Reciprocity of Teaching, and Other Complexities

During my first year of teaching, I was asked by the superintendent to contribute to our whole district spring Professional Development. I gulped at the prospect, but acquiesced because I recognized it for the honor it was, and couldn’t fathom saying no to a superintendent ever- much less during my first year of teaching. I came into the district with a burgeoning enthusiasm for the Common Core State Standards, and my principal, who was in the process of trying to support its speedy implementation, was thrilled to give me all the support I wanted.

I tried not to be obnoxious in my enthusiasm. I tried to be encouraging, helpful, and approachable. I’m not sure it worked.

After about 2 months of preparation, I found myself standing in the midst of the High School cafeteria, holding a microphone and staring down the dozens of people waiting for me to be the mouth piece of the administration. Swallowing, I picked up the thread of our presentation, describing the purpose behind the anchor standards, and the correlation between Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge wheel. They’re very similar in that they describe the spectrum of challenges we can offer our students. Webb’s DOK, however proposes a wheel because these challenges should be cyclical, not simply achieved in silos, which are listed on many of the assessments supposedly crafted in coordination with the CCSS, the Smarter Balanced Consortium.

dok wheel

I insisted, pleaded with them, that these assessments, and the CCSS targets, are not designed to be “difficult”; they’re designed to be “complex”. And complexity is an entirely different animal. I had a few people nodding along with me by the time I surrendered the microphone.

Then, the next presenter stood and took over. She was a seasoned teacher, 2 months from retiring. With 35 years of relationship building behind her she took the stage with cheers from the crowd. She opened with a joke, which I’m sure was designed to engender even more affection, and rest people’s anxiety.

She said, “I don’t care what you call it. It’s not “complex,” it’s HARD. It’s difficult.” At which point the blood rushed to my face and the audience burst into laughter.

I think of this moment every time I consider putting myself out there for professional development- at least on a formal level. Subsequently, it’s led me to feel a bit of reticence about being on that stage again. However, throughout this program, there’s been a running theme of publication, collaboration, and becoming a resource in my own PLN. It’s inescapable for good reason.

Last week, we learned about the difference between “scholarly teaching” and the “scholarship of teaching and learning.” Researchers, Eileen Bender and Donald Gray, of Indiana University, described the birth of scholarship, saying, “With the blurring of the boundaries that we have long drawn between faculty roles in research and teaching–and a growing recognition of their common intellectual patterns of questioning, exploring, testing, and professing–a new phrase has emerged, challenging the stereotypes and calling for further amplification: ‘the scholarship of teaching,’” (Bender, E. and Gray, D., 1999). They continue to describe that scholarly teaching is sort of the application of this research where the scholarship of teaching involves a more reciprocal process of giving back to the research process, to the development of improved teaching.

I’m reminded of Gee’s “echo chamber of thought,” (Gee, 2013) which he uses to explain how humans surround themselves with like-minded people who will corroborate their beliefs. They are unwilling to include in their circle someone who might disagree, but as a result they limit their creativity and innovation because they don’t see multiple sides. As teachers, we can’t hole up in our classrooms and just expect the world to ignore us. We have a duty to share back the good things we are doing, to receive feedback and suggestions, so that when we address complexity, we don’t presume it’s synonymous with difficulty.  

I think it’s with this in mind that I’ll pick up that microphone. I can’t sit in an echo chamber, and the only way to change mindsets is to be an agent in this process- to be reciprocal. Even as complex as that can be.


Bender, E and Gray, D. (1999). The Scholarship of Teaching. Research & Creative Activity, XXII(1). Retrieved from

Paul, J.P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan

(2009). Webb’s Depth of Knowledge Guide. OK_Guide.pdf



Velveteen Rabbits and the Magic of Teaching

When I was eight, I read a biography about Harry Houdini, the famous magician who so tragically died. Naturally, I became fascinated by the performance of magic and begged my mother for any kind of literature supporting my obsession. When Christmas rolled around, I found myself to be the proud owner of a book of magic tricks, and it wasn’t long before I had crafted for myself a “wand” that could slide forward in my hand seemingly of its own volition. Made out of a cardboard tube and a hidden piece of elastic, it wasn’t exactly “high tech”. But I was thrilled. I took it to school and subjected just about anyone I could get to sit still to watch me do magic.

