NCAIS 2014 Presentation

Today I’m presenting at the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS) Annual Educators Conference. The session is from 3-4pm in Carolina C room.  Here’s the session description and slide deck.

Primary sources allow students the opportunity to “do” history and can be rich wells of inspiration for writing in Language Arts. Primary source analysis allows students construct meaning and more carefully examine the world around them. This session will offer participants the opportunity to participate in a primary source analysis activity and discuss several examples of activities from History and Language Arts classes, including activities using digital analysis tools. Finally, we’ll explore a host of resources for locating useful primary sources for the classroom, so teachers can easily and successfully locate primary sources for their classes.

Two Recipes I’ve Tweaked

This past Friday was fall break. While I did plenty of grading and planning, I also got in a bit of baking. Here are two of my recent favorites that I made over the weekend. Both of the recipes I tweaked, one intentionally and one unintentionally :)

flourless choc

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes
(Adapted from Epicurious)

4 ounces fine-quality dark (72%) chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 9 count muffin pan with cupcake liners. If using a 12 count muffin tin, pour a little water in the three remaining holes.

Chop chocolate into pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate, stirring, until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into melted chocolate. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour mixture into muffin pan and bake at 375°F for 15 min or until center of cupcake is set. Dust with cocoa or garnish with a raspberry.

The original recipe called for a stick of butter, which, truth be told, I completely forgot. They were super rich and tasty, even without the butter. If you like a more dense, buttery flavor, you could try adjusting the amount of butter to suit your taste.

baked oatmeal

Baked Oatmeal
(Adapted from Epicurious)

2 cups rolled (not instant or quick cooking) oats
1/4 walnut or pecan pieces, toasted or untoasted and chopped
1/4 cup maple syrup, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups chopped fruit (peaches, apples, pineapple) or berries

Heat oven to 375 and butter and 8 inch square baking dish

In a bowl, mix together oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon.

Add butter, vanilla, fruit, milk, maple syrup, and egg, and mix well.

Pour into baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes at 375 degrees or until top is brown and center is set.

Drizzle maple syrup on top.

The original recipe called for bananas, but I’m not a big banana fan. I used peaches I had frozen this summer for the fruit. It also called for you to mix dry and wet ingredients separately and layer them in the dish. But it worked just fine dumping everything in together, saving labor and a mixing bowl. You can also mix the ingredients up the night before, refrigerate overnight, and then bake the next morning.

Saying “Yes, And…” to Martin Luther King, Jr.

As part of our social and emotional health curriculum, we were recently doing an activity in which students considered about 25 different core values, such as honesty, perservance, and empathy, and brainstormed examples of people or characters who exemplified these values. Students then considered which of these core values were most important to them personally.

Through several rotations of eighth grade students, the examples they came up with were remarkably similar- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks were mentioned repeatedly. On one hand, it’s great that these names were on the tips of students’ tongues. On the other hand, I groaned internally a bit each time the names came up because it fet like students were just parroting familiar answers.

I was reminded of the lesson when listening to the NPR-produced American Chronicles Civil Rights collection of interviews a few days later. The story of Georgia Gilmore was one of those featured. Mrs. Gilmore was the owner of back door restaraunt whose food helped fuel the Civil Rights movement of which Dr. King and others were the more public faces. She was also an organizer and fundraiser for the movement who lost her job after testifying in support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

As I was listening, I thought that’s the kind of example I want students to be aware of. Not that I want to say “Ugh, no” when students offer the example of Dr. King or Rosa Parks, but I want to say “Yes, Dr. King was a great example…. and so was Georgia Gilmore…. “Yes, Rosa Parks was a great example, and so was Claudette Colvin…”

This is the great work of teaching history and character education- offering students stories to help envision the ways they might participate in their communities. If we only talk about Dr. King and Rosa Parks, we might suggest to students it’s only the big contributions that are praise-worthy. I hope that I teach students who go on to do great, memorable things, but I also want students to know that the less grand contributions are also important.


*I think Zac Chase was the first person to introduce me to “Yes, and….,” a technique from improv theater.

Being Present and Getting It Done

As a teacher, I consistently feel a tension between being present and getting things done. Articles with titles such as The Multitasker’s Guide to Being More Present suggests that I am not alone in feeling this tension.

By nature, I’m inclined to make lists and check things off of them. In fact, one of the things that I find reassuring about teaching is that it’s typically pretty easy to divide my work into discreet tasks to be done (lessons to plan, student work to give feedback on, parent contacts to make, schedules to adjust).

The difficulty of this “get it done” mentality is that if I’m not careful, it can suck the life out of the reasons I enjoy working in a school (and the reasons I turned down a big lawyer job to do so)- connecting with students and thinking about the big picture questions that present themselves every day. If I’m too deep into my to-do list, these things can feel more like distractions rather than being the work/motivation that informs the checklist(y) work.

The two mentalities don’t have to be completely discreet, however. Spending time giving informal feedback to students can cut the time I need to spend giving formal feedback at the completion of an assignment, when the feedback to students is less useful, in any case. Time spent working to insure that a new initiative is designed in the best and clearest way it can be saves implementation hassles later. Focusing my attention and being present while I’m observing a colleague can help me gain insights into my own teaching that may make me more effective or efficient.

