advisory party

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This afternoon I was anxious about lunch. My advisees, (9 students who I support and advise throughout the duration of their high school experience) wanted to go off campus for lunch. Not just that, but they wanted to go to Shake Shack which is notoriously crowded.  Of course, the idea of lunch off campus was totally appealing, but the reality of getting everyone there, fed, and back in time for their next class was intimidating. Despite my concerns, I went with it. Why not?  I mean my time with them is so limited and we enjoy our time together so much that I got in the car and drove over to our luncheon.

Once there it became apparent that they not only invited me to lunch to enjoy burgers together but also to celebrate the baby-to-be.  They brought “It’s a Boy” balloons and a celebration cake that said “Congratulations” in blue to the table and were too cute with their surprise. They giddily shared how they planned the whole thing and how they tried so hard not to ruin the surprise. There thoughtfulness was truly touching.  The night before this surprise, I had shared with David how hard it feels sometimes to be the first friend in my primary friend circle to have a baby. Not only will a baby change the friend dynamics but I sometimes feel like this momentous event in which my body and my life will forever be defined as “before” and “after” baby is moving by fairly unnoticed. Of course, I in no means expect constant celebration but it sometimes feels that talking about the baby-to-be among friends isn’t always popular.  Rationally I know that life gets in the way of life and that everyone is busy with the events, family, and moments that are most directly connected to them, but it meant so much to me today to celebrate and share with my advisees.  I am going to be devastated when this group of talented, kind, and funny students graduate in another year but I am so thankful to have gotten to know them so well and to share in their journey, just as they have shared in mine.

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hr of code

Anybody can learn to code is the mantra of Code.org and it became ours on the morning of December 9, 2013. From 9:00AM-10:00AM teachers throughout the school led students through a variety of tutorials and activities that connected their specific course content to coding. Simultaneously, teachers throughout the United States and beyond worked in a similar fashion to highlight not only the significance of coding in today’s world but the practicality (and necessity) of it.

 

While December 9 represented a synchronized effort to coordinate the entire school’s coding experience, it was not the first time Beaver students and teachers implemented code into their classes. Visual Art teacher, David Ingenthron, worked with students in the first term of school on developing their student portfolios. When one student asked if he could incorporate designs he composed using Pencilcode.net, David not only said of course but asked the student to demonstrate his work to the class and help facilitate a lesson that inspired his peers to code and design alongside him. The final products were quite surprising. Here is one example Swirly Thing. Similarly, in Joe Christy’s math class students not only engaged in coding from a math perspective but also coded data that was not exclusive to a “calculus specific” course (i.e. Wiretapping). By allowing coding to live outside of its stereotypical comfort zones of math and science, students at Beaver are able to not only learn the mechanics of a coding language but create and imagine new possibilities for coding.

 

So what did teachers do on December 9 exactly? Many members of the faculty started at the very beginning for their students with questions such as: What is coding? What are some coding languages? Where do we see coding today? Why do people code? Why does Beaver code? These conversations set a context for the hour of code, generated ideas, and provided insights for the teacher on how exactly to implement and differentiate the coding activities that were about to follow. A number of teachers used the tutorials provided by the Khan Academy for the day of coding, including tutorial I and tutorial II for some members of the English Department. Josh Rilla, in the English Department, “Experimented with Codetry.” In Visual Arts, teachers used pencilcode to design line drawings and challenged the students to reflect on incorporating coding into their creative process. In performing arts, teachers used both activities from Khan Academy and Code.org. In the Middle School, Yolanda Wilcox-Gonzalez, Michelle Wildes, and Lindsay Rich turned the hour of code into a day of coding for their combined 8th grade classes.

