#InstagramInspiration


I have a love – dislike relationship with March.

I love that March is my birthday month. I dislike the length of it.

March is a long month for educators. Teachers are losing steam. The students are restless. Administrators are uptight with standardized testing season around the corner. Some call it the “March of the Winter Dull Drums”, others seem to think spring break fever has hit. It’s during this time that I need something fresh, some sort of inspiration for my lessons. I never thought Instagram would provide a new perspective and creative outlet for Language Arts.

I’ve had an Instagram account for a few years now. I must admit, I’m not a faithful Instagram user. Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook are my “go-tos” for educational inspiration. On Instagram, I usually post pics of my children, our holidays, a classroom activity and a few selfies. I never really thought about using Instagram as a tool to teach or include in my lessons. But that all changed.

Last March I began exploring Instagram a bit more. I was looking for educational materials, images of projects, new classroom activities and ideas, anything that could cure the monotony of March. I was hoping to find some interesting photos to use as a “write a caption for this” warm up activity, but what I found was something phenomenally better. I found #poetry #poetryofig, #haikus and #poetryofinstagram. I found simple quotes, unique statements, and meaningful poems, in a nicely presented package. Of course, I had to sift through MANY romantic, unrequited love poems and poetry with an overabundance of swear words; but eventually I was able to pull out quite a few that I could use as a discussion prompt, a simple close-reading activity and an introduction on unique ways to begin a story.
 The first post I used focused on homework. I chose this simply because I thought my learners could relate to it. Homework is a hot topic now-a-days. Everyone has something to say about it; how meaningful it should be, how much to give or not give. I am a teacher who does not give homework or believes in it. I’ve always felt if the teaching is spot on, no homework is necessary. Some of my students have experienced it from previous years or schools and had a lot to say about it. After reading this to them, hands shot up. Each had a story to tell and many were eager to share their opinion. This Instagram post led to a strong discussion and many opinion pieces about homework and alternatives to homework on our blog site.

 After the success of our first Instagram activity, I thought I would have my learners decipher new vocabulary terms using context clues. I came across this post and thought I would focus on the word “dwindling”. To my surprise, my learners shifted the focus to the actual meaning of this piece. “What is the author trying to say? What is the problem with his friends? Real friends don’t leave you. Why does she feel she needs to please them?” They began questioning the author’s word choice, and interpreting what his problem might be. Many questions popped up in our chat about the author and the title of this piece. When I explained to them that there was no title, they decided to dig even deeper. So, I placed them into smaller groups. Each group member contributed a question about the piece to explore and discuss further. They also gave the piece a title. Not only did they complete their assignment, but many added on to this statement with one group designing a canva poster for it. They also edited the piece by capitalizing the “m” in my and the “i”.

Most recently, I began following storydj  (@DaveJones) on Instagram. His writing is powerful and filled with many different shades of meaning. Many of my learners are not excited to write. So, my personal teaching goal this year was to focus on the joys of writing, build their writing stamina and to motivate them to write. My learners loved this next activity and it sparked more writing and creativity than I could have imagined. My learners enjoy a great challenge and the Seven Word Short Story provided just that.

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It did take them some time to come up with a seven word short story. Many struggled and asked for “just one or two extra words” others asked for it to be shorter. All wanted to continue writing about their short story. So, I had them partnered up and I provided them with their partner’s seven word short story and asked them to add just one more suspenseful sentence…any limit of words. Here are some of their story starting writing pieces:

“I can’t believe it was happening again. My hands were sweaty and my heart was beating out of my chest.”

“It started out like a normal day. But what happened next took me by complete shock and surprise.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” I was too afraid to answer my mom because I knew I would be grounded for life.

As I reflect, I realize what a useful teaching tool Instagram can be. My learners look forward to our #InstagramInspiration writing activities and I now follow many wonderful “unknown” writers. My next step is to reach out to them and invite them into our virtual live lesson room. My learners are inspired by their work and have even asked for a class Instagram account to share their poetry. I’m still thinking about this, but I’m open to the idea. I’m glad and grateful my learners are feeling more confident in their writing skills and wanting to share their work with the world.