Then I grew up. And suddenly, I was required to “do magic” for the betterment of my students- only this time I didn’t have a fancy fake wand. My internship was a struggle, and at one point my mentor teacher told me she was afraid she’d have to report me to my profs. As a person who’d never failed before, this was a blow. Eventually, I figured it out, and even though I continued to make mistakes, it was through the desperate search of my PLN, coursework at MSU, and feverishly reading as many pedagogical books as I could get my hands on that I became a real teacher. I networked with teachers at school, reached out to the peers in my cohort, and leaned quite a bit on my support system. By the end of the year, I remember my mentor saying, “You’re like the proverbial velveteen rabbit; you have become Real.”

As I think back to my development as a teacher I find myself constantly returning to the words of my mentors- those artisans and virtuosos whose mastery I covet. I learned more from that experience than I ever did in a course. There isn’t really any magic in teaching- no fairy dust that will instantly fix my problems. And there surely isn’t an illusion that I can use to mask the mechanics of making kids proficient in my content. It’s more complicated than that- more Wicked.

As we considered our Wicked Problem project this week- a project designed to address the issue of reinventing everything about teaching- we decided to specialize in Professional Development because of the way it can affect all things in education. Teachers are hugely responsible for the goings on in education, so we asked ourselves how we could make PD more effective. Our solution- which is really more of a best bad idea- is posted here, for anyone interested in following along in our thought process and data.

Our research showed that PD isn’t happening very frequently, and that when it is, it’s usually delivered via lecture by administration. Sadly, an overwhelming majority thought that their PD was ineffective. We were staggered by the communication gap that seemed to be happening between the givers and receivers of PD.

I reflected on my own PD experiences, and realized that the best experiences I had as a teacher-learner took place on twitter, at conferences for which I signed up, Facebook, and most importantly, the careful mentorship that I had agonized over in school.

In his book, The Anti-Education Era, James Paul Gee defines what he calls “affinity spaces”, which are spaces where groups of people are drawn together because of a shared strong interest or engagement in a common activity. This can be virtual or physical, where informal learning takes place. (Gee, 2013) These seem like the kind of avenues that I found so crucial in my development as a “real” teacher- these spaces that become valuable because we have something in common, some critical interest that makes our relationship symbiotic. And we thought, “Why isn’t Professional Development offered in an affinity space?”

It’s through the development of these PLNs, these curated collections of relationships that the magic seems to happen. It’s on us, the receivers of Professional Development, to make PD effective. The wand is in our hands.


Paul, J.P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era . New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

“Failure to Model is a Commitment to Re-teach”

Last year, I had the privilege of attending a conference featuring the famous Dr. Anita Archer, a legend in student engagement and teaching explicit vocabulary. She’s delightful to watch actually. As she performs, she reminds her audience of their own teachers of the past and engenders this kind of distant affection for her and her pragmatic manner of teaching.

She “gets” it. She knows what an incredible job it is to teach literacy to kids and her tips are easily applied to current practice. Plus, she’s just plain funny. For a lady who has to be in her 70’s, she’s hysterical, and she gets her audience moving.

For this particular lesson, she was talking about writing and the use of scaffolding for students’ benefit. Before long, she turned to the audience and pointed out that regardless of scaffolding and student level, a model is always needed. She stated, in what would become an echoing mantra for the rest of my year, “Failure to Model is a Commitment to Re-teach.” I scribbled it down quickly into my notes, not knowing at the time how often that phrase would haunt me.

Shortly after, we entered an expository writing unit in English, where I knew that the biggest struggle for kids would not be grammar, evidence, and supporting claims, but the strict rules of the Modern Language Association. My kids were terrible at observing MLA format. We’d been working ALL year long, and every time we turned in a major paper, which was every month, I had to commit at least a day’s lesson to conforming to the rules.

This time, I vowed it would be different. This time, I decided I would model and teach, AND preserve it for the repeated questions that I knew were coming. In addition to a supplementary handout, housed in their binders for the entire year, I directed them to a page on my teacher page where they could hear and see a tutorial about constructing a paper in MLA- both for Microsoft Word, and Google Drive. It can be found here.

This worked swimmingly! It turns out that “Flipped Instruction”, as this can be termed, can offer many advantages to teachers, the best of which includes an increased efficiency that allows a teacher to teach more material in the same amount of time. District Administration reported on this stating, “The methodology didn’t affect test scores either way but did enable teachers to cover an additional two weeks of material, on average, in the six fifth-grade math classrooms that took part in a pilot project in Stillwater (Minn.) Area Public Schools from September 2011 through January of this year,”(Finkel, 2012).

