Been Away Too Long

I've spent the holidays away from New York City with my family, enjoying simple pleasures and complex carbohydrates.  I've lost myself in this many days of relaxation, and though I know it's insane to say this, I'm itching to get back to routines.

I snapped these while trying to relish some of December's daylight hours.

See you soon, NYC.

31 Days Of December

I am so delighted that I've seen this project come to life.

My dear friends, Kate and Oliver, have been putting together and sharing a beautifully curated guide to quality gifts for men.  For each day in December, they list five well-made and thoughtfully designed products in a certain category.  Day One was specifically created for blue shirts, because they are perfect and versatile and everyone needs multiple (girls, too).  Two was for socks. There is a selection of lovely watches to consider on Day Nine.  Day Six gives due attention to the underrated household slipper.

I know I struggle to shop for the grown-up boys in my life, and the items they have chosen for their site are so wonderful.

Also, these kids write terrific copy.  I'm obsessed.

I'm working hard to not buy some of these things for myself.  Though this guy is really calling my name.

I'm excited to check back for what the twelve remaining days will bring!

The Last Speck of Fall In Central Park

Since these photos were taken last week, the temperature has dropped nearly twenty degrees.  A powdery white snow blanket covered the city, which was beautiful for about ten minutes until a lot of rain fell on top of it.  The current state of things is slushy and brown.


I woke up last Saturday morning with zero plans.  I called Kristin and was so happy with how easily I convinced her to put a coat on and go outside with me.

That was it.  That was the whole plan.  Let's go outside.








It really felt like fall hung out for a little while this year.  Even though it feels like we're fully in the winter now, with the sun setting before the school day is really out, the shortest day of the year is less than a week away.

Winter Trees, by William Carlos Williams

Photograph taken in Bronx, NY, on my iPhone.

A Gift Guide For Teachers: 2013

This gift guide is part wish list and part things I already have and love.  These would all make great gifts for teachers and all of the other learners in your life.

one // pretty glass containers for the quick-reheat leftover lunch that she'll have 15 minutes to devour
two // nerds love bookends.  end of story. (har har)
three // cute notebooks can be filled with all of the things
four //  how adorable are these days of the week pencils?
five //  can a planner ever be too big?  i think not.
six // these resilient little succulents would be perfect for bringing life to classroom decor!
seven //  a desk accessory to hold those flyaway paper clips.  also.  i need gold paper clips.
eight // a fun magazine subscription is a great break from student essays.  NY Mag is my choice.
nine //  a stapler must be strong, sturdy, and dang handsome.
ten // spice up the grading pile with colors.  these are my favorite pens.
eleven //  i carry my bkr bottle everywhere.  it might be the best thing i own.
twelve //  stickygram turns photos into magnets! these could be amazing on the white board.
thirteen //  motivational posters in beautiful designs are always welcome for my classroom walls.

TED Talks: Our Digital Selves

To follow our initial conversations about what it means to be consumers of digital media, I wanted the students to do some thinking and writing on their own.  Over the weekend, they chose two of these three TED Talks to watch and think critically about.  I gave them some questions to answer to help them process the relevancy and meaning of the talks.

We talked about TED topics, conferences, and speakers, and I told them how nerdy I am because I watch these for fun and stream them on my mobile devices because it's cool like that.

Number of students who had heard of TED before last week:  four.

Number of students who downloaded the TED app on their phones over the weekend and actually admitted it: two.

Baby steps.

I thought I'd share the talks I selected for their introduction and the questions I asked.  I'll be reading their responses in the next few days, and will have more to report then.

Amber Case: We Are All Cyborgs Now

  1. What changes in our society has the speaker observed?
  2. Why is she concerned about our society, specifically adolescents?
  3. Do you think her talk ends on a hopeful tone?  Why or why not?
  4. Connect to self: How do you relate to the changes Ms. Case describes?  

Nicholas Christakis: The Hidden Influence of Social Networks
  1. How did Nicholas Christakis use social media?  What did he prove?
  2. How do clusters arise in social networks, according to the speaker?
  3. What implications do these results have?  In other words, what is the value of networks?  If we’re not focusing specifically on obesity or geography, what should people know or do to think about who is in their friend networks?
  4. Connect to self:  What kind of network do you want to be in?  Do you have control over this?  How?  What do you want your role in that network to be?

Sherry Turkle: Connected But Alone

  1. According to Turkle, how do our devices affect us psychologically?  Give examples.
  2. What does she argue is the bedrock of development for teens, and why does this make the Goldilocks Effect especially troubling for adolescents?
  3. What is Turkle asking her audience to consider/change/do?  Why?
  4. Connect to self:  How have the psychological effects of technology use affected you and those around you?  What do you think is the role of vulnerability and empathy in these effects?

I know their responses will bring a variety I haven't fully anticipated.  They're growing up in such an interesting time!  

