Getting Dumber

Today’s Slice of Life post at

Today I really felt the effect on my brain when using texting to communicate in our fast-paced world. I fear my mind is deteriorating! Or at least giving me new opportunities for problem solving.

I was standing in the line at the supermarket and I checked my messages…

First I went back to the Christmas decoration section and put this giant tree into an empty cart. Then I felt I had to send a bit of an explanation as to why I texted this random contact to ask if he wanted me to buy him a Christmas tree. (This is not the first time I have texted the wrong group or individual.)

Next, I read the text above from another person. I have learned to read auto-correct spelling now, so I assume we will use this book for devotions rather than deviations.

Finally, I was writing to tell my husband I joined the queue at Aisle 13 with my Christmas tree. Before I sent the Aussie text, I noticed it, took a breath and laughed.

Overall, though, I am still grateful for the ability to communicate in this strange way.

Pearls of Wisdom for Second Grade English

Michael Buist's picture of pearls of wisdomflickr photo shared by buistbunch under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Recently I noticed the above picture on Michael Buist’s Instagram account.

I have watched Michael’s Instagram posts about pearls of wisdom, and I was always curious. This time I asked him if he had written a post about his pearls. Good timing. He was just getting ready to write that post. You can read it on Michael’s Tumblr blog: Pearls of Wisdom Gamify Learning. Be sure to click on that link now and read the post for details about the Pearls of Wisdom. (I’ll wait for you.)

It’s a game. It’s an alternative to grading. It honors the ability of young people to memorize for a lifetime. (I always enjoyed memorizing times tables, presidents, U.S. capitals, and more. I would have loved the pearls of wisdom idea.)

I’m definitely going to try this with second grade English language learners. What would the pearls be for, though? I just finished teaching Kindergarten. For those students, some of the pearls may have been for knowing all the letters and sounds, days of the week, months of the year, and Kindergarten sight words.

For second grade, I need some advice from second grade teachers and teachers of English language learners. I have a limited time with the students, only 3-4 hours a week! What pearls of wisdom would your second grade English language learners earn?

Michael, thank you so much for sharing this awesome idea and write up on your Tumblr account. Thanks for introducing me to two new teachers from KGA. (You can follow Michael and his colleagues here: @BuistBunch, @NusKnights, @notleycrew1, @gforceteach). I have one more question, though. Do the pearls of wisdom stay with the child? Or in the room, as this photo below suggests? Do they stay in the room and students add to them as they earn? Are their names on the string? (Some would have few pearls and hanging up for all to see, right? 🙁 )

Michael's Class #PearlsofWisdom
Michael’s Class #PearlsofWisdom

flickr photo shared by buistbunch under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

What is the Purpose of School?

Recently Oliver Schinkten asked the question, What is the purpose of school? (Read more provocative questions at #QinEd)

My first thought was that was a very big question. I believe the purpose of school is to save our democracy. It’s a frightening thought to consider what America, and other countries, would be like without school. I believe in public education, even with all its problems that will be fixed. I believe our country needs school in order to save itself.

On a more down-to-earth level of school purpose, I liked the idea of communication Joy Kirr shared in this blog post when she answered Oliver’s question.

Certainly communication is the paramount goal of English language learner instruction. I am teaching in a bilingual school in the Kingdom of Bahrain; this year I’m moving up to second grade after 1.5 years in kindergarten. On a day-to-day basis, my goal is much like Joy’s, to use the English language in all its facets to communicate with my English language learners. In addition, I want them to grow in their ability to communicate in English, as well as their native Arabic.

I teach them about what research says about their growing brains when they are learning multiple languages. (Some of them actually speak three or four languages.) I teach them about how they get smarter when they have to struggle to learn something. (SIDEBAR: Join us on 6 August 2015 as we discuss more about using #mindset in the classroom.)

Of course, the reason for all of my teaching is a bigger life lesson.  My purpose is for them to be not only lifelong learners, but creative innovators, collaborators, and confident world-improvers.  What could be a better gift for today’s world than these bilingual innovators from Bahrain using what they’ve learned to make the world a better place? That’s my ultimate purpose in teaching English to second graders.

