Dare to Care

Creating, Contributing, Communicating, Connecting, Collaborating & Curating

March 16, 2015
by Denise Krebs

Explore, Create, Contribute: the Best in Free Online Resources for Educators

I’m excited to lead a WizIQ webinar called “Explore, Create, Contribute: the Best in Free Online Resources for Educators.” It’s free and coming soon on 2 April 2015 at 2:30 EST.  Hopefully you can come!

In these days of ubiquitous free online resources, you may be wondering about my use of “the best” in describing the online resources we’ll explore. You may ask yourself, “How would she know the best online resources?”

Well, there is a hint in the title: Explore, Create, Contribute. In this webinar, we will definitely explore excellent free online resources. In fact, they are the most useful resources I’m using right now for teaching English language learners in Bahrain.

What will make them even better, though–the best–is when you join in, sharing your gift, creating and contributing, as well. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to do just that. Join us!

2 April 2015 Explore, Create, Contribute for WizIQ

March 6, 2015
by Denise Krebs

The Ultimate in Differentiation: Genius Hour

I’m excited that I got up early this morning for the #geniushour chat. It used to be at a convenient time when I lived in North America. Now I’m living in the Middle East, and so I have to get up by 5:00 a.m. on a Friday, which is a weekend day here. Not so bad because I became re-inspired and re-ignited in a topic I am passionate about.

That topic is handing the reigns over to my students. Allowing them to learn and make and choose how to show their learning. It’s not always easy to give choices when we are mandated to test and cover so much material. However, when students are entrusted with learning–real learning, not just to pass a test learning–they are empowered and motivated. It makes every moment of school better!

This morning I actually was the moderator for the #geniushour chat because I wanted to ask questions about differentiating genius hour for students with special needs or English language learners. My questions were timely because months ago I signed up to lead a session on genius hour: “Genius Hour: Productive, Creative, and Empowered Students.” That session is tomorrow at the ELT Conference here in Bahrain, “Differentiation That Makes a Difference.

Here are the questions we asked and answered at this morning’s chat…

Q1 – Do you differentiate during #geniushour? How?
Q2 – What are some of the most common reasons you need to differentiate #geniushour?
Q3 – How do you help your ELL students? Do you need to differentiate for them?
Q4 – How do you adapt #geniushour for students with IEPs? Any tips to share?
Q5 – Why do you think #geniushour is great for all learners?
Q6 – Any general #geniushour successes that you want to share? Tips and links to share?

I was excited to hear the answers from such a variety of teachers. Many shared that the nature of genius hour is already differentiated. Pure differentiation. Others had suggestions for how they differentiate. Here are a selection of the tweets they shared:

 (Click here to go to the archive of all the Tweets.)

After this morning, I tend to agree with the pure differentiation crowd.  Students decide what they will learn and how. The term differentiation is usually paired with instruction, but really it’s always about learning.

Students will learn in the right conditions. According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, we can help create the right conditions when we take into account the student characteristics of readiness, interest, and learning profile, which includes these four facets of learning profile: gender, culture, learning style, and intelligence preference.¹ Teachers can differentiate the curriculum when they make adjustments on content, process and products.²

In genius hour we hand over power to the students. They choose what they are ready for. They choose what they are interested in. They choose based on their learning profile. They choose the content they want to learn. They choose the process to use to get to that end. They choose the product to show their learning. Throughout, the teacher is available for scaffolding, guiding, helping, leading as needed. Primarily, it’s about the learning, not the knowledge the teacher is imparting.

In my current work as an English teacher in a foreign country, though, I am learning that genius hour looks a little different here. (Or is it the fact that I moved from junior high to kindergarten.) According to most of my friends this morning at the Twitter chat, it seems that the very nature of genius hour is differentiation at its best.

Do you agree? Is it already differentiated or are their special things you do for ELL students? What if they are all ELL students, like mine?

If you have something to share, will you please add one or more tips for using genius hour with English language learners to this Linoit? (I’ll share your comments with the participants at the conference.)

