Stories from the OC

StoryCorps mobile studio at Cadence Park in Irvine CA

I’ve been (perhaps) harping on StoryCorps, the NPR radio show and podcast this month, but ’tis the season. I’ve posted several times during the years about using the app for “The Great Thanksgiving Listen ” which I’ve assigned to my classes for a few years now. But this weekend I was fortunate to record an interview in the mobile booth at Cadence Park in Irvine, CA. I could have used the app, but making an official recording allows my interview to be catalogued and issued an actual ISBN number. I highly recommend that locals take advantage of this opportunity before the booth closes on December 31.

My experience was both more and less than I anticipated. My daughter and I had a lovely conversation that went in unexpected directions in which we shared memories, insights, and previously unheard reflections. On the other hand, we barely scratched the surface of potential areas of deeper dialogue. The typical limit of 45 minutes felt artificially rushed. But it whet my appetite for doing it again with other family members.

I had a taste of the potential power of StoryCorps interviews during my recent college reunion at Stanford. My co-chairs, especially Markita Cooper-Blackwood, supported a StoryCorps-like experience for classmates to share a few minutes of solo reflections about their Stanford years or their lives since then as well as conversations with one or more classmates. Many of these stories were incredibly profound, others light and funny, and all were heartfelt.

Sharing stories and listening to one another fosters empathy and understanding. What a wonderful formula for improving our inter-generational and inter-cultural relationships as well as our greater society.

The Great Thanksgiving Listen 2019

NPR’s StoryCorps

It’s again time for the annual national homework assignment called “The Great Thanksgiving Listen.” StoryCorps founder Dave Isay used his TED prize to develop an app to help regular folks conduct StoryCorps interviews anywhere and upload them instantly to where those recorded in the mobile booth are archived: the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. He charged teachers with encouraging students to take advantage of Thanksgiving weekend to record interviews with elderly relatives, just as he advocated honoring veterans with interviews on Veterans’ Day, and celebrating couples with sharing their stories around Valentine’s Day, and gifting anyone with an interview on their birthday.

For those unfamiliar with StoryCorps, I commend you to and your local NPR station. In about 30 minute episodes, the show features 5 to 10-minute excerpts from longer interviews of all kinds of people, including solo individuals sharing reminiscences of loved ones. The show has been the source of many “driveway moments” where I couldn’t leave my car until I finished listening to the end of the show. Happily, StoryCorps is now available as a podcast which I can listen to at any time, not just during my commute.

To make StoryCorps engaging to students, NPR has created animations of the most popular stories and collected them along with other resources for using StoryCorps in the classroom. These resources have increased exponentially since introduction of the app in 2015. I’ve been fortunate to have participated with my students every year since then, and have even received great swag for sharing my experiences with StoryCorps organizers.

In today’s digital world, we have many quick images and videos of those close to us and even access to those of strangers. But rarely are they as intentional or profound as StoryCorps interviews. Teachers, parents, partners, co-workers, friends, siblings, relatives across generations — please check out the StoryCorps app and record each other’s stories as soon as possible. Other than helping one another face-to-face, there’s no better way to develop empathy in today’s society than by sharing our stories.

Daily Baby Animal – 3V Glasses

Narwhal — the unicorn puppy with a second tail

Every day I show my students a different baby animal image that is projected on my white board. Today it will be this viral photo. I’m up front that it’s blatant emotional manipulation — every time they enter my room, I want them to have an oxytocin hit, that cuddly “Awww!” reaction people have looking at babies. I adapted Jane McGonigal’s ideas from a TEDtalk in which she explains how cute baby animals can boost emotional resilience and prolong life.

Beyond just giving students a smile, I use the images to practice critical thinking. I call it putting on their “3-V Glasses,” shorthand for three points-of-view (POV). First, they DESCRIBE OBJECTIVELY exactly what they see. Then they examine their own INITIAL EMOTIONAL REACTIONS.

— Positive: it’s easy to share warm fuzzies about baby animals. We are evolutionally hard-wired to feel protective of small creatures with big eyes, whether or not they look like us. So most people react positively to baby pictures and ASSUME others do also.

— Negative: it’s harder to understand why anyone would react negatively — with fear, horror, sadness, disgust, etc. — to this image. I ask students to imagine what might be the assumptions or life experiences of someone with such a reaction. Perhaps they were forever traumatized by being bitten in their crib by a puppy. Or see the tail on its head as real-life embodiment of Frankenstein’s monster. Far-fetched? Perhaps, but also very possible.

— Questioning: someone could have a purely neutral reaction because they are puzzling out what’s going on in the image. The point is NOT TO JUDGE another for having a different reaction than one’s own.

The next step is to apply the strategy of 3-V Glasses to their own lives. How might they step into the skin of someone with an opposite point of view, who brings to the discussion a different set of assumptions and experience, who may objectively observe the same facts but come to an “outrageous” conclusion. (*cough* all politics today *cough*).