 

They started the day with introducing the kids to what coding was and had them use the tutorials provided by Khan Academy to begin.  During the next two classes, they provided two challenges, one that was History-English related, and the other related to science. For History/English, students had to code a program that allowed them to create an infographic showing statistical data of the migration of Puerto Ricans and Polish people to the United States from 1879 until 1970.  Students are currently reading West Side Story in English class and they thought giving students an idea about the migration of these two groups into the United States would provide some background knowledge of the experience for each group while also exposing them to practical and authentic coding. For Science, Michelle taught students about ocean organisms and students created codes for programs in which they drew and animated one of the ocean organisms they studied (fish, turtle, whale, shark, sea star, jelly, lobster).  Here are a few examples of student work: Ben – Fish, Ryan – Sea Urchin, Kalala – Immigration.

 

It was clear after my own hour of code that once the students overcame their initial hesitancy around “doing it right” and just dove in, they were willing to play with coding, make mistakes, and rework their understanding, initial goals, and outcomes. The students that started at the very beginning with a simple drawing of a square were proud of their accomplishments and eager to push further into coding and brainstormed excitedly about how they could use coding again. It was an excited morning as students from 6th through 12th grade grappled with coding, created something new, and challenged themselves and their teachers to think critically on how to make coding an authentic and consistent part of everyday.

school days.

Whoa! It has been almost two months since school started.  Perhaps my silence is a testament to the whirlwind that the start of the academic year presents. From back to school meetings, to setting up the physical space, to welcoming students back, each and every day was full, full, FULL. Of course, this is the good kind of busy.  Ironing out the kinks of classroom presentation, connecting with students, and plowing through lesson plans and grading make the start of the school year a sprint.  Each day while I leave exhausted, I also leave satisfied knowing that I am tapping into the part of myself that is excited to learn again among my students and tapping into the creative power of my students. As I sit with a stack of papers next to my desk, I am mindful that while this is the hard part of being a teacher, one by one it will all get done.  As a fifth year teacher, I am amazed by how much is still new and by the subtle ways in which I am more prepared than ever for the daily classroom occurrences.  It has been a busy start to the year, but it has been a good start.  I am looking forward to seeing where my classes go this year as they continue to build their community, challenge the course materials, and create their own content.

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first day & partner

Today was my first day back in the classroom with students. It always feels good to start using my teacher muscles again. At 7:15AM I felt nervous about my first class. It was as though I had forgotten how to walk and talk at the same time. Feeling stiff and out of place, I began to think about what it must be like to be a new freshman. At least I had some experience at this school and knew familiar faces. Quickly I sought to snap out of myself and begin doing what I love: engaging students, getting to know them, and getting them started on their work. As soon as they were in their seats the “teacher dust” brushed off and I could feel my old self again and it felt great. Watching them collaborate – even briefly – on the first task was invigorating.

Despite the energy of the day, I left school feeling wiped out. Where had all of my stored up energy from the summer gone?  Upon reflection, this wave of fatigue was most likely caused by dehydration. Somehow I had gone the whole day without drinking water!  Crazy how once you are in the zone something as simple as drinking water is forgotten. When I picked up David at the T, I was so thankful that he took over the wheel and immediately turned on his “partner role.” I was completely swept up in his love and care. We arrived home and I settled on the couch equipped with a giant ice water and David cooked up a storm. He prepped and cooked us Thai noodles, which are my favorite! I ate a giant bowl in my pjs. Afterwards, he cleaned up. It was perfect. David could read me when he first got in the car and knew exactly how to take care of me after my first day. Finally after being rehydrated and fed, I was able to share stories from the first day of my fifth year of teaching. While I am still tired (I expect to get a good night of sleep) I look forward so much to tomorrow!

back to school

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It has started. The back to school commercials are in full force. Delighted parents run up and down the aisles of Target filling their carts with folders, pencils, clothes, and backpacks. Happy music plays in the background while their frowning children walk listlessly behind them. Of course, August is still the summer, but with the arrival of August comes the arrival of back to school anxiety dreams for me. These commercials don’t help either.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I am so lucky not only to have the summers off to pursue my other interests, spend time with friends and family, and travel, but when I head back into the school year it is to a truly amazing school filled with superb co-workers and dynamic students.  But, even though I do actually work in Edutopia, I still get those pesky anxiety dreams. They are always the same. Imagine:

