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Staying home: We can do this.

On my favorite daily news podcast, What a Day, when they finish talking about Covid 19, the news headlines and the political campaigns, the hosts play ten seconds of chill flute music and then talk about their regular lives right now. They call the segment "life under lockdown." But they don't take it very far. They usually share one album they listened to or the kind of lunch they made and then boom, it's over. Frankly, I'm always looking for a bit more. Because at the moment I'm definitely in the market for ideas, how about you?

Today, I want to share what it's like around here.  The good, the bad, the tasty, the comforting, the incredibly difficult surprises. The nice surprises.

We're all home. So grab a smoothie and sit awhile. I hope you'll find something in this picture of life here that gives you an idea for life there.

Let's start with the good. I'm pretty introverted, and to be honest, staying home all the time hasn't been as hard for me as I expected. With my kids' activities Pinterest page and my giant art shelf, I'm pretty preschool-teacher leaning anyway.

I like wearing the same cozy jeans and stripy sweatshirt every day.

I like planning special meals and actually having my whole family there to eat them. I like not feeling guilty about watching movies with the kids more often. I like teaching my son to play our tiny red electronic toy piano. He's got "Mary had a Little Lamb" down pat, and we're preparing for a "Sound of Music" themed singing + piano concert for grandma over FaceTime. Frozen 2 and Moana songs will also make an appearance, alongside the upbeat Spanish version of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" we've been frenziedly practicing.

Spring is springing here, and I pick flowers on all my walks to bring in and splash around the house. The daffodils are as sunshiny as ever, our lilacs are covered in buds outside (a huge improvement from the two flowers we got last year), and the peonies we planted last fall are sending their curly little red shoots toward the sky. That all makes me really happy.

Then there's the bad. I'm not yet the master of Google Hangouts that I hoped. With my five gmail accounts, millions of open tabs, and use of multiple browsers (Chrome, Safari) for different things relating to my work as an ed writer, I keep ending up signed into the wrong account or in the wrong browser at the the wrong time. Whoops. I'm trying to get it all figured out, and reminding myself that mess-ups are part of the process.

We've been thinking about moving abroad to work for a while, and are deep into interviews (that are now online). But it's very confusing to think about giving up a safe position and our home in such a time of upheaval. What if we commit to a job abroad and then we can't even cross the border to begin it? And yet, should we postpone this dream for a whole year or more as a result of this situation? I don't know.

The worst and hardest thing for me came Friday night when my jazzed up kiddos were racing around the house and crashed into each other in the hall. My baby bumped her head on the corner of the hallway wall and we had to rush her to the emergency room. I couldn't help but wonder if it ever would have happened if we weren't all staying home all the time. It didn't exactly make me feel any safer carrying her in as we passed a lit tent outside hosted by doctors that looked like they were wearing moon landing clothes. But what could we do? She needed eight stitches, and we'll have to go back to get them out. Hand sanitizer and wipes are all we can defend ourselves with, and I realize we're lucky to have that. Everyone was so kind, but it was still a terribly upsetting experience. Five days later I'm starting to breath normally again.

Lucky she's such a tough little cookie. She received an Elsa dress, a pink bunny, a pack of marshmallow peeps and a special balloon as feeling better presents and has pronounced that it was all "definitely worth it."


I continue to love all the ways I see people supporting each other online. I am hearing a lot about Kahoot, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Screencastify and Flipgrid as solid platforms for helping with distance learning. Many teachers are promoting reading, documenting the pandemic and any worthwhile creative pursuits for students who can't access consistent online learning options, and I think these are all wonderful options. (You can find more of my teaching ideas for this time here and here, as well as lots of free curriculum you might like to use here).

In case you might be looking for fun entertainment ideas for your young kids currently at home with you, recipe ideas for your family, and distractions for yourself, I wanted to share what's been working best for me. Here goes.

