This One Time at Writing Camp

I have spent the last two weeks engulfed, submerged in the Area 3 Writing Project Summer Institute. Others who have attended tell of how it can be life changing or at the least, fulfilling. As I mark my halfway point, I am finding myself already lamenting that it will be over soon. Don’t get me wrong. I’m exhausted. But so far, it’s been so worth it. Why? Here’s a glimpse:

The Learning I have been blown away at the amount of strategies (real classroom application stuff) that I gather each day. From actual lessons I can incorporate in my classroom in August, to changing my mindset entirely about writing and reading. More than anything I’ve learned that writing doesn’t fall neatly into three text types: narrative, argumentative and informative as many have interpreted the CCSS to demand. In fact, that was never the intention of the writers of the standards. Writing can cross many types. What we should instead challenge our students to do is write often and through many kinds of genres. What’s really important is that we teach students to write for authenticity, keeping in mind: audience, purpose, content, context and structure. With this in mind, a student could write a review convincing someone to buy a product, using facts, persuasion and even a story. That would encompass all text types. We have been doing our students a disservice by limiting them. I am so guilty of this. I wonder if there’s writing teacher confession. Forgive me Father for I have sinned by teaching formulaic writing…

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The Writing A big purpose of the Writing Project is to create a community of writing teachers who actually write.Because how can you be an expert on something you never do? One of my fellow attendees joked that we were spending our summer at writing camp.  This couldn’t be more true. Coming into this, I was excited about the prospect of filling up my composition book. I love writing, and I couldn’t wait to have time in a structured setting to do so, instead of stealing moments between soccer games and grading papers. So far, though, I’m having a hard time. I’m used to writing essays for my master’s classes and blogging, but those are very different audiences. My essays are written for my professors, who are looking for specific regurgitated content. My blog, well, it’s written for me. I publish it on the web, but really don’t expect much of an audience, maybe a few loyal friends. At the Summer Institute, we share writing, aloud, in writing groups. We will eventually be asked to publish four to five pieces in an anthology. This authentic audience is freaking me out! I know it’s only a matter of time before I relax. The more I write, the more comfortable I’ll get, I’m sure. Sure makes me think about my own students. I think that might be on purpose. Well played, A3WP.

The People Each member of the Institute, 19 of us this year, is required to do a demo. This is a 75 minute lesson presentation and walk through, demonstrating writing strategies taught in the classroom. This is a truly magical experience. Let me preface with an introduction to the qualifications of admittance to the Institute. There is an application and interview process, and the coordinators are very good at choosing phenomenal candidates. Teachers, administrators and curriculum coaches all fill the seats with various levels of expertise, but the same passion for kids that drives the best educators. I am humbled to be in the room and blown away at their demos. I have learned so much from these amazing educators. I have laughed with them, cried, but most of all, I feel I’ve found yet another professional learning family that with whom I will continue to collaborate for decades to come.

Only two weeks left…
But I’m guessing those will be two weeks full of more learning and sincere emotion than any two weeks I have experienced all year, or maybe even for years to come.

4 Reasons I Went to Cue Rockstar Math

When given the opportunity to attend Cue Rockstar Math Edition this weekend, I answered the way I always do: “Yes!” Later, I realized I might be asked to actually DO math. What? This English teacher was shaking in her figurative boots. Turns out, there was no reason to fear. Here’s why I’m glad I went:

1. I need to stop saying, “I don’t do math.” I used to be very good at math, but I didn’t enjoy it. I made up my mind as an early student that I’m just not a math person. Well, when you tell yourself that, it’s true. With pushing myself to a growth mindset mentality, I decided to stop. I tell my students often, in fact it’s posted on my wall: “We are what we believe.” We must model this as teachers. I am a math person! Well, I’m learning. I’m learning by failing. But learning.13124858_10208443507759593_3674246873527755293_n

2. Good teaching is universal. Math teachers have a certain way of approaching things. They are problem solvers. They are infinitely patient, and they don’t seem to mind taking extra time to work with students who are not getting it. They are masters of differentiating. Sure they like correct answers, but more than anything they want students to SHOW THEIR WORK! (I think I just heard you grumble.) As students, we want to get to the answer and move on, but a good math teacher is all about students understanding the process. And she or he won’t give up until every student in the room understands. That tenacity is a model for any teacher. Plus inspiring as heck.

