Jumping In with Both Feet


Summer’s officially over!

My school year started on Thursday with staff and department meetings and much classroom organizing. It continued at maximum overdrive brain power on Friday off-site with 9-12 ELA teachers from all 4 high schools in my district. Above are my Sketchnotes of the PLC (professional learning community) day. They won’t mean much to anyone not in attendance, but, combined with the pink and blue sheets referenced, they are sufficient for me to recreate the experience. On Tuesday, my students and I will begin our work together.

Our driving questions are “how do students show what they’ve learned?” and “how can we help them develop Rhetorical Flexibility?” (using the right too at the right time). And, on a more pragmatic note, we’ll examine how can we manage the paper load.

I admitted earlier that I’ve completely drunk the Google KoolAid, beginning with creating assignments and collecting products via Google Forms. In fact, our department produced amazing course outlines in a short, focused amount of time in a Google Sheet. With that model, I plan to shift as much as possible of my own work as well as my students’ into a digital format.

I’ll keep you posted!



My First DonorsChoose.org Project!

Subject: Help me build a better classroom

Hi Friends,

I want to make sure my students have the materials they need to succeed, so I just created a request for my classroom at DonorsChoose.org:

Make Stuff and Share — Digitally with Chromebooks

Give to my classroom by September 3, 2014 and your donation will be doubled thanks to DonorsChoose.org. Just enter the code INSPIRE on the payment page and you’ll be matched dollar for dollar (up to $100).

If you chip in to help my students, you’ll get awesome photos and our heartfelt thanks.

Thanks so much,

P.S. If you know anyone who may want to help my classroom, please pass this along!




This afternoon I just “happened” to be browsing Twitter and, like so many times before, I had to follow links posted by some of my favorite tweeps (pointing at you, @davidtedu!). Long story short: with less than a week to the First Day of School, I’ve completely switched my plans in order to introduce the Question Formulation Technique to my students right off the bat so that we can practice it all year.

Quite frankly, it’s essentially Brainstorming and Followup on steroids, but what I love about this new-to-me technique is its applicability to SO MANY areas of education AND LIFE! Most importantly, students can LEARN this critical skill.

Below are my notes on following the technique as laid out in the Educator Den section of the Right Question Institute website:


I started with STEP 1 – Select a QFocus (Question Focus). I selected “Students are not asking questions.”  STEP 2 – Producing Questions (4 minutes) – I followed the rules to create 18 questions as set forth in my notes, which were basically rigorous brainstorming. In STEP 3 – Categorizing Questions (5 minutes) I categorized my questions as open- or closed-ended and expanded them by transmuting several. I also listed the pros and cons of both types of questions, but I would expect to skip that step as I internalize the process. Steps 4, 5 and 6 (3 minutes, 2 minutes, 3 minutes) are not expressly pictured, although I prioritized my questions with asterisks and wrote out my rationales, then wrote out how I will use my questions and what I learned from the process.

I envision teaching students to apply this strategy to many things such as developing questions for Socratic seminars, processing their own learning in other subjects, and, most importantly to MY classes, exploring ideas and making plans for their 20% Time projects.

First day of school? Bring it on!

My Review of SeV Lucy Cardigan

Originally submitted at SCOTTEVEST, Inc.

The Lucy Cardigan will quickly prove itself as one of the most versatile items in your wardrobe. It can work in all seasons – throw it over a bathing suit in the summer or try it with a chic scarf in the cooler months. The trendy burnout material works for daytime, beach, or evening. The Lucy has f…

I have all 5 colors

By Teresa O from Irvine, CA on 8/17/2014


5out of 5

Chest Size: Feels true to size

Sleeve Length: Feels true to length

Pros: Stylish, Flattering, Soft, Great Color, Comfortable, Lightweight

Cons: Thin Fabric

Best Uses: Casual Wear, Going Out, Layering, Work

Describe Yourself: Practical, Petite, Comfort-oriented, Classic

Was this a gift?: No

(1) The best features of the Lucy are the two zipper pockets. I keep my cellphone (in an ID card case) in one and my keys in the other. They are virtually undetectable because of how the garment hangs. The outer pockets are best for light items such as tissues and receipts.
(2) it’s also stylish and great for layering. I’ve received many compliments, especially on the white and blue. (I should get a commission for sales referrals!). Where I teach, my classroom opens to the outside, so I’m constantly moving between temperatures.
(3) The “pro” lovely burnout fabric is also the sole “con” in that it makes the sleeve seams fragile, especially near the elbows.

Lucy is my FAVORITE garment (next to yoga pants) and I also have the Women’s Trench Coat, the Chloe hoodie, the baseball hat and the original Women’s Travel Vest.

My fire lizard on my Lucy Cardigan at SD ComicCon


Tags: Using Product


Be. Here. Now.


(This post originally appeared in my experimental blog on July 20, 2014, before I decided to reactivate this one.)

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:


Experience Needed for Full Understanding

Yesterday my husband and I drove on a “blue highway” through the Salinas Valley as part of our vacation road trip. Previously, we’d just zipped up and down the 101 freeway among other motorists bent on getting somewhere else, no there.

This time, however, we journeyed virtually alone to Mission San Antonio de Padua, 26 miles off the freeway, through some of the most pristine, iconic California landscape I have ever experienced.

For the first time, I really understood Jody Tiflin’s point of view in John Steinbeck’s 1933 novella The Red Pony. The young protagonist always marvelled at his grandfather’s tales of traveling the Oregon Trail, through the flat farmland of young Jody’s home, through the sage-covered foothills, then over the coastal range to the turbulent ocean along the rocky Monterey coast. Even from our fast-moving car, I saw how far away the mountains seemed and could imagine how Jody was impressed by his Grandfather’s apparently daunting trek.

This tiny epiphany reminded me how much I need to give my students EXPERIENCES as much as possible, rather than just focusing on the words on a page. This is true especially for my English learners, who never received the California history curriculum in the 4th grade. This year we will definitely do some exploring via Google Earth.

But maybe we’ll just take some walks up a hillside, too.

I Teach to Learn

I am a lifelong learner. I teach partly because I want my students to become lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and contributing citizens, But I teach also because I learn something new EVERY DAY — from my students, from what we share, about literature, about life, about myself.

My juniors gave TEDtalks last spring, through which I learned, among other things, about bats, the history of dance, and Studio Ghibli. During the year I also learned about one student’s flight from Syria, another’s wins and losses at fencing, and how another was coping with the sudden death of his mother.

The same goes for my teaching/learning in other contexts. My husband and I are part of our parish RCIA team that helps those seeking to become Roman Catholic. Each meeting, the “seekers” inspire me with their thoughtful questions and the challenges of their spiritual journeys, including, at times, acting against the will of their families. And just last week, another teaching team member shared the details of his own beautiful epiphany that stunned us into reflective and respectful silence.

I Love to Learn….