Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: January

Software

What lessons can teachers offer to designers of software for the classroom?

Software designers need to know these eight things if they are going to create a program for the classroom:

  1. Teachers and students must be able to access the program within the school, so designers need to understand the various filters and how they operate. If students can’t access the program in school, it’s unlikely that they will use it at home, which means teachers won’t invest their time or the school’s money in it. An added bonus will be if the program has a way to keep the learning environment safe for students–with or without the filter.
  2. The program needs to be simple and use similar key strokes as other programs. There’s definitely a place for creativity, but creative commands and key strokes in a program that’s supposed to simplify a process or improve education just creates frustration.
  3. The program needs to be compatible with other programs. Remember when Apple first came out with their innovative computers and programs? None of us could use them because everything in our school was PC. If my students had a Mac, they couldn’t submit their essays electronically because our school’s program was not compatible with the Mac. Thankfully, both systems are more compatible with each other now, but designers should learn from that debacle. Unless the designer is another Steve Jobs (or has a boss like Steve Jobs), it is unlikely that the computer world will change everything for the new program. Besides, an educational tool needs to be tried and true before it gets to the classroom. The proper venue for true innovation is not the school system.
  4. Students are savvier than most teachers are, so the program should be easy to start and teach, but it should have depth so that students can explore the program and stay engaged with it. Also, if the program isn’t fluid enough to allow students to express their own creativity, they will get bored with it.
  5. Students are not impressed with cheesy gimmicks or things that try to imitate what they like but in an “educational” way. They are sophisticated consumers and should be treated as such (especially high school students).
  6. If the program is confusing, doesn’t work most of the time (or has too many glitches), and students can’t use other established programs with it, teachers and the school will stop using it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a great educational tool.
  7. Programs need to make use of the internet, music, videos, and pictures. Students want to show their teachers and classmates who they are with their projects and presentations. If students can only use inferior simulations of their favorite music, videos, and pictures, they will hate it instantly.
  8. Students learn at different rates, so a program that adjusts to different levels easily is helpful. My son used a math program that increased the complexity of the math problems as he improved. Until he showed mastery of addition, he didn’t move on to subtraction or multiplication. The program created an individual learning plan (ILP) for every student. Now that’s a program that’s worth investing in.

More educational discussions…

Friday Writing Challenge: Memories

Five childhood memories.Memories

  1. 1968-ish: When I was about three or four (it was when we lived in our first house off Genesee Street), I remember playing with a little girl about my age at her house. I don’t remember her name or much about the house itself, but I do remember coloring with her. After we finished coloring in the book, I thought it would be fun to use the crayons as lipstick. We giggled until my friend’s mom came out of the kitchen. She had on a dress with an apron over it. I remember her wiping her hands on the apron, while looking at me with her lips pressed tightly together. When she finally spoke, her voice was shaking. She told me I had to leave and that I wasn’t welcome in her home anymore.
  2. 1969: When I was about five (we had just moved to our new house), I remember riding my training-wheeled bike by myself down the street. I thought I was making left turns to get around the block, but I ended up completely lost. I sat on my bike and cried. Three kids playing outside ran up to me and asked me what was wrong. It turned out that they were siblings and the youngest one was my age. There were six or seven of them all together, and two of the older siblings joined the three younger ones to help me find my way home. They knew exactly where I lived because they were friends with the kids who used to live in our house. When I walked into the house to tell my mom that I was lost, she asked, “How could you have been lost? You were only gone five minutes.”
  3. 1974: When I was about ten, I remember a boy named Tim “asking me out,” which was weird because he and my friend Beth were always sweet on each other. I actually liked another boy, but we never spoke. Tim and Beth continued to talk to each other, but they constantly looked over at me and then at the boy I liked. By the end of the day, Tim and Beth came over to me to explain that he didn’t really like me; he was just trying to get the other boy jealous for me. It didn’t work.
  4. 1976-80: Whenever I think of my childhood, Kathy pops up with the entire highlight reel of our friendship. I remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom, painting our nails and listening to music. I remember hanging out of my upstairs bedroom window, trying to catch a note Kathy was throwing at me. I was grounded and couldn’t talk to her, so this was the only way we could communicate. One grounding I also tried to escape out my bedroom window. Kathy was coaching me as I maneuvered my escape. I made it out onto the little roof, but I was too scared to jump down. Her father’s sweet smile pops up in the montage whenever I think about Kathy’s house. For her 16th birthday, she had a garage band play in her basement. We sat on her couch and fell in love with those boys. Most of my memories though consist of us walking everywhere and talking about everything.
  5. 1977: When I was 13, I remember a young couple from NYC coming to our house. They were Macedonians and my dad knew the girl’s parents. I remember my shock and confusion when I found out she was 16, pregnant, and engaged to the 20-something year old guy next to her. I didn’t understand how she could be pregnant without being married; I thought she was so lucky that this much older guy loved her and wanted to marry her. I couldn’t understand why her parents were so upset about their engagement. Wasn’t that the goal of all parents–to marry off their daughters? I also remember my confusion over how upset my mom was with me for being excited for them.