I think that’s huge! The report continued to say, “The results in the Clintondale (Mich.) Community Schools have been very encouraging thus far: The failure rate among freshman math students dropped from 44 percent to 13 percent in one year’s time, while juniors taking the state math exams improved by 10 percent over the previous year,” (Finkel, 2012). Clearly, Flipped Instruction is making a difference. However, it’s important to remember that this technique is simply that- a technique. It’s not a magic wand, and if there is any magic, it’s found in the teacher’s ability to maximize their instruction in other areas. The benefit of Flipped Instruction is that teachers have extra time to differentiate and therefore serve the kids that might need extension or re-teaching.

I saw enough of a difference that the next time I needed to call off from school, I used video tutorials again- in coordination with my colleague who teaches the same content- to teach the lesson while I was gone. This went fairly well, confirming that I still have some work to do in perfecting the use of this tool. The lesson can be found here.

I look forward to continuing my work with Flipped Instruction as I become a little more fluent in it.




Finkel, E. (2012). Flipping the script in K-12. District Administration. Retrieved from


Human Stupidity, and Other Onerous Musings


When I first opened James Gee’s book, The Anti-Education Era, I was stunned by his reiterating use of the word Stupidity. He uses it so broadly, and so frequently, that I found myself frustrated that he didn’t define it. He continued, for 147 pages, to describe the lengths and varieties of Human Stupidity, without actually pausing to give meaning to such an increasingly inane word. And while he made many salient points, I was annoyed not only by his treatment of similar adjectives, but by their swarthy application to our shared species—which I thought spoke to his arrogance. In fact, by page 6 he states, “This book, then, is devoted to my own version of Orwell’s question: how can smart people—like me and you—be so dumb? I pursue the question because, as a human being, I find it so fascinating. My own stupidity, not to mention yours, amazes me,” (Gee, 2013). Surely such a person, with such a fixation, is a thinker of which to be cautious.

Ironically, one of Gee’s listed solutions to the problem of human stupidity lies in the idea of linking into a collective—of which we (and he) are a part—with equal parts eagerness to share, and a reticence to allow others to do our thinking for us. This is where the reading of his book, after becoming inured to his almost feverish excitement over human failures, became worthwhile. Gee spends no less than 16 chapters describing the depth of human limitations before beginning to propose solutions. He suggests that humans must be, “’plug-and-play entities’, not stand-alone entities, when we are at our best. That is the only way we humans have built bridges and cities and cured diseases,” (Gee, 2013, pg. 164). Much like a computer, humans must be a synchronous Mind, which offers the ability to construct, collaborate, and innovate for the benefit of all. I particularly appreciated his emphasis on the benefit for all. In a later chapter, he describes the innate human need to feel valued within society, and the need for an Inclusive “We” (Gee, 2013, pg. 213).

This is easier said than done though, which is where the irony is found. He is careful to note that we cannot be mindless when we plug into the Mind, that when asked the question, “What do YOU think WE should do?” we need to have our own, well-thought, educated answer. He states, speaking as an expert, “If you cannot help answer this question and motivate people to action for a vision, or if you trust ‘experts’ or politicians to answer it alone, you have not been educated,” (Gee, 2013, pg. 214).  This suggests that the Mind can be just as dangerous as it is beneficial, and that we have an obligation to make that space (wherever we find it) one that is educative and edifying.

This brings value to his rant about stupidity. It’s only through knowing our limitations, and understanding the role of education in this context, that we can begin to overcome them. When we acknowledge this, and work to make the Mind healthy, we can begin to solve complex problems smartly.



Paul, J.P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era . New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Netizenship and Near Misses: A reflection

McKenzie and I were called upon to teach from two web publications that responded to the question, “Is the Internet changing the way you think?” Both of these authors posit that it is inevitable that the Net will change how and what we think. However, they depart from this idea when they consider how much control we have in that process. James O’Donnell, in his piece, “My Fingers Have Become Part of My Brain”, seems to think that the adaptation to the changing demands of these new literacies is literally manifested in our bodies, where Howard Rheingold, in his piece, “Attention is the Fundamental Literacy,” believes that we can either master our attention and these subsequent literacies, or let them master us. Realistically though, and according to the fundamental ideas of learning, transfer to new ideas and perhaps new literacies isn’t inevitable unless connections to background knowledge are made regarding the context of the desired skill or content. Simply put, we have to work at new skills, no matter what.

