Friday, September 4, 2015

First Week

Well.  I made it.  I survived the first week of school at a new school
and without my own classroom.

And you know what?

It.  Was.  AWESOME.

It was also exhausting and overwhelming and sad and exciting 
and inspiring and frustrating and affirming and yes, even peaceful.

How was it all of those feelings, and it was only a four day week?  
Good question.  It just was.

It was exhausting because there is nothing quite like back-to-school-teacher exhaustion.  It was overwhelming because while I know the teachers now, 400+ kids faces?  Most of which are nameless still?  Yeah, it was sad, too.  For the first time, I walked the hallways knowing next to no children.  Even my first year in my own classroom, I knew most of the families as I had been there the previous year.   It was like a family reunion that first year.  This year?  I missed that piece.  I missed seeing my former students flood the hallways, eager to start their new year.

Some students touring the Mercaz as seen
from the newly renovated 7-8 wing!
Describing the first day of school as exciting is almost cliche, but this year, it really fit.  It was exciting, starting a new adventure, in a new building, with new colleagues and families.  There is so much possibility in excitement of a new school year!  Being a Jewish Day School, there was an awe inspiring energy as students, from kindergarten on up, led morning minyan, how the pledge was followed by morning blessing.  It gave me chills as I walked past the rooms with kids singing prayers.

It was frustrating because the technology complicated things WAY more than it needed too, and coming from a school where the tech was predictably effective?  Yeah.   Affirming?  I made the right choice.  After a week of students, and two and a half weeks with the teachers, I already feel like I'm at home when I walk through the doors each morning.  And that feeling?  Led to a sense of peace that I've not experienced in a school before.  Ever.

I can't quite explain it.  (Believe me, I've tried.)  There is something unique about this place.  The technology leaves a lot to be desired, but the willingness and openness of the staff, makes it more manageable.  The teachers have blown me away in their risk-taking, and the fact that they're stepping up to the plate and trying new things week one.  I am awed by their willingness to step out of their comfort zone this early.  I've only known most of them for two weeks, and the fact that they're already starting to incorporate some of the new technologies into their classrooms humbles me.

Enjoying the new learning spaces in the
7-8 wing!  Who says you need chairs?!
Being part of the leadership team, and not a classroom teacher, has given me a whole new perspective on school.  While my days were often over-scheduled this first week, being able to walk around in the cafeteria (called the miznon) during lunch, and check in with students throughout the day in different areas of the school?  It's really a neat angle from which I see things now.

The highlight of my week, though, had to be the few classes I got to teach.  Getting to introduce their laptops to the fifth graders, and help the fifth through eighth graders get situated with their new emails...... and introducing a group of fourth graders to the world of google..... This.  This job?  Yeah.

While I may have had some doubts about my ability to step up into my new role, those doubts are gone.  Embracing the challenges that lay ahead are going to make this journey all the sweeter.......

The introduction of the eighth grade project - I get to mentor a group this year!  Can't wait!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

First Time....

Tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the first time in 13 years I won't be standing at the door of my classroom, eagerly awaiting the children as they race down the hallway, ready to meet their new teacher.  Tomorrow marks the first time I didn't set up a classroom, or decorate any bulletin boards.  It's the first time in 13 years I didn't have to send a "Welcome to Ms. Diem's class" email to the families that would be spending the next ten months with me.  No labeling of coat hooks or mailboxes, desks or folders.  Tomorrow is the first time in 13 years I won't be greeted with hugs from students, past and future.

Instead, I will be in a new school, with a community that doesn't know me.  I'll watch as 400 students stream through the doors in search of their classroom.  The younger students will flood the hallway with hugs in their arms as they approach their new classroom and their new teachers.  The older students will send high fives flying across the hallway as they check in at their lockers before heading to meet their new teachers.

The hallways will be full of energy.  The teachers will be smiling, hiding that tiny bit of first day anxiety that lingers no matter how many years you've been teaching.

And me?

I won't be standing at the door of my classroom waiting for my students.  Not this year.

Am I sad about that?  Yeah.  I am.
I miss my classroom.  I miss the families that I've known for years whose children were finally old enough to be in my class.  I miss my hallway pals and the conversations we had every morning while the kids streamed in.


I am excited.  I am actually really excited.

Because this year?  This first day of school?

The whole building is my classroom.  And while I am not going to be greeting everyone by name (yet!) and I might not have my own class, this new adventure will have me exploring the world of educational technology with over 400 students and 100 staff members.  An easy transition from corner classroom to entire school?  Nope.  A scary one?  Kinda.  One I'm ready to take on?  Absolutely.

Let the technological adventures begin!

Sunday, August 23, 2015


This summer has been quite the transformational summer for me, in so very many ways.  Biggest transformation?  New job.  We're talking huge.  Out of the safety and security of my classroom and into the whole school, a new one, at that.

Transformation.  My new school is undergoing a massive transformation - we're talking a multi-year transformative project for the entire school.  This summer has been the second summer of construction, and I am stoked that I was able to witness the transformation!  So you can enjoy a bit of this transformation too, I've got some videos that might interest you....  (I encourage you to watch with the mute button, unless you want to hear my aimless chatter and narration!)

First trip upstairs!  July 22, 2015.  At that point, I was uber curious as to what the end result would be, cause I sure couldn't tell from this view!!

