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Room in your head.


fish books
A case for quiet schools…

We can’t see the stars any longer because of light pollution. But as the lady says, “The night is dark and full of terrors,” so we humans master the monsters and use all the power we can to dispel the darkness. But we don’t see things as we once did, or learn from the larger spaces and infinite wonderful universe.

And perhaps — this is just an idea — we have overlooked the other toxic detriment to learning: noise pollution.

Studies come out all the time based on things we know. But the knowledge needs to be re-studied, analyzed, and updated. Olga Khazan recently published a study in The Atlantic “How Noise Pollution Affects Learning.”

“Hearing new words in fluent speech without a lot of background noise before trying to learn what objects the new words corresponded to may help very young children master new vocabulary,” Saffran said in a statement.

That’s a helpful tip for parents and teachers, but overall, the study highlights yet another cognitive obstacle facing low-income children. Not only do poor children hear fewer words than rich ones—the gap is estimated to reach 30 million words by age 3—they are more likely to live in loud environments, as McMillan and Saffran write. Their homes are more crowded, their schools are closer to highways, and they spend more time watching TV. (This phenomenon would help explain why children living in urban poverty have lower verbal working-memory scores than those in rural environments.

I would add another noise factor, too, and that is digital noise. Right now I am on overload because of the conventions, the news media, Twitter, Facebook, news outlets, sources, opinions, etc. I am obsessed with politics right now, and cannot seem to break away. Like many educators, I sense I am not alone in this compelling urgency to believe that learning and knowledge can triumph and rescue this historical moment. So I keep reading. I keep analyzing. And the curse of close reading is making my head hurt.

But this — all this — is a luxury, a privilege, of being a reader and thinker. Of growing up in a household, modest to be sure, but where quiet ruled. Where we were allowed to read as long as chores were done, and have mercy on our souls if we woke our mom up from a nap. Being alone and having space in one’s own head was a given growing up. Now I see it not as there wasn’t much else to do, but a gift.

Last year I had two semesters of Computer Skills for my elective. Though technology for publication and communication have always been the standards I’ve employed in my classrooms, this particular elective provided the chance to focus on some newer technologies not attached to content. One project was a podcast. Well, this exercise reminded me of the noise pollution in many homes. (It’s not relegated to homes in poverty, either. Some houses always have a television on, or music playing.) A diligent and creative student came to me in frustration because while she was trying to record her podcast at home she found it near impossible due to everyone else’s level of noise and interruptions. And though we have a room in our building intended for podcasting and filming, it’s been taken over with junk and other things, and proves inhospitable to recording. (I’m going to ask admin if this can be resolved next year, or at least clean out a space of our own for recording.) This is the question: how to make school/classrooms have those quiet/sacred places and times in the day?

This hearkens back to a great discussion on Notice and Note about homework. Not all students have a quiet place to read, practice, etc. I have homeless students. I have students who sleep on mattresses without sheets or blankets. I have students who have disabled siblings that require all the energy and care their parents can provide, leaving them to their own. There is not judgment here, only pragmatism. If I am aware as a teacher that some students face staggering challenges at home, isn’t it my direct purpose to provide reason and solace in the classroom? To explain and make transparent I am not asking for quiet because it makes life better for me, but a gift for them? And trust me — this is one of the most challenging things to do–getting students to be comfortable in their own heads. One student experienced such deep trauma, and was able to share with me that when it was quiet she was not in control of her thoughts just yet. Be aware of this, too, and come up with alternatives.

Middle school students, and probably high school ones, too, fight against all research and reason about multi-tasking. Perhaps it’s time to reframe the conversation and tell them what noise pollution damaged, and how to change habits.

Big talk coming from someone who can’t stop reading.

Okay — I’ll take the dog for a walk. Maybe I won’t even try to catch Pokemon, either.



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Moving through summer…

I wish I could say this post is urgent, but alas, I know the truth: I’m avoiding ‘real’ summer work– the projects and ideas that are supposed to rejuvenate me and get back in touch with my ‘real’ self. So here’s a deal: I’ll write this post, and then go do something. Maybe take the dog for a walk. Maybe organize my jewelry box. Or go find some Pokemon. Who knows? The world is wide open. And gotta catch ’em all.

When the school year starts again, it’s closed, boxed, a hedge maze of navigating rules and schedules. And consistently over the years I’ve tried to shape and refine my teaching practices. Sometimes those practices come at the will of administration and changing district policies, but all in all, I know those are in alignment with my personal teaching values more than ever, and truth be told I am feeling a great confidence of agency. As long as I can honestly say what I’m doing is in the best interest of students as my litmus test, then every decision holds integrity and intention.

