Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

This has been the most trying year for me.

  • My 95 year-old grandmother passed away in October, the day after my birthday. She had a long, wonderful life, but we were extremely close, as I lost both parents when I was in college. She was the last living grandparent, and her death finalizes my feeling of being an orphan, as the unconditional love of parents/grandparents is now forever in my past.
  • On the day of my grandmother's funeral, my best friend was diagnosed with ALS. I've blogged about this here and here. Debbie's own blog is a tough read, but it's also a way for me to get inside her head and know what she is really going through. Debbie had a colectomy earlier this year as well, and so it's been a very trying year for her, and therefore me. 
  • My son left for college, i.e., empty nest, empty room, and empty heart sometimes. There were calls home where he felt better after talking to me, but where I tossed and turned all night, not able to sleep as the worries left him and instead swirled 'round and 'round in my head.
So the math teacher in me can't help but notice and feel that my parent function no longer exists, the downward slope of my friend's deteriorating health is devastating, and as a mother of a college student, one day to the next is completely sinusoidal through the ups and downs of roommates, fraternities, and exams. It feels as though what's above me (parents, grandparents), what's below me (son) and what's side-by-side (friend) is in shambles, and it's more than any sane person can take, let alone me.

Top this off with the fact that my school, the place where I have worked and devoted my life to for the last 22 years (in some ways, also a parent to me), has been going through huge growing pains (to put it lightly), and it's pretty easy to see that I am a bit of a mess. 

But there have been good things. And that's what I really need to focus on. So in no particular order, here goes:
  • I have my family under one roof right now and have all the things I ever would really need right now. Including one good cup of coffee, at this very moment. 
  • I have traveled. I went to Israel with a women's group and came back with 10 new friends, some of which I keep in touch with every single day. I went to Quebec and Montreal on an Immersion trip with students, and it was also the trip of a lifetime--dog sledding, ice hotel, tobogganing, etc. Two trips of a lifetime in one year ain't so bad, right??
  • I became a TED-Ed innovative educator and traveled to NYC for an amazing weekend with a fantastic group of people and am working on an exciting project called Students Teaching Students.
  • I work with a great group of colleagues that have stayed strong through our trying year, and I am thankful for them and their strength. Their quick texts or conversations passing in corridors means more than they will ever know.
  • I've lost 10+ lbs this year, and kept it off, after trying to lose weight for year...thanks to Elite Fitness.
  • I have written two riddles for TED-Ed and am in the process of writing a third. One made the Top 10 Most Popular TED-Ed Animated Videos list!
  • My problem-solving course is exciting for me, as I can make it whatever I want, and I love being able to spend time on problems that I never had time to do in the regular curriculum.
  • Kindness and love from family members and friends who have reached out to help me during this difficult year. 
  • The Haute Yoga studio, and the ability to workout regularly.
  • My students, past and present, and my math club, which amazes me that we can keep 60+ students after school every Friday to practice.
  • Laughter, though lately I need to get it back into practice. 
  • I have helped others to do things that made them feel good about themselves...this always makes me feel good, and I need to do it more. 
  • Being connected to an online community where I can see what other teachers are doing around the world at any given moment. And I can share what I am doing as well.
  • Stitch Fix and FabFitFun boxes, which have been exciting to come home to. Is this silly to write about? Maybe. But I don't's true. Sometimes, it's the little things.
This may be the first year that my resolution is not to lose weight. It never worked anyway. So I am going to try this instead. This is a mind map made by a former Google coach. I'm going to keep mine private. Half of it is blank. I've got some thinking to do today!

Watch the video here:
Here's to a fantastic 2017 to all...whatever you do, make it a great year, with kindness, helping others, and making you the best version of yourself possible.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Can you solve the 5 Robbers Problem? Students Teaching Students

I am very proud of my student in my Problem-Solving class, who, as his final exam project, created a TED-Ed lesson that is a take on the Pirates and 100 Gold Coins puzzle. The task was to model it after a TED-Ed riddle, and he did exactly that. Here is his full lesson, complete with the 5 multiple choice questions in the "Think Section," and "Dig Deeper" and "Discuss" sections. My student used to complete the lesson, which made animation fairly simple. His voiceover was really well done. This is the first year I have done this project with my students, and I would definitely change some things in the future, such as having them start it earlier. Here is his full TED-Ed lesson. 

Can you solve the Five Robbers Logic Puzzle?

Here is the project description and rubric.

I am currently working on a TED-Ed innovative project that I am calling #StudentsTeachingStudents. Below is a Padlet that I am working on to include lessons from students who create videos to teach other students. You can find other student projects on there. My plan is to create a handbook on best practices for students teaching lessons through video and TED-Ed. If you are interested in having your students create lessons and have them posted on this site, please let me know!

