Modeling Annotations

In our district, 4th Quarter is research quarter in ELA.  Now really, every day is research day anymore, but this is where we do the deliberate instruction of skills for an extended project.  In past years, students did a traditional research paper;  last year, I added a digital presentation to that paper and honestly, those were more fun to review than the papers.

This year, my co-teacher and I decided to skip the paper (though it is an option for anyone who wants to take it;  it hasn’t gone away for good) and do an “extended research project.”  A new step for the students is creating an annotated bibliography for their sources.

What a packed assignment!  Finding sources, initially analyzing for usefulness, taking notes on ones that pass the first step, summarizing the source, and putting it all into APA format takes a lot of work.  Once that is done, the next step is to make a useful project out of the information to answer whatever research question the students self-selected.

Our goal, particularly in middle school, is to have students test out a variety of ways to “show what they know” so that as we more completely move into the personalized learning initiative our district has (thankfully!) embraced, the kids have skills to really personalize.

As an example, this annotation relates to the read aloud the middle school is doing, The Wild Robot Escapes.  It’s a little short; it could be two paragraphs with the second one relating more about how the source relates to the (undisclosed) research question.


Humble Honor

I’m finishing up with a student and switching out with one of our amazing paraprofessionals when the secretary comes to the classroom and says, “Mike needs you now.” The tone was mildly urgent which is weird because usually it means something is up in the classroom I am fixing to leave.

Must be about testing, I think, more focused on the door being held wide open. We never have that door wide open.

At his office, he says, “Come on in, we have some questions about PBIS,” and it is obvious he has this set up for videoconferencing. Now I’m thinking, shoot, what do I know about this? (Well, lots. I love PBIS.)

It wasn’t about PBIS. Click the tweet to find out.

Necessity and Invention

My goal was to blog once a week about Genius Hour as we did it in class. I got one week. And I think there is a draft in here somewhere for week two. But then this poor blog falls fallow, like so many other years. Well, my new co-teacher is planning on blogging once a week and I am going to use her to keep me accountable.

Necessity: I am starting my third week out of the classroom, unplanned. A month ago, we rather suddenly discovered my husband has cancer. Stage IV Renal Cell Carcinoma (Clear Cell), if you care for the specifics. We have a big, big monster to slay so we’ve left Alaska and got him set up in Seattle for care there. Family first. I’m very thankful to my co-workers, school, and district for their agreement in that belief.

Invention: Now, I know many teachers do this all the time: deliver content online to students. And I am generally moving my few electives to blended-style courses that can be (mostly) accessed asynchronously. This week, though, I’m designing a series of lessons that my co-teacher will help deliver in person to our MS ELA class so that when I’m back in person, we keep carrying on. It’s a read-aloud. I love reading aloud to students. So why let a few thousand miles interfere with that?

Here’s a video I recorded for my class where one-take dorkiness abounds.

If you’re looking for a fun elementary/middle grade read aloud to do this Spring, look up The Wild Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes, by Peter Brown.

PS.  Some friends set up a social media campaign of encouragement for us in this cancer journey; check out #stadingstrong on Facebook, IG, and some on Twitter.

Genius Hour Day 1


My first foray into it was probably in 2013 or so, similar to finding Twitter.  Because of course, good ideas find YOU on Twitter.  I started with elementary, just creating, just learning.

We just kicked off a Middle School Genius Hour.  Every Monday.  Monday!  Let’s set the tone for the week with student-led learning is my plan.  This time around, it will be a little more formal, a little more accountable because my goals for them are not only learning but figuring out how to plan a project, keep working on a project, find ways to be accountable for that project.

There will be missteps.  Like today, was I excited enough about it?  Did I warm up the grill before dropping the steak on it like #tlap?  I don’t know.  Do I have a plan for more than just today?  Not yet.  I know, in theory, what this should look like, how I should revise it for this next go around of Genius Hour.  In theory.  The theory is good.

My own Genius Hour project is going to be blogging about Genius Hour.   (And blogging in general.)  It’s TIME to contribute to the larger field of learning and teaching!  I’ve 22 semesters under my belt, never two the same.  It’s time for my students and it is time for me.


My Loves and Ideas


My Twitter Anniversary

My life changed six years ago today.  Sounds dramatic, right?  Seeing as I am talking about the day I joined Twitter, it probably sounds melodramatic.  But I am not wrong in this.  The day I joined Twitter changed my teaching and hence, my life.

These are things I love about Twitter:

It is there when you need it.
It holds about a billion fabulous ideas.
It provides an easy way to connect with like-minded people.
It has so many things to be like-minded about.
It is really fun to watch Live Tweets during events.
It is easy to use for five minutes a day.
It is easy to use for hours a day.
You find amazing ideas on it.
(Or perhaps they find you.)

Thank you, Twitter. What will we be in six more years?


Giraffe Watch

I am up at 11 o’clock at night streaming April the Giraffe on my TV.  I’m doing this with about 70,000 or 80,000 other people around the world.  On past nights, it’s been about 35,000 people doing the same but tonight is different because her vets have said there’s indicators that she’s significantly closer to giving birth.  (Like I just saw a contraction or her calf is having quite the party in utero.)

Why, you might wonder, am I up watching when I have never really paid attention to giraffe cams, or other animal cams for that matter, ever in my life?  It is the Monday after time change I certainly should be getting some rest.   But instead I’m streaming a giraffe from New York.  Why indeed.

Well, because I can.  I have high speed internet and the zoo has a sponsor providing the streaming. (For real, if I ever needed exotic animal food I would buy it from a company called Mazuri.) There is no one else awake to tell me how boring it is to watch an animal walk around.  I’m enthralled and I’m not the only one.

