Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Intentional Life

Photo by Megan Black
This may sound weird but all my life I have regularly given myself assignments. OK. Maybe not so weird for someone who ended up becoming a teacher but when I say assignments, I am not talking about the traditional kind. I’ve assigned myself tasks like, get to know every tree in my neighborhood. What are their names? What have they witnessed? Who lives in them? What about them is edible? This has been an ongoing assignment from the age of seven actually.

Vivian and Ray Kell are sandwiched by my Mom and Dad.
Another mission I gave myself was to make friends with an elder in my community. I chose Ray Kell and by proxy his wife Vivian. Ray is 90 years old now. Vivian is 89.  I have called them my friends since they were in their early 70’s. Ray and Vivian have ten children, 33 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren and counting. Ray is a veteran of World War 2. He and Vivian are activists for peace, justice, and equality. He plays the piano and sings at least an hour every day. Preferably more. Sometimes you have to beg him to stop. He still plays 18 holes of golf and carries his own clubs. When he was 84, Ray raced me up five flights of stairs and beat me. The Kell's vegetable garden is spectacular and feeds many in their neighborhood. They work every Monday from 6:00AM until 1:00PM in the Manna Meal Soup kitchen. Every year for the past 20, he and Vivian pack up their car and travel the country for six weeks visiting all their kids and grand kids while camping, in a tent. On Ray’s 90th birthday earlier this year, he challenged himself to do a freestanding headstand and hold it. He achieved his goal in the middle of his daughter’s backyard while his grandson played a three minute waltz on the violin. I guess you could say Ray also gives himself assignments. He certainly lives a life of meaning, purpose, and intention and I aspire to be more like him.

An Excellent Read for an Intentional Life.
Which might be why I regularly assign myself reading. This summer I read How to Be an Explorer of the World  by Keri Smith. And guess what?! The book is filled with interesting assignments, only she calls them explorations. I highly recommend it. The author challenges you to collect tiny things and make a mini museum in an Altoids tin. She suggests making sculptures out of ten things you find in a drawer. There are 59 different explorations. Most of them involve field work. Keri Smith offers 5 field work tips. I would like to add a sixth one based on personal experience and follow it up with ten explorations, not in the book, that I found made my life, and occasionally the lives of those around me, better.

Field Work Tips:
  1. Never leave home without a notebook and pen.
  2. When practicing deep looking or deep listening, it is best to work alone.
  3. Respect the community in which you explore. This applies to all aspects of nature, human or otherwise and also includes property, public or private
  4. If you find yourself being questioned as to the reasons for your activities, the phrase, “I’m conducting research” usually satisfies the nosiest interloper.
  5. Expect the unexpected and you will find it.

My 6th Tip: You can never have too many pockets when exploring. Be sure to bring scissors, zip lock bags, looking glasses, a camera, a snack and water bottle, some tissue, and plan to stay out a long time.  

10 Recommended explorations not listed in the book. This is interactive, folks, please do the counting. (I’ll hold up my fingers you say the numbers.) Ready? 1

  1. Never pass up an opportunity to dip, dive, slide, swing, glide, skip, twirl, rock, or dunk.

2. Look for the color purple everywhere you go. Then, when you are old enough, read The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Pay Attention to what Shug says. “Shug a beautiful something.”

3. For an entire day, if anyone asks you a question, sing the answer. Make note of the questioner’s reaction.

4. Discover your favorite apple. They don’t all taste the same. Mine is a Fuji. Try one with some extra sharp Pinconning cheese. Seriously. Try that.

5. Listen only to the voice of love inside your head for a whole morning, or a whole day. Keep practicing until you can do it for longer and longer times.  If the mean voice starts talking, sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to yourself until it goes away.

6. Every once in awhile, make yourself an omelet.

7. Find an interesting elder in your community. Get to know them. Ask them questions. Listen to their stories.

8. Make your worst enemy a kindness salad...or a batch of yummy cookies. Again, make note of their reaction.

9. Dance in the grocery store.
10. For one moment each day, stand still where you are. Breathe into your belly. Be mindful that every day, every single day, even the heart crushing ones, we are surrounded by the mighty love of God.

Every Monday Morning at The Grosse Pointe Academy we begin the week with Chapel. The faculty rotates giving a short inspirational talk. This was mine for the 2015-2016 school year.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Why Aren't You Using Google Classroom

Seriously folks, Google Classroom really makes life simpler. If you are a Google Apps for Education School Educator, you really should be using it. It only takes about ten minutes to set everything up and will save you hours of organizing, searching, and explaining. 

