Sunday, 15 December 2013

Lessons in Entrepreneurship

This term, my class has been learning about entrepreneurship by using the PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs program.  This is the second year that I have used it and my students and I both learned a lot.  I found it to be a valuable program because the students had to demonstrate creativity, critical thinking and communication skills.

Photo Credit: Sharon Drummond via Compfight cc 

Students took out a loan from their parents to buy materials to create a product.  They came up with a wide variety of products. Then, they did some market research on what other students liked about their products and what they were willing to pay.  They created a business plan and then marketed their products using flyers and announcements in the school.  We also discussed social responsibility and giving back to the community.  As a class, we decided on a charity we would give a percentage of our profits to.  Finally, they sold their products during an Entrepreneur Fair, which they advertised to be the perfect place for other students to buy Christmas presents for their families.  Products were sold for between $0.50 and $5.00. They were only allowed to operate their business with their business plan prominently visible on their table.  They had to think about what their customers wanted to buy, what they were willing to pay, and how to sell to their customers.  Near the end of the fair, students started putting their products on sale in order to clear out their tables. After the fair, we had a math lesson on calculating percentage and gross and net profit.

Before the fair, we discussed how to talk to customers without being too pushy or too shy.  Also, we talked about what to do if someone wanted a refund.  During the fair, one student had to deal with a customer who came back for a refund after their product broke.

Last year, when we held the Entrepreneur Fair, it was just our class who participated and most of the students sold out of their products. This year there were two classes participating and many of the students did not sell out of their products.  After the fair, we had a discussion on why some people made a profit and others did not.  Students came up with the ideas of a flooded market, competition between similar products, the quality of workmanship and the location of their table in the gym.

Here is a list of things to remember to do when using this program:

  1.  Make a list of who is making what.  I didn't allow two of the exact same product.  There were two students making bracelets but they were different from each other. Check in with each student week to week so that you know that they are making good progress on creating their products. 
  2. Clearly set a limit on what they can spend on their materials.  Communicate this to their families.  There is a loan certificate included in the materials where parents sign off on how much money they are lending their children.
  3. Ask the students to only make one prototype to test the market with.  They can do their market survey using that one product.  Some of them will try to run out and buy enough materials to make thirty of something and then it might not be a successful product.
  4. Encourage students to use recycled materials.
  5. Encourage students to be smart shoppers. (Remind them the dollar store might just be the best place for them to find their materials.)
  6. Remind students that on the day of the fair they need to keep their business money separate from their personal money with which they will be shopping.
  7. Ask students to bring money for their float in order to give change on the day of the fair.  
  8. Ask students to keep a record of how many products they sell.
  9. Book the gym or another large open are,  invite parents and have teachers sign up for a time to bring their classes to the fair.
  10. After the fair, spend some time doing all of the calculation and showing the students how to separate the float, the loan and then taking out a percentage for charity.  Then send home all of the money separated into three envelopes:  the float, the loan, and the profit. You might choose to donate to charity together as a class and keep the charity money at school until the time for donation.  
Here are some examples of what the students made.

Overall, the Powerplay Young Entrepreneurs Program is easy to follow and the teacher's guide and student books are easy to use.  I used it as a jumping off point that lead to other discussions on business, marketing, and loans. 

For term two, now that most of the students have made some money, we will be going for a visit to the bank to talk about investments and the beauty of compound interest.  That will lead us into a unit on financial literacy and how to save money and create a budget.  I'm looking forward to next term and if all goes well, we might go on a class shopping trip to plan for a class party.  

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Daily 5 and Blogging in the Intermediate Classroom

    Teaching Language Arts in my classroom is never the same from year to year.  I am always experimenting with new lesson plans and ideas trying to find that elusive “right” way to teach.  Unfortunately, there is no one way that works for every child in the classroom and that is why I am always changing what I am doing.  After having read The Daily 5 and The Book Whisperer this summer, I have been trying to do the following.

