A Helpful Word.

Do you like to Google your questions? And cross your fingers that you come across a semblance of truth online?

Sometimes when I am out of ideas, I like to use the word generator to help me find something to inspire me. This word is incredibly useful.

Want an outfit idea? Here’s an outfit generator.

Need some color ideas? Here is a color palette generator.

A meal idea?  Recipe generator.

To plan a trip but don’t know where to go? Earth Roulette (via googling vacation idea generator).

A bucket list?  Bucketlist generator

Checklist generator.

App idea generator.

Playlist generator.

Joke generator.

Plot generator, and another.

A design challenge generator.

The list goes on.

You could also just use Pinterest if you want a different set of algorithms, but I prefer to google with the word generator. It gives me a feeling of independent power.

I hope this is helpful to you in your googling adventures!

P.S. Still Funny: Jim Gaffigan’s tinder takeover.

Books, Books, Books

Hi! and hope you’re doing well, wherever you are and whatever you’re up to.  Here are some books I’ve read and liked as of late.

1.A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihar

This book is becoming a cult classic and I think our grandchildren will be reading and talking about it. I liked it, but it’s hard to get through. I had to take a break from reading it (twice) because it is so devastating, but I really loved the main character, and so I kept coming back. This book is nihilistic, but the prose is exceptional and the character development is realistic, relatable, remarkable. It made me want to learn every word in the world. The plot itself involves some suspension of disbelief. The amount of success, the failure, and abuse in the storyline is completely exaggerated and difficult to believe.

There are a ton of loose ends in this book, which makes it feel sort of sloppy; but it’s engrossing and thought provoking enough to carry. It is definitely rated R. I don’t think I recommend it to everyone, because it is so devastating and graphic.  This book will make you very happy to come back to your life. Also it’s 800 pages.

2. Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

Oh, this is a good one!  Sort of vapid lifestyles but the main theme of the novel is substantive. It’s delicious, intriguing, and suspenseful. The plot: mothers and their children living in a wealthy part of Australia, a child being bullied in kindergarten, and the secrets these families keep. A sub-theme of the story is that secrets don’t stay secrets. The TV version also emphasizes the tightrope women walk when trying to balance family and career. Loved the ending of this one- Liane Moriarty knows how to entertain.

3. Counting by 7s, Holly Goldberg Sloan

A YA read about a genius, quirky middle school girl whose parents die in a car accident.  She thinks very analytically and the narrative involves a lot of math and science and some amusing thought processes that made me laugh out loud a few times. It’s full of interesting factoids, but the plot isn’t very intriguing. As a side note, the YA read I keep hearing good things about is The Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate.

4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

This book is a delight. Hilarious. However, Eleanor’s thinking is super grating.  She is SO judgmental! She is awkward and harsh and very very candid. Her narrative will make you laugh out loud.

As the story progressed, Eleanor completely grew on me.  She is endearing and lovable in the quirkiest of ways. I also really felt for her and her life story. The themes of the book are social awkwardness and loneliness – the author illustrated and articulated her themes so clearly and she depicted life in 2016 (ish) perfectly. I love Raymond and I love Raymond’s mom.

The ending made me question all the thoughts and beliefs we cling to. You will be shocked at the end.

Here is my secret wish: to know what a guy thinks of this book.

5. Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane

Before reading Since We Fell I had never heard of or read anything by Dennis Lehane (have you?). In the prologue you find out that Rachel kills Brian at some point in the story, but you don’t know when it will happen. The beginning is a little slow while Rachel is looking for her birth father and then things pick up in the second half when you learn more about Brian. It’s not meant to be a funny book, but there is one scene near the end, when everything is unraveling, that made me fall over laughing.

The reviews say it’s diabolical. I just looked up that word and it *is* diabolical (of the devil!). At least Brian is.

I think they should make this into a movie and I highly, highly recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers. I loved it. I might even read it again, violating my only-read-a-novel once policy.

6. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Eh. The plot is sort of interesting but too slow. The characters aren’t really special. I really make an effort to like at least one character in every book I read, but it wasn’t easy in this one. I think the author has potential though.

There is part of me that sort of wants to write a book, but I think coming up with a good plot is pretty challenging. I don’t want to write one that is a thinly veiled story of my own life- That might be kind of bland. ; )

Anyway, I hope this list can help you find a good read for your next vacation. : )

Don’t forget to watch general conference this weekend and please feel uplifted by this video:


Happy New Year!