Second visit to the second floor was on August 4, 2015.  Much progress to be noted!  Still quite an unfinished feel, obviously, but moving along!

One week later and WOW!  Getting closer!

August 20th. Carpeting, ceiling, painted.... almost done!  Can't wait!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Taking Action

My previous school is an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme School.  (To read more, click HERE.)  One of my favorite components of PYP is the action piece.  Through each of the six inquiry-based units, students were challenged to take action based on what they learned.

Action based on what they learned.

That was a tricky concept for the kids, and a hard thing for me, too, because I didn't want to "give" them the action ideas.  That wouldn't have been organic learning.  Now, granted, these were 8-9-10 year olds, but just because they're young doesn't mean they can't do great things in the world.  It's just a bit challenging, at times, to get them to see that, and more specifically, see how to connect their learning to taking action.

Three boxes of Rice Chex = 15 LOCAL meals!
I so think that everyone is capable of making a difference, of taking action, small or large, no matter their age.  And while this doesn't necessarily connect to a specific learning, it certainly could.  General Mills has teamed up with Feeding America to Outnumber Hunger.  All of April and May 2015, boxes of GM cereal were printed with a special code on the box.  If you take that code and enter it on the Outnumber Hunger site, five meals are secured for a local food bank.  Five meals, just by entering the code on a box of cereal that you buy anyway.  Yet, that box, that small action, can provide five meals to your community's needy.

My FAV poster from FreeSpirit, based
on 26 BIG Things Small Hands Can Do
That's where I struggle keeping my mouth shut.  There are SO many little opportunities like this, from FreeRice, where each correct answer on the quiz donates grains of rice, to the "click to save" sites like The Rainforest Site, where literally, visiting and clicking each day, helps raise money and awareness to save the rainforest from destruction.  The balance between giving kids the action ideas, and showing them where they can find action ideas, not an easy one.  The connection part, while easy for me as a teacher to connect just about anything to our learning, not an easy one either.

But while challenging, it's worth it.

Taking action, no matter how big or small, is a fulfilling, empowering part of life, one that we can't instill in children early enough....

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Yes.  Yes.  YES.
Life isn't like those strangely sized garments that have a "one size fits all" label sewn in the back.  Neither is the world of education.  Let's remember that, k?

I know, I'm likely preaching to the choir here.  Probably those of you that read this blog already "get" education and where it is.  And most of you probably aren't thrilled. 

 It's like that standard discussion that we have on a fairly regular basis -- we are expected to differentiate (remember that buzz word?) instruction for our students, yet as teachers, our professional development is standardized?  The tests our students are required to take are standardized?  The students that come to us are far from standardized, yet they're expected to succeed on the same standards, the same assessments, in the same time frame?  Where in the world is that even possible?

I'm glad that we have educators like Ken Robinson and Ron Ritchhart and Pernille Ripp and Will Richardson and Tony Vincent and Nicholas Provenzano and Kevin Honeycutt and SO many others that I could mention.  It's people like them, people like US, that are going to make sure we keep kids at the forefront of education.  Each and every child, and all their differences, everyone can learn.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's Elemental

I love reading books that are littered with quotes like this.  It makes me feel like I'm on a treasure hunt, and there are gems buried everywhere I look.  This one though?  Super timely for me.

The idea of finding your passion, of being in your element, it's what convinced me that it was time to consider a change.  I've loved my 13 years in the classroom.  I love meeting a new group of kids every September, and crying when we part in June.  I love setting up my room each fall, clean and shiny desks, awaiting eager little brains.  I love watching the light bulbs go off as dendrites are built.

Mostly, though, I love watching kids do things they never thought they'd be able to, things they never knew were even possible.  Most of the time, this involved technology, an element in which I love using to connect with kids.  I love using technology to light up little brains.  Figuratively, of course - no electrodes touching any heads in my room! (arms and legs?  That's a different story, thanks to the MaKeyMaKey, of course!)

So when the opportunity came for me to transition out of the classroom, and into a position that revolves around using technology to help turn on light bulbs for a whole school?  I couldn't pass it up.  And I am SO excited.  I love walking into my new school, the energy is unlike any other I've been to.  I mean, it's hard not to get excited when you enter a building, a school community, that has devoted time, energy, resources, and funding to "inspire a passion for learning... in a warm, innovative, and engaging environment" for all members of the community - teachers and students alike.

They don't just talk the talk - saying they incorporate technology as a tool in all learning areas.  They walk the walk.  They do whatever it takes to support learning in all areas, from providing laptops and iPads to students and teachers, to scheduling time in the innovation hub, to providing recess for ALL (yes, even 6th - 8th grade) students because it's the right thing to do for kids.

Walking into this school, I am in my element.  The passion is palpable.  And I so LOVE what I'm doing!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Reading

I love summer time because I actually have time to read.  Or, I should actually rephrase that.  I have more success making time to read in the summer than during the school year.  Ironically, a good chunk of my summer reading is always school related, and this summer is no different!

I have two books that are required reading for school - and while I read one of them, the second one was new to me.  Mindset, by Carol Dweck, is a book I read a few years ago during my time in Galileo.  It.  Is.  Fabulous.  A true must read for anyone and everyone, even if you're not in education!

