Beyond The 5 Day Death March

(Note to readers: this was the reality of a 3rd grade classroom… where readers go from learning to read (K-2) to reading to learn (grades 3+).  From the viewpoint of one who has walked the walk and talked the talk… yes, this WAS my story, both as a teacher and a parent)

It started something like this… OK kids, lets open up to our new story (that is for those of you who have never read it before).  We are about to read to self, read to someone, listen to, word work, write about, and then regurgitate all the facts after 5 repetitive days of this same story.  We do this so that we can show “mastery” of all concepts that we didn’t have to use, let alone master, because we have now memorized the entire story.  (all in one breath, ha!)

Monday-Friday… left, left, left, right, left…

The weekly reading story that was pulled from the Anthology… the one attempting to serve all students of all abilities and passions, as the one and only focus for reading.  This went on for the duration of 5 solid days for years and years and years.

AKA… The 5 Day Death March!

Then I would say… Did I mention that there will only be 5 questions on your assessment.  They will be super similar to what we have reviewed and discussed in length over the last 5 days.  Let’s not forget the 8 vocabulary words that you may already know, but I still need to see if you can pick out the definition from 4 options.  No worries… I won’t ask you to put them into context.  Just memorize the meaning and you will be fine (DOK 1).

Oh, then I’m going to give you a cold read to show that you now know how to use all the skills that you didn’t need to master in order to memorize the story.  I know you practiced them on a worksheet and excelled, but I have to say that I am a little concerned you can’t carry that over into other work.

Drum roll please… Take home the GRADE!Image result for quotes about grades

Scenario 1: “Let’s put that A on the fridge”, says that proud parent that does not realize their child put forth no more than DOK 1 to earn the grade that they put so much worth on… ugh! (false sense of confidence for child, parent, and teacher)

Scenario 2: “Oh no, what happened on this test?”, says the student, parent and teacher who sees the GRADE.  How did you get an A on one reading test after reading it for 5 DAYS and yet you cannot do well on these weekly cold reads!  (confidence plummets for child and now ____________ fill in a response)

Scenario 3: Oh, another “A”… I need to talk to your teacher to see if you can be challenged a bit more.

Scenario 4: “Did you just fail that test after we to read to self, read to someone, listened to, word worked, wrote about, and so much more?  What do you mean you don’t like that story?  It’s not your kind of genre?  You were bored and checked out?”, says the teacher continuing to teach the 5 Day Death March!

Join Me… Push On!  Be the Million Dollar Decision for every child!  To know better is to do better… right?

I am a BELIEVER that all children should learn the skills to read and comprehend all text placed in front of them.

Focus in on student need with:

I am a BELIEVER in possibilities… the kind that can relate to all scenarios listed above!

So let’s switch up the scenario!  Let’s level up the learning for all students.  I know it can happen with a simple shift.  Why isolate reading to an Anthology?  Consider mixing together your resources.  Blend together Science, Social Studies, and Math with reading skills through Project Based Learning (PBL)  PBL shines the light on:

Let students march to their own beat.  One day full of passion far surpasses 5 days of…

left, left, left, right left.

“Common” phrase: You Are The Voice

Microsoft got it right with one single commercial!

“Today, right now you have more power at your fingertips than entire generations that came before you.  Think about that.  That’s what technology really is”.  -Microsoft AI Commercial featuring Common (American rapper, actor and author)

In the last few months I have watched technology blossom in my classroom, take hold of my learning, rival within my home, and have a lifetime of impact for one very special woman in my life.

One change… one common bond.

All it took was a reluctant switch from a flip phone to a Smartphone.  Technology at its finest.

Most recently my beautiful mother in law, Sandy Nan, passed away.  Over the last two years her life as she once knew and thrived in changed dramatically.  She finally retired after 52 years of service as secretary in the Hopewell Area School District just over 2 years ago.  This was a decision her body made, not her mind (with the help of my wise father-in-law).  Once retired, she attempted to put on her beautiful smile and embrace the golden years everyone had spoken so fondly of… but distance from her work family left a void in her life that no one could quite fill.

