Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Kicking up a little dust for the harvest

As summer winds down, yet temperatures stay up, the harvest begins. For several years, the drive between home and work took me past beautiful open fields, cattle lining fences, and, of course, the vast almond and walnut orchards that make our Valley what it is. Harvest season is on the horizon. This is the time of year that fog is not yet a concern, but one still must drive cautiously and aware of possible visibility issues due to dust. As the shakers and sweepers make their way down rows of almond orchards, to collect this year's harvest, the dust kicks up. As much as many of us wince and complain about the dust, we know it is necessary and we appreciate what it means for our Valley. You gotta kick up a little dust to provide the harvest and we all benefit from it.

I reflected on this part of our Valley as I continued to prepare notes for my last Google Innovator application in 2019. Sometimes, innovative educators are kicking up dust around their school sites as they provide for the learning experiences of their colleagues and the students we all serve. Sometimes, we are kicking up dust in other ways. Anyone who has spent more than about a minute on Twitter can see that no two educators are exactly the same.

There are times when kicking up a little dust ruffles some feathers, but ultimately is accepted and appreciated. There are also times that it does not play out quite as nicely, but it does benefit the students. Teachers across the United States and around the world can relay stories of things they have done with and for their students only to have it underappreciated or even criticized. The end result of student achievement, or more importantly, student learning, though is what teachers strive for with each thing they try.

More and more teachers find themselves exploring new and innovative ideas for learning especially now that the face of education has shifted to primarily distance (or remote) learning formats. Among the educators doing incredible things you will find a few who really have taken the lead. 

Southern California educator Kim Voge has spent the summer sharing out some incredible ideas to help teachers with work flow and instruction. Another great resource is Central Valley educator Ed Campos.  If you need ideas, inspiration, or even just a voice to help you filter best practices, these two educators and many others like them are ones you can and should follow on Twitter. I also recommend the KQED MindShift Twitter page for interesting share-outs and resources. I have used many articles they have shared in recent weeks to feed my brain and my heart. Now is also a great time to register with CUE and become involved with your local affiliate.

Don't be afraid to kick up a little dust. If you try something and it works for you and your students, you know you are doing something right. If you try something, and it doesn't quite work, it's ok to shelve it and move forward. One of my kids' teachers has done just that. She tried something new for the math exit tickets. It did not work as well as she thought, so she scrapped it and went back to the original way that seemed to work better. The kids have followed her lead and have shown their resiliency and ability to "go with the flow." As I wrote recently, we must practice grace with each other: teachers, students, and parents. I think that is precisely what I have seen happening in many of my kids' classes. I can only hope to witness it more broadly throughout education as more schools begin.

Once the dust settles, we will reap the benefits of a bountiful harvest. Our kids will be okay. They are not falling behind, but rather, moving ahead differently. If we can keep a positive attitude as educators and parents, they can and will as well. We have imperfect days, but as I often say, we are perfect in our imperfections. The dust will settle, I assure you. And when it does, we should look back on this time of learning as the opportunity to grow.

What new tools have you selected to use? How are they working so far? Who do you follow on Twitter that you think others should follow as well? What is your best resource right now?

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Begin each day with grace

Note: I first started writing this blog post in the spring. We were in the midst of throwing some things together, working hard, and doing our best to make the most out of what has been described as a "crisis situation." As we enter a new school year, memories of the spring are still fresh in everyone's minds and there is an understandable level of concern and frustration as school begins anew. The difference now, of course, is that teachers have had more time to adjust to, plan, and prepare for the current learning environment.

Our new normal has given me a glimpse at both sides of the screen. As I work with students and Girl Scouts, I know the amount of preparation that needs to go into working with them. I am also working with and watching as teachers as they continue to prepare for the start of school. So, to students and parents, I can assure you that your teachers and leaders are working very hard to give you the best possible opportunities during this time. What you will experience as fall terms begin will likely look different than what you experienced in the spring. Like their students, teachers were thrust into new approaches in mid-March. With little to no notice, schools closed their doors and sent students, teachers, and staff home with the idea that some semblance of learning would continue.