3. Awesome math teachers have even awesomer ideas. The hardest part of a Cue Rockstar is deciding on what sessions to attend. You couldn’t go wrong at this camp. I started Saturday with John Stevens and his amazing ideas about assessment. He walked us through GoFormative and Quizizz , while looking and benefits and limitations of each. We also were able to have honest discussions about how to use assessments, including having the students assess us as teachers: a very powerful tool I will implement, right away. Ending the day with the other Classroom Chef (buy their book), Matt Vaudrey  was all about how to get the perfect classroom culture: Be nice. Be wrong. Sunday, my BBQ buddy Ed Campos, Jr. showcased how he transformed his class into a 360 degree learning space. It was mind blowing. I was sad not to have seen the incredible concepts Lindsey Blass, Michael Fenton and Fawn Nguyen. Of course, just hanging with them and even listening to their shreds, I grabbed some great teaching nuggets.

Rockstar Math Peeps. photo by @LindseyBlass1

4. Math teachers are fun! Apparently it takes a certain person to teach math and those people are CRAZY. In a good way. They had me laughing constantly, never leaving a dull moment. Plus all the awesome math t-shirts! I mean, I didn’t get some of them, but hoping my new found tolerance for math will lead me on the journey to understanding.           

Session 3: Debriefing. Photo by @LindseyBlass1

While, teaching language arts will always be my passion, learning from other teachers is never a bad idea. Of course, making new friends is an even better idea! Cheers.

Is Google Spying on your Child?

I spend a good portion of my time these days doing homework, not blogging like I’d like. Recently, I had the opportunity to research and write a paper on a subject that fascinates me: is Google Apps for Education safe for students at school? I must say, in diving deeper into the subject, I was growing more skeptical. I certainly see the fear some may have. In the end, though, my optimistic nature took over. I tend to lean toward naivety rather than armageddon. You can all laugh at me later when, funded by corporations, singularity occurs, robots become self aware and the world implodes. Deal?

Here’s the paper I wrote arguing that Google has the best intentions and parents needn’t worry:

“Almost one-third of all students—elementary through high school—already use school-issued digital devices, and many of these devices present a serious risk to student privacy. They collect far more information on kids than is necessary, store this information indefinitely, and sometimes even upload it to the cloud automatically. In short, they’re spying on students—and school districts, which often provide inadequate privacy policies (or no privacy policy at all), are helping them” (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2016). This statement on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website could cause any parent to march down to his child’s school and demand some answers. This is exactly what happened a few months ago in Roseville, California. Jeff, a parent of a fourth grader, made fervent objections to his daughter using Google Apps for Education. This got the attention of not just the district, but national news. Electronic Frontier Foundation has since filed a claim with the Federal Trade Commission. The question becomes, does this argument hold any merit? In short, where there has been a bit of a learning curve integrating technology safely in the classroom, including adopting Google Apps, parents can be assured that their child’s privacy is not at risk.

First and foremost, Google is not personally tracking your child. More than 50 million teachers and students are using Google Apps for Education (GAFE), especially now with the inexpensive Chromebook making technology accessible for schools. According to Futuresource Consulting, a researching firm that tracks school technology purchases, in 2012 Chromebooks made up less than one percent of all laptops in schools. Their latest data shows that Chromebooks account for 51% of sales to schools (Petersen, 2015). On a Chromebook, students are forced to use Google Apps. This presents a huge concern for parents like Jeff who believe Google is tracking their child. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) staff attorney, Nate Cardozo believes, “Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes. Minors shouldn’t be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit centre” (Gibbs, 2015). Cardozo and the EFF insist that the data Google is collecting will be used to target students with ads. However, this is not true. While Google admits to tracking user use, the purposes are not to collect private information. On Google’s blog it states, “The GAFE Core Services— Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Contacts, Groups, Vault and Hangouts — are the heart of Google’s educational offering to schools. Students’ personal data in these Core Services is only used to provide the services themselves, so students can do things like communicate using email and collaborate on assignments using Google Docs. There are no ads in these Core Services, and student data in these services is not used for advertising purposes” (Google Apps for Education, 2015) The GAFE suite has never had ads, nor will it ever, we are assured. Google is committed to transparency of their use of data and the protection of student privacy. The collection of information is simply to make the user’s experience more effective and productive.