Cooking (because I might be a food blogger in my next life)

As usual, I'm totally obsessed with Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day (I wish they would sponsor me, wouldn't that be dreamy?). You can actually watch how it works right now, because super awesome Zoe from Zoe Bakes did an IGTV video about how to make the dough since she's at home like the rest of us and wanted to help entertain and inspire us all! You just stir together a batch of regular dough, olive oil dough, or brioche dough (those are my favorites) and then you can use them to make things all week. I spent ten minutes on a brioche dough last Sunday, then used it to make cinnamon rolls, caramel rolls, and apple raisin turban challah this week.

I made this chicken satay stir fry last night (an old stand-by from when I first learned to cook). It's my husband's favorite and even my four-year-old loved it. My eight-year-old came suddenly down with a tummy ache (diagnosed by me as fear of different food) briefly but managed to recover in time for chocolate layer cake from Joanna Chang's new cookbook, Pastry Love. You guys, my color-coded cookbook shelf (ummm, shelves, they're encroaching on the play doh toys) are getting out of hand, so I was lucky to get this new one at the library. Still, I think I might buy it.

My kids and I made homemade granola bars as part of homeschool this morning that were very popular, as was this sweet potato marshmallow recipe we put together with roast chicken last week.

Homeschool for little Ones

I was pretty sure my children (4 and 8) would destroy each other (you know, with love) if we tried to free play with occasional bursts of reading, writing and math for the next month. So I channeled my early Coronavirus anxiety into turning our playroom into a Montessori space, buying early childhood TPT sets, and putting myself on the mailing list of every early childhood blogger with amazing free printables I could find (here's looking at you, Picklebums).

This general schedule is carrying us through the days pretty well:

We start by looking at the calendar and talking about the weather and the date. We do a quick mindfulness exercise like finger breathing or a body scan (or one day, mindful snacks).

Next, we practice Spanish, using songs like these, color flashcards, and funny puppets. Lucky for me, I already knew Spanish.

Then we talk about a different country of the world. I really like telling the kids stories of places their dad and I have been and sharing a fun drone video, whether of Morocco, Istanbul, Bratislava, etc. When we talked about China we watched highlights from the opening ceremonies in Beijing - so fun!

Next comes art. I've gotten so many ideas from Picklebums, Tinkerlab, and Art Bar. We also started doing the Mo Willems daily doodle from The Kennedy Center today and had a great time with that.

After art we usually end up having a snack while I take a minute to clean up and reset for music.

Both kids like music, so we either listen to songs (we love Laurie Berkner, Moana, Frozen 2, etc.) and play instruments or sing along. We watched The Sound of Music last week in installments which was really fun, and now we're learning two of the songs for a concert for Grandma. I enabled the free three month Apple Music trial on my phone so we can access pretty much any song in the world free right now without dealing with Youtube ads.

For math, my oldest does some multiplication activities or builds a K'nex challenge, though I think we'll soon start doing some of the activities on the math website, Zearn. Someone in our community is hosting a Lego Masters challenge where you can email in pictures of your creations, which I think is really cool. I hope to get the kids into it eventually. Yesterday the challenge was to build a school, but only I did it while the kids built their usual amazing space blaster ships.

By this time, we're ready for either recess or gym, which are kind of mixed up in my head. We try to get outside and play unless it's pouring. If we have to have indoor recess, we go into the guest room where I've stashed a few special toys that are just for that purpose right now.

For writing and reading, my youngest does Montessori-type works from our shelves while my oldest has been working on his own Mo Willems' "Don't let the Pigeon..." book, reads, and listens to books on Epic. My daughter actually likes to be read to by the Epic narrators too. We're doing the free thirty day trial of Epic, and I'd definitely recommend trying it out. There are tons of audiobooks and other great reading options on the platform.

For science we've done some nature walks and exploring outside, tried the crazy Skittles rainbow science experiment (so pretty!), and are going to watch some mini documentaries on Curiosity Stream. I paid $2.99 for a month of unlimited access to this documentary streaming platform, and I'm interested to dig more into it. We're all set to watch our first short film there this afternoon - all about the bugs that live in a photographer's garden. The footage is pretty stunning.