To teach from these readings, McKenzie and I decided to pose this question via Mentimeter: “What strategies do you use to sustain your attention while interacting with technology?” Our prediction was that in order to focus, many people starve one of their senses in order to allow their brains to work harder (i.e. wearing headphones, finding a quiet place, etc.) We weren’t too far off. As responses came pouring in, we created a word cloud that emphasized the responses that repeated. Unfortunately, the word cloud didn’t eliminate articles and prepositions, so these words subsequently over-ruled the better nouns. We managed the best we could but it was rather off-putting.

However, it did push us, as designed, into our next piece, which was to discuss the most important take-ways from the two articles. To facilitate this, we posted a slide on our prezi with bolded text that highlighted the best sentences. Again we stuttered, since Mckenzie and I sort of got our wires crossed as to the purpose of the slide and we ended up zooming right past it in favor of the discussion questions.

I was bummed because the text talk was intended to lead our discussion into the idea of these shifting New Media Literacies that we’d been unpacking in class. Instead it focused on our rather powerful discussion questions:

  • Do you agree with O’Donnell’s assumption that shifting literacies are involuntary- that we are victim to our tech. use?
  • Do you agree with Rheingold that it is inevitable that the Net will change how and what we think as it teaches- or reteaches- our attention span?

These saved us to some extent, because ultimately these were the heart of our lesson. Talk shifted to focus on everyone’s personal experience with attention-keeping and tech use, and gradually morphed into our activity about teaching students good “Netizenship”. With this word we asked students to create snagit photo interpretations that illustrated, in their opinion, what it means to be a netizen. They had approximately 5 mins to learn and create their interpretations of what a netizen is. At the end, we reserved time to have a gallery walk and connect to Rheingold’s idea of Netizenship and Knowledge Curation.

It went extremely well. Student engagement was right on target, even if our topic wasn’t really. We wanted teachers to discuss the literacies necessary to sustaining attention, as well interacting with the Net in a productive and sustainable manner- i.e. Good Netizenship. Instead, we zoomed straight to Netizenship and then stayed there.

Next time, I think we should take the time to discuss “citizenship”, literacy, and “New Media Literacies” BEFORE we get to defining “Netizenship”. I’m happy with the way that our lesson went, but the perfectionist in me demands more.




O’Donnell, J . (2011). My Fingers Have Become Part of my Brain. In J. Brockman (Ed.), Is the Internet changing the way you think? Retrieved from

Rheingold, H . (2011). Attention is the Fundamental Literacy. In J. Brockman (Ed.), Is the Internet changing the way you think? Retrieved from




Experimentation: I have an idea. How do I build it?


Pedagogical Rationale:

Grammar is often overlooked in lesson planning. It gets the back seat because it’s difficult, complex, learned intuitively, and..well, boring. However, making the rules of grammar explicit- at least in its fundamental building blocks- is important.

With my 8th graders, I spend a lot of time at the beginning of our grammar unit breaking down sentences into their parts of speech. After students re-learn those fundamental parts like nouns, adjectives, verbs, pronouns, etc, we shift our focus back to putting these pieces together in a meaningful way. I move into making those nouns into subjects, and those verbs into predicates. I used this Prezi this year to help students remember the difference. Then we move into talking about how commas are key to building onto sentences. This moves in support of the standards as I teach them to:

Use parallel structure.*
Use various types of phrases (noun, verb, adjectival, adverbial, participial, prepositional, absolute) and clauses (independent, dependent; noun, relative, adverbial) to convey specific meanings and add variety and interest to writing or presentations.
This means the building blocks to successful “Sentence sophistication” are key.

Steps We must Take: 

Step 1: Introduce to students, the goal of the activity: to make connections with sentence parts (clauses).

Step 2: Give students only the essential Little Bits, and ask them to tinker in groups of 2-3. What do the “bits” do? How do they work? Why do they work? What are the essential components in order to make something happen. Inevitably, students will end up with the battery attached to the blue bit, and a green bit of their choice. Instructions are optional since the tinkering phase can lead to a measure of student self satisfaction when they figure it out on their own. The toys magnetize to one another, so success is confirmed right away.


