Saturday, March 25, 2017

MACUL 2017

On March 16, I attended my first MACUL (Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning) Conference. I only attended the one day but man...I left with my head and heart jam-packed with awesomeness.


First and foremost, the keynote speaker on Thursday was Sir Ken Robinson. Who doesn't love a man with a British accent?? Not only is he incredibly smart and has the right ideas about education, but he is also incredibly witty. I don't think I have laughed so hard so early in the morning ever. Not to mention the man got a standing ovation before he ever opened his mouth. The thousands of educators who flocked to Detroit for that conference knew that they were in the presence of greatness.

Two years ago, we read his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative for one of my doctoral classes and I was just blown away by how much I speak the same language in terms of how we "fix" education. As soon as I saw that he was the keynote, I knew I had to go, even if it was just for one day. My time was surely not wasted. This man knows that American public education is not going downhill...we have systems issues. Big ones. He also pointed out, however, that when we, as classroom teachers shut our doors and do what WE know is right, despite what we are being told to do, we ARE changing the system. I loved that. It is very true.

Incidentally, Sir Ken has a new book out called Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education which you can believe went immediately on my wish list. Pretty much everything that man says, I totally agree with.

If Sir Ken had been the only session I went to the entire day, it still would have been worth the 3 hours of travel and the money I spent to go. He was so inspiring and a great way to begin the day. Fortunately, he was not the only goodness I experienced.


I went to a session on BreakoutEdu next. I have to admit, I have heard many people speak about BreakoutEDU in my PLN on Voxer but I hadn't ever really paid that much attention. to be totally honest, I found myself thinking "what is the big deal with this breakout stuff?? It can't be all that they claim it is." Well, believe me, once I saw it happening, I was hooked and realized that I had been missing out by not paying more attention!

If you've been living under a rock, like I apparently was, and don't know already, BreakoutEDU is an interactive games platform that allows students to work in groups to solve a series of clues in order to open a locked box. Once all of the locks are unlocked, the students have "broken out" and achieved the mission. The presenter demonstrated for us by putting us into four groups and having us complete a Breakout session ourselves. I went to the Minecraft group because my own kids play it and I figured it wouldn't hurt me to get involved in what they care about. My group actually finished our breakout first (in about 15-16 minutes I believe) and it definitely required teamwork and the ability to listen to the ideas of everyone in the group.

The best part is, once you purchase a kit (or make your own, which is only about $20 cheaper to do), you can sign up on the website to get access to tons of games for free. The games are all standards based too which is even better. I love it for team building, cooperative learning and critical thinking because, at least in my group, you had to solve the puzzle to open the smaller box in order to get the materials needed to solve the last two puzzles. We would have never completed the challenge if we hadn't realized we needed what was in the smaller box to open the other locks.

It was great fun and I am definitely planning to purchase a kit of my own and try it out with my class. I think it would make a great Fun Friday team building activity. In the future, of course, I could absolutely see using some of the games in the games library to enhance curriculum by having students solve problems based upon a learning unit to complete the breakout.

'Appy Hour

I went to another session called 'Appy Hour where we learned about a bunch of different apps that are useful for teaching and learning. About half of them I had already heard of (such as Remind and SeeSaw) but there were some other ones I learned about that I hadn't ever heard of. The best part of this session was that they shared the presentation with us so that we were able to follow along and click on the links to the various apps so we can try them out on our own.

I am definitely going to give EdPuzzle a try. I think it will be super helpful and engaging for the kiddos as review for concepts they are struggling with.


The last session I attended was on HyperDocs. Holy cow. I have been missing out on this goodness! I had heard someone speak about them in my PLN awhile ago but didn't know what they were. This session definitely gave me a lot of food for thought.

Basically, HyperDocs are Google docs that are embedded with hyperlinks. The hyperlinks can link to videos, pictures or articles for the students to read. They use the information contained in the links to learn and complete an assignment about a topic. The topic can be about anything: you can have HyperDocs that are grammar focused or HyperDocs that are about tornados.

I think the best part about learning about HyperDocs is that the folks who are creating/using them are so willing to share their docs with others. There are TONS of already created HyperDocs that folks will let you use/adapt for free. How awesome is that??

You can learn more about HyperDocs by visiting the HyperDocs website or buying the The HyperDoc Handbook: Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps book.

All in all I am so glad I went and also sad that I have never gone before! Fortunately, next year it will be hosted right in my hometown so I will definitely be able to attend it again. Useful and relatively cheap for a conference of its size.

I enjoyed it so much and am grateful to have so many takeaways to bring back to my classroom that I can use almost immediately. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Restorative Practices/Restorative Justice

Something that has been on my heart for a long time is the concept of Restorative Practices. I work with challenging students. That simply means, these little guys (and girls) have a lot stacked against them before they ever walk in the door: poverty, parents who forthrightly tell us they don't have much education, etc. It's HARD to be those kiddos.