Made with Padlet

Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Wonder Woman.

My Wonder Woman.
Or, An Ode to My Childhood Best Friend who has ALS

Her arms
Would squeeze me tight when she saw me. Would share the same sleeves of borrowed sweaters. Would move about wildly when telling a story. Would link my arm as we strolled. Would carry firewood for her dad. Would eventually rock three babes to sleep.

Her legs
Would walk miles with me, up and down Farm Lane. “Hi Irene,” she said midsentence, as we waved to someone passing us in a wood-paneled station wagon—what were we talking about? Anything. Everything. In long, puffy winter coats as we slid on the ice on a beloved snow day. Barefoot on the hot, uneven asphalt in the summer, against her mother’s wishes. All along North Valley Road, past the triangle.  To the playground. To the Post Office. To Pine Valley Swim Club, where we squirted on baby oil and basked in the sun on side-by-side weathered lawn chairs and talked about boys. Matching blue bathing suits. And to the Creek, when we did things you do when you are 14-year-olds, but you shouldn’t. 

Her voice
Greeted me with a happy, sing-song falsetto.  Would let out lots and lots of giggles. Could burst into songs from Free To Be You and Me at any time. Sang along to Meatloaf on an 8-track tape in her bedroom with a brush as a microphone. Would say, “Bless me,” after she held in her sneeze. Interchangeably called her oldest daughter and me each other's names when I visited. Built me up when I was down.

Her fingers
Would draw like magic, would write silky smooth, would cut up salads that I never had in my house. Were not old lady fingers, as someone once told her in the 8th grade, which stuck with her, but were perfect. Did they wear a grandfather’s baby ring? Someone’s. Hers? Tied the Indian skirts we wore (that we thought were perfectly normal till we saw in high school that they could tell we were from Roosevelt.) Gripped mine as we danced that silly dance at any Jewish party. Stirred the cream in my coffee during midnight breakfast runs at the diner on Route 130. So hot in my house that their freshly painted nails wouldn’t dry. They text me now. Thank G-d.

Her breathing
Was soothing to me when I slept over, as she inevitably fell asleep first. As I did Jumble puzzles in some book of hers or was it her grandmother’s? I felt so comfortable sleeping over her house, next to her. Was it a trundle bed? So many secrets we told in those beds, so many laughs. Ice cream in bed!

Her support
Was steadfast. Unswerving. No judgment. Never! She told me to stand up for myself. Not let others treat me badly. I needed that. Held me up when I was down-literally and figuratively...I needed her then. Need her now. I need to let her know that.

Her tears
Flowed easily, readily. Still do, only mine flow with her now…even when we are laughing, or when we are miles apart. Like now.

Her neck
Giraffe? Did she say that her neck reminded her of one? She loves giraffes. I think of her whenever I see one. Lots of people do. First hickeys, babies nuzzling. Best friends necklace, long gone. Now it tires. Heads are so heavy, aren’t they? Constantly thinking, constantly planning, constantly worrying. It will be ok. She tells me that, so it will.

IT WILL! So I say, slamming things down on my desk. Tuning out, eyes filling up during a meeting. Curtly responding to my son. Snapping at a friend who is trying to help. Disbelief. Shock. Anger. Sadness. ONWARD ME NOW – Wonder Woman as an anagram. No. Nope. No. NO!

We performed in plays together. I remember I was the witch in the Wizard of Oz in grammar school; “I’m melting!” I screamed in a perfected witch's voice…”I’m mellllltiiiiiing!”

She’s melting. My friend. My sister. My life. And I…

…I can’t hold her up.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Incredible Ted-Ed Weekend for Innovative Educators

I am just coming back from a completely amazing #TedEdWeekend in NYC. I met 26 other Ted-Ed Innovators (TIEs), 3rd cohort and was blown away by their brilliance and humbleness. Each had a story that was completely unique, from Malaysian Maggie, who learned English from listening to American music as a child to Anthony from "Johnsonville," who failed four grades before dropping out of high school and getting his GED. Everyone's journey was unique, and we were all brought together through TED-Ed, an idea branched off from TED, and created by TED Fellow Logan Smalley. Thirty of us were selected from a pool of a few thousand (again, we were blown away by this...being blown away seemed to be the theme of the weekend), and had been "meeting" via several video conferences to discuss our individual TED-Ed projects. The goal was to help us to prepare our pitches for our finalized projects, which we were to give on the TED-Ed stage at 330 Hudson Street.