I've enjoyed listening to The Homeschool Sisters podcast on my walks sometimes, to get ideas for more things to do with the kids. Though I usually fast forward the first fifteen or twenty minutes where they just kind of chat. That's a lot of chat for me, personally.


Exercise wise, I try to get out for a walk every day and just see the flowers and listen to What a Day or an audiobook. As I often do at times of stress, I am listening to Jim Dale read Harry Potter. How can he be such an amazing narrator? All those voices to keep track of! And he does it PERFECTLY. I always like to put Jim on if I'm feeling anxious at bedtime, because it just plain turns off my inner monologue and I go straight to sleep. I just click the sleep timer for eight or fifteen minutes, but I think I usually fall asleep in one.


I'm hearing from lots of people about the great books they're reading. I've got an easily digestible lineup in my room at the moment, including Darius the Great is not OK, See you Sunday (yes, it's a cookbook, but written by the longtime food editor of the New York Times and so fun to read), Harry Potter, and Magnolia magazine. No crazy dystopia for me at the moment, thank you.

My husband showed me this funny little video series made by a family stuck at home the other day, and we laughed. I'm in the camp that we need to take all this very seriously and make good choices to help our world get through this, but that we also need to laugh at the insanity sometimes and it's OK to go down a meme rabbit hole or binge a funny homemade youtube series just to feel that community in crisis.

As I go to bed tonight, I hope we can all keep supporting each other in this stay-at-home adventure. I hope our president chooses to invoke the supply power he needs to work with American businesses to build ventilators, masks, and disinfectants for our brave health care workers. I hope we can all bring our own unique gifts and creativity into this strange time to help others and help ourselves.

If you're feeling strong, share your strength with someone. If you're feeling scared and alone, lean on me, and so many others who want to help.

We can do this.

Empowering Students during Coronavirus

My husband and I were just talking about student leadership, and all the amazing things kids are capable of when they have a chance to take action. When we show them we know they are capable. That we know they see things we sometimes don't, and have ideas far beyond what they learn from us. This strikes me as particularly important right now, as our world reels.

Last week I interviewed Trace Pickering, the head of Iowa Big, a program that connects students to community organizations and businesses for collaborative projects. The work functions as part of their core course load. The video below captures how Big is trying to grow a new way for kids and teachers to see high school, and it really captures the idea I want to share today as a concept for learning during these strange times. (Though I think high school classrooms can ALSO be incredible and engaged places to learn, of course).

The truth is that high school desks won't be an option for the next few weeks in most places, and it seems to me it may be more like a month or six weeks. Maybe the rest of the year.

As I listen to my usual news podcasts and comb The New York Times, it's easy to get pretty anxious about what's going on - seniors unable to have visitors in assisted living and nursing homes, young children away from the community and safety of their schools, adults overwhelmed as they try to work from home and care for parents and children, local businesses losing money for reasons they can't control. Then there's the whole recession issue.

And yet. I also see so much supporting and helping happening. Mo Willems broadcasting daily doodling time for young children from the Kennedy Center. Angela Stockman opening two free digital young writers courses (middle school and high school). Teachers sharing lesson plans every which way. Book clubs going online. Grandchildren calling grandparents. Friends checking in and sharing funny photos of days at home.

What if in this strange time in education, we use this moment to empower our students in a new form of learning? Iowa Big was created after Cedar Rapids, Iowa essentially went under twelve feet of water in one of the biggest natural disasters to ever hit an American city. As people began to rebuild, they decided to remake and re-envision their town for a new era. A crisis on a similar level is now affecting us all, and I think our high school students could be instrumental in helping us deal with coronavirus.

Let's ask students to come up with projects they can do from home to make a difference. Design thinking projects with the goal of helping their community somehow.

Click here for an editable version of a curriculum base for this. 

Design thinking sounds hard, but it's really just a process of creating through empathy. I find John Spencer's video about design thinking for students super helpful in cutting through the hype and understanding the core of design thinking.

