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Have you ever read If You Give A Mouse A Cookie?

Sometimes, that’s what learning is like in an inquiry-based school. And I LOVE it! Kids follow their curiosity into amazing areas of learning.

Today is April 1st. I really detest April Fool’s Day. (such a bah humbug!) I wonder if, in addition to the day after Halloween, this day ranks low on many teachers’ scales of great days. I was determined not to be a crankypants for my kids, though, who were waiting for me with huge grins on their faces. They were definitely up to something, and I had been warned they had a great prank all ready for me.

As I approached them to head upstairs, they all started staring at me, quickly raised their hands in the Hunger Games Katniss salute, and then they whistled/sang the four-note tune that was a signal between Katniss and Rue. It cracked me up. (Have I mentioned before how much I love these kids?)

After they all had a good laugh and we walked upstairs, we plopped ourselves into a room. They started chattering about good April Fool’s Day pranks, but then started discussing the difference between a harmless/fun prank and a mean-spirited prank. I loved hearing examples that they shared – some they had pulled on siblings, some that had been pulled on them. It was a fun discussion.

In any other school, it might have ended there. But not ours. One kid wondered what was the best April Fool’s prank of all time– which led to another asking how long April Fool’s has been “celebrated”– to another asking where it all started. If you give a mouse a cookie… 

I asked them if they wanted to find out more, and they did. So then I asked, “where should we start?” They threw around words like history and origins. We had found our key search terms.

Within ten minutes, my students had found very few answers.  They were able to find some traditions that dated back to the 1500s with mentions of England, Scotland, and France, but no definitive origins. I showed a video that explained that no one really knows where April Fool’s actually started, but there are several theories. Within the theories presented, the kids recognized a few stories from their research this morning. Their favorite was the story of the rural French citizens who were never informed about the 16th century calendar change from Julian to Gregorian. They were ridiculed with fish slapped on their backs  et voilà! Poisson d’Avril!

If you give a kid a question, she will want to find some answers… but then will ask more questions.

After the laughter about a fish being slapped onto someone’s back, somebody asked, “What’s a Gregorian calendar?” My standard response in this case is, “I wonder how you could figure that out?”

Cut to kids looking up information about the Gregorian calendar. And the Julian calendar. And the Roman calendar. “Wait! There were only 10 months in the Roman calendar?!”

[Me] “What do you notice about the eighth month?”

“It’s October. Hey… OCTOber. OCTO means 8!”

[another student] “And SEPT means 7… and NOV might be 9… and DEC is 10!”

If your class of kids pranks you on April Fool’s Day, you can have meaningful discussions about word origins relating to an ancient calendar. 

Hmmm… that sounds about right.


From our @TeamBaldwin tweets today (first tweet is at the bottom):



under: Teaching and Learning

Struggling vs Suffering

Posted by: | March 18, 2014 | 1 Comment |

No parent wants to see their children suffer. We want to surround them, protect them, and help in any way we can. I’m a parent. I get this.

However, there’s a really big difference between a child “suffering” and “struggling.” Struggling is a necessary part of learning. When we learn to walk, we struggle. We fall down. A LOT. We keep pushing ourselves past that point of frustration in order to take those first steps. It’s natural. It’s developmental. It’s necessary.

Struggling is nature’s way of helping us move along to the next level. It’s gamification (I really don’t like that term, but that’s another blog post) in reality. If we didn’t have to struggle to learn something, there wouldn’t be the sense of accomplishment we gain in order to want to keep improving. Struggling helps us move beyond the need for instant gratification.

When we protect our children from struggling, we deprive them of a very important step in the learning process.

I watched the movie Ray again over the weekend. In one scene after Ray has just lost his sight as a child, he falls off a chair in his childhood home. His cries for his mother are heartbreaking. She stands there silently, tears streaming down her face… and she doesn’t help him. As much as she wants to go pick him up and console him, she doesn’t move. Ray wasn’t hurt, and he wasn’t in danger. He struggled to pick himself up, walk around his home, and learn how to navigate using his sense of hearing, smell, and touch. After a few minutes, he stops crying, and he begins to smile. He walks around his home, and you can see that the struggle is fading… the accomplishment is clear. Soon, he senses his mother standing nearby. He speaks softly to her and says, “I know you’re right here,” pointing directly at her.

This scene really stuck with me. I know Hollywood took quite a bit of license here, but I also know that Ray Charles often spoke about how his mother, Aretha Robinson, really taught him to fend for himself. To be independent. She didn’t enable him when he lost his sight. She knew he would have to learn to function differently.