Next week’s prompt: A favorite movie and why.

Kaplan’s “Path to Recess”

Excellent post about what is truly important for success. The “soft skills” Kaplan refers to are the 25 things I wrote about in my book, Uncommon Core.

“Reflecting on my experiences teaching both at this school and at more traditional public schools, I find myself wondering if the methodology that enables young children to achieve so much so early actually hinders their long-term prospects. What if the struggles of graduates of “no excuses” schools reveal deficits that are not academic, but rather socio-emotional? What would happen if, instead of spending nine hours a day engaged in academic tasks determined by a teacher, children were to spend a large portion of their day developing “soft skills” that would enable them to overcome the hurdles they will encounter when they’re older? What if, like their suburban counterparts, they spent large portions of their day in rigorous, developmentally appropriate activities: learning to make friends, make art, and make believe, exploring and creating their interests and their identities?” Emily Kaplan

Read the rest here

All I Really Need to Know I (Should Have) Learned in Kindergarten

Friday Writing Challenge: Tattoos

Writing Prompt #2: What tattoos do you have, or what tattoos would you get, and why?

My one and onlyJuly 31, 2013: I’m sitting on a table watching Bryan artistically carve my children’s names into my ankle. The pain is so intense that I’m screaming out obscenities–words that explode out of my mouth even as my clenched teeth try to hold them in. A few times Bryan looks at Carol Linn, wondering if he should stop.

I’m sure Bryan is not used to seeing people like me in his studio. At 48, I was getting my first tattoo–reluctantly. I had always wanted to get a tattoo but was too afraid of the pain to actually do it. As the years passed, I not only refused to get one, but I became opposed to people marking up their bodies with ink. I didn’t mind the small, meaningful tattoos, but large, body-covering tattoos seemed to be a sickness–those people proved that tattoos were addicting; they couldn’t stop even if they wanted to. Yet, there I was, in pain, getting my first tattoo, clutching the table even though my mind was telling me to run away from the pain.

Why, then, would I agree to this?

Carol Linn is my middle child, the child most like me–the girl in the middle, the one who wanted to stand out yet wanted to belong. Like me, she fought for independence through her pre-teen and teen years in a family who confused control with parenting. Like me, she struggled with identifying with her place in this world.

When I looked at her, I saw my perfect little girl, lost and confused. I thought my job as her mother was to make her see herself the way I saw her–or, more accurately, the way I wanted her to be. I thought my words and actions could influence her decisions.