First, students would need to think about who is struggling in their community that they'd like to reach. Young children? The elderly? Local business owners? Those feeling sick and scared? Those who cannot go to work and don't have enough money to stretch through this time? Those who are always anxious and are now teetering toward depression?

Once they decide who they want to serve, they can begin to learn more. Researching, asking, reading whatever they can about the people they hope to help.

Next, they would begin to brainstorm and prototype solutions, keeping the people they want to serve directly in mind. This is a time for them to be in contact with you or a class partner, creating and improving, talking and tweaking.

As they begin to complete their work, it's time to launch it into the world. Can you imagine how a community might be transformed by ten thousand high school students completing a project that helps? Or one hundred thousand high school students?

Imagine the possibilities...

A musical tenth grader launches a daily youtube singing class for elementary students missing music at school.

A pair of book-loving tenth graders host a virtual book club for a senior care center.

An eleventh grader who loves web design works with local business owners to create a space online where people stuck at home can buy gift cards to their businesses to spend after the shut down, so the businesses can stay afloat during a time of no revenue.

A twelfth grader missing restaurant food and worrying about his friend who works at a restaurant works with three local restaurants to provide a pop-up takeout night in his neighborhood.

A student organizes a community connection food bank, where a family can post a request for food and another family can sign up to deliver it to their steps.

A student organizes a blog called "Being a kid in the time of pandemic" and invites guest posts from students worldwide, creating a space for reflection, humor, and connection online for kids.

A student organizes a virtual meeting with the mayor to talk about how the pandemic is affecting kids and pitch an idea for a program to help.

A student organizes the creation of a community message wall, painting a big chunk of wall downtown in chalkboard paint and leaving out hundreds of pieces of chalk, inviting people out on a walk to write something kind or inspiring to the next person (and then take their piece of chalk home, so no one shares germs).

You get the idea. These are just my brainstorms, from an adult perspective, not having been in your community (unless you happen to live in my tiny town!). Your students will no doubt come up with things I can't even imagine. Ideas that can change how people are feeling right now. Ideas to inspire and connect us.

I'm so excited about what our kids could do. I would love to see them empowered to rise up and channel what they've learned into our world. What better time than now?

(Painting by a high school senior currently working with me)

Help for Teaching through Coronavirus Closings

If you're like me, your hands are dry and chafed, your dreams are anxious, and your school just cancelled classes until April.

Ugh. Worldwide pandemic is not anything we were expecting. But here we are.

Depending on where you teach, coronavirus may mean you're scrambling to get more comfortable with Google Classroom, Flipgrid, and Screencastify. Or it may mean you're wondering just how many of your students have access to internet at home. Or it may mean you're worried that your students won't have enough to eat during a break from normal school days.

Today I want to offer some ideas to help you as you prepare for a possible closing at your school. Please pick and choose the ones that apply best to your students; I know every situation is different.

Regardless of what your student population is like, one key piece of advice I picked up as I brainstormed and researched for this post is that it's really important to reach out specifically to students you know will struggle to complete work without consistent contact with you. Get your system set up and then before, during, and after the break from school, reach out to students who tend to struggle. Send them an email or a postcard. Call their house. Set aside a little of your work time each day for this purpose.  Read more about this and find other tips in the article, "Separated By A Screen? Advice For Online Teaching Amid The Coronavirus Outbreak."

If you prefer, listen in below to the podcast version of this post. Or find it on Apple Podcasts, Sticher, Blubrry, Spotify, or (probably) your other podcast player of choice. Otherwise, read on, my friend!

If your students cannot access the internet from home:

Now might be the time to create a plan and give it out to students, BEFORE your school closes its doors. Perhaps you could create a simple newsletter using a free template like this one on Canva that informs families of how students can keep up with English class, access useful resources, and prepare for coronavirus.