Friday night, I met my roommate. I was blessed with Delene McCoy from Arkansas, who made me laugh the second I walked in the door by realizing she had to close the bathroom door to let me in...close quarters in NYC!! She was the best roommate I could ask for! I am so happy to have gotten to know her. We got our amazing #swagbags, including a handwritten not from Sting (not Sting, as I thought, and we laughed about that, too.) I settled in, comfortably, awaiting to meet the other people in our group.
photo by Anthony
photo by Christie
Cohorts from Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Jerusalem, Pakistan, Africa, Ireland, Hawaii, and more all got together Friday night at Terra (shout out to my friend Mary for the suggestion!) and chatted and got to know one another in person over drinks and delicious Italian food. The weather was crisp and the chatting was loud as we walked back and went to bed excitedly, to await the next morning's agenda.

We walked over to the Cadillac House in the morning for breakfast (where you can have meetings in their cars!) and had a surprise visit from the head of TED, Chris Anderson. Chris inspired us to no end, telling us that there are now "4 R's to learn in school: Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, and Rhetoric," and that "Ideas want to spread. They want to be free."
photo by Saad
Then we went to the TED-Ed stage and watched an incredible group of kids give their TED Talks. For me, this is when I realized that this is why I do what I do; for the kids! It's all about them, and giving them the power to express themselves and learn along the way...and teach US!!! ALL kids were fantastic - I don't even know how to begin to say how impressive these students were, but the two that stood out to me were:

There my mind was blown, yet again.

Two surprise famous TED talkers also spoke with students.


Personally, this was exciting because my famous blogger BFF's famous poet daughter loves Sarah Kay!
After some talks, we went to a presentation by LittleBits, award-winning magnetic building blocks, which bring out the hidden engineer in you in the easiest possible way. Delene, Mbao and I enjoyed making things buzz and light up. There was even a challenge as well as a rock paper scissors competition!

The next highlight was a roundtable discussion with the founder of Saujani, who spoke about how she founded Girls Who Code, and didn't even know how to code herself. Basically, she hit rock bottom and turned it all around for herself, empowering thousands of young women along the way. 

Here is an interesting and provocative video that she shared with us that was just so cool: 
And a Verizon ad about what a girl hears when you tell her she's pretty:
And finally the TED-Ed Mannequin Challenge! 
We headed out to dinner to Otto Pizzeria, a restaurant owned by Mario Batali (go RU!) and had delicious food and talk.

I sat near Tom Rielly, who is responsible for the TED Fellows program, among other things. I think he must have started as a stand-up comedian! We had great conversations, and the night ended when a table of gentlemen bought Prosecco for all of us, upon learning we were educators. Only in New York!!

That night, some of us saw family, saw the tree at Rockefeller Center, or practiced pitches.

The next day was for US, the TIEs. No longer did we hear the excited energy of the kids, it was us, and so we took the elevator up to the 11th floor at 330 Hudson and practiced our "elevator pitches."

We arrived to take some pictures on the TED-Ed stage and to have breakfast, and by then word buzzed around that we had someone who was going to do our make-up and hair for our profile picture. WHAT!? We just were so excited, I can't even tell you.

We spoke a bit and then headed to give our pitches. Each of us took the stage and spoke about our project, the one we applied with and then tweaked each time we spoke with our cohorts on the video conferences. They were awesome! It was amazing to see this group speak about their ideas and goals, and wow! Mind blown, yet again.
After the pitches and a fantastic Mexican lunch at TED-Ed HQ, we learned about animation. All I have to say is, more mind blowing. We were broken up into groups and taught how to use Stop Motion animation, which we all immediately wanted to use in our classrooms when we got home, as you can see below:
Here are the animation movies we made!animation link 1animation link 2animation link 3

We each had our head-shot, and then we ended the evening talking as a group about where we go from here and other things that I can't remember, as my head was spinning from this amazing weekend of learning and connecting and sharing. The whole TED-Ed team was unbelievably professional, and everything went so smoothly--if something was wrong, I can tell you we did not know about it. The interns were equally incredible!

It was definitely hard to say goodbye at the end, but I know it's not forever. We bonded as a group and will stay connected. 

Delene and I could not end the weekend in NYC without making it to Broadway to see Beautiful, the musical about Carole King. It was absolutely incredible and perhaps my favorite Broadway musical to date. 
This was an unimaginable weekend that I will never forget. I'm excited to start on my project, which is called Students Teaching Students. I envision students all over the world creating videos for other students using the TED-Ed Lessons. In my mind, I see students working hard to create lessons that are shared and watched throughout the world. Kids and adults do TED Talks, why should only adults teach the lessons? It's a lofty goal for me, and I will track the progress eventually. 

Want to know more about TED-Ed? Here's some more info. 

If you haven't started a TED-Ed Club, now is definitely the time! Logan's goal, to have a TED-Ed Club in every school, is no so far away. Kids will learn presentation literacy and so much more. As David Saunders said in our follow-up video conference today, public speaking is no longer about memorizing and restating a poem. THIS is what it's about!

Learn how to be a TED-Ed Innovative Educator here.