Finally, enlightened individuals who can practice EMPATHY on a daily basis can at least engage in civil discussion in order to DEFINE PROBLEMS and to BRAINSTORM A VARIETY OF SOLUTIONS.

3-V Glasses is a strategy that I’ve evolved with the support of my Google for Education Certified Innovator Academy experience shoutout to #DEN18!). It’s based on Design Thinking principles, my legal training in critical thinking, research on the teenage brain, and my own years of interacting with high school students. More about each of these in future posts….

No more shoulda coulda woulda

by Shel Silverstein

An educator friend on Facebook posted the following reminder:

Could’ve = Could have
Would’ve = Would have
Should’ve = Should have

The word “of” is not a part of this.

Although it was intended to be a grammar rant (my favorite kind of rant!), the post also reminded my of my recent resolution to avoid regrets. Instead of beating myself up with “coulda-woulda-shoulda’s,” I should will acknowledge that I made the best choice possible with what I knew at the time.

See what I did there? I replaced a judgmental command to myself with a commitment to JUST DO IT, if it’s important, and do so happily. I don’t have the same trouble with using “could” or “would” about a future choice. Both imply considering alternatives and conditions, both good things, rather than doing something against one’s will.

The problem with “coulda-woulda-shoulda” is they express regrets about the past. Shel Silverstein’s “did” simply acknowledges that something happened. Move on. Without judgment.

I learned from my #DEN18 Google Innovator Academy training (#GoogleEI) to apply #DesignThinking language to my life as well as my education projects. In reflecting on a choice or a problem, I say “how might we/I” do something different. Then I brainstorm, without judgment, lots of possibilities. Next I try one out. I turn mistakes into “iterations.” It’s fun!

For example, I recently lost my driver’s license. I last recalled seeing it after passing through a TSA checkpoint. I had intended to replace it in my iPhone wallet case immediately, but I may have shoved it in a pocket with my boarding pass, and dropped it out without noticing when I pulled out the pass for boarding. OK, it was an accident. It’s fixable. There was no blood involved. I just have to steel myself for a trip to the DMV.

So “how might I” improve my ID protocol? Get a translucent phone case? Affirmatively check the case each time I go somewhere new? Put a Tile tracker on a dedicated driver’s license sleeve instead of keeping it with my phone? Rather than self-flagellating, I turned a mistake into an creative challenge to find the best way to keep track of important stuff. It’s better than harboring regrets over an accident.

UPDATE: I found my driver’s license in my car! It must have fallen out when I pulled out my credit card to pay for airport parking. I missed it in the dark, but found it in daylight. So, apart from user error, my ideal system is this pretty and practical iPhone case after all. I may still consider a Tile, though, because cool….

Perspective #OneWord2018


As 2018 begins, I’m inspired to join a host of educators on Twitter and Facebook in committing to focus on #oneword2018 this year and to provide that reflective opportunity to my students. My word is PERSPECTIVE.

Personally, in the past year I have raged and despaired over the deterioration of civil public discourse in contemporary society. It’s easy and tempting to blame “those other guys” for this disrespectful and contemptuous atmosphere, especially the ones who hold political views diametrically opposed to mine. But rage and despair have gotten me nowhere; sadly, they have overcome my normal optimism. I am changing this for 2018.

I commit (hand over my heart) to striving respectfully to comprehend the perspective of others, and to model that for my students and my community. As my English students learn, a world of literature told exclusively from a single, first-person point of view would be limiting and boring. Jon Scieszka in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs  and Gregory Maguire in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, engagingly re-tell familiar tales from alternative points of view. And our own imaginations and sense of possibilities are the better for it.

My hope is that, by being open to listening to each other’s stories, we can create empathy sufficient to destroy the suspicion, negativity and downright bigotry displayed at the highest level of government in the last year.

I often begin the school year with a bucket of old reading glasses, 3-D glasses, and swim goggles that I ask my students to try on. They also swap prescription glasses with classmates with much giggling. It’s a terrific, visceral demonstration of how hard it can be to see another’s point of view without wearing their “eyes” or walking in their shoes.

So here’s to a new year of sharing perspectives!



Celebrating Innovation


Today I drove out to Bassett High School to attend San Gabriel Valley CUE’s annual conference called Innovation Celebration. In the past it’s been a “TechFest”, but I love how this year it included sessions on pedagogy that weren’t focused exclusively on edtech. As the numbers of teachers comfortable with edtech grow, so have the offerings for varied levels of tech experience. Pictured are my pals and mentors Alice Chen and Nancy Minicozzi, whom I met at my first CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp and who continue to inspire me with their expertise and curiosity.

While I have learned a ton online through edchats on Twitter and expanding my PLN (professional learning network), I love interacting face-to-face with my “tribe”, those willing and able to spend their weekends gathering ideas to enhance their students’ learning. Here’s a new friend who made me laugh with this tweet:


LarissaTweet1.PNG  IMG_7444

Isn’t that adorable? And isn’t SHE? She’s wearing an Amelia and Joy by LuLaRoe! I always ask to take a picture with the name badge so I can recall the awesome folks I meet at conferences.