For her 16th birthday, she got her first tattoo. Her dad went with her to sign the permission sheet, while I stayed home and cried. It was painful thinking about her intentionally scarring her beautiful skin–the skin I created. Her body began in my body: I carried her for nine months; I went through intense pain to give her life–and now, the perfection, the miracle would be forever scarred. I couldn’t look at her tattoo when she got home. She was beaming with joy; my heart ached. With every tattoo, my reaction was the same: I cried and ached and refused to look at her intentional scars.

What I didn’t know was that my attitude was creating different types of scars–scars within Carol Linn and scars between us.

She finally told me one day: “Mom, it hurts me that you don’t support something I love and that has become a part of me.” After that, I tried to support her decisions for her life–even the scarring ones. We seemed to be on the road to healing; however, it wasn’t until I confided in her that I had always wanted a tattoo that our paths merged. Carol Linn’s eyes lit up: “It would mean so much to me if you got a tattoo with my tattoo artist.”

So, I found myself clutching that table. While I screamed out F-bombs, Carol Linn rubbed my shoulder, telling me to breathe through the pain. She held my hand and told me to squeeze it hard. She cried and smiled as she watched the swirls and hearts form on my ankle, birthing a new bond with my intentional scar.

 

 

Writing is my exhale. I’ve realized I’ve been holding my breath for far too long. At least once a week I will exhale, which I hope leads to a healthier breathing pattern. I encourage you to join me by either sharing your writing on my blog in the comments or posting a link to your own platform. Here’s to breathing!

Next Friday’s Writing Challenge: Five of your earliest memories.

 

Friday Writing Challenge: Five Problems with Social Media

typing-on-keyboardWriting is my exhale. I’ve realized I’ve been holding my breath for far too long. At least once a week I will exhale, which I hope leads to a healthier breathing pattern. I encourage you to join me, either share your writing on my blog through the comments or in your own forum, whatever that may be. I’ll post the prompt first and then add my response later in the day. Here’s to breathing!

Writing Prompt # 1: Five Problems with Social Media

Did anyone else accept the challenge? Feel free to comment or post links to your forums. Here is my response:

Like all things in life, social media has its positive and negative uses. Only the user can determine which side he or she will fall on.