In addition, Chrome Sync data is not used to target ads to individual students. One of the best features of Chrome is the convenience of being able to move from one device to another, syncing information like browsing history, bookmarks and passwords by simply logging into your Chrome account. This feature called Chrome Sync is under fire by EFF.  EFF claims that this is dangerous for children. When a child is at home or uses other sites like Youtube, Maps and Google News at school, their data can be collected for ad use. These sites are not considered part of the GAFE suite and contain ads. Citing Chrome Sync as a privacy violation, Google also addressed this on its blog. It states, “Personally-identifiable Chrome Sync data in GAFE accounts is only used to power features in Chrome for that person, for example allowing students to access their own browsing data and settings, securely, across devices. In addition, our systems compile data aggregated from millions of users of Chrome Sync and, after completely removing information about individual users, we use this data to holistically improve the services we provide. For example if data shows that millions of people are visiting a webpage that is broken, that site would be moved lower in the search results. This is not connected to any specific person nor is it used to analyze student behaviors” (Google, 2015). Again, Google holds true to their task of simply gathering data to improve student experiences when using Google products. Of course, in trying to put student’s first, they also recognized that not all consumers (teachers or students) would find this explanation enough. Therefore, the company reiterates that districts can turn Chrome Sync off or choose what apps to sync. Google has given so much of the GAFE control at the school district level, understanding that the needs of all students are not the same. Districts can control the use of additional Google consumer services, like Blogger, Youtube and Maps if they desire. Giving the district administrators control strengthens Google’s commitment to the integrity of student education.

Furthermore, the gaps in student privacy legislation are closing. Another real concern is not just with Google. There are so many apps and providers working with GAFE that privacy has become an issue. Khaliah Barnes, an associate director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center believes, “Students are not getting the kind of security and privacy protection they deserve” (Petersen, 2015). The laws written in the 1970’s do not require parental approval for vendors for whom school districts choose to do business. This is a bit tricky when it comes to online data. A 2013 study showed that 95% of districts relied on an online cloud service, but only a quarter of those actually informed parents. Even worse, fewer than a quarter of service agreements included what student information the district was disclosing and less than 7% restricted vendors from selling or marketing data about students. In an age of an abundance of digital information, this is really disturbing. Most parents at GAFE districts were never asked for permission, nor were they even told the school was converting. This is disconcerting and alarming to any parent, especially ones like Jeff, who are deeply concerned for the protection of privacy. However, according to an analysis by the Data Quality Campaign, in 2014, 28 student data privacy laws were signed into law across 20 states. According to edweek.org, in California, the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, or SOPIPA, (SB 1177) “Prohibits operators of online educational services from selling student data and using such information to target advertising to students or to “amass a profile” on students for a non-educational purpose. The law also requires online service providers to maintain adequate security procedures and to delete student information at the request of a school or district” (Herold, 2014). This is considered one of the strictest laws passed nationwide. Therefore, even another online vendor other than Google has to abide by the rules of not collecting student information for non educational purposes, as well as delete student information when it is no longer needed. In California, another law put into effect in 2014 was AB 1594. The bill puts stricter regulations on contracts with vendors and what information they are allowed to obtain and disseminate. According to Joni Lupovitz, vice president of policy for Common Sense Media, a site dedicated to the education and advocacy of safe technology, “Together, it’s really a landmark regulatory scheme. The whole idea is not to stop education technology; the idea is to create a trusted online environment so kids can just be kids and focus on learning”(Roscorla, 2014). Both of these were a leap in the right direction for the privacy of our children.