The “A” Word

One such is the notion that teachers grade everything. We’ve gotten in this feedback loop of complaining about when students aren’t motivated, even for grades, and then use too many sticks and run out of carrots. In this post about accountability, I should have said ‘punitive’ — but was trying to be too soft-edged, I suppose. I am really starting to dislike the word ‘accountable,’ and I know that bias is all mine. Accountability is an accountant, a bean-counter, a points-shiny-stars-gamificationated-hoop-jumping word. Please– any other word but ‘accountable.’ If, in my book club, the other ladies said, “we are going to hold you accountable for reading all the books” I’d be so out of there my wine glass would shatter from the squealing of tires. We read each other’s book choices because we get to discuss things with those of various points of view. And there are snacks.

The conversation became a bit derailed, but no matter. That's what we teachers do -- talk about it!
The conversation became a bit derailed, but no matter. That’s what we teachers do — talk about it!

The question became side-tracked, naturally. And that’s fine. Let me see if I can get this back on point: the 40 book challenge is meant to create readers. There are multiple ways for students to share what they’ve read.

The post I linked above says many things, but mainly this:

An unfamiliar parent emailed me to complain. She tracked me down on the Internet after asking her son’s teacher about the “outrageous requirement” that students read 40 books and complete 40 book reports this school year. Her son’s teacher said the assignment was based on my work, and this upset mom wanted me to know that I was hurting her son. I responded that while I expect my students to read 40 books, I don’t tie any assignments or grades to this expectation.

Consider this: when doing something like a 40-book challenge, weave in the next two concepts about technology and grading policies. Consider carefully what the goal is. It takes students some getting used to doing something because it’s amazing. Maybe I can do a mash-up between books and Pokemon? Wait, what am I saying?!


If you want to know exactly how to best use technology for any student, underserved or not, read this article by Molly B. Zielezinski @mollybullock. What a Decade of Education Research Tells Us About Technology in the Hands of Underserved StudentsThe article provides clear constructs for how to use technology in the classroom. 

Grading Policies

Hope. It’s all about hope. 

Do No Harm: Flexible and Smart Grading Policies by Andrew Miller. Our new admin had their plates full last year; I wonder if a discussion about grading policies will hit the meetings this year? I hope so. As a staff, learning new ways to grade and assess effectively and meaningfully would sure go a long way to help our students we serve. I had a great conservation about grading policies in Twitter at #edchat the other day. It’s on everyone’s minds, and something that the current grading software programs we use don’t provide much in terms of true reflection of growth or stagnation, for that matter. I am going to integrate Miller’s ideas in with my syllabus for this year, along with some of the grading policies and explanations for parents.

Tardy Slips

This is one of those issues I didn’t think was a big deal until I encountered an interpretation I had never considered before. If a student is talking to another teacher, and receives a late pass, but another teacher still marks them down tardy as his/her only means of showing that the student missed instruction, what is the point of this? If a teacher’s class runs over a few minutes, and then asks that those students are not marked tardy, why wouldn’t people honor that? Perhaps, like the word accountable, there needs to be different shades of meaning: if a student is clearly hanging out in the bathroom avoiding class, then yes, tardy. But for those times where students need to confer with a teacher for a few minutes, but another teacher needs to show that they missed the entry task, perhaps a ‘conference’ demarkation would be a good idea? That way they’re not punished or disciplined in any way, and it shows that the student was attempting to get clarification on something, and allows for flexibility for the entire staff.

Rethinking Everything

Many teachers are going to have a hard time with some of the new Washington State guidelines regarding discipline and suspensions. 


If we truly want this school-to-prison pipeline to be shut down, it’s time.

And now to go read more Nikki Giovanni poetry.
And now to go read more Nikki Giovanni poetry.

Well, I made a deal. This post is done. Time to honor summer again. I felt as if I haven’t gotten anything done, or accomplished, but that’s not true. I made this, and others are going to share it. I hope you will, too.


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#ISTE2016 Unpacked, Unplugged, and Overshared


As my cutie-patootie fictional night-elf-turned-demon says, Illidan Stormrage says, YOU ARE NOT PREPARED! And if only I had listened to him when it came to ISTE. But, purpleman, I learned a lot, and had a blast. Now is the time to share the booty and swag I plundered.

Well, one word I heard over at ISTE that I adore is “medium agnostic,” which I’ve been a fan of for a long time. It’s one of those phrases that frames “I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know the name of it” idea. That is good news that our district is turning more medium agnostic — the work is more important than who makes the tools. In that light, KQUE/Mindshift posted this article this morning:

15 Tech Tool Favorites from ISTE:

15 Tech Tool Favorites From ISTE 2016

Google is all over the place. We’re not a “Google” district, but perhaps that’ll shift.

