Slice of Life #31- A Reflection on Reflections

One of my favorite parts of the Classroom Slice of Life Challenge is reading the reflections my students inevitably post on the final day.  There are unprompted and it seems like one student starts by posting their thoughts and others are inspired to do the same.

I know how important the Slice of Life Challenge is but my students don’t always see the value.  When I first introduce the challenge in February there are always groans, moans, and threats of tears.  “I can’t write a post every day!  I don’t have time!  I’m a terrible writer!  No one wants to read what I write!” are just some of the responses thrown my way.  But we talk about idea clouds (our version of heart maps) and making time for writing.  I tell them that they get better at sports and music by practicing to writing is not different.

And then we begin.  All of my students are challenged to complete 31 blog posts but they are only required to complete 10 entries (a big change from the every-other-week posts required during the rest of the year.  (I do offer extra credit to students who complete more than 25 posts, though).  The posts start out slow.  There are lots of posts about “slicer’s block” and about the difficulty of blogging on a regular basis.  But then they settle into a rhythm.  Soon the blogrolls are full of posts about the intricacies of high school life, favorite meals, memories, and the power of procrastination.  And because each student is required to leave 40 comments on their peers’ blogs over the course of the month they build community.

Tonight the reflections started.  I get teary-eyed reading them because they get it.  They really get it.  Every student takes away a different lesson, but they all take away something.  Some students have honed their time management skills.  Some students have learned how to let go and just write, leaving their perfectionist tendencies behind.  Some students have built an audience on public blogs, learning how to write for an audience other than me.  And the lessons go on and on.

Some of the lessons my students are reflecting on…..

Over the past 31 days, I have written 31 blogs, about 21,000 words, and at least 94,500 letters on Edublogs. I would give myself a pat on the back, because I contend that this was more than I have written in all of 8th grade.

Throughout this entire month — with all its highs and lows — I was able to get an unprecedented glimpse inside the fascinating (and occasionally, surprising) thoughts of my classmates, learn about new and interesting topics, and, most importantly, improve my writing.

Most importantly, SOL enabled me to explore my thoughts about the world and my experiences in a single verse. Through quiet introspection, I was able to look at details in my life with a sharper eye.

This has been great, really. Thank you, Mrs. Gross.

So, it has been quite a journey! If you asked me yesterday, I would have probably said that Slice of Life is the biggest waste of time ever. Yet, looking back now, I think I might miss posting daily. I do not know why, but Slice of Life has almost served as a daily break. No matter how much work we had, I knew that I had to make Slice of Life a priority. It served as a relaxing, daily break from the rigor of the past month.

Yet on the other side, I learned how to appreciate my everyday life. I learned that every day, something exciting or uncommon does happen. The tough part is finding this and writing it all down.

This is the beauty of blogging, especially blogging everyday. It documents your life. And everything you want to remember when you are old. It doesn’t have to be all wonderful and perfect. Life is bittersweet. And that is what makes it so unforgettable. So starting in April, it is once again dependent on our brains to remember the moments in life.

Thank you, students, for your willingness to try the crazy experiments I come up with, for your devotion to your school work.  Thank you for reflecting on your experiences and sharing those reflections.  Thank you for opening up your life to me and your classmates, letting us get a glimpse of what your daily life is like.

If you have not tried Slice of Life with your students I hope you do next year.  It’s one of the best parts of my year!


Slice of Life #30- Rough Drafts

77 rough drafts

3 pages

4 pages

1 pages

5 pages

0 pages

77 rough drafts

Romeo and Juliet

Who is to blame?

Romeo or Juliet?

Maybe the nurse?  Or the Friar?

Perhaps it’s the fault of the parents.

What is to blame?

Do the teen’s have no choice due to their immature brains?

Or maybe love has taken control of them. They can’t think straight, they can’t see straight.

77 rough drafts.  Endless comments.  Feedback upon feedback.

Blending science and literature for the man who invented adolescence.

77 rough drafts

All worth it in the end.

*And now I must crawl back into the rough draft cave and continue leaving feedback.  Thank goodness for Googledocs!

Slice of Life #29- Grooming Time!

This is Dublin’s “Please don’t do it!” face.  This weekend both Aussies were groomed and it’s always an experience! They both hate it but react in different ways.