Districts are also following suit. They are wising up and not staying ignorant on who has their student data and for what purpose. In Roseville, every vendor is required to fill out a vendor compliance agreement, answering specifically to AB 1594 and agreeing to not violate the privacy of the students through sharing any information, including passwords, names and birthdays. (See Appendix). Instead of using student names as identifiers in email and logins, the district is moving to using student identification numbers. Laura Assem, the Chief Technology Officer in Roseville, stated that it is vital students cannot be found online by their names. Removing the use of names is a logical step. As Assem stated, “Unfortunately, technology advances faster than legislation, but you can’t remove technology from education because it’s an accelerator” (Petersen 2015). Districts are recognizing their shortcomings with keeping kids safe, but the benefits of using technology in the classroom are still worth being patient.

GAFE provides students with an experience in the classroom and at home that has not only invigorated learning, but is preparing our students for a 21st Century world. Of course, with every new step we take in technology, there seems to be a concern. However, we must understand the benefits of using technology clearly outweigh even the most minor uncertainty. A study conducted by Adam Schoenbart, an educator in New York who surveyed his own staff and students in 2014, the early stages of GAFE implementation at his site, found that most students and teachers found the use of GAFE had a positive impact on student learning. Of those surveyed, 65% of teachers saw a difference and 60% of students. These were just in the first years of implementation. One district in north Texas, the Arlington Independent School District (AISD) believes that by using GAFE, their collaboration as teachers improved greatly with shared Google Docs. They also improved access to technology for students across socioeconomic levels. A school district in Buffalo, New York, Amherst Central School cites Google Apps for providing individual learning opportunities (Google for Education, 2015). The testimonials seem to be plentiful on Google’s blog. More than anything, providing inexpensive ways for all students to access the internet, create content and collaborate with peers and mentors is inarguably the best option for schools.

As far as the opposition goes, there will always be those that let fear rule fact. They will argue that Google is simply lying to us; that they are storing our children’s information for use in ways we can’t even imagine. However, there is absolutely no merit to that argument. There are those that fear a security breach where our children’s information will be stolen. Unfortunately, in a digital age, that is always a valid concern, but not one that can be specifically applied to Google Apps for Education. Your Social Security number could be stolen from any of a number of secure servers by a gifted hacker. It is the risk we live with in a digital world. Understandably, prior to 2014, the laws were outdated, and companies, like Google could have used student information for profit gain in advertising or some other form. The thing is, there is no evidence it did. Rest assured though, school districts and legislatures are paying attention now. Those gaps are closing and our children are safer than ever. As we move our students to 21st Century skills, we are also moving their privacy to 21st Century security. So, let your kid check his email, work on his Slide presentation and collaborate with his buddy on a Google Doc. He’s safe. As far as dealing with the ones who still object, the Roseville father, Jeff, has come to an agreement with the district. His daughter has been issued a Macbook where she uses the internet and creates Word documents and Power Points without signing into her Google account. She is missing out on the collaborative piece, but sometimes districts have to do what’s best for every child, even if that means simply appeasing a parent.

 

Appendix : https://goo.gl/ZOe0ka

 

References

California Protects Student Data Privacy with Two Bills. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.govtech.com/education/California-Protects-Student-Data-Privacy-with-Two-Bills-.html

Gibbs, S. (2015, December 02). Google accused of spying on students in FTC privacy complaint. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/dec/02/google-eff-ftc-privacy-chromebook-gmail-spying-students

Google for Education:. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/case-studies/amherst-central-schools/

Google for Education:. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/case-studies/arlington-independent-school-district/

Google for Education: The facts about student data privacy in Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://googleforeducation.blogspot.com.au/2015/12/the-facts-about-student-data-privacy-in.html?m=1

Google for Education: Tools schools can trust. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/trust/#has-google-signed-the-student-privacy-ledge

Peterson, Andrea. (2015, December 28). Google is tracking students as it sells more products to schools, privacy advocates warn. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/12/28/google-is-tracking-students-as-it-sells-more-products-to-schools-privacy-advocates-warn/

The Schoenblog. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.aschoenbart.com/2016/02/gafe-impact-report-part-3-summary-of.html

Student Privacy. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.eff.org/issues/student-privacy/