I want to share some of what I also see on the parent side of things. I know I am not alone in being an educator with kids of my own at home right now. You may have seen similar things to what I have. You may have had different experiences completely. I would appreciate hearing from you in the comments.

What I have seen includes the best of all circumstances as well as some of the worst and most frustrating. One day in the spring, I watched as my then almost 13-year-old melted. He had some difficulty getting signed in for his Zoom and ended up clicking in a few minutes late. At that point, the teacher had not yet started using the "doorbell" feature Zoom offers and she had already started a lesson that had her reading from a book, so she overlooked the notification that my son had entered the waiting room. So, he sat. And sat. And waited. He waited some more. I texted the teacher. He put his head down on the desk, on the verge of tears. (It turned out, she did not have her phone nearby either.)

As the class time neared the end, she saw that she had students in the waiting room and admitted them to the meeting. By this point, my son had nearly given up completely. Thankfully, the teacher went through the material missed so the students who had spent most of the class in the waiting room had the opportunity to learn. A relief washed over my son's face, but I knew he still had some settling to do. My thinking is that by this point, he and others like him would not absorb as much as they would had they not spent 30 minutes in the waiting room, but at least they were exposed to that day's material. I spoke with the teacher later and talked her through the settings so the doorbell would alert her to someone entering the waiting room. Once she had that setting in place, things were much easier for her and for the students. I witnessed a similar experience with my then fourth grader. She experienced a connection disruption and got booted from the Zoom. She got back online and entered the waiting room, and there she sat. To say she grew restless, frustrated, and agitated would be an understatement. Ultimately, she made it back into her class. Like her brother, she felt relieved, but remained somewhat unsettled for the duration.

Expectations of students, teachers, and parents varies district to district and even school to school. Just as curricula and teacher methods vary. Variances such as these are not new. As we enter the fall, we see a shift, of course in expectations. What happened in the spring mattered. Many schools did not grade or did not put as much emphasis on grades, but what happened mattered. Students still learned. Some of that learning came in the form of less formal synchronous sessions. Some came from asynchronous class activities. Some came from the integration of new technology and tools. Some came from chalking on sidewalks, planting gardens, sewing masks, cooking with their families, canning jams, and reading new books and magazines.

Now, here we are with a new beginning in a setting that has become familiar. In many circumstances, our kids remain at home as the new school year begins. Meanwhile, many teachers will teach from their classrooms at their schools. Expectations have shifted for everyone. Still, only a couple of days into the new school year, I have already seen some frustration at home.

First day of school: my now fifth grader sat down at her Chromebook ten minutes before school start time. She did not see the link for her Google Meet. She had watched the intro video put out by the district and felt well-prepared for the first day, and then, she found she wasn't quite. She reloaded and checked again. Then again. "Mommy, my stomach hurts," she said, holding back tears. Her anxiety shot through the roof. Then, suddenly she exclaimed, "oh look! There it is!" What I discovered was that she had looked for a new post from her teacher to appear in the stream. Based on her previous experiences, she expected to see a link posted in the stream. This year things are a little different. The link appears in the top header of her Google Classroom Class. She's managing better as she settles into the new routine.

Second day of school: The county office of education experiences an issue with their Internet. This takes down the Internet in our local district as well. The fifth grade teacher notices this, rushes home, and starts class pretty much on time. In the meantime, my eighth grader sits down at his computer and tries multiple times each class period to join the class Meets. He remains committed throughout the day and completes some "special assignments" I give him. Although disappointed by not having any synchronous sessions for his classes, he survives the day and remains hopeful for Monday, Day 3.

