Seven in education 

It’s really hard to believe that this year will commence seven years as a classroom teacher! That very first day of year one continues to remain a vivid memory as I stood before my class inwardly shaking and outwardly scared. A lot changes in seven years in a classroom. In many ways, I am more confident than ever to start and in others I still feel fresh, new, and inexperienced. Perhaps that is why this profession is so exciting. No year, no class, no single day is ever the same. I might be teaching United States history again, but each time it’s better, each time it’s different, and each time the context around the course shifts and provides an excellent landscape to tap for real world applications. The impending primaries and elections are ripe for teaching American history. To say I am excited is an understatement. Cracking open my neat, new notebook to jot down project ideas, field trips, and lessons is the most satisfying first act of the school year. After a long summer break, I do feel rested, I feel more creative, and I feel ready to meet the new kiddos, their questions, their challenges, their curiosity, and their passions. 

  
And just when I am ready to race my car over to the school, hop out and charge up the hill to that first day of classes, I think of my little boy who I will have to drop off at daycare and I cry. I weep. My throat closes in saddness.  Mommies, does this ever get easier? I feel so much guilt and grief for leaving Henry and pain for missing him and the first day hasn’t even started yet!

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 9.39.08 AMJust a little photo of when my student walked in and we realized we were wearing the same outfit!  It was hilarious to connect over fashion in such a literal way.

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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