Saturday, April 18, 2020

It's not be "ok"

I began my professional transition in mid to late January. I had high hopes. I dreamed of finally really diving into the writing of my books that I have lightly worked on for years.  I looked forward to the next chapter and all it would entail. I found myself filled with hopes and dreams.

Life was good. The world was "my oyster." All was great.

I spent the first couple of weeks working to prepare for our trip to France. I visited secondhand stores, washing, packing, planning. We had a huge and amazing trip ahead of us. I also spent time carefully following the news of something new and unknown, that which would become a Global Pandemic.

We arrived in Paris France on February 9 after a very long day of travel. I am a germophobe and already planned extra precautions. We took the Metro from the airport to our neighborhood that we would call home for the week. We spent the next several days exploring the city that I loved and that my young daughter dreamed of. We saw the sights and explored everywhere we could. We walked a lot of places, but enjoyed the ease of use of the Metro. I took in each and every moment. I think the kids did too, and for that I am incredibly thankful.

In February, we narrowly had the opportunity to take in the trip of a lifetime. I would move to a flat in Paris in a heartbeat, if my circumstances were different. Maybe someday. Maybe. But for now, it is an amazing place to visit and I am grateful my children had the opportunity to take it in as kids.

We arrived back in California on February 15 to a different world. The first COVID19 death outside of Asia had a Paris...that day. The man was a Chinese national (a tourist) in his 80s who had spent close to a month in hospital in Paris. There was no possible way we would have encountered him. Still, I found myself retracing our steps and counting our blessings. I knew at that point that we were lucky to have traveled when we did. The world was about to change.

It took a little longer to change than I anticipated. Things were slower moving than I expected. Still, the world was different. Life was different.

And here we are. It is now over two months out from our arrival back home. The world is so different. Schools are physically closed with learning continuing in a virtual realm. Concerts canceled. Sports canceled. Life...seemingly...canceled.

My kids are both looking forward to the upcoming plan for for distance learning and devastated by the fact thy can't return to school. We...we...are not ok.

We are hurting. We three are in transition. I am looking to move into a new role. The kids are looking to shift back into their previous district (though it will be different). Life is in a transition at a time where unknowns are the rule of the day. We hurt. And...we are not alone. And...that is ok.

I have friends who have lost parents, aunts, and other loved ones. Funerals are not what they were six months ago. They are hurting and healing and struggling. All I want to do is hug them. But, we cannot travel, we cannot hug, we cannot comfort physically. We can, however, comfort emotionally. And, that is what counts.

No one reading this needs me to say it, but I will. It is ok to not be ok.
It is ok to need each other.
And, right now...we need to reach out to each other. We need to be there for each other more emotionally than physically. More than ever before.

It hurts. We all hurt. We all hurt differently. It is ok to not be ok. If no one else has said it to you, I will and I am.


But, then, we need to accept those virtual hugs. We need to take the phone calls and texts. We need to allow ourselves to laugh at a funny meme on Facebook. We need to be ok with feeling ok at times.

Cry when you need. Laugh when you need. Smile when you need. Reach out when you need. Take it one day, one laugh, one cry, and one smile at a time.

Today. It is ok to not be ok. But please know you are loved and you have someone to reach out to when you need. If you feel lost as if you have no one else, please leave a comment or send an email here.

No pictures. Nothing. Just you and me. This is my post to let you know that it is ok to not be ok. We have days where we are not ok. Do you? Let's come together in our not-ok-ness. <3 Sending your peace and love now, today, and always.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

New Normal 2020: Staying connected

Although I occasionally demonstrate some introverted tendencies, I am an extrovert. I need social interaction to refuel/recharge. I enjoy spending time with people and getting out helps me do that. In our "new normal," obviously, that is not happening. One by one, things dropped off my calendar. A significant one: A roadtrip with a friend to a conference in Palm Springs looked possible. The annual CUE Conference brings so much time with and around people. I feel connected and spend time in my element. I learn. I grow. The first year I attended, I went by myself and I knew no one. This would have been my seventh consecutive year attending. I knew it was for the best that it transition to a virtual format. I am both nervous and excited about presenting in the virtual format.


I had only heard of Zoom before last week. Then, Zoom became a part of daily life for people worldwide. Now even my moms' group has scheduled a virtual meet-up using Zoom. I have enjoyed nightly Zoom gatherings with the #midnightpedagogy crew.  I do more listening than talking as sometimes my connection gets wonky at night. I have yet to pinpoint exactly what keeps happening, but I will figure it out. Connor has even shared his Snowball microphone with me for these. I will eventually get down to the storage unit to grab a few things, including one of my microphones. At this point, though, I have successfully put off going to get the things on my list because the kids are staying engaged with what we have at home.