The second required book is Creative Schools, by Sir Ken Robinson.  Wow.  I love reading books that both support my perspective and challenge my thinking at the same time.  At this point, I'm seven chapters in and have gathered so many tidbits it's hard to keep track of them.  I am so inspired by the stories shared thus far, as they show that even in the least likely of situations and circumstances, schools, teachers, and most importantly, students CAN and DO succeed.  In a time like this, where education is spending more time under the bus than students spend on the bus, this kind of reading should be required for anyone who has their hand in the ed pool, teachers, politicians, and anyone who makes decisions that impact education!  I'll share more when I've finished.

The second book I'm reading right now (which is actually unusual for me to be reading two books at once!) goes right along with Creative Schools.  I downloaded Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger to my kindle app right after school ended.  I think part of why I'm actually reading two books at the same time is because they compliment each other SO well.  I'm only three chapters into Digital Leadership, and am so intrigued by the concepts Sheninger shares.  The book is actually more than a year old, but the way it's written isn't time bound by specific technologies.  Instead, it's focusing more on the mindset shift required to bring creative use of digital tools into learning.  Talk about connections!

I leave you with a few quotes from the two books pictured above....
"One mistake has been an overzealous attitude toward technological innovation leading to the undervaluing of existing educational practices." -- Eric Sheninger, Digital Leadership
This quote struck me because it provides extra underlines and exclamation points to a concept already swimming through schools - the fact that it's the TEACHERS that make the experience, not the technology.  Good teaching is about the RELATIONSHIP between students and teachers, not about the tools used.  That's why I think this book will remain relevant for a while.
"...the heart of education is the relationship between the student and the teacher.  Everything else depends on how productive and successful that relationship is."
Yup.  Yes.  And absolutely.  Relationships are key to so much in the world, especially in education.   I can't think of a situation, anywhere, that wasn't enhanced by a positive relationship.  From my doctors to the server at my favorite restaurant, relationships are forged over time, making the experiences that much better.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Making Minecraft Meaningful

My class had an amazing year of learning. One of the big reasons for this was a little known video game called MinecraftEDU. Heard of it?  I didn't think so.  Anyway, I got to share my student's learning today at the Learning Achievement Coalition of Oakland County's Effective Practices conference.  (How's that mouthful!)

I have to say, I love sharing Minecraft with others, because when I first started with it back in December, I had never once even seen anyone play the game, much less use it in an academic way.  Sure, there are lots of educators using it for project based learning, but that's not exactly what I was looking for....  I wanted total integration.  So, that's what we did!  I'm excited to continue sharing Minecraft with other educators, but in the mean time, check out some of the projects that came out of my students' learning experiences!

Science: Light & Sound, Force & Motion

History: Explorers & Michigan

Geography: Natural Resources and their impact on a region

Math: Fractions, Area, Perimeter, & Volume

History: Fort Mackinac

Economics: Natural Resources and their role in economics

History: Michigan Native Americans

Social Studies: Landforms

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Triple Crown Worthy News

Yesterday, after 37 years without, the horse world celebrated a new Triple Crown Winner.  That's quite a long spell without watching one well-bred thoroughbred claim victory in the Belmont, Derby, and Preakness.  But yesterday, it happened.  American Pharoah and his jockey Victor Espinoza crossed the finish line of the Belmont with a victorious fist pump, securing the first Triple Crown since 1978.

Affirmed took the title in 1978 with jockey Steve Cauthen aboard.  I was born in 1978, which makes it a pretty special year.  And 37 years later, 37 years after Affirmed took the title, I've got some big news, too.

I've spent my entire teaching career in the same district, same building, and believe it or not, the same classroom.  From pre-student teaching to student teaching, to a year and a half as the building sub completing three long-terms, including one in my room..... I have spent all 13 years of my career in what I have always thought was the most incredible place to teach.  And while I still think that my district, and especially my school, is a pretty incredible place to teach, it's time to move on.

An opportunity crossed my path that was too good to pass up.  So, after 13 years in my classroom, I am stepping out of the classroom and into a leadership role at a local community day school as their Coordinator of Technological Play.  When my students asked me what that mean, I explained it to them like this:

In our classroom, I get to help guide you, my students, through your education while incorporating all sorts of fun technologies into our learning experiences.  In my new position, I'll get to do the same thing but instead of only my students, I'll get to work with an entire school.  And instead of helping just my teammates, I'll get to work with all the teachers.

I could see it landing in their eyes, and there were some tears (many of which were my own) but I think we've come to an understanding that while there is sadness in leaving my home of 13 years, there is excitement in starting a new adventure.

So it is with a bittersweet note that I bid farewell to the incredible Conant Elementary School and say hello to Hillel Day School.  As this momentous event in my life has been punctuated by a Triple Crown win, I think that's a good sign, don't you?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Learning vs Sleep

I just finished Student-Parent-Teacher conferences.  As in, got home about an hour ago.  I had 19 conferences to do, and 18 of them were absolutely wonderful.  I count that as a successful conference season!

Interestingly, there was a theme this time around.  It had something to do with motivation.  And learning.  And desire to accomplish something.  And though 2/3 of the conferences were finished on Friday, the theme still held strong.

Third graders are just learning how to push through challenges to achieve no matter what.  Or at least most of them are.  Some come into the year wanting to work hard and learn, and will do so at any expense (staying in the realm of positive, of course.)  They work hard to tackle challenges, they celebrate victories, and they trudge on even when the road is tough.

