A Libra Hits the Big Six-O


Tomorrow is my 60th birthday! And a work day. And my husband is out of town and my kids live on opposite coasts. And my siblings are in northern California while I live in southern California. In other words, my life is quite normal and good, thank you.

I’m not writing this because I feel sorry for myself for achieving another decade or being closer to the end of my life than the beginning. Quite the contrary. I feel incredibly blessed to be as happy — personally and professionally and spiritually — as I am.  To some, age 60 is a huge milestone. To me, today and tomorrow are both just normal, busy weekdays. I will commemorate my actual birthday multiple times over the next week, but I’m far from feeling the wistfulness that the media insists I should feel.

I’m a Libra — can you guess? I had to chuckle when re-reading the above because of the point-counterpoint / on the one hand and the other hand / this but that structure of it. Apparently, I’m always “balancing,” — in my diction, my thoughts, my activities, my approach to life. Right now I’m in a lovely, (probably fleeting) state of equilibrium.

In Inktober news, I have completed my Day 2 sketch on “division” only in pencil. I’ll post it when I’ve inked it in.

In the meantime, Happy October 3 today and Happy October 4 tomorrow!


“The Last Lecture” — Help People

As part of our unit on The Value of Life, my elective class called Contemporary Studies watched Randy Pausch’s lecture called “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Knowing he was dying of liver cancer, Pausch delivered a funny, moving, and inspirational talk on how to live a good life in which he described some highlights of his journey as a family man, a student and a professor. The best-selling book he published called The Last Lecture expands on the stories and lessons of his 75-minute speech. 

Pausch’s lecture contains so many meaningful lessons, but the one message that most resonated with me on this viewing was HELP PEOPLE. That’s a given in an educator’s job description, but it also describes an attitude for anyone in any profession or any role, including student. We can learn so much from connecting with others without expectation of personal gain. The beautiful irony is that, with that mindset, we often get back more than we give. Pausch calls that a “head fake” or indirect learning, where in the doing of a fun task we learn something difficult. My own beloved father Angelo Ozoa preached that lesson and lived it, as a doctor and community leader whose legacy includes an annual medical mission to needy areas in the Philippines. So go do what Randy and Angelo said — help people!

The Only Thing We Can Control

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Lately I’ve encountered problems where the ancient advice of stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius served me well. It’s easy for teachers to fall into the trap of taking events personally or feeling responsible for fixing difficult situations or reacting defensively. But sometimes our professional best can only take us so far. When we hit a wall in frustration, all we can control is our own reactions, not anyone else’s behaviors.

Sorry for the vague post. I never feel comfortable even hinting at details about problems involving students. Suffice it to say that putting myself in their complicated, emotional shoes helps me to react with compassion, not anger, with empathy, not enmity, with solutions, not punishments.

In other news, one of my favorite 20% Time Projects in the past two years was an AP Language student who read four biographies, including one of Marcus Aurelius, and ran the stock investment club at our high school. He wrote a 7,000 word guide to stoicism and value investing called The Stoic Investor, and self-published it on the Amazon Kindle store.

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.

Words and Images

What Makes a Good Infographic?

From Visually.


Hi, My name is Teresa and I’m a word nerd. However, I also believe in the power of images and drawings — hence my unnatural love for infographics. Here’s a great collection from Brain Pickings. One of my favorite books ever, that I used often with AP Language, is Information Graphics by Sandra Rendgen.

In my classroom I like to promote the use of sketchnotes, a way of personalizing learning by taking meaningful, graphics-based notes rather than linear text-based notes. I introduce the concept with this TEDed talk called Drawing in Class.   Mike Rohde’s book is a great intro and tutorial. My friend JoAnn Fox teaches sketchnoting and has some great examples here.

Most of my own sketchnotes are in a Moleskine journal. I’m transitioning to digital with an app called Paper by Fifty-Three. The beautiful possibilities are endless.

Go forth and think beyond Cornell notes!

20% Time — Igniting Passion — Week 1

You know how everyone seems to think working for Google would be career nirvana? (If you don’t, watch The Internship starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Or not. It’s pretty silly.) Free food, free haircuts, on-site health care, and the list goes on.

But the most relevant Google perk to my classroom is 20% time, which has exploded into a revolutionary educational movement, even as Google itself seems to be backing away. At Google, employees are (were) encouraged to spend one day a week working on projects of their own choosing, a policy which resulted in Gmail and Adsense. It’s based on the premise that knowledge workers are most valuable when granted protected space in which to tinker.