  1. Immediate access: One of the biggest problems with social media is that people have immediate and constant access to others, giving abusers anonymity and protection from retaliation because they can hide behind a computer screen. We know the nightmare stories about children being tormented by other children. Not only do the tormentors feel protected, but they also don’t have the “benefit” of seeing how their words hurt another person. For most people, seeing the pain we have caused someone is enough to make us think before we torment again. However, that doesn’t happen with social media. If each of us could imagine what our comments may do to the person they are aimed at, we may choose our words more carefully. And for those who are not naturally empathetic, they should think how they would feel if someone made those very comments to them. On the other side of this issue, immediate access to all kinds of people around the world is exactly what has given people the ability to grow their businesses or get acknowledged for their creativity and talent. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogging are the main forums I work with, and they have given me access to the world: I have dialogued with people in Australia and China; people in the UK and Hawaii have purchased my book. The key with immediate access is to use it for good not evil.
  2. Sharing opinions: Social media has brought out the inner critic in everyone. Some opinions are so brutal that they go well beyond freedom of speech rights, but it happens so frequently that not much can be done about it. It’s also difficult to defend yourself against someone’s opinion; he or she has a right to have that opinion no matter how wrong or brutal that opinion is. (By the way, it’s easy to spot the people who are just using hate speech or covering up an uneducated opinion because their comments are filled with logical fallacies.) The best solution is to get tougher skin and let it go or to establish boundaries with people that don’t know they’ve crossed them. I’ve had to set people straight a number of times (and they don’t like it much), but I’ve also realized that someone else’s opinion of me doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what I think about myself. Those thoughts have shaped me into the woman I am. Additionally, my opinions are a reflection of the woman I am. That’s why I try not to share my opinions in negative ways–I don’t want to be a negative person. I refrain from giving an opinion on a subject I know little about–I may have an opinion, but it won’t be an educated one. Being able to share my opinion is also a beautiful thing because it encourages me to become more knowledgeable. My eyes have been opened to some truths in the world because I have dared to look at and investigate an opposite opinion. I don’t agree with every opinion I read, but I’m also not threatened by people who don’t see the world the same way I do. I just look at those comments as a way to strengthen my own convictions.
  3. Getting noticed: Social media has brought some unlikely people into the spotlight, which is a blessing and a curse for anyone who has experienced it. I was able to get a book contract because of the media attention I received after my resignation letter went viral. I knowingly posted my letter to my blog, but I had no idea how big it would get. I wasn’t ready for that kind of media attention or the horrible things some people said to me and about me on the various internet websites. The other unfortunate consequence of getting noticed is that some people will do anything for attention, including lying about who they are and what they’ve done. That’s why it’s so important to be truthful on social media. The only thing worse than getting thrown into the spotlight without any prior training is to get that attention for being a liar or manipulator.
  4. Wasting time: Social media can destroy productivity. Constantly checking statuses, likes, and comments can eat away an hour (or two) without even trying. Staying connected with family and friends in different parts of the globe is a blessing, but looking for acceptance and validation of worth through these connections is not. The key to this is balance and moderation.
  5. Finding out what’s wrong with our society: The horrible crimes we are privy to because of social media has been blamed for our society’s helicopter parenting phenomenon. We read on a daily basis about missing or abused children, bullying, drug abuse, shootings, etc., forcing parents to become overprotective of their children. It’s difficult to raise independent and successful children when parents feel they have to micromanage every detail of their children’s lives in order to protect them from the “dangers” in the world. I’m not saying the dangers aren’t real, but they aren’t new either, and many times these events are sensationalized in order to generate traffic to those sites. I won’t read those articles. It’s not that I want to remain ignorant, but I don’t want to fill my mind with horrifying images. I can’t stay hopeful if I’m constantly afraid. I can’t raise a healthy son if I pass on those fears to him. The other side of this issue, though, is that we have our finger on the pulse of what’s wrong with this world. We have to know what’s broken in order to fix it. For those who care to make a positive impact in our world, all we have to do is read the headlines to know where we are needed most.

 

Blessing 27: Nelson

Ian, David, Rob, Nelson, and Mike in August for Rob's wedding.
Ian, David, Rob, Nelson, and Mike in August for Rob’s wedding.

My father-in-law, Nelson Hawkins, was a blessing in my life for so many reasons.

Even during the last few years, things between us didn’t change. Nelson continued to send me Mother’s Day cards, birthday cards, and Christmas presents–something no one would have expected him to do–yet he never stopped treating me like a daughter-in-law, and that was such a blessing. That was just his way; Nelson was always thoughtful with the people in his life.

As much as Nelson’s unconditional love for me blessed my life, the biggest blessing was in the example he left all of us, especially these last few years. Nelson truly showed us how to live.

After his heart attack a few years ago, most people would have slowed down and settled into a comfortable, sedentary life–but not Nelson.

This year alone, at 76 years old, Nelson went to Pasadena, CA for the Rose Parade and Charlotte, NC to drive the track and go to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. About once a month Nelson went to Nashvilles (a country bar in Henrietta) to dance the night away. He was a member of the Broadway Theatre League and went to a play every 2 or 3 months. Every month, he traveled somewhere for a concert; most recently he went to Buffalo, Canandaigua, and Long Island. And of course, Nelson was in Homestead, Florida for a NASCAR race when he died. Meeting Jeff Gordon was on Nelson’s Bucket List and he was one day away from watching his NASCAR hero race again.

But that’s not all. Nelson had a full schedule for 2016: Daytona 500 in February; Kissimmee, FL in April with his sister Joyce; Buffalo in May for a Carrie Underwood concert; and Watkins Glen for a NASCAR weekend in August of 2016. It makes me sad that he won’t get to do all the things he planned, but it makes me happy that he was living his life and doing what made him happy.

