Day 1 of Awesome Learning at CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp

CUE Rockstar Title

I love learning! Today was Day 1 of the CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp at Manhattan Beach. It’s a wonderful three-day, hands-on, low teacher-student ratio professional development workshop at MB Middle School. The faculty are all experienced and enthusiastic experts in edtech (I get alliterative when I’m excited!). In the first session I learned about and practiced creating Google Forms with Karl LS, then in the second session I extended this info with Add Ons taught by John Stevens

The Rockstar learning model emphasizes making stuff, which fits right in with my new philosophy. Not only did I adapt some of my old work into Google Forms but I had time to create new Forms and  to brainstorm about other out-of-the-box uses.

Here’s my analog Sketchnote for the Day 1 sessions.


Learning continued at lunchtime with a great discussion about Twitter. See my Crossing the Streams post about my revised feelings about Twitter. Then at dinner at Tin Roof Bistro, I was privileged to relax and chat with a great group of educators. Oh, and my Lamb Burger was to die for! And the Pineapple Upside Down Cupcake from Susie Cakes next door was the perfect dessert.

OK, time for a good night’s sleep (for both me and my devices) to recharge for another full day tomorrow.


Make Good Stuff and Share

Make Good Art Cover

My new motto is based in part on Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech in which he told grads at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts to “Make Good Art.” The transcript became a lovely graphic art book that I like to give to graduates because it applies to all of us, not just artists. I combined this with educator Alice Keeler’s admonition to “share what you do to help you reflect on what you do”  to form my motto.

The point is to aspire not ONLY to make “great” stuff because one will never be satisfied with it. Even “good” stuff that is sincere and thoughtful and that represents creative work deserves notice. And sharing it helps to make the stuff that follows even better. All this is a long way of explaining why I’m blogging again and sharing my plans and progress and projects. I hope to encourage my students and colleagues to do the same.

So get out there and make good stuff AND share it!


Narrative Writing with EL’s Using Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL

Arrival Cover

This morning I gave a short presentation to the UCI Writing Project’s Summer Institute about narrative writing with English learners in high school. UCIWP director Carol Booth Olson, having solicited, then selected my lesson to include in an upcoming book about Common Core State Standards and English learners, asked me to share the lesson to this group. Since I learned so much as a Fellow in 2009, I was thrilled to give back.

Of the three types of writing defined in the CCSS (narrative, argumentative, informational), I consider narrative the most important (see previous post about storytelling). In essence I provided a set of pictures for students for which to write an accompanying narration. The power of this lesson is in the illustrations of Shaun Tan from his wordless graphic book, The Arrival.  The story follows an immigrant leaving his family behind in his troubled homeland and establishing a new life in a foreign land, complete with struggles to learn the language, to find housing and a job, and to make friends before his family can join him. All students, particularly EL’s can relate to the “stranger in a strange land” journey.

In my lesson (contact me if you want more details) I go over the whole book with my class, focusing on key events and coming up with common terms such as the immigrant’s name, the name for the public transportation, and a label for his stray pet. I love that the UCIWP Fellows came up with “shark-cat.”

I can hardly wait to present this to a new crop of students next year!

Arrival Transport

Arrival Pet

Be. Here. Now.

I just returned from my silent meditation retreat in the high desert, refreshed and re-energized. My wonderful experience affirmed a truth shared by many spiritual traditions (and education), that is, the importance of being fully present. In education we call it “student engagement.” It’s that magical zone where students lose track of time, where they look up and ask, “can I work on this at home?”, where their challenge just slightly exceeds their skills so that they are in FLOW and learning happens. I wish it were possible to be in this state more often.

“Be” means to exist, not to plan for the future, not to act or to move, not to reflect on the past, not even to think. It actually encompasses all the senses as well as the mind.

“Here” refers to this exact place. Once again, not somewhere in the future (like the college you want to attend) or in the past (that year when you were the best on the team), not another place (a different classroom or home or city), not another spot (closer to the stage or further from a noxious smell). THIS place is what “is” real as opposed to imagined or desired.

“Now” refers, of course, to the present moment, not longing or yearning for the past, not expecting or projecting into the future. It’s stopping to smell the roses instead of focusing on earning a ticket to get another ticket to that perfect experience that society has told you to desire. “Now” is our reality at every moment. “Before” is over, and “later” may never come.

That’s it. I have no treatise on the meaning of life. I have no concrete activities to share or research to cite. Just a statement on this day following this experience — a reminder always to:



Going off the Grid


I’m going off the grid for three days. By choice. Not only will I have no internet, but I am not supposed to read, write, or talk to others. I’m attending my second silent meditation retreat. I can’t expect to replicate in only three days the amazing experience of ten days last summer, but I hope to recapture some of that serenity.