I have appreciated the opportunities to feel connected. These less formal gatherings also allow me to get to know
the platform better which will help when I present next week. I still need to fine-tune my presentation a bit. Some of the interactive pieces I built into it following last month's ETC! will not work the same. A little tweak here and redesign there should do it. Mostly, I hope it becomes a conversation and lesson sharing opportunity. Zoom allows for screen sharing which will be helpful, but I especially look forward to the face-to-face conversation.

Bonus: Zoom allows the host to set up breakout groups. AWESOME!

Class Dojo

Please stick with me here. I know a lot of people who have a strong dislike for Class Dojo. When used as an equivalent to a clip--chart to primarily focus on the behavior piece, there are mixed thoughts on its effectiveness and appropriateness. I am not getting into that here. What I have seen with Class Dojo the past several days is something incredible. Like me, my children need social interaction. They miss seeing their classmates and interacting with their teachers. They are both involved in scouts, as well. Naturally, as we continue to shelter-in-place all activities have ceased.

What their school has done with and through Dojo has helped bridge the gap right now. Their teachers start each day with a post and both teachers have included riddles and challenges. The kids love these! I appreciate that it gives us a good jumping off point each day. In addition, the principal and even the librarian have made schoolwide posts for the students. The students are engaged and feeling connected in an otherwise distant time. The other piece of this that I observed includes the different ways in which students can interact on their end. They can draw, share a picture, or write a post. These items that the student share on their end goes directly to the teacher. The teacher can then add it to the student's profile. That function allows the parent to see the student interaction. On the parent end, I have seen all of the riddle responses my two kids have offered as well as a few other pieces. Today, Kiera sent a message sharing how much she missed the humor in the classroom and her teacher. Her teacher responded with kindness. I had the opportunity to see the full interaction.

Some use Seesaw which is a great program, especially for primary level students. I like the schoolwide application of the Class Dojo functions and I appreciate the way my kids can interact with their teachers, the principal, and the librarian. And, I know they do as well. Class Dojo has certainly played a role in making this social isolation more tolerable for students.

Google Classroom

Teachers across the country have started using Google Classroom. Some had implemented it previously to one degree or another. Others have just turned on to all it can offer.

Students can interact with their teachers (and, if permitted, each other) through different features within Classroom. Teachers can push out assignments or challenges. Classroom offers the option of assigning points or leaving an assignment ungraded. Teachers can determine due dates. As different schools take different approaches to distance learning , Google Classroom offers some flexibility. I know a local high school has used it to push out assignments and even take attendance for classes while Connor's class has used it for different challenges. The ability to integrate other Google tools is important. Teachers can push out instructions in a "view only" manner or make a copy for each student in their class which allows the students to work within a Doc or other GSuite file. And, again, grading is optional. While some schools are holding students to a high bar including attendance, deadlines, and grading, others are allowing students to work at their own pace, read, explore, and engage daily challenges without worry of grades and grading. My favorite part of Google Classroom both as a parent and as a teacher is its flexibility and ease of use.

Now that Classroom is available to the "outside world," I have actually set up an "At-Home Learning" class for my two kids at home. If they run out of things to do from their teachers or the stacks (we have a card table set up with books, puzzle books, art supplies, etc.) then they can check the at-home classroom. I have posted resources and "assignments." I created to Padlets where they can share their learning and more. (I love the map option on Padlet! One I created for the kids asks them to find a "field trip" anywhere in the world and share it on the map.)

Bonus: Assignments with due dates in Classroom automatically appear on your calendar. AWESOME!

Google Hangouts/Meet

I have appreciated Google Hangouts for a long time. I use it with my kids when I'm traveling. Again, face-to-face interaction (even remotely) is important to the three of us. I have helped my kids with homework while sitting in a hotel room a hundred miles from home because Google Hangouts allowed us the opportunity. It has changed some over the years, but still is one of our favorite tools. The kids use it with other family members as well. Recently, I have used Hangouts to check in with a student I tutor. His teachers also use it for some of their class sessions during this time over remote/distance learning. Other teachers use Google Meet. Google Meet is a little more limited in what you can do if you are not part of an organization. For example, someone in a G-Suite school can start a Meet while someone with a regular/standard Gmail address cannot. A few years ago, when we first started our idea of podcasting, we used Google Hangouts and recorded. That option is no longer available, but someone conducting a Google Meet can record the session, share it Classroom, and students can come back and watch the video if they missed the original session or rewatch if needed.

Messenger Kids

This is personal. This is important. We function not just within our family, but within a "framily." My best friend from 8th grade is still my best friend today. In November, we will celebrate 30 years of friendship. She is a sister, not by blood but by circumstance. We have had our ups and downs. We have seen each other through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I am a part of a moms group that I joined when I was pregnant with Connor. Now, more than 13 years later, we are like a family. We started on iVillage back in 2006 and moved to Facebook a couple of years later. In fact, that is why I moved from Myspace to Facebook. (Yeah, I know.)