We have the news conference about Ultima Thule on– it’s the new object that the Hubble Telescope discovered that is 1 billion miles past Pluto. I think NASA first saw it in 2014.  The New Horizons spacecraft flew past it and took pictures of it last night. Since it takes a few hours for the pictures to get to earth, NASA will show them sometime tonight. The New Horizons spacecraft launched 13 years ago– the NASA people look so relieved and happy right now.   

Are you watching? Do you think we’ll get a new planet? What do you think is on it?!

And, did you have a great holiday?  The highlight for me (so far) was getting a ride in the new Tesla 3.

Wishing you a great start to the new year.

Grateful Anew

Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday.  Isn’t it nice to know we already have everything we need? My list includes: food, shelter, a soft warm bed, my faith, and difficult things. I’m grateful for my computer and all the things there are to learn about HCI. I’m grateful for earnest little humans and for my family.

What are you grateful for?

Of course it is hard to beat the food this time of year.  Here is a Thanksgiving Battlecry to inspire you when it comes time to eat thirds this Thursday. 😀

Wishing you a full heart, table, and stomach this Thanksgiving.

You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman

My brother got an iPod in 2002 and came over to show it to me.  It was blue and boxy and I had never seen anything like it. He was super excited about it and he said it could hold thousands of songs. I was skeptical.

To demonstrate, we went out to his Audi in the driveway, connected it with the speakers, and turned on Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman.  It was my first time hearing the song and my brother sort of ruined it when he sang along. But It was one of those surreal moments when I was holding this weird tech gizmo from the future and  listening to this new, old song from decades ago and it gave me a rush I won’t forget.

What a legend. R-e-s-p-e-c-t. We’ll miss you Aretha.

Happy Birthday to My Little Sister

There are a lot of people who I love, but there is one person who I love just slightly more than everyone else, and that is my little sister.  Today is her birthday so I thought I would share a few stories about her.

-When she was little, like a lot of kids with Downs, she was very, very affectionate.  She had a penchant for men, especially black men and she would often wiggle her cute little uninvited bum into their laps and snuggle.  I remember one time she did this at Sports Authority, to the man trying to help her try on shoes. He laughed a lot, and was very sweet. If it was ok to hug everyone she ever came across without their permission, she would do it.  

-When she was little, she was a complete bookworm.  She had a massive stack of children’s books that she carried with her everywhere – to the bathroom, to the floor, to the table, to the couch.  She would read by herself for hours.

-She has a few favorites in our family, but she especially loves our Uncle Bill. When she was little and learning the names of different parts of her body, she named her ankle, “Ankle Bill” through lots of giggles. Growing up, we got together with our relatives every month or so to celebrate birthdays.  We’d all sit in a circle and watch the birthday havers open presents before cake and ice cream. While everyone was sitting talking, my sister would look around for her favorite uncle and then slowly walk backwards towards him until she scooted her little bum onto his lap to snuggle, prompting my hilarious cousins to rap the edited version chorus of Back that Thang up by Juvenile . Hahaha. 

-She is clever.  When she doesn’t want to go swimming after work, she subtly suggests that she do some “treadmill time” instead.  When she knows she’s not allowed to have another cookie, she instead requests a “brown circle with black dots on it.”  When she’s not allowed to have ice cream, she insists she have “cold stuff” instead. She makes puns about food. She’s witty. When she wants me to go away, she asks me to “take my legs upstairs.”  I think she should go into politics.

-She is a hard-working, proud employee and loves to go to work.  She also struggles with a few health issues and has to stay home more than she’d like, heartbroken to be away from her job and friends.  On occasion she will try to fake healthy in order to trick our mom into letting her go to work. Watching her try to convince mom that she’s ‘100%’ healthy, while her nose is dripping and she’s sneezing and coughing is a very amusing conversation to witness.

-She loves to be evil, which is funny, because she couldn’t be evil even if she tried. She loves Mal from Descendants who is “ruthless and rotten and mean”, but she’s definitely not any of those things. She loves to terrify people.  She is entirely obsessed with everything Halloween and spends time brainstorming costumes all year. Last I heard, she is hoping to be a pirate cheerleader this coming fall. She was an evil witch in MacBeth this past year and loved to dress up, cackle, and recite her evil spells over the cauldron.

-She is an excellent cook, creative writer, and Harry Potter connoisseur. She knows an impressive amount of trivia, and she loves to correct me when I don’t know something Harry Potter related (frequently).

-She loves history and has an incredible memory.  She admires Martin Luther King.

-She loves holding and snuggling babies. She is very gentle with animals.

-She likes wedding season.

-She has a lot of loyal friends who she loves to have over for games.  She is a happy hostess.