Afton Mountain Vineyards


We took a brief adventure as a family this Thanksgiving weekend to celebrate my mom's birthday.  It was so lovely to head west of my parents' little suburb, and Afton Mountain Vineyards was a real treat.  We tasted everything, then chose our favorites and sat by the fire pit with our picnic.

As restful as it is to get away from New York sometimes, the holidays can be just as hectic outside of the city.  It was nice to break away from the constant movement and holiday-makings to just enjoy being together.

Plus, they don't call them the Blue Ridge Mountains for nothing.  It's beautiful on this side of Virginia.



Digital Media Concept Map

I'm beginning to introduce the topic of digital media and our messy relationship with it with the tenth graders.  To stimulate our thinking, we made a concept map on the board to include media types, actions we take as users, feelings we have about our relationships with it, and possible fears that arise. It looked like this:

My students were born in 1998, so they've never really lived on a planet without cell phones or Internet.  They're not looking at these questions through the lens of how the world has massively changed, but simply how the world just is.  It's pretty strange for them, I imagine, to step outside of their own time and space to see themselves as users and consumers in this tremendously shifting landscape.

This conversation was the tip of the iceberg to a unit on digital citizenship, and I'm excited to see how the kids form their own ideas as we progress.

Slide background borrowed from Exploding Dog.
Concept map idea borrowed from Common Sense Media.

iPhone Cases Are Pretty

I can be pretty indecisive, especially when faced with a zillion pretty options.  A phone case may seem like an insignificant purchase, but it's actually an object I will look at an excessive number of times each day.  It's gotta be terrific.

I narrowed it down this far.  Will you help me choose?

one / two / three / four / five / six / seven / eight / nine

Classrooms Around the World

I recently stumbled across photographer Julian Germain's series, Classroom Portraits, 2004-2012, and they're too good not to share.  I love imagining what life and learning in all of the different classrooms around the world must be like.

found via Good

In My Brain / 03

clockwise, from top left:

1.  LAUGH.  One of my favorite Shouts & Murmurs resurfaced in my feed, and I couldn't be happier to see it again.

2.  REVAMP.  This idea for covering books is too dang good.  My classroom shelves need it, and I am brainstorming designs.

3.  EAT.  I made Sarah's recipe for this roasted and herbed veggie and bean salad last week, and I'll probably make it again this week.  And the week after.

4.  HOST.  How great would these proper placement placemats be at the holiday table?  The wonderful folks at Caravan are offering them as a free download!

Interview with The No-School Kids

I am so excited to have been interviewed by Lindsey Muscato, amazing human, ridiculous artist, and the gal behind The No-School Kids: A Homeschool Retrospective.  In this blog, Lindsey and her mom reflect on the 20-year "experiment" where Lindsey and her sisters were homeschooled in Southern California during the '80s and '90s, before the movement really took off.

Their reflections about education and the way it is changing are insightful and refreshing.

I'm thrilled to be part of the conversation.  Read my full interview here!

Parent-Teacher Conferences Are Not Unlike Speed-Dating

The meeting of the grown-ups!  It's that time of year!

Parent-teacher conferences are not unlike speed-dating.  I've never actually speed-dated, or dated very speedily at all, but I think I know what's what.  Essentially, I have a very short period of time at the end of everyone's work day to introduce myself, recite the spiel about writing class, and give a State of the Union address for each of the individual children.

It also happens that at my school, the teachers in a grade level are seated in a row of tables, and parents move literally down the line to speak to each one of us.  Like speed-dating, right?  We've even become pretty good at synchronizing our timing, thereby avoiding line congestion and moving the entire row of parents over in perfect conferencing harmony.

I don't want to talk forever, but I also don't want to feel the pressure of the line sync to move parents right along.  I want to be sure I take advantage of the fact that my students' parents are here in front of me, and I can tell them all of the things!  We need this grown-up time!

My colleagues busted my chops for my terrifically nerdy handout, but I found it to be such a nice and simple way to communicate with parents!  It was really a quick solution that allowed me to give them the necessary information:

I came up with this as a simple way to provide the parents with a number of ways to contact me, as well as to break down the student's performance.  This helps the parent see what the areas of strength and weakness are.  During the conference, I fill it out while looking at my grade book, and explain to parents how these conclusions were reached.  If any clarification is needed, we can then delve further and look at specific assignments.

Making communication a little clearer makes everyone's lives a little easier.

I loved this, and I think I'll use it again for future conferences.  I'll happily email you the .doc if you want it, and you can plug your own name and categories and notes into it.  (Leave a comment below with your email address, and I'll send it to you right away!)

High Schoolers + Little Rewards

One of the traditions of my class is that students who earn an A for the marking period receive a pencil that says so.  I announce their names in front of the class, and they enjoy a moment of recognition when they accept these tiny trophies. 

I borrowed this idea from my own high school AP Calculus teacher, whose I GOT AN A IN AP CALCULUS was perhaps my biggest attainment in the world of mathematics.  I never thought I would get one, and it felt pret-ty dang good when I did.  I still have it.  It's pink.  It's a treasure.