There are great links in this article, like this Google App poster link.

I missed a lot of the convention, but traded it for spending time with friends I hadn’t seen in years. I had hoped to meet up some folks from the district offices, but missed texts, etc. and it didn’t work out. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share later this summer. I’ve put the invitation out there, so we’ll see. We all manage our to-do lists and idea files differently. This blog is my way of trying to collect those ideas and ‘let’s try this’ stuff. Need to start using my tags better. Put that on to-do list.

Some of my gems and confirmed tech love affairs:


I wish our district would get thinglink for staff and students. It’s interactive: the process of putting one together is engaging and well, cool. I made a point to talk to the Thinglink rep. I tried to get the special 360 deal, but it was being weird. When I have time I’ll write to the company to say I tried to order it with the ISTE code, but it was being buggy. Now that’ll have to wait for next payday, too.

I want to get more involved in 360 stuff.


How cool that I saw Leslie Fisher speak at the Kahoot booth, and show us all new and fancy tricks?

@lesliefisher speaking for Kahoot



We were introduced to Mackinvia a few years ago by a former librarian, and it seems to have some new features. I am going to ask our new librarian about it.
Brainpop and Girls/Coding

Sigh. Okay. One thing. When I tweeted about ‘both genders’ (boy/girl) being discussed at the Coding/Girl Brainpop information, a Twitterbot informed me that perhaps I meant “all genders.” I appreciated the information, to be sure, and it forced to me to think. However, the information presented was binary: boy v girl. And then this was reported this morning:


The Keynote Speakers

Michio Kaku: Overall, it was pretty good. I think he’s great. Some of the information was a bit outdated for this audience, though.

Ruha Benjamin. I don’t know why I missed her talk, but was greatly disappointed.

Michelle Cordy: I missed her keynote address because I was too busy eating breakfast burritos at a restaurant with my friend. Although the burritos were delicious, wish I could have been two places at once.

Hacking The Classroom with Michelle Cordy, aka, “Teacher on an Urgent Quest” from Connected Learning Alliance on Vimeo.

How To Sit at a Table By Yourself, Introvert Edition

Two ladies spilled a coke before I sat down.

How to eat by yourself like a boss.
How to eat by yourself like a boss.

The Artifact App

So flipping cool. 




I have been playing with Twittercasting, but am not sure I love it. This ‘real time’ live feed video stuff is scary.  I could see its application, or ones like it, being used for weekly communication between students and parents. No more “I don’t have any homework.” I don’t give much homework, but usually a continuation of a project that doesn’t require WiFi/internet. When parents ask if their child has homework, the answer is a dodgy no. No more. A quick live-feed cast would have the students sharing with parents what they did that week. Along with Remind, communicating with busy parents may be a lot easier. The goal is to have students take ownership and use metacognition.

I bought a book

Digital Citizenship in Schools, Third Edition, by Mike Ribble. Time for some reading and making.

I also bought this poster.


Other awesomeness:

I tried to meet up with Shelly Sanchez, too, an important part of my #pln, but alas, two ships and all that.

And met the amazing Pernille Ripp!

Since I looked tired, I replaced my normal beautiful face with a bear's face, courtesy of Animal Face.
Since I looked tired, I replaced my normal beautiful face with a bear’s face, courtesy of Animal Face.

Would I go to ISTE again? I’m not sure. Yearly membership is over $300, registering for the conference close to $400, and the airfare, etc. around $450. Am I glad I went? Sure! Next year’s is in San Antonio, and that’s close to my folks! So yes, maybe I will. I’ll certainly be more prepared, and curate with greater efficiency what booths I want to go to, presentations, and who on my PLN list I want to see. One lingering question I have is how did those educators get to the other side of the podiums? How do I better serve my students who are creating amazing things and show what they know? Maybe some of these apps and tools will support their thinking. Besides, it is my job to prepare them, night elf demons notwithstanding.

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Language, people!

As our culture’s norms and protocols shred and tear, an issue I’ve noticed is amazing content laced with profanity. Now, most who know me know I can have a bit of a salty tongue myself. I’m sure it’s from a past life when I was a pirate. Or perhaps it’s just a stress-reliever, kind of verbal punching bag. Maybe it’s when I was a pirate in therapy. Who knows? Regardless, there have been many times I’ve wished to use the perfect clip or content to relate a concept, yet it’s laced with vulgarities. What’s a teacher to do?

Case in point: John Oliver’s latest post about the primary and caucus rules, state by state, was amazing. I won’t link it in case there are children present. There have been multiple Daily Shows, clips from R-rated movies (as long and as bad as it is, Troy with Brad Pitt shows his naked hiney, so I can’t show that….). Glory with Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick, also fantastic, but says the “f” word, contains war violence, and uses the ‘n’ word; however, a case is made to understanding the context of the ‘n’ word. Years ago when a publisher switched out the ‘n’ word for ‘slave’ in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is wrong for so many reasons.

