Unit Plans

Oh, boy. This week we were assigned a unit plan. Of course, curriculum planning is MY JAM. Before becoming a mostly stay at home mom (and of course, a full-time SAHM), I wrote curriculum full-time. I designed standards mapping and full-on curriculum for the American education that was taken and implemented in China — I also got to travel all through China where I met with stakeholders in programs, ran training sessions for teachers/administrators, and of course, ate lots of delicious food. (Oh, how I miss the dandan noodles in Wuhan — even Myers&Chang’s aren’t as delicious…)

I was overly excited about this assignment because developing lessons and course materials is something I’ve always enjoyed. Taking a step back from devoting so much of my time and travel to be at home more was the best decision for my family but it was a major adjustment. I still do some curriculum development in a consulting capacity but not nearly as much as I once did. A lot has changed in the last few years (including the addition of our little man) but being back in school has me excited.

Going back to school is a change for everyone in my house. As I worked on this unit plan and was thinking of ways to create ‘student work’ I figured I’d involve the two older kiddos. Each of them made a short FlipGrid on a book they’ve read. I didn’t realize how exciting it would be for them to ‘help’ me with my assignments but my goodness, they wrote out their little descriptions and were so excited to practice; then we watched them six times each afterwards.

As I worked to find an additional nine tech sources for my unit plan, I came across Sutori — this is a really neat presentation tool and I enjoyed playing around with it a bit. I created a couple of presentations on it, one for a lecture and another for ‘student work’. Other technologies I decided to include were Prezi for a piece on student book selection and Animoto for another lecture segment on genre. I also created a Padlet to showcase all of the ‘student work’ — THIS piece was so fun!

Of all the technology I used, the Padlet was my favorite. I was able to showcase the Google Docs, Sutori, and FlipGrids to it and I love the idea of using this on a SMARTBoard for an interactive learning experience. To be honest, this assignment really has me excited to start my journey as a school librarian. It feels like a really fun position to have and is like a content-area teacher but with all of the fun pieces — what could be better?!

Even if I decide to return to the classroom as a content-area teacher, I feel like I’ll have so many more resources to share with students that will help to make learning exciting. This week, 13 had a paper for SOC where she had to design a screen saver for Thomas Jefferson’s phone along with a few phone contacts, Tweets, and text messages. It was similar to an assignment I did with students years ago as we read Romeo & Juliet. I love school tasks that have a sense of humor and really appreciate teachers trying to relate to students. For me, this is something I need to work on more — as discussed in basically every post, technology is not the center focus in my personal life so the adjustment for me is very real. That being said, I’ve been learning that there is some really neat technology out there and I’m excited to try and offer a fresh approach to learning with the students I end up working alongside.

 

mom’s trip

Traveling is good for the soul; this is absolutely a fundamental belief of mine. I love to go places and experience new things; without hesitation, quality time is my love language and what better way to spend quality time with people than to head off on an adventure.

If you’re looking for ‘proof in the pudding’ … I do not have an engagement ring or a wedding band. My husband and I traveled to Vietnam in lieu of an engagement ring and spent two glorious weeks trekking through that beautiful country. Chicago was a little trip that took place of the wedding bands. While my husband is my favorite travel companion, I was able to travel to meet my dear friend this past week.

She and her family moved to Florida over the summer and the prospect of heading someplace other than Kansas was great. We decided to ‘meet in the middle’ and spent a few days in Charleston, SC. Holy moly — what a beautiful, quaint town. When I returned home, my son asked what we did the whole time and I told him that I talked so much, I lost my voice.

It’s true — we walked 20+ miles in 3.5 days, talked, took a tour of the Aiken-Rhett House, moseyed around The Battery, walked through outdoor markets, and met up for rooftop drinks with my first DC roommate. It was a great way to celebrate 16 years of friendship and the much needed friend time I so badly desired.

Charleston was a breath of fresh air: It was in the upper 70s and was super sunny each day; had some issues with our hotel but they compensated us with prosecco and cake; and we were picked up Friday night by my old roomie in his golf cart and then got to meet his girlfriend and her son.

Everything that went right could have and I returned home to hugs and a visit from my parents (they got to our house about 30 minutes after I did). Friendships are something that I cherish and I try to stay in touch with people the best I can, so this trip where I got to spend a few days with my DC bestie and then get to meet up with another old friend was great.

