Wednesday, October 5, 2016 – The day I lost control.

The teachers of K Hall got together and wrote a grant in order to purchase new furniture for our innovative learning spaces.  We waited for what seemed like forever for the furniture to arrive and then we wanted for a while longer for it to be assembly.  The day finally came when the furniture was ready to use. I was so excited that I just could not stop giggling when I explained to my students what the new furniture was for.

After lunch a day later, some of my students returned from lunch and said that my room was freezing cold.  (First I would like to say that, yes, my room is cold.  Last year it was so hot that my students and I would sweat all day.  So I am pretty happy for the air conditioning now, but that is because I am no longer 100-and-nothing pounds like these students are.)  So, the students returned to my cold classroom and then it happened!  One of them asked, “Would you mind if we went to the hallway and worked out there?”

The question really stopped me in my tracks.  Several thoughts came to my mind at once.

  1. Yes, that is why we requested the furniture in the first place.
  2. No, I will not be able to monitor you.
  3. Yes, you will be doing the same thing in another space as you would be doing in my classroom.
  4. No, I won’t be in control anymore.
  5. Yes, it really is freezing in here and you will more comfortable working in one of our innovative learning spaces.
  6. No, I really won’t be in control anymore.
  7. Yes, because control is an illusion.

I then squeaked out, “Yes.”  My students said, “Really?”  I said, “Yes, that is why we bought the furniture.”

To be honest, I was not expecting my moment of hesitation.  It reminded me that I have come so far, but I am still maturing as I work through this blended/innovative learning experience with my students.  As usual, my students take the ball and run with it.



A little less than a year ago I visited Berlin and want to talk about the Holocaust Memorial in honor of #HolocaustRememberance First, as you can see it was a cold and rainy day which I was actually grateful for. It matched my mood regarding the memorial. As I understand it, the artist who put this memorial together did not interpret his intended meaning behind the design. He wanted people to walk through it and feel free to interpret the meaning for themselves.

Here is mine:

As you enter the memorial site you see cement blocks of different heights. However as you enter, these blocks are shorter than in the middle. You can hear the wind whipping through the space. You can hear the distant traffic. You can hear kids laughing. You can hear people passing you. As you can see from the video these cement blocks are not level, meaning that the ground is not level and some of them are tilting a bit. As I walk through this site, I remember the subtleties that were made at the beginning of the Holocaust.

The short blocks represent to me an “easing in” period. As we know, the Holocaust did not begin the day after Hitler was elected. It was a gradual process. It was every-day people becoming slightly OK, day by day, with how their neighbors were being treated, being singled out, having their lives disrupted, having their businesses destroyed, being beaten, having curfews, being moved around town to the Jewish ghettos, and being harassed daily. After all of this, they became OK with the disappearance of their neighbors. (At this point, I would like to clarify that if Germans had begun to ask questions about their neighbors whereabouts that this probably would not of had a positive outcome under the Nazi regime. There were some Germans, I suspect, who were uneasy about the situation however, too many thought it was completely appropriate.)

As you move towards the center of the monument the ground underneath you becomes very uneven and the cement blocks become taller, way over your head. I think of this as the darkest part of the Holocaust. They seem like barracks to me or those bunkbeds that everybody is pushed into for sleeping. Not all of the cement pieces are the same height. I think about the difference in the experience of Jewish people throughout Europe. Clearly if you were a French Jew then your experience was probably vastly different than that of a Polish Jew. Some Jewish people went straight to work camps and others immediately to extermination camps. Some people started in a work camp and then were transferred. I think about that when I turn the corners. That you were once moving in one direction and then somebody decided that you would move in another. Families completely ripped apart, not knowing where the others would go. I’m not sure as a mother if I could live with myself if I survived and my child did not. Unfortunately, we have too many accounts from these brave mothers who courageously tell us what happened and are asked to repeat the fate of their child so that we just don’t forget. How they pulled together that kind of strength I will never know.

As you walk past the tallest parts towards the outskirts of the monument the cement blocks again become shorter. Could be that they were just not that many that survived. Their fates uncertain. How do you go home after that?

In the memorial there were children running around. This didn’t quite bother me because I have seen the movie, Life is Beautiful. I think children are a constant reminder of that. There were teenagers sitting on some of the cement blocks. I know there wasn’t much seating but it was pretty clear that these blocks were not meant to be a seat. Another very hard part about this memorial is the basement underneath the cement. The blocks keep going underneath the earth into the basement as you move throughout the museum. It’s so easy to become desensitized by something so horrible, it’s almost too much to comprehend.

