Blogging and Publishing in the Classroom

Thanks to everyone who attended my PD session today about blogging in the classroom and as a teacher.  Below is my slideshow.  Please feel free to reach out with any questions!



Slice of Life #15- Rough Drafts


Every year around this time I drown in rough drafts.  My research paper assignment is process-based so it’s pass/fail.  However, much to the chagrin of my 9th graders, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy assignment.  Because my students tend to think that the writing process consists of draft, spellcheck, and turn in the final draft, I force them to slow down and write more.

I ask my students to write an argument essay focused on who or what is to blame for the deaths in Romeo and Juliet.  Instead of a literary focus the students approach it through a science lens.  The students research adolescent brain development and the biochemistry of love and decide if either of those is an excuse for the decision Romeo and Juliet make in the play.  I love the assignment and in the end my students usually do, too.

What I don’t love is reading 74 rough drafts in 3-5 days.  Oh my goodness.  After working through drafting a thesis statement and prewriting (extensively) the students compose their first rough draft.  I then read all of the essays and provide extensive feedback.  I also assess the papers based on a rubric that doesn’t have any scores on it. Once the papers are returned (thank goodness for Google Classroom!) the students revise based on my feedback.  Then they will submit a second draft which will be peer-edited.  They will revise a second time based on that feedback.  Then they will submit a final draft.  It’s a long process but so worth it in the end.  I firmly believe my students learn more from the process than they would just writing and submitting a paper.  As 9th graders they have a lot to learn and this is the best way I’ve found to do that.  Coupled with their daily NYTimes writing and their blogs they write constantly in my room.

But oh my goodness has it been a long few days.  Every moment I’m not doing homework or walking the dogs or teaching I am reading rough drafts.  I have about 25 left and I want to finish by Thursday morning.  So I’m off to read 1-2 more before bed….


Slice of Life #14- This is not a moment, it’s a movement


I am a little obsessed with Hamilton, the Broadway musical.  I listen to the cast recording constantly and when that’s not on I’m listening to the audiobook version of Ron Chernow’s Hamilton (which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical). I saw the show back in January and I have tickets for one more show in June.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation musical.  If you aren’t familiar with it you should check out the recording of the cast performing at The White House today. Jump to the 40-minute mark to watch.

But it’s not just the musical that I love.  Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the musical, is pretty inspiring to this teacher.  See, LMM went to a high school very similar to mine.  (I’m an alum of the school I teach at). Both specialized high schools attract a phenomenal student body which is amazing and terrifying.  As a student, I remember looking around and wondering, “Where on earth do I fit in?  I do not have a 100 average in math.  I love science but I also love reading and writing.” Thankfully, I realized I could (and should) combine my loves.  I’ve also managed to leave math behind (for the most part). And it’s worked out pretty well for me.  I figured out what I was good at and I pursued it.

While watching the 60 Minutes special about Hamilton earlier this year I was struck by something Lin-Manuel Miranda said about his time in high school.  I ended up copying the quote and sharing it online.  And lucky for me, one of my colleagues surprised me by blowing it up so that I could hang the poster in my classroom.  Miranda’s quote is one that I think all of my students need to hear on a regular basis:



Lin-Manuel Miranda: You know, I went to a school where everyone was smarter than me. And I’m not blowin’ smoke, I, my, I was surrounded by genius, genius kids. What’s interesting about growing up in a culture like that is you go, “All right, I gotta figure out what my thing is. Because I’m not smarter than these kids. I’m not funnier than half of them, so I better figure out what it is I wanna do and work really hard at that.” And because intellectually I’m treading water to, to be here….I picked a lane and I started running ahead of everybody else. So I, that’s the honest answer. It was like, I was like, “All right THIS.”

So simple, yet so important.  We can’t be everything to everyone.  We don’t need to be everything to everyone.  Sometimes we suck at things.  Sometimes we are amazing and blow everyone else away (shout-out to Philip Hamilton there!). But most of the time we are all average.  Except for that one special trait. That one special thing we love.  That’s what makes us who we are and that’s what we should pursue.

Today I’m a high school English teacher pursuing a graduate degree in biology/wildlife conservation.  I also write.  And blog. And use a lot of social media.  And take my therapy dogs on visits. And help teach therapy dog training classes.  Those are the things I love, the things that make me who I am, the things that are in my lane.

I want my students to realize they have a lane, too.  And that pursuing whatever is in that lane is more important than building a resume just for the sake of a resume.  Because colleges see right through that stuff and you have your whole life to do what everyone expects you to do.  Take the time now to figure out what you love, what you enjoy, and what makes you happy.  Then do those things.  Do them for yourself and then find a way to do them for other people.