However, there are a few, there are always a few, that want to find the shortest path with the least road blocks.  Which is where my story comes to play.

Last week was one of those insane education weeks with more 12 hour days than not.  I love sleep just as much as I love learning, and last week, sleep was running short.  However.  I still dragged myself out of bed at 6:30 on Saturday morning so I could get in the car and on the road to EdCamp Lake Orion with a 7:30 kick off time.

I would have really preferred to be in bed.  I really, really, REALLY needed sleep.  Especially considering Saturday was going to be another long day and late night.   But I went anyway.  I would have preferred to not have an alarm screaming at me before the sun rose.  I would have preferred to stay in my warm bed, snuggled up with my puppy.  Cause I love sleep.

But I love to learn, too.  So I went.  And I learned.  And I loved it.

And in sharing that story with my students tonight, I hope that gives them one more example of how and why we put things we love ahead of other things sometimes.  Even if we don't want to.  Even if we'd prefer to sleep in on a Saturday.  It's worth it to keep our fire burning.

This group of Thinkers is full of fire.  They are burning bright.  I hope that they continue to do so, despite the mornings where sleep sounds better, because they are going to change the world...... they already have begun......

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I Heart Poetry

Probably stating the obvious when I say that April is poetry month.  I love poetry.  I love how it can help reluctant writers write.  I love reading Love That Dog to my class (written by the lovely Sharon Creech) and watching their faces as Jack transforms throughout the short, written-in-verse novel.

I don't love that I don't have time to fit in the poem of the week, a feature I so loved during my third grade years of the past.  I'd introduce the new poem on Monday and read it to the class.  We'd talk about what they noticed (always an interesting conversation!)  Tuesday, we'd read it chorally.  Wednesday, they'd get a copy on their desk and they'd read it to themselves for welcome work.  Thursday they'd do an activity with the poem for welcome work.  Friday was performance day, where the risk-takers could volunteer to read the poem to the class.  (FYI: by the end of the first semester, they were ALL risk-takers.)

I can't imagine why there isn't time in my schedule for that anymore.....

Not one to easily give up, I finally found a solution that isn't great, but is workable.  We don't get our weekly poems.  Sometimes we'll have one as part of reading or content, but that's usually rare, too.  The sign that says "Poem of the Week" is lonely, and I just don't want to take it down....


April being poetry month and all, every single morning of the month, the class walks in to a poem on their desk for welcome work.  They read it to themselves, to each other, do an activity on the back, and then if we have time, we'll take a few risk takers.  This means my kids will be exposed to approximately 20 poems.  That also means they'll be getting some bonus fluency practice.

And at the end of the year, as part of our celebration of learning, we're going to revisit those poems.  Call it performance art if you will, but my vision is that they will pull out their poetry binder, and in partners or teams, pick two poems to perform for the class.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this works.  Cause I know I want to see these pieces!

(Did I mention that about half the poems are songs?  Fun stuff!)

So far, all good, and they are loving poetry!

Monday, April 13, 2015

State Testing Guidelines?

State Test Protocol: Severe Weather
  1. Should a severe weather situation occur during testing, please remain calm. To display any kind of anxiety would be a testing irregularity and must be reported.  
  2. Please do not look out the window to watch for approaching tornadoes. You must monitor the students at all times. To do otherwise would be a testing irregularity and must be reported. 
  3. Should students notice an approaching tornado and begin to cry, please make every effort to protect their testing materials from the flow of tears and sinus drainage which may short out the technology that is already on it's last limb.
  4. Should a flying object come through your window during testing, please make every effort to ensure that it does not land on a student's test materials. Please make sure to soften the landing of the flying object so that it will not disturb the students while testing. 
  5. Should shards of glass from a broken window come flying into the room, have the students use their bodies to shield their testing materials so that they will not be damaged. Have plenty of gauze on hand to ensure that no one accidentally bleeds on the technology, causing a short. 
  6. Note that if technology shuts off mid-test, all work will be lost, and as technology is limited as it is, there is not time for your class to have an additional tech period to retake and finish any assessment.
  7. Should gale force winds ensue, please have everyone shove their test tools into their shirts….. being very careful not to break screens or accidentally shut off the tool.  See step 6. 
  8. If any student gets sucked into the vortex of the funnel cloud, please make sure they mark at least one answer before departing. And of course make sure they leave their test tools behind. You WILL have to account for those. 
  9. Should a funnel cloud pick you, the test administrator, up and take you flying over the rainbow, you will still be required to account for all of your testing materials when you land. So…..please take extra precautions. Remember…..once you have checked them out, they should never leave your hands.
  10. When rescue workers arrive to dig you out of the rubble, please make sure that they do not, at any time, look at or handle the testing materials. Once you have been treated for your injuries, you will still be responsible for checking your materials back in. Search dogs will not be allowed to sift through the rubble for lost tests, unless of course they have been through standardized test training and have signed off on the test administration document. 
  11. Please do not pray should a severe weather situation arise. Your priority is to actively monitor the test and a student might mark in the wrong section if you are praying instead of monitoring. I'm sure God will put war, world hunger, crime, and the presidential primaries on hold until after testing is over. He knows how important this test is. 