This is the world we have. We connect over animal cams while waiting for a calf to be born.  We read Facebook posts about how watching this giraffe helps people in time of grief or depression just by seeing and sharing the animal’s life as well as the promise of new life.  All the while we’re learning about giraffes.  I know more about giraffes now than I did three weeks ago and no one made me learn it.

Where is this in the classroom?  Are we following students’ interests and helping them connect with others?  Because that cause is as much my reason for watching April.  It reminds me THIS is what learning learning looks like:  16 feet tall and beautiful.  

Good luck, April.  And good night.  I’ll check on you in the morning with your 80,000 other fans.


Attending ASTE always makes me think, I should blog more.

Well, of course I should.

Tonight my daughter and I are “competing” in a robotics competition.  Brand new stuff for both of us.  Saturday I presented about the Global Read Aloud and tomorrow I’ll be presenting about special education and blended learning.  My daughter is running a Mystery Skype tomorrow, too.

ASTE is inspiring.  I should totally blog more.

Math Teacher?

I am not a math teacher, am I? I’m not trained to teach math except for the youngest of students. I’ve had no “math methods” or “How to teach teens Algebra” classes. Yet here I am, under the umbrella of special education, teaching teens with the intent of them taking Algebra next year.

It’s daunting. But when I want to throw my hands up, throw in the towel, throw out the baby, or just plain throw up from despair, I remind myself these things:

1. I know how to do math.
2. I know how to find good math resources.
3. I know how to follow the lesson plans that come with those good resources.

But most importantly…

4. I know how to individualize instruction.

And, under the umbrella of special education (and the Academic Freedom clause of my contract), I can do as I need with “grades” and focus instead on learning. They are going to be stronger in math in May than we were in August.

We’ve got this.

Cybertraps: Administrator Responses to Cyberbullying

I’ve been studying Freedom of Speech and Social Media from an school administrator’s point of view.  Cybertraps for Educators by Fredrick Lane is one of my main sources of information and if you’re in education, you should read it.  I’m going to share bits of what I’ve learned over the next few weeks.

Super interesting is that at this point, student speech is far more protected than teacher speech.  If cyberbullying occurs off campus, for the most part it has been considered protected by the First Amendment.  (Well, to clarify, it’s not NOT protected…the key is if it causes a substantial disruption to the school.)  So even if there’s no legal or disciplinary recourse for administrators, a reasonable person should do something about it.

Even with the precedence that off-campus speech is generally protected by the First Amendment, administrators must not ignore known cases of cyberbullying of both students and teachers.  Students may not be able to receive corrective action at the school but other ways exist to combat such events.

First and foremost, the administrator should make sure that the student’s parents are notified if not fully brought alongside to curb the cyberbullying.  Access to technology presents new challenges for parents of the 95% of high school students who own some sort of personal device (Lane, 2015).  Allowing their children to use the phone or iPad without supervision put parents in a precarious situation with the legal system should cyberbullying occur.  Courts have ruled that parents may be liable for emotional suffering caused by their children in cyberbullying situations if they do not take due action to correct the situation (Bloomberg BNA, 2014).  While school may not be an active party, private citizens may sue each other over these cases.

Additionally, administrators should look for spillover to the school setting, even if it is not considered substantially disruptive.  Character-building programs, classroom social interventions, and further targeted behavioral interventions can be used with effect.  Additionally, to address the occurrence before it happens is another approach; bullying is less likely to occur in a school with a positive climate (Wang, 2013).  Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) programs demonstrate success in improving school climate, including the relationships between students and teachers (Wang, 2013).

Is there more that can be done?  Of course.  But certainly parents and PBIS are a good start.



Bloomberg BNA. (2014, October 22). Georgia court rules parents may be liable for child’s fake Facebook account. Retrieved from

Lane, F. (2015). Cybertraps for educators [Kinde 6]. Retrieved from

Wang, C. M. (2013). The critical role of school climate in effective bullying prevention. Theory into Practice, 52(4), 296-302

Do Your Research

Like a bazillion other moms, I’m “in to” essential oils.  I’m a member of the original for-the-masses company and it has been super interesting seeing what’s around on the internet to either build up or discredit that company.  Very little of the negative information comes from research-based arguments; there’s more research on the pro-side but again, not a substantial amount.  People are not making decisions about essential oils based on scientific research.

The same can be said for education at times.  For classroom instruction, publishers push that their products are “research-based” and therefore must be great for learning.  But what research are we talking about?  I get especially leery when a program claims this but then there’s no set way to use the program.  Which part was researched?  By whom?  We want to think that research is performed without bias but we’re human.  Action research, especially, can be affected by the teachers who do it.

What to do?  Well, read, read, read.

Where to start?  Here are two resources that I enjoy browsing;  they’ve done the work for you.

What Works Clearinghouse

The Institute for Education Sciences, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, reviews research about different programs and summarizes the studies.  They do not do original research themselves.  They have a nifty little graphic that shows the possible gains or losses through using the materials.

WWC Saxon

Example of WWC data, this one for Saxon Math at the Middle School level.

Visible Learning

Visible Learning is a meta-study of all sorts of other studies about teaching practices, materials, and environments that impact learning.  John Hattie developed a barometer to reflect the possible growth shown in studies.  It is super interesting:  what is shown to be effective on paper is not necessarily what you would expect.

Teaching practices with the greatest effect size according to Hattie.

Teaching practices with the greatest effect size according to Hattie.

Both of these resources have informed my practice and my students are growing.  What other resources are out there to help teachers make informed instructional decisions?