¹”Faculty Conversation: Carol Tomlinson on Differentiation.” University of Virginia. Curry School of Education, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Mar. 2015. <http://curry.virginia.edu/articles/carole-tomlinson-on-differentiation>.

²Allan, Susan D. “Chapter 1. Understanding Differentiated Instruction: Building a Foundation for Leadership.” Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms. By Carol A. Tomlinson. ASCD, 2000. web. 06 Mar. 2015.  <http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/100216/chapters/Understanding-Differentiated-Instruction@-Building-a-Foundation-for-Leadership.aspx>

November 6, 2014
by Denise Krebs

Finding My Way in Kindergarten Genius Hour

After teaching grades 7 and 8 for seven years, it was a challenge for me to go down to Kindergarten. The first few months, the way was treacherous. Now looking back, after eight months or so, I can say overall it has been a delight, and I know it was a gift I didn’t even know I needed.

I find I can practice what I learned in my Master’s program; that is, teaching young children literacy. Most importantly, though, the children are “wonderful, marvelous, beautiful, magical, filled with curiosity and dreams.” (Lyrics by Debbie Clement) They are loving and open. They are learning sponges with big, growing brains.

But how can I do genius hour with them? I wondered. I loved the engaged ownership in junior highers when they were given a chance to learn what they wanted in what we call genius hour.

As Faige Meller has suggested, genius hour in kindergarten may look like a maker space. In this tweet, she says making is what kindergarteners do and, in fact, makers are who they are. (Be sure to read Krissy’s original post too.)

I believed in making, but I didn’t know much about Kindergarten. I had learned to trust Faige, though, so when I saw her tweet last March, I began to run with her ideas in Kindergarten. I began collecting supplies and asking families to do so, as well. We have quite a collection, and we go through a lot of materials.

A genius hour sculpture

When I learn something new about brain research, I share it with my Kindergarteners too. They are not too young, and even though I’m speaking a foreign language to them (they are native Arabic speakers), they understand enough. They know they are capable and creative, and as they create, they get smarter. And they know that as they learn two languages, they get bigger brains too!

A matchbox car garage

So, we are definitely still making our way (pun intended), but we’ve had some huge successes. After we made a small couch for our reading center as a group project, one boy took on the task of making a very small chair with the ten juice bottles we had recently accumulated. He needed lots of help, but that’s where I came in handy, helping to wrestle the juice bottles and operate the hot glue gun and packaging tape. He was the maker. I was the sous maker taking my orders from him.

The little chair finished and ready for a cover.

Genius hour in Kindergarten. It’s happening. We are calling it that, we are making and learning, but I am always open to suggestions you might have for helping us do it better!

Please leave a link in the comments to your primary genius hour projects and process. Or share on Twitter with the hashtag #PrimaryGH.

Our growing collection of maker furniture

August 18, 2014
by Denise Krebs

My World


I created a picture of my world today on The Open University Create Your World.

Roughly from left to right, here’s what my picture represents:

  • Good conversations with new friends here, and also faraway friends and online connections
  • Brain research, thinking, questioning and teaching the ABCs and more to five-year-old Arab children
  • Jesus, the Tree of Life, bringing shade to the world, as well as standing over the puzzle piece of my life
  • Wedding rings represent my husband and me
  • Two flowers for our two lovely daughters
  • Good books, fruit, creativity and art are some of my favorite things

Am I a Planet-protecting, probing motivator? I’d like to think so! :)

Sheri Edwards created a wonderful connected language lesson using this Inspiring Learning: My World app.

Read all about the picture of her world and her middle school lesson plan on her class blog post called: “#teach2blog About Me World Ms Edwards

August 11, 2014
by Denise Krebs

Reading about Learning, Brains and Metacognition

Metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” I may have first heard the term when I was studying reading education for my Masters degree in 2000. I soon came to know it was important to teach children to think about their thinking as they read. It is only then that they can grow as readers and proficient users of comprehension strategies. It changed my reading instruction, but it didn’t radically change all of my teaching.