It was the day to day interactions…


How’s it goin?

How’s your day?

These may seem small to some, but for mom they were everything and now she was disconnected in a connected world.  I tried several times to tell her the advantages of a smartphone, but whether it was fear or her simple stubborn ways, she continued to say no.

Then the day came… the change.  The message…


Yes, mom’s first text to me!  I remember cooking dinner and hearing an alert on my phone.  The smile she pasted on my face had to of matched hers… and that was big!

This was just the beginning.  She soon connected with old friends.  It was a common occurrence to hear my 15 year old son Trent say, “Mom, Nana messaged me today and just made me smile” or “Mom, I’m heading to Nana’s… I just messaged her that I was coming”.  Not to mention the convenience of scheduling visits with loved ones or simply sending a fun emoji to brighten someone’s day.  That is what she missed most… her impact on others… she was a giver.  The warmth she brought into a room was now possible again with one quick text.  With technology!

As Common says in the Microsoft Commercial, Technology is…




What’s a hammer without a person who swings it?  It’s not about what technology can do, it’s about what  YOU can do with it.”

When mom’s health started to decline, she found comfort in the apps she could add to her phone.  They allowed her to conserve energy making them a touch away.  When shopping trips ceased and long conversations were no longer, her technology always came through for her.  The deliveries still came… because she ordered them.  Friends stopped over… because she was able to invite them.  She felt loved… because friends and family were messaging her during their busy work day when a phone call just could not have happened.  She maintained her dignity… because a message never required her to put make-up on or to have her hair done.

Not to mention the freedom it gave my amazing father in law who cared for her each day.  He was able to go about daily tasks because he was a text away.  Even if that meant he was downstairs or outside… technology gave her a way to connect when in need.

To say she was my world (our world) is an understatement.  Technology allowed me to reach out and make sure she knew she was on my mind when I was trying to get my family out the door each day.  I was able to send her songs each morning to raise her up when she was down.  With one click she was able to fill her soul with beautiful lyrics that were meant just for her.

Then came the message from dad on mom’s final day with us.  I had just entered my classroom when it came through.  “I need you!”  What would I have ever done if he was unable to reach me?  My husband worked much further away than my 7 minute drive.  Dad would have never been able to remember the school phone number along with my extension.  But he was able to go right into his smartphone and message me.

I am so grateful for technology.  I am grateful my mother-in-law had a tool that positively impacted her life.  My world extends beyond a smartphone… and it does for our children too.  What tools are you putting in the hands of your students?  How are you embracing the power?

The power of technology… the impact on many.


You’re the voice, and it’s the microphone.   You have more power at your fingertips than entire generations that came before you.  So here’s the question…

What will you do with it?” -Common

Inquiring minds want to know.


less us… MORE THEM!

Hot Topic!

Education Reimagined!

Small Shifts!

Questions/Comments are circling like a shark around its prey.  How have students  learned up to this point… before the “new wave” in education?  You know, the new wave of student centered learning.  Are teachers not important anymore?  What is the role of the teacher now?  What will happen next… students won’t even need a book? (well, let’s talk about that another time with Matt Miller)

Maybe the question to get you thinking right now should be…

Who wants to wake up every day knowing that the place you are going to is about to talk your ear off for 7+ hours expecting you to absorb, process, and regurgitate that knowledge to show competency?  Oh and by the way, look like your having fun AND stay out of trouble! 

Better yet, do you want a cap on your learning?   Do you want to be directly instructed without any choice? Instruction based solely on age and grade?  

Ummm, not me!  I honestly sit baffled by the practice of teaching at times.  Do you think that direct instruction is the key to success?  If I tried to learn how to tie my shoes through lecture, I would no doubt fail and fall (over my shoelaces)!  Give me a shoe!  Let me use MY shoe!  Show me the laces and create a sense of curiosity and understanding that becomes purposeful and relevant to the task.  Then I may be able to apply myself differently.  Direct instruction leaves a learner feeling:

  • bored
  • small
  • stagnant
  • data defined
  • frustrated
  • misunderstood
  • isolated- like their answer most likely is not the ONE that you are looking for
  • invisible

Or would you like your learning to factor in your ability?  your needs? your passions?