How often do we allow our children to struggle? How many times do we swoop in and rescue kids who don’t really need to be rescued?

Please don’t misunderstand me as write this… there are a lot of kids suffering in situations where learning has become painful. Where life in general is painful. Those kids need rescuing.

There are, however, a lot of kids who are never allowed to struggle, and we are doing them a huge disservice. They need to fall down. They need to learn how to pick themselves up again. They need opportunities to struggle in learning without fear of great penalties.

Struggle is important. Without it, are we truly learning?


UPDATED: I just read an article today: 5 Things Teachers Wish Parents Knew: Your Children Can Do More Than You Think. There are a couple of sections in there that complement the idea of “struggle.”

under: Teaching and Learning

Do Something

Posted by: | February 17, 2014 | No Comment |

(This post is very disjointed and extremely poorly written. I apologize for the quality of the writing, but this topic is entirely too important to sit on and wait until I can make it better.)


When the Dunn trial verdict was announced and “breaking news” alerts started popping up, I was stunned. Again.

I don’t even know what to say… what to do. So much injustice. I cry for Jordan Davis’ family. And Trayvon Martin’s family. And Marissa Alexander.* This list is too long, and I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.

I never had to tell my children to be careful what they wear, so that they wouldn’t appear threatening to white people. (This link is to a heartbreaking blog post written by my friend, Rafranz Davis, about a conversation she had with her son after the Zimmerman trial verdict last summer.)

I never had to worry that my children would be accused of something they didn’t do, and then fear the “law” would automatically assume their guilt, due to the color of their skin.

Raising my children in Nebraska… I didn’t have to fear that it was the worst state per capita in the US (!) to grow up male and black. 

No parent should have to worry about their children like this. And yet, they do.

This is a HUMAN BEING problem.

  • I’m angry reading about another child taken too soon.
  • I’m angry that white men are considered justified in “standing their ground,” but a young black mother is not. 
  • I’m angry reading labels such as “black on black” crime… as if that makes anything okay. It’s dismissive and de-humanizing.
  • I’m angry hearing people talk about statistics of homicide amongst children of color… they are not statistics. Statistics are easy to dismiss. Each and every one is someone’s child. 
  • I’m angry that the topic of white privilege ruffles the feathers of so many white people… as if it can be denied. 


More than anything else,  I’m angry about the injustice of it all. It doesn’t have to be like this.


On Saturday, all I could think of was the Edmund Burke quote:

 “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” 

We can’t just sit back and assume someone else will do something. That this is someone else’s problem. We need to address issues of racism, privilege, and how we can all work together as people.

Things I know I can do now:

  • help my students learn to be caring, empathetic people who value life.
  • listen to, learn from, and share the voices of those who refuse to be silent: Melinda Anderson, José Vilson, Mikki Kendall, and Suey Park are all writers you should know.
  • speak up… silence only maintains the status quo.
  • small things matter, too. If we wait for the grandiose gestures, we do nothing.

DO SOMETHING. Say something. Your silence and inaction speaks volumes more than you know.

(I’m not opening up comments on this post, because this is not about me. If you have a reaction, write about it. And then do something.)


*If you haven’t been keeping up with Angela Corey’s continued prosecution of Marissa Alexander, please do. Read more here and help contribute to legal funds here:


under: Uncategorized


Posted by: | January 29, 2014 | 4 Comments |

A couple of days ago, someone shared an image of an anchor chart (for lack of better term) for questioning levels. I thought that my kids could really benefit from it, but I wanted an illustrated version. So yesterday, I spent about an hour making my own version of the poster on chart paper. This is what I made:



As I started to write the original “creator’s” name at the bottom, I realized I didn’t know who had shared it. I spent a couple of hours (yes, hours!) looking for it and could not. The best I was able to find was a couple of teachers who had shared the item via Pinterest.

Still… no attribution.

I don’t believe in using other people’s work without giving them credit. My friend, Krissy Venosdale, has had her share of issues with that lately.

So here’s the deal… teachers love to “steal” each other’s work. We joke about using that word, steal. I have no problem with doing that as long as we also share the credit.

If you know whose original work THIS is, please let me know so I can properly credit him/her. Thanks.



under: Teaching and Learning

Reinforcing Our Philosophy

Posted by: | January 15, 2014 | 2 Comments |

At our school, Anastasis Academy, we offer CRAVE classes to our entire school – we meet once a week for an hour for about 7 weeks.

CRAVE is an opportunity for teachers to offer something different – perhaps an experience kids might not have the opportunity to explore during our “regular” class time. We share a list of options with the kids, and they choose what they are interested in exploring. Any student can sign up for any class with any teacher, grades K-8. Our CRAVE classes are always mixed ages.