Because I Can’t Resist (or Say No), The 1,2,3,4,5 Challenge

If you spend anytime with me, you know my kryptonite: the direct question. “Will you….” No hesitation, “Yes.” I was challenged by Trisha to write a blog post, so here it is:

 

  1. What has been your one biggest struggle during this school year?

Hands down I will say time. I started a master’s program this year, as well as started taking on more gigs of presenting at conferences and teaching workshops. As any sane person can imagine, making time to create fabulous lessons has suffered. I often find myself flying by the seat of my pants. Of course, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

  1. Share two accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.
  • The relationships I’ve fostered with my students. It’s funny, all the flying by the seat of my pants has actually made me relax a bit more in the classroom. I’m not so uptight about following my plans. Instead, I find myself giving far more one on one time to individuals. We have more conversations, and I feel like I’m meeting their needs better than I have in the past. I know them as people. When the structure falls apart, the human emerges. It’s pretty awesome.
  • The relationships I’ve fostered with other educators. From my coworkers at my site and in my district, to my PLN on Twitter and Voxer to my cohorts in my master’s program, I am surrounded by amazing people. I’ve managed to collaborate on so many levels and learned so much from these incredible individuals. Plus, I’ve formed friendships that have already proven valuable, and I will cherish for years to come. I feel darn lucky!
  1. What are three things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
  • First, I want my students to not notice I’ve left the room. I want them to be so engaged in their own learning, that I am not needed. I seriously can’t wait to start Genius Hour in the next few weeks!
  • Second, I want to get a handle on where I’m going. Next year will be a big year for me doing my Action Research project for my masters, but I still feel I’m floundering as to what I really want to accomplish. This tends to be a common theme with me. I want to do everything, but have such a hard time narrowing my focus. I’m working on it.
  • Lastly, I just want to survive. Taking three classes this semester, along with all the other extra hats I wear, has been exhausting. I miss my family, even though they’re in the other room as I work away on homework. I’m looking forward to when my classes end in May.  Then I can turn my attention to my students, too. Being the only 8th grade language arts teacher at my school, I’m not only very involved in the end of the year activities for my kiddos, it’s also a very emotional time for me. They are my babies and sending them to high school always wrecks me.
  1. Give four reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.
  • The KIDS. I couldn’t imagine not hanging out with these guys on a daily basis.
  • The opportunity to constantly improve. I think it’s a rare job that allows you to simply stop what you’re doing, change direction or start all over when things aren’t working. I love that about my day. I’ll teach the same thing five different ways sometimes, just to see what works better.
  • My colleagues. I’m surrounded everyday by people who love their job. I know I’m lucky. Very lucky. Who can say that?
  • The chance to be a goofball. The one thing I love about my job is that I get to dance at a rally, wear silly outfits, compete in a pie eating contest, and during a lesson, throw myself on the ground in a gesture of dramatic despair. It’s all in a day in middle school.
  1. Which five people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions.

Travis Phelps @TravisPhelps80

Cate Tolnai @CateTolnai

Brandon Blom @brandonkblom

Josh Harris @EdTechSpec

Ryan Poulsen @ryanpoulsen79

Now Google Knows

Having been enveloped in a Master’s program since August, I’ve found little time to blog. Sure, I’ve been writing. A LOT. Let me know if you’d like my insight on Critical Pedagogy. You can buy me a beer, and I’ll read you all the papers I’ve written. Being on my winter break from school and work, I decided to use the time to apply to Google’s Innovator program. You know, because I thought I’d add one more thing to do. I have no hopes of getting in, (it’s rather competitive), but I’m glad I went through the process for many reasons. First, being a glutton, I enjoy pushing myself. The process of applying involves creating a video, a slide presentation and answering questions on a “Big Idea” you have for innovation. What I didn’t expect is what the answer to one of my questions would be.

Question: Imagine you are able to have coffee with one person (currently living) who would mentor you in support of your vision. Who would you pick and why?