I have connected with college friends on Facebook. And, their children as well. My kids have pen pals because of my Facebook connections. When Messenger Kids launched, I gave it some thought, but kept setting it aside.

Then, I received notice that my niece and nephew were on it around the same time a friend asked me about connecting our kids. Suddenly, it had to happen. So, it did. Messenger Kids has been a blessing during this time. My kids can communicate with their cousins, pen pals, and role models. One of my best friends from college has interacted with Kiera daily and it has proved to be a positive experience for both of them. And, they may not know how much they are helping the other. However, I must say that I can see it from both sides and it is incredible to see them love each other through difficult days.

What are some digital tools helping bridge the distance for you right now? Remember, we are all in this together. Some tools work better for some people than others. I know some people prefer Zoom to Meet and vice-versa. What tools are working best for you? For you kids? For your students?

Kicking it "old school"

I have seen a lot of teachers gathering together (separately in their own cars) and driving around the neighborhoods around their schools, like a parade. What a great way to let the kids know you're thinking about them! I know Connor has always appreciated when one of his former teachers passes by and gives a honk and a wave. Imagine having a whole parade of teachers! Well done, educators! Well done!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Kitchen Time with the EdTechFamily

We love to cook.

We always have.

We have a schedule that we created to start on Monday, March 23. The schedule includes meal prep time ahead of lunch and dinner, as well as a block of time in the morning for a walk and breakfast ahead of any contact with books or Chromebooks. I count cooking in the time set aside as "creative time," as well. So if the kids want to plan or prep for a meal during that time, that fits. Additionally, on Tuesday the 24th, Kiera used part of her creative time to mend one of Connor's shirts. "I'm the sewer," she declared. (She is far better at mending things than I am in large part because of the arthritis in my thumbs.)

Paving the Way in the Kitchen

I have always included the kids in the kitchen. From a young age, Connor has done well with things such as pork roast in the slow cooker. I have a picture from 2011 with Kiera in the backpack on my back as Connor and I prepared dinner one spring evening. She was not even one-year-old, but she helping right along as a ten-month-old could.

Each summer, we spend some time with family at our Ranch near Santa Maria. During our time there, the kids team up with my aunt and uncle. This is one of the rare times we actually do "boys vs girls" and it lends itself to some fun. Sometimes, my youngest cousin participates as well. We always enjoy when our schedules sync up to allow this.  The teams then compete in what we call "Chopped: Ranch Edition." I make a list of items and do the grocery shopping. Then I put together bags (rather than baskets) for each team. The first year we did this, we had two kitchens. One was a very small kitchen in a trailer, but it allowed the teams to have their own space. Another year, they shared a kitchen and the stove had only two working burners. To say that they have operated under varying circumstances and successfully cooked interesting and delicious dishes would be an understatement.

They do well. I try to keep the ingredients somewhat tame, but interesting. My parents ultimately serve as the judges (hint: it always ends in a tie) and we all enjoy a meal together at the end. "Chopped: Ranch Edition" has helped my two learn a lot more about maneuvering around a kitchen and playing with flavors. Although Miss Kiera still has some picky eater tendencies, I have also seen her tastes grow by spending more time in the kitchen. Now if I could just get her back eating seafood.

New Normal 2020

As Spring 2020 neared, we had an international adventure where we spent all but one evening cooking meals at "home." One evening, Connor offered to cook dinner. He had minimal assistance, though I made myself available in a supporting role. He created a wonderful dinner that included sauteed chicken. The lefotver chicken was delicious cold the next day as part of our lunch. This evening in February showed me that he could do even more in the kitchen on his own now Supervision is a must, always. Still, he proved himself ready for more freedom in planning and cooking. From a small kitchen in a flat in Paris in early February to our "new normal" in mid-March, we have started exploring new ideas.

Before the shelter-in-place order came from Governor Gavin Newsom, we had a Pi Day adventure. We had to navigate the oven being out and we had planned pizza and pie, of course. So, we got creative. I found tips for making pizza in a cast iron skillet and the kids suggested making a no-bake pie. Perfect! We used a Pillsbury pizza dough, jarred sauce, and shredded cheese. We started by flattening the dough in a preheated iron skillet. After cooking the first side, we flipped it. The kids spread sauce then covered it with cheese. Each of the kids added their preferred toppings to the pizza (tomatoes and salami were top choices, giving us more circles!) and then I sprinkled a little more cheese on top. I covered the skillet to keep the heat in and cook the toppings. When the cheese had melted to the satisfaction of those who would eat it, I removed it from the heat, cut pieces and served it. The kids loved it! For the pie, we used Cool Whip, sweetened-condensed milk, and lemon juice for the filling. We picked up a couple of premade graham cracker pie crusts ahead of time. So, once we made the filling, we filled the two pie crusts and placed them in the refrigerator to chill while we made and ate the pizza. (I put a cheese board out for the adults.) When the pie was ready to serve, we all enjoyed it. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that I picked up additional supplies to make it again. We still have a lot of lemons left to use. So, we will make another batch, but we will also explore some other options for using our lemons.