Your first stop is the Google for Education Training Center

Amy Mayer has a sweet introduction here. Fried Classroom Introduction to Google Classroom

Also, check out Alice Keeler's 20 Things You Can Do with Google Classroom

And, if you want a site that will guide you step by step through the process Grossmont Union High School District  put together a fabulous site for their educators. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

I Need Help!

Photo and Doodle by Megan Black
We all have that kid. You know the one who hasn't had the assignment for more than a fraction of a second and they are yelling, "I need help!" Well, if you were one of the brave souls who tried to implement my Summer Teeth recommendations, you might have found yourself just like one of those kids. Especially, if you wanted to try to assign MathGames.

MathGames is a worthwhile endeavor. I still recommend it. However there is a glitch they are still working on.  If you forewarn students and provide these handy instructions, it will help mitigate most of your issues. It will, at the very least, provide them with less of an excuse for not doing the work. 

Math Games Teacher Instructions

Math Games Student Help

I wish you all a restful and peaceful summer. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summer Teeth

These cuties have summer teeth
I recently learned the term "Summer Teeth." What are Summer Teeth, you ask? Summer here. Summer gone. Hat Tip: Bridgette Murray. 

The same can be said for academic skills in the actual season of sun. Summer here. Summer gone. Most educators look for ways to keep their students engaged, learning, and practicing key skills during the off season to minimize the learning loss. Below are a few options to help students grow their chops and fill the gaps. (Apologies to the pun haters.)

Reading Practice

Teach Your Monster to Read, simply put is an invaluable gift to primary teachers everywhere and any students learning to read. Kids adore it. How could you not love earning underpants and fancy hats for a lovable monster of your own design? The folks at Teach Your Monster  have made it incredibly easy for teachers to set up and manage accounts and keep students safe. They also have provided teachers with letters for parents so that they can log in and monitor progress and track data. Seriously, if you teach Pre-K through grade 3 you simply must check it out. Their new level: Teach Your Monster to Read 3: Champion Reader launches June 1st. 

ReadWorks.org is an exceptional reading comprehension resource. Again, it is free, aligned to the standards, interactive, and research based. Students can be assigned lessons and passages from every genre and based on their current reading level. ReadWorks.org is almost too good to be true. 

StoryShares is aimed at older struggling readers. They are an online hub of stories that are interesting and relevant for young adult readers. With an  interactive design based on best practices, they help support and hopefully inspire students who otherwise would not pick up a book during the summer months. 

Finer minds than mine are always at work at Edutopia. If you want even more Summer reading resources for all age groups please visit Edutopia News Summer Reading Suggestions

You might also wish to ruminate using one of these Seven Slick Current Event Resources for your summer reading practice. Most offer online interactive tools to help students comprehend and dig deeper. 

Math Practice

TenMarks offers free summer math programs teachers can easily manage and assign by standard. They have also created a letter to distribute to parents with log in codes so that parents can monitor their child's data and progress. I am a huge fan of TenMarks and use it with the middle school math class I teach. A word of caution though, most of TenMarks problems are of the word variety and demand multiple steps and mastery of previous concepts. I recommend it more as an enrichment program than a skill practice program. 

Prodigy Math is another free service that is easily managed by teachers. You can assign standards to classes as well as individual students. The program is built into a gaming platform of a virtual, magical realm where novitiates earn spells to counterattack their enemies by correctly solving problems. They can play the game regardless of whether or not you assign problems and the program will send them problems based on grade level. The problems assigned by the teacher get fed into the game. Every K-8 Math standard is covered. The assigned problems are straight forward. Not only do I recommend it for the summer, you may want to add it to next year's math routine. 

MathGames is a new and promising free skill practice service. Again, it is set up so that teachers can assign standards and monitor progress on both a class and individual level. I highly recommend using MathGames but I also recommend testing it out before you assign it over the summer by making a different email account you own as a student and seeing the process from both sides.  This will help you direct students on how to find and complete their assignments. They may require some guidance before they are set loose this summer. I would make a screencast and text directions with pictures. In fact, I may do that later and post. 