So let’s shift our mindsets to student centered.  Let’s leave our learners feeling:

  • empowered
  • relevant
  • purposeful
  • supported
  • wondrous
  • connected
  • open-minded
  • competent

Today’s session on “Education Reimagined” ( Randy Ziegenfuss and Lynn Fuini-Hetten #SASInstitute2017), left me feeling more empowered and energized.  Acknowledging that competency is not capped off  by a grade level.  Empowering learners to grow beyond their mastered skills.  Isn’t that what you want from a day of professional development… a day of learning!  This was relevant to my classroom.  This serves a purpose to my students so that when I return to the classroom I can continue to connect learning and interests, fighting the fight for growth in every child… facilitating the learning of all students!  Learning has 27 different definitions for my class this year… empowering 27 students to find their passion and light the world on fire becomes my purpose each day.

My go to “take-away” for quick implementation of this approach is:

… inquiry-based learning that generates this shift.  One that spawns curiosity.  One that requires critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, and the reward of relevance!  One that requires the focus on students and not the teacher! 

An excellent way to shift the center of teaching is through Project-Based Learning.  It is an in-depth investigation of a real world topic.  It is tailored to each student’s passion, which in turn fuels their learning.  It is then driven home through the creation of a student chosen project that will then be shown to their chosen authentic audience.  The voice and choice embedded in this alone is the creator of small shifts.

less is more

less teacher centered

more student centered

small shifts for the greater good



The Day I Was So Grateful I Asked

“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I started collaborating with others.”

-current student

I was so grateful I asked!  

A moment is all it took.

An opportunity.

A lifetime of learning took place for me as his teacher.

It all started the day before when I was asked to teach a lesson for The Beaver County Innovation & Learning Consortium.  The BCILC is a group of teachers made of three school districts in my county.   The districts are collaborating to bring STEAM learning and Maker Education to children.  We are currently working on an area of lesson study and I was about to teach a math lesson for my team.

Let me bring you in the loop… My team consists of a gifted educator, a learning support teacher, a superintendent, and myself, a 3rd grade teacher.  We chose to have a full inclusion math lesson which included learners from the 9th percentile up to the 97th in the subject area of math.

This in itself created doubt in my head.

I have watched the dynamics of this vast ability range come as a detriment more than a benefit during my years as a full inclusion learning support teacher.  I was worried that the lower ability level students would frustrate easily and the higher ones would check out.

I doubted my own impact on their learning up to this point.


I was trying to close the door on the experience and “protect” my children… all 27 of them!  But the mere suggestion of having them all together pressed in my gut and I knew what was best… include all students!

I needed to stay focused on the goal.  To observe students using the 4Cs (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking) with their groups.  There was no doubt this would be observed!

Typically my students have voice and choice when collaborating.  They are incredible at choosing people they can thrive with and in turn push themselves to conquer the goal set.  But on this day, the groups were picked for them.  I was so nervous.  I didn’t want them deflated before the lesson even began, but I went with it mainly because it made me nervous and I thrive outside my comfort zone.

I started the lesson with a hook first thing in the morning.  A pirate bucket covered up with a sign reading DO NOT OPEN UNTIL MATH! Oh I had them, right where I wanted them.  Then I started the lesson with a typical Mrs. Nan moment of craziness because my kiddos know crazy and fun go hand in hand with learning.  There I was…putting my sweat band on with a jump rope ready to roll!

The chosen math problem was a poem about jumping rope that tied in fractions.  Simple?  Well, considering we are smack dab in the middle of a VOICE PBL and my students just wrote “Odes”, but have never learned fractions this was definitely a SMASH MIX UP of learning!  Literally one student asked if this was math or reading class.  I WAS LOVING THAT MOMENT TO THE CORE!

Groups were formed and off they went.  This is when my keen observation skills went into hyper-mode!  I just took it in.  Some literally did not know where to begin, but were not giving up.  My students are “raised” on T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. in my class and this was a time for that to shine!