No oven? No Problem

A few days later, my dad made a loaf of bread in the turkey roaster.

 I have always believed in "waste not, want not," but I have upped my game during this time as the grocery store is not real high on my list of places to visit. It has now been a week since my last grocery store trip and I have adjusted fairly well to this part of my new normal.

On Sunday evening, we found we still did not have an oven. I planned macaroni and cheese for dinner. No oven? No problem! I looked up recipes for making macaroni and cheese in the Instant Pot. I used them to follow some general guidelines and put together my own recipe. I used 16 ounces of elbow macaroni cooked in my Ninja Foodi with dry mustard, salt, and pepper. When it finished, I mixed in the additional ingredients:  a spoonful of sundried tomato cream cheese, shredded mozzarella, grated sharp cheddar, grated Swiss, and some finely grated Parmesan and about four ounces of evaporated milk. It was super cheesy and absolutely delicious. I heard great feedback from everyone in the household and that tells me it will become a part of my go-to recipes. I served it with streamed green beans and cherry Jell-O. Sunday felt like a good comfort food day. Miss Kiera had made the Jell-O previously and it hit the spot.

Using just four ounces of a 12-ounce can of evaporated milk, I sought ideas for what to do with the remaining milk. I have some ideas to keep in mind for future uses, but I went my own direction with it this morning.

Today, I made my first attempt at bacon gravy. I needed to add in some regular milk as well, but eventually it turned out ok. It resembled bacon pudding before my dad stepped in and properly thinned it out, but the flavor was good. This leads to a goal I am adding to my shelter-in-place time. I will get better at gravy making. In the meantime, I appreciated making gravy being a part of our science for the day. Connor took some video and is working on putting it all together as part of a science project for the day. We love Kitchen Chemistry and so I expect more of this to occur in the coming weeks. In fact, we're planning to make caramel sauce, compliments of a recipe my brother provided.

Let's Do This

Let me give you a glimpse behind the highlights reel.

Monday was our first fully scheduled day. I planned a lunch. As lunchtime grew nearer, Connor stepped up. Then stepped in. I set my lunch plan aside as Connor gathered ingredients for his quesadillas. He chopped onions and bell peppers. He prepped pans. Kiera emerged and offered to grate cheese. It was a perfect moment. Then, it happened. As Kiera grated cheese, the grater slipped from her hand and grated cheese flew across the kitchen. She apologized. I took a deep breath. I swept the cheese from the floor after she brushed grated cheese from my back.  I put the broom away and took another deep breath. As I returned to the kitchen, I small crash followed by an "OH NO! NOT AGAIN!" rang out. I cringed. And, in all honesty, I totally lost my cool. Grated cheese was all over the kitchen floor. I was sure our first day of this carefully crafted schedule would head south and never get back on course. This time, Kiera swept the cheese from the floor. She apologized profusely. Then returned to grating cheese. I stood by, sure that all the cheese in the house would eventually end up on the floor then in the trash can. Fortunately, everything went well from this point. Connor made individual "to-order" quesadillas for everyone in the house and they were delicious! I regained my cool and the day got back on track.

We will likely share some more kitchen adventures throughout this shelter-in-place time and beyond. We love to cook and create. We also take time to stop and enjoy the moment when we can. Tuesday afternoon included a special treat after our otherwise ordinary lunch of chicken fries and buttered corn. Stay tuned for more reflections on our adventures and learning during this time at home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Reflections from a TeacherMom: New Normal

I don't have to tell you that we are in a new normal. You've read the news. You've experienced the changes in lifestyle. You have had calendared events cancelled and you have watched as students have made the transition from going to school every day to staying home. Every parent has suddenly become a homeschool parent and every teacher is navigating distance learning or some variation of it.

I will be using my blog to share some activity ideas and some of our own experiences. Our creative time here will include videography and podcasting, so we will share our creations as well.

But what I want to do right now is stop and reflect.