-She  thinks it’s kind of funny when I’m not allowed to come to something because I don’t have Down Syndrome.  “Um unfortunately, you can’t come, because you don’t have Down Syndrome,” she tells me. 😦

-She is a great swimmer and has been to Special Olympics a few times.  She’s taken gold.

-When I don’t want to do something, she creates a cheer to encourage me. Like, “RA! RA! Rah rah rah! Gooooooooooooo, Grade Papers!” hahaha.  

-She hates when I sing. Whenever I sing, she grabs either her head or her stomach and politely says something like, “Um, you’re giving me a bit of a stomach ache…Could you stop?” As soon as I stop, her sickness magically vanishes.

-I’m not sure if she will ever really understand contact sports.  The idea of someone winning and someone losing is not something that she entirely grasps, and she could not possibly care less about it.  She does, however, enjoy eating blue icies at sporting events. 

-In basketball, when someone on the opposing team takes the ball from her, she wags her finger and tells them to give it back.  

-She loves helping other people. She likes to knit hats for newborn babies and she loves helping the young women’s organization at church.  This year for Christmas she suggested we visit a home for young children with special needs who couldn’t be with their families. She did a great job reading to them and cheering them up.  

– If you’re having a bad day, she’ll do her best to cheer you up.

She is  one of my best friends and one of the best people I know. She’s also hilarious. 

Happy birthday little sister!  I’m forever proud of you and so excited for what this next year will bring.


I’m reading a book about Elizabeth Schuyler and it’s got me on a Founding Fathers kick.  Unending props to Lin Manuel Miranda for sparking a patriotic awakening.

Here are some profound little gems I’ve enjoyed as of late.

Founding Fathers Quotes:

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” – George Washington

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” -Thomas Jefferson

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” – John Adams

“Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, faction, and division of society.” – John Adams

“Hide not your talents.  They for use were made.  What’s a sundial in the shade?” – Ben Franklin

“Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.” – Ben Franklin

Education Quotes:

“I have no interest in competing with anyone.  I hope we all make it.” – Erica Cook

“The truth is that anything significant that happens in math, science, or engineering is the result of heightened intuition and creativity.  This is art by another name, and it’s something that tests are not very good at identifying or measuring.” -Sal Khan

A longstanding favorite of mine:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.  It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.  If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.  If we remember those times and places- and there are so many- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.  The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

-Howard Zinn

Also, have you read the book the Four Agreements?  It’s my new Bible.  The ideas are a little oversimplified, but it’s a good read.

Hope you’re having a great week! Go Warriors!

Giving Students the Right Amount of Power and Autonomy Part 3: The End

In case you’re still interested, here’s a couple things to keep in mind in the end of a project or unit.

  1. Have students defend their process, and
  2. Weigh out mastery, momentum, and student investment.

Have students defend their process. 

When students have the chance to create their own vision and product, they also have a lot of opportunities  to get lost.  In the end, the logic and decision-making involved in their process is just as important as the success or failure of their outcome.

Steps of a process can be structured using specific questions, new information students gathered, and decisions students make based on those decisions.

So, for example, if a group (perhaps older students) want to build a small bridge that can carry the weight of a seven year old, they might start their process with questions like:

-How much does this seven year old weigh?

-What kind of bridge do we want to build?

-What math/physics/architecture do we need to know to build our bridge?

-What language do we need to know to google/research information to help us?

-What are good resources where we should start?

-What is our budget?

-How long should our bridge be?

With these questions students can prioritize their next steps and then start building.

Each step and piece of information gives students a new chance to pivot and refine their plan.

When students begin building, their questions might change to:

-Why isn’t this working?

-Will it work if we do this?

-Why does it work when we do this?

-How do we figure out what isn’t working?

In the age of information, with every known fact available at our fingertips, the most valuable and distinct habit of successful students will likely be a persistent quest for the right questions, direct questions. Questions help us to structure and refine our process, distill information, pinpoint problems, and communicate effectively. Progressive questioning makes learning active and creative. The students who are continually questioning each detail absorb the most, learn the fastest, and contribute the most.

Students can defend their process by explaining the questions in their process and the information they gathered. Against teacher and peer examination, students can defend the decisions they made each step of the way.

One important component of this process is failure.  Discuss it explicitly with students, because in a freeform project, students will likely deal with some failure at some point in their process.  What did they learn from this?  What can they do differently or better next time?  If they’re motivated, students generally learn much more from failure than from success.

Weigh out mastery, momentum, and student investment. 

One thing I really love about Khan Academy is the idea that the time a student takes to learn something is not fixed. Khan asserts that time, and not mastery, should be the variable.  In other words, if it takes you a long time to learn something, that’s ok; but in the age of online learning, every student should be given the time to master every concept.