I arrive back to school to only find out that the schedule I have been following all day is wrong and I am missing all of my classes. Or, I arrive to class only to realize that I have not planned a single lesson and am frozen in front of the students and, of course, I am wearing my yoga pants too!  Or, and this is my favorite kind of anxiety dream, I walk into my class totally unprepared.  I stare blankly at the students who begin to roll their eyes at me and suggest my teaching ignorance, only to fall flat on my face and break a tooth and I am in my yoga pants! AH!  Waking up in a cold sweat, I remind myself that (a) I am such a type A personality that I could never not be prepared for a class and to just relax and (b) I am still 3 weeks away from the start of school and as with every year once I am back it is like riding a bicycle and the teaching muscles will remember what to do and the kids will inspire me and the summer haze will fade into a crisp Fall. And being at school will be the exact place where I am suppose to be.

Dear Summer,

Please go a little bit slower.

Sincerely,

An Anxious Teacher

“Dear Summer,

Please go faster.

Sincerely,

A Crazed Parent” @NikkiMoff

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blogher ’13

I went to Chicago envisioning a certain type of conference experience. As a newbie to blogging, I desperately sought new tips and techniques for enhancing my blog’s look, function, and readership. Days prior to the flight, I read through all of the BlogHer Conference materials, highlighted which sessions I wanted to attend, and looked through the attendee list for bloggers I wanted to meet. The plan, goal and purpose was clear and prepared.

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Once at McCormick Place, however, all of these shifted. Walking through the doors of the convention center, I assumed I was flying solo throughout the sessions. Of course, I would mingle, smile, and small talk, but was I really going to build strong connections? I was skeptical and kept my expectations low and my priorities straight a head of me.  Then I walked into the newbie breakfast. It was immediately obvious that the women at this event were vibrant, intelligent, passionate women who were here in fact to make real connections to similarly competent and confident female bloggers. Excitement overtook my previous desires for skills like: search engine optimization and monetizing your email list. I decided then to go with my gut from session to session. Ending up in completely different places then expected, I had a blast. From Instagram Style, to Girls Coding, to how to use social media tools without being a tool, I got a smattering if blogging ideas and along the way connected with some pretty awesome gals.

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The session that left the largest impression though was Sheryl Sandberg’s interview on Lean In and the LeanIn.org. In the morning prior to my cup of coffee, I rode the escalator up to the main floor of the convention center. Ahead of me was a woman in a crisp white suit jacket. In my hazy brain I thought, “Gosh that woman is quite peppy for this early and dressed immaculately,” as she leaned over to strike up conversations with those around her. As we disembarked the escalator and made our way to Starbucks, I realized that this friendly woman was Sheryl. She listened with great intention to the women around her and seemed genuinely interested in their personal anecdotes. In the later session, she maintained this presence which was captivating. While some find her message contentious, I found it inspiring. As a young female teacher, I am often confronted with gender bias about my career choice and I see this bias playing out in the halls of the school. Sheryl is accurate when she notes that the major corporations and government positions are filled by men. Case in point, Massachusetts recently elected its first female senator, Elizabeth Warren. While women represent an ever growing number of college graduates, women are still confronted with “or” statements.  Do you want to be a successful business executive OR do you want to be a successful mom? “And” statements seem reserved for men. Society and the media do not often question a man’s ability to run a company and be a father. And here, I am reminded of the documentary MissRepresentation which focuses on “how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence.”

Sheryl’s message isn’t that new.  She believes in women and she is proud of where women are and she shed light on real inequalities that exist between the genders.  And, in this post-feminist world, she is merely asking women to reflect on where they are and to ask themselves, “What would you do if you were not afraid?”  It is quite a difficult question. I might answer it in the following ways:

(1) Live a little. Stop being so worried about what other people will think or how something might be perceived and just do it.