I am a die-hard baseball fan. Watching as first the season was to be postponed two weeks to then being postponed indefinitely was hard. I felt the lifestyle impacts greatly. I had baseball tickets, concert tickets, a conference to attend and tickets to see "Hamilton" all between now and the end of April. I had a similar line-up on the calendar for May and I am bracing myself for those erasing from my calendar as well. But, I am a grown-up. I can recognize the disappointment while simultaneously understanding the importance of these changes. I get it. I am a huge proponent of flattening the curve. I will do my part. Yes, I am disappointed. I even teared up when the start of baseball season became postponed indefinitely. However, I rebounded quickly. "I'll get some hot dogs and we can watch the DVDs of the 2012 World Series," I planned quietly to myself. (Let me know if you find any Nathan's hot dogs. I haven't found any yet.) But, my son is 12. He will turn 13 at the end of May. This is a very self-centered time. Not judging. Simply, acknowledging. My birthday is tomorrow. My birthday plans evolved, changed, and cancelled all within a matter of a couple of days. So, I ordered myself a gift and called it good.

My son, however, was struggling some. His concert with me last Thursday was postponed to October. He actually did ok. "At least it wasn't cancelled," he said eventually. Then his last basketball game was cancelled. He sunk. Then a run we were scheduled for on Saturday was cancelled. He sunk deeper. Then, the pancake breakfast he was scheduled to work was cancelled. He was sad, frustrated, angry. I could read it a mile away. He initially took it personally. "Why are they doing this to me?" As recently as this morning, when I mentioned the cancellation of something, he had a sarcastic tone. "Let me guess, the Coronavirus?!" So then the talk got really real. I had attempted to affirm his feelings while helping him understand before. We had talked about the fact that his perfect attendance may not be worth bringing this virus into our house (we share a home with my two parents and they CANNOT get exposed to this). Each time I thought he understood, a short time later, I realized he was still not quite getting it.

But, today, he got it. And it was less about "why are they doing this to me" and more about, "this sucks and I'm scared and I'm sad."

As we rolled into the parking lot this morning to drop off the kids for their last day of school, "See You Again" by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth came on the radio. I was struck immediately. I knew something they didn't. Based on the comments of California Goveror Gavin Newsom, I knew there was a chance this was their actual last day of the school year. And, with the shift our lives has been taking, I knew this could be their last, last day. But, also, suddenly everything became more real. There is so much unknown. I have spent time reassuring parents, fellow educators, and kids. I have immersed myself in helping. Now, it all struck me. It was heavy on my shoulders and in my eyes. Tears trickled down my cheeks as I helped the kids gather their things and as I reminded them what items they needed to bring home today. I hugged Connor, just a little tighter. "It's all going to be ok, mom," he said. He walked to class and I got in the car as the song continued. Now I was missing a friend who died last year, realizing how I was experiencing a bit of mourning for the schedule I've had to clear, and thoughts back to the kids and the unknown. The unknown. I sobbed. Sobbed.

I took my car in for an oil change today. All went well. Except, they checked EVERYTHING out. Turns out my $70 oil change would result in a very expensive shocks and tires need. I am full on in the "do not put anything off" camp right now. If my car needs a repair, it gets it. Turns out, in addition to not celebrating out with friends this year, my birthday gift is such an "adulting" moment. Shocks and tires. But, here's the moment where everything shifted. As I thought about it, I realized this was the way things were to be. Originally, I had been scheduled to drive to Palm Springs today. I probably would have checked the oil, topped it off, and waited to take it to my mechanic when I got home. Folks, my tires probably would not have survived the trip to Palm Springs and back as it turned out. And here, I started seeing things differently.

Are we frustrated? uncertain? overwhelmed? YES! All of this. But, there are silver linings. There are teachers doing what teachers do. There are late-night video chats. There are new learning opportunities. And, there are tires being fixed so that we can safely drive on to the next adventure. And, that is awesome. On my way back to get the kids, U2's "Beautiful Day" played and it caused me to step back and look. It really was a beautiful day. Gorgeous! Then I sang along with Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know." Then I cued up "Seasons of Love" from Rent for a sing-along with the kids.

I picked them up. They loaded into the car. Connor's teacher came up to his window before we pulled away. "I'm really going to miss you guys," she said. And at the moment a reality hit. Hard. Connor burst into tears.

I thought he didn't really get it. Turns out. He does. And it hurts.

The connections between teachers and students is so strong, so important. Everything I wrote up to now was the just setting the scene for that moment. A seventh grade boy burst into tears today because he did not want to leave school indefinitely. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to work together to get these kids through this. My kids will be fed. They will have great experiences and learning will happen. They have a schedule mapped out and a list of household responsibilities. They are already leaning into the new normal. However, what I can't give them is the drive to and from school. They will miss their friends and they will miss their teachers. They will do some Google Hangouts and other things, but this is still going to be hard. It was never about the basketball game or anything like that. It's all about the connection. Now imagine what it's like for the kids who do not have what my kids have.