But here I was noticing what I felt was different.  I noticed:

  • Sketch noting… in math? What? Why?
  • Numbers that weren’t even in the problem.
  • Confusion for a higher level learner.
  • Full engagement for most, but most is not enough for me!
  • I was stuck… stuck on the learner that I though would get it, but “appears” to have checked out.  He never checks out.  What is going on?
  • Jump ropes out.  String being cut.  Rulers being taped to the ground.  Pure madness.
  • One higher level learner “checked out”

The lesson came to an end.  We debriefed and gained great insight to what they knew, what they felt they needed to know to complete the problem, and yes the 4Cs were fired up and easily noted.

The next day came.  I questioned it all… Did this have impact?  Did this opportunity pay forward?  I couldn’t help but think about that one student who appeared “disengaged”.


Me: So tell me about yesterday’s lesson… what did you think?

Student #1: It was cool.  I liked it

M: What did you like?

S: I really liked how “Student #2” was sketchnoting

M: I saw that!  I didn’t expect that in math… what are your thoughts?

S: I didn’t expect it either, but I was so happy he did it.  It really helped me make sense out of the problem.  I’m used to just looking at the numbers and figuring it out, but I couldn’t figure it out until I saw him sketch-noting.  It distracted me at first because I’m not used to that way of thinking, but then it really helped me.

M: WOW!  That is amazing!  Was there anything that you didn’t like?  Anything you would change?

S: No, not really.  It was a great mix of people and ideas.  I would definitely want to work with “Student #2” again because he thinks so different than me.  The problem pushed me.  I couldn’t figure it out. I am really happy that I have people to work with this year. 

“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I started collaborating with others.”

M: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and sharing your feedback.  I thought you were checked out.  Bored.  I had no idea that was what unfolded for your group.

S: S-M-I-L-E


  • Student #1 is 97th percentile in Math
  • Student #2 is 9th percentile in Math

This teacher just learned another great lesson!

I was so grateful I asked!  

A moment is all it took.

An opportunity.

A lifetime of learning took place for me as their teacher.






Student Voice Shines with Project Based Learning: Igniting Empowerment and Instilling Empathy

Increasing student empowerment and engagement is wrapped up and delivered in “Life Changing Lessons“.  The gift of Project Based Learning (PBL) is one of intense impact… the kind that continues to give, as if you are unwrapping it for the first time throughout the entire journey.  It creates a student driven environment that is begging for more… more opportunity… more hours in a school day.

Project Based Learning is a connection beyond your four walls… a chance to open up the windows, blow off the door to learning, and ignite global impact with student empowerment!

I recently posted “A Walk In My Shoes” (One Ah Ha Moment within the Voice PBL) on twitter and have received countless DM’s asking how to get this VOICE PBL started.  So this one is for YOU!

The Voice PBL that I teach is one of great magnitude.  It covers concepts from every subject in a depth and understanding far beyond a worksheet.  This is a way to take Common Core Skills/Standards and light a fire under learning! Before the Driving Question is even asked, I hook them in like a pirate  …

It starts with the universal language… MUSIC!   

Students are given a choice to write/draw/sketch their interpretation on a variety of music shaped cutouts or use of poster paper to sketchnote

  • Allow students the freedom to personal space in the room… on floor if desired
  • Quiet space… lights out… reflection time!
  • Copy and paste each URL into google for each song
  • I do not show videos.  This is auditory only!

This is a quiet journey that typically lights up quickly because the students (UM… and ME) cannot contain ourselves… we end up singing and dancing… moving to the beat of our own hearts!

First up:

Man in the Mirror-From A Joyful Noise (It’s shorter than Michael Jackson’s version)

This is a WOWZER!  Students stop in their own tracks when they realize that looking in a mirror can give them so many answers… so much POWER! (C-H-I-L-L-S)

Count on Me- Bruno Mars

Every student responds to this song thinking of a time they needed someone or were there for someone.  This is the moment most of them start putting the pieces of their voice together.  

Firework Kidz Bop

Thank you Katy Perry!  What happens when you don’t light a firework?  That’s right, NOTHING!  Let that speak to each of us… we must light learning up if we want to see what is inside!  Fireworks splatter their drawings with thoughts and ideas coming from within! 