Nelson’s life embodied this poem:

This is your life.

Do what you love, and do it often.

If you don’t like something, change it.

If you don’t like your job, quit.

Stop over analyzing; life is simple.

All emotions are beautiful.

When you eat, appreciate every, last bite.

Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people;

we are united in our differences.

Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself.

Some opportunities only come once; seize them.

Life is short.

Live your dream.

Nelson lived his dream; he taught us that every moment of our lives is worth living. Nelson didn’t sit around, waiting for his life to end; he died living.

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: November

“What are the top games (online or video games) that can help students learn?”

In order to answer this month’s question, I had to go to the expert–my 10-year-old son. When I asked him which game has taught him the most, without hesitation, he answered Call of Duty. This is what he had to say:

The whole idea behind the game is that you are in a war, and you are fighting for your life. You need to get to the place where the enemy captain is and interrogate him, so you can go on to the next level. Each level gets harder and more confusing.

So the number one thing you need to learn how to do is listen. If you don’t listen carefully to the plan, you won’t know what’s going on. You need to pay attention to what the characters are saying and work as a team. The computer characters teach you battle strategies and how to dodge things in real life. Listening is key because the characters tell you what to do. Following their directions will make sure that you’re successful.

You also need to have a strategy to win the mission, or you will fail automatically. It takes a while to figure it out, but that’s part of the fun. It’s the past experiences that help you succeed, but it gets easier as you learn more about the game and use knowledge from other games. You can also go to YouTube to see how other people have beaten a level.

You need to use math to figure out how far you need to go and how quickly you need to get there before something explodes, or you will die. It’s also tricky because you have to calculate distance while enemies are shooting at you. You need to stay focused on your destination and keep battle strategies in your head the whole time.

The best part about it is it’s just a game. You don’t have to do everything perfectly, so you can try, try again, and eventually you will get everything right.

Another game he mentioned was Minecraft:

Minecraft is also great because in creative mode, you learn how to design buildings and get to look at other people’s creations. In survival mode, you have to battle creatures, so you need to build a fortress to survive the attacks. You learn battle strategies and defense techniques.

Failing is learning in these games and that is part of the fun. I wonder how we can bring that element to the classroom.

Click here to read posts from the other Top 12.

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: October

Can social media have a role to play in managing a successful classroom?

Social media can be used in certain classrooms successfully. If teachers need to send out announcements, Facebook and Twitter meet students where they spend much of their time. There is no better application available to send out last-minute reminders or changes of plans.

The biggest fear in a school setting seems to be that teachers and students would become friends on social media, and that friendship would cross professional boundaries. Although I am aware of the problems that issue has caused, I don’t believe in punishing everyone for the bad judgment of a few individuals. I would rather see social media decisions made on a case-by-case basis, bringing dignity, respect, and trust back to the profession.

Along those lines, there is a way to create social groups without teachers and students becoming “friends” on Facebook. A teacher could post a notification to a group, and all the students in that group could read the notification without being able to see the teacher’s personal page and posts.

It doesn’t come as a big surprise that teachers have to bear the brunt of the burden for monitoring students’ online behaviors when social media becomes part of the classroom. Unfortunately, it seems that teachers are expected to have the bigger “parenting” role in a child’s life than the actual parents. It has never been a good idea to let children (up to 18 years old) have free reign on the internet. Because of parents’ lack of guidance and involvement with their own children, schools have had to make blanket rules to protect themselves from lawsuits.

Even though I’m in favor of using Facebook and Twitter in certain situations, I also believe that social media, smart phones, and texting erode necessary social skills. People, in general, have forgotten how to talk to each other; eye contact is at an all-time low for those who primarily communicate with hand-held devices. Social media has also damaged students’ abilities to check their email regularly, to write respectful, intelligent emails to their teachers, and to use school websites to locate information.