(2) Take more risks at work. Speak up about myself more and believe in my potential.

(3) Engage more authentically with those in power and not shy away from the opportunities to do so.

Sheryl noted in her interview that young girls are often described by parents, teachers, friends, etc. as bossy.  When she asked the crowd, “Who here has ever been called bossy as a young girl?” 90% of the audience raised their hands. Instead she said we need to change our language and mindsets.  Those little girls are not aggressive they are demonstrating “strong executive leadership skills.” Bias runs deep and starts early and what is most important is finding your voice, believing in it, and using it.

When I walked into BlogHer ’13 I thought I would get a quick dirty list of to-dos for my blog, but straying from this goal led me to more deeply reflect on what it means to be a woman and to lean in.

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sewing 101

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A few months ago I blogged about a book I read called the Creative Family. Its discussion on creativity and the importance of crafting made quite the impression. Her message of steering clear of focusing on one’s mistakes resonated with the perfectionist in me. When knitting, I am quickly discouraged by my project as soon as I make one mistake (which inevitably occurs as I am new to the hobby). Instead of harping on the snag and wanting to throw the item away before it is completed, she suggested understanding the beauty and character of those mistakes. She writes, “ The work of homemade is never perfect, and that’s the beauty of it.” As a DINK (double income no kids), I have a lot of free time in the summer.  This is not to make anyone jealous. I so very much want to have children but David and I have some financial goals we would like to reach before we expand our little family. So with this free time, I tend to be bored. As David can attest, I am not good at “relaxing.”  Relaxing is not in my vocabulary.  Yes, you can definitely find me lounging and nursing my post-school year hangover for the first two weeks of summer vacation.  But by week three, I am typically stranded in a sea of free time.  I want to try to avoid burning through money but I don’t want to be locked up in my house watching endless movies, so I find summer vacation to be bittersweet at times.  I love to read but after so many hours of this in a single day, I need something else.

That’s where crafting comes in. I was invited to a friend’s place on Tuesday to learn how to sew. Heather was beyond patient with me as she went over the Singer sewing machine set before us. I now know how to thread the needle, prepare the bobbin, and sew a “straight” line.  We practiced on a little draw-string purse made from some “scrap” materials. After this thirty minute entry into the world of sewing, Heather helped me pick out some beautiful material from JP Knit & Stitch and we started to plan out a fabulous tote bag project for the afternoon.  We paused for lunch at the new Clover in Brookline and by the time David was out of work, I had completed what I think is a pretty impressive tote bag.  I cannot sing Heather’s praises enough. She helped me get started, she encouraged me, and she and I joked the whole time about the bag being “perfect” and how we both struggle with the perfectionist’s curse/blessing.  Yet, the sad part of this is that while I left her house with the sewing machine and tote, she will be leaving on Sunday for Germany.  I am going to miss her and her husband, Robin, so very much.  In four years, they have become such dear friends. I am just so glad to have spent such a fun, challenging, and hilarious day with the two of them right before their departure. And, that tote will always been a great reminder of our lesson, friendship, and how I need to get my bum out to Germany to visit them ASAP!

professional development session 1

My school has been a fountain of professional development opportunities. Each year, I have been lucky to have the opportunity to attend one (but most often more than one conference). This summer, I will be attending three. My first session started this morning and it has been interesting. I signed up to learn more about the Flipped Classroom. I have played with this concept in my class and have found that it is a helpful tool for teachers though it is not a “silver bullet” in how every class should be run. It does add meaningful individualized learning opportunities when done well. Yet, when done poorly, it can come across as passive video watching. I like the idea of the flipped classroom because it creates an interesting way to break up the typical homework of reading in a history classroom and create an environment in which there can be more interaction and intention when student head home.