Yesterday Bailey was groomed at my friend’s shop.  I had the pleasure of giving her a bath at home a few days earlier so she only needed to be clipped and trimmed.  However, despite our best efforts and a lot of training Bailey wants to KILL THE BLOWDRYER.  Like, for real.  So it’s always an ordeal when we try to get some of her excessive hair off before it mats.  But she survived and so did I, thanks to our awesome groomer.

Today it was Dublin’s turn.  Now Dublin loves the grooming room at the shop because he goes to daycare and likes to “work” when other dogs are getting groomed.  He was thrilled to walk into the shop today and even more thrilled to go into the grooming room.  Then I picked him up and put him in the tub.  All bets are off then!  He starts shaking and crying, shaking his wet body and spraying water all over the room and me.  By the end of the bath he is wet and I am soaked.  Then we have to blowdry him (which he tolerates much better than Bailey) which results in hair everywhere.  Of course I am soaking wet so the hair clings to me like a magnet.  I look like some crazy human lint brush by the end.

But after an hour of grooming yesterday and two hours of grooming today both dogs are cleaned up and presentable.  Thank goodness!  Now we don’t need to go through that again until at least June!

Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

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Slice of Life #28- Bookstore Ban?

Normal people can’t spent more than a minute in the bookstore without buying an armful of books, right?


Today I popped into Barnes and Noble, our only local bookstore, just to see if they had a book I had read about recently.  I came home with this:


Not exactly “just one book”.  But this is what happens when you are a member of the #nerdybookclub.  Every one of these books was recommended to me by another reader, so how could I turn them down?

STEM to Story: Enthralling and Effective Lesson Plans for Grades 5-8– The awesome Paul Hankins posted about this one the other day.  This is research for a project and for my middle school enrichment class and I’m excited to read it.  I wouldn’t have known about it without Paul’s recommendation, so it’s his fault I bought it today!

Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book– So many people have recommended this one that I had to get it.  It is an adult coloring book.  Yup.  I can’t wait to dig in!

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl– I used to have a copy of this in my classroom library but it’s gone missing.  With a movie coming out soon I knew I had to replace it.  This one was recommended by all my #nerdybookclub friends when it first came out and it was a Cybils winner so it’s always popular with my students.

Orphan Train– This one was actually recommended by the woman who was standing across from me at the bookstore.  She saw me pick it up and immediately blurted out, “That is the best book.  Seriously.  I didn’t want it to end.  In fact, I might just buy another copy so I can read it again.”  I laughed and told her she had convinced me.  There’s no better way to convince me to read a book than by telling me that you are rereading it!

Bone Gap– This is a book that has been all over my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds.  I knew I had to read it so consider it done, friends!

What are you reading this weekend?  I have to finish I.W. Gregorio’s awesome upcoming debut None of the Above before I can start any of my new books, but I plan to do a bit of coloring tomorrow!

Slice of Life #27- The Countdown is On….

Spring break is only a few days away.  It feels like winter break was ages ago, so spring break is much-needed at this point.  Since winter break we have had midterms, PARCC testing, and lots and lots of meetings.  I’m planning to spend this weekend reading 76 rough drafts and providing feedback via Googledocs, so needless to say  I am daydreaming about spring break.

I can’t wait to read books.  Lots and lots of books.  That’s my first plan for spring break.  I am looking at my packed bookshelves and creating lists of all the books I want to read during the week.

I can’t wait to sleep past 5:45am.  Do I need to explain that one?

I can’t wait to take the dogs hiking.  Right now our hikes are limited by my working hours and the time the sun sets.  But during spring break we can take longer walks and hikes.  Hopefully the weather cooperates, too!

I can’t wait to binge watch a bunch of TV. I don’t even care what it is.  I just want to spend a few hours vegging on the couch without something hanging over my head.

I can’t wait to write.  Again, do I need to say more?

I can’t wait to sit outside and read.  And watch my birds.  (Again, I am thinking positively about the weather).

I just can’t wait!

Four more school days.  That’s all that stands between me and spring break!

Slice of Life #26- Notebookitis

I have a terrible disease.  If you are a teacher you probably have it, too.  I like to call this debilitating disease “notebookitis”.

Notebookitis means that I have an unhealthy obsession with notebooks.  I always find myself drawn to the stationary aisle in every store, where I can spend hours perusing notebooks.  I love to inspect the paper, feel the covers, and compare one notebook to another.

This week Chris got his Loot Crate (a monthly subscription box full of geeky stuff) and it included special edition Field Notes Brand notebooks.  Two of them!