By the way, potential thieves, my tall, strong husband and son will still be at home, aided by our fierce black Siberian Forest “dog-like” cat (seriously, that’s in the official description of the breed!). So don’t get any funny ideas ….

The first time I did this, I surprised myself with how quickly I, tech geek and reader and writer girl, acclimated. I had a predictable period of “what in the heck am I doing here?” and “I need to leave now!” But then I got over my FOMO (fear of missing out) and got comfortable living in my own head,  uncomfortable dark places and all. Ditching the expectation of verbal social interaction was also liberating. The all-vegetarian food is fabulous, but only tea instead of coffee could be problematic.

These are just the mechanics of the experience. What goes on inside is so individual, it’s hard to write about. So I’ll just “experience the experience” and leave the rest to your imagination. See you after three days.

Storytelling Matters

The first week at UCLA School of Law our professors told us our job as lawyers was “to tell the most compelling story.” Today persuasive and narrative writing are two pillars of the Common Core State Standards in writing, the third being argumentative/expository. But narrative (both reading and writing) in particular defines our experiences as humans. We tell our own stories to discover and share meaning; we read other’s stories to connection and find meaning. Every discipline employs some form of “telling one’s story”, whether it be a scientific study, a corporate annual report, a medical history, architectural plans — you name it. We all need to tell stories!

This article presents the why and how of storytelling more eloquently that I could. I hope to adapt it to my high school classes this fall.


Lessons Learned from Nerdtacular 2014


From July 3 to July 6 I attended the 2014 version one of my favorite annual events, Nerdtacular! A “thank you” for fans of Scott Johnson’s Frogpants Studios, it began 7 years ago as a communal geeky movie-viewing event with 30 people in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has evolved into a two-day, multi-track event including concerts (by The Doubleclicks and Andrew Allen) at Snowbird Resort up the mountain from SLC for around 700.

It’s impossible to encapsulate the awesomeness of this event or my joy at hanging out with my Tribe, but I can try to share a few lessons. Not surprisingly, I can easily extend them into my classroom.

1) Whatever gets your geek on, you are not alone! Like the bigger conferences such as San Diego ComicCon, Nerdtacular appeals to fans of comics (print and web), video games, tabletop games, movies, science fiction and fantasy, cosplay, music, tech, and podcasting. But unlike SDCC or any other con, it feels more like an intimate, wacky group of sisters and brothers from another mother. I can wear my tiara there every year without judgment. 😉

Classroom application: I plan to have students fill out a Google form in the first week telling me their interests so that I can include them in our curriculum.

2) People who make stuff are generally super nice and like to share! That goes for the podcast producers AND the incredibly creative fan community that’s grown up around them. No lane lines or handlers here. Internet celebrities and fans from faraway places (France, UK, Canada) share pizzas, cigars, inside jokes, and games of Cards Against Humanity way into the night.

Classroom application: I hope to identify student “experts” within the class and to bring in outside experts more often. My husband, a lawyer, loves to judge my mock trials.

3) It’s okay to be introverted or only situationally extroverted! As a teacher, I can put on a public speaker hat, but as a geek, I find myself surprisingly shy. Yet in this group, so many of us feel the same way that we extended ourselves to start conversations (yay for clever, nerdy t-shirts that broke the ice!) and to understand when people had to excuse themselves for some alone time.

Classroom application: Susan Cain’s call to action in her TEDtalk has changed my approach to collaborative work. I make sure students have as much choice as possible, even to work alone.

4) As individuals we are awesome, but as a community we are amazingly awesome! I loved seeing how creative and witty all my new besties were, from artists to costumers to skateboard crafters, etc.). One talented creator of custom leather embossed flasks (see below!) got so much love that he became inspired to start a small business. Also, I heard so many stories of resort staff going out of their way to mention that our group was so great to have as guests. In fact, the bride and groom of the wedding that was mistakenly booked at the same time into an adjacent space loved us so much they had pictures taken with our Maleficent and Iron Man. The cosplay this year was incredible. But what I loved the most was the synergy of creativity and support that inspired even people like me to try new things.

Classroom application: as I do every year, I will help students develop a safe learning community in my classroom.

5) Go forth and make cool stuff! Scott Johnson himself is an inspiration to the creative community. I was present seven years ago at the taping of the 1000th episode of Buzz Out Loud, a long-running tech podcast produced by C-NET/CBSinteractive when Scott announced that he was quitting his day job and going full-time into podcasting and cartoon art. What a great role model for following one’s passion!

