to flex group and I am able to provide them with immediate feedback from my device, while I’m in group with other students.


You can check out GoFormative’s free library of assignments to help you get started if you’re not sure where to start. This tool has been completely transformative in my classroom.

Box three is their PBL. Every week students are given three PBL’s to choose to solve. They are to pick two PBL’s to solve on their own or with a partner. I pull these PBL’s from MARS Tasks, Illustrative Math Tasks or the GMTTC5 challenge, and place the three choices on a Google Slide for students to copy and then ideally work collaboratively with other students in the class. Students solve two PBL’s throughout the week and get them checked and okayed with me. Once they have the okay they can move on to box four which is their screencast. The GMTTC5- is the global math task twitter challenge in which you challenge another classroom to a PBL from across the United States. If you’d like to learn more about that and see how effective it was in our classroom, read here.


Students are expected to screencast on one pbl per week, by themselves or with a friend delegating the speaking roles evenly. The purpose of the screencast is not to teach the listeners how to complete the task, but why they were able to solve what they did. I want my students to be able to explain their thinking. These screencasts then go through a screening process and once passed, I upload them to our classroom Youtube Channel to share with the world. Here’s some samples from our class. 


Finally, if students finish all of that content, they will move on to 20 minutes of Khan Academy at their level, based on their MAP scores and individually assigned, and then to our unit project consisting of some challenge and themed based content. Here’s a link to some checklists that I created for my students to inform them of what Khan Academy activities align with their MAP RIT score. Feel free to use them if you’d like. Khan Academy also transformed my students learning last year. During their LearnStorm competition, one of my students progresses so heavily through the program that he was actually named number one for “hustle points” for 5th grade in all of Chicagoland. Here he is at celebration! More information about the LearnStorm program can be found in one of my older blog posts.  The unit projects are from Teaching With a Mountain View on TPT. She’s amazing!

Demario LS.jpgScreen Shot 2016-09-28 at 9.35.54 PM.png


Once again, I want to reiterate that this is all personalized and at their own pace. Students visibly look like they are working on the same content, but in reality, they are working on content which is at their own level. An example of this in action would be my kiddos who are on level working on their blendspace and our unit project, but my above level kiddos worked on a project where they took measurements of themselves and scaled themselves down to 1/24 of themselves and created a stop motion animation film when they were finished.


It’s important to me that differentiation happens on all ends of the spectrum and that each child is challenged appropriately. As a means of better articulating this to you from a students perspective, I’ve included a video that a student made last year describing what we do each day in math, and WHY they do it. It’s important to me that all of my students understand the why behind their personalized learning and how important it is to their success in this class. My students were fortunate enough to present about our math classroom at TECH 2016 last year. Here they are presenting at our state capitol. Screen Shot 2016-09-28 at 9.38.49 PM.png


I would encourage anyone who is not already, to gradually move toward a personalized learning environment. This pacing, placement and product has completely changed the face of my math classroom, and to be quite honest, I don’t know what I did before this. It has helped so many of my students, in so many ways. It allows students who need additional support to receive that support, and gives students who would typically be bored in class without being challenged, a CHALLENGE! 1:1 technology has the power to provide our students with opportunities that were previous inconceivable.

21st Century Educator

21st century EVERYTHING. We hear it all the time, in a multitude of ways. 21st-century learning, 21st-century educators, future ready students, millennials, but what does it all mean anyway? In this blog post, I’d like to take some time to reflect on my 21st-century practices as a second-year educator in areas that I think I do well, and of course, areas that I would like to improve upon. Below, I’ll list each characteristic of a 21st-century educator and discuss my personal reflection on each characteristic as it pertains to me.

Collaboration, Communication, and Connection: 

Collaboration in education can mean a slew of things, and is most typically found inside the walls of your school building, or on the rare chance that you get to gather as a district. However, in today’s world, collaboration is taken to a whole other level through the power of professional learning networks. For me, collaboration is KEY and integral in all parts of 21st-century learning and education. What do I mean by this? Teachers need to be demonstrating to students, through modeling, how important collaboration actually is. This can be done in a variety of ways. The easiest and personally the most effective way to do this is through Twitter. Twitter has a slew of networks and educators for your to connect, communicate and collaborate with. This can be done by simply exchanging ideas from your classroom to another around the world, or participating in twitter chats surrounding a topic of interest to you. Here’s a calendar created for educators with the dates, times, hashtags and topics for some of the most popular twitter chats around. Aside from Twitter, many other social media networks allow you to perform the “3 C’s” relatively easy. Instagram and Facebook, of course, allow you to connect with other teachers, but other communities such as Google+ have provided educator groups where you can reach out to teachers across the world to connect in a variety of ways. One of the most popular ways to connect is Google Hangout or Mystery Skype. Both are extremely powerful tools to utilize in the classroom. Mystery Skype is a tool that allows you to video chat with another classroom across the nation or sometimes the world and try to guess where they are located in the world. Below, you’ll see some pictures of that in action in my classroom. In addition to that, Google Hangout is another powerful tool. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with a teacher over twitter and participate in the #GMTTC5 with her class as well as do a group talk Google Hangout with her students and my students around Valentines Day, where we shared our virtual valentines and also had conversations about similarities and differences in our classrooms. For more information on this, take a look at my other blog posts surrounding the benefits of global connectedness here.  This area is definitely one of my strengths and is something that I am fortuante to present about to other teachers around the area. However, I am always looking to push myself and grow and forutnately, I’ve found a lot of great teachers across the nation who are looking to do the same thing and we are able to grow and learn together.

Innovation and Inquiry

Innovation and inquiry are also something that I feel I am able to contribute greatly in to my classroom because of the incredible district I work in. I’ve been blessed to work directly with an iCoach, who has helped me look at both my lessons and units to see how I can take them above the SAMR line, by partnering SAMR with TPACK. Through this model, I feel that I’ve been able to bring a lot of innovative practices into my room to benefit my students significantly.  Along these lines, I like to think that self-paced and self-directed learning is another strength of mine that I focus on for myself as well as my students. My students all work at their own learning level for each unit and each content area in my classroom, promoting advocacy as well as self-directed and self-guided learning in the classroom. 

Competency in Digital Literacy + Media-

This is an area, that while I believe my students are able to master, that I would like to continue to work on. I want my students to leave a positive digital footprint on the world and understand plagiarism rights, copyright information and regulated for reuse cues. I’m hoping that this year I’m able to provide my students with more information about proper use of websites, republication and social media, etc.