In education this has morphed into the notion that students learn best when granted protected space in which to explore. First, this is NOT “let students run wild in the classroom one day a week.” Rather, it is choice-driven learning in “protected space” that includes guidance, resources, collaboration, and authentic accountability. For more details, see the myriad of resources from thoughtful and experienced educators such as Joy Kirr, Kevin Brookhouser, Kate Petty, here and in your own Google search.

Two weeks ago I alerted my students and their parents (at Back-to-School Night) about our 20% Time plans; this week three sections of my juniors and seniors began the process with brainstorming and freewriting. I elected NOT to show them samples of completed projects because I didn’t want to stack the deck in favor of videos or websites or other forms of products. I want each student’s product to emerge organically from the research and learning. My choice resulted in awesome “pros” and predictable “cons.” Some students remain befuddled about the purpose and endgame. The notion of CHOOSING what to learn as opposing to BEING TAUGHT was utterly foreign. I have yet to ignite the passion that will drive their exploration. But for those who were already obsessed with anime or photography or cars or “I’ve always wanted to. ….”, well, they were positively giddy.

So far my students plan, for example, to build a car (in process, will document his learning from this point forward); to create an art book of original poetry, drawing, photos and songs; to learn how to and to knit a collection of scarves, probably Harry Potter-themed; to develop a yoga web site with information tailored for individual body type and goals; to make a YouTube channel and graphic novel in the style of an admired artist; to write a song and have Beyonce perform it; and to cure cancer.

Admittedly, the last two are ambitious for one semester or even one school year. But the assessment of success is not in the actual PRODUCT (cure for cancer), but in the authentic learning PROCESS (as documented in blog posts, weekly check-ins, productive use of class time, interaction with mentors and with other project participants). So, if my aspiring songwriter publishes his work on Soundcloud and receives some authentic positive feedback from musicians other than Beyonce, that’s wonderful. If my ambitious cancer cure seeker learns from organizations she believes are on the most effective track for a cure and helps with fundraising, she’s on the right path.

My DonorsChoose.org project for a greenscreen kit funded and we just received it. Instead of setting it up in my crowded classroom, I took advantage of our librarian’s offer to keep it in a collaboration conference room in the library that has IdeaPaint on the walls. I brought my students there to inspire them to incorporate videos with creative backgrounds into their products and just to play with writing on the walls. One girl wrote out a poem she’d written last week which inspired a group to join her in creating a book of original poetry, art and music. I just got out of the way….

Next year, I will probably introduce the process of creating a blog and collecting research BEFORE brainstorming ideas. My blog lesson is next week, but some students have already collected websites and images and writing about their learning process that they will need to transfer to their blogs. I dislike wasting time and energy this way.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas as we move forward with our 20% Time Projects.

First Day of School


University High, Irvine, Ca - Entrance.jpg

Whew – I’m pooped! Today was the first day of school with students. We added a 0 period to our periods 1-6 day, as well as a Friday Homeroom period (today they met for just 10 minutes), so we are all getting accustomed to a new time for snack and TWO periods after lunch instead of just one. Plus our new solar panels atop half our parking spots are creating havoc with old familiar traffic pattern. Add to that an entirely revamped computerized attendance and grade book system and it makes for much potential for chaos.

But we managed! Personally I’m highly pleased with the look and early chemistry of my classes. I have a sense of which chatty friends might have to be urged to pick seats NOT next to each other, but mostly everyone was good-natured, albeit cautious about this new year.

In lieu of handing out a two-page Course Expectations sheet and droning on about what they can read on their own time, I posted details for them to view at their leisure and just hit the highlights. To encourage them to listen and doodle, I shared some of my Sketchnotes and delighted at how their eyes lit up at the prospect of drawing in class on purpose. It makes sense – if students already receive PowerPoints and other handouts from which they can review details, why not let them engage in note taking in a more creative and engaging way? One of my classes has a high percentage of Special Ed students (along with a SPED teacher and aide!) and I know many of them would benefit from different styles of content delivery and note taking.

In addition, instead of collecting hard copies of their First Day Survey and Letter (one way I get to know them early), I’m having them submit this assignment online so I can carry around 5 classes of student writing on my trusty iPad, Hera. Win!

Anyway, Day 1 done, Days 2-181 to go! I’ll keep you posted….


University High, Irvine, Ca – Entrance” by Kevin Zollman —Kzollman 00:27, 4 December 2006 (UTC) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.