Some of the options we’ve had in the past are healthy cooking, hockey, clothing design, coding, ball sports, crocheting, nature inspired art, junk sculptures, chess, iPad rock band, DaVinci inspired art, and build your own instruments. (this is actually a small sample of the offerings)

The emphasis is that the kids are able to choose something that interests them, but also something that they might not have realized they could be interested in learning. CRAVE helps kids explore different areas to expose them to something new. Each class is based upon areas of passion or expertise by the teachers who offer them.


As I was trying to decide what I should offer this session, I thought, “Hey! I’ll crowdsource some ideas! Brilliant!” So, I sent out the following tweet:




Some really helpful people responded with wonderful suggestions:

  • Coding
  • #GeniusHour
  • Let them explore their individual passions/ Ask the kids what THEY want to learn (MANY responded this way!)
  • How to value their authentic self
  • Recording music
  • Build a catapult
  • Build something
  • “Hack the classroom style” learning
  • Research and design
  • How to research
  • How to share what they’re learning
  • Problem-based learning


As I read the incoming tweets, I often responded, “We do that already on a daily/weekly basis.”

And then I continued to respond the same way again and again.

When it was time for lunch and tweets continued to roll in, I left the building to grab something to eat and realized something that I have started to take for granted:

What we do as a rule at Anastasis is an exception almost everywhere else. 

  • Our kids have choice to follow their passions DAILY.
  • What some schools do in their #geniushour or 20% Time (or whatever they rename it) happens every day at our school.
  • As a teacher, I am not stuck in a lesson plan or canned curriculum. When my kids make decisions about what they want to learn, it’s my job to ensure they also pick up skills and concepts they’ll need to know along the way.
  • Our “regular” class time doesn’t look the same as other schools.
  • In my class, we regularly make time to tinker, explore, share, and value each other and ourselves.
  • Our classes are maxed at 12 students per class – the time the students and I have together to really get to know each other and personalize our learning options is invaluable!


By no means is this post meant to be a “thanks, but no thanks” to any of the suggestions I received today… and I hope it’s not reading as arrogance, either.

Two and a half years ago, I picked up and moved from Omaha, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado because Kelly Tenkely  and Matthew Anderson decided to start a school. Every day, I think I’m lucky for being able to be a part of this incredible experience, these amazing families and kids who make up our community.

Today, I remembered just how lucky I am. I believe our philosophy at Anastasis is truly best for our kids. All the suggestions reinforced how we operate.

And today, I also wished that every student had the opportunities that our kids have. 

If you sent me a tweet today… thank you. I’m grateful for the work you do for kids and your willingness to share your passion and suggestions with others.

A few notes:

  1. If you’re curious about what we do at our school, I’m glad to share our story with you over a cup of coffee, a Skype/GHO call, or whatever you decide. You can also read our class blog at http://architectsofwonder.edublogs.org
  2. One of the ideas I had been juggling around in my mind for CRAVE – in addition to something music-related (I’m a Music teacher by trade), photography, or crocheting – was centered around “super challenges.” Our school has held an all-school marshmallow/spaghetti tower challenge as well as the Rube Goldberg machine challenge on #dayofplay. I decided after reading all the great responses today that I would go with the Super Challenge Power Hour. Each week will have a new challenge. Stay tuned for updates!


under: Teaching and Learning

Matt B. Gomez

I met Matt at #EdCampOmaha a couple of years ago. He had traveled all the way to Omaha from Texas and hung out with us at a pizza place during the Friday night tweetup. He immediately struck me as a dedicated, passionate educator, as well as someone with a keen sense of humor. Plus he ordered the G-Unit pizza… it only seemed fitting. We attended a couple of the same edcamp sessions that Saturday, and I loved hearing about his teaching experiences.

Since then, I’ve followed Matt through his blog, Twitter, #kinderchat, Facebook, and Instagram… all contributing to learning more about this incredible educator and family man. He is someone I admire and respect immensely, and not just because he is the Team #NoCuteCaptain. We’ve seen each other again in person at different conferences, including ISTE, and I’m lucky to call him a friend.

Oh, and he teaches Kindergarten, and that makes him a superhero in my book!

You can follow Matt on his blog mattbgomez.com, and he tweets as @mattbgomez.

under: Recommended
Tags: , ,

Note: I REALLY want to keep up with the #365greattweep recommendations, and I REALLY feel like a blog post should accompany each recommendation. I’m just not good at blogging every day. I started this series in October and am only now picking it back up.