Building a Love of Reading

Learning about Genre

We started off the year by sharing our favourite picture books, learning about genre, and speed book dating .  We built up our reading stamina and learned how to choose books in the library.  I shared books I love and even now I am always sharing what I am reading so that the students can feel my enthusiasm of books.  After silent reading time every day, students are invited to share books that they would recommend others to read.  We keep a “Books to Read” list so that we can jot down what we would like to read next, just like Donalyn Miller suggests in her book.  I keep a list of my own and I add to it as students suggest books for me to read.  I also invited students to The Forty Book Challenge (another idea out of The Book Whisperer).  We do a shared read aloud and this year we participated in the Global Read Aloud 2013 which was a great way to connect with other classes around the world. (Here is link to our culminating project)

Photo Credit: Search Engine People Blog via Compfight cc


Then we spent a while learning about digital citizenship and our digital footprint (Common Sense Media is a great resource).  Lessons about how to conduct ourselves online will be ongoing throughout the year.  We wrote blogs on paper and learned how to write proper comments using the ideas from the third graders in Linda Yollis’ class.  The students keep a blog notebook where they write their rough copies of their blogs.  They need to go through a self-editing and peer-editing process before they can publish online. 

Reading Blogs
After learning the blogging process, students write their first response to a book they are reading.  They blog once a week on the book they are currently reading.  This is a way for everyone to share their books and for myself to keep track of what they are reading.  We talk about not giving away too much information so that the readers of their blog will still want to read the book.  The criteria for their reading is:

1.  include the title, author, genre
2.  tell a little about the book without giving away too much
3.  include a connection, a prediction and a question (later on they will be encouraged to include an inference as well)
4.  include an introductory sentence and a concluding sentence  as well as check for spelling, grammar and punctuation.


I invited the students to do a free-write and then I introduced the BC Performance Standards.  Students use the standards to look at their own writing and do a self-assessment by highlighting where they are.  (Here are the Performance Standards in student friendly language) Then, I use the Performance Standards and highlight where they are and return their writing to them so that we can discuss it.

We have on-going writing mini-lessons based on the needs of the class and we have a space in the classroom where the students can go for ideas on what to write about.   We talk about the writing process and ways to publish their writing.  Students can choose to either make a physical book or publish on their blog.


I use Words their Way to assess the students and to place them in groups to study word patterns by doing various activities throughout the week.  I meet with each group once a week to discuss the patterns.  Every day they have a different activity they do in class and then they practice that same activity for homework (see Words their Way for the various sorts).

Conference with a Teacher 

Before the conferences begin, we discuss and practice effective ways to read aloud.  We talk about reading pace, enunciation, volume, and the use of expression.  I encourage students to record their oral reading and listen to themselves.  They are asked to practice reading aloud a piece out of their book to share with a small group. There is a weekly chart posted in the classroom listing when everyone meets with the teacher to conference about his or her reading.  During the conference time, students share their books in the small group, do a short read aloud and we discuss a reading comprehension strategy.  Some students who are hesitant to read aloud can share their recording of their reading.  I use the Reading Performance Standards to create a 4-point scale for assessment.

Finally …

Every day, students complete their Word Work and then choose to work on one of the following:

1. Read to Self
2. Reading Response Blog
3. Writer’s Workshop
4.  Read and Comment on others’ blogs
5.  Conference with a Teacher

Here is the chart I use.

So far, this system is working out reasonably well in our classroom. I am really enjoying seeing the change in the students’ conversations about books; especially the conversations about reading that continue on their blogs after school.

I'm looking forward to seeing how these conversations develop and change over time.  

The Daily 5 program I am using in my classroom may not be the way the authors of the book intended it to be but it is a starting point for my students to increase their reading stamina, read what they enjoy, have conversations about books and to practice their writing skills as well.  How do you use Daily 5 or teach Language Arts in your classroom?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

How Do We Know We Are Doing a Good Job?

