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Spun out.


Water bottle flipping.



Candy wrappers.

Sunflower seeds.

Little pencils.

No pencil.

No paper.

Uncharged laptop.

No charger.

Lost charger.

Little skateboards.

Little paper footballs.


My list is incomplete. There is a legion of ways kids use other objects to distract or fidget with. And no wonder. Quite frankly, a day in the life of a 6-period middle school kid and teacher is physically demanding. Imagine running for a flight eight times a day: in the morning, between every class, 30 minutes for lunch, at the end of the day, trying to take care of biological needs and process learning. It’s go-go-go all day. I completely understand why the average student senses they “need” this, how those spinners seem to help with attention, but from my anecdotal observations, they hurt more than help, if only because they distract us, the teacher, from being effective.

If you want someone to “blame” for the spinners, it’s this man, Scott McCoskery. He had very good reason to create a spinner.  From an interview on NPR:

SCOTT MCCOSKERY: I had a long career in the IT world.

MALONE: This is Scott McCoskery, and as an IT guy in Seattle, he says he spent a lot of time on conference calls and in board meetings that he didn’t really need to attend.

MCCOSKERY: During those times, I often found myself clicking a pen, opening and closing a knife or…

MALONE: A knife in a board meeting, Scott?

MCCOSKERY: A small pocket knife. It was nothing too threatening.

MALONE: All right, all right.

Well, I guess we should be glad kids don’t flick switchblades in class.

One of my favorite education bloggers, Larry Ferlazzo comes out on the side of the spinners, telling teachers to ‘chill out.’ He also confesses to only seeing two out of his 130 high school students. Let that sink in. Two. One-hundred thirty. High. School. Not twenty to thirty a day out of 130 MIDDLE SCHOOL kids. All day, every day, most teachers in my building watch students who click on games sooner than the actual assignment. Kids who reach for a spinner versus a pen or pencil. I agree, we teachers do need to choose our battles. I know kids aren’t getting enough fresh air, time to eat, time to talk and play, and often I feel more like a jailer than an educator. And the inmates will do anything to keep from going insane, and I don’t blame them.

Health Buzz: Do Fidget Spinners Help With ADHD? This article has a balanced approach to them. Just, you know, in case you want to read a balanced approach versus my diatribe.

But I’m not battling spinners only: the onslaught of cell phone use, and if it’s not that, it’s talking. And then I’m told I need to have them engage in ‘accountable talk.’ What if you were told that in chunks of 55 minutes you had to only have ‘accountable’ conversations? I can only imagine how awful book club would be if we couldn’t chat, catch up, talk about kids, food, work, and then spend some time talking about the current book. The thing is–truly–students rebel all the time against this daily structure. If they didn’t they would go nuts. They don’t want extrinsic token-economy fluff, they want time. 

As I plan out the next few weeks, I’m going to build that time in. And parents–if you’re reading this — consider instead of a spinner a little sketchbook or some books they can use when testing is over, or they have some time:

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

The Total Brain Workout by Marcel Danesi

Here’s your earworm du jour. You’re welcome.


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Lessons of Azeroth

But back to Jandy Nelson who started off her address by explaining “this belief I have that English teachers are our contemporary shamans: the wakers of sleeping souls, the planters of dreams in heads, the imparters of some of life’s most valuable gifts: compassion, empathy, humanity, ambiguity, wonder, joy.” She went on to describe a few of her own deep learning experiences with English teachers.

Why is all the mana gone?

The year, around May 2010 or so, I finished my first round of National Boards, I promised my younger son I would start playing World of Warcraft. My husband worked for a previous incarnation, Sierra Games, and his brother, my brother-in-law, works for Blizzard (on the Diablo series), so the truth is it ran in the family. My older son plays, too, but at a much more competitive and competent level than I ever will. And though I’ve held the Minecraft Club/Anime Club for years, I don’t play Minecraft, but certainly, see its value.

Over the years, I can’t help but draw parallels between this MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game, ya noob), education, and being a teacher. My main character for years was a shaman: she carried two big axes or maces with her, and with the help of her trusty spirit wolves slew giants, monsters, naga, and all manner of evildoers and bad dudes. I’ve switched to a druid, all sparkly and full of moonbeams and sun fire. Playing wasn’t always relaxing for me: there were times when it became too serious, took up too much of my head space, and the joy was gone. Yup, kind of like teaching.