That said, sometimes asking a student to work on a skill for a few more days, hours, or even minutes, can seem like a punishment.

I think this is part of the reason so many people dislike math- it’s force fed to students over and over even when they are bored and exhausted.

When it’s time to test a student’s project or knowledge and they just aren’t there yet, you can take inventory of their investment in the material. If they’re passionate or hanging on, you can give them some more time.

If students have that dread, when they’ve lost investment, you can give them a chance to try something different and come back to the material. This is NOT a cop out; students still master the concepts and content. But this way they have a little more wiggle room to think about and chew on the material.

This also gives teachers chance to step back and research ways to address the content.  Students and teachers can come back and creatively approach what they’re learning from a different angle.

You can maintain high expectations and let students bring back some new energy to the challenge.

That’s a wrap for my ideas on giving students power and autonomy in the classroom. I hope you were able to glean something useful from this! Thanks for reading.

Giving Learners the Right Amount of Power and Autonomy; the beginning

A student in my introduction to World History class, circa 2013.

I recently had a conversation about manipulating versus enabling people and I realized that I have a lot of opinions on the topic.  I’m itching to share my ideas and I hope you can draw something from them.  Here I’m addressing this in the context of education, but many of these ideas relate to other contexts as well.

I firmly, deeply, forever believe that you cannot control people- though bribes, through words, through coercion, through pop-up ads, etc.  You can try to trick people, you can take advantage of people, and you can certainly influence people, but you can’t actually control people.  My worst teaching moments have come when I have forgotten this; it’s easy to forget.

Fortunately, the human brain is naturally inclined to learn and improve itself and because of this, a teacher always has opportunities to guide and enable his or her students.

Enabling a student, by my definition, means giving him or her the right amount of control in the right moment.  Sometimes this means giving a student immense autonomy, sometimes this means doing a little bit of hand-holding, and sometimes this means giving some redirection or constructive criticism. You do your part to give guidance throughout the process, but you also step back and watch success, failure, or some combination of the two unfold.  Then you remember to not take it personally, whatever the outcome.  Ultimately, students control their own learning.

Here I’ll talk about three components that are important to enabling students in the beginning of a learning process.

They are:


-A clear outline of the freedom and structures that they have, and what the boundaries are

-A set of tools to accomplish the given task

Inspiration. At the beginning of a project,  students have a significant amount of power and choices, but they often don’t know where to start or what it could lead to. When you’ve got their full attention, give your students ideas, be they youtube links, stories, guest speakers,  meaningful problems to solve, inspirational movie clips etc.  Articulate exactly what this learning opportunity is worth and what influence they could have with it.  Share your utmost positivity and enthusiasm. This could be incredible.

This is also a great moment to remind students, especially teenagers, that although you’re the teacher, they are ultimately their own teachers, and they are responsible for what they do with their time and what they learn.  They can waste their time or they can work hard and use it to solve problems, gain knowledge, become an expert.  Most importantly, they can use it to enjoy learning, and to help other people learn.

Remind your students that they can accomplish anything, as long as they do the required studying and work. If their goals are worthwhile, they will likely take more time than expected (I am being reminded of that in my own projects right now).

Define their freedom and structure and provide clear boundaries.  People love choices in their learning, but not so much freedom that they don’t know how to figure out what to do.   Give your students enough structure, feedback, and check-in points  so that they can figure out their next steps and ask questions to get unstuck. This is very nuanced and I could write a novel about  how to pick up on what sort of structure students want and need, but generally, give students enough freedom to choose a project they love and just enough structure so that they can figure out what to do.  You don’t always have to give them a clear idea of what is expected of them (because that steals their creative juices), although sometimes it’s helpful.  Again, go by what you are seeing your students doing and needing.

So for example, you could tell your class, “Make a project that shows the math we’ve learned this unit.” And then show them architecture, actuary, and engineering projects that require those skills. Then outline your expectations, maybe an illustrated diagram and presentation of the steps you used to solve this problem, and a short essay on the value that your solution adds. Or you could say,  “Your project is to create an ethical business plan for this company that could make you money.” Then offer your rubric with the five categories of what you’re expecting, check-in dates, and the due date.

Give your students the freedom to choose to learn what they want to and enough structure so that they can figure out what to do.

Next they might come to you with a question– Is this project idea a good one? or not?  

Can I do my research project on a drug lord? 

Can I eat nine chocolate chip cookies for breakfast? 

Think through what you need to to have a logical reasonable conversation with your students about their choices.  Your discussion should be mostly questions.