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At the start of this school year, I had a rude awakening.  After carefully working with my colleagues to work out the division of our classes, I found some students who were not happy with their placements, which is not that unusual.  One student in particular stands out for me.  He was in my class the previous year and had seemed to have had a wonderful time learning in our classroom.  He provided positive feedback to me at the end of the year.  I had my students write anonymous report cards on myself and my job-share partner at the end of the year and they were very positive.  However, at the start of this year, that one student had a conversation with my job-share partner where he reluctantly shared that his parents did not want him in our class because they did not think we were good teachers.  Gasp! Break my heart!  We work so hard at trying to be good teachers that this caused me to rack my brains to find what it could be that my job share partner and I needed to do better.  After a while, I tried to brush it off by saying to myself that I can't please everyone, but it still bothered me.
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Eventually, I understood that our classroom is unconventional in many ways and that it causes some parents to be uncomfortable because they don't see learning happening in a traditional way.  Last year, my teaching was transformed by my own learning and professional development and I tried many new things in my classroom.  But now,  I started to ask myself: Do I need to use the textbook more?  Maybe we should do more worksheets.  Perhaps I need to go back to the weekly spelling list so that some parents feel like we are actually teaching.  But, would that weekly spelling list have been teaching?  That led me to ask: If we compare out education system to a business model, who are our customers?  Is it the students?  Is it the parents?  Or a combination of the two? Who should I be trying to please?  Am I supposed to be pleasing someone? Yes, my students need to be happy in order to learn but what about the parents?  I want them to feel like their children are getting a good education and I need to communicate what I am doing and why I am doing it, but what if we disagree? If you have answers to any of these questions, I would love to hear from you.

After much soul searching, I came to a place of peace.  I happened to be discussing why that student didn't want to be in my class and what I was doing wrong with a teacher friend in a restaurant.  While I was having this discussion, the waitress came to take our order and recognized me as her 5th grade teacher.  She then starts to animatedly discuss all of the things she remembered in our classroom.  How we had a Mystery Festival for Science, an Author's Evening to share our writing, and how we discussed the tragedy of 9/11 when it occurred and how that conversation stayed with her.  She showed me the power of teaching and how it is remembered far into the future.  It was exactly the validation I needed to know that I can continue to teach in a way that I am passionate about because the students remember it and learn from it.

So, how do you know that you are doing a good job?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

What I Learned From Books This Summer

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This summer I have been doing quite a bit of reading.  I love reading and enjoy the feel of pages between my fingers when I know something I'm reading is really good.  I belong to two book clubs (one just finished reading Many Lives, Many Masters, by Brian L. Weiss and the other just finished The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grisson).  I've been reading The Harry Potter series to my younger son.  In between all of the social reading, I've been trying to read what my students would be interested in.  For The Global Read Aloud, I just finished "Out of My Mind," by Sharon M. Draper.  It is an amazing book, a must-read in the classroom.

For professional growth, I read the following books:

If You Can't Fail, It Doesn't Count
I am going to share the ideas in this book with my class.  This is a celebration of failure.  In it, we meet famous people who failed and whose failure was directly related to their success. It emphasizes that everyone's ideas are important and that failure is a step towards success. 

A colleague recommended The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller.  It is about how to get kids to read in your classroom.  It made a lot of sense to me.  The author's reading program consists of individual choice and building a classroom library of high-interest books. The author recommends that students be given ample time to read what they choose, instead of having a book chosen for the class to "study". Books need to be for enjoyment and students need to feel a connection to the book in order to read it. She goes on to show how she encourages students to read a variety of genres and to share what they have read with the class.  Miller's students are all at different reading levels just like every classroom but they end up, on average, reading 40 books per school year, a remarkable achievement.

In my school, several intermediate teachers have read this book and have teamed up to share all of our books in order to offer even more choice to our students.  The pod outside our doors will be furnished with low bookshelves, which will house our shared collection of books.  The sign out system for the books will be an honour system. I am excited to see how reading will shape up this year.  When I shared this reading program idea with my son, he said, "You get to read whatever you want? That's awesome!" There is a lot more information on how to set up this program in the book, from lists of recommended book to have in your classroom to student forms.

The Daily 5 Fostering Literacy Independence in the Elementary Grades, was also a recommendation. It ties in nicely to the choice reading, which is central to "The Book Whisperer." It gives a time for students to read and write and to have a menu of activities to choose from.  It shows that management issues can be minimized when the locus of control is given to students.

Words Their Way; Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction
Four words: Great ideas, tough read. This is a series of books. The first book explains the program and the books that follow contain activities and materials for students.  The first book is a very practical book because it lays out how to group students by ability for word study.  The difficulty is that it is a not user-friendly because of the amount of text and technical language (example: "the derivational relations stage for advanced readers and writers").  The supplementary books provide activities that can be done all week in order to sort words and recognize patterns.  I am going to be using this program in the fall in conjunction with The Daily 5 activities.

