Blurring Boundaries

Turkey Christmas Tree Ornament

‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house … the Christmas decorations had been hung by the chimney with care for at least a week. At my neighborhood mall, the “holiday” lights were up even before Halloween. This image of a turkey and a pumpkin as a Christmas ornament perfectly captures that unfortunate overlapping of seasons.

The public display is all for marketing, of course. It’s the same strategy that has turned “Black Friday” sales into “entire month of November” sales. Now, I’m just as prone as any consumer to being seduced by a bargain (my Instant Pot from Amazon is almost exactly two years old), but I’m dismayed at the blurring of boundaries of the celebrations themselves.

To me, Halloween is the cosplayer’s favorite holiday (next to the Masquerade on Saturday night at Comic-Con). Unless one is costumed as a Christmas tree (as I was in my first year of teaching, including working strings of lights), people should be free from even a hint of the December festivities. The November 1 Day of the Dead commemorations also deserve our full attention. Not this year, I guess. 😦 I think retailers were spooked by the relatively late Thanksgiving that shortened the number of shopping days before Christmas. So they overcompensated by moving up Black Friday, the traditional start of the shopping season, and virtually ignoring Thanksgiving altogether.

I also love Thanksgiving (I’ll save discussion of revisiting the Pilgrim narrative for another post.) It represents family and food and relaxing (not shopping) together over a long weekend. My school site has deemed Thanksgiving a break from homework, but procrastinating seniors will undoubtedly polishing their University of California applications. My favorite special meal is roast turkey with all the fixings, followed by leftovers for days. I’m not so devoted to the desserts, though, but I love me some dark meat, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. And I take the most pleasure in cooking it in my own kitchen.

Sadly, I feel that this year the spirit of Thanksgiving has been lost in the hype of bargain hunting for Christmas. And, thus, so has the spiritual meaning of Christmas been swallowed up in commercialism. I’m not feeling the solemnity or joy any less; it’s just that all the ads are more shrill.

I guess my message is to savor the Thanksgiving spirit to its fullest. Let’s begin the Christmas season next Monday (which happens to be Cyber Monday).

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!



Sing Strum Smile

This is my Ibanez bass guitar I got for my birthday a few years ago. She lives in our “home studio” populated by my husband’s and son’s electric and acoustic-electric guitars, mics, mixer, sitar, guzheng, amps, and recording stuff I don’t understand. That’s my concertina behind and to the left, though. We jammed some tonight and my poor, tender fingertips suffered. But I’d forgotten how fun it is to make music together! I need to resume the habit to build up those calluses again. Depending on the research, it takes either 21 or 66 days to form a habit. So I’m looking at summertime. Stay tuned!

The Importance of Being Empathetic


My Brit Lit juniors just finished studying  The Importance of Being Earnest, hence, this  post’s title. I participated in two stimulating Twitter EdTech chats yesterday where empathy emerged as a key element in student engagement, problem solving, and the design thinking process. I love the diagram above as a reminder for how to approach so many issues in life.

Empathy also came up during my journey home from visiting my mom in Fremont. The news that my flight was delayed an hour made me grumpy. Seeing five people in wheelchairs at my gate and assuming they would all take a long time to board made me grumpier, I’m ashamed to admit. Then I observed them more closely. All were elderly; most were cheerful; several appeared to be traveling together. I thought about how my frail mom refuses to travel by air any more and reflected on how wonderful and spunky these wheelchair travelers were. I want to be them when I grow up. I empathize.

Time Flies…


..when you’re having fun. …when you’re sick. … when you’re not paying attention.

All these happened to me this week. But what struck me most was a Memory that popped up on my Facebook feed from exactly seven years and one day ago when my family and I witnessed in person the inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States.  What a privilege to be able to travel to Washington D.C. and stand on the Mall with about 1.8 million others!

How far we have come in seven years! Yet, how far have we NOT come, especially given the hope and promise of that day.

But the glass half-full/empty reflection applies to my own life as well. I’ve ventured further into the frontier world of educational technology than I ever imagined. Yet how many knitting projects remain on the needles, books remain unread, relationships require tending.