Updated for 2015 by @GetTeaching

Saturday, April 11, 2015


There is SO much political news plastering the country these days.  If you're not aware of all this stuff, I'm envious.   I'm happy to read about all the educators telling their stories, stepping out of the classroom, if only for 750 words, and sharing the reality of teaching, instead of the politically poisoned version.  And one thing has become very clear- there is a lot of fear in education.


I am very familiar with the concept of fear, believe me.  I'm afraid of my own shadow at times.  I'm afraid of getting lost in unfamiliar areas.  I'm afraid of eating foods that may trigger an allergic reaction to something I didn't know I was allergic to.  I'm afraid of disappointing those I care about.  I'm afraid of letting people down.  I'm afraid of losing the important things in my world.  Sometimes, I'm even still afraid of merging on to the expressway.

This is not mine! It's from
Post Secret, November 2014
I'm afraid of the fact that I have to make my third graders sit in front of a computer for nearly 10 hours over a three week period for mandatory standardized testing.  I'm afraid that I might miss a clue that'll help me better reach a student.  I'm afraid that one of my students - past, present, or future - will feel unsuccessful in my room.  I'm afraid I'll somehow fail my students.  I'm afraid the system is going to fail my students, and all students in the public schools.  This fear can keep me up at night.  This fear can make me ill.


I'm not afraid of teacher evaluations.  Not any more.  I know that I'm good at what I do.  I'm constantly learning, striving to find new ways to inspire my students.  I am not afraid to try new things in the classroom.  I love telling my class "I just learned about this, and I'm not sure how it's going to go, but we're going to give it a try anyway!"  I'm not afraid to take risks.  Sometimes the most powerful learning experiences come from the back forty.  I'm not afraid of feedback - that's often a catalyst for growth.  I'm not afraid to ask for help.  No one is an expert on everything, and while I might be fantastic in some areas, I will take all the help I can get in others.  No shame in asking for help at all.


I'm not afraid to let my students teach me.  Sometimes I learn more from them than I think they learn from me.  I'm not afraid to let my kids get messy.  Learning is messy.  Sometimes that means paper scraps and glue, other times that means conversations that make no sense, until they do.  I'm not afraid to hold my students accountable, even if it means spending some recess time with me reviewing whatever they need the bonus time on.  I'm not afraid to share.  If something new and engaging works, and someone else wants to give it a go?  Go for it, and let me know if you'd like some help.    I'm not afraid to go out on a limb for a student.  They need that extra opportunity to help peers?  Need a boost of confidence?  Go read with the kindergarteners.  Go help our second grade buddies.  I'm not afraid to fail.  There's a lot to learn from failures, no matter how scary they may seem.

In the classroom, I'm not afraid to be different.  Taking risks, thinking outside the box, trying new things, getting messy, being willing to fail??  All of those things bother me not one little bit in the classroom where 20 some pairs of eyes watch my every move.  I know that I'm doing right by those pairs of eyes.  I may make mistakes, and when I do, I admit it.  To my students.  I'm human.  They usually like to know that.


It lives in all of us.  Educators don't want to be judged on standardized test scores that measure only a momentary snapshot of a skill, which, by the way, only around 40% of students are expected to pass.  We don't want to be judged by evaluation systems where the elusive "highly effective" is so far out of reach it's comical.  We don't want to be judged by critics who haven't spent more than two hours in the classroom, and if left with a (small) class of 24 kids for an hour, wouldn't know which end was up.


We aren't fear-less.  I don't think anyone on the planet is truly fear-less.  You could say, in my classroom, I am quite fear-less.  But I've learned that in the classroom, I can live with less fears if I keep my heart on the goal - helping my students prepare to become citizens in the world they create - and less on those who are trying their hardest to prevent me, and all the other educators, from doing our jobs.

Monday, April 6, 2015


It's spring break here in Michigan, and today, it was Opening Day (capitalized because it is indeed a holiday!)  I love that the two coincided this year, as I was able to catch quite a bit of the game, and will be able to watch the rest of the games this week without worry of staying up too late.  (Boring, I know, but I'm in bed early most nights....)

Back to spring break.

Aside from not having to set an alarm, breaks are a great time to play.  So far I've played with my friend and her family at the Detroit Institute of Arts, with my niece both at home and at Saturday's Seder, with my twitter world (that I've been neglecting lately,) with my puppy pals on our day time walks, and today, with my Minecraft tutor.

He wouldn't necessarily consider himself a tutor, but he might.

We met a few months back, when I was just starting off with Minecraft in the classroom.  He offered his services then, yet I wasn't quite ready.  I didn't even know what to do, much less what to ask!  Fast forward four months, and I was ready.  I had my list of questions, and sent them to him ahead of time.

I arrived and he was working on some really neat projects in the back yard that involved power tools and wood.  Two fun things to play with in my mind!  He shared the projects that he's working on (American Ninja Warriors?) and then we headed in to the computer.

My goal was to learn how to build and use sticky pistons, circuits, and create different effects using light and sound with the circuits.  He was quite prepared - had multiple examples already set up in the world he created just for this lesson.  As he explained different things, more questions bubbled.  Overall, we spent almost 90 minutes exploring Minecraft.  I took about 4 pages of notes, too, so I can follow up when I'm playing on my own.