Embedded Formative Assessment
What a great book!  It strikes a nice balance between providing examples of research and why formative assessment is important and practical ideas I can take to my classroom and begin using right away.  Dylan William provides over 50 techniques for formative assessment with examples of how they have been used in other classrooms.  He also discusses the importance of and gives examples of thoughtful feedback, cooperative learning and self-regulated learning.  I am so glad to have read this book because I can begin using its ideas right away and it meshes with my philosophy of teaching.

I've been reading and thinking all summer and I have so many ideas I want to use in my classroom.  I am going to try my best to put into practice what I have learned.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Liebster Awards: Recognizing Smaller Blogs

Thank you Sherri Edwards at What Else for sharing with me the Liebster Award (Liebster meaning dearest in German).  This is a way to recognize smaller blogs with fewer than 200 followers.  The Liebster nomination rules are:

1        1. Link back to the blog that nominated you.
2. Nominate 5-11 blogs with less than 200 followers. (some places the rules say 3-5 blogs)
3. Answer the questions posted for you by the nominator.
4. Share 11 random facts about you.
5. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
6. Contact your nominees to inform them of their nomination.

My nominees are (and I apologize ahead of time if you have more than 200 blog followers; I couldn’t figure out how to find that information out):

Beverley Bunker at Experiments in Learning
Jeremy Inscho at Inscho in School

 My answers to questions from Sherri, my nominator:

1.  Why do I blog?

I blog in order to be reflective in my practice and to document my learning.  Blogging allows me to share my ideas and to learn from others.  Sometimes it is difficult to blog (like now, in the summer when it feels like my brain is overtaken by my family and not by school) and othertimes, the words write themselves. But each time, I come away from the experience feeling like I learned a little bit more about myself and the kind of teacher I want to be.

2.  What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her student?

I think the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her students is to create a positive relationship with them, respect them and truly listen to what they have to say.  Teaching and learning can only happen when there is mutual respect and trust.  After that , we need to awaken wonder and curiosity and passion, which is why I love Genius Hour. 

3.  What is the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her colleagues?

The most important thing a teacher can do for his or her colleagues is to listen and share.  Listening without judgment and sharing what you do creates a culture of openness. (see previous post)

4.  If you could change one physical thing about your classroom what would it be?

My room is very small and it barely fits 28 desks and a teacher’s desk.  It is also an odd shape.   I would change it to be larger and rectangular.  Then, I could change it to have a designated reading space with a couch and a carpet.  

5.  Describe one of your most memorable teaching experiences.

Well, I’m going to take the word memorable to be mean unforgettable.  A few years back, I took my class on a fieldtrip to the law courts.  It was a most memorable fieldtrip.  We travelled by parent drivers because we did not have funding for a school bus.  The fieldtrip began by one of the cars not arriving at the law courts until 45 minutes after our fieldtrip had begun because the driver had gotten lost.  This was in a time before everyone commonly had cell phones, so I couldn’t even call the driver to find out if they were O.K. Then, while we were in an unused court room having a judge talk to the class, the sheriff walked in and told us we had to remain in the room and not leave.  He proceeded to leave the room with the judge and then locked the door behind him and locked us into the courtroom.  This sent the class into some uproar.  We waited about 40 minutes in the room until the same sheriff came and unlocked the door.  He told the class, “Do not look to your left as you walk through the hallway.”  Of course, the kids did look.  They saw a pool of blood on the floor.  Then as we waited for our rides home, one of our drivers did not come to pick us up and I had to phone the school to have one of the staff come and pick up the last group of students.  That night, as I watched the news, I found that someone had come to the courthouse and shot an attorney.  That was the most unforgettable fieldtrip/teaching moment I ever had. 

6.  What memorable experience do you hope your students will have?

There are two types of experiences that I hope for my students. 

There is something very powerful about connecting with a good book and getting lost in it.  I hope for my students to find that love of a good book.