Now, during the past few years, I have begun to realize that it had to radically change ALL of my teaching.

Oh, that teachers can help children to know and love the process of thinking and learning.

I’ve been reading several blog posts this past week that remind me even more of the power of knowing about learning.

The first one  reminded me of Meera, one of my kindergarten students. When I asked her this spring, “What do you want to learn?” she responded with, “I want to learn about my brain.” What a lead in! It was awesome. I actually explained  to the whole class a bit about brains.

But not as much as I will teach the whole class next year, thanks to Carol Dweck’s work on Mindsets and this post I read recently: What Kids Should Know About Their Own Brains by Annie Murphy Paul on Mind/Shift. Kids are interested in brain research, especially when it “makes a big difference in how constructively kids deal with mistakes and setbacks, and how motivated they are to persist until they achieve mastery.”

The second article gave questions students should be able to answer. like:

  • “What do you want to learn about?”
  • “What’s worth understanding deeply?”
  • “How do you respond to complex texts or digital media?”
  • “If I get out of your way this year, what will you be able to do?”

And 22 more in the article 26 questions every student should be able to answer (by Terry Heick on Te@chThought).  It wouldn’t be easy to interview all the students, so this article also gives ways shared by teachers to get students answering these questions, like jigsawing and team building games. Students should not only be able to personally answer these questions, but they should be asked to answer these questions by teachers who care about their learning.

In another article, Helping Students See Themselves as Thinkers also on Te@chThought, and also by Terry Heick, he ties learning and thinking into citizenship, “In lieu of outward content knowledge, perhaps the goal of all learning should be self-knowledge–themes of identity and purpose, then connectivism and interdependence–ultimately leading to self-directed thinkers who care for their connections with others, and the consequences of their ‘cognitive behavior.'”

This self-knowledge goes along with his lovely and brilliant definition of 21st century learning:  intimate, self-directed learning experiences that serve authentic physical and digital communities, ultimately leading to personal and social change. In his article, Terry gives 12 questions to help students see themselves as thinkers, and as thinkers they can also become problem solvers, conflict resolvers, makers of masterpieces, and self-knowledgeable citizens of the world.

That’s certainly what I want for all my students, so I’ll be helping my little ones see themselves as thinkers!

What have you been reading and viewing lately about learning, brains, and metacognition?


Knight, Jim. “Instructional Coaching.” Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2011. 94. Print.

July 28, 2014
by Denise Krebs

Easy Gathering of Student Blog Posts

Blog posts are an important way for students to share a response to what they are learning. When I taught junior high, we wrote many blog posts:

For a year or so, I read students’ blog posts through an RSS reader. I liked that because I could easily tell when someone wrote a random blog post.

However, there were times when a blog post was an assignment, and I wanted to make sure every student turned it in by a certain time. The RSS reader was not as helpful in that situation. When I had given an assignment, my reader feed was always full, and it wasn’t easy to see which posts were from the assignment at hand.

It was then that I discovered I could use a Google Form to collect URLs from their assignment. I would tweet out the link to the form using our class Twitter account, which they would find by going to our @KrebsClass Twitter page–they didn’t need their own account. Students could easily find the tweet on the Twitter page, click on the link to open the Google form, and fill it out simply by writing their name and adding their link to the current blog post assignment. A new form was made for each assignment. (Here’s good help, if you don’t yet know how to get started with Google Forms.)

Here’s an example of one of the forms we used:

My Genius Hour Blog Post

It’s fun to edit the response students will see after they submit:

Blog Post Response

After they all filled out the form, I had the URLs all in one place. It was very helpful to have a clickable list of responses on a spreadsheet. I could read through the assignments so much easier this way!

Please leave a comment and share other ways you use to organize your blog post assignments!

BONUS POST: Read on if you need a little help formatting the spreadsheet from the Google Form.

