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The final curtain

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Friday was our last day with Susan Palmer from the Flynn, and the last day of full classes.

It had been quite a week for me: Two days out of the classroom for PD, and two days at the end of the week, the last two full days of class, with Susan.

She had asked what would make sense for her to cover, and I still kept coming back to time. All those ways we say time with an analog clock are so confusing… Half past, quarter till, quarter to, quarter of, quarter after, quarter past…

“Quarter” is one of those words that plays a role in text complexity. Multiple meaning words are hard when you speak English as your one and only language. When deciding which words make the most sense to focus on, Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown researched what words would give teachers the most bang for their buck and developed this three-tiered system. (You can read more about it here.) Tier 2 words are those that are used across content areas, many of which have multiple meanings. For English Learners, these can be very confusing. Think, for example, of how many ways you can use the word line. Line up. On the line. Parallel line. Waiting in line. Walking a thin line. Crossed the line. Snorting a line. (Not that I do that kind of thing…)


Susan came in with a really nice idea to bring to bring the word quarter into focus. We pretty much ended up with a table that had a piece of paper–in whole, half and quarter–a measuring cup, a dollar and a quarter. We handed the paper around and said “whole,” “half,” and “quarter.” Then we did the same with a measuring cup of water. Then we built a clock on the floor and yelled “after” and “till” unless we were standing on the 3/6/9 points of the clock, when we shrieked “quarter after,” “half past” and “quarter till.”

It is hard to explain, but it was fun.

We also counted the minutes in the clock and jumped in the air on the numbers that should be those points: 15, 30 and 45.

And then it was time for Susan to go help her partner pack for a trip, and time for us to have a little party. We sent Susan off with cards we wrote for her last week. We said our goodbyes and waved. And then we ate. And ate.

What a lovely way to end the week!

Counting down and feeling it

Around mid-May, I always get a bit anxious.

School is winding down and I always see what I didn’t get to, trying desperately to make sure that my students have been exposed to knowledge that I believe they need. Students are checked out. I feel unfulfilled. My own children are feeling done with school and bring that anger/fear/anxiousness back home. My husband is winding up his school year and is ready for us to go on vacation, despite the fact that, for me, there is another month to go.

Everybody is in a nasty mood.

And the weather doesn’t help.


So much rain.

And if I hear any more about how that will bring spring flowers, I don’t know what drastic measure I would threaten to take.

This time of year is just awful.

I tend to neglect what I should be doing because of my sour mood. But there comes a time when you have to catch up. So that’s what I’m going to do now. The next few posts, which will come in rapid succession, will show the past month in our time with Flynn artist Susan Palmer.

So hang tight. We’re in for a flurry of posts!


Crafting a Club, Student by Student

img_5025Last year, I wrote a DonorsChoose.org grant for MinecraftEDU.

I spent a week planning how to roll this out to my new students. I spent more than a month trying to figure out how to get it on our computers. I then ran out of time as our school year wound down.

New year, new administration.

I spent more than a month figuring out how to get people to let me have my club.

I spent another month trying to figure out how to make it work on the computers and with my students.

And then they hated it.

They didn’t have enough English to figure out how to run the game. And when you don’t understand, you quickly reach frustrational level, and you quit. And that’s what happened.

Now, it’s February. Nearly a year has passed since I fulfilled the grant. I feel like I’ve been taking baby steps, but I finally have a small group of dedicated gamers meeting me weekly to hang out in our world. It’s not always perfect, but I’ve found that the goal is being met. I got the grant to show that the game could help boost soft skills, those skills employers desire yet are rarely taught by schools. You have them or you don’t. Your family network taught you, or they didn’t. Employers want, nay, need these skills.

So in the new world of proficiency-based learning, our district has developed the following graduation expectations, which we are asking students to meet:



In our school, this is what that means:

  • Cross-Cultural Understanding and Engagement

I actively seek to learn about and to understand peoples, cultures, and perspectives. I engage in the life of my community and the greater world.

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

I ask challenging questions, examine authentic problems, and analyze possible solutions.

  • Effective Communication

I use a variety of methods to express, receive, and respond to information and ideas.

  • Personal Development

I identify my strengths and weaknesses, advocate for my health and well-being, make positive choices, and take intentional steps to grow.