 I also want them to be able to engage in “flow” in their learning- whether it be in writing, physical education or art.  As Daniel Pink describes in his book, Drive, “in flow, the relationship between what a person had to do and what he could do was perfect. The challenge wasn't too easy. Nor was it too difficult. It was a notch or two beyond his current abilities, which stretched the body and mind in a way that made the effort itself the most delicious reward. That balance produced a degree of focus and satisfaction that easily surpassed other, more quotidian, experiences. In flow, people lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away. They were autonomous, of course. But more than that, they were engaged.” I would like my students to have the memorable experience of that level of engagement. 

7.  How many students/teachers do you have at your school?

We have about 500 students and about 30 teachers.

8.  What is your favourite classroom use of technology?

This is a difficult question because we use it for so many different purposes.  One of my favourite classroom uses of technology is connecting globally with other classrooms either through student blogs or Skype. 

9.  Who/what is your teaching inspiration?

This last year, my main teaching inspiration has been my PLN on twitter.  I learn so much from them and I am in awe of what everyone is doing.  I am also inspired by the books that I read and by my children who amaze me in their learning processes every day. 

10.  What is one teaching goal you have for this year?

I will try to be succinct.  I am going to write an blogpost on this question.  One of the main things I would like to do this year is to inspire a love for reading using the ideas of Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer. 

11.  In six words, what is your teaching philosphoy?

Connect and inspire passion and wonder. 

11 Random Facts About Me
     1. I love to read the same book as my son so that I can talk to him about it.
2         2.  I never eat the last bite of my sandwich.
3         3. I don’t drink milk.
4         4. I love camping.
5         5. I’m learning how to swim.
6         6. I joined twitter 11 months ago.
7         7.  I have a wonderful job share partner who I have known since high school.
8         8. My dream as a child was to be a writer.
           9.   I think it is important to meditate every day if possible.
1        10.  Sadly, I’ve never had a pet.
1        11. Every year I get bored and feel a need to somehow change or renovate something in my home. 

11 Questions for my nominees.

1       1.     Why do you blog?
2       2.     What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her students?
3       3.     What’s the most important thing a teacher can do for his or her colleagues?
4       4.     If you could change one physical thing about your classroom what would it be?
5       5.     How many teachers and students are at your school?
6       6.     What is one thing you want your students to have learned in your classroom?
7       7.     Describe one of your most memorable teaching experiences.
8       8.     What is one teaching goal you have had this year?
9       9.     If you weren’t a teacher, what other profession would you have chosen?
1      10. What is your favourite use of technology in your classroom?
1.     11. Describe the biggest teaching you mistake you ever made.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Openness and Sharing

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     Lately I have been thinking of what does it mean to be an open educator.  One of the reasons is because a group of educators called The Fellowship of the Open Spokes, which I am a part of, has been discussing this very topic.  The other reason is because most of this school year I have been thinking about ways to make my colleagues at school share what they are doing in their classrooms. 

What does “open” mean?

Some people take it to mean being open on-line and blogging about your practice and sharing your successes and asking for feedback from colleagues about how you can do things better.  To me it starts as simply as sharing in your school and inviting colleagues into your classroom to see what you are doing and starting conversations about educational practices.  I don’t mean talk about just the “techie” things you do.  I mean talk about that great art lesson or math project.  I know a lot of teachers feel that their “techie” colleagues only value ideas using technology.  We need to celebrate all kinds of learning and teaching, even by sharing our failures so that we can learn from our mistakes. 

Open also means sharing resources on-line, using creative commons and allowing your work to be re-mixed as Sheri Edwards discusses here. 

You might not know it but you already are an open educator if you are using such curating tools as Pinterest.  You are creating boards that can be viewed by others and putting resources together to be used, whether for work or pleasure.

Some reasons people are hesitant to share. 

I have nothing important to share. What if it isn’t good enough?
The following video, "Obvious to You, Amazing to Others," is your answer.

This is my idea and I do it every year. 
Sharing is reciprocal and you will get many more ideas if you share yours.

I feel exposed and vulnerable. 
I’ve been there.  I have felt like that and I sometimes still feel like that and all I can say is that the feeling starts to fade after you see the rewards of sharing. 

Why it is important to share and be open.