Fight Song Rachel Platten

Drop the Mic… this song allows every student and every teacher to connect!  This is the song that opens up their little world to you.  Are they struggling?  academically? behaviorally? socially?  Is there worry on their mind?  Are they scared of something? Do they lack self-esteem?  Are they the “little girl with the crooked pigtails?” (Getting R.E.A.L. with Tara Martin)

I actually play 7-10 different songs and it is never enough, but the song pick changes from year to year because my students change and I need to make sure that my choices will resonate with each of them.


So about that Driving Question…

DQ: Why Might Having A Voice Matter?


Where do we go from here?

Students pick a song and add creative movement to the lyrics.  They now understand that they can express themselves in many ways.  This is one more life changing moment for them.

This is a video of my amazing students from last year interpreting “The Fight Song”.  (My current class in interpreting “The Man In the Mirror” which they will definitely post on YouTube soon!)

Is this “just a free for all” Ahhhh… NO!  This is a creative way to connect an incredible amount of skill in a unique way to impact all students.  Skills are endless!


  • Books from Dr. Seuss’s My Many Colored Days to The Invisible Boy by Trudy Luwig
    • This is where “Walk In My Shoes” was created.  This very lesson is a blog in itself… soon!
  • Choosing a book that shows your voice in a way you haven’t been able to… we end up reading 30+ books in a 4 week time period!
  • Use song lyrics to discuss parts of speech (highlight nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.)


  • Creating Conjectures and Arguments
  • Collaborating and critically thinking to solve a problem
  • Writing and reasoning


  • Choosing a person of impact such as Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King Jr., President Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, and so many more.


  • Voting
  • Being a Good Citizen
  • Debate

Let’s not forget that doors are blown off to this process!  Students learn (to):

  • blog
  • code
  • design
  • create
  • paint
  • draw
  • dance
  • sing
  • poetry
  • build
  • invent
  • 4Cs

This list is endless because students CHOOSE their own project that in turn answers the Driving Question.  They also choose their Authentic Audience to which they powerhouse to impress!  My former students created this video showcasing ALL of their voices and then chose YouTube as their “Authentic Audience”.

I can’t wait to see what this year’s students choose!

While leading my book chat on “Teach Like A Pirate” by Dave Burgess, I posted this reflection for my fellow colleagues to ponder:

Untitled presentation
Teach Like A Pirate Book Chat #tlap

     If there were a “Life Changing Lesson” that “I could sell tickets for” I believe this is the one!  I hope that this was what YOU needed to get started…

Go light them up and find out what’s inside! #VOICE and #CHOICE


Um, Are We Dancing to the Same Music?

Did you ever start dancing and before you knew it you were stepping on toes?  Or yours were being stepped on.  Just watch a room full of kids dance… are they really dancing to the same song?  One is rapping, one is flailing about, another looks like they are doing a new twist to the tango, while someone else is flying solo… sitting in a corner just moving his head up and down.  But wait… isn’t this what it’s all about?  So why is everyone shooting the look of… um, are we dancing to the same music? 


Growing up, I was different in many ways.  I was a ball of energy in a room full of compliance.  I saw magenta when everyone else was talking about red.  My questions and ideas were racking up in my head faster then I could keep track of them.  I was the kid that failed the history class when the only thing I had to do was stay awake to maintain the A that was gifted to me.  The kid who put a new spin on a project that didn’t match the teacher’s vision. 

Not to mention my RED hair… which was not my favorite attribute at all.  I was a kid that just wanted to fit in.  How do you do that when you are so different?  My differences outweighed my similarities.  Why was this so scary for me… for everyone?  I was the 80’s kid with a different last name when divorce was still taboo.  I was the kid that picked out school clothes in July so that my parents could lay them away at Hill’s Department Store and hope (work hard enough) to pay them off by Labor Day.  Most often they no longer fit and the outfit I looked forward to was no longer available.  My family tried.  My family was different. 

My family danced to the same music as everyone else so why did it feel like my toes were always stepped on? 