  • Curiosity and Creativity

I explore ideas with an open mind and try new and different ways to approach life and learning.

So what does this look like in Minecraft?

Cross-cultural understanding is furthered by the diverse group of gamers I’ve collected in my club. They shout to each other across the room and try to understand where the others are coming from. One of my boys ducked out of the game and started playing by himself last week. “They were all busy doing something. I just wanted to create.” A little later, one of the girls who was playing stopped and asked what he was doing and served up some praise for his building that he was working on. It was not just crossing cultures (she was American-born; he came to the United States a few years ago), but rather the extrovert was reaching out to someone with a few more introverted tendencies. Really, it was so beautiful to see!

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving develops in unexpected ways. The world we created had us starting the game on an island. They ran out of raw materials. So they asked me for the power to fly. They call out to me and ask that I, the benevolent runner of the game, gift them the tools they need. When I found a village for them, they decided they wanted to inhabit and expand the houses. Great! I thought they would build something that would help the game’s villagers multiply and be happy. And instead, the bloodthirsty group of teens killed them all. “They were annoying.” “We wanted their houses.” My heart broke a little, but they did solve their problems…in unexpected ways.

Effective Communication happens when they ask for peers to come help protect the houses or to help kill off the horde. They chatter constantly. And they also come to me with their needs. I feel a little like mom, but I think they’d make it work even without me. When they don’t know how to do something, they talk to each other to figure it out: “How do I tame a horse?” “How can I put the saddle on?” “Do you have any food? Can I have some?” “Who keeps leaving my door open?” (I just neglect to say that was me…)

Personal Development (within the game) comes with learning how to build or how to move past something difficult. A student showed me how to build a better roof one afternoon. Another brought a friend deep into a mine and together they discussed ways to build a house. They are gaining proficiency in the game, particularly those who were not so savvy the first time out. How does this translate into real life? They can see how the “how” in communicating matters. They can see that skill-building is a necessary tool to be successful. They set their own goals. They combine forces to determine what they should do next, such as determining how to get a horse/cow/sheep to a neighboring island. Could we build a spawner? Would that help us move forward? Maybe next week…

Curiosity and Creativity is built into the whole experience. What can you make? Where will your decisions take you?

My next steps are to create movies in simple English to help my newest arrivals become just as fascinated with this game as I am. I started out by teaching them such directional words as “left,” “right,” “forward,” “backward,” and I can envision getting them to take shots of their avatars demonstrating prepositions of location. But first I have to get them to feel comfortable moving and building. I think it’s a long-term investment of time. But I’m willing to do what it takes to get us there.


Are you an digital innovator? LOOK!

From the Big Deal Book:

Jan 16, 2017

Funding & Recognition

Digital Innovators Program

Educators from across the country are encouraged to enter the 2017 PBS Digital Innovators Program. Entrants are asked to submit a 60- to 180-second “mini-presentation” video to show how they’re using resources from PBS LearningMedia, the free media-on-demand service for classrooms from PBS and the WGBH Educational Foundation, along with digital technology and tools in their classroom, to enhance their teaching and inspire a love of learning in their students. Entrants will also be asked to complete a profile and answer a short essay question. A panel of judges will select one educator from each state throughout the United States, its territories, and the District of Columbia as PBS Digital Innovators. The Digital Innovators will receive a three-day, all-expenses-paid trip to San Antonio, Texas, June 24–26, to participate in the 2017 PBS Digital Innovators Summit and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. All PBS Digital Innovators will also receive ongoing professional development opportunities, including virtual trainings focused on digital best practices, access to resources from PBS LearningMedia Custom, invitations to special events, a free PBS TeacherLine professional development course, networking opportunities, and more. In addition, PBS Digital Innovators will receive ongoing support from, and opportunities to work with, their local PBS member stations.

Deadline: February 13, 2017, for entries

These girls rock!

They spoke at the women’s march in Montpelier on Saturday. We should all be proud!

I love these girls!

Desks to educate…

A friend is hoping to get this project moving. They started the campaign a while ago, but it hasn’t gotten much traction. Can you help?


Here’s a link to the fb page to explain more: https://www.facebook.com/ProjectWezesha/

And thanks for your help!

Merry Merry!


I wish everyone a peaceful and restful holiday season.

Look out for your fellow human and breathe.

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