We all knew each other before significant others — there’s nothing like the people you navigated the waters of your early 20s with. We’d all moved to DC at the same time; I met my bf at the Steelers’ bar my first weekend there and as the only two girls in the bar, we became fast friends. Then, I found a place in Georgetown but needed a roommate: Enter, Roommate — he was the first out of 16 people I’d met who I didn’t think would murder me in my sleep (or when I was awake for that matter). We spent our earliest twenties bar hopping and making not the greatest choices at times. It’s great to reconnect with those we know at different parts of our lives and was fun to reminisce about what life was like before kids and a dog.

I always feel like I’m the best wife and mom I can be when I have time to be ME instead of always H’s wife or 4’s mom and what a better way to be true to yourself than spend a few days with the people who knew you before any of the big life changes did. In a couple weeks, I am taking 4 to DC to get together with friends of mine — these are people in his village who love him and support him from afar. They are also people who knew single me and love me just the same.

Being a stay at home mom certainly can have its challenges. For me, those challenges have nothing to do with my child but rather the difficulties around maintaining my own personal identity and it really is great to have that time which always allows me to come home feeling like I can take on the world … or at least my household.

Assistive & Adaptive Tech

This week for class, we had a number of readings (and discussion); because I am traveling on Wednesday, I started the readings at the end of last week so that I could get my work done and enjoy my long weekend away. The topic is one of interest to me, assistive and adaptive technology. While I’ve never been a certified special education teacher, I have worked with students with exceptionalities the duration of my career. When I started teaching in DC, I was assigned two learning clusters for mainstream: ED and MR. I was told this was because my class was calm and I was patient; honestly, it seemed like a reward for hiding my anxiety and how overwhelmed I was by being a shy person by nature. Hoorah.

In all seriousness, it was a great learning experience and as a result, I worked with the head of the ED cluster who’d push into my class to work with some of our more challenging students. It was a win-win for all of us and I really appreciated being pushed to better my practice day in and day out. (I have such fond memories of some of these students and their successes.) If you’ve read previous posts, you’ll remember that I didn’t have books and for a time, I didn’t have a classroom. I did have four desktop computers along the back wall; only one worked and the only person who ever got it to work was not a student of mine but just one who would wander in, fire it up, and look at pornography: A real treat of an experience those redirections were for a green, 25 year old teacher (we actually had a plan where a student would go and get his case manager and we’d continue on — this seemed to cause the least amount of stress for all parties).

One of my assigned readings this week was the article: When the Classroom Feels Hostile: I found this article interesting because ninth grade most definitely is a sweet spot for holding onto or losing students to their learning struggles. In my years in DCPS, I taught ninth and tenth grade English. I worked with students who read typically on a fourth grade reading level and spent countless hours scaffolding my lessons to meet the needs of a very diversely-skilled student body. I caught some students and built upon their skills while others verbalized their ‘waiting it out’ plan (this plan was to quit school when they reached 18; I had several ninth grade students on the cusp of becoming legal adults). This disparity is all too common for students whose educational needs go unmet. After years of teaching in DCPS, I accepted a department chair position in a neighboring district.

When I left DCPS, I worked in an alternative school; we had a robotics program but little technology otherwise. Our school was really small; there was no formal library or computer lab. I had a computer for work and a SmartBoard that wasn’t connected to anything. Our principal held meetings where we passed a talking stick around so I think that tech just wasn’t a priority of his, honestly. His method worked for building relationships with students, but it definitely lacked in preparing them for future tech advancements. After two years teaching in NoVA, I moved to Boston and that’s where things really opened up for me: I worked in a special education school where access to all sorts of technology was atop my administrator’s priority list.

Dragon Speak and Kurzweil were what I utilized most as an English teacher. I feel strongly that students who struggle with reading and writing, learning disability or otherwise, deserve the opportunity to succeed and these programs really offer students a chance to process information in their own ways and output thoughts with ease. In one of the links provided by my professor, I read that only 5% of middle school students with learning disabilities are proficient in writing and only 33% of teachers feel prepared to teach writing (Cast 2019). As educators, we HAVE to do better than this.