Quest Lines: think about quest lines like a curriculum map that you don’t participate in, create, help forge, etc. It’s given to you as your sacred duty to save someone, something, and at the end, you get a boon, be it experience or gold. Sometimes you get gear, but the gear is always third-rate. Anytime you can participate in a quest line that needs 3-5 other players consider that your PLC time, created in the moment to conquer a bigger monster. It goes faster when you work together, and tackle those big monsters en masse.

Leveling Up: School and its trajectories are one big leveling up. As a teacher, if I don’t think I am growing, or a situation is adding toxicity to the support of students and staff, it’s like poison from a plague machine from the Forsaken. (

Area of Effect: AOE, or area of effect, is the spell power to either heal or do damage, (or both if your character is heavy into the crit thing). My mage blasts fire or ice. My druid sends waves of green healing or rains starfire from the skies. The shaman wakes the earth and the priest pulls dark shadows from the air.

In a classroom, the students sitting further in the back do not receive the full effect of teaching as much as those in the front. My way around this is to do as much walking around, and joining small groups as possible. The old “proximity” rule is valuable, but it’s not enough. If you’re casting out healing or crit powers, make sure it doesn’t overheal or crit, wasting precious mana and casting time.

Mana: Red is for health, and blue is for mana. Mana is life goo. Mana from heaven, supernatural aid, aiding in casting spells and healing. Different classes of characters need different attributes –paladins need stamina, spellcasters need intelligence; hunters and shamans need agility. These characteristics work to create a well-tuned character, making them powerful and competent.

Guilds, cliques, and NPCs (non-player characters: I’ve been in my share of dysfunctional guilds. I’ve jokingly referred to guilds as my bridge club: it’s been one of my social outlets for some time, and a fun, light hobby. There have been times it’s been a serious hobby for me, and I’ve made many life-long friends all around the world that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Guilds can be comprised of thousands of people, or like my little guild, two to three. If a guild is a raiding guild, there are different levels of those, as well. I’ve been in raiding guilds and casual guilds, and have experienced a few personalities of guild leaders.

Cliques are a natural result of alliances that form when large groups work together and can be beneficial in achieving small sets of goals. However, recognizing when cliquish behavior becomes an obstacle to the global goals is important, because undermining larger efforts may result.

NPCs are critical for success; think of the custodians, secretaries, nurses, counselors, etc. all who make such a huge difference in the lives of students and staff. Click on that NPC if they have a talk bubble: you will find out amazing information.

What do the good guild leaders do? The make sure everyone knows their role and how to work together best. They see areas of growth, and never publically criticize a team member. They don’t allow for gossip or hearsay. And they don’t play favorites. Now, if they have to sit someone out because they aren’t geared up yet, etc. they work with the teammate to assist in questing, raiding, etc. to bolster, but that commitment works both ways. The player needs to step up, too, and do what it takes to make the team. Good leaders’ tones are professional and warm. They are solution-focused and want to keep their guilds together. It takes too much time and energy to have turnover on a raid team. And they keep their senses of humor. It is just a game, after all. 

Alliance versus Horde: forever and ever, Amen. In Azeroth, the Alliance and the Horde battle over, well, everything, until of course the demons from the Legion show up and ruin it all. This is why we can’t have nice things, you know. Call this identity politics — associating oneself with one side versus the other is a shortcut for understanding, or pop-psychological understanding, of someone’s preferences and personality. Don’t be fooled. Just because someone enjoys pretending to be a green Orc versus a wistful Night Elf doesn’t say too much, trust me on this. There are two sides, and both have their own narrative, allegiances, leaders of all stripes, and factions. Tribalism serves the tribe, but not the village: the more integrated and cross-content conversations happen the better we serve our students. Or destroy the Legion. Whichever comes first.

PVP: Akin to Alliance versus Horde, Player versus Player is another competitive sport that one needs to knowingly engage in, and have a clear understanding of the outcome. I have no interest in playing on a PVP server: nothing like a Forsaken rogue stabbing me in the back when I’m looking for an NPC to turn in a quest. Those graveyard-to-corpse runs are a timesink.

Dungeons and Raids: Sign up. Pick a role. Do your job. Play fair. Communicate. Don’t troll. Rinse. Repeat.