I spent most of the three days in Berlin walking around trying to comprehend that great evil and the great sorrow. I asked questions of how can Germans be redeemed? I think often about the refugees that they’ve been taking in and I think that is a big part of the redemption.

One really amazing thing that Berlin has been doing has been to determine which Jewish people were taken from their own neighborhoods in Berlin. Once that individual and their neighborhood has been identified the city of Berlin will place a marker with the names of the Jewish people taken on the ground in the neighborhood in which they were taken. This is an incredibly humanizing act I believe. It really nails down that “your neighbor” was taken from this place that you now live.

I hope it makes us all think about our neighbors in today’s world in light of current events. We must consider what we are OK with and how far we might go. Where will your breaking point be? I would decide sooner than later. These changes can happen gradually and to the best civilizations in the world.

General Ed, World Geography in Innovative Learning Spaces Day 1

Today was the first day that my general education class was able to utilize the innovative learning spaces around the building as long as they were passing.

Observations from the last 24 hours.

  • I have had students who were so excited about the possibility of getting to work in an alternate location that they check in on their grades yesterday during class, yesterday after school, they worked from home (I received late work last night) and they came in to check during lunch before the period started to make sure they could leave the room when it was time.
  • As soon as I released students who were eligible to these spaces, I noticed that many who were already passing decided that they liked where they were working and chose to remain in the classroom.
  • Everyone in the class worked for the entire period.  Some worked on the day’s lesson and some choose first to finish up the assignments that were missing so that they could improve their average and then moved on with today’s lesson.
  • Some students who left the room, came back for a few moments when they got stuck on a problem and needed to ask a question.
  • I walked around to check in on some of the students who left the room and they were all working, engaged and focused.  I answered a few questions and left them to their work. A few of them expressed liking working in a different space.
  • I could see on my Canvas app that work was coming in from students all over the building all period, even from different classes.
  • Finally, and probably the most important, once there were fewer students in the room who were not passing, I got to sit down with them one on one and find out what the issue was.  Some of them didn’t understand the instructions on an assignment but had been afraid to ask.  Some were having technology problems that we were able to trouble-shoot.  A few where suck in the middle of an assignment and didn’t know where to go next.  Some just needed more time to complete an assignment but knew exactly what to do.  I would call this time, the sweet spot.  This is what personalized learning is all about. 

It was a good day.



Blended Learning Meets General Education


General ed students snap to work to get innovative learning spaces privileges. 

While attending the iNACOL symposium, I thought long and hard about my general education class and if what we were doing in class was serving their needs.  They are not motivated by direct instruction like many of my AP or Pre-AP classes and they generally do very well during project based learning.  While I was in San Antonio at the symposium, I had my substitute survey this group of students to find out how many of them were college/trade-school bound or planned on entering the work force right out of school.  Only one of these students planned on going start into the workforce.

It was then and there I decided to ditch my lesson plans and change course.  I needed to make sure that they could be successful going into high education when that happens.   The one student who plans on going into the workforce needs to know that if ever he decides to go back to school that he would also be able to be successful.

It was two weeks before Thanksgiving Break and I explained to my general education class that we would be moving towards to more digital self-paced, project-based format.  I also made an agreement with them that if they did well on this work inside the classroom before Thanksgiving Break that afterwards I would allow them to begin working outside of the classroom at least one day a week in our innovative learning spaces but that in order to be eligible for this privileged they would need to be passing the class.

This one conversation with my general education class completely changed the dynamics in the room.   The possibility of having some autonomy on the location of learning really designated with many of these students.  They perked right up and I saw students digging through their book bags looking for missing assignments so that they could bring their grades up to passing.  I have had a substitute twice during this trial period and have received glowing sub notes on both occasions.

Today, I gave these students their innovative learning contracts and explained my expectations.   They will begin using these spaces throughout the building tomorrow. Stay tuned.

What I learned today:

I allowed my 2nd period class to leave the room to work in the innovative learning spaces around campus with a computer.  They were working on the module that I created in canvas.  Here are my take-aways:

  • After walking around to check on everyone, I came back to my classroom in order to monitor their progress on my side of Canvas. I use my Google Drive to embed files into Canvas.  I began getting notifications that students were requesting access to my embedded files.  So I had to go back into my Google Drive and find those files.   I set the file access to public and they were able to access it.
  • I am thinking that I will just add a Canvas Folder to my Google Drive and make the folder public so that anything I put in there will be without going through the hassle of updating the sharing properties.
  • One of the pieces of feedback that I got from a student was that he liked working outside the classroom because when he is in the classroom he feels rushed. I was surprised that he did not say that I was rushing him.  He said that we others in the class are finishing up their assignments and turning them in that he feels like he needs to hurry and finish.