Posted on

An Ode for Earth Day: The Science of Storytelling

Our world is a story: we are the story of our world. We find patterns, we seek gods and goddess, and we desperately seek control. We destroy. We create. We mimic nature in those actions, coming close to apotheotic levels of transcendence.



Got a little carried away.

On any given day we reach those heights and dig in the vulgar mud. And because of who I am, and who we are, I am thinking it will be, and continue on, to be the storytellers who help us make sense of who and what we are, and where we live.

Here is a curated list of To Be Read books that may help me on this path:

Frankenstein — I am about halfway through the novel. Don’t judge. I’m sure you have a high school text or two you used the Cliff Notes for.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel

Where the Water Goes by David Owen

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman


Life After People


I am putting together more titles/media about this subject. What are some of your favorites?

Posted on

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.


Posted on

Grades gone wild…

The Keys

Cult of Pedagogy turned my attention to this fantastic post by Arthur Chiaravalli, “Teachers Going Gradeless.” 

Gratitude for my PLN for helping me stay fresh, excited and wise: things have been tricky at my school recently, and while we’re on spring break I am determined to relax, dangit. Refresh, Renew. All that good stuff. People are worried about me (turns out middle school girls and boys think I’m crying when I am having a hot flash–thanks, menopause). I was beginning to get a little worried about myself: have I taught them enough? Is testing going to be okay? Will the boy who won’t allow me to help him be a better reader be okay? Will that girl who has given up on herself understand that we won’t give up on her?

Perhaps this may be the simple answer to those complex, emotional questions: as we strive to allow for our students to be independent, the most obvious path is the timeless practice of self-assessment. Their emotional responses to learned helplessness and inner-dialogue of shame may be cooled by simply allowing them the space that they are in more control than they believe. 

Things on teachers’ minds must be washed and dried before break ends–otherwise, it’s not a break. So just in the nick of time here are some ideas about having students self-assess. Chiaravelli draws from the great minds of pedagogy:

Drawing on the research of Ruth Butler, Dylan Wiliam, John Hattie, Daniel Pink, Carol Dweck, Alfie Kohn, Linda McNeil, Linda Mabry, Maja Wilson and countless others, we are teachers who are convinced that teaching and learning can be better when we grade less.

For some of us, the word gradeless means to grade less, that is, limiting the impact of grades within the context of current constraints. Some are just trying to get away from toxic assessment and grading practices, like assessments with no opportunity to redo or retake or zeroes on the mathematically disproportionate 100-point scale.

Okay, cool. I have always allowed for redos, and never marked things down for being late, etc. Okay. Instincts without research don’t mean anything – so he provides the research.

What my grading practices are now:
  1. Non-negotiable assignments:
    • Weekly Vocabulary worth 50 points
      • If they don’t turn it in, it goes in zero and missing in Skyward.
      • They have one to two weeks to turn it in and receive full points. I never mark down work simply for being late, and never have.
      • Positive: Once they see they are in control of their non-negotiables and have choice and flexibility,  they get in a routine of learning and diving into new words.
      • Negative: Students still don’t understand that the zero, which is horrible but the only way they and their parents pay attention or get a notification, can be easily remedied by doing the work. I will ask other students in the class who have turned things in late and subsequently turn them in, and their grade changes, to share that with the class. In addition, I still need to track students down.
  2. Grading every two weeks as required.
  3. Grading assessments (especially the Common Formative Assessments created by our ELA PLC 8th grade as ‘no count.’
How are they evolving:
  1. I created a unit/module in Canvas called “Top Ten Things” for ELA. Its intended purpose allows for student flexibility: if they are done with something, they can explore ten lessons in a ‘flipped’ way.
    • Positive: Students who seek them out enjoy doing them as “extra credit.”
    • Allows for self-exploration and questions– great opportunity for metacognition and independent work.
    • Negative: Students have been confused — understandable. These absolutely require my guidance, and that’s fine. Another issue is students requiring more guidance than time allows. After the break this is something I will address.
  2. Provided a ‘create your own rubric lesson’ in the fall: this is a concept I plan on bringing back this spring after the break.
  3. Allowing students to assess student work—now that there is student work to share based on current projects!
Next level:
  1. Paraphrasing and crafting metrics and rubrics based on CCSS, standardized assessments (from the OSPI/SBA)
  2. Crafting choice projects/burning questions metrics based on CCSS
  3. Crafting and self-assessing on both low stakes and high stakes assignments they create and produce.
  4. Continuing to provide curriculum maps to students — visible checklists to help guide them.
Clarifying goals:

The second finding comes from John Hattie (2012) whose synthesis of 800 meta-studies showed that student self-assessment/self-grading topped the list of educational interventions with the highest effect size. By teaching students how to accurately self-assess based on clear criteria, teachers empower them to become “self-regulated learners” able to monitor, regulate, and guide their own learning. The reason students never develop these traits is that our monopoly on assessment, feedback, and grading has trained students to adopt an attitude of total passivity in the learning process.