Nothing like the pop-up of a big achievement banner after a long grind.

Grinding: So much in Azeroth is called “grinding” — doing the same repetitive tasks in order to gain status, reputation, or a boon. These grinding quests are the seemingly infinite gateways to “the good stuff.” It’s helpful for me to remind myself that the occasional grind of teaching does get our students to that good stuff; accomplishments and banners of awesome. 

The Final Boss: in every dungeon, raid, or world quest there is a final boss. This character has been wreaking havoc for some time, destroying lives and having many vows of vengeance thrown in his or her name. (But it’s usually a “he.”) This is the moment you’ve worked toward, you’ve prepared and planned. You will have to work very closely with your teammates in order to bring down this boss: he has a bag of tricks (aka mechanics) and phases, and sometimes just when you think you’ve got him beat, the last healer steps in fire and he enrages and the whole team wipes. But: you pick yourself up, plan your cooldown spells a little tighter, pay gold for repairs, drink your potions, get your food buff, and start again.

Sounds a lot like spring break.

If you ever venture into Azeroth, remember to keep your bags free of gray items, save all the Dwarf books, and take a pet with you. And when you venture back to your classrooms, remember you are powerful: you have magic and joy no one else does. Be strong out there, for there are monsters.


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The first rule of write club…


Must give credit to John Spencer once again for this idea. He tweeted:


Now the thought of Chuck Palahniuk writing the back story for a cartoon intrigues me, and I began to think of multiple mash-ups of writers and stories. This morning I envisioned a complete Nathanial Hawthorne Scarlet Letter version of Rugrats, whereas every time Angelica attempts to bully the babies she must wear her insignia “A” embroidered on her chest, serving multiple purposes. The adults are the villagers, of course, standing firm in judgment. Well, it played out better before I had coffee. Now I’m not so sure.

But what about Stephen King and a treatment of Roadrunner? I think Kurt Vonnegut could do justice to Bugs Bunny. Or as John quoted, ‘create sad backstories to all the Animaniacs.’ Brilliant. This, of course, is the essence of fan fiction, with a hefty side of writer’s craft, style, and voice for good measure.


Allow me to meander a bit:

Ayn Rand takes over an episode of Invader Zim.

Neil Gaiman rewrites a ‘Hey, Arnold’ episode.

J.K. Rowling takes on Powerpuff Girls.

G.R.R. Martin rewrites Dexter’s Laboratory.

Dr. Seuss: Ren and Stimpy, of course.

Suzanne Collins and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.

Okay, I could go on all day. I am seeing a really fun lesson idea here: D&D dice with each number associated with an author and then a second roll for the cartoon episode. 

What other ideas come to mind?



Now–parents–think for a second. When I was growing up Bugs Bunny and his ilk alluded to operas, literature, film, etc. I know there are ‘jokes for grownups’ in current children’s media, today, too, but I am a bit out of touch with the ten and under crowd these days. My sons are 18 and 21, and they share gritty, funny binge-worthy media. We are long past the Rugrats days. If you’re a parent of kids under 10-11 and let them watch tv, what do they watch?



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This old dog.

Stop. Just stop.
Stop. Just stop.

Much ado is being made about age these days. Maybe it’s my own resentment of being a digital pioneer, and constantly being reminded I’m in charge of training children for jobs that don’t exist yet (for Pete’s sake, it’s not like I’m asking them to be farriers or corset-stay carvers!) At the NCCE, included in one lecture’s description was “NOT YOUR PARENTS’ TEXTBOOK!” which, yes, using the “o” word — offended me a tad. And not only am I playing a shoddy offense but defense as well. In this political climate my sons’ generation is constantly maligned: labeled entitled, privileged, whiny, and naive. My friend John Spencer gets it. VSauce has a great video about “Juvonoia,” the idea that younger generations are lame.

So I suppose if those younger than I are a bit miffed and allow for casual ageism to creep into the conversations, I must try not to cast my own disapproving glare.


But ageism is actually quite horrifying. We’re all living longer, and creating a world where each generation gets a little smarter (thank you unleaded gasoline!) and a bit more savvy with all these critical thinking skills we’ve been touting. We’re creating awesome smart monsters humans. And while young folks may think of us as “elders” in their capitulating apologies, it has very real consequences.