I chewed and stewed on this one for a while. Like weeks. Today, I just started writing. I thought I’d share this:

When I first read this question, I searched my mind for all the amazing experts I’ve read about on choice based learning and gamification. But when I really thought about it, I picked someone I knew: Trisha Sanchez. Trisha wouldn’t consider herself an expert on either, but what she is is a problem solver. Trisha and I have collaborated many times over the last year, and she always has an answer for me. She is one of the most positive and forward thinking people I know, always searching for more meaningful and effective ways to teach. If she doesn’t know how to do something, she figures it out. Trisha understands students, too. The projects she has done with her students are not only innovative, but purposeful and authentic. She strives for meaning in technology, not just flash. This is why I need her in my corner. I need someone who can see the big picture, but isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty on the nitty gritty. I feel darn lucky to know her and can beckon her on a whim.

It’s a great feeling to know your mentors are also your friends.

Why I Don’t Cook and Other Things I learned at Fall CUE

I’m a decent cook. I have even been known to fix a few dishes worthy of the finest of palates, but I really don’t enjoy it. On the other hand, my husband loves it. He watches cooking shows, researches perfect ways to make roux and dreams about chiffonading. So, a few years ago, I relinquished all meal making duties to him. I realized I was missing one main ingredient:  passion.

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Our CapCUE shirts say it all. Photo by CateTolnai

This weekend was my first Fall CUE conference: a huge community of educators learning and sharing ways to enhance student experiences through technology, but also passion.  It would take me days to convey all that I learned. The practical takeaways are countless, but what resonates with me more are the philosophical and inspirational pieces.

Teach Students to Tell Stories: I got the opportunity to sit in the theater and listen to Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee talk about telling the stories of people on the fringe, who are hopeful and resilient, despite their perils. Sharing these with students can bring a layer to their lives incomparable to a conventional textbook. And getting kids to tell stories…wow!

Be a Rockstar in Your Classroom: Now I could listen to Jon Corippo preach for hours on lesson design. Apparently, I’m not the only one. I sat on the floor to listen to practical ways to engage my students, but also ways to change how I think as a teacher. Bottom line: empower your kids. We have to stop being content delivery systems. We need to be coaches because a coach helps you do something you cannot do yourself. Ah, I wish Corippo ran the world. CSL6JJEVEAA0MKy

Make Each Day an Adventure: David Theriault‘s keynote was on point and beautiful. He reminded us that learning should be sticky, it should be memorable, that your classroom needs to be an adventure. Why would a student want to learn another way?

If your student can Google it, why are you standing in the front of the room talking about it? Spoken by one of my dear friends, Trisha Sanchez, in her SAMR workshop, I was struck. Duh. Of course. We need to change the way we teach for our audience. This generation needs something else.

We are a Family of Educators: More than a community, people that feel passionately about innovation, student engagement and change tend to flock together. But with that they are stronger. Of course, there’s also a fair amount of fun.

That’s where you spend your time. Where you feel the passion. This is why we give up our weekends. This is how we fill up our cups to walk back into our classrooms on Monday ready to share the communal goblet. Cheers to my family!

 

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photos by Ryan O’Donnell

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Positive Shows for Young Fans

I was introduced to Frank Turner in 2008, shortly after his first full length album, Love Ire and Song was released. The minute I heard “Substitute” I was hooked. And not in an “I need a cup of coffee every morning,” sort of way, I mean in an “I need an intravenous drip to roll around at my side” kind of way.

My first Turner show was at the Fillmore in San Francisco, September 2009. He was the opening, opening, opening band for The Gaslight Anthem. My husband and I planned for this one months out. We got tickets and a hotel room. We even asked my parents to drive down from Idaho to watch our kids. At the time my daughter was six and my son was four. The show was just Turner and his guitar singing to a small crowd of people, but I was there in the front, singing and dancing along to every song. Loudly. It was incredible. My husband and I even managed to accost him coming out of the bathroom later to fawn over him. A brilliant night.

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It’s now been six years since that night and Mr. Turner has since put out four more highly successful records. My attendance at his shows are now in the double digits, one even at that same venue two years ago in San Francisco, which he managed to sell out as the headliner. But this post is not about me, it’s about the little girl who has grown up drenched in the poetry of Turner’s music.