I understand setting the expectations bar high, but what those expectations include should also include an expectation of grace. Of course, we want students to show up for their classes. Yes, attendance can, should, and will be taken. I have read of some district policies where students will be counted as absent if they drop out of the synchronous learning time. This policy lacks much needed grace. We know the inequity that exists all too well already. If a student lives in a rural area or otherwise lacks consistent Internet access, it may well be that their Internet dropped. If a student tries to return to the class meeting, the teacher should admit the student back in and the student should still count as present. If a student has login issues with any of the programs used, support should be offered. We will experience issues of varying degrees as we navigate this process. We can and we must start from a point of grace.

As I picked up materials for my eighth grader and a Chromebook for my fifth grader the week before the start of school, I had the opportunity to talk with a couple of people. Firstly, I thanked every person I could for their work in preparation for the start. Then, I expressed gratitude and talked about grace. The "we're all in this together," statement has become a bit cliche, regardless of how true it is and regardless of how sincere people are when they express it.

We absolutely must practice grace daily, all the way around.

Let's begin at the beginning. We must all remember that in most districts, teachers may or may not have had a seat at the table when discussions took place planning for the year ahead. Please remember this. Whether you love, like, or hate the plan your district has decided to implement, please remember that we still must practice grace with each other: our teachers, our colleagues, our students, our children.

In the midst of frustration (which surely everyone will experience at some point or another), I encourage you to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember to find a point of grace in your heart. I do the same for myself and ask the same of my children. No reason to wait for frustration, though. We can begin each day with grace. We can demonstrate graciousness toward each other in the good, as well.


Regardless of what language you say it in or how you spell it, the word is as recognizable as the action that can come with it. In fact the word for grace is the root for how "thank you" is expressed in Italian and Spanish. Everyone is working hard. Teachers put forth their best efforts to create lessons and engage students. Students sit down, login, and try to keep up with the lessons taught. Parents do what they can to support their children in their learning. As all work to do our best to make the most out of the current circumstances, let us be filled with grace and demonstrate gratitude. As I wrote previously, we have an opportunity to do wonderful things. We can transform education. We must first come from a place of grace and work toward understanding each other. If we can hear each other and communicate clearly and respectfully, then we can really get to where opportunity waits. Then we can do even more incredible things.

We can do this. We can and will do this together. Remember to stay gracious and when needed, take a step back, take a deep breath, and try again.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Education here and now: Opportunity is knocking. Will we open the door?

The tunnel may look dark at times, but look closely
and find the light. It is there and we can hop on and go!
(Photo by Rebekah Remkiewicz)
For the past several weeks, my household of educators has talked at great length about education of the past, but more importantly, education of the future.

As districts nationwide look at what learning will look like as the school year begins, there is a bigger picture to consider. Some are equating distance or remote learning with schools being closed; however, we can and should look at things much differently. Classes may not take place within the walls of the classroom, but schools will open.

We have talked for years about breaking down the walls of the classroom to build learning into something more than reading from textbooks and filling in worksheets. We now have the opportunity to do that and so much more.

We first and foremost have to stop looking at the current situation as a problem that needs fixing and start looking at it as an opportunity. We have a golden opportunity to transform education, here and now. We can change education for the better. We can make a difference and create positive change. It is dangerous to threaten schools with the idea of pulling funding. If you think schools being physically closed equates to them being non-operational, you are not paying close enough attention. Teachers across this country and around the world have worked hard, many on their own time, to prepare and learn for the ever-changing challenges ahead and to bring the best to their students. Administrators, teachers, cafeteria workers, and other school employees have worked to invest their time to be a part of this transformation process, and they will continue to do so.

We have an opportunity to shift toward those things we know are right and that we know work. Among those, we should look at later start times. We can meet students where they are and bring them along on an educational journey. California plans to shift to later start times within the next couple of years. Let's start now. Students can begin their asynchronous learning in the late morning and meet for synchronous sessions in the afternoons.  We cannot do remote learning -- which is different than crisis learning (as we experienced in the spring) -- the same way we do in-classroom instruction. We cannot expect students to sit in front of their screens for hours at a time. We should have them DOING learning. Have them plant a fall garden. How will it be different than a garden they planted in the spring? Provide them with canvases and paint pictures that demonstrate something they learned in their history instruction. Promote reading novels and have them create book trailers. Really dive into the writing process. Have them write everything from poetry to short stories to news articles. Is it a challenge? Absolutely. Is it a problem? No. It is a challenging opportunity to create change.