Some teachers find their inspiration while walking through a museum, talking to another colleague or reading a book. Some, like myself, are inspired by their learners, nature and now, writers on Instagram. Many educators view the month of March with dread. Others might try to take a different approach. It is a long month, but it can be filled with wonderful possibilities. Many great things can come out of those long months, the choice is yours to find them.

Has Tech Replaced Play As We Knew It?

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Christmas break is a time for my family to reconnect. We like to do this by choosing a series to watch. This year we chose The Goldbergs. This sitcom focuses on the Goldberg family and their life in 1980s. My children have a fascination with the 80s. They ask about historical moments, 80s pop culture (you danced on cardboard?), fashion (why would you wear parachute pants?) and often will ask to listen to music by Michael Jackson, Journey and Def Leppard. But nothing surprised and shocked them more than a Goldberg episode on how we played in the 80s.

In the episode, the middle child Barry and his younger brother Adam, made up a game called “Ball Ball”. The object of the game is to block your opponents score using every body part imaginable. However if your opponent does score, the game is over and they receive the “Ball Ball” trophy cup with their name and date written on it. My children were flabbergasted.

“Why are they playing this?”

“They look like barbarians!”

“Don’t they have games to play? I know they have Nintendo. Why would they make up such a dumb game? What’s the point?”

Their criticism led me to think about today’s child, their toys and their playtime. As toys change, has play itself fundamentally changed? For that matter, does the early attachment to grown-up toys… iPhones, iPads, laptops… in some way shorten the imaginative world of childhood?

Play during my childhood was filled with imagination, outdoor adventure and creativity. I remember building my own Barbie dream house out of shoe boxes and transforming spools of thread into chairs, and using peanut butter lids and thimbles as coffee tables. I remember our neighborhood roller skating shows. We would create simple costumes, bring out our boom boxes and put on a roller skating dance show that was judged by the neighborhood kids. The “winner” was the next judge. Simple wholesome fun. Children of the 80’s were their own source of entertainment. Even now, I can create a fun game out of just about anything! But, can my kids?

My children rely on their tech toys and devices for entertainment; TV,  iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, desktops, and the X-Box One. As I observed them over holiday break, they would go from one device to the other, to a tech toy, and back to a device. This upset me greatly, so…I created a new game. I proposed the Device Free Challenge (a DFC day). One day, no devices of any sort, and find something to entertain yourself. A day of creation, imagination and reconnecting with each other.

The resistance came early.

“Can we talk about this?” Gabriel, our oldest child pleaded.

“No”, I replied.

It was 8:30am. We were at the breakfast table and had just told the children that we were not allowing any tech devices for the day. Nothing. They needed to hand over their iPods, iPads, iPhones by 9am. There was to be no TV, no computers, and no video games. Sarah, our youngest, began to cry. Sophia, our middle child, sat there stunned.

“May I please say my peace?” Gabe shot back.

“Sure”, I said.

Gabe began explaining to me how his generation was practically born with a device in their hands. He went on to say how he remembered being 6 and playing with his dad’s iPhone and how even little Sarah was younger and played with the iPad. How these devices assist in problem solving, reading, writing, (“yes, texting is writing mom”) and math exploration. On his iPhone he can blog, any time he is inspired. On Sophie’s iPod she can design music videos on musical.ly and even Sarah can create her own worlds on Roblox.

“These devices are a part of our lives and have sparked our imagination and creativity in a non-traditional way. Why cant you see that?” he pleaded.

Gabe continued to discus how a device free day is unconstitutional, un-American and will result in serious side effects for them all.

“Nice try, my friend”, I said with a smile.

thisMy kids began their day reading. Each had new books from our local B&N for the holidays. A few hours later, they played card games. They started playing bullshit (a favorite), then moved onto war, then onto rummy. I announced that I was making cookies in the kitchen, they each came in looking to help. They sat at the island, handed each other the ingredients, stirred,  poured, measured, laughed, and joked the whole time. After some cookies they moved on to wrestling, tag, hide and seek and poke your sibling until they scream.