I’m in love.

I also a similar illness that results in me buying pens all the time and then feeling very protective over said pens.  I know I am an adult but I don’t like sharing my pens!  People inevitably walk away with the pen they borrowed because they think it isn’t important.  But as a pen-lover, this makes me sad.

I’m pretty sure this is a common disease that runs rampant among teachers.  Do you also have a stationary-related illness?

Slice of Life #25- Big (Great!) News!

I’ve wanted to go back to school forever.  I started to seriously research programs about a year ago.  I struggled to find the perfect program because I have such diverse interests.  All of the MFA programs for children’s and YA lit piqued my interest but I eventually found my way back to my other passion- science.

I am thrilled to say that in May I will begin working towards my masters in biology as part of the 2015 cohort of the Project Dragonfly Advanced Inquiry Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bronx, NY.  The program allows students to receive a “graduate degree co-delivered by some of the nation’s premiere community and learning institutions. AIP students take courses at an AIP Master Institution while sharing ideas and developing projects with fellow students and faculty nationwide via web-based learning communities.” How awesome is that?! 

This is such an exciting opportunity and I am over the moon that I was accepted!  I’ve been passionate about science since I attended a STEM high school and choosing between English and science was a hard decision.  I don’t plan to stop teaching English but I hope that this program will support some of the work I do in and out of the classroom.  And I am a huge proponent of the crossover between English and science so now I can be living proof of it!



(And who knows…..the MFA might be something I pursue later!)

Slice of Life #24- The Day the Internet Went Out

I was just finishing up lunch duty when I tried to send an email.  Hmm, that’s weird.  The error message that popped on the screen told me there was no wireless connection, despite the symbol in the top right corner of my computer telling me otherwise.  I tried to refresh and had no luck but didn’t think much of it.  I teach at High Tech.  The internet doesn’t “break”, so I figured the wireless signal was just weak.  I packed up at the end of the period and headed to the faculty room for lunch.

When I entered the room it was abuzz with folks talking.  “The internet is down!” was repeated over and over.  Ok, annoying for sure, but I assumed it would be fixed in a few minutes.  I had a long to-do list to accomplish but wanted to heat up my lunch first.  I figured that by the time I was finished eating a quick lunch someone would restart the server (or whatever needed to be done)

Yeah, that turned out to be false.

Ten minutes passed.

Twenty minutes.

Forty minutes.

An hour passed.

Every so often I tried to refresh the page and received the same error telling me there was no connection. I began to panic as 5th period approached.  My seniors were due to present their satire sketches and their scripts were on Googledocs.  My rubric was on Googledocs.  My attendance was on Googledocs!  (Thankfully I do have a paper copy of the attendance). The internet had to be fixed by the time those seniors came to class, I thought.

Yeah, that turned out to be false.

Needless to say, it was an interesting English class.  I used my phone to access the rubric.  The students tried to read the scripts from their phones.  The groups that had printed out their scripts in advance felt vindicated, as they did not have squint at their phones in order to present.

We made it through class but it was not easy!  There’s not a lot you can do at High Tech without internet!  We read, we talked, and we presented.  I couldn’t do my grading, input grades, or even post my homework.  When the final bell rang I think we were all relieved!

Slice of Life #23- #WeNeedDiverseBooks Local Book Drive!

Over the next few weeks my National Honor Society students will be running a book drive for Bridge of Books [501(c)3], which is a local grassroots organization whose mission “is to provide an ongoing source of books to underprivileged and at-risk children throughout New Jersey in order to support literacy skills and to encourage a love of reading.” Our focus will be on collecting new and like-new YA books that feature diverse characters because‪ #‎WeNeedDiverseBooks‬ and the teen population is historically under-served in most of the organization’s book drives.

Bridge of Books is a fantastic organization that serves children and schools all over New Jersey.  They stock classroom libraries, which is a cause near and dear to my heart.  They also distribute books through more than 100 agencies across NJ, through the NJ Youth Corp, directly to children through schools and community outreach events, and to adult correctional facilities (to support parent/child reading programs for incarcerated parents). The organization works in cities and rural areas, even providing book delivery in most cases, with the goal of ensuring that every child owns and has access to books of their own.

Interested in contributing but not able to get to HTHS? We have a public wish list on Amazon and books can be shipped right to the school. (I know, I know…Amazon. But we don’t have a local indie and I’m hoping to save people shipping fees because it’s for charity!)