If you're concerned that your students will not have access to enough food while away from school, consider doing some research on local food pantries and providing information to families about how they might stock up on some staples prior to a period of social isolating. Just slip that information into your newsletter alongside information about coronavirus, hand washing, and ways for students to keep up with their ELA skills.

The key is to distribute some information about what your students should do outside of class BEFORE they disappear, if you can. Because if your students can't get online, it will be pretty hard to give them books to read, projects to complete, writing to do, etc. once your school shuts down.

This could be the right time for students to engage in the kinds of creative projects you're always wishing you had time for, like a genius hour project, working on something for a writing contest (here's a huge list of options for you), participating in the early stages of a nanowrimo-type project, writing performance poetry pieces prior to putting on a community event, trying design thinking, etc.

It could also be a great time for choice reading. If you assign nothing but for students to read one choice book a week while they're out and complete a one-pager on it, that would be an excellent use of their time. Take them to the library now and help them find books, or let them each check out two or three books from your class library. Take a whole class period to help everyone find good options. A reading contest wouldn't be a terrible idea. Stir up interest with a few fun prizes, if you're so inclined.

If your students can access the online world at least a little bit:

Now's the time to quickly set up a platform where they can find information and assignments while they're gone. A class Instagram account, a class Facebook group, or a free Blogger blog could all easily get the job done. (Just set up a separate work social profile for yourself so you aren't inviting them into your personal space online).

A Facebook group just might be the easiest. Inside a private group, you can broadcast live videos, drop links, make posts with assignments, and start discussions. Students can reply with questions and you can answer them. You can even upload assignments to the files, or you can link to Google Docs. Be sure to make it clear you're not going to be hanging out in your new online space 24/7 - certain office hours and a schedule for when you'll post assignments will make it easier for students and for you.

Of course, if you're already using Google Classroom or Flipgrid, then you've already got a place online for posting your assignments.

Basically, if your students have access to the internet but it's not easy for them to hang out there all the time (as in, they're probably sharing a device with the whole family, or using a phone with a small screen), use this new platform to share information and answer questions, but don't ask students to be watching video lessons and participating in online discussion forums all the time. Just set up a way to share ideas and then give them things to do that are NOT tech-oriented.


  • Read choice books
  • Read the book you were going to be reading as a class anyway
  • Script a podcast and prepare to record it when they get back
  • Do a design thinking project related to the community and coronavirus - considering how their community will be affected and how they (or the whole class) might help the community to bounce back when school reopens
  • Write. Any kind of writing project. The writing makerspace comes to mind. It would be a great time for students to draw/paint/sketch/collage/photograph to create a character and then write their story. 
  • Choose an issue they feel strongly about and write to a local politician about it. 
  • Document their experience with the coronavirus pandemic - taking photos, drawing, painting, etc. and writing to create a journal of their life at home (someday this period will be in the history books!) 
  • Write letters to people they care about and send them. Real letters. You could have students snap photos so they can show they completed the assignment. 

If your students have full access to the resources of the online world: 

If your students are going to be whirling into a full program of online learning, my guess is your school is going to structure it for you and run some PD for how they'd like you to proceed. But if there's much wiggle room, I suggest you consider incorporating a lot of the great stuff that's already out there.

Hyperdocs are a wonderful form of online learning. You can create your own or dive into the resources over at hyperdocs.co. Some people call hyperdocs "playlists," but whatever you call them, they're basically a kind of digital intellectual amusement park for students. You can add any online activities to them, from watching a video clip and responding to taking an online museum tour and submitting questions about it. You can add anything you can link to. Just start with a Google Doc and start adding links. You can learn much more about this strategy over here. 

Maybe it's time for a deep dive into grammar over at Khan Academy. You could have students watch the videos and then each create a sketchnote version of one concept that could eventually form a student-created grammar unit for future kids at your school.

Ted-Ed has a lot to offer. Or have students select and review Ted Talks around fields and futures that interest them.

My Shakespeare is a wonderful resource where students can find the full text of five popular plays, but also help with interpreting them, visual and audio clips from the plays, and helpful notes. This website could really help support students through a more solo experience of Shakespeare.