Sending virtual hugs, peace, and love to all who read this. Do what you can to bridge the gap in this time. And look for the silver linings when you can. I promise you, they are there. They just may be harder to see sometimes.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Lesson from a #TeacherMom: Teaching with Travel

I have written in the past about using real-life scenarios to teach math concepts. I have specifically shared about the investment project I have used to teach percents and percent-change in the past. It also teaches students how to budget and "invest" a hypothetical amount of money. They could easily go on to apply these concepts in real life. Other teachers offer their students budgets to make hypothetical purchases and the students have to stay within their budget. Financial planning and financial literacy are extremely important to begin teaching early. One of my best friends from high school is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and hosts a podcast titled Millenial Money. She has made it her career to follow her passion of sharing and teaching financial literacy and related concepts. Please check out Millenial Money on your preferred podcast host (iTunes and Google Podcasts both have it) if you're interested in more about this.

My post today is about teaching financial literacy and important budgeting concepts to my own children in real life, in real time. What we have experienced over the past two years or so could easily be developed into a classroom activity: Develop and Present a Travel Budget.

When at age four, my daughter kept talking about going to Paris, I promised her I would one day take her. The when and the how would have to come together over time, but I knew I would keep that promise to her and I knew it was not something either of us wanted to put off for long. Three years after that, she picked traveling to Paris, France as her tenth birthday trip. (Double-digits are special times.) Two years after that, we began the real planning. And, now a year later, we just returned from an epic adventure.

I am a single mom and a teacher. European vacations are not something that we can just pick up and do. Logistics aside, we also have to carefully plan and budget. I kept my two kids in the loop through the entire process.

First, we chose a time of year to travel that is outside of the peak season. That meant we could save on airfare. We first looked at what airfare may cost in the fall of 2018. But, we spent three months following airfares beginning last April. I had also started saving for this a year earlier. Finally, we followed the age-old suggestion of actually booking our airfare on a Tuesday. (In my experience this idea works. I just did the same thing this week for another upcoming trip and saved a few bucks.) We called the airline we selected and booked through my account with them. There were six of us total traveling together. The customer representative worked with us to get the best possible flights, best possible seats together, and best possible rate. We each would be allowed one FREE checked bag. This was kind of a big deal. No extra fees and such was important. Hint: if you Google it, you will find that February is the least expensive month to fly to France. February was the best time for us to make the trip, so this came together very nicely.

Second, because we would have six of us staying together, we knew to start looking at AirBNB options rather than hotels. Finding a place that would have room for all of us, at a reasonable rate was a priority. We looked at different flats in a few different locations. We started this search in April 2019 and revisited things more seriously in December. We booked our flat in January. We also paid for it in January. By the time the actual travel dates came around, we had already paid for airfare and lodging. This took two items off our plate and now we could focus on activities and other budget concerns.

Third, by having a flat, we knew we could eat some meals in which would save money. We planned to eat breakfast at "home" daily and most of our dinners would be eaten there as well. While in Paris, we also packed picnic lunches two of the days and we kept snacks with us. This allowed us to still eat some traditional foods, try some new things, and save some money.

Fourth, I told the kids well in advance that I would not buy souvenirs. They had to create their own budget. I was so very proud of them. They save for a few months and set money aside specifically for the trip. One week before the trip, I planned to go to the bank to exchange for Euros. They both brought me what they had saved and I took it down to exchange. They both left for the trip with a budget of about 50 Euros.

Each day of the trip, they carefully looked items over and made conscientious decisions. One of the best things I saw was Kiera on our last full day. She and I spotted a great deal in a shop. She could get 12 Eiffel Tower keychains for 5 Euros. She has 19 classmates and wanted to take something back for each of them. So, for 10 Euros, she purchased 24 keychains. She had a souvenir for herself, something for each of her classmates, something for her teacher, and three remaining to do with as she chose.

This is how we travel. The kids have an established budget and have to stick to it. I have done this with them since they were little. I do not supplement as I want them to make the decisions themselves and I need them to understand that decisions need to be made with careful thought and consideration. When Kiera was five, she ran over budget in a store at Disneyland and had to put an item back. I thanked the sales clerk for being kind in guiding Kiera through the process of hearing that she did not have enough money. She looked back at me and thanked me for what I did for Kiera in not bailing her out.

I speak openly with my children about budgets and finances because we have to make choices. They know this, but sometimes need a gentle reminder.

So, how can we take these real life experiences and apply them in the classroom?
Give students a travel budget. Within this budget, they will need to choose a place to travel, price and select airfare, budget for lodging and food, decide on transportation around their destination, and optionally include a souvenir budget. The teacher can decide what, if any, limits to place on this as far as location and what size of budget the students will work with in this project. Have students create a Google Slides presentation to show how they have applied their budget and where they will travel. Additionally, students can create a travel brochure to promote the vacation they have put together. At the end of it, get feedback from the class, perhaps having them vote on the proposed vacations and which one they would take (break it down by seasons for an added twist).

Want to include percent-related concepts in this? Have students outline a breakdown of their budget. What percent of their budget will go toward airfare? Lodging? Food?