Let me tell you, I learned way more than I bargained for!  Like I said, I was hoping to learn about circuits and such, but I also learned about pressure plates, building songs with note blocks, different server commands, different "worlds" that can be joined.  I'm so glad it's break so I can continue to explore!

By the way.  I don't think I mentioned it yet, but my tutor?  He's 9.  He's almost 10, though.

Sometimes, when we sit down and listen to what are kids are becoming experts on, we find we learn a lot more than any test or paper would ever show...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

International Day of Trade

Every year, the fourth graders get to experience being business owners.  The culmination of their Unit of Study on Economics (which falls under the Transdisciplinary Theme of How We Organize Ourselves) has them opening a business for their peers.

I may not be in fourth grade this year, but it's still one of my favorite summative assessment experiences ever.  Most nine and ten year olds aren't terribly versed in finances.  At all.  And where I teach, most nine and ten year olds live a rather indulgent life.  But for a good six weeks or so, they become more aware, more careful, and more involved in the way the world works when it comes to money.

Aside from the awesome summative, there are two reasons that I really like sharing this unit's learning experiences with the kids.

First, it's very heavily supported by literature.  Good literature.  Mostly picture books, too, though there are novels used for book clubs as well.  I love reading aloud to my students.  I love being able to pause and leave them hanging (literally filling the room with "c'mon Ms. Diem, don't stop there!" cries.)  I also love watching the lightbulbs go off, almost like those little pop caps that explode when you throw them on the cement.  With this unit being in the theme of organization, those lightbulbs often relate to the fact that connections are everywhere.  EVERY.  WHERE.  The choice you make when picking out what you want for lunch does indeed connect to what the farmer grows, and so on and so on.

Second, it's one of the most real-worldly connected units we've got.  Yeah, sure, money always lends itself to real world, but this unit?  It leads the real world into the classroom, and not the other way around.  From watching T. Rowe Price commercials to determine how things are connected to each other, to simulations to experience market, command, and traditional economies, this unit brings the real experiences right into the room.  We all know that real world experiences make the most meaningful learning, right?  Right.

Anyway, this year's International Day of Trade (formerly, by the way, known as Market Day,) was another high energy experience.  It seems that every year, the classes get more and more creative with their products and services.  Third grade leads nicely into this unit, as they create a business plan for their summative assessment, and I love seeing how it all comes together in this fourth grade learning adventure!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Building Foundation

We talk all the time about how important a strong foundation is.  There's also a quote that expresses this in a slightly different, yet inspiring way.  The goal of parenting is to "give your kids wings, and give them roots."

"They have mastered many skills," she [Marnie Diem] said.
"Just this week, some students and I presented a workshop at the
Michigan Association for Computer Use in Learning.  The teachers
were very impressed with the skill levels of the students.
I felt like a proud mom.  I was in tears, I was so pleased with
what they had learned."  (Yes, I'm a sap!)
I think that we are lucky in Bloomfield Hills.  We have a supportive board, supportive administrators, and now, a fantastic foundation.

The mission of the Bloomfield Hills Schools Foundation is "to support the BHS by engaging with our community in funding innovative and unique academic and enrichment programs that continue our tradition of providing the best in public school education."

In other words, the Foundation is willing to support our roots.

And the grants they award help teachers spread our wings.

I'm lucky, I've been awarded two grants from the Foundation, both of which have drastically impacted the learning experiences in my classroom.  And yes, I just submitted my third grant application.  This would bring a set of iPad keyboards to my Thinkers, making our constant use of Google Classroom that much simpler.

Support comes in many forms when you're an educator - sometimes it's the parent who helped organize the new math materials you ordered.  Sometimes it's the group of parents that organize the class parties.  Sometimes it's the email from a colleague thanking you for your help with something.  Sometimes it's a scribbled note from a third grader proclaiming their love for you.  And sometimes it's in the form of financial support.  Whatever it may be, it is appreciated!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tech Lab? Meet Minecraft.

Tech Lab, new this year, has become quite an experience.  I know that both Ann and I look forward to it each week, and from what we hear from the kids, they also enjoy our tech time together.

Thus far we've done one project - creating app reviews - and explored coding both unplugged and online.  Coding has been a smashing success with the kids, and all of them have taken it home to their own devices to continue trying to decode and create using technology.

However.  We have started a project that is really, really neat.

My Thinkers have been using Minecraft now since January.  They have become quite proficient (who am I kidding, they already knew more than me at day one!) and have completed some pretty incredible projects (more on those later.)

The second graders are currently studying landforms.  Minecraft has lots of landforms.  Can you see where I'm going with this?

Yes!  We spent two weeks with the teams exploring Minecraft in search of landforms.  Once they found one, they took a screenshot of the landform and saved it.  After each team had at least five landforms, we headed into part two.

Part two involved Google Classroom.  The teams created slide shows using Google Slides, showcasing the landforms they found in Minecraft.  They also answered a few questions to connect the project to their overall learning.

Not only was the project fun, technology based, and a direct curriculum integration, it was also uber engaging and totally worth repeating!  The kids had a blast, both grades, and created presentations for which they are quite proud!

Monday, March 23, 2015

MACUL: Presenting!