What is Advisory?

We have a new counselor in the middle school this year. At a meeting of the middle school advisors a few days ago, she asked, “In ten words or less, what is Advisory to you?” Most of us took a few more than ten words, but we did offer a variety of perspectives, while keeping things fairly concise.

(A bit of background- Our advisories are groups of 10-13 students divided by grade level. Sometimes teachers will have students who are in their content area classes in advisory, but this isn’t always the case, A group of 8-9 advisors exists for each grade level, and these advisors meet bi-monthly to discuss concerns related to students. Advisories meet M, T, TH, and F during the last 45 minutes of the school day for bonding, study hall, and exploration of social and emotional health issues.)

Several people suggested to them an advisory was like a family within the larger community of the middle school. One teacher suggested that advisories were like the tidal pools that form along bodies of water. Others pointed out that advisory can be challenging if you have a student with whom you struggle to make connections. Several teachers noted that the emotional work of advisory can be draining, especially given all the demands placed on a teacher throughout the course of a school day. That emotional investment has the potential to payoff in big ways, though, since relationships with advisees can be stronger than with other students. I also pointed out that I think advisory provides a “value-add” for our school because parents can feel confident that there is a teacher at the school who has an special responsibility for his son or daughter. That might not be the case at other schools.

Reflecting on what Advisory is before we jumped into the joyous chaos of the first few days of school was really fruitful. I’ll admit that Advisory is one of the most challenging parts of teaching for me. It’s the part of teaching that I don’t feel like I bargained for going in. The work of navigating human relationships takes much more energy than navigating the content of US or World History. But as I’ve been reminded by conversations with folks like Zac and Chris at EduCon and elsewhere, care for students (both their minds and their hearts) is the most important work that we do.

I Want to Be Famous

Teachers head back for the 2014-2015 school year tomorrow. Students won’t come for another week and a half, but even so, it definitely feels like there’s a change in the air. It’s been a big summer- getting married, transforming my house into our house, a couple short road trips, a week of camp, and a lot of reading and cooking. The 50 Books and 50 Hikes are coming along, although I’m taking more long walks, rather than hikes.

At the beginning of each school year, I select a poem and tape it to a space near my table in the classroom. As I enter my eighth year of teaching, I sometimes fight the feeling that I should have done more by now, worked harder, been more focused. The alumni newsletter brings word of classmates tenured, installed, promoted, and honored. While I feel a deep sense of gratitude and joy for what I’ve been able to accomplish, it can be tempting to measure myself against those tidbits of their lives. So this poem from Naomi Shihab Nye feels right for this year.

Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

It’s Complicated #isedchat

“By and large, the kids are all right. But they want to be understood.” -Dr. danah boyd (lowercase letters intentional)

Tonight (Thursday) at 9pm EST, I’m moderating an #isedchat discussion of boyd’s book, It’s Complicated, on Twitter. If folks are interested in participating, but haven’t gotten a chance to read the book, I’d encourage you to listen to an NPR story about the book and/or read the introductory chapter (link at the bottom of the NPR story).

For purposes of the chat, I’ve written a question for each of the primary chapters of boyd’s book. We may not get through all of them or the discussion might shift to a different direction, but for the structure lovers among us, I thought they might be useful. If you have additional thoughts that we don’t have time to address or if you won’t be able to make the chat, please feel free to post in the comment section below.


Q1- Identity- boyd explains the concept of context collapse as occurring “when people are forced to grapple simultaneously with otherwise unrelated social contexts that are rooted in different norms and seemingly demand different social responses” (31). When have you (or students you know) experienced context collapse?

Q2- Privacy- boyd notes that, for teens, privacy often consists of controlling access to meaning, rather than access to content. Does boyd’s description of privacy resonate with your experience? How could different conceptions of privacy create misunderstanding between teens and adults?

Q3- Addiction- boyd writes that an important part of teen life is socializing and that when teens don’t have the ability to do that in-person, they will use social media to connect. She thinks claims of teen “addiction” to social media are overblown, but encourages adults to help students seek balance. In what ways could adults help find balance in their use of social media? 

Q4- Danger- boyd suggests that “teens who are struggling in everyday life also engage in problematic encounters online” (113) and encourages adults to find ways to “open their eyes on the digital street” (127). What are the challenges and potential benefits of being aware of what’s going on on the “digital streets”? 

Q5- Bullying- boyd argues that social media hasn’t substantially changed the dynamics of bullying, but that it has made it more visible. How might teachers/admin use the increased visibility of negative behavior to productively address difficult situations? 

Q6- Inequality- boyd says that inequality (of a host of types) is present online because it is present offline. How might a school’s tech polices diminish or exacerbate inequalities that are already present in the school community?

Q7- Literacy- boyd has a high regard for educators and writes that they “have an important role to play in helping youth navigate networked publics and the information-rich environments that the internet supports. Familiarity with the latest gadgets or services is often less important than possessing the critical knowledge to engage productively with networked situations, including the ability to control how personal information flows and how to look for and interpret accessible information (180). How does your teachers/admin help students navigate networked publics or how do you wish your school would?