For example, if a teenage student asks you to do a research project about a notorious drug lord, ask them questions about why it might or might not be appropriate.  What are the health benefits of doing drugs?  Did this drug lord influence people for good or for bad or both?  In what ways?  How? Why?

Or, ask your sweet-tooth student, what do you think would happen if you eat nine chocolate chip cookies for breakfast?  Good things?  Might you fart more than normal?

For every no you give, guide your students to your thinking with questions.  Know that even after you tell a student he or she cannot do an assignment (maybe about violence or something else that is gruesome/inappropriate), he or she may still do it.

Lastly demonstrate the tools at their disposal and how to use them.  I’ve had the chance to work at both public and private schools and I cannot tell you the difference in terms of the power of educational resources.  Computers, microscopes, books, pet rats (versus unwelcome rodents), hammers, power tools, yoga mats, food, field trips.  I struggle to think how these tools could be equally distributed, but until then, if you’ve got them, USE them.  And if you don’t have them, have your students do as much as they can to get them.  Also YOU do as much as you can to get them, but make it clear to students how much these tools are worth.  These expenses add up, and students of all socioeconomic backgrounds can take classroom resources for granted sometimes.

Give your students the vision, purpose and rules of these learning tools. Resources can be used to accomplish learning, or they can be used to waste time.  Only acquire resources that relate to the specific learning goals of your students because resources you don’t need can actually be a huge distraction.  Eliminate the extra and provide students with clear boundaries and agreements on how to appropriately use what you have. Students can come up with rules to guide this process. See what tweaks need to be made so that students can be successful in using tools productively.  Again, be ready to witness that fun part where I said you can’t control other people– students can be reckless and tools break.

If and when your students seem to need a discussion about social media/texting, have that discussion and guide it with questions.  What is the purpose of our time together? What is the purpose of the technology in our classroom?  How can we stay on topic and accomplish our goals?   Social media is a tough distraction in the classroom and a very real threat to learning.

These three pieces–inspiration, defined freedom and boundaries, and tools– are vital to giving students power in the beginning of a project.

Speaking abstractly, most of the learning process could be considered a beginning in some form.  If you need to step back from what you’re doing to give instruction and re-harness these pieces, do it, even if it’s not technically the beginning of the project.

At Bowman school, we learned one analogy for this is lighting a match.  In the beginning, with the right amount of pressure and control, your students often choose to light this match and start a fire that keeps them learning.

Missed opportunities

There are a million ways to miss the mark on this. Here are a few.

Not giving students inspiration or creative opportunities.  If your expectations are flimsy and one-dimensional, your students’ work will also very likely be flimsy and one-dimensional.  This looks like worksheets, standardized tests, lectures, and bookwork.  Sometimes this looks like students just going through the motions, giving up, or even dropping out.

Not giving students freedom and structure or explanations for your boundaries. If you’re ready to say no to most of your students’ ideas, be ready for your students to say no to learning.  The beginning is not the time for criticism or threats (although there’s never a time for threats).  Find ways to say yes.  When you do have to say no, which happens sometimes, be ready to ask questions and talk about why.  Important sidenote: you don’t have to be a pushover.  If a student chooses to break an agreement that you’ve created, you don’t have to accept their work or give them any attention.  But know that they might choose to do it anyway.

This missed opportunity looks like students who are confused, wasting time, or don’t know what to do.

Going along with this, I sincerely believe that most wasted time and failure in the classroom come from a student’s lack of understanding of how to solve the task at hand.  When students don’t use their time wisely, it’s usually not because they don’t care, it’s because they don’t know how.  Ask questions, provide support, and do what you need to do to help get your students unstuck.

Not providing the right tools at the right moment with the right use. This is the tough part, where students with money find success faster than ones without.  There are creative ways to come up with these resources and sometimes not having certain tools can be a good thing.  More often though, schools without the  books, computers, or items their students need to accomplish their learning goals are at a huge disadvantage.

It’s interesting to note, however, that this failure can also look like schools with millions of dollars of brand new computers.  T.C. Williams, down the street from the high school I taught at, received enormous amounts of funding for personal computers for each student and their test scores fell off a cliff. This pattern, unfortunately is incredibly common–schools with bucketloads of donations end up with bigger problems than the ones they started with.

Why?  Because computers and resources are often supplied without that vision of what they would accomplish or the defined freedom and boundaries that come with a privilege.  Teachers harness that vision and structure in order for resources to be successful.  With the right guidance, resources can give students the power to increase their productivity and learning exponentially.  Conversely, without that guidance, tools can  give students the power to decrease their productivity and learning exponentially.

So, as they say in Spanish, cuidado.

I hope this is helpful to teachers and moms and dads out there. Happy July and happy learning!