You can find lots of STEAMY resources in past posts of Eminent Tech. Try one of these on for size:
Fabulous Five Free Apps for STEM

CK-12 BrainFlex A more recent site I've come across that is very worthy of offering your families is CK-12 BrainFlex program which is a combination of math and science. CK-12 has created tutorials, flyers, letters, and basically thought of most everything you can imagine to help make their program a success. They also have a free app in iOS and Android so kids can get their learning on the go.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Academy App Additions

We've added a few new Apps to our Grades 1-5 iPads recently. Hopefully, the middle school teachers will see the value and introduce the ones they find appropriate to their students as well. Four of these apps were featured in our Professional Learning Maker's Fair Day back in April. They also follow up coding skills taught in the computer lab. We start them young here at GPA. Our first graders started learning how to code with Tynker's free online options in the Hour of Code. They moved on to the basics of Scratch programming. Each year students develop greater and great proficiency coding in Scratch which they later apply to programing Lego Robotics and EVO3's.  Now they can practice these skills on their iPads by programming Daisy the Dinosaur, Tynker, CargoBot, or HopScotch. 

Daisy the Dinosaur
This app is suitable for very young programmers. It guides students through various steps that tell Daisy what to do. It is utterly adorkable and a great first step in learning to code. 

If you want your students to receive step by step guidance learning to code, Tynker has a subscription service. We are not going that route here at GPA. Nonetheless, I installed the Tynker App on the iPads in Grades 3-5 because it includes a canvas to create with code blocks similar to Scratch. This will give students a great way to practice their coding kung fu when they do not have access to a computer. 

Another option to develop ninja-like code is Hopscotch . In fact, this is the most appealing to me personally because it is character driven and coders can create and tell stories. They can also make games. That said, the tutorial is limited and some kids may find that frustrating. If they are willing to work through frustration and like creating stories and games, this is a fantastic app.

This is the last of the new coding apps added. It also develops programming skill but does so in a puzzle-like format. What is nice about Cargo-Bot is that while a solution to a problem might work, it isn't always the best option. (The same can be said for code. This is why I wait to update programs.) Often times, things need to be tested over and over again in many situations before time tells if it was best solution. Cargo-Bot assigns points based on the simplest, yet most rigorous solution. 

Masterpiece for OSMO
I cannot say enough good things about OSMO. Even our fifth graders love the hands on learning and applications of this device. All of the OSMO games build a natural bridge from our Early School Montessori base to effective technology integration. Masterpiece uses the iPad and OSMO gadget to help students recreate artistic masterpieces on paper with the real world media of their choosing. 

Ignite Teaching
Ignite Teaching is an app that promotes collaboration and project based learning. teachers can create and assign groups through the App. Students can then use the app to create multimedia projects on a canvas using images from their iPad or Google Drive. They can add text, graphics, and import videos. It is yet another tool that fits our philosophy that technology is best utilized to create rather than consume. In other words, Ignite Teaching Redefines learning. 

Sushi Monster
We also added one Substitution/Augmentation app called Sushi Monster. Teachers were looking for a more engaging way for students to practice their math computation skills. Sushi Monster by Scholastic was a crowd pleaser at all grade levels. An even bigger bonus is that this app and all of the above are free! 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wonder Talk

Photo by Megan Black

We meet for chapel every Monday at the Grosse Pointe Academy and faculty take turns giving the talk. The following post was the talk I gave on April 13, 2015.

I would like to share with you two stories, three wishes, and an important secret.

  I have always been a wonderer. I wonder about stuff. Constantly. Curiosity led me into many embarrassing predicaments. For example, when I was little I wondered if mothers to be got that way because they swallowed a watermelon seed. I wondered what would happen if I tried it. I knew seeds needed dirt so I ate some of that too. Then I sat in a sunny spot until I threw up. But this didn’t stop me from wondering if I could make my own gum. That brought the fire department to my house which is a longer story for a different day. I wondered what was in the glove compartment of people’s cars parked on our street. I was driven to examine the items the doctor’s cabinets and try to figure out what they did. Let’s face it, who doesn’t wonder about that?! I became obsessed with the idea that there were hidden rooms in every house and wondered what I needed to do to reveal them. Twist a knob on a mantlepiece, play a few notes on their piano, pull out just the right book from a shelf, and I was hopeful the floor would open up to a descending staircase leading to a chamber filled with magical samurai swords and dusty potions. I admit that I was influenced by the story of Anne Frank, my favorite book, The Secret Garden, and a fair share of Scoby Doo cartoons. Even though my nosey-ness often led to trouble, and I was almost always caught in the act, I never stopped wondering. I wonder about the word wonder. It can be a synonym for questioning or curiosity but also for awe, astonishment, luminous enchantment, and speechless reverence.

Recently scientists have studied the phenomenon of wonder, the speechless reverence awesome kind, the moments when we are stunned by the elegance of something in nature or life that humbles us and makes us realize that we are part of something grander than we ever imagined. What the scientists have discovered is that these moments change our lives in profound ways. The more often we experience astonishment, the less likely we are to suffer disease, the greater our personal happiness, and the more likely we are to want to contribute to the betterment of the world.