Would you believe me if I told you that I was a very shy child growing up?  I remember one summer at camp, I was in a theater class (don't know what I was thinking!) and even though I was just playing a barn animal, I was terrified to get on stage!  And in 6th or 7th grade (middle school is all a blur) we had to give a speech a month.  Except I was so terrified of public speaking, that I would be absent the day of and the day after, so I could turn in a written copy instead of actually speak!  I didn't actually give my first speech until junior year of high school, that's how terrified I was.

Which makes what I'm about to say somewhat of a shock, at least to me.

I LOVED presenting at Macul!  It was So. Much. Fun!

I think it also helps that most people at Macul are there because they want to be, and are looking to learn things they want to learn - way different, unfortunately, than most professional development provided by schools.

The first presentation for this year was right after the opening keynote.  It was about Twitter for Teachers - beginner twitter, that is!  I loved this session because like in class, there were so many lightbulbs going off throughout our hour together!  I love being able to expose people to tools that can have such drastic impact on their educational practices!

Friday morning, one of my colleagues and I opened the day with an 8:30 presentation on Tech Lab.  This is something we created this year, and as it's a work in progress, we wanted to share it with others who might be interested.  It was one of those interactive sessions, as the audience was encouraged to share their ideas, too!  

Tech Lab is basically a weekly "special" that my third graders, and her second graders, get together to learn about different technology tools.  Projects we've done include coding unplugged, Scratch Jr., App Reviews, and creating presentations on Google Slides.  It's been such an exciting journey and it was great to share with others!

At this point, we were able to get to ONE session.  Again, it was well worth it, though, spending much of my Macul time presenting and supporting my students.

My final presentation was a favorite one, as I've done it twice before in my district.  I like to call it "iPad as Teacher's BFF" and sharing how my iPad has become my right hand, and simplified life in my classroom is always fun.

Leaving Macul is always bittersweet.  I feel like I'm leaving behind an extended family that is a huge part of my world, despite the fact that I only see most of them on twitter.  On the upside, when I leave, I always leave with "new friends" in my circles than with which I came, and I always feel energized from connecting with "old friends" that I usually only "see" via twitter.

Technology may be a pretty big deal, but it was clear this year, as it is always year, that education isn't about the technology, it's about the relationships.  And Macul?  A wonderful place to build relationships!

See you in Grand Rapids in 2016!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

MACUL: Student Showcase

This year I met my goal of bringing a student showcase to MACUL.  Except.  Well.  I didn't bring just one.  This year MACUL held their first ever MakerSpace, and I had a group of Thinkers showcasing their skills there, too.

The upside?  It was INCREDIBLE watching my students shine on both Thursday and Friday.

The downside?  I scheduled myself out of actually going to presentations this year!  Between presenting three sessions, and hosting two showcases?  Yeah.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely and completely YES!


 The Student Showcase on Thursday was amazing!  I had five of my third grade Thinkers there, and they were presenting their learning adventures on Minecraft.  Here's the thing with this group - because I was presenting right up until 11, and the Student Showcase kicked off at 11, that meant they were on their own for set up.  Yes, their families were there, but the kids were really the ones driving the bus.  And drive they did!

By the time I made it upstairs, not only did they have the laptops up and running, the table cloth on the table, the trifold they created prominently displayed, AND they organized themselves so that each of them was responsible for one aspect of our Minecraft experiences.  That in itself blew me away!  But the way they responded to the audience?  They.  Were.  On.  Fire!

Then, Friday rolled around, and I had five more Thinkers on board.  Four of them were my current third graders, and one was a returning Thinker, currently in sixth grade.  The topic for Friday?  Scratch and TinkerCad.  Two things you don't generally see out of third graders.

Once again, the kids were on fire.  They were the only group of students presenting on Friday, and while we were only scheduled for an hour, they presented for nearly two!  To see these peanuts explaining ThinkerCad, and how they use it to design things for our 3D printer..... and demonstrating how Scratch is for more than gaming, you can also make movies....

I shed more tears at this year's MACUL than one would think possible.  From the moving opening keynote to the two showcases.  I felt like a proud parent watching my kiddos shine!

Best part? They've already volunteered to come to Grand Rapids next year for whatever it is we decide to showcase then!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Goals: MACUL

My first MACUL experience was two years ago when it was at Cobo.  That would be, um, March 2013.  It was Ah-May-Zing!  I felt like I was home!  Surrounded by people who are interested in educational technology from those taking their first venture in to those with enviable experience - those two days were magical!

I went with my friend Erica, who was teaching at a private school in Lake Orion at the time.  On our drive home from day two, I remember very clearly saying that next year, I'd present, and the following year, when it was back at Cobo, I'd bring a student showcase.

Welp.  Here we are.  March 2015.  Back at Cobo.  Goals?  Smashed.

In Grand Rapids at MACUL 2014, I presented two sessions.  One was a two-hour hands on session on classroom websites.  The second was a one hour session on taking baby steps into the world of educational technology.  It was nerve-wracking, presenting to peers from across the state and beyond, but, once again, I found myself among my "peeps," those who are looking to gain more knowledge and experience in the world of educational technology.

That's goal two, checked off the list.

This year.  MACUL 2015.  Back at Cobo.  Goal? Bring a student showcase.  Met goal?


Smashed it out of the park.

Not only did I present three sessions, I also had TWO student showcases.  One on Thursday for the regular showcase, and one on Friday, as a part of MACULs first ever MakerSpace.