Classroom application: isn’t this our ultimate mission as teachers — to create lifelong learners who take responsibility for their own growth and creativity?

So how was YOUR holiday weekend? 😉

NT14 Flasks


Storytelling and Connection

On Saturday (while watching poor Brazil lose to Netherlands for 3rd place in the World Cup) I read a tweet from one of my favorite educators on Twitter, Amy Burvall (or @amyburvall): “Big ideas from Jonathan Gottschall’s “Man, the #Storytelling Animal” @johnkao”

Storytelling Animal

So, of course, I had to click the link, then, of course, I had to download a sample chapter of Gottschall’s book for my Kindle, and, of course, I had to order the book itself. Essentially, it posits that humans make meaning through stories. This resonates with me as a reader, but also as a literature teacher and writer. Ironically, though, I spend much of my teaching and writing time presenting ideas or conclusions in lessons and essays, not stories.

What this brief, but pithy, episode on the internet reminded me is to make sure my students hear my stories and CREATE their own stories or, at the very least, CONNECT the ideas in my lessons to their own stories.

I can’t wait for the fall!

15 Minutes

“Anyone can do anything for 15 minutes.” This simple statement helps me to take control of my tasks and to share a great study practice with my students.


The “15 minutes” philosophy is fundamental to‘s decluttering and home organization system. It applies equally to anything difficult, regardless of whether we want to do it. For example, it helps in creating a good habit (practicing piano), breaking a bad habit (watching cat videos), or getting started on a long task (grading final essays with a short turnaround time).

Like the Pomodoro time management strategy, “Anything for 15 Minutes” requires a timer and a plan. Having tried several, I prefer this timer, which has a large face, clips to clothes or a notebook, beeps loudly or buzzes unobtrusively or flashes silently or any combination of the three. Unlike the Pomodoro system (25 minutes on task, plus 5-minute break), my own variation has taught me to think, work AND relax in 15-minute chunks. If I find I’m on a productive roll when my timer buzzes at my waist, I reset it without even looking until I really need the 15-minute break. Fifteen minutes of cat videos releases those happy endorphins and I’ve learned I can knit a surprising amount in only 15 minutes.

What’s YOUR system?

Origins of “Sing Surf Knit”

Since my blog reboot brings a new audience as well as a refreshed focus, here’s the origin story for my blog title. I’m a knitter. And teacher, and writer, and creator. And knitter. I love metaphors and connections. I often tell my students that “metaphor” and “irony” are the keys to life. (I’ll save the irony sermon for another post.)

A metaphor is a comparison between two apparently unlike things. The best metaphors are meaningful, memorable, and helpful for clarifying thinking, but even ridiculous metaphors can help to define limits and simply amuse.

“Sing Surf Knit” works as a metaphor for my approach to life and education on so many levels. The words are verbs, imperatives, admonitions to go out and DO these things.

(UPDATED: I almost forgot! SSK in knitspeak stands for slip slip knit, a move which combines two stitches into one and produces a stitch that leans to the left. K2TOG produces a right-leaning stitch, but doesn’t lend itself nearly as elegantly to education metaphors. 😉 )

SING – I love music, everything from singing in the shower to performing in Carnegie Hall (yup, I did that), from listening to cantor in church to attending a weekend music festival in the mountains. It’s creative, mood-enhancing. It engages the senses and the imagination. That’s how I aim to experience live in the moment, as well as to relive experiences in the past.

SURF – I used to surf, sort of. My 8’4″ Becker Supermodel stands at the back of the surfboard rack in the garage, behind the well-used boards of my husband, daughter, and son. I heartily dislike wetsuits, so my excuse for not surfing is I have to wait until we travel again to somewhere warm (preferably Costa Rica, but Hawaii will do 😉 ). But the metaphor still works. Surfing is happiness, the ultimate “live-in-the-moment” FLOW activity, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. When surfers catch a wave, they hit that sweet spot where the challenge is just a little bit higher than their skill, and they want to experience that high again and again. But every wave is different and surfers may have to paddle around and try and fail for hours to be in just the right spot. My goal in life is to be “in flow” as often as possible. That requires picking the right challenges and developing my skills.

KNIT – This deserves its own extensive blog post. Suffice it to say that to me knitting is creating something wonderful (usually useful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes provocative) from a single strand of yarn, one stitch at a time, making connections between stitches, between designer and knitter, between creator and observer. This “making and connecting” = learning.

So, as one who seeks to sing, surf and knit, I’m a life-long learner.