Sunday, July 31, 2016

Thirteen Colonies Seminar Princeton University (July 24-30, 2016)

Sometime in early January, an acquaintance of mine on Voxer posted a link to the Teacher Seminars with The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. I am hardly a history buff, but they sounded very interesting and I figured there was no harm in applying. I was pretty sure I would never be selected but I applied for my school to become an affiliate (which is free) and then filled out the application. I applied only for two sessions: Thirteen Colonies and the American Revolution. Both were restricted to K-8 teachers and that appealed to me because it was confined to grades I am able to teach. I promptly forgot all about it until March when a reminder I had set on my phone told me to check my application status and low and behold, I had been accepted! Travel arrangements and lots of anticipation later, the end of July came and it was time to go.

I had never been anywhere near Princeton and I never stayed in a dorm before because I always lived at home while I was in college.  I was pretty pleased with myself for figuring out the train situation from Newark to Princeton all by myself without having to ask for directions (to say I am directionally challenged is an understatement). I did end up going out of the station at Princeton the wrong way so I wandered around for 45 minutes before I finally figured out where I was supposed to be but otherwise, things were very smooth.

The first day we got checked in and settled and then met as a group and walked across campus to the building where our lectures were going to be. We had a catered dinner the first night and did some introductions. There were about 30 people in our group (maybe a bit more) and we were all from very different backgrounds and teaching situations. How lucky was I to learn with so many people who have such different perspectives? 

We did a short little tour of the campus that first night before heading to our dorms to settle in for the evening. Monday morning the fun began!

A typical day went something like this:
9-12 Content Lectures
12-1 Lunch
1-2ish Content Lecture
2ish-4 Activity and/or Gilder Lehrman presentation
Evenings varied with some evenings being free and other evenings having activities

The Lectures
The lectures all occurred in the same room and were given by historian John Fea. We had been assigned three readings for the seminar and asked to read them before we came as all of the lectures would be referencing and focusing upon the content of those books. I won't share what the lectures are about because I don't want to spoil it for future seminar attendees, but I will tell you that Dr. Fea is an amazing speaker. He is charismatic and so passionate about his subject that I seriously could have listened to him all day. The lectures were heavily content based so teachers in the program had background for developing the lesson plans required as a sort of "exit slip" as we completed the program. 

One of my favorite things about listening to Dr. Fea speak was how he challenged us to really consider the British Colonial Settlements as if the American Revolution never happened. Honestly, at first, some of us were like "but DID happen!" After awhile, however, through the lectures we realized very quickly how much deeper you can go into the Thirteen Colonies when you act as if the Revolution never happened. Let me again say I am the least historically inclined person (a fact that drives my history-buff husband insane) and I was absolutely drawn into these lectures. I easily took 40 pages of notes in the four days of lectures we had. So many ideas that challenged what I had been taught as well as what I will teach in the future.

Side note: As a third grade teacher, I do not teach currently teach Colonial American but the knowledge I gleaned can still be carried over into Michigan History which is what I teach in third grade. 

The Gilder Lehrman Sessions
The Gilder Lehrman sessions were run by the fabulous Nate, a master teacher with GLI. His task was to run the teachers in the group through how to set up the type of lessons we would be creating by the end of the week. They were really fun and informative and I'm glad to say I learned a couple of new teaching strategies as well. I loved seeing lessons that Nate had created for his own students and then learning how we could adapt even difficult primary sources down for the youngest of learners. I think sometimes our inclination is to say it will be too hard for kindergarten through second or third graders and these sessions really challenged that notion which I vastly appreciated (I am well known for pushing kids farther than they think they can go). 

Meal Times 
Seriously...despite all of the walking around I did, I'm sure I gained at least a few pounds (I didn't check when I got home because I didn't want to know!) from all of the yummy deliciousness offered in the cafeteria. All of our meals were provided and there were tons of choices every day. A lot of summer camps for elementary, middle and high school students were also ongoing so it wasn't uncommon to see kiddos sneaking ice cream at the end of breakfast too :) In all seriousness, however, the vast availability of choices was much appreciated. The best part of the meals was the opportunity to sit with different members of our group, including Dr. Fea and Nate, and learn about them and their teaching situations. We really became like a family during the six days we were together. 

Field Trips and Walking Tours
Of course I cannot speak for any other Gilder Lehrman session because this was my first one, but the field trips and other activities they included in our schedule were amazing. We had a guided tour of Princeton University, a side trip to the Princeton Cemetery (where we got rained on!), a rare books event at one of the libraries (which was so awesome!) and a day trip to Philadelphia to tour the historic areas that were around during colonial times. We walked around so much that one day I had over 20,000 steps on my vivoFit! 

The Verdict
This was such an amazing opportunity and I am so glad that I was not only selected but able to follow through and attend. It would be difficult to describe exactly how awesome it's the kind of thing you have to experience for yourself. Truly. If you have the opportunity to go to any of the sessions, I would highly recommend it.