In thinking of how I will be able to better utilize technology to meet my future students’ needs in the library classroom, I read the article Assistive Technology: 10 Things to Know by Janet Hopkins (2006) and found it helpful. It is a lot less intimidating to chunk technology into three sections: Low Tech (highlighter tape, graphic organizers, large print), Mid-Tech (tape recorders, headphones), and High Tech (computer-based, text-to-speech, concept mapping). Because low and mid-level tech are most easily available, it’s easy enough to figure out ways to implement and offer supports to both students and colleagues on how best to utilize across the board. The higher tech AT require a bit more planning, as they are more costly and likely require licensing and training. Thus, I feel it’s important to devise a plan on how to properly choose and implement these technologies for the benefits of all students.

Janet Hopkins published another article I read this weekend, School Library Accessibility: The Role of Assistive Technology (2004). In it, she suggested forming a focus group to devise a plan for AT and also using PD time to explore ways to improve upon the library. This has me thinking of PLCs to try and be a part of within the school community to forge connections and better understand the barriers to learning within the classrooms so that I could adequately compare them with those in the library. Hopkins also suggested publicizing AT initiatives and having a plan to speak to administrative staff; to me, these go hand-in-hand and allow for some concrete plans to move forward. Because I recognize that I can be intense at times, I feel like this is something I’d need to really plan and implement slowly to ensure my enthusiasm doesn’t come across in an overly assertive way and that I’m able to move the conversation positively to secure funding and adequate resources.

In her 2006 article, Hopkins addresses ways to secure funding for AT by reaching out to Parent Advisory Committees (PAC) or even writing grants to finance the more expensive educational technology. Otherwise, she suggests using low- or no-cost alternatives. Through looking into all of the shared articles and links for my course, I came across these social narrative apps through the QIAT site: I love the idea of using the app My Story e-Book Maker to allow students a chance to share their stories without an intimidation factor around getting their story out. Project Enable is another option for librarian to look into — they offer training and resources that you can handily select specific learning disabilities/impairments to find books, articles, databases, and websites specifically designed to meet the learning needs of those students. The Cast UDL Studio was another resource I appreciated; here, you are able to design resources specifically to meet the needs of your students.

Personally, I like the idea of the library classroom offering access to assistive and adaptive technologies for students. It seems like one of the more reasonable places within the confines of a school to house accessible technologies and would somewhat force the hand of collaboration between the librarian, special education staff, and content area teachers. As I gear up to work in a school library, this is one area of interest I need to keep in mind for discussions with future school leaders and potential employers.

 

a week in review

Wow! This past week has been a whirlwind!

3 turned 4 on Monday — with Monday being a school holiday, my husband used his last free PTO day so that we could take the kids to Great Wolf Lodge. I took 3 there in the spring (thanks, Groupon, for mid-week specials) and I’ve wanted to take 11 & 13 (I took them to Water Country over the summer and we enjoyed the slides for a solid nine hours — so, I knew they’d love it). We prepared all kinds of food to take with us: chicken tacos and raw vegetables for the kids and prosciutto-wrapped chicken salads for us for dinner; boiled eggs and fruit for breakfast; and lots of snacks.

We took the 75 minute journey after church on Sunday and were greeted with wolf ears and a chance to hop right in the water. We spent six hours on the slides and at the pool on Sunday; needless to say, all three kiddos ate like savages and were out cold by 8PM. My husband took the kids back to the park Monday morning and I stayed in the room to get some reading done for one of my grad classes; after that, we packed up and headed home. We’d planned to stop for pizza and cookies along the way but 4 passed out, so we adjusted our plans. It was such a fun weekend and I think a much needed break for everyone.

Once we were home, it was back to the grind: 13 had a service meeting after school to prepare for the field trip which was on Thursday, 11 continues to learn more songs on the trumpet (I think he’s up to 15 now!), and 4 had t-ball and his Gotcha-day anniversary. Throw in my husband’s busy work schedule (huge presentation and meetings with his boss while he was in town from CA) and my workload and it made for quite the time.

We got through it and 13 loved her field trip on Thursday, despite the crummy weather with high winds. They went into Boston and had a lunch/dance party on a boat, did a scavenger hunt in the city, and had dinner in Faneuil Hall — highlights included the taco, brownie bites, and seeing celebrities shooting a film. I was so relieved to hear she had a blast — as the wind blew on Thursday, I worried that the trip would be unpleasant. This was another highlight of the week!