While folding laundry, their creativity and imagination kicked in. A game of sock-o-dunk was born. The object of the game…simple; try and shoot a pair of socks into the laundry basket while your opponent moves the basket and fakes you out. As Sophie, our resident athlete said,

“It’s all about predicting where your opponent will move that laundry basket next, you gotta plan ahead.”

They played “sock-o-dunk” for quite some time. I was happy to see them enjoying a simple game of fake out. It may not have been the best day. There were some “I’m bored moments”, but it was a really good day. A day without checking a screen and hearing a buzzing alert. It was a day to reconnect, talk, laugh, joke and make memories. And it proved to me and to my kids that old-fashioned play…without tech…will not result in any side affects.

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Everyday Moments

 

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As I prepare for our New Years Eve festivities, I cant help but reflect on 2016.  My “one word” last year was …more. I was hoping for “more” in different aspects of my life; more travels, more learning,  more advancement, more family time. This year, once again, I am reading my PLN’s fabulous blog posts about their one word. I’m hoping for a word that I can blog about and embrace throughout the year. I don’t want a “one and done” type of post. I want something that I can write about and revisit time and time again. I want to live it, breathe it, be inspired….every day.

This holiday break, I find myself thinking about my learners a lot. I miss them tremendously. I miss hearing Maia’s stories, Aidyn’s silly jokes, Sarah’s thorough explanation of concepts and I miss talking Eagles football with Nye.  I think about the learning that happens in our live lesson room. Everyday my learners bring it. Some learners come to me excited, happy to absorb new discoveries. Some learners come to me in the most extreme circumstances. They may be homeless, hungry,and in troubled times. And yet, these learners come, try and give it their all. I like to think of learning as a wonderful celebration. My learners and I celebrate our writing and blog posts each month by dancing to Celebrate by Kool and the Gang.  Shout outs are given for their math fact accomplishments on Reflex math, we give props and kudos for their JGB projects, and I send them reading certificates for their achievements. But, as I write, I realize that we’re only celebrating their successes.  Would my learners accept their failures better if we acknowledge and, in a way, celebrate them too?

I also miss the team of teachers and colleagues I work with. There are many wonderful and talented professionals I come in contact with everyday. They push and challenge me to do and be my best. I often think about the challenges they work through and the risks they are hesitant to take, but do. When I close my laptop for the day, I still see them…logged on and working into the night. I’m sad to say, I’ve missed opportunities to celebrate them and their hard work. Often times we acknowledge their work and success after the fact. Why don’t we celebrate our colleagues and acknowledge their work more often?

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

-Dr. Seuss

Our lives are filled with millions of simple moments, everyday occurrences that we won’t remember tomorrow. We get through each day while looking forward to and focusing on the big moments: family vacations, friends’ weddings, the arrival of children and promotions. These milestone celebrations are indeed fabulous, but then we turn back to our normal, everyday lives.We all have celebrated moments that are unforgettable.  We freeze special times and make sure we will never forget a treasured experience.

Administrators may hold off until the end of the year to praise teachers on a job well done. Most teachers will celebrate big moments in their classroom from time to time.  Who says that celebrations should only be limited to one day? Who says celebrations should be limited to certain milestones or successes? What if we celebrated a small speck of magic in those everyday moments?

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There are opportunities to celebrate the wonderful little things in our life and in our classrooms, all the time. Sometimes the big things wouldn’t have happened without the accumulation of smaller events along the way. Taking time to celebrate the little things is an opportunity to create strong bonds and relationships; not to mention lasting memories. Acknowledging and celebrating the good, the bad and even the ugly (yes, celebrate the ugly!) helps to make others feel valued, accepted and loved. It may also provide a great model for turning a negative event, an error or mistake, into a positive learning experience. Years into the future, you may not remember the exact reasons for all your small celebrations, but others will remember the joy and ease of being a member of your class or learning network.

 

Don’t wait for a special moment or milestone; celebrate the magic you see in everyday moments. My one word for 2017 is Celebrate.

How will you celebrate everyday moments with your learners and colleagues?