What can you do now? Head on over to and search for the teacher seminars and you can sign up to be reminded of when applications are being accepted. It cost me $25 to register once I was accepted and I had to buy the books for the seminar but all travel expenses (up to $400) are reimbursed so essentially I had this incredible week long professional development for $75. By far the cheapest and most amazing PD I have ever attended. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016


If you are a teacher of history of any kind, head over to and get your school registered as an affiliate. Then sign up to be notified of when the applications for teacher seminars opens up and then when they are available, find one you like and APPLY.

I just spent a week at Princeton University, for free, learning from and studying with a Master Teacher and a celebrated historian. Oh my word. The experience was incredible and I have come away from it so inspired and ready to truly help my students learn to think like historians. It was an amazing opportunity and I am so grateful and blessed to have been able to go.

Stay tuned to the blog for more details on the experience.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Learning

Happy July! I've been quiet here on the blog for awhile just taking some much needed time to unplug a bit and put my focus where I need it to be. I anticipate that everyone is enjoying their summer break and also finding some time to rest and relax. :) 

Having said that, I did want to pop in and share some learning I've engaged in thus far in the summer. As is true since I started this blog six years ago (!!), I am always fully honest about where I am in my journey as a teacher, whether that is bad or good. The further I get into my doctoral program, the harder it becomes for me to unplug during the summer (I suspect that will be even more true summer 2017 as I will be elbows deep in the dissertation by that point). Part of this is because my program is year-round and there is no such thing as a "summer break" for me from this learning (to be fair I do get a week off in August--which coincides with my return to work so... doesn't really count). 

This summer, I am taking my required religion course and we are studying the Parables of Jesus. The reading is extremely dense and I have developed a new appreciation for what it must be like for my struggling readers. I learned to read in kindergarten. I remember begging my mom (who is also a voracious reader) to help me learn how to pronounce words I practiced stringing together. Once I learned that words actually held meaning, I was off and haven't looked back. I have never struggled to read...and now I am because the readings and interpretations are dense and can be conflicting and overwhelming. As a true lifelong learner however, I am secretly relishing the challenge because a) it truly is giving me a new appreciation for what it must be like for some of my students and b) the more I push my brain, the hungrier it is for more knowledge. (Yes, I am a nerd. Sorry if you didn't know before and are just figuring it out.)

In addition to the required summer class, I participated in the second installment of EdCampVoxer July 5-9. I even led a session this time on Student-Centered Assessment. I am writing a chapter for a collaborative ebook on Student Assessment and running that group and getting new ideas was so incredibly beneficial. My wheels were turning and spinning out of control, in a good way, not only for ideas for my chapter but also for how I'd like to change things up this next school year. 

I also joined a session on Growth Mindset and holy cow. What an amazing and dynamic group that was (and continues to be). I've learned a lot, had my mind expanded and am jotting notes and keeping track of different files so when I have time I can go back and pick things to read and/or implement in the future. Some of it will also be good for the upcoming dissertation, which is always a bonus.

I also learned about SeeSaw. We do not have a ton of technology in our school (hopefully that will change this fall) so I am not well versed in much of the EdTech out there. I do know, however, that my intention was to go to a portfolio assessment tracking system this year, I just had planned to do it on paper (and some parts still will be this way). However, now that I know about SeeSaw, I can utilize the iPods I have for my class and have the students upload and note things they are working on and we can share them with families in real time, which is exciting. 

Lastly, of course, my summer would not be my summer if I wasn't doing tons of reading! It's been more difficult to get in the reading at a rate I normally would as I have had to read some pretty dense books on history for my Princeton Seminar and of course, for class.

Below are listed books (click on any picture to go to the book info on Amazon) that I have either already purchased and plan to read or will be purchasing. Doubtful I'll get through them all this summer with the vast amounts of reading I am required to do for class and my seminar but I shall try!

I own this one. I have only barely scratched the surface of this one but it's quite good. The research is fascinating and I am always interested in knowing more about how our brains do their thing.

I own this one. This one was a very quick and enjoyable read about how to set up a classroom utilizing Restorative Practices rather than incentives and punishments. I picked this one up because we have been using Restorative Practices in my school.

I own this one. This one is brand new from ASCD. I participated in a free webinar from ASCD about this book and I'm super excited to dig into it. It is basically teaching teachers how to teach their students metacognitive strategies so that the students can really drive their brains (there is even an activity where the kiddos get to have a picture of them driving their brains as a visual reminder).

I own this one. This one I started to read and it's very good thus far. I am really hoping to have time to finish this one before school starts just as a way to self-monitor my own growth as a teacher.

I do not own this one but it is wish-listed. I have heard nothing but good things about this book and will be buying it at some point. It focuses on some growth mindset type of things and that is an area I am quickly become very passionate about. There is nothing more frustrating to me than having a 7 or 8 year old child who is already so checked out because they think they are dumb.

I do not own this one either, but it is also wishlisted. I was very lucky to participate in a chat with the author of this book last week and I learned a ton and am excited to read this book and learn how to help my students push themselves forward.