Let me tell you, I may not be a parent, but watching my Thinkers sharing their learning experiences with completely strangers?  I did tear up.  Multiple times.  They blew me away.  But that's a whole different post.

It was a bit surreal, to see my goals realized like that.  But now I get to set new ones..... Key note?  Featured presenter?  Not sure yet, but I do know, come Grand Rapids 2016, I'll be back with student showcases, presentations, and this time around, I get to help organize the MakerSpace!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Natural Resources

This post needs little write up, as I think it's self explanatory.  Really.

But if it's not, please let me know, and I'll elaborate.

Enjoy the shows!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

I Love EdCamp


I've lost count of how many EdCamps I've gone to since discovering them three years ago.  It's now more than ten, for sure.

January found me at EdCamp WBWL (West Bloomfield/Walled Lake) which was held at a Walled Lake elementary school.  This EdCamp is in it's second year (the first year it was held at West Bloomfield High School) and I loved seeing how it grew from year one to year two!

I facilitated a conversation on homework.  Oh, homework...... I am so not a fan.  But, as parents seem to "enjoy" when their kids have homework, we had quite a nice conversation.  I've moved to an all online homework this year, and I love the ease in differentiating that it allows (as well as the time at the copy machine it eliminates!)

From there, I headed over to EdCamp Schoolcraft, which was a first timer.  EdCamp Schoolcraft joined forces with EdCamp Novi, and created a pretty spectacular Saturday event.  Hosted at Schoolcraft College (which is BEAUTIFUL!) there were plenty of places nearby for lunch, plenty of parking, and with those two details out of the way, plenty of learning time!

This EdCamp, well..... it was early February, and my class had already completed one major Minecraft project and was heading into their second.  As I know no one Minecrafting the way I do, I thought it might be worth while sharing this with others.  I mean, I know I do some pretty unique stuff in the classroom, and if it were possible, I'd love for all learners to have the chance to experience some of those "stuffs."  Sharing with peers at EdCamps is one great way to spread the fun!

Next on the list is EdCamp Lake Orion - a first timer - in April, followed by the 5th anniversary of EdCamp Detroit!  EdCamp Flint/Genessee is somewhere in there, too.  It's hard to pass up an opportunity like an EdCamp, as it's some of the best ever PD out there!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Action Again?

Way back in December, I shared how my class had completed two action projects thus far.

Well, we took a little more action.

It's important to me that when we have our class parties and celebrations, that we do more than just focus on ourselves.  So for the past several years (ok, the first class I initiated this challenge to are now high school juniors) at every class party, we've incorporated an action project of some sort.

Halloween, being the first party of the year, is a bit tricky, and we've done several repeats.  That's fine by me, because the projects are very age appropriate.  We generally decorate a candy bag, and the kids either collect candy for charity, or donate their own, which then is sent to a local organization that usually works with kids.  Collecting for Gleaners this year was a first.

For our Winter Celebration, we've done SO many things!  We've made sock snowmen to donate, we've collected food (like we did this year,) we've made pillows, collected gloves and hats, all to donate.

Valentine's Day, however, has been the most varied.  In the past we've collected hand sanitizer and bagged up nicely for homeless shelters, we've collected supplies for blessing bags, we've made cards and taken them to Catching Fireflies (an awesome store if you haven't been there!) to donate.

The past two years we've participated in's Love Letters campaign.  It's fun, easy, and oh-so-meaningful for kids of all ages.  Essentially, DoSomething compiled a list of Meals on Wheels and other similar services in each state.  They give you some basic guidelines as to what kids should include on the card, and that's it!

My class really got into it this year, and wrote some of the sweetest notes that I know will brighten someone's otherwise lonely Valentine's Day.

Action really can be simple, but the act of action?  Always a powerful one.

Here's what the kids had to say about it....

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Meet Minecraft

I was first introduced to Minecraft at an EdCamp.  I knew nothing about it at all, but was intrigued.

Last year at an EdCamp, I facilitated a session on Minecraft solely because I wanted to learn more about it.

And in September, I put in a request for a Minecraft Server for my class.

Which was loaded in December.

And I was afraid to open it up and see what awaited me, even though I knew something good lay there.

Good?  Well, I was wrong about that.  It was FANTABULOUS!

Seriously, Minecraft has made Michigan History enjoyable to me for the first time, ever.  I mean, sure I taught it for a few years when it first went to third grade, but I never really liked it.  It's content that I don't think is appropriate for third graders, and I find it quite dry.

Enter Minecraft.

I introduced it to my class in early January.  Our first two days were spent "exploring" our world.  But really, it was set up that way so that I could learn a bit about this unknown educational phenomenon.  It.  Was.  Awesome.

After exploration, we tackled our first project.  Building scale models of Native American Longhouses.  It was quite the undertaking for our first project, but I'm positive it will turn out fantastic!

We spent the first few days researching Longhouses.  We gathered all sorts of information, including size, building materials, what tribes used them, and so forth.  It was a great way to explore various text types, too, as we used text books, articles, magazines, and the internet.

Then.  We created our first rubric.

Rubrics are awesome.  Writing them with third graders?  It's gonna take some practice.

However, the motivation and engagement level?  Never been higher!  And now, this teacher who knew nothing about Minecraft?  I'm not going to admit to how much I've played....