I'm hearing a lot about Zoom as a place to meet online.

Personally, I love Screencastify. If you just want to broadcast some instructions and a quick tour of whatever online resources you're making available to students on a certain day, Screencastify makes it really easy to record your voice and screen at the same time.

Google Classroom is an easy(ish) way to organize your online work. You can give and receive assignments there, and avoid flooding your inbox.

Here's a list of Ed Companies offering free tools to educators at the moment. Kudos to my friend Angela Stockman (the incredible) for sharing this.

You can join the conversation on this topic in our Facebook group, Creative High School English, if you'd like to hear more about what others are trying and feeling right now.

OK, that's what I've got for tonight! I'm off to go put lotion on my hands and try to sleep. I hope you're doing alright, and that something in this post is helpful to you. If you've got a pantry full of Frozen (the movie) themed chicken noodle soup cans and some flower-scented hand sanitizer you never thought you'd buy on your dresser, you're not alone.

We'll get through this.

6 Ways to use your Ed Deck to Inspire

Since creating the Ed Deck this winter, it has been so fun to see it in action in the world. I love hearing from teachers and seeing their photos!

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, let me explain. The Ed Deck is a set of cards featuring a ton of creative teaching strategies, to help make it easy for you to plan your lessons using the innovative options you want to rely on instead of the go-tos that tend to dominate when you're tired and don't have time to plan. You can find the set I designed here, or sign up below to get your own set of editable blank rainbow cards and make your own.

If you've got your cards ready for action and are wondering how to use them to their fullest potential, you're in the right place. This week I'm sharing six fun ideas for making the most of your Ed Deck.

087: Hexagonal Thinking in ELA, The Ultimate Guide

Hexagonal thinking is a rich new way to inspire discussion. Now, if you're like me, high school geometry was about as appealing as high school cafeteria beef stroganoff, and you're not too sure about this whole math-English crossover thing.

Don't give up! Hexagonal thinking is a really unique way to get kids thinking about connections they might never otherwise make.

When you give kids a series of ideas on hexagons, and ask them to connect the cards into a web with clear reasons for each connection, you get them thinking critically, debating, giving evidence, and basically, lighting up a whole bunch of parts of their brains. Each card could connect to six others, or just to one or two. Every person in every group will have a different concept of how things could connect. There will be no right answer.


086: Take Action for Deeper Learning, with Sarah Fine

What makes students excited about learning? What makes them shunt Snapchat to the side in favor of a book, build a website when they could be bingeing Netflix, or talk to their friends about what just happened in class instead of what just happened out in the hall?

These are questions that matter deeply.

A few years ago, Sarah Fine and Jal Mehta, researchers from Harvard, criss-crossed the country looking for schools and classrooms where learning was happening on the deepest levels, then documented their findings in a book called In Search of Deeper Learning.

A great book + My favorite breakfast 

This book feels like a hill where I want to plant my flag. I wish everyone in education could read it. I nodded along so much I might just have whiplash. The research bears out so many things that I have always intuited as a teacher who cares about creativity, and it gives us all specific language and evidence we can use as we push for progression in our schools.

How to Use "I am From" Poems in Class

Writing can be so personal. Especially when we're asking kids to write in their real voice, about things that matter to them. So I'm always in search of writing assignments that help students write about their lives in ways that feel doable and beautiful, inspiring and easy. From there students can begin to add layers of complexity and allow themselves to be vulnerable in the writing if they feel ready.

I love the "I am from" poem. At some point fifteen years ago I stumbled across the idea of having students write these poems, inspired by George Ella Lyon's poem, "Where I'm from" (listen to the audio) or (read the text). Lyon weaves together vivid images from her life as a girl, drawing on little things like art projects she did, products she used, things her parents said, as well as sensory details from her life experience, to create a window into her past. It's a striking poem, and also an easy one to understand and to emulate (perfect for class!).

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