Step 3: Name the components. Once students have the basic components, ask students to connect their learning from grammar. What does the battery represent? What does the blue bit represent? What does the green represent? Class discussion should be fueling into the decision that the blue is the subject, and the green is the predicate. Allow students to remain confused about what the battery represents.

With Battery.

Without Battery.

Step 4: Give students more pink and green pieces. Allow time to tinker and play with the connections before asking: what could these extra pieces represent? Possible answers could include commas, dependent clauses, appositives, absolutes, etc, based on the preceding lessons taught to this point. Ask students to represent a sample sentence using the Little Bits. Make this their exit ticket, drawing the components (or tweeting, if tech is available) as they make sense of the connections. Or ask them to create a similar sentence to the model, and represent it with the Little Bits.

20140713_223355 20140713_223403Final Step: Ask students what the battery represents. It is the fuel, the source of energy that lights and animates the Little Bits. What similar concept does this for our sentences? Possible answers include sentence sophistication, topic consistency, Independent clause, Complete sentence etc. (depending on student need).

Extension: Ask students to blog/journal about their exploration as a warm-up the next day. What “clicked”?



The initial response to my Maker Lesson was very positive. They were delighted that the lesson would be powerful for our often forgotten kinesthetic and visual learners, and also that it was so approachable for all ages. The teachers working with me were from all across the grades, and each of them could see themselves using this in their classroom. They especially liked that even missing Little Bits could drive home the point of assembling the correct sentence parts to create meaningful sentences. In effect, this made sentence expansion inevitable with expanding circuits.

They also had some questions, and eagerly gave me suggestions to make the lesson stronger. They asked:

Could I make it social? Can students seek each other out to get pieces and add onto their sentences? (If they’re missing something)

Which kids won’t make the connection? How will I make the connections for those kids?

They worried about logistics and management. They suggested working in groups or pairs and putting strong norms in place to maintain focus on grammar instead of circuitry.

They suggested a model, and asked what will students take away with them?

Are there layers built in so that they aren’t done early?

They wondered if they could up the challenge; how powerful of a sentence can you make with these named pieces?

What mentor text will we work from?

Will there be an exhibition?

Can I give them a gap– mad libs style- and ask them to fill in the blanks of their circuits with meaningful words?


As I consider their suggestions I see a concern for the manageability of the lesson. The theory and application seemed solid, but when it came to the logistics, they were concerned about pulling it off. I found myself nodding along with them.

I think that having a guiding handout of some kind will be essential- something with layers that will extend their thinking. Perhaps a Thinglink, or some kind of questionnaire for them to record their thinking as they move through the lesson will also be helpful. I’m also thinking that some kind of an exhibition or display will be key- like a quick tweet out, or perhaps a quick explanatory video posted to a blog that shows the representation in action. Perhaps within student groups there could be roles to assist with management- a recorder for video taping, someone to diagram findings, and maybe another to present findings to the class. Last, I’m thinking about some kind of  a quickfire wrap-up that will ask students to create a sentence with given parts in only so much time. This might offer an extension that will also indicate an assessment of skills as students demonstrate their knowledge of clauses.

Either way, I have much to brew on as I refine my prototype into a functional finished piece.

I see an opportunity. What do I create?

During our Ideation phase, I was paired with Christa and Kelly in order to generate ideas for their ELA conundrums as well. Christa wanted to know how she might use the Maker Movement to support her struggling readers. Kelly wished to know how she might garner student interest in the books of her library. These were both connected to my question of how might I use Maker Movement principles to support ELA CCSS based objectives.

First off- I noticed that my question was too broad. While this worked to my advantage in some ways (since I didn’t know how to narrow it down), it also made the field of possibilities too vast. Sitting down to brainstorm allowed me to see more possibilities and more angles than I expected. Curiously, I found more inspiration trying to help Kelly than I did myself. Hers was much more fun, though, since her goal rested on making books interesting- which I find easier to see. 

Once it came to my turn, I scrambled to write some of the ideas that we’d garnered for Kelly. Then I thought about the avenues of English that could possibly connect to Makering. Unfortunately, a lot of the ideas I- we- came up with involved all sorts of technology that was technically related to Making, but did not embody the “tinkering” that our assignment required. I thought about making modern renditions of Shakespeare, or perhaps creating Infographics for cross curricular reports, I thought about asking students to make a game that would embody the themes of a book we read, or maybe creating a digital story to map out creative writing projects. 