Photo Credit: cbucky via Compfight cc

So we can learn from each other.  There is no original idea.  Everything comes from somewhere, some inspiration or a re-mix of something else. Every little bit that everyone contributes can be changed and made into something new. 

The collective is stronger than the individual. Two heads are better than one so think of the power of many. 

We need to practice what we teach our students.  If we want them to be collaborating and sharing their ideas then we need to be doing it ourselves as well. 

If we share our successes as well as our mistakes, everyone can learn from them and offer advice on how to improve. 

Things I have done to be an open educator and the rewards for my classroom and myself.

Joining Twitter 
Because of joining Twitter I:

-       began Mystery Skyping – students LOVE it
-       learned about Genius Hour and began it in my classroom
-       joined a global classroom project
-       joined various chats about education
-       learned about lots of other ideas for the classroom
-       followed many links to great articles, talks and books that are shaping me as an educator
-   connected with many educators I would never have met before Twitter
-       joined ETMOOC which taught me so much (read about it here)

I began this valuable reflective practice that makes me really think about everything that I do in my classroom

Vlogging  (Video Blogging)
It is similar to the blogging and allowed me to feel connected to a stronger community and receive feedback on my thoughts.  It taught me a lot about what kind of learner I am because I have been forced to share weekly in contrast to blogging, which I could choose not to do.

School team sharing at a district event (Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series)
Sharing (along with others from my school) with my own district what kind of learning and teaching is happening in my school showed me there were so many successes to celebrate.   Here is a video about the  Innovative Learning at Woodward Hill Elementary. 

Sharing and sharing online specifically, is not in addition to the work of being an educator.  It is the work. (Ewin McIntosh)

That is a powerful quote and you may disagree with it at first.  In the following video titled, “Sharing: The Moral Imperative” Dean Shareski talks convincingly about how it is true.  (The video is about 25 minutes)

Another place to hear about great stories of openness is Alan Levine’s site,  True Stories of Openness.

I hope you will start to share and be open and make all of us a little better because of it.  I look forward to hearing your stories in being open.  

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Why Did You Become an Educator? Here's My Answer.

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I went to a wonderful workshop celebrating and encouraging blogging yesterday where I listened to George Couros speak.  I am inspired to write this blogpost because of the question he left for us:  Why did you become an educator? What legacy do you want to leave?

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Why did I become an educator?
My easy but true answer to this is the standard, “because I love kids.”  That is why I went into education but there is more to it.  Teaching is fulfilling.  Teaching touches on my definition of success.  I don’t measure success by the size of my bank account or the make of the car I drive but by being able to touch and change another human being’s life.  Teaching gives me a chance to do that everyday, (not that it happens every day, mind you, some days are better than others).  I am given the chance to connect with children and help them set and achieve goals, find their passions and truly learn.  When I die, I will be happy because I have been lucky enough to have had the chance to do what I love, work with children and make positive connections.  

Another reason that I became an educator is because I had a positive experience as a student and I want to pass that along to my students.  There are some teachers who stand out clearly in my mind because of how they influenced who I became.  My grade five teacher, Mr. Dave Plottel, inspired me to become a teacher because he made learning fun.  One of the projects he did was a form of digital storytelling way back in 1984.  He set up a camcorder at the back of his classroom that was used to create short animations.  We created a cartoon flipbook on paper that we took still shots of and then turned into little animated cartoons.  It was soooo cool for a 10 year old.  We were taught in an “open area” where he and a grade 4 teacher team taught our two classes.  He was amazing, so ahead of his time and he is one of the reasons I became an educator.

The last but most important reason I became an educator is because my parents valued education and instilled in me a love of education.  My mother has less than a grade four education.  My father left school at 13 to help with the family farm and my grandparents didn’t even go to school themselves but my parents valued education as a way to a better life.  Being immigrants and not strong English speakers they relied on me to be their translator throughout my childhood.  Despite this, they attended every parent teacher conference even though I had to translate what my teacher was saying. (Hmm….the opportunities I had to embellish the truth…)  I am hoping that I can pass on this love of education to my own children.  

What legacy do I want to leave?

That is simple: For my students and others around me to love learning, to stay curious, to ask good questions and to be courageous enough to find the answers to the questions that they ask. 

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