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:

Road Tripping, Connections, and Community

On top of Rattlesnake Ledge in the Cascades
On top of Rattlesnake Ledge in the Cascades

I just finished a two-week road trip, where I saw special people in my life — my daughter — first time I’ve visited her in her new city; a pastor/mentor who married my husband and me and his sweet wife; a nephew and his wonderful bride and young son; and twelve members of my online professional learning network, including two spouses.

It was amazing to me how community happened so quickly when I was with these friends and family. I thought it was interesting, though, of all the people above — 20 are listed — only three of them had I previously met face-to-face.

As a result of that observation, I’ve had many thoughts about connections and community.


1980 "Cruise"

Yesterday, when we drove by the turnoff for Kalispell, Montana, I thought of a young woman from that town. I had connected with her and other new friends on a ferry ride through the inside passage of Alaska over 30 years ago. We had an amazing time with this little group of twenty-somethings from Rhode Island, Montana, and California, connecting as young people have always done. We shared meals, slept under the stars on the deck of the ship, took pictures, played games, and shared rich conversation for hours. They even had a birthday party for me with a candle on a slice of banana bread. After three glorious days on our poor man cruise ship, we said goodbye and parted ways. I believe we did exchange addresses, but we were young and transient, and the connections were lost.

Then I thought of fast-forwarding that experience thirty years. If my children took that same ferry boat ride, they would spend three days doing the same things we did. However, they would also make online connections, following each other on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or the social-medium-du-jour before the ferry traveled very far down the passage. Then, when they said goodbye, if they so chose, they would be able to maintain and even grow those relationships at the click of a button.

These last two weeks have confirmed what I believe about online connections. Contrary to the opinion of some, the Internet does not ruin real relationships, for me it is bringing me closer to people.

Gallit & Hugh

I had butterflies in my stomach just before we arrived. I began giving my daughter and husband a little background about Gallit’s and my friendship. I reminded them about how I had come to know her. I think my family was nervous because they didn’t have the benefit of knowing Gallit for two years in online collaboration, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Open Spokes, Genius Hour, and so much more.

As soon as we walked into their beautiful home, Gallit and Johnny made us feel like friends. The butterflies went away, and the friendship and laughter took over. They were amazing hosts!

Gallit, Denise, and Hugh

The next day I got to go with Gallit to her Grade 6/7 room at Georges Vanier Elementary School. The staff was amazing. I met Gallit’s teaching partner, Hugh McDonald, in the office. Hugh is one of the very first people I started connecting with on Twitter. Their 48 students, though dangerously close to a summer break, were engaged, polite, creative, and fun to be around. They were amazing!

It was a great day to visit, as two students completed their genius hour project before school by “making peoples’ day.” Simran, Blea, and a dozen classmates held up signs that made many people smile, laugh, and honk their horns. It was definitely a great start to my day. Watch more here:

I also learned about Nigeria from a student who was doing his genius hour presentation, watched a math lesson, and enjoyed (and added to) the pandemonium of students finishing the task of taking ten digital photographs for fine arts.

The best part of the morning was seeing the students and teachers interact. Hugh and Gallit are co-learners with their students. Children and teachers can make mistakes together in this safe place. Students were trusted to make good learning choices, and they did. It was a delightful place to be.

Did you know Hugh and Gallit teach their grade 6/7 students every subject except music and French? That is, they teach ALL content areas, P.E., technology, AND fine arts. Maybe more. Amazing! They get two prep periods in a week — 100 minutes total. Those were just a couple of the differences I noticed. (I may have to write another blog post about that!)

Another delight was watching the principal, Antonio Vendramin, interact with students and staff. The first thing in the morning, he was out directing traffic and supervising the crosswalk. Then he took photos for Hugh and RT’ed about the “Honk If You Love Someone” event.

Later he was photographing all the Grade 7’s for their graduation ceremony slide show. Then I saw him in the hallway reading with a small circle of young learners. After school he was again on duty in the crosswalk as students were picked up. Next, he helped a teacher tape her portion for a music video the staff was making. I was not even there all day, but I saw so many hands-on interactions with parents, staff, and children. He is great.