I had planned to debrief my new learning tonight, but I’m really tired. Guess I’ll allow myself a little more grace and get to bed early….

Giving Myself Grace


Having been too crazy busy yesterday to even considering posting, I sought an appropriate quote about self-forgiveness. Fittingly, this quote also applied to my students’ fledgling 20% Time Projects. One girl was debating between learning to cook and fashion drawing. When I asked her which one was more interesting, she replied quickly, “Drawing! But it’s so hard. What if I don’t finish?” I was thrilled to assure her that it’s the process, not the product that matters most with 20% Time. She revealed that she had tried to learn fashion drawing and quit several times. However, failure is an essential step in learning and improving. She was happy to have “permission” to fail.

Today my students started their websites for collecting their research. I’m looking forward to seeing how they customize them and fill them with their learning. I had a major glitch in trying to share a Google Sites template, and ended up just creating a website in front of them. *shrug* I rolled with it. My classroom was noisy, but the students were engaged. I’m always re-learning to embrace the messiness, to allow myself grace.


Time Flies


Every year seems to go by more quickly than the last. Well, yes. That is LITERALLY true to humans because a year becomes a progressively smaller unit of our lives. A year is now 1/60th of my life, but only 1/10th of my nephew’s life. I chose the image above — a jet plane — rather than the more common bird wings or insect wings because I’m feeling like MY time is passing on turbo boost. “Too much to do; too little time!”

Yet, as my classes discussed last week about the stages of life, time is a human construct. It is relative (cf Albert Einstein), but also, as stated by Erwin Sylvanus, “Indifferent to the affairs of men, time runs out, precise, heedless, exact, and immutable in rhythm.” Therefore, the passage of time is inherently in the mind of the observer. That being so, we should spend more of our time enjoying the present, fully savoring what we do each moment, without regret over the past or anxiety about the future.

So please excuse me while I go pet my cat, kiss my husband, and enjoy a taste of chocolate while listening to what “shuffle” serves up on my Music app. 🙂


Waxing and Waning Tweets

I’ve been disappointed in myself that I haven’t been as active on Twitter or in my favorite Twitter chats or Google+ communities since school began. Then I realized that I’ve had to develop different priorities. To everything there is a season. At least I’m still listening to education podcasts. And I’m confident that I’ll resume active participation in my online PLN (professional learning network) as I create a comfortable and efficient school routine. It takes time. 

Teachers constantly  shake their heads at non-teachers’ envy of our “summers off.” Ironically, my summers are even more packed with professional development activities than the rest of the year. This summer I presented at two conferences, attended two, put in 3 days of site and district learning, plus spent countless hours of thinking and planning and dreaming about the coming school year. Granted, I also attended San Diego Comic-Con and visited Washington DC. But I collected there ideas to share with my students.

My commitment to and enjoyment of growing in my profession remains steady even though my activities wax and wane. Twitter can wait.

I Teach to Learn

Several recent events led me to choose this topic and title and to write about it. One was Facebook reminding me what I did on each day several years before. I USED to blog every day, even if only about silly, apparently trivial observations. But those old posts reminded me of certain moments of learning in my life that I did (or didn’t! absorb into my common practice today.

Another was hearing an interview on NPR’s The Frame of Casey Affleck at Telluride this year. John Horn asked Casey if he enjoyed watching himself in his movies over his 20-year career and Casey replied “not really” and that he wasn’t sure why. Rather, he recounted a story of doing construction work summers in his youth in Boston, and of one job where they had to build a short flight of stairs. No one, not even the foreman, knew what they were doing, but they figured it out together. It’s still there, and Casey points it out to friends when they go by. Casey analogized that to making movies. It’s not the product he finds inspiring, but the conversations and creativity that are part of the process.

I’ve blogged on process over product before. I, too, am not a fan of reliving past successes or dwelling on past failures. EXCEPT insofar as they inform what I DO NOW. For example, I’m quite proud of a short music video I made at a summer CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp with parody lyrics and a green screen, not because it’s great (it’s not!), but because it’s a useful teaching tool. I don’t recount many legal war stories from when I was in private practice or a legal editor in the Bay Area, except for those that illustrate a point about good writing. (“Know your audience” and “Always read the statute first.”)

A third event was a fleeting reference to the concept of “flow” which quantifies why people are happiest when fully engaged in a challenging activity. I see it in my students (pictured above) when they solve puzzles with our BreakoutEDU kits. I feel it in myself when I’m researching and designing and executing new lesson plans with new students and tech tools and educational priorities each year.

The final event was flipping my calendar page to October. Even though this school year began in late-August, it still feels like we just started a few weeks ago. Time flies! And so does the opportunity to document my learning each day.

So that’s why I’m blogging again. I want to remember my learning each day. I teach to learn.