But you know what, there is a reason why my heart belongs to my school. I was them once upon a time. Seeing them grow, learn and become amazing citizens is truly the most amazing thing I could have ever done with my life. 

About two years ago, I learned about Restorative Practices (also referred to as Restorative Justice) from a colleague. She had gone to a training and talked so highly of the idea that when a mini-session came along, I knew I had to go. And boy did it change everything about my teaching life! 

Especially last year with my largest class ever and some extremely challenging students, I am absolutely convinced that Restorative Practices is what kept me sane and allowed me do still do good work with my students. 

This past winter break, we had another installment of Edcamp Voice on Voxer and one of the groups was on Restorative Justice. We have since renamed ourselves the Restorative Justice League and it has spawned a twitter chat on Sunday nights and a facebook page ( It is also, by far, one of the most active groups I have on Voxer. We are a group of educators and trainers who are that passionate about this topic and helping to restore relationships between students, students and teachers, and teachers and teachers when things don't go well (which in life...things are gonna happen, right?).

The reason this is on my mind so much right now is that my 15 year old (often referred to here on the blog as "Middle Child") got suspended from her high school yesterday. Before I share this, let me point out that I am not complaining about her suspension because I think she shouldn't have been punished. (Believe me, she has not had a stellar weekend because we do NOT play that way in our family. No way.) I am complaining about it because I do not think the punishment fits the crime. At all. I would bet you will probably agree with me by the end.

I have been plagued by this illness for months. Thursday night, it was diagnosed as another sinus infection (I believe this is the third or fourth one since my grandson was born last April). Thus while I really wanted to stay home on Friday to rest, I went to school because a) I had already been out of my room for 2.5 days that week due to WIDA testing and a meeting and b) Fridays are so easy it wasn't going to be too hard to suffer through it. But let's be honest: I felt horrible. I probably also looked horrible. As I was taking my class to art, we stopped for a restroom break and I leaned my head against the wall and closed my eyes; I was so drained I could have literally fallen asleep right there, propped up against the wall. So yeah, I felt like I'd been run over by a bus and then tossed over a cliff for good measure.

So imagine my surprise when I check my email during our Junior Achievement presentation and find an email with the subject line that reads [name of child] OSS. I already felt like death and then I get this email telling me my child has out of school suspension. A kid who has never been suspended in her life. What the actual horse hay is up with that??

I click on the email and discover that she got suspended because she was caught trying to steal from the cafe during lunch. Needless to say I was completely dumbfounded. I couldn't call the school back at that moment because I was with my own students still and had to wait until last recess. I also discovered I had two voicemail messages: one from the dean who sent the email and one from Middle Child's social worker. After getting the entire story, and being told this sort of offense would normally result in a 2-3 day suspension (!!!), I was just dumbfounded. 

I am 100% behind the idea that stealing is NOT okay. Ever. Especially not when you have the money to pay for the item you tried to swipe. BUT I also think 2-3 DAYS out of school for trying to steal a treat that cost less than $1.50 is the most asinine thing I have ever heard of. 

This is where the school could have employed Restorative Justice instead. Here is a nice article that can break down how to deal with things "the old way" versus the "Restorative Justice" way. Personally, I am a huge fan of the Restorative Questions:

What happened? • What were you thinking about at the time? • What have your thoughts been since? • Who has been affected by what you did? • In what way have they been affected? • What do you think you need to do to make things right? 

Had my child's school used these questions and really gotten to the bottom of the motivation behind the attempted theft, there would have been no reason for a suspension. Especially because I was told the reason it was only 1 day was because she is a special education student. Regardless, suspending a child, putting them out of school for 1-3 DAYS over an item that is less than $2 in value is not going to teach the child a lesson. What it is going to teach them is that if they do something bad, they will be at home. What middle class teenager whose parents are not emotionally screwed up doesn't want a 'free vacation' from school?! 

If she was from a home with parents who yelled and screamed all day and parented with violence, the suspension would probably scare her silly, but it would still be the wrong punishment. How does sitting at home for a day (and believe you me, she won't be sitting at home enjoying an extra day off), teach a person not to steal? IT DOESN'T. 

What should have happened? First, a thorough discussion and reflection using the questions above. Second, an apology to the person she harmed (in this case the cafeteria staff and the school administration). Third, mandatory community service at lunch for a week: cleaning tables, picking up trash, sweeping or whatever else needed to be done. That community service would be way more impactful than being sent home. 

I think this bothers me so much (aside from the fact that the punishment does not fit the crime) because there are so many parents I know who wouldn't do anything to the kid at home. It would truly just be an extra day of the weekend to screw around and be away from school. For a child like mine who has severe anxiety, its not a punishment to have another day off. Since I am an educator and don't condone the idea of taking things that don't belong to you, I think having the student serve community service is much more effective. First of all, they won't miss out on instruction and second, they have to be at the scene of the crime and working off their debt until it has been rectified. That, to me, is what would "teach her a lesson" rather than having a day at home.