A possible solution to some of these issues could be for schools to create classes on how to use social media responsibly and appropriately. Students need to be aware of the ramifications of misuse but also of the benefits of worldwide tools. Schools could also offer night classes for parents so that they can learn more about social media and monitoring their children’s behaviors.

Now, to contradict everything I just said, I don’t believe in making students’ lives easier than they already are. Becoming responsible adults means that they have to move out of their comfort zones. Just because they are on social media all the time, doesn’t mean that the world needs to revolve around them. Making students work for their information is one way the current adults are going to help the current “entitled” generation break free of this debilitating mindset.

4 Steps to a Healthier, Happier Me

Over the past 30 years, I have had the same battle with weight that I’m sure many people can relate to. Before I had children, I had time to work out, could eat whatever I wanted, and not worry about my weight. After children, however, it was a different story. As the years packed on, so did the weight. I was never obese, but I had rolls and bulge that made me feel uncomfortable, unattractive, and unhealthy. I found myself in the doctor’s office at 49 years old, begging him for a weight-loss pill because I was convinced that my metabolism slowed down too much to ever lose the weight that was affecting my health and ability to enjoy everyday activities. My doctor told me it wasn’t about my age or metabolism; it was, and always will be, about calories in and calories out, plain and simple. I didn’t like his answer. I wanted an excuse, and he didn’t give me one. I continued with a daily, superficial workout 3-4 times a week and didn’t lose much weight.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 and not only was I not losing weight, but I was gaining back the weight that I had lost 7 years before. During the 2015 spring semester, my students showed me how much they loved me by buying me a donut before every class. That, in combination with the winter and emotional eating I was doing, helped me pack on 15 extra pounds to the already 15 extra pounds I felt I had to lose to get to my target weight of 140 (health charts say that my weight should be between 133-147 for my height and frame). I didn’t understand why I had put on so much weight. I was walking or running at least a mile a day. Wasn’t that enough?

By late March, none of my clothes fit anymore. I asked my students to stop buying me donuts so I didn’t have so much for them to love.

I was uncomfortable at 155. At almost 170, I was a mess.

I decided to take my doctor’s advice and start tracking my calories in and out. That one step changed everything I did from that point on. Six months later, I am now 146 lbs, eating well, comfortable, and healthy.

 

running 2.png

These are the steps I took to get here:

#1Get Apps: I downloaded a few free apps on my phone to help me keep track of my exercise (calories out) and my food and drink (calories in). My Fitness Pal and Runkeeper apps sink together so that the addition/subtraction of calories happens without too much effort on my part. I also used Couch to 5K the first few months to help me get ready for my first 5K in June. I needed to set a short-range goal for myself to keep my motivation up.

Tracking my calories helped me see where the big-calorie food items were. I even recorded when I took a bite of a cookie or a handful of potato chips. It showed me how many calories I had to burn to stay within my plan, which was 1200 calories a day. For the first few months, I let myself eat back the calories I burned running/walking. So for example, I could eat 1200 calories on my plan, but I burned 200 calories on my run, so I could actually eat 1400 calories and still be within the limits of my plan. I did this mainly because I have a hard time denying myself. If I have a food craving, I have to eat it or I will eat everything I don’t want and then still eat what I wanted anyway. Truthfully, there were many days I went over that limit, but I didn’t let it get me down. I just went back to the plan the next day.

#2 Develop Good Habits: In order for any of this to work, I had to form the habit of exercise. I had to make my daily workout a priority. On the days I had to work earlier, I still worked out, but only for 5 minutes a day until I developed a daily habit. Once the habit was established, it was easier for me to wake up earlier to get a longer workout in. The more I worked out, the faster the results came.

Now, I can’t imagine starting my day without a workout first. The other motivation was that I didn’t want to shower twice in one day. I needed to get my workout done before my shower; otherwise, I wouldn’t work out at all that day.