This session has been interesting although not groundbreaking. This was definitely an introduction level program and while it cemented my understanding of what the concept of a Flipped Classroom is, it did not share too many fresh insights, examples, or technologies. Nonetheless, I am pretty excited with a few new classroom technologies that I hope to play around with over the summer including: videonot.es, hapyak, and padlet.

The really great part of PD though is being able to be a student again.  I forget sometimes what it is like to be a student.  How long have I been sitting here?  When is the next break?  How could I spice this up? Oh man, do I sound like that too? These are all just a few of the questions flooding in and out as I participate in this session. I learn so much as a student about the content that is being shared in the course but, more importantly, from how the instructor instructs and how the learning is learned. Observation is key in these moments and I am soaking up an array of divergent and interesting ideas to sharpen my own classroom skills and whether that is with the Flipped Classroom model or not is still under construction.

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the goodbye blues….

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At exactly 12:00PM today, summer vacation begins. In September, this day seemed to be years away. In between there would be quizzes, tests, and papers to grade. There would be students to get to know, knowledge to share, and challenges to overcome. Yet today after a full year of school saying goodbye for the summer is bittersweet. The teens are exuberant.  They bounce from friend to friend giving hugs and smiles as they sit for their last all school meeting and make plans for tomorrow. I sometimes wish someone would hold a finish line in the parking lot for all of them and us to run through and celebrate another year’s conclusion. Some students will receive awards for their tremendous work this year and we will all be so proud of their commitment to excellence. And yet, while in the throes of celebrating this momentous end, I am also sad to watch it. Never again will this particular group of students, with this particular energy, and connection meet as a collective in the way we have met everyday since September. Of course, they will come to say hi but this collective class (my class) will disperse and become members of other classes. By September, they will be taller and older (and hopefully wiser). Don’t get me wrong, I very much look forward to my summer vacation too, but saying goodbye to my students is so hard. I truly enjoy each and every one of them, even the ones that can be a little challenging from time to time are so important to me. As i wrap up my fourth year of teaching, I have learned so much from my students and my colleagues.  I am proud of how much I have grown this year as an educator and excited to set new goals for next year. Today, I will say goodbye to these students, to this year, and to this place…..until September.

summer to do

Lists make me happy. Each day, I write myself a “to-do” list and revel in crossing off items, highlighting items, and adding new tasks. In an odd way, I feel like a superstar when I complete the list. Praise is showered down “you did it,” “look how organized you are,” and “wow, how did you ever get all of that done in a single day.”  While this is a little crazy, it is innately a part of me. Each morning, I arrive to my classroom and start a new fresh list for a new fresh day. So to feel a little less stressed about the end of the school year, I have decided to focus on the summer and all of the stuff I plan/hope to get accomplished:

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  1. Organize the Basement (go through the last of the moving boxes and make some shelving so items can be more easily located).
  2. Finally bring the last boxes to the recycling center
  3. Paint front door, I am thinking dark gray
  4. Paint the bulkhead
  5. Refinish the back porch stairs
  6. Visit with friends and family as much as possible
  7. Work on my blogging
  8. Attend teacher conferences
  9. Work on curriculum development
  10. Read Read Read
  11. Cook and BBQ
  12. Re-budget our finances
  13. Garden and tend the lawn
  14. odds and ends of cleaning and keep our home b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l
  15. Freshen up my Italian language skills (might be visiting a bestie in Rome)
  16. Power-wash house
  17. Steam carpets
  18. Exercise and take it seriously (as in drop these pesky 10 pounds I have hugging my body)
  19. Have the retaining wall and fence built in our backyard (just hired the contractor last night!!)

Ah….while this list is long, it feels so much better to have it written down and not floating aimlessly in my head. It is daunting but quite exciting to think that my daily school lists are almost on hiatus for the next three months of summer vacation and I can shift my attention to health, family, and home more consistently.  Summer, here I come (with my list in hand!!).