Does anyone hear me?  Do I have a voice? 

Maybe I was the rebel searching for the next cause. 

If you won’t listen, maybe I need to show you.  That I did! 

You said zig, I tried out the zag. 

You said I could only do one, I tried 10. 

You said I can’t and I proved I can! 

You showed me a statistic and I created new data!  

I love interpreting music.  Understanding my students.  My favorite opportunity to do that is with Project Based Learning.  Playing songs and allowing my students to let it reach down in their soul… to write what they feel it means to them.  Not their friend.  Not their family.  I want to know them!  Do they see magenta? 

With passion projects I feel their voice is heard.  I feel I create an atmosphere of respect and trust.  We each have a different story so why is it that 8 hours a day we must “act” like we come from the same mold?  Our students must trust us in order to gift that to others.  Is our teaching meant for the moment or for a lifetime?  I choose lifetime.

My journey is real.  Never easy.  Created by other hands, along with my own.  I am a dreamer.  A believer in all good.  I am a fighter.  Um, and yes, I am dancing to the same music… just my own beat!   

Are you a fighter?  How do you interpret the lyrics to this incredible song? 

Rachel Platten-Fight Song

The Ingenious Lab interpretation #voiceandchoice


#IMMOOC Week 5: Exploring 20/20 Vision

Do we share the same vision? The vision of CHANGE!

Were you ever asked where you see yourself in 5 years?  10 … even 20 years?  I remember when I was in college and I was being interviewed by a pledge sister within my sorority.  This was a common question.  I remember laughing at the “oh so young age of 20” thinking how on earth would I answer this question.  I wasn’t quite sure of the answer, but the one thing I was certain of was that I would change!  #changeforthebetter

5 years

I’ve spent more years in education than I was alive when I was asked that thought provoking question, yet no one has ever asked me where I see learning in 5 years.  10 years.  Why is that?  Do we not project change?  Is education destined to be the one constant in everyone’s life?  Do you have a vision?  I do!  Do we share the same vision and are you open to creating it together? Do we have 20/20 vision in education?


20/20 Vision:  the clarity of vision; dependent on optical and neural factors, i.e., (i) the sharpness of the retinal focus within the eye, (ii) the health and functioning of the retina, and (iii) the sensitivity of the interpretative faculty of the brain.


What connection does the Wikipedia definition have to how we “see” within the educational system?  My vision may be blurred, but this is my view:

20/20 Vision in Education: the clarity of a shared vision; dependent on an open mindset and forward thinking, i.e…. (i) big thinking precedes great achievement- Wilferd Peterson, (ii) learners instead of students – Innovator’s Mindset, (iii) understanding that there are “8 things to look for in TODAY’s classroom” -Innovator’s Mindset (and the understanding that those 8 things may/should change over time), (iv) relationships


Let’s share this vision!  The only way we can possibly dive into this together is by asking our students, parents, community, AND one another.  I am confident that I have integrated all “8 of these things” into my classroom over the last two years, but the one I am most often viewing under a magnifying glass is “opportunity for innovation“.  This is my personal goal for growth, not only for my students, but myself!  This is one area where my students must understand and appreciate their own passion and purpose so that they can open doors to their own learning.

What are your goals to fuel your passion?  Mine are set… I hit the button to attend not one, but TWO incredible conferences this year!  Why?  GO BIG OR GO HOME! Top 2 Keynote Speakers in education… 

  1. Dave Burgess is the New York Times Best Selling author of Teach Like a Pirate and co-author of P is for Pirate.  Keynote in PITTSBURGH, PA next Thursday, October 27-28
  2. George Couros is a leading educator in the area of innovative leadership, teaching, and learning; author of Innovator’s Mindset.  Keynote in Hershey, PA December 3-6

I can bring on the enthusiasm, options, idea generator moments, 30 Second Pitch, as well as open doors for them to embrace new ways of thinking, but if they do not make a connection to what they are most passionate about we will find ourselves with only a singular vision, and limited execution.  Let’s not hallucinate! #fuelyourpassion


Vision without execution is hallucination – Thomas Edison