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On vacation…

I’m in Hawaii.

But it’s raining.

So I’m posting instead of baking in the sun.

I haven’t played this game yet, but if I taught students who needed to understand the plight of refugees (instead of those who understand it far too well), I’d be jumping on this.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll make my own children play it so they can wallow in the guilt of their white privilege.

Check it out:

Mar 01, 2017

Digital Learning • Learning Support

Branched Storytelling Experience

The conflict in Syria has torn that country apart, leaving thousands dead and driving millions to flee their homes. Many seek refuge in neighboring countries, but others pay traffickers to take them to Europe—risking death, capture, and deportation. If students were fleeing Syria for Europe, what choices would they make for themselves and their families? BBC’s Syrian Journey: Choose Your Own Escape Route helps students to understand the real dilemmas that Syrian refugees face. This journey is based on extensive research and real stories of Syrians who have made the trek. Similar to the branched storytelling in the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books, Syrian Journey is a playable blog post with threaded endings. When they play Syrian Journey, students take notes on the decisions and choices made, and describe the difficulties and challenges faced. As Syrian refugees, students decide whether to deal with smugglers or take a dangerous raft ride across the Mediterranean Sea. The culminating activity involves the creation of a student journal that includes where, as refugees, they are headed and whether asylum is granted. It includes all the push and pull factors of immigration.

Want to see more resources like this? Check out Big Deal Media.  It’s an awesome resource.




It’s time!

If you haven’t already enrolled for Electronic Village Online, do it now!

Here’s the scoop from the people who are running the show:

For five weeks in January and February, TESOL experts and participants from around the world engage in collaborative online discussions or hands-on virtual workshops of professional and scholarly benefit.

These sessions bring together participants for a longer period of time than is permitted by land-based professional development conventions and allow a fuller development of ideas than is otherwise possible.

Sessions are free and open to anyone around the globe. It is not necessary to be a TESOL or IATEFL member or to attend the TESOL Convention in order to participate. All you need is access to the Internet.

We invite you to choose a session from this year’s offerings, listed below.  And please inform your colleagues about this unparalleled professional development opportunity!

The EVO 2017 Coordination Team

Minecraft, gaming, Moodles, online assessment…there are a lot of offerings.

Check it out and sign up here.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect to people across the globe around teaching English Language Learners.

Teach with tech? Here’s something for you…

I was named a PBS Digital Innovator for the 2014-15 school year. I did not use it to the best of my ability. I tried. But I just am not much of a firebrand sometimes. I got a one-year subscription to PBS LearningMedia for both of my schools. But only six people took me up on it.

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-8-10-32-pmSuch a shame. See? Not a firebrand. Can’t get people to follow me even when I’m giving stuff away.

I have only 47 followers on my blog, for example. I’ve been keeping this blog for a really long time.

But perhaps I might be reaching the right people to spread the word about the Digital Innovator gig. It is getting better.

PBS chooses one person from each state to participate in professional development and to give free stuff to. And next year, they will take all of the state representatives to San Antonio to go to the ISTE conference. Now that’s something. Much more than I was offered.

So if you are an innovator in your classroom, I urge you to try.  What have you got to lose?


Perseverance with Hour of Code

Hour of Code is a push to get students to try coding, to build bridges for regular kids to enter a world of computer programming.

And for my students, coding is nothing they’ve ever tried, nor is it anything they ever knew about.

And I was out to change that today.

I was fortunate to have the assistance of

  • Ryan, whose last name I forget but who is studying to be a teacher of English learners (He just came by to observe today and I sent him to work. I met him yesterday at lunch, and he already knew who I was. “Your name kind of circulates at St. Mike’s.” Really??!!??);
  • Rich Downing, a senior analyst and programmer at University of Vermont (who answered a last minute call in the waning hours of the evening to show up at my class without knowing anything about me other than what I dashed off in an email);
  • and Vitaliy Kulapin, technology specialist at our school.

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 8.01.17 PM.pngWith the help of these three, we dove in with nine students who have pretty low English proficiency, to tackle Disney’s Hour of Code, which made us captain a boat in search of fish and then lead the hero/heroine through a battle against little coconut-covered villains.

I had seen the movie last week with my family, and I found myself wishing I had enough money and room in my car to take my students to see it on the big screen. I thought they would be able to comprehend the story without too much trouble. I’m always looking for experiences like that. But I don’t have access to an account that would allow me to afford to take them. None have been to a movie theater.

So this was the next best thing.

I have been trying SO HARD for the past month to get them to play Minecraft with me, but it’s hard to do when the teacher doesn’t exactly know what she’s doing. And this was a much more doable task. Especially with three other people to help me.

Teaching students at this level is particularly challenging because they just don’t feel heard. Imagine sitting next to your favorite 6-year-old while trying to have an adult conversation with another loved one. Do you hear the “excuse me” call over and over again? That’s pretty much what my class is like: “Ms. Evans! Ms. Evans! Ms. Evans!” Over and over and over. Till I think that I’m not in a high school classroom.

They are not six. But they don’t feel heard. So they call out or come and tap your shoulder or make annoyed sounds that only teen-agers can produce.


They will learn how not to do this.

But in the meantime, I tackle GIANT CHALLENGES with three extra people, so everyone can feel heard.

We did have a couple try to duck out near the end. So we had quick conversations about how one of our school’s graduate expectations is tenacity. I didn’t use those words, but I was able to say that we can’t quit just because things get hard. We have to keep trying. Because everything about learning a new language and culture is hard. But giving up is easy. And if you take the easy way, you will not learn.

Learning from failure is hard. And that little musical rift that played each time the code did not quite hit the mark sounded out around the room pretty much constantly.