So… I will have 365 recommendations, but it might take me more than a year to finish them all. (Better than not doing them, right?)


Summer Howarth

I started following Summer on Twitter a couple of years ago and then met her at ISTE12 in San Diego. She is instantly likable, and her passion for education and kids is really contagious.

Summer is fearless – she jumps at opportunities to share what she is learning and pushes herself to broaden her experiences. As an Australian enamored with the junk food of America, she also willingly ate cheese from a can. (That’s more bravery than I can muster.)

I don’t know if a person’s name influences his/her personality or not, but Summer seems like pure sunshine to me. Sorry for such a sappy phrase –  but if you know her, you understand.

Summer blogs at A View From the Middle and tweets as edusum.

under: Recommended
Tags: ,

Homework from Dean

Posted by: | December 16, 2013 | 7 Comments |

This was the post that was supposed to be fun, light-hearted, and published last weekend. Something else happened. And another blog post was written. This one stayed in Draft for a while.


It’s ok to be silly sometimes. There are days when being an educator is uplifting and purpose-filled. And there are some days when I feel like we all take ourselves so very seriously. Levity can be freeing and much needed… and that’s why I’m participating in this “silly” meme.

On top of that, I love learning about the people from whom I learn. Sometimes, knowing that “he” is a dog lover or that “she” is a Phillies fan helps us to make deeper connections with each other. That is a very good thing.

I don’t do a very good job of balancing professional and personal, nor do I take time often enough to just think about fun for me.


Dean tagged me.

11 Random Facts About Myself

  1. When I’m nervous, I talk. A. LOT. Sometimes, I make sense, and sometimes, I don’t. My apologies if you have ever been subjected to that from me. 
  2. I’m socially awkward. Meeting new people can be stressful for me. I don’t know how to end conversations, and awkward silences make me really nervous. (see #1)
  3. When my parents used to leave the house to run errands, I would play the piano and sing. One day, they came home and “discovered” my musical talent. They forced me to sing in church and try out for music activities in school. I eventually majored in music.
  4. My years in music and performing on stage have contributed greatly to my ability to speak in front of large groups of people. Also the reason most people don’t realize I’m awkward and shy.
  5. I used to play in a women’s golf league. We played 9 holes every Monday night in the spring/summer. My best net score- due to a very high handicap- was 19. Par was 36.
  6. In high school, I had mono for 2 years.
  7. I have a paralyzing fear of heights.
  8. I love dogs, and dogs love me. Friends call me a dog whisperer.
  9. I have a specific coffee cup for Saturdays and a different one for Sundays. I don’t use them for any other day but the “designated” day.
  10. I have to be in the mood to eat chocolate, and that doesn’t happen very often.
  11. I would rather be somewhere really cold than somewhere warm. I’m happiest when outside temps are between 0 and 40F (-17 and 4C). Anything over 65F/18C makes me a little cranky.

Questions from Dean:

  1. How do you feel about pants? Overrated, but necessary in public.
  2. What was the last movie you saw in a theatre? Catching Fire.
  3. Where are your car keys? In a box by my front door.
  4. What time is it? 8:30pm.
  5. What’s the last tweet you favorited? Roberto Luongo’s Ugly Christmas Sweater tweet with Ryan Kesler (Canucks)
  6. Outside of your immediate family, which relative do you like to spend time with? Hard to choose, since I have a great family. If I had to choose, my nieces and nephews.
  7. Have you ever been to Saskatchewan? Not yet. I have a goal to visit every Canadian province in the next 5 years.
  8. How long did it take you to walk to school as a kid? The longest walk was about 30 -45 minutes. 
  9. Besides you,  blogger should I be paying attention to? http://thejourneyisthegoal.wordpress.com/ by @backcountrynut
  10. Name one golf course. Torrey Pines.
  11. What’s your favorite Seinfeld episode or line? “Well, if it isn’t Chesty LaRue!”

Now It’s Your Turn!

  1. Carol McLaughlin
  2. Sean Beaton
  3. Laurel Beaton
  4. Deirdre Bailey
  5. Kristina Peters
  6. Dan Roberts – The ChickenMan
  7. Michelle Hiebert
  8. Rafranz Davis
  9. Jamie Fath
  10. Christine Ruder
  11. Brent Catlett
  12. I know this is 12… but if you’re reading this and want to participate, I want to know more about you.