As I get older, a year becomes a progressively smaller proportion of my life, which is why it feels like it’s flying ever more quickly by. *sigh* Wait for me.





“Joy” drives my choices now. Not the “see yourself in it” kind (if you got that, you’re retro), not the JLaw film (although I want to see it eventually), but the idea of only keeping stuff if it “sparks joy.”
That’s the guiding principle of successful de-cluttering behind Marie Kondo’s best-seller, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. THIS is a good write-up from the Washington Post; multiple support groups exist in Facebook.
I made awesome progress on my clothes when I first tackled the program, but have stalled on books/paper due to time. The end of the semester is nigh. Still the mantra “Does it spark joy?” has informed everything I’ve chosen to bring into my life for months, from purchases to freebies to what I eat.
For example, I love geeky graphic t-shirts, but now I’m content to save a digital image without owning all the cute shirts. The only ones left are high quality, extra-meaningful, and well-used until it’s time to “Thank them for their service” and recycle. My kitchen is becoming streamlined as I cull out non-joy-sparkers so that I’m surrounded only by joyful items. I pass up taking conference swag if don’t love or won’t use it. Even my food choices my pass the scrutiny of joyful AND good for me (which is inherently joyful).
I’m not perfect but I’m learning, and I forgive myself for my fails (frequent attempts at learning). So I progress…

220px-joyfilmposter   pg-3164_1z


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!


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.

Days 2 and 3 of CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp – What – How – Why


So much to distill down to a manageable blog entry! Here it is: What – How – Why And above is my distillation in the form of Sketchnotes.

On Day 2 of CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp in Manhattan Beach, I attended Jen Roberts’ session on Writing and Citing with Google Tools and Victoria Olson’s session on Screencasting basics.

1 – I’ve said it before — Jen is a goddess! The beauty of her session was that she focused on our primary task (critical thinking and writing instruction),THEN identified some uber useful tools and demonstrated their use. Granted, we didn’t get to create as much original material in her session as in others, but we got access to Jen’s stuff and, more importantly, got to PICK HER BRAIN! All of us were happily late to lunch. 😉

2- Ironically, I had uploaded almost all the tools Victoria listed in her session description, but never learned how to use them. She, too, provided the What and How, by modeling with us how she introduces the process to her little guys with Explain Everything. (I’d love to be one of her students!) We got to make something simple on any topic we wanted for our first project – mine was about Knitting, of course (this is the YouTube version of it). Then she practiced more advanced techniques and had us make a second project we could use in class. (Mine’s not finished, but I didn’t want that to stop me from posting this.)

On Day 3, I focused more on “How” and especially “Why” in sessions by Karl L-S on 20% Time and by Moss Pike on Design Thinking for Innovation.

3- Last year I had dipped my pinkie toe into the world of student choice in long-term content creation by having my AP English Language class make TEDtalks after AP Exams concluded. Karl’s materials confirmed that it’s worth diving into the deep end with #20TIME. It leads to incredible engagement and learning. I love that Karl is so transparent – he explained his lessons learned from his missteps as well as his successes. His materials also gave me a great start in putting on paper (well, in a Google Doc) concrete plans for my classes later this month. (gulp!)

4- Moss introduced me to a new way of looking at problem-solving and critical thinking, at  “why” we teach, or going “deep.” My biggest takeaway is that INNOVATION IS A SKILL, a muscle we all have that we can exercise and fine tune to address future questions and problems we haven’t yet imagined. Our small group tacked Teacher Time Management. We identified the key parameters of our “wicked problem,” but, sadly, didn’t have time to come up with permanent solutions. Just collaborating was a fabulous start, though. I was STILL mulling over design thinking as I was going to bed. It’s that powerful.

More on “why” — the day began with a lovely, inspirational video called the First Follower – Dancing Guy about leadership. Interestingly, it ties to a video Moss showed at the end of my day called “Moonshot Thinking” about nurturing the human impulse to dream and achieve.

CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp nudged me more on that path as I help my students do the same.

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.