When I drove down the road after lunch (borrowing Gallit’s car) to Robyn’s school, I went right to the office, but I couldn’t help but notice Robyn, pretty in pink, standing near the doorway of her classroom. She came out and gave me a big hug. No need for introductions. We were already friends–just hadn’t seen each other in person yet.

I had a great afternoon learning from Robyn and her amazing grade 3 and 4s. They went outside to read some good books, played Yahtzee, Skyped with author Howard Binkow, responded to comments from Mr. Binkow on their blogs, enjoyed a surprise–the video they made was featured on #92 Wonderopolis–and more. They are amazing kids!


A dozen educators met up after school at Big Ridge in Surrey. I met all of  these folks for the first time this week. What fun to meet people I have been tweeting with, following their classrooms, reading their blogs, vlogging with, and more! Karen, Valerie, Antonio, Hugh, Tia, Jas, Robyn, Anne-Marie, Jodi, Linda, and Gallit all work in School District 36 in Surrey, British Columbia. With over 5,000 teachers and 120 schools, you may not be surprised to learn that some of them were actually meeting face-to-face for the first time too.



We drove up to one of my favorite poet’s house in the rain. Below the dam, behind the Chevron, past the green building, blue house on the corner, and there was Sheri, tiptoeing through the rain and wet grass to greet us.

She took us on a tour of her community, her school, her inspiring classroom, and the giant dam practically in her front yard.

Scott and Sheri fed and lodged us. They fed us some more. More food, but, perhaps even better, they fed us with beautiful conversation and artistic eyefuls around their lovely home. It was great to finally see my friend in person.

As we drove back to Iowa, Keith and I couldn’t help but reflect on the rich times we had with so many people. Not only did we get to spend time with our daughter, a significant mentor, and a nephew and his family, but we connected in community with wonderful people who we never would have known without Internet connections.

I am better because of my connections.

Why School? The Movie

Quotes from Will Richardson’s blog post about Why School? The Movie

Thanks to a tweet from Nancy Carroll, I learned about Will Richardson’s huge project.

It will be a movie inspired by his TED book Why School?

He wrote about the project on Friday here: “‘Why School?’ The Movie (?)

Regarding the movie and the students and educators Will is hoping to recruit to help, he writes:

…we want it to be “our” project as in the global community of connected educators that care deeply about what schools must become for our kids to flourish in their futures. Those who believe in some semblance of that third narrative I wrote about recently and that we need desperately to bring to scale a new conversation about schools and classrooms and learning in the modern world.

I am all in for that third narrative he wrote about earlier this month in the post “The Three Narratives.”

The way forward is to change the emphasis on student learning from “what” to learn to, instead, “how” to learn.

I’m attempting this in my classroom. I lean every day on my PLN to help me find the way. And now, I’m excited to help make this movie happen!

Do you want to be part of this ground-breaking movie? I signed up to do “grunt work,” maybe you’ll want to join me. 🙂

Read Will’s post to find out how you can be involved.

Before and After Research

Because we were going to see him speak, seventh graders researched Philip Gans, Holocaust and concentration camp survivor.

These two pictures tell the story of my small group of seventh graders. I tease them sometimes and tell them they are one organism. They are a collaborative, learn-together group. And when an “organism” is studying the Holocaust, sometimes it’s better to do it together.

Being in a connected world of collaborative learning together is a good thing.

First Three to Being a Connected Educator

Today I had the fun of being a guest tweeter. (That was a first!) I was the connected educator of the day at @ConnectedEd thanks to Karen Fasimpaur‘s appeal on Sunday.  It’s weird…I’m usually a little more shy on Twitter, but today I tweeted and RTed like a maniac.

One thing I tweeted was:

I guess I wasn’t surprised to hear what topped the list–Twitter. (The list below is in order by how many times each was mentioned. Twitter and blogging were by far mentioned most often. The others were mentioned 1-3 times each.)

So, if you are a future connected educator, jump in and use one of these tools to join or extend your connections!

If you are already a connected educator, what tools and communities did you use to get connected?

Thanks to @CoughlinLaura, @JoyKirr, @NCarroll24, @KTVee, @Gallit_Z , @HughtheTeacher, @tdallen5, @Desjaras for sharing what helped them become connected.