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?