Let us all “grade less” so students can learn more. Just like in any creative pursuit, the linear qualities of rubrics do not have to constrain, but to guide.

PS Not sure where I found this:

This could be a good approach to student-created rubrics.


You’re a Human Being – Do Not Assess Like a Robot


Posted on

Los Zumbis de Washington



This will be a long post: I am retracing my steps on the creation of a unit. TL:DR: Zombies and survival themes are great for 8th-grade students. E-mail me if you want resources or have questions.

One of my teammates Nate had a fantastic idea for argumentative work:


With the help of my teammates Nate, Sabrina, and the Notice & Note social media site, especially Beth Crawford, we unleashed zombies. Trying to put together a unit without common planning or time to meet (each of us is in different phases in life: I could work on units all weekend, and I did over mid-winter break, but it’s better to collaborate with trustworthy, competent folks). We did the best we could, and it needs tweaking and refinement, but out of the box—not too shabby!

I put the call out to Notice and Note and received many great ideas. Beth Crawford followed up with Google docs resources, etc. Some things had to be left behind, and some were added without assessment concepts nailed down. But then again, when you’re dealing with flesh-melting concepts, it’s hard to nail anything down.

Took pics after Zombie Tag and created a Walking Dead look using Snapseed.

The Lumbering Steps:

  1. Overview: this needs work, no doubt: 
    Loader Loading...
    EAD Logo Taking too long?

    Reload Reload document
    | Open Open in new tab


  2. Personality Inventory (aka “Body Armor”)
    • Rationale: students would discover their own personality traits, both figurative and literal, that add positive benefits for working with other partners. The goal was to have them create a personality inventory and share their strengths and advantages with others.
    • What worked: students like knowing where they fell on a quasi- Meyers-Briggs scale and gamer’s quiz.
    • What needs to be better: more time, and more explanation on how their inventory works with other personalities, or what pitfalls they might encounter. Critically thinking about attributes is one of the most difficult things to do.
    • We first used this document:
    • But then I changed my students’ work to
  3. Top Ten Survival Items
    • Partner: pare down to fifteen items out of the twenty: You know you’ve succeeded when a group of kids argues about duct tape versus rope for twenty minutes.
    • Rationale: coming up with important items in times of scarcity for survival, and perhaps how to plan ahead (we are in earthquake territory, after all)
  4. Annotated Bibliography
    • Loader Loading...
      EAD Logo Taking too long?

      Reload Reload document
      | Open Open in new tab


    • Rationale: having students curate their resources for research using an annotated bibliography would help them understand the importance of discerning and critiquing articles closely and carefully.
    • What worked: It served the purpose of getting kids to read, and by golly, they did really try: not sure how many I have turned in, but I know many of them were engaged in this. As soon as I re-introduced it as a “playlist” of a topic, the lightbulbs went off!
    • What could be better: more time to read articles together, and more focus on truth, opinion and fact lessons.
    • This is a poster my friend Sharon Clarke and I put together on our collective wisdom:

      Sharon is the best.
  5. Integration:
  6. What worked about integration: we barely scratched the surface. Maybe next year we can get the whole school involved.
  7. Writing: the partner teams had to write a collaborative ‘end of world’ scenario. This writing will appear on their shared PowerPoint.
    • What worked: they got this, mostly.
    • What could be better: More time. (Seeing a trend here?) Students didn’t have time to fully craft their POV points in the story: the plan was to have them create a story together, and then write a first-person narrative on what they were doing when everything fell apart, and how they eventually met up and survived. Students who love role-play and writing jumped right on this: students who are not quite patched-in with their own creativity didn’t. But as all good growth mindset conversations end: YET.

8. Zombie Partner Shared PowerPoint: The partner created a shared PowerPoint with many of these pieces. One aspect was the “film” slide: add any multimedia possible that goes along with survival or zombies, or film themselves. Some kids used their webcams and shot pics/videos, others found videos on YouTube, etc.

9. Article Links samples:

Here are some articles, etc. I gathered so students could choose for their annotated bibliography:

There were more, most I posted in ActivelyLearn and Canvas.

What I didn’t get to do: a handcrafted survival guide. 


Maybe next time.

What we will do: next week before spring break, I am giving them a choice of three writing prompts that are directly connected to SBA Brief Writes:

Mrs Love Zombie Presentation Final Survival

Please let me know if you have questions, or want to add to this awesomesauce.