Questions for You:

  1. What’s the happiest thing you can think of? 
  2. What DO you want to be when you grow up?
  3. Favorite Monty Python quote?
  4. What’s the worst time zone?
  5. Do you have any weird food issues? Describe.
  6. Describe the scene in front of you right now.
  7. How many books are you currently reading? Which ones?
  8. Tell me something you’re proud of yourself for doing/being, but too modest to “toot your own horn.”
  9. If you could make up a name for yourself or change your name, what would it be?
  10. Who is someone you wish more people knew about on Twitter and/or blogs?
  11. What is your favorite education story from your experience?


Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write this. 

under: Uncategorized


Posted by: | December 15, 2013 | No Comment |

I have at least 5 blogs posts ready to publish right now, but this is the one I need to post.

This probably will be my least cohesive/coherent post, and I apologize for that. This one is just for me. To process. And to cope.


1. On Friday, while we were ensuring our students were safe, my thoughts scrambled all over the place:

  • Arapahoe HS is just over and down the street from us. We have former students there. We have siblings of our students who attend that school. We have friends who teach there. Keep it together.
  • You have a job to do and protocol to follow. Thank God for that.
  • Keep calm. The kids are reading you, and they need to feel safe.
  • Remind the kids that they are safe.
  • The faces of the people I know at Arapahoe keep appearing in front of me. I need to become unfeeling and “automatic” for a little while, so I can keep it together. Having protocol and well-defined procedures helps with that.
  • How many more times will this happen in my career as an educator?


2. After details surface the next day, my thoughts are still rather scrambled, but also weary.

  • My heart is so, so heavy for the families of the injured students. For Claire. For the family of the boy who walked into that school with a gun. For the students and staff who experienced it all. For the community who will begin the long process of attempting to heal.
  • I worry that speculation and the need to blame will cause more problems than do any good.
  • Nearly 3 years ago, I sat locked in an office with about 25 kindergartners wondering the same things as I am today. Feeling the same things I felt on Friday. A friend was lost that day. Another friend was critically hurt. More friends affected. I can imagine that they are reliving that day all over again… as are countless others who have gone through the exact same thing.


3. Last night, at a company event, my husband shared this with his co-workers:

  • “As a teacher, she knows more people who have been killed or injured on the job than I do.”
  • He’s a former marine.


4. There are a lot of people want to attribute tragedies to “evil.”

  • What happened at Columbine was “evil.”
  • What happened on September 11th, 2001 was “evil.”
  • What happened at the Toronto mall, the Omaha Westroads mall, Millard South High School,  the Aurora theater, Sandy Hook, and numerous other tragic events…  was “evil.”
  • (I’m not linking to those events. Most of you don’t need me to do so, because you’re well aware of them. That fact is tragic.)
  • When we assign “evil” to these things, I feel we stop trying to DO ANYTHING ABOUT THEM. It takes the responsibility off our shoulders and blames some unseen demon, some “badness” in the world.
  • Speculation is maddening… before details are even released, people assume they know what is going on. This is almost as bad as misplaced blame.
  • Misinformation is spread like wildfire. Don’t fuel that.


5. I know that the main focus for a lot of people will be on gun control.

  • I don’t own a gun, and I’m not going to take a stand one way or the other here. 
  • I DO want to know how a child (18 yrs old is still a child) is able to purchase a gun several months after being suspended for  threatening someone’s life. (if the facts are wrong about these details, I will immediately correct them. This is what I know from reports so far.)
  • I don’t know that there was any bullying in this case. From personal accounts I won’t share, it doesn’t seem to be the case.
  • After the shootings in Aurora and Sandy Hook, more people started talking about mental health care. Social services. Has anything changed?


6. I have to focus on myself right now, right this very minute – not because ANY of this is about me – but because I need to process and cope before I walk into our school tomorrow. Before I sit with my students and help them return to as much normalcy as I can give them. Before we enter the week of many events where we’ll celebrate Christmas. And joy. And love. That’s what they need from me this week.


For anyone affected by Friday, my heart is with you. My prayers are with you. Maybe you were there. Maybe you had to relive another event all over again. I pray that you have someone to help you through your own method of coping.



under: Uncategorized


Philip Cummings

As is the case with so many Twitter friends, I can’t even remember when I first met Philip in person. I think it was either ISTE or EduCon, but that doesn’t really matter. Philip is the kind of friend with whom you start a conversation, and then an hour or two passes by without either of you even noticing. He is incredibly kind, giving, creative, and brilliant.

Philip is a wonderfully gifted teacher, and he shares on his blog some great ideas of how to innovate in the classroom. He is extremely dedicated to his family, and he shares about them just as openly as he does his teaching. Want to hear some great stories about his kids? Ask him about Daddy Camp!

Philip tweets as @Philip_Cummings and blogs at http://www.philipcummings.com.


under: Recommended
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