My students hold on to these pencils like they're sacred.  Some of them never even get sharpened, for fear of losing the printed statement of their success.

It's a corny little trinket, I know, and I don't believe a student's number grade is a measure of her value or success, but it is nice to have little recognitions throughout the year.  I love seeing my tenth graders, who would love to believe they are too cool for school most of the time, hold tight to their little pencils, or enthusiastically pull their test papers to their faces because there's a scratch-n-sniff sticker on there.  

I like to remind them that it's okay to be a little bit excited all of the time.

Day Trip: Hike Breakneck Ridge

Last weekend was just stunning.  It really was.  With warm fall temperatures in the 60s and the leaves at their most colorful, I made a point of getting out of the city.  Sami and I spent the day hiking near Breakneck Ridge, New York, which we agreed was a terrific decision.



We accidentally chose the toughest paths and went through some pretty steep scrambles, but it was absolutely worth it (even my hamstrings agree).


A little gem of the hiking in Breakneck Ridge is the abandoned ruins along the trails.  We stopped into all of them to play and climb and explore.





I often forget how easy it is to get out of town, and how restorative it can be, even if just for the day. It felt like we really got away.  This trip was only an hour-long ride on the Metro North, required nothing but a backpack with snacks in it, and took almost zero planning in advance.


Why don't we do this all the time?


Illuminated Doorway

Isn't this installation incredible?  The design team (fos) created this illuminated doorway facade for a restaurant in Madrid.  I probably won't get away with doing this for my classroom door, will I?

In My Brain / 02

clockwise, from top left:

1.  GO.  The stunning photography on Mr. and Mrs. Globetrot's blog gives me quite the travel itch.

2.  MAKE.  I would like all future communications to be just like this modern day snail mail.  Please and thanks.

3.  LISTEN.  David Foster Wallace's 2005 speech at Kenyon College captures everything I try to tell my students about what it means to be educated, and the freedom that comes with it.

4.  HAVE.  If there is a way to make cheese last longer, I want it.  These cheese bags from Mignon are beautifully designed, to boot.

On Writing College Recommendation Letters

I have a happy list of students who have asked me to write college recommendation letters for them.

I so love that they've asked me.  I teach tenth grade, so they've had a whole host of awesome teachers since our class to choose from.  Of course it's not a super selective contest, being chosen to write a letter of recommendation, but I still know they have plenty of great choices in the matter.  I try to take my responsibility seriously when they trust me with this task.

TRUE STORY:  I have a secret copy of a recommendation letter that my favorite teacher wrote for me when I was a high school senior.  It lives in my files with other things that are tremendously important and somehow comprise the person I am.  And so.

It would be easy to write the same things over and over again, or to make every good student sound like every other one.  Here are my tips for writing letters of recommendation that show the strength and uniqueness of each candidate.


All good students demonstrate a decent work ethic and a respect for others.  I try to focus on the personality trait that is less obvious, but truly defining of that student.  Sometimes it's an unexpected maturity.  A true intellectual curiosity.  An uncanny perseverance.  An enthusiasm from someone who loves learning for its own sake.  A sense of compassion that seems increasingly rare.  A certain grit.  A truly honest character.  A creative imagination.  When I start thinking outside of the box, it becomes pretty easy to see what makes each student remarkable.


There's probably a reason the letter of recommendation is not simply a form with check boxes.  It's an opportunity for you to share your own perspective on a student, and that comes from the experiences you have had with him/her.  Write about the time you saw the student in his best light, or when he really rose to the occasion, or when he said or did something that surprised you.  This short glimpse into the student from your perspective is what cannot be gleaned from the rest of the application.


The student's grades are on the transcript, and he/she probably wouldn't have asked you to write a recommendation after having done poorly in your class.  Instead of focusing on the grade itself, consider writing about how the student earned that grade.  Did his creativity spawn the most incredible projects?  Was her writing among the best you've ever read?  Did she stay after school regularly and work her butt off to earn it?  How the student met your requirements for excellence probably reveals how he/she will excel moving forward, too.


Students have a right to know what the recommendation letter says, so I usually ask the candidates if there are things they would like me to include.  I always gather information from them, including grades throughout high school, extracurricular activities, awards earned, etc..  I also double-check with them to make sure I'm not sharing any personal information that they would not want to include.  I've found the students' feedback to be really helpful in the process.

What other strategies and tools do you use in writing college recommendations?

Fall Weekend In Brooklyn


I haven't had a chance to properly get out of town to experience the full blast of nature in the Fall.  To take a baby step in the right direction, though, I've spent a bit of time in Brooklyn.

Is Brooklyn closer to nature?  Let's pretend.

Here are a few photos I snapped while spending a terrific weekend among dear friends, exploring the neighborhoods, catching up on each other's lives, and enjoying the relaxation that comes from being with people who are close.








It was everything weekends are supposed to be.

Plus, he bits of the season that I can get, even in small doses, are pretty solid, don't you think?