Other travel math exercises:
Last year, I put together a travel math assignment including images from the airplane that showed outside temperature, distance to our destination, etc. For each image, I created a different question or goal. Students solved problems, wrote and solved word problems, and applied concepts we had worked on throughout the year leading up to that point in the year. (If it's -83.2 degrees F, what is the temperature in Celsius?)

History Bonus:
Travels can also open the door for great explorations into history. On our recent trip to Paris, the kids prioritized visiting the burial site of Marquis de Lafayette. He was instrumental in the success of the American Revolution before returning to France to do the same there. He is buried nearby a mass grave site for over 1300 French Revolutionaries. It is a little off the beaten path which made it a special adventure for the three of us. We had a great historical conversation and we have now started talking about future trips we would like to take to continue our historical journey.

Sweet morning dew of CUE

Let me frank. I had zero intention of attending Fall CUE this year. I was not scheduled to present and, in fact, I had another (completely unrelated) conference to attend the same weekend. Originally, I planned to attend MathCon put on by the Stanislaus County Office of Education. I committed myself to something completely unrelated, though, in the Sacramento area.

In a shift, Fall CUE would be held in the Sacramento area. I figured being committed to a conference potentially nearby, I could at least connect with fellow educators in my downtime. As the weekend neared, I saw the promos start for the keynote speeches. One of my inspirations for my math instruction was among them, the other was one I needed to reach out to for some guidance in language arts. Heck, she's a go-to for the curriculum we are using. Why wasn't I going this year? Still, I stood in my decision. I had to stay strong. I had to holdfast in my decision.

As the date grew nearer, I started helping to plan our possible affiliate meet-up or meeting. I was making calls, making my hotel reservation, and realizing just how close I would be to Fall CUE. Still, I was feeling strong in my decision. I knew it was right.

And then, it happened. My son who is also one of my math students, was scheduled to present during the Kid Booms at Fall CUE. Suddenly I was thrust into having to balance two conferences, two schedules, and thankful they were just a few short miles from each other. And, at this point, I was now scheduled to attend Fall CUE.

Obviously, I was attending differently than ever before. I was attending as a teacher and a mom for a student presenter. But, I also wanted to do what I could to keep commitments in my affiliate board role. The wonderful thing is the Connor gets excited about engaging other educators and was set to be my sidekick for the weekend. Everything came together just about perfectly.

Connor's Kid Boom was fun to watch as he developed it, but even more fun to see presented on the big stage at Fall CUE. Kid CUE Booms allow students to share their educational experiences and give educators insight into what is working, what needs some work, and what really doesn't work, all from the perspective of a student. Connor and the other Kid Boomers did an outstanding job of sharing this insight with the crowd of educators.

What made this also incredible for me was getting to see the morning keynote presented by Ed Campos. I attend his sessions whenever I can and always take away at least a little nugget of something immediately implementable in the classroom. He transformed my math teaching.

Inspired by Method Man and Mary J:
Like sweet morning dew
I took one seat at CUE
and it was plain to see
e-d-u's my destiny...

Once again I was inspired. Once again I brought home something I could use. Once again, I was refueled and ready for action.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Why I love teaching middle school

Any middle school teacher can describe it for you. It's "the look." The look you get when you tell someone you teach middle school. It's a mix of sympathy and "are you INSANE?!" last night I was at a Giants baseball game. At one point, three other middle school teachers and I commiserated about "the look." Moments later, we shared with someone that we were middle school teachers and were on the receiving end of "the look." This time, it came from a high school teacher.

It may come from a fellow educator as it did for us last night. Anyone who teaches elementary or high school or college may have it. But, it is not limited to educators. Non-educators share "the look" with people like us as well. It's a "bless your heart" sort of look.

Now, I know, I have a strong admiration for kindergarten teachers (and other primary teachers as well, but especially kindergarten teachers). I try to avoid giving them a "bless your heart" look, but do not always succeed. Still, it seems middle school teachers receive it far more than any other teacher under the sun. If you teach anything between third and sixth, you likely are less familiar with this look. Somehow people do not have the same sympathy or concern for the middle grades as they do for primary nor for intermediate/middle school. The thing is that each grade presents its own set of challenges. Each grade calls a specific person to teach it. I admire those who feel called to teach what I consider middle grades. I once thought my dream was to teach fourth or fifth grade. I found out through career directional shifts that I was called to something more. My mom is a retired eighth grade teacher. She loved everything about what she did. In the meantime, she became an inspiration without either one of us even really knowing it. After my first year teaching middle school, I talked to her about how much I loved teaching eighth grade. She laughed at me. You see, at one point, I said I would never teach eighth grade. Funny thing, eighth grade is exactly where I want and need to be.


Well, isn't that the question.