Friday rolled in and we put an end to the week with shrimp quesadillas and an early bedtime. Of course, for me, it means I was wide awake at 3AM, so I’ve been in the basement family room, online browsing, and watching Temptation Island. Having a day of separation from the week’s busy allows me to realize all we accomplished last week and how happy everyone was to get in some extra family time and then share personal achievements/excitements.

Our goal for this year (not calendar year, so much — because I operate on a school calendar year) was to be more deliberate about planning a family date each month. In September, the family date day was a camping trip in Salem, MA. I didn’t stay the night (stayed with the dog) but was there each day and this month’s was the Great Wolf Lodge. Next month, our family date date is going to be holiday shopping and dinner out — not as grande a gesture but still should be a fun chance for us to bond outside of the house.

We have a busy few weeks coming up, so it’s nice to look forward to the days where we can stop the busy and enjoy each other. I’m looking forward to next week; I’m traveling solo to visit with a friend — I’ve been trying to get ahead of my school work so that I can enjoy this trip without stress or work to do. I have three library books to read for pleasure and I’m so excited to get this girl time. My parents are coming to visit the following weekend; they try to schedule their visits when 13 & 11 are here so they can visit with them and so the kids never feel slighted for missing a visit.

We are in a season of busy — kids are busy — we are busy — but we are trying to enjoy the down time we have with nightly family dinners, walks, little trips, homemade weekend brunches, and basic conversation. I so very much look forward to these coming days but am happy I took the time to reflect upon this last week. It was truly, very special.

Gaming & Social Networking

This week, for my Emerging Tech class, we are discussing gaming/social networking and how they can enhance education. It’s kind of funny; 13, 11, and I were talking about games they played in school last week and I was telling them that the only games we ever played in school were SEVEN UP (everyone had their head down except for seven people; if you were tapped, you raised your hand and then tried to guess which of the seven tapped you); MISSISSPPI (where you try to misspell it to trick the other team and rush the opposing side); and if we were lucky, we got to play Oregon Trail on the lone computer at the back of the classroom.

Oregon Trail was a fun video game — you got to simulate what it would be like to have dysentery and watch your family die off as you ventured across the US. I was fortunate enough to have a Tandy1000 (thank you, Radio Shack) at home, where my brother and I would play Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. Theoretically, both of these games had learning potential or at least didn’t have ill intentions.

Today, when I think of games, I think of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto — both of which (to me) are horribly violent. I know that 13 likes to play Sims with her friends but when I looked into it, characters can fornicate and honestly, talking about sex alongside a video game isn’t really the life I’m trying to create. My brother and I used to play an older version where we’d build houses and then catastrophically burn them to the ground. Alas, I was a bit reluctant to think about gaming as an educational tool.

A similar game that my professor shared with the class is called Second Life — I had no idea this was a real website and honestly thought it was just a name used in a bit on The Office. Thus, I tried to keep an open mind that a learning value exists and spent the last few days reading. A LOT. We had two optional books to read: Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal and It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd; I checked both out of my school library through their inter-library loan program.

In the Boyd text, there is a clear and consistent point of youth using social networking to extend their social conversations and engagements. To me, this makes a good bit of sense. Boyd mentioned early networking sites like Friendster — now here is something I could relate to: I remember Friendster. (It’s a site I haven’t thought about in maybe a decade+ but when I read its name, I instantly recall having an account). My boyfriend and his friends were very into networking and I got sucked into their bubble. I also managed to convince my best friend to join too: I remember one of her selections being ‘not that I know of’ for the ‘Children?’ question and a poll about what everyone was contributing to our Gold Cup tent. Aside from that, I don’t really remember utilizing the tool.

This ‘social extension’ bit that Boyd focused on throughout really gave me pause. This is exactly what I use my phone for. My best friend now lives in Florida and most of my remaining close friends are either in PA or DC; the handful of friends I have in MA are still an hour or so away, so texting is really the only option for keeping in touch with quick updates or just casual conversation. It makes sense that teens would utilize technology for the same purpose, especially given how busy teens can be.

I think back to my high school days; I was president of student council, involved in school musicals, worked as a cashier at Giant Eagle, and then I had the lesser involved activities like chorus, saxophone lessons, track, French club, SADD, and probably others. I was involved in A LOT and thus had a bustling social life. I saw friends after school at all of the club meetings and then usually on weekends too. When I was 16, my parents forced me to get a license and bought me a car so that they’d have a break from toting me here, there, and everywhere else. Having my own car definitely allowed for ease of socializing (even though I was the last of the group to turn 16 and only ended up with my license when my parents told me I’d have to walk everywhere if I continued my refusal with driving)… alas, I try to think of what life would have been if I wasn’t afforded those social opportunities but had access to Internet and social networking options. I could see how the virtual world could fill that hole.