The default location for the students’ responses in a Google Form is a Google Spreadsheet with the name of your form followed by:  (Responses). When you first see the “Responses” spreadsheet, the columns are all the same size and ordered according to the time stamp. This is fine for seeing what time students turned in their blog post, but I preferred it in alphabetical order to simplify record keeping for me.

So, to format it, highlight all the information in all three columns:

GH Blog Post highlighted

 Next, click on Data and Sort Range.

GH Blog Post Sort Range


Then click on sort by: Column B (or whatever column you wish to sort):

GH Blog Post sort by Column B

GH Blog Post Column B choice

Now the links are in alphabetical order by student name.

Finally, if you prefer this view, you can stretch out the columns so everything fits nicely.

And voilà, you can easily enjoy your students’ blog posts!

GH Blog Post final

Thanks for reading! I hope something was helpful. As I said above, please leave a comment if you have other ideas for organizing and keeping track of your students’ blog posts.

March 19, 2014
by Denise Krebs

Versatile, Liebster, Getting-to-Know-You, Merry Sunshine, Blog Meme Nomination

Versatile Blogger Award / Liebster / Getting to Know You Meme Sunshine Blog Post

I figured before two years go by, I should finish this blog post! It started with this post from Nancy Carroll in July of 2012. Yikes! Now, since then, I haven’t responded to these posts by Laura Coughlin, Marsha Ratzel, Jeremy Inscho, Joy Kirr, Tracy Watanabe and Paul Solarz. Now, Sheri Edwards’ post is the latest, and I finally decided to finish them all in one post!

First 11 Random Facts About Me

  1. I’m in my third year of taking a photo each day. Do you want to join in?  #T365Project (or for once a weeker’s try #TFotoFri
  2. So far in 2014, I’m failing miserably at number 1.
  3. I recently moved to the island kingdom of Bahrain.
  4. When I moved to Bahrain, I stopped drinking Diet Coke. Now my drink of choice is mango nectar. (I think they’ll serve it in heaven.)
  5. Friday and Saturday are my weekend days now.
  6. I have a birthmark over my left temple, which is always an interesting conversation piece with young children.
  7. I buy plain yogurt in 2 kg tubs, one a week, and I eat most of it. It’s my new favorite food.
  8. I haven’t driven a car since December. Mostly I walk–according to my fitness app, 4-6 miles a day.
  9. I’m always happy baking in the kitchen.
  10. Whenever I see a bag of peach rings in the convenience store, I want to buy them and eat them all. Typically I don’t.
  11. I’m trying to learn Arabic. (Right now I’m still in the intensive listening stage.)

Questions Answered

I’m answering a couple questions from each of the friends who tagged me for this post. Thank you, friends. It was fun to answer them.