Let me start with my seventh grade year. I was bullied. My best friend at the time and I had a falling out that lasted a few months. She made friends with some eighth graders. I had a "crush" on a fellow seventh grader. Turns out, one of the eighth graders considered him her boyfriend at the time. She challenged me on the playground. You know the drill. It was the late 80s, early 90s. She approached me, a large crowd gathered around. They all hoped for a fight. I was terrified. I told my parents. They called the school. Things got worse. It was bad. She challenged me to a fight. We were to meet at the elementary school by my house. My parents arranged for me to go to my brother's babysitter's house across the street from the school. So, I did. I watched intently. I had no intention of crossing the street to the school, but I watched. She never showed. Things stopped after that. Awhile later, the girl I had considered my best friend and I reunited and she told me she had smoothed things over. I'm not sure what happened, but it was done, in the past, and life went on. Seventh grade ended and eighth grade started. It was a new year.

And the new year presented new challenges. After the first quarter, my family moved to a new town. A house my mom loved, two doors up from my grandparents, went on the market. My parents bought it. We moved. Goodbye to the friends I had known since second grade, the best friend I had been through ups and downs with and recently reconciled with after a hiatus. Goodbye French class which I had enrolled in with enthusiasm and high expectations. Goodbye house. Goodbye.

And yet, there was also hello. Hello to new friends and new adventures. It was not easy, but it was something I could seemingly manage. Teachers who now instructed me knew my mom. The boy I had crushed on at the end of my seventh grade year was a year ahead of me and one of my mom's students. He was attending a high school in the district I moved to and that was kind of cool. There was a mix of anxiety and hope. Eighth grade is a really difficult year to change schools. But, there are positives to change, as well.

Turns out, the difficulties outnumbered the positives. I really struggled. I was sick, or "sick," more than I had ever been before in my life. I did not want to go to school. But, I had met a new friend. In fact, over time, she became my very best friend and is now more like a sister to me. It was far from easy, but there were teachers who made the difference. And, my new best friend made a difference. It only takes one good thing, one strong thing, to make a world of difference. I ran track and loved it. I confided in teachers. There was even a substitute teacher who influenced me incredibly positively. Over time, I came to accept this new place and these new people as home. I went on to high school with these folks. I attended that high school for my freshman and senior years. In between, I took a journey to the LA County High School for the Arts. Long story short, I returned to my "regular high school" for my senior year due to family reasons and family needs. When I returned, I was welcomed back with open arms. I got reinvolved with Whittier HS theater and even won an award for my performance in the fall play. All of it was pretty cool. Now, to reiterate, it was one friend and a couple of teachers who made the difference for me in eighth grade and that impacted my path forever. The boy I "crushed" on who was a student of my mom's, is still my friend today. We have a chance to visit every couple of years when he travels from his ("new") home in Australia back to the States. My "new" eighth grade best friend lives 20 minutes from me (we both moved to the Central Valley immediately after graduation; turns out we were destined to be "besties" for life and that's why I consider her my sister). But the difference made by teachers had a lasting impact as well.

I love being an eighth grade teacher because I know how hard eighth grade can be. When a student joins my eighth grade class, I know what to look for and how to look out for them because I once was a new student in a close-knit eighth grade class. I work in a school with far smaller class sizes, so it is a little different, but I generally can relate. I listen. I hear. I strive to do right by each student who is likely having their own set of difficulties. Some are more interested in personal relationships than others. Some have academic struggles. Some need more challenges academically. All of this is a part of eighth grade. Each student is unique. Each student has needs that I look forward to helping meet. That is my role, my job, my passion.  The greatest part of this is that I also love the curriculum.

The language arts and science are incredible and the history I get to cover with students is among my favorite. In fact, my love for "Hamilton: An American Musical" has joined with my passion for teaching eighth grade and awesomeness abounds.

Eighth grade is a challenging year for students, but it also can be very special. It takes a teacher with a heart for it all: the students, the struggles, the curriculum-- to see a group of students through the challenges and triumphs of eighth grade. While I understand "the look" when you send it in my direction, know this, I don't need a "bless your heart response" but rather, a "thank you for what you do." Still, you will look at me as you will, and that's ok. To the high school teachers, you know someone needs to do what I do. And as such, I know you appreciate what I (and others like me) do. So, thank you for "the look." To primary teachers, I know that I cannot do what you do and that I appreciate what you do. (I did my student teaching in kindergarten and third grades, and my teaching career started with second graders, so I know what you do presents its own challenges.) I thank you for sending me the students you do. To the non-teachers, I know that we all have a role to play in this world. Thank you for thinking highly of what I do, appreciating what I do. To my middle school friends and teachers, thank you for helping to make me who I am today. Thank you for showing me what helps make eighth grade awesome.

And to my eighth graders (past, present, future), thank you for being you. Thank you for the opportunity to be your teacher.