Rachel Carson wrote, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.” I wish this gift for each of you. That’s my first wish. 

The first time I truly recall feeling a sense of wonder or awe was when I drove across the country by myself to start a new life in Los Angeles. I had everything I owned in a cruddy little hatchback and I was driving to the second largest city in the US where I didn’t know a soul. I had no job or place to live. It was risky but also thrilling. When I got to Arizona I came down with a terrible cold and the reality that I was headed into a very uncertain future alone began to take hold. Nevertheless, I decided to drive the two hours out of my way to see the Grand Canyon. I got there late in the afternoon. When you drive in the park you don’t see the Canyon. You have to walk to the edge. I will never forget it. As I got closer and the sublime immensity of what I was looking at opened up, my legs gave out. I fell to my knees. And I stayed that way for what seemed like hours because time stopped. My life was different after that. I can’t tell you about it in words really but Annie Dillard wrote, “We wake, if ever at all, to mystery.” And that moment and others I’ve been lucky enough to experience, mostly in nature, have felt like waking up...in a good way, not like with the alarm clock, but after a long, delicious sleep. So, that was the second story. And my second wish is that life presents you with mysteries that bring you to your knees. Many of them.

Socrates tell us that wonder is the beginning of wisdom. 

Einstein said, The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” 

Rilke wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” And, that is my third wish, that you learn to love and live the questions and when you find an answer, realize that this is not the end of mystery. Mystery is infinite.

I believe wonder and awe are a form of prayer. Wonder lets us see with new eyes. It

connects us to the consciousness of the cosmos. Which leads me to the all important secret….Are you ready? You are the greatest wonder of the universe. Yes, you, human, sitting here in this particular body, with this unique mind and heart, in this moment in history are the greatest wonder of all the galaxies because you get to behold it all. There never was and there never will be another you who notices and feels and appreciates and hopefully loves the other wonders in quite the same way. So, open up and let it all in! Even the stuff that hurts or confuses you. Live the questions! Love the Mysteries! Or, as Dr. Suess says, “Think and wonder. Wonder and think.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

Beneath the Cherry Blossoms

What a strange thing

to be alive

beneath cherry blossoms

~Kobayashi Issa

It is National Poetry Month people! Here are some offerings to help celebrate language and the return of Spring to the Northern Hemisphere.

Apps for Poetry

Check out last year's Post on Poetic Apps. It included several free apps from ReadWriteThink to create and publish beautiful poems. I especially love their Haiku maker.

I've come across several more excellent free Poetry Month Apps more recently. For starters, try Poetry from the Poetry Foundation. This is an app for older students as some of the poetic themes require a mature vocabulary and mind. Poetry Daily offers free poems by theme and I would keep this one for students ages 12 or older as well. Heck, I might even wait until 14 or 15. A middle schooler with an ear for limericks might make for some sketchy situations.

Poems by Heart from Penguin Classics is a cool tool to help students memorize classic poems. Again, there are some mature themes and a few saucy words here and there.

If you really don't mind bawdy talk in your poetry or you wish to relate poetry to rap, "keeping it real," try Poetry Creator. It is free and brings in lyrics from Rap songs and mashes them with Shakespeare's sonnets and monologues creating word magnets to reassemble into original works.

Poetreat bills itself as a tool to "Write quick and simple bites of Poetry." It is a poetry editor that suggests rhymes as you write.  This one would be good for budding poets with raging hormones or anyone who needs a little rhyming help.

Teacher Resources

Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers has published a nice list of 5 Resources for National Poetry Month  He includes Scholastic's list of resources but it is worth a special mention here as well. They have everything nicely laid out by grade level.

ReadWriteThink is always one of my first stops for anything literary. They have excellent student interactives to get poets from K-12 composing. They also have Lesson Plans galore organized by theme, grade level, or form.

The 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month is really nifty with some terrific ideas and resources.

Reading Rockets has excellent poetry resources for all ages, not just the wee mongrels.

Edutopia always has something to offer that is beyond worthy. Their National Poetry Month Resources by Matt Davis is no exception.

Listening to the World

Perhaps my favorite poet, Mary Oliver recently sat down with On Being's Krista Tippett. She reads some of her illuminating poems and discusses life, habits, and grief with Krista. I love On Being and I adore Mary Oliver. Listening to the World is just for you to enjoy, dear reader.