The only exercise I did for the first few months was walking/running. I had to keep it simple until I developed that habit. I knew that if I signed up at a gym or had to drive somewhere to work out, I wouldn’t have done it. With walking/running, all I had to do was put my sneakers on and go outside. I didn’t add anything to that routine until I couldn’t imagine my day without exercise. The only change I made was walking in a different direction to have a variety in my perspective.

Once my walking/running routine was established, I added stretches, a few yoga moves, and sit-ups afterwards–not many, but enough to make sure I was kind to my muscles and core.

Some of the most beautiful things happened during these walks/runs. I was outside enjoying the beauty of nature. I learned to breathe and improve my posture, which actually strengthened my back and core–just standing up straighter and feeling the breath enter and leave my body turned into a type of meditation that I enjoyed with yoga. I started to feel connected to my body. That connection helped me listen to the aches and pains and go easy on myself when needed or push a little harder if I felt strong.

This connection also helped me listen to my nutritional needs. I could feel when I ate too much of something or an item that didn’t feed my body the right way. I no longer had to make the choice between Oreos and chips. I picked fruit when I wanted something sweet and nuts when I wanted something salty. Even without researching it, my body was telling me not all calories are created equally.

I was also listening to music while working out, which, ironically, helped me think clearer. I would get the best ideas for writing and teaching during these times. Music, fresh air, exercise, meditation, and the beauty of nature were a winning combination.

Honestly, if I had never progressed further than this, I would have been happy. I lost the winter/emotional/donut weight, and I was feeling better, even though I wasn’t at my goal weight. I was outside every day, soaking up vitamin D, enjoying nature, getting away from sitting at my computer, and becoming one with myself. I was already happier and healthier, which made me more attractive to myself–and that’s all that really matters anyway. But I wanted to prove to myself that I could get down to my goal weight, so I kept on finding new ways to break through the plateaus.

#3Treat Your Body Right: Even though I was recording everything I ate, I didn’t make different food choices until a few months into this habit. For me, this was a necessary step. I hate diets because I don’t like the restriction. If I want something to eat, I have to have it. That’s why I waited until my body started craving healthier foods.

I also started reading up on nutrition. Our bodies need protein, carbohydrates, and fat. We need to get them in the most natural state possible, with no added chemicals. I went back to using olive oil and butter, eating eggs and red meat, but I made sure it was high quality and organic. I now buy most of my food at Trader Joe’s and try to shop at farmer’s markets when possible.

I avoided anything labeled as “lite” or packaged as a diet product. I watched the documentary Fed Up on Netflix and it changed the way I looked at food–especially sugar–completely. Now, when I buy anything packaged, I look at the label for the percentage of sugar in the product. Anything with more than 2g of sugar added is too much (0g added is better). And natural cane sugar, honey, and pure maple syrup are better than any of the chemically created sugars or sweeteners.

I started drinking a lot of water. It can be challenging to drink 8 cups of water a day, but it changes everything. My mind is clearer, my skin is healthier, my hair has bounce, my nails aren’t brittle.

Above all, I was patient with myself and didn’t let my goals stop me from having fun. If I wanted to eat chicken wings and French fries with a beer when I was out, I let myself enjoy those things without guilt. I am eating healthy and exercising to have a higher quality life and be healthier for my son. The best thing I can do for Ian is take care of his mother–he deserves a healthy, happy mom.

#4: Variety is the spice of life: By July I was tracking my calories, establishing good habits, and treating my body right, but I could not get past the plateau I had encountered a few times in the past when I had tried to lose weight. I was weighing in at 150-152 lbs. It came down to the last 10 lbs again, and nothing I was doing seemed to push me passed it. I decided to add a kickboxing class on Wednesdays. If I had tried to add that class too soon, I might not have stayed with it. But this was the right time to change my routine. Adding that class made me feel all the body parts I was neglecting. I wanted more, so I added two more video workouts to my week. I was still going outside and walking/running at least a mile every day, but with a 60 minute kickboxing class and the 45 minute P90X Cardio workout twice a week, I finally made it to 149. I hadn’t seen that number in years!