  1. Why do you blog? I blog because I’m a writer, not a great one, not a professional one, but a writer nonetheless. It’s a way for me to write more than just for me in my journal. Plus, the best part, I have become friends with fellow educator-writers around the world and we can share our joys and challenges through blogging.
  2. What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her students? love them
  3. Best place you ever vacationed? One very cold and snowy December, I flew from Michigan to the Florida Keys with my 2- and 4-year-old daughters and my husband, who was going for business. The air and water temperatures were in the mid 80s, and it was the most relaxing vacation ever. It was magical.
  4. If you were going to go out to eat, what kind of restaurant would you pick?  Chinese, Italian, Mexican or New American. –  My favorite has always been Mexican. I grew up in southern California, so it’s fairly second nature to me. I miss Mexican food in Bahrain. Now my favorite restaurants to go to are Indian.
  5. Who has had the biggest impact on your teaching practice? And who has altered the way you think about teaching? I could say many people, but in recent years, it would have to be Angela Maiers and Daniel Pink. Through them, I’ve learned more ways to allow children to take ownership of their learning.
  6. Who is your favourite author and book? E.B. White and The Trumpet of the Swan. Louis the swan is such an amazing character–full of perseverance, hope, integrity and grit. It’s a great love story, comedy, and adventure all rolled into one. I’ve read it to students in second through eighth grades. I wonder if my kindergarteners would sit still for it?
  7. Introvert or extrovert? – Definitely introvert. I can be outgoing when necessary, though. I enjoy a good social event, but when it’s all over, I am happy to go away alone to recharge.
  8. What is a favorite quote of yours? “The teacher is the chief learner in the classroom.” Donald Graves 
  9. What is coming up that you are excited about? Spring break. It will be a lull at school after a long season of grades, accreditation visits, pre-kindergarten testing, parent-teacher conferences, and more. In addition, there were no Monday holidays or snow days, like I was used to in Iowa — just a lot of five-day weeks in a row.
  10. What is the most rewarding thing about being an educator? Getting to know a roomful of unique human beings.
  11. What advice do you have for educators today? Love and trust the learners, listen, and be honest and humble.
  12. A Song that moves you – and Why? “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie” I’m not sure why it moves me so much, but when I was in eighth grade this song by Don McLean was popular. At the time, I was reading Flowers for Algernon, and to this day whenever I hear the song, it reminds me of Charlie, and it makes me pensive.
  13. A Book that moved you — and Why? Wonder by R.J. Palacio – I was confronted with my own experience as a childhood bully. It was a painful and healing read. “A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.” Franz Kafka
  14. You: in a six word sentence – Not quite a sentence, but today it’s “on a journey with my shepherd”

Bloggers (Some are Future Bloggers) Invited to Join the Sunshine Blogging Challenge

To these–some brand new and some long-time–friends in my PLN, how about if you take the challenge?

  1. James Kendra (@JamesKendra) – Watch him in a social studies TED Talk too. I want to take junior high social studies in his class!
  2. Ryan Berg (@222Berg) – I’m not even sure Ryan has a blog, YET!
  3. Shamaila Habeebuddin (@Shamaila80) – She has a nice class webpage.
  4. Jennifer Pearson (@mrsjpearson) – And her awesome third graders.
  5. Christine Sturgeon (@c_sturgeon) – Check out her fun librarian blog.
  6. Kris Full (@kristinefull) – Yes, you! Are you ready for a blog?
  7. Caitlin Buchholz (@CaitBuchholz) – She’s got awesome fifth graders. Maybe she’s got a blog too?
  8. Connie Fink (@FinkTeach) – Her profile mentions innovations, mission to inspire and captivate, insatiable curiosity, sharing and collaborating. No wonder she’s learning by leaps and bounds.
  9. Jennifer Rautio (@2jrautio) – Blogging with first graders.
  10. Carol Coutts-Siepka (@CarolCouttsS) – Maybe she’ll be blogging about genius hour soon.
  11. Tracy Sontrop (@sontrop) – Great tweets! Are you a closet blogger too?

 If you take the challenge, here are the few rules…

  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. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

My Questions for You

  1. What is your earliest educational memory?
  2. What is a satisfying high school memory you have?
  3. Favorite quote?
  4. Tell about a favorite book made into a movie. Was it a winner or loser? Why?
  5. What movie is next on your list to see?
  6. If you were given a yacht, what would you name it?
  7. What are three favorite smells?
  8. What do you love to learn?
  9. What is something that changed unexpectedly for you during the past few years?
  10. What can you always be found with?
  11. What, if anything, have you learned or wondered about genius hour lately?

My Six-Word Story

Original image by U.N.  Development Programme in Europe:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/undpeuropeandcis/9929358703/

January 14, 2014
by Denise Krebs

What Changes!

I have been quiet on Twitter and my blogs lately because I have experienced major life changes that have taken all my energy.  I’ve moved from the Midwest in the USA to the small island nation of Bahrain in the Middle East.

I’m eating new food, sleeping in a new bed, and walking across two parking lots and up an elevator (lift) to go home instead of driving past ten miles of corn and soybean fields.