Here’s my wish: if there is some content that could be easily edited, or comes edited with the language ‘gone.’ There are some programs that allow for this:

I haven’t looked into VidAngel, but it might be worth a shot.

Look, I realize I’m beginning to sound a bit Ned Flanders about the whole thing. I would no more censor The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian than Huckleberry Finn, so how is it that content in visual formats more shocking?

So — teacher friends — how do you decide what’s worth showing? I know one that is always a hit:

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Into the maw…

Look how cute! A baby leatherback turtle!

Exhibit A: Leatherback turtle

Just like my i-Pod from years ago:


So sweet. So innocent. But yet, they grow:

Three external hard drives...
Three external hard drives…

But my digital life has turned into this:

Inside the mouth of a leatherback turtle (See Exhibit A)

Yes, this is how I currently feel about my digital hoarding. See that external hard drive with my name on it? That has ten years’ of lessons, plans, photos, videos, etc. on it. And the other day I found it in the laundry room garbage.


There were other terrible, unmentionable things in that garbage, too, and it was on its way out the door when I spotted it.

I have no idea how it got there; lately, I’m believing in house gremlins because my Apple watch, a  gift from my husband last fall, has gone missing. I have looked high and low. It’s gone. No, it wasn’t in the laundry room garbage pail, or under my bed, or stuff on a shelf. It’s gone. Will I replace it? Probably not. It was pretty cool, though. And now I’m sad.

But what would I have done if I hadn’t noticed, and rescued, the Holy Grail of Hard Drives from the bucket? Would I have missed it? Felt this strange sense of grief without being able to place it? I’ll never know. What I do know is I’ve tried to curate, delete, organize, and consolidate my digital tomes many times, and have met with odd and undermining obstacles.

Here are the storage sheds in my virtual world:

  • Google Drive
  • i-Cloud
  • The district’s personal server drives (H)
  • The district’s switch to Microsoft’s OneDrive/Office 365
  • My personal Dropbox account
  • My personal computer (Mac)
  • My school-issued computer (PC)
  • My old Macs
  • My old Dell (who knows what treasures still exist on that one?!)
  • Three external hard drives, including the rescued one.

And this digital list doesn’t include the binders I organized last summer, with labeled tabs, of many years worth of lessons, ideas, and curriculum maps.

Don’t think I’m not aware of my hoarding problem. Wait a damn minute, that’s not fair! I’m not a hoarder, I’m a saver! This has potential! And so does this! And if I don’t save the same thing in multiple places, what if it gets lost? ONLY PROVEN BY THE TRASH CAN CONSPIRACY OF ’16! The fact is my tendencies not to delete lessons has only been reinforced by multiple times when a colleague has needed a lesson or a file. This is the truth. But that doesn’t give me an excuse for not organizing this stuff better because it’s gotten completely out of hand.


You know that old saw of “preparing kids for a future that doesn’t exist yet?” I can think of something right now. I would pay a kid to curate my files/computers. Right now. I would outline the most important things/categories and have them save to two places: a hard drive and a cloud.

But how to label and categorize? Is it by medium, standard, theme, unit, or what?


  • Power Points
  • Prezi links*
  • Smartnotebooks
  • Lessons
  • Letters/Teacher Files
  • Photographs/images
  • How-to flip/blended classroom videos


  • Go through every lesson and label by CCSS? Oh no…but…


  • Files by thematic (units)
  • Files by Lesson overview:
    • Literary elements
    • Short stories
    • Grammar lessons
    • Writing workshop
    • Reading workshop


  • This would be fairly simple to do…right?

*So the Prezi thing — this made me realize how much of my work is already saved somewhere to some digital cloud, some other place, where it’s not located in one of my accessible hard drives. Dang, do we just gather all the links? The embed codes, and put it together?


Oh look...another image for my files.
Oh look…another image for my files.

The other day during testing, I set up a way to port files from the rescued hard drive to my Dropbox. When I check in after twenty minutes, it had over 2,800 files to go. It would take things off the hard drive as direct file folders: I had to unpack everything and try. This led to falling down the rabbit hole: looking at old video clips, reviewing former students’ work, reminiscing about times of yore. Okay, that is hoarding, I admit. Or is it?

Finding photographs of my sons from when they were younger? Being able to send a student a video of when he was in 7th grade (he’s now in the Navy), and having his mom be so happy to see it? Are we so burdened by our own narrative digital information we freely and capriciously trash it?

There’s got to be a better way.

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?


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