I was on fire and started reading exercise and nutrition articles. One article that My Fitness Pal put out talked about burning 300-400 calories a day. I decided to make that my goal. Now I never burn less than 300 and frequently burn more than 400 calories a day. The important thing to remember with this step is that it didn’t happen until months down the road. I didn’t push myself too fast. I was patient with my progress.

The next thing I changed is running–and when I say running, I mean fast walking or slow jogging. I always run with my dog Chico (a 12-pound Chihuahua). He loves being outdoors, and he had gained a few extra pounds as well, so I was taking care of both of us with our daily runs. However, the longer I ran, the more upset he became with me. He was okay when I ran one mile; tolerated me when I ran two miles; but absolutely refused to run with me when I started running for three miles. When I put my sneakers on, Chico hid in his kennel.

To accommodate him, at first I ran one mile, dropped him off at home, and then finished my run, but it didn’t feel the same being out on the road without him. That’s when I read this other article on My Fitness Pal that explained interval running to me.

Now, I still log 3 miles 2-3 times a week, but I walk for 30 seconds, jog for 20 seconds, and then “sprint” for 10 seconds. Chico loves this new routine. The article mentioned that interval training follows the running patterns of dogs, which is absolutely correct. I don’t need to keep track anymore. Chico tells me when to run and when to run fast. The other added benefit is that this type of running burns fat faster than a consistent pace does.

This is how I got down to 146. I’m no longer concerned with the numbers on the scale. If I get down to 140, that’s fine, but I’m more interested in tightening up and building some muscle now. I’ll let you know how the next stage goes.

Top 12 Global Teacher Blogger Discussion: September

What was your most challenging classroom and how did you turn it around? 

Early in my teaching career, I had a class of freshman English with 27 students–22 boys and 5 girls. If having 22 freshman boys in one class wasn’t challenging enough, this class met after lunch in the last 90-minute block of the day. The boys started treating that class, not as a learning environment, but as the pre-party to the afterschool plans they all had.

At first, I became the type of teacher I hated: I yelled at them every day; I punished them for their inability to sit still and listen. I dreaded teaching this class. One weekend, while watching my young son play, I noticed how different he was from my daughters when they were that age. Ian had a hard time sitting still; if he wasn’t running, climbing, or playing, he wasn’t happy. I then started picturing my students–not as boys opposed to me and my teaching style–but as sons of parents like me who wanted their boys to love learning. This connection changed how I looked at everything I taught in that class.

I first changed all of my lesson plans so that each activity only lasted a maximum of 15-20 minutes. I then switched activities around so that deskwork was followed by a group activity so students could get out of their chairs. When time permitted, I rewarded the students for their hard work with a game of mum-ball or heads-up seven-up at the end of the block. They always completed their work so they could play.

If weather permitted, I frequently gave them a five-minute break outside, and those who wanted to could run around the soccer field to burn off energy. I also played classical or enjoyable instrumental music for them during deskwork. I told them to get up and stretch their legs whenever they wanted–that they could self-monitor their attention spans and get up to get a drink of water or move to the back of the room if they needed help refocusing. Rarely did any of the students abuse this trust.

Changing my classroom opened up other ideas for me to explore. Because the game reward worked so well, I decided to create a game out of their class work. Before grammar tests, students formed groups and answered questions that were similar to each unit test. Students could discuss answers with the group, look in their notes or workbook to help them answer the questions, and then decide on the correct answer together. If the group answered correctly, they earned points. Then one member of the group would shoot a ball made from old newspapers and tape into the garbage can. If they made the basket, they added more points to their score. This is how “Trash-ball” was born.

Trash-ball was so successful I used it in all my classes from then on. In fact, all the new strategies worked so well, I used them in every class and level I taught. I discovered that girls were happier moving around as well.