Thursday, July 10, 2014

NerdCampMI Reflections

Looking at my calendar for this summer there were two dates that jumped out at me every time I glanced at it; NerdCamp was being held on July 7th and 8th. The excitement raced through me when I thought about it. Last year was the first NerdCamp. I had been amazed by the sessions then. This year the organizers had added another day; an afternoon filled with scheduled presenters. Also added were a Nerd Run and a NerdCamp Junior on the evening of the 8th. I wondered if it would still be as memorable as last year. It was even more so.

Monday dawned and my nervousness was reaching epic proportions. Suzanne Gibbs had created the schedule for Day One. She kindly asked if I would present, to which I agreed. What Suzanne didn’t know was that public speaking makes my heart race, my face heat up, and leaves me feeling that I might be sick at any moment. Over the last few years these feelings have lessened, somewhat, but it still isn’t great. I knew NerdCamp would be filled with smart educators and I was worried. I shouldn’t have been.

Teachers waiting for me to begin.
From the moment I entered the high school on day one, I was pumped. Colby, Alaina, Suzanne, and more had worked so hard – and it showed. Suzanne quickly brought me to the room I would be presenting. She even gave me a laptop cord because I forgot mine at home. Teachers started entering my room an hour early to get a seat. I was sure they were in the wrong room. One glanced at my phone made me start to shake. I was looking for a text from my son, but I saw tweets from people in the room that they were excited to hear me speak. Mind blown.

What followed were two of the most enjoyable sessions I have ever had the honor of leading. The attendees at NerdCamp were so positive, kind, and gave tons of great feedback. By the end, I was almost in tears, I was so grateful for these educators. (If you'd like to see my slides, you can find them HERE.)

Since I was presenting on Monday, I didn’t get the chance to attend other sessions beyond the ending Keynote, given by Donalyn Miller. What I love about seeing Donalyn speak is her clear message – we are the lead readers in our classrooms. We need to reflect on our reading lives and share those lessons with our students. It isn’t about Lexile levels, AR points, incentives, or comprehension tests. We are creating a community of readers.

Monday wrapped up with a Nerd Run – a 5K Alaina Sharp organized. I was part of #teamsaunter – we had no plans on running, but thought we’d walk and chat through the course. As we traveled the first mile we were joined by two participants that were dressed as Cassia from Matched and Katniss from The Hunger Games. For reasons I won’t divulge, #teamsaunter became #teamshortcut. By the end of the race, I was crying from laughing so hard.

Tuesday dawned and the true “EdCamp” format began. I love watching the schedule come together. If you haven’t been to an EdCamp before, the schedule is blank at the start of the day. Here, they have two sessions to schedule for and about 6-7 openings during each session. Amazingly, once the floor was open, people started coming forward to volunteer to lead a variety of sessions. I presented with Donalyn for the first session on the best books of 2014 so far, and it was awesome. She and I both shared some of our favorite titles and then the audience began sharing their favorites. I think this quote is from David Weinberger, “…the smartest person in the room is the room.” EdCamps (and NerdCamp) embrace this philosophy. You might be “leading” a presentation, but really you are all learning from each other. I love this.

After session one, I went to a session led by Karen Terlecky and Katie Muhtaris about authentic use of technology in the classroom. I learned so much from these ladies – and from the other educators in the room.

After a quick lunch break it was time to create the afternoon schedule. I attended a session led by a soon to be third grader and some teachers sharing the importance of read alouds. Loved that this kiddo felt empowered enough to present to a group of adults. During this session I read a tweet from someone at NerdCamp asking if I’d lead a session on Evernote. (They had tweeted earlier and I hadn’t seen it.) The great thing about NerdCamp is that just because a session isn’t scheduled isn’t a problem. I immediately tweeted out that I was going to meet in the commons for a pop-up session during session four. I asked Karen and Katie to come help and we ended up with a group of about thirty teachers all learning about Evernote and Google Drive. I love that while we were supposedly the “leaders,” I walked away with as much new insights as they did.

NerdCamp ended with participates coming up to the stage in the auditorium and sharing what they had learned from the last day and a half. I was moved by their stories, from tweets I read, from discussions I shared, and more. What an amazing two days.

Below are links to the NerdCamp notes from each session AND other blog posts written about this amazing day. I will continue to add links as they are sent in. If you are interested in attending next year, it will be held on July 6th and 7th in Parma, Michigan and the registration is, as always, free.

Glad to help run the Nerdy Book Club with these crazy folks. 

Links (Click below. Note, I've grabbed as many as I can find. If you'd like yours added, tweet me at @katsok or post in the comments. Thanks!):

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Time. There never seems to be enough. Today on Facebook I read an article about how teachers feel that they fall short again and again. On Twitter an author I loved Tweeted that she has learned that no matter what she does, it is never enough. And I know I’ve felt that in teaching, in my life as a mom, in the time I spend with friends. There simply is not enough time to go around.