But I’m so proud of my crew! They did an awesome job. And they greeted a member of the community who was so excited to come into my room even though he knew nothing about me or them. And a soon-to-be teacher who just came to watch but got a lot more than he bargained for. And for a tech-ed colleague who took time out of his day to lend a hand.

And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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Resurrecting life from a forgotten fire

The Collinwood Fire from The Collinwood Fire on Vimeo.

Remember learning about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? We all learn about this 1911 New York City tragedy as a turning point in history for unions and safety. But a Middlebury professor and his team recently launched a website–just a couple of months ago–to talk about a different fire, an earlier fire.

The fire the Middlebury website talks about is the Collinwood Elementary School fire, in which 171 people died, in much the same way: doorways were blocked, doors were locked, and the building itself did not lend itself architecturally to providing easy egress for the children it housed.

I learned about this site at the VASS conference last week, where I presented on the Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools program, to which I’ll dedicate a blog post soon. But taking a look at this award-winning film and the interactive website that accompanies it is well worth any educator’s time.

The site mixes history and animation, bringing newspaper relics along with commentary into the mix. It also takes a hard look at the journalistic efforts of the time, and also why this fire, though more deadly and earlier, takes a back seat to the Triangle fire.

I think my favorite part by far is a section in which Professor Michael Newbury narrates a clip of the animated short, showing where symbolism is used to convey meaning, helping the viewer to go deeper into the tale. Directly below this clip is another, designed for students to download and try to narrate themselves. Brilliant!

I just find myself wanting to bury myself in this site.

Could you imagine the beautiful projects you could create? And they want students to become an active part of building the site. From the contact page:

Michael Newbury (Fletcher Proctor Professor of American History) and Daniel Houghton (Arts Technology Specialist)  led the team at Middlebury College that made The Collinwood Fire, 1908. We’re happy to hear from any user of the site and, schedules permitting, to speak remotely with  high-school or college classes engaging the material.

We welcome additions to the Teaching Resources section of the site and hope to make galleries of student work about the Collinwood fire.  Please let us know if you have examples to share.  We look forward to seeing them.

How is that for validation of one’s work?

I encourage you to take a look at this magnificent site. I promise you won’t be disappointed.




You eat what? Why?

sheep-1684536_640So many things come up when a lesson is going on.

I am glad I love teachable moments.

My life is full of them.

For example, would you guess that none of my students could find where they used to live on a map? Or that “of the world” to my students sounds a lot like “on the wall”? Or that in teaching “lamb” we could get into a whole discussion about religion? Or hair?

While learning how to do multiple choice tests WHILE listening WHILE trying to remember what we had just seen in a VOA Learning English video (the one where Anna takes everything out of her bag, including a lamp), we found reason to talk about bar graphs. Over and over again.

First, we polled the room to see who was a coffee drinker (Anna was going out to drink coffee with her friends.)


We found out that many people in the room liked coffee. (By the way, if you’re looking for an easy place to teach students about how to make bar graphs, try this site!)

And then  we had to see how many people ate LAMB when that was one of the item distractors for LAMP.

We had to first search up a photo, because my bleating in class was getting me nowhere. And then it was important to find out who eats lambs. It seemed like a logical question. You have to find out what it is, then you have to find out who eats it. lambeaters

We found out that most people didn’t like lamb.

“Why?” my Muslim student asks.

“Because we all eat different things. Many of our Nepali students don’t eat cow.”

“No cow? I like cow.”

“Yes. But do you eat pig?”

pigs-1507208_640.jpg“PIG? NO!”

So we had to do that poll too. After we got a picture of a pig, because my snorts were not getting us very far in understanding.

Thank goodness for the internet. I wouldn’t get half the teaching done I need to do without being able to pull up a picture every time I need it.

Our new pig eaters graph looked pretty much the opposite of the lamb eaters graph.

But we got a chance to talk about how even though we ate different things, we could still all like each other.

I explained that I’m pescaterian. But I still like my pork-eating friend Ann, who was there helping me out today. And even though I don’t eat lamb, I still like my lamb-eating friends. So we can still get along and help each other out.

But now, I need to explain why I don’t eat animals I can pet.

I just love what I do!


Beauty of Selfie in Age of Common Core


Today’s photo on the Spirit of Ethan Allen.

For those of us old fogies who came of age before smart phones and iPads, the selfie can be quite confusing.

Why, why, why would you want to go to beautiful places and then just take pictures of your crazy faces. And nothing else. No cows. No farm. No carousels. No boats. No water. No YMCA. No beach, really.

Just faces. And bodies.

To me, it feels more than just a bit narcissistic. But I think I’m just old.

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 8.30.58 PM

I had to search for this… It’s just too dead-on.

It’s just what kids do, I think.

And maybe I’m just cynical.

Students who have never held cameras are given these fancy things and take dozens and dozens of pictures. I think I must have done that with my first digital camera, just to see how it works. Not to mention to see how I looked in pictures.

It was immediate feedback.

We could take pictures, and if it wasn’t just outstanding, we could try it again. How fun is that?

  • Self-motivation. (What is more motivating than my beautiful face–beautiful if only for the fact that it is the familiar in a sea of unknowns?)
  • Risk-taking. (It’s just hard to put yourself out there, especially when you feel crappy. But everybody’s doing it.)
  • Immediate feedback and correction. Writing and revising. (If at first you don’t succeed, take pictures till you run out of space on your device.)

How much more Common-Core-y can you get? This is what we want. Enjoyment factor. No fear of errors. Trying until you get it right.

Maybe I ought to make peace with the selfie. For at least the next week. Till all this is finally over and summer comes and I can start planning for next year.

Here’s a rough draft of what will be our final projects. Take it away, superstar:



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