I’ve also said goodbye to junior high land, and have taken on the daunting role of English teacher to two kindergarten classes. I have 50 students in all, and I see each class for 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day, depending on the day of the week. The students are beautiful, loving, fun, and I am fully charmed.

As I’ve always said, I am a lifelong learner. Since I have a million things to learn, that’s a good thing!

I’ve also been “eating my words” when it comes to some of the things I’ve espoused and commented about freedom and choice in the primary classroom. Right now, I have a seating chart and even a behavior chart! These are things I’ve definitely shied away from in the past. So much to learn!

I am in my second week. Actually, even though it’s only Tuesday morning right now in my old stomping grounds, I’m actually 3/5 of the way finished with my second week. The weekend is Friday and Saturday and I’m 9 hours ahead of Iowa, so I just finished teaching on Tuesday, the halfway day. To be sure, I have not gotten used to the days of the week here!

Right now I’m getting my tail whupped, but I’m trusting God to fill in the gap.

I also want to listen and learn from you.

A few pictures on a Flickr set:

December 11, 2013
by Denise Krebs

Creative and Authentic – That’s What Parents Save

I’m moving soon. We are on the countdown, and it’s now 12 days to moving day.

This is a move of prodigious proportions. We have sold our house and furniture. We are going through all our additional belongings and saving only the most important. We have digitized VHS tapes, micro tapes, and even home movies on DVDs.

Today I went through all the saved school work from grades K-8 of Daughter #1.

More worksheets

AR certificates, math worksheets, spelling tests

So much of what I looked through was easy to decide what to do with. Into the trash can went high stakes test results, report cards, Accelerated Reader certificates, and worksheets.

It doesn’t matter if a student is a high achiever or a low achiever, no parent wants to have years worth of test scores and reports cards that give little information about who their child really is. Most of the report cards had meaningless letter grades with few heartfelt comments. Year after year of high stakes test results don’t show anything worth knowing about my daughter or her education.

Those A.R. certificates remind me of how teachers over the years required my children to read on their tested level. That’s one way to squelch the love of reading–telling a sixth grader she has to read books on a high school level. Really? What is the purpose of Accelerated Reader anyway? It doesn’t promote a love of lifelong reading.

Worksheets. We have stored hundreds of our daughter’s worksheets over the last two decades. Really, no child has ever been deeply invested in a worksheet, have they? Twenty years later and that is even more evident. These were easy to throw away. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for all the hours my daughter wasted on some of these activities.

This looked hopeful…


What was in the proud papers folder? More worksheets.

Ironically, I didn’t save one piece of paper from the Proud Papers Folder.  This teacher didn’t understand that what makes a child proud is not papers marked with 100% or “Great Job.”  Children are proud when they invest in authentic work and do an excellent job because they are passionately involved.

To be sure, there were many items to save. I now have half a tub of  letters, science fair reports, artwork, proposals, (my favorite is a “professionally” written proposal to her dad and me for turning our pool house into a club house for her and her friends). Today, while looking through her things, I had fun reading her beautiful poetry and the personal experience narratives that made me laugh and remember.

Some she did all on her own, outside of class. Some were assigned by teachers, like this Pandora’s box made during a unit on ancient Greece.

But all are authentic and creative.  That’s what I saved.

Horrible things in Pandora’s Box, like spinach and Brussels sprouts

October 11, 2013
by Denise Krebs

The World Needs Your Contribution! How My PLN Changed My Life

I loved telling my story about how my teaching life has been transformed over the past three years, thanks to my PLN. It was called The World Needs Your Contribution: How My PLN Changed Everything

Below you will find the slides from my Reform Symposium Conference session (on Twitter: #RSCON4). The presentation has links to all the resources mentioned.

Here is a link to the recording if you want to listen to the 53-minute recording.

Whiteboard for my RSCON4 session

PDF of Chat from my session

Recordings for all the sessions at RSCON4 here.

More about RSCON4 here.