But, and there is a big but here J, I’ve stopped feeling guilty about that. I have colleagues who chastise me for spending so much of my free time on work related endeavors. My thought is that I’m lucky that my job is also my passion. Does it mean less time with my kids? Sometimes. I also see it as being a role model for my children and showing them that you can do what you love.

I’ve been busy this summer. I tweeted today that school got out 35 days ago. I’ve been away from home 21 of those days. I’ve read 61 books. Typed seven articles for Choice Literacy. Tweeted for them and myself hundreds of times. Hosted a Twitter chat. Written eight blog posts. Started what might become a book one day. Given two presentations at NerdCamp. Attended two conferences. Spent a glorious three days at a writing retreat. Visited friends and family. Survived (and enjoyed) Disney World.

I’ve learned, grown, laughed, cried, ran, walked, baked, slept, and slept some more.

I’m trying hard to be kinder to myself. I can look at that paragraph above and groan, disappointed I haven’t written more here on my blog. I can get frustrated at myself that I can write a ton on a writing retreat, but fall short when coming home. I’m choosing to be kinder to myself and ignore that voice.

Today was my first full day with nothing to do. As I type this post, at 5:07pm, I am still in my pajamas. (I did shower finally at 4 and just put them back on.) I’ve read several books, baked some cookies, and took a long afternoon nap. It was glorious.

I have thirty-eight days of summer left. There are a few commitments scattered here and there, but for the most part, I will be reclaiming some time for me. I plan on spending these days relaxing, reading, writing, planning, and napping. I know I need goals, and accountability, so I’m typing those here:

For my summer #bookaday I need to read thirteen more books. No worries.

I want to move at least five times a week.

I need to write six days a week, twenty-five minutes minimum.

I want to reorganize my classroom library.

I need to write three posts for three separate blog tours.

I need to finish a project for a friend.

I’d like to plan out a rough sketch of the units I want to teach for the first few months.

I want to be kind to myself.

Those are my goals for this second half of summer. How about you?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Celebrate This Week

I’m joining up with Ruth Ayres for her weekly link-up, Celebrate This Week. Check out all of the posts linked up at her blog HERE. Thanks for starting this, Ruth!

Thursday I had a colonoscopy. Not typically a reason to celebrate, but celebrate I am. One, I’m done for another five years. Two, hospitals are one of my triggers for anxiety, but I did it anyway. Three, the results were good – always a reason to celebrate. Four, I was reminded of the power of connection.

Several friends knew I had this scheduled this week. Some shared shakes with me so I could eat lighter on Tuesday, making prep easier Wednesday. I had entertaining texts on Wednesday during my prep when I needed a laugh. And friends checked in with me Thursday morning when they knew I’d be arriving at the hospital and beginning to freak out a bit. Connection means a lot.

I’ve thought a lot about relationships and connection this week as I prepare for my NerdCamp presentation on Monday. I’m speaking about the power of building relationships in our classroom, how it can impact our students as readers, writers, people. One thing that Thursday’s colonoscopy reminded me was that it doesn’t take a lot to do something that matters. Texts, notes, small acts that show you care really mean a lot.

In our classrooms we get bogged down by all of the “stuff” we have to do, and that load seems to only be increasing. What I find is that the things I do that kids remember don’t take a long time. Post-its on their desks, high-fives or hugs on the way out, asking about what they did that weekend, checking in with them when I know they’ve had a big event – that is what shows them I care.

So thanks to those friends for making Wednesday and Thursday a little brighter. I’m celebrating you this week – and all of my students who make each day of school worth getting out of bed for. (And I do so love my bed!) Connections, relationships, that’s the good stuff. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Title Talk Sunday Night - Writing About Reading

Sunday night I am excited to guest host the monthly chat, #titletalk, on Twitter with Colby Sharp (@colbysharp). Donalyn is out of town at the amazing ALA Annual Convention, so Colby kindly asked if I could join him. What I am even more excited about is that our topic is Writing About Reading.

Writing about reading is something I’ve struggled with for the past few years. When I was self-contained, it wasn’t an issue. My students wrote me letters each week, I wrote them back. My letters in return were thoughtful, lengthy, and really – in my opinion – beneficial to the students. Enter semi-departmentalization.

In teaching three reading classes a day, I assumed I would continue as I had begun. Trying to grade upwards of seventy-five notebooks per week was insane. Last year I bruised up the inside of both of my arms just trying to carry the notebooks home during the second week of school. It was a mess.

I’m also fascinated by a quote from Penny Kittle in a podcast on Choice Literacy with Franki Sibberson where she mentions that in English Language Arts we have the kids do entirely too much writing about books. I want to know more.

At any rate, this is one area I’ve felt the need to grow and push myself next year. My thinking is that my students’ “writing” might, indeed be writing in a notebook. It might also be blogging, podcasts, or creating videos. And what I keep coming back to is the word authentic – I am a reader, but I don’t write a letter when I’m done with every book. My thinking is evolving even as I type so please join us tomorrow night, I can’t wait to learn from all of you.