My daughter is now 12 and in middle school. Having worked with middle school kids for over 20 years, I am very aware of their search for identity. The lessons, though, that we’ve been preaching as parents still surface. As a little girl, she begged for Turner’s music in the car, sang along with every lyric, (carefully omitting certain words), and danced along side me. She has since found her own loves in the musical pop world of teenagedom, but still she pilfers my Turner shirts, and loads his music on her Spotify playlists. So, when I heard he was coming to Sacramento, I couldn’t wait to take her.

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We got there early, planted ourselves in the front and waited. “I’ve never been this close to a stage before, mom.” Well, she’s never gone to Turner show with me. When Turner burst into his first set, I watched her watch others, especially me. When I exploded in dance, throwing my arms in the air and belting lyrics, she was right there with me, mimicking my excited behavior.

This show had everything a young fan could want: crowd surfing, hand clapping, audience participation. At one point Turner even made the entire venue sit down, so we could jump up synchronously at the perfect point. It was crazy, sitting on a dirty floor, smashed next to sweaty people, but we all did it.  The smiles radiating from my daughter’s face made this by far my favorite Turner show.

We stuck around to meet him after, wanting her to have that experience. Turner is one of the nicest musicians you’ll ever meet, always gracious to his fans. We could tell how tired he was, but still he took the time to let us snap photos and chat for a bit.

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My love for live music is something I’m proud to pass on to my daughter, but more than anything, I know I’ve found my front row dancing partner.

Why I MADE my kids go to Germany

The first time I went to Germany I was seven years old. I spent it mostly with family, our sightseeing limited to areas close to relatives. Even growing up with a German mother, it was still a culture shock. I mean I was used to butter on my ham sandwiches, and the language was at least familiar. But the first time someone gave me a glass of water, I took a huge sip and spit it out. Who drinks water with bubbles in it? I longed for peanut butter and cartoons in English. Of course, I fell in love with the ice cream.

I have since been to Germany many times, at least four before I left my parents’ house. As a parent now, I know how truly lucky I was. I know my mom just wanted to visit “home” and take he family with her, but it gave me so much more as a person. I longed to introduce this experience to my children. So, I told my husband it was time. He tried to persuade me at first, thinking a nice beach in Hawaii or a grand camping trip to Yellowstone would be a better idea, but he gave in easily. I’d like to think it was my charm. Nonetheless, I’m so glad he did. This is why I’m glad I drug my 10 and 12-year-old across the globe.

What I think they learned:

  • Not speaking the language is scary. I think this is a hard concept for kids or anyone who doesn’t travel to get. Living in California, we encounter people everyday who learned English after their native tongue. We are often not very patient with second language learners. Watching my kids experience this is humbling. Of course, I speak a fair amount of German and most Germans speak perfect English, but my kids were still very confused and frustrated with being on the outside. I think they are far more empathetic now of people who are not native English speakers. By the end, though, they had picked up words and phrases and were even ordering things off menus. They have never been interested in learning German before. That’s all changed. They see the world beyond their fences.
  • People eat different foods. This is one of those things my kids know but didn’t really get. Again, we live in California. We can get anything. We have plenty of diverse food, but it’s all still Americanized. I mean, you can still get chicken nuggets. Germany was a great introduction for them. The food isn’t drastically different, but there were times they were forced to try something new. Now, my kids are pretty picky eaters, and without batting an eye, they did it. No complaining. I was blown away. My daughter didn’t even spit out the Sprudel when she first took a sip. Just asked for water without bubbles. My kids rarely try new things at home. By the way, my daughter now eats butter and ham sandwiches. She can’t get enough.
  • The world is still small. Despite the differences, they also noticed how similar things were. Kids their age love TV, video games, YouTube and playing soccer. Despite the language barrier, my cousin’s kids and my kids communicated and played just fine. They all even watched Harry Potter in German. There are McDonald’s in most big towns, people walk around texting on their iPhones, and you can buy a Laker hat at any sporting goods store. The world is linked now in ways I didn’t experience when I was seven.

By the end of the trip, my kids were happy to come home, but I know I gave them something incredibly important in this experience. And if nothing else, we had ice cream every day. That, they already miss.

 

If a Lone Nut Falls in the Forest, Does it Make a Sound?