These were great, but not really makering. We shifted our focus back to the kits that we worked with. We thought about coding, about making a game that could embody a book. We thought about using 3D printing to make Shakespeare props. We thought about using 3D printing to make moving representations of cause & effect. We also thought about using squishy circuits, or little bits to understand sentence diagramming. 

I’m currently thinking about developing this idea. I don’t really teach sentence diagramming, but I do teach student about subjects and predicates, dependent and independent clauses, and verbals. It’s generally pretty dry stuff for my kids who are used to more faster paced, self generated lessons. To jazz it up I use apps like prezi to show connections between materials, but that’s just a presentation app. It doesn’t do anything but make it prettier- and MIGHT make the bridge for a particularly stubborn visual brain. 

I need to know about little bits. I liked how easy it was to make connections, to make it work. Making something light up was inevitable with the positive and negative sides of the magnets. I’m planning on pursuing this to find out if I can use the “bits” to represent parts of a sentence, or maybe clauses. I wonder what constraints I’ll run into? 

Sentence clauses aren’t polarized like magnets; in fact, dependent clauses can be inserted just about anywhere in an independent clause. Sentences are really limited in number of parts, where as little bits are fairly finite. I’m worried that they might be over simplified. However, if it works, it will be an extremely engaging grammar lesson, and goodness knows, it needs it. 

Check out our brainstorming below.

 20140713_180334 20140713_180345 20140713_180353 20140713_180403 20140713_180327

I learned something. How do I interpret it?

I am still struggling in this process of making meaning with what we’ve been tinkering. During our exploration we were given the opportunity to tinker with some common maker kits. We played with Makey Makey, Little Bits, Squishy Circuits, Paper Circuits, Coding, 3D printing, and Raspberry Pi. While all of them, with the exception of Raspbery Pi (which seemed constructed for the sole purpose of frustration), were interesting, I failed to see the connections to ELA Content. In fact, I walked away with a sneaking suspicion that this was counter-intuitive to the TPACK model that we’d just learned. It seems the problem, or quest, is using English to teach Makering, instead of the reverse. And even when I tried to think of it in this way, I still had difficulty coming up with something creative and feasible. It seems that STEM subjects are ideal for Makering, where ELA is ideal for supporting STEM subjects in communicating the meaning behind these nebulous projects. 

However, I still have a challenge to accomplish. I did see a couple themes emerge from the tools we worked with. Connection seemed to repeat over and over. In most of the kits, there was something that required linking objects, or a chain of reaction. Cause and effect seemed to be at the heart of all of the toys. Little Bits involved connecting magnet parts to complete the circuits necessary to light an LED or spin the rotors of a fan. Squishy circuits required connecting wired to conductive play doe and a battery in order to light an LED or set off a buzzer. Even coding required pushing this button, or submitting that string of characters in order to make anything happen. It made me think of how often I’m asking students to make connections in their learning, or asking them to create connections for the readers of their own writing.

I ask them to make connections between their evidence and their claims, I ask them to insert sensory detail in their narratives to connect their reader to real life experiences, and I even ask them to bulk up what I call “sentence sophistication” by connecting dependent and independent clauses. It seems logical that I could use these same kits to metaphorize these concepts.  

So my challenge becomes:

How might I use Maker Movement Principles to support ELA CCSS based objectives? 

How might I use the Design Process to make connections to ELA content? 

How might I ask my students to “make” connections as they learn ELA content? 

Maker Movement

Discovery: I have a challenge. How do I approach it?

My challenge: My challenge with the Maker project is to use the Design Thinking Model to create a lesson that synthesizes the principles of the Maker Movement with the philosophies of learning in order to engage students and maximize their learning. I think part of my challenge is also to re-orient my thinking about solving problems. 

I would consider myself a maker, a creator, even an artist at times, and while I would never call myself an inventor, I am open to considering the idea of “making” with technology. However, it’s very important to me that I don’t just use technology for technology’s sake. I’m a little suspicious of this project because it sounds like this is becoming that. 

However, I understand that the maker movement offers a variety of experiences for kids who tinker, who discover, who manage their learning only when they feel like they find instant value in their work. The Maker Movement seems to offer that. Kids become makers all the time. 