If you are new to Twitter chats, or #titletalk, here are a few pointers.

First, the way #titletalk works is that the first ½ of the chat is typically about something in our classrooms, Sunday our topic is: Writing About Reading. The second ½ is titles – and they do fly! We’re going to focus on titles we’ve read so far this summer that we highly recommend or titles we are dying to read before school begins.

Second, the chat is pretty fast. You will never keep up with all of it, and shouldn’t stress. I usually try to contribute to whatever the given question is at the time and then retweet when I see other folks type smart thinking.

Third, I use TweetChat to follow the chat. You can also follow it on Twitter. The reason I like TweetChat is that the Twitter stream you are looking at is only for our chat. It also adds the hashtag #titletalk automatically into your tweets. (If you are on Twitter, you have to do that yourself.) I wrote a blog post awhile ago with screen shots that will help you understand this:

Hope to see you Sunday night – 8pm EST/ 7 Central.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Living Our Lives Online

I’ve been thinking about how we treat each other a lot lately for several reasons. On Facebook, I read posts about some bullying happening on Instagram with a few kids. Talking to friends, I remembered the need to reflect on my own discussions in front of my children, what did they hear me saying? In reading, I encountered a boy named Albie, who had to deal with his own group of mean kids.


It seems to be everywhere. It is enough to make me want to lock up my children in our house, remove them from the online world, limit their exposure to what I can control. Yet, I know that is not feasible. I cannot control much, in truth. So what to do?

I think I am a fairly responsible parent and teacher. In regard to our home, Luke does have a phone now, Liam doesn’t yet. We, of course, have rules about phone use. I monitor it. We’ve talked about what is ok to post, what isn’t ok. We’ve talked about what to do when you see something you aren’t comfortable with. We’ve talked about using me – a mean mom who checks in – as an excuse if you are in a bind.

In regards to my students, we spent two weeks this year discussing digital citizenship. We’ve talked about living our lives online. What is acceptable to post, what crosses the line. We’ve discussed how what we put out there lives “somewhere” forever, even in Snapchat. We’ve talked about it all, but it isn’t enough.

I’m fairly certain that no matter what I do, or what I say, that my students and/or my own sons will screw up online. I pray they won’t, but I know that they are kids, and they are impulsive, and sometimes it will get ugly. I hope if they do mess up, someone calls them on it. I hope that they will take mistakes and learn from them, because that is what life is for. I hope they don’t hurt others. I hope they choose to be kind.

So as adults, what can we do? I have honestly thought a lot about this. I’ve done what I mentioned above, but that didn’t seem like enough, so I had a plan.

Some friends have asked me why I am always optimistic. Why I’m never upset online. That they are glad that life is going so well. It is true, I am blessed. I have an awesome family, an amazing job, and fabulous friends. But not all days are like that. There are days that are hard. Where the adults – and kids – in my life make me crazy. Those days it would be easy to go on any social networking sites and post a comment calling people out, or saying that “X” was making me mad. I choose not to. It isn’t that I don’t feel those things, but I know that whether I like it or not, I’m a role model.

I’ve chosen to be a parent, so I’m a role model by default there. My kids will hear my words – be kind, be forgiving, be generous – but my actions speak way louder. If I’m complaining about the people I interact with daily, they hear that. If I’m typing comments negatively online, they can see that. I can’t tell them to behave in a way that I don’t, so I try really hard to be the person I want them to be.

I’ve opened myself up to being an online role model too. Teachers are stuck in a weird world – we’re learning about social media right along with our students. I have gone back and forth on allowing my students to be my online “friends.” For a long time it was easy, I said no. When you graduate, maybe. Then I thought why not? Then I decided no again. It’s a bit strange to be “friends” with your students, right? Enter Instagram.

Evil or awesome, depending on who you talk to, a lot of my students are on Instagram. Like Twitter, I left my Instagram account open – people could friend me at will. One day I realized that I had several current students following me. I debated making my account private and asking them not to, when I reconsidered. I try to be a role model for my sons, for my students at school, why not try to be a role model online for them? Maybe they needed to follow one person who just posted positive photos. Who enjoyed sunsets, books, food, and nature? So I let them.

I’ve lost count of the number of kids who now follow me online. I don’t follow them back, because I don’t think that is needed. I hope that by seeing my posts in their feed, they maybe have a second to think of how they are living their lives online. I hope it is a quick reminded of a teacher who loves them and believes they can do their best. I think that’s all I can do.

As adults, we have so much hope for our kids. We want them to be kind, caring, and accepting of others. I think that is exactly the right goal. We also need to strive for the same in ourselves. We need to remember these kids around us are watching us at every turn. We need to strive to behave as we would like them to. I know I will fall short, but I try a bit harder each day. I love them all too much not to. 
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