I continue trying to keep an open mind. I know that 13 uses tools in Google Classroom to conduct group work (occasionally with the use of a phone call) and this seems to serve a similar purpose of a group meeting at the library after school but offers all students the learning opportunity. I think that there are definitely areas where integrating social networking can help improve upon social-emotional needs students may have.

I’m not yet sold on the gaming piece — the prude in me still needs a little time to adjust. I do recall, in reading the introduction to Reality is Broken that games allow users to create feelings of success through various channels and offer opportunities to “take an active role in changing our lives and enabling the future… [and] build up your ability to enjoy life more, to solve tougher problems, and to lead others in world-changing efforts” (P 14). I will see if through reading this book, my mind is changed at all on the gaming piece.

Until then, I have two additional blog posts I may write from connections I made to passages in Boyd’s book. I am really enjoying reading this as it is challenging my typical line of thinking but in a very productive way. I recommend this text for anyone who has teens or works with teens and is trying to figure out how to properly establish technology-based boundaries.

 

gotcha day

October is such a fun and busy month: 3 turns 4 and our Bruttie boy turns 10 a week later. There is a lot of celebration and far more cookies and pizza than usual. This month, we decided to do our family fun date around 3’s birthday because that’s what scheduling permits. I can’t wait to write a recap of that. Alas, I digress.

The most pivotal thing that’s ever happened in October is 3’s Gotcha Day. We officially adopted our little man two days after his second birthday. Our judge was also an adoptive parent and truly spoke from the heart when he met us. I will forever be grateful for his decorum: He gave our two year old child two stuffed animals (Rainbow and Nice Bear as they’ve so lovingly been named) and a gavel. We hired a photographer for our special day and there are some doozies in there with our son waving that gavel proudly.  It was a really memorable day, filled with high-fives, fist bumps, an appearance by his foster family who loved him so deeply, and more tears than I could qualify.

In the days leading up to his adoption, my husband and I were able to sneak away to Savannah and Hilton Head, sans children. It was nice to have a bit of space to process everything that was going on. It had been a stressful few years where infertility blazed the way of all of our stresses and my hormonal rises and crashes. Not fun. Alas, those feelings were largely erased after our little man’s gotcha day.

He had spent ~730 days in foster care prior to that day and it was a relief to know that we could help him to break the cycle. We are quickly approaching our two year anniversary of this special day and I am just beside myself that I get to be his mommy. He has the sweetest little voice and the best personality — he is athletic and shares my love of books; he’s never one to turn down a muffin, even if it means he’s taken it from the trash and attempted to dine al fresca. He is my best little buddy who I take on flights and travel adventures and who never turns down a trip to the zoo or local library.

It’s hard to get through the month without taking a pause to reflect on this special day. We have pictures from the courthouse in our hallway and we always make a deliberate effort to talk about his adoption and remind him how special he is to have so many people love him and want what was best for him.

Of course, adoption and his gotcha day is not made of all sunflowers and applesauce. There is trauma and questions of family history at the forefront of our minds. It is constant. Still, we continue to approach this day with care and love and our best intentions with our family’s light.

 

meal of the week

I have been trying to think about how I could blog about our meals — I enjoy keeping a running record of our favorite things and always enjoy reading other people’s favorite meals. This week, I am going to showcase my favorite breakfast: Stuffed Acorn Squash.

This recipe is from True Roots (P11) and always feels like such a decadent choice for Sunday brunch — there are only four ingredients and with sugar-free sausage, it can be Whole30 & Paleo. Sausage, Celery, Egg, and Acorn Squash complete this dish — we always sprinkle with hot sauce too.

Bonus: You get to eat out of an acorn squash!

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This is one of those meals that you eat for brunch and you’re full throughout the way but there’s no guilt with any side dishes, be them fruit or mimosas because you’re putting so many nutrients in your system to start the day.

We will probably make these again this coming weekend because we enjoy them so much and we know the kids will have a nice, healthy filling meal before our family date date takes over and everyone is filled to the brim with sugar.

What are some of your favorite breakfasts?