"Students will fall behind," some argue. Fall behind who? Fall behind in what? And, by what measure? If we do learning differently, then outcomes will also look different. Different does not mean bad. Different, quite simply, is just that. Different.

We can be at the forefront. We can be leaders in the changing tide of education. We can protect our teachers, students, and families while seeing this as an opportunity rather than a problem. In addition to growing gardens, students can build things at home, cook, and learn through those processes. We are on the cusp of a shift. Let's make it happen.

From Joe Sanfelippo's LDI Keynote address on Saturday,
July 25, 2020. We must help people see the INVESTMENT
that is education. (Photo by Rebekah Remkiewicz)
I attended a (virtual) conference keynote on Saturday. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout Joe Sanfelippo's keynote. He shared many things that fell right in line with the conversations that I have had at home with my retired educator parents, in forums and phone calls with friends who are educators, and in study with fellow educators. One of the biggest take-aways of his keynote, for me, was that the time has come that we help people stop seeing school as something we pay for and start seeing it as an investment. I have read far too many times where people want to demand their tax dollars back because they don't have school-age children or they see remote learning the same as school closures. What if we did more to help them see that those tax dollars are actually an investment in the future for everyone. Education is the very foundation upon which careers are built. We guide students through so much that ultimately benefits so many. And we can continue to do this and we can make it even better and better.

We can unlock the potential this opportunity offers us as educators.
(Photo by Rebekah Remkiewicz)
Before people start entertaining the idea of cutting funding (which will cut salaries), they need to think about the teachers who have responded to texts and emails even in the middle of the night. Before the pandemic, if I saw a message come through from a parent or had a student reach out for help on an assignment, I did not stop and look at the clock. I did what needed to be done. Since March, many teachers have continued to do this and moreso. They see that assignments are being completed late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. They have a communication roll through from a concerned parent. They see what needs to be done, and they do it. Additionally, many teachers have invested time in training and more to continue to build their skills and add to their toolbox so that they can prepare their instruction for remote learning. They give of their time and of their talent and through a passion for education to provide the best possible learning for students. This is just a part of the educational investment we make.
We can travel this path of opportunity together.
(Photo by Rebekah Remkiewicz)
There exist some very legitimate concerns about access. I know some things are happening behind the scenes in districts everywhere to help with this, but I have a few thoughts as well. One, get Google and/or Microsoft to team up with Acer, HP, and other manufacturers to make sure every school district is one-to-one. Perhaps Apple can help with this as well. iPads for TK-2 and laptops/Chromebooks for grade three and up. Two, districts can team up with AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and other Internet sever providers to make sure all families with school-age children have Internet access. Perhaps treat it similar to free and reduced lunch when discussing pricing. Three, stagger start times and synchronous learning sessions. A family with multiple children may have a lot of difficulty with multiple synchronous learning sessions for hours at a time. This must be considered by every school and district. We want our students to show up. Some may feel left out before they even start. Attendance and accountability are important, but we must give students the reason to want to show up and the ability to stay there once they do. If they know they will be marked absent if their connection fails in the middle of a synchronous session, what motivation do they have to rejoin the session? Five, we absolutely must act with grace across the board. Grace for our students. Grace for our teachers. Grace for our administrators. Grace for our families. We can see this current situation as a problem and institute strict guidelines that will potentially burn out teachers, students, and families; or, we can see this as an opportunity to do something EDUAWESOME.

We may never have another opportunity such as this. Let's be the change. We are the change. Our students and families deserve it.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

It's ok...to 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 occurred...in 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.