Yes, young woman, you are contributing quite a bit. But over-40s are not quite “elders” yet.

So why does this get to me? Perhaps because it has an ‘ism’ at the end. “Ism’s” connote binary decision making: yes or no, black or white, up or down. Ageism is permission to assume someone cannot learn something about anything, but usually, especially technology, because they are old. Is it as bad as racism? I can’t make that claim. Its consequences may mean someone doesn’t get hired, so while we elders are trying to pay for our millennials’ college, we also can’t save for retirement. This article feels like a biography. Ageism decreases opportunity and allows for mocking on good days, and discrimination on bad. There’s that binary thinking again.

That moment when you realize someday you too, will be old as....never mind.
That moment when you realize someday you too, will be old as….never mind.

So, tiny examples: if I see something cool, guess what I do? I try to figure out how it was done. One of my little goals right now is to create gif doodles. Believe it or not, I can’t find any good tutorials, and this is making me feel a bit doddy. But they’re so cool! Not as cool as the Silicon Valley holographic mustache, but still…

Is there something you’d like to learn how to do? Can anyone help me with this? I’ve fallen in a gif and can’t get up!


PS I know how to use Snapchat. I just choose not to. My students laugh at me because my husband is my only friend. /sigh You’ll understand when you’re older.

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Through new eyes…

“Not a Mary Sue.”


Innocently a young colleague, not much older than my eldest son, asked me if I had seen ‘Force Awakens,’ and if I liked it.

Poor guy.

Never believe that asking a simple question to  an English-teacher-quasi-nerd-fan-girl-turned-Jedi-master-saw-original-Star-Wars-changed-life is going to produce a simple answer.

I hesitated, and he said, “Oh no.” He knew.

So…hesitated, and responded: “I learned that ‘Star Wars’ is our cultural entry, our collective consciousness doorway, to providing accessible analysis of narrative.” Or something to that effect.

Basically: it’s our doorway to being able to discuss literature/narrative, in an informed, impassioned and to us, when we’re discussing plot, character, story arc, decisions, we own it, we create and recreate, and we feel smart. And when we feel smart, we feel confident. And when we feel confident, success is inherent. And nothing succeeds like success.

Think about it: when my husband and I left the Cinerama (our boys having seen the film: older one not in love with Star Wars, in fact hates it, younger one loved it and shared the Belated Media clips below–more on that later) we both knowingly rolled our eyes at each other, and waited until we were out of earshot of other fans to dissect Kylo Ren’s character, plot points, comparisons, and develop our own fan theories. My husband leans toward Star Trek, I sit on the Star Wars side, but somehow we manage to still love each other. This huge epiphany slammed my noggin like a tri-chappe lightsaber: Star Wars doesn’t have to be good, high art, elitist cinema or literature: its value is in our ability to want to own it, and its simple story is its beauty of accessibility.

This is why–oh so very, very why–it’s important to understand how to open that door for our students.

And do not — DO NOT — get your “teacher” all over it.



If you use Minecraft, don’t add a learning target.

If you use Dr. Who, Harry Potter, or Star Wars, don’t put a standard anywhere near it.

If you talk about Journey of the Hero, unreliable narrators, game lore, Dungeons and Dragons, or the poetry of the songs from your youth, be the Obi-Wan to their padawan, and allow them to be the Jedi Master when teaching you about what’s important to them. If you’ve ever spoken to a Whovian, you will be thoroughly schooled in all things Dr. Who.

Allow yourself to be the dork once in awhile. Show them the passion and excitement you have when you talk about a movie you love, or characters you feel like you know personally. I have no shame in telling students I cried when I found out Alan Rickman passed away. If you can watch the scene between Dumbledore and Snape when Snape reveals his motivation (no spoilers…just in case)…then you may need to check for your humanity. Back to Star Wars: a young female colleague told me she thought Rey was better than Leia. Oh, smart lady, please don’t make me bring up context and constraints of time periods.

We fans of fiction, games, lore, and the accessible story unite in pure love of the conversation.

All I can say about that.

Anyway, my colleague showed this to me — so fun to watch fan theories:

JarJar? Master Wizard?

And my younger son shared this series with me and my husband, and we loved them: (there may be some language: apologies).

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