I’m reminded of the hundreds of “forts” that my brother and I created in the backyard, in the living room, in the basement of our family home growing up. I think of the “elevator” we made when climbing a particularly tall tree. I remember the wicked catapult that my dad made with me for my high school physics class- that could ultimately throw a tennis ball 26 feet! Those experiences hold so much value for me. So while I’m cautious about this idea of using tech for tech’s sake- I can see how this idea of making with technology can become an objective in order to maximize a student’s experience. I think that the real challenge will be relating this to ELA content. 

As I tinkered with coding yesterday, I thought to myself how like learning a language it is. Perhaps there are some commonalities between creating a world within code and the content that my students must master. I’m also doing work with Game-Based Learning, and I’m beginning to see some commonalities there too. The idea of having an objective, and pursuing it against all constraints with a loyalty to methods and playing the game itself? I think that lends itself to creation, and to this Design Thinking Model. 

I’ll look forward to seeing how our research and work with Maker Movement comes together at the end. 



The Seduction of Teaching

After a particularly grueling week during my teaching internship, my English Cohort from MSU came back together for our weekly Friday class. We laughed, and whined, and commiserated about the immensity of work that is teaching. Because of our passion for kids, our own self-efficacy, and our propensity for perfectionism, we lamented that we were unable to find satisfaction in, what we understood, was work that was less than satisfactory. My colleague, Tim, piped up and said, “I’ve found that teaching is seductive. It’s never done. There is always something more that we can do. It lures you into an 80 hour work week if you’re not careful.”

His words stuck with me. If you’re not careful. At the time, and even sometimes now, I thought that this means accepting work that is not my best. It certainly means that limits and boundaries are a necessity- not just to get the job done, but also to do the job well. Self-care became a goal at some point as this productivity, this passion, dug its grip into my life.

This resonates with David Allen’s work with The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (2012). In his Ted-Talk with Claremont Colleges, he describes some of the principles from his same-titled book. He explains that the average person, who has not mastered this art, is often so wrapped up in everything that they are obligated to do, they find difficulty being appropriately engaged. It’s not until they experience some sort of crisis that they fall into the “zone”, the calm which allows them to “produce intuitive action decisions” (2012). He says that to be appropriately engaged, one must have the necessary “psychic bandwidth” to allow for the creativity necessary for the best decisions. This struck me as the heart of the lack of sustainability in my professional life- which consequently tramps into my personal life.

There is much that is happening in my personal life right now as we buy a car, a house (almost closed!), and very recently a positive pregnancy test. Professionally, I’m seeking my masters, a sustainable reputation, and- as I enter my 2nd year of teaching fulltime- a new placement at the high school. As Allen described the necessity for a healthy control over the multitude of obligations that life is constantly hurling, I felt my chin nodding along emphatically. I owe to myself, my kids, and family to find that “Stress-Free Productivity”. Allen continued to give his recipe to accomplish this. He said, “Flexibility trumps perfection” (2012), that I need to let go of perfection, and to be able to shift my focus rapidly. He also suggested applying a process to get stuff out of my mind—to free up that psychic bandwidth.

What’s interesting, and a little ironic, is how much a “stress free productivity” is like learning one of the New Literacies that Henry Jenkins described in his work, Create Circulate Connect Collaborate (2013). I need to learn how to interact with my life in an appropriate way, much like Jenkins’ descriptions of interacting appropriately with technology. Jenkins also described the need for teachers to model ethical and appropriate technology use- which I think also applies to this idea of sustainability in productivity. I need to model it- not only for my students, but my family.

Recently, my process has been transformed by the tool, Google Keep. Google Keep is a free web tool that simply creates notes, lists, and web clips to assemble all of the need to know information that I have to remember. It creates colored, tiled, lists that stack up and archive as the user finishes with their lists. I use this in coordination with timed reminders through Google Now, and Google Calendar, so that I no longer have to remember what’s happening, and what I need to do in response, every day. It syncs across all of my devices in a widget, to ensure that I never miss anything. I love it for its simplicity.

As I reflect on Allen’s words, I think I’ll be more explicit about my use of this program- ensuring that my lists are color coded according to urgency and nature. Since it works effortlessly with Google Now and Google Calendar, I’m also able to create reminders, and share them with interested parties—like my best friend, mom, or husband. This will be a great first step toward freeing myself up to address the “crises” that I will inevitably face, while still being appropriately engaged for the task at hand. There are too many stakeholders in this job to ignore this crucial step.



Allen, D. (2012, October 30). TED Talk: The Art of Stress Free Productivity. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2013). Create circulate connect collaborate. Retrieved from