Last year I attended Cue Rockstar Tahoe (which is really in Truckee) for the first time. I truly had no idea what to expect, except that I knew I HAD to be there. It was like something was calling me from the dense forests and winding Truckee River. I was salivating to learn. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love. Strangely, the love wasn’t necessarily for the content, although that could not be ignored. It was for the people. The people that lead and attend are some of the kindest and passionate learners I’ve ever met. When I went back to my school in the fall, I must have seemed like a lunatic the way I bragged. I was truly a lone nut, trying to express how incredible the experience was. (I managed to get my principal to send me to Cue Rockstar Petaluma last February, as well, convincing him that I NEEDED to be there.) Apparently lunacy is an attractive quality because this year, 15 teachers and administrators from my district joined me. And I have to admit, it was FREAKING AMAZING! Now I had my followers.

As usual, the things I learned were mind blowing, (seriously, check out Site Maestro and Badgelist), but being able to go back to my hotel room, go out to dinner, lounge at the brewery until after 10pm, and get up in the morning for a five mile walk, all discussing teaching strategies, ideas for innovations and even how to balance life, THAT is where the magic happens. Of course, it wasn’t just with my staff, it was with the countless colleagues I have met since last year’s Cue Rockstar Tahoe, most via social media (Twitter, Voxer) and the new friends I met just this week. Passionate people never stop inspiring. They can’t help it.

If I could wear a billboard 24/7 it would be an advertisement for Cue Rockstar. Nowhere have I ever gotten so much out of a few days of professional development. But more than anything, nowhere have I ever felt so at home. These are my people.

More than Monuments: What 8th Graders Learn on the East Coast Trip

Parents are always super nervous dropping their 14-year-old off at the airport and sending him flying across the country. Of course, I will be nervous, too, when I send my own children, but I wanted to take a moment to commend those parents who do. They spend six days watching their phones for text messages and worrying if their kid is getting enough to eat, sleeping well, getting along with roommates, and I’m sure far worse scenarios. To those parents, know you’ve given them far more in those six days than you could ever imagine.

What 8th Graders Learn

1. How to get up on time. If (and when) he sleeps through his alarm, the entire group will be waiting on him. He will hear about it all day.

2. How to be on time. Like when he slept through his alarm, when he doesn’t arrive back at the bus at precisely 3:45, he will hear about it from his peers. Repeatedly.

3. How to Read Street Signs. When she is told to be at 42nd and Broadway and she is at 50th and 7th, her group needs to figure out how to get back.

4. How to live in tight spaces with other people. She needs to figure out how to share a bathroom and two beds with three other girls. Not taking 45 minutes in the bathroom is often a viable solution.

5. Why his parents tell him to get some sleep. He learns that only getting a couple of hours of sleep can be painful the next day. Of course, he might still do it the next night, however, he understands why.

6. Why his parents tell him to eat right. Binging on junk food always seems like a good idea at this age. Inevitably, one of those kids throws up.

7. Good shoes trump fashion. Those cute sandals she brought on the trip that match her new shirt are thrown to the bottom of her suitcase after the blisters of the first day.

8. Sometimes you can’t be goofy, even with your friends. TSA and the Capitol police have little room for horse-play or 8th-grade humor.

9. How to ask for help. Whether from a teacher, a tour guide or even a security guard, sometimes it’s necessary to ask when something is needed. He has to take care of his own needs.

10. How to pay attention. Well, at least the ramifications of not paying attention. When he didn’t hear what time to be back at the bus, he will be late. Again, he will hear about it. Repeatedly.

The best part about these lessons is that they come with a safety net. That kid might be the last one on the bus, but there are many adults making sure he gets on the bus. As a chaperone, my job is to not only to give the kids an educational experience, but also grant them that little bit of freedom. It’s the freedom that teaches them the most. A dear friend of mine commented to me once that after this trip, her daughter came back different. Older. More mature. That’s the bonus of this trip. So, to the parents that choose to send their kid, I tip my glass. You’ve given them far more than a trip of a lifetime. 🙂

I interviewed the kids at the airport. Someday I will learn to turn my phone to landscape when recording.