A coalition of colleges and universities recently released “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions”.  This document lays out a plan to change the way college admissions are handled in the next two years.  Instead of encouraging applicants to fill up their resumes with mindless activities that are only meant to help them stand out in the applicant pool, colleges are hoping to encourage students to become involved in more activities for the common good.  Service for service’s sake.  Community service that helps others rather than builds up your resume.

One of the best ways we can help with this endeavor, as teachers, is to share success stories with students.  Share Lin-Manuel Miranda’s words of wisdom and his story with students.  Tell them about people like Jane Goodall and Malala Yousafzai. Help them find their lane and be happy in it!

I’m thrilled to see colleges moving away from the rat race that is current admissions policies and towards something that will encourage more students to be involved with their communities while also finding their own areas of expertise.  In the words of Alexander Hamilton/Lin-Manuel Miranda, “This is not a moment, it’s a movement”.  And we are in the driver’s seat.


Slice of Life #11


Tonight was  Coffeehouse and Teacher’s Pet at High Tech, two of my favorite events of the year.  Coffeehouse is an opportunity for students to share their fine arts talents with the school community and it never disappoints.  Tonight’s performances included dance, jazz, pop, rock, and much more.  Even a Weird Al performance got everyone laughing!  I’m always amazing by the talent at HTHS and tonight was no exception.  Kudos to all of the current students (and alum!) who performed tonight.

My second favorite part of the night is Teacher’s Pet.  I still remember the first Teacher’s Pet competition during my days as a student at HTHS! Inspired by The Newlywed Game, Teacher’s Pet matches students and teachers in a great game that always leaves everyone laughing.  This year I competed with Emma, our school president and my mini-me.  We have so much in common that we didn’t even practice!

It worked out.  Because we are the Teacher’s Pet champs this year!

I’d like to thank Kenny Chesney, Dublin (Ireland), BASH, books, and sunny-side up eggs for helping us win.  😉

Slice of Life #10


Did you know that if Fedex loses your package they don’t take any responsibility for it?

I did not know this until today.

On Tuesday I checked the tracking for an order that had recently shipped.  I ordered a new bed cover for the dogs from MollyMutt (an awesome company) and thought it was due to be delivered.  When I pulled up the tracking information on Fedex’s website I was happy to see that the order had been delivered earlier that day.

It all seemed too easy, so I should have been suspicious.

When I got home the package was nowhere to be found.  Ok, I thought.  Maybe the cleaning company brought it inside.  But I couldn’t find it anywhere inside the house, either.

No big deal, I thought.  A quick call to Fedex should take of this.  So I called and spoke to a lovely woman who set up a trace and told me that most likely the driver had misdelivered the package. This was not unheard of so the next morning he would go back to the home and retrieve the package.  I was annoyed that I had to wait another day to get my package but I was happy with the way Fedex was willing to help me.

It all seemed too easy, so I should have been suspicious.

When I got home from work the next day there was no package.  I checked my phone and there was no call from Fedex either.  After walking the dogs I called Fedex again and was told that the company was a experiencing a system failure but I could expect an update on the situation within 24 hours.

When I got home today there was still no package.  Now I was annoyed.  The bed I bought was on sale so I wanted to make a claim with the shipper before it sold out.  I placed another call to Fedex and after speaking to an operator and being put on hold I was disconnected.  I attempted to call back and the situation repeated.  And it happened a third time.  Really?!

Fourth time is the charm, I guess.  Someone finally called me back and I was excited to get some resolution to the problem.  Maybe the driver had found the package and would be delivering tomorrow.

Yeah, not exactly what happened.

What did happen was a Fedex representative told me that the driver said he delivered it so there was nothing they could do.  I must have lost it or someone in my home must have stolen it.  Yes, they accused me of lying.  Really, Fedex? When I explained that someone was home when the package was supposedly scanned and delivered the representative said there was nothing to be done.  She was closing the issue and Fedex was not responsible for the lost package.  “Our driver delivered it,” she said.  “What happened after that is your responsibility”.

I wanted to punch someone.  So for the record, Fedex doesn’t take responsibility for the actions of their drivers.  They stand by them and don’t require them to retrieve packages when they make a mistake.

Thankfully, my experience with MollyMutt was much better.  The customer service representative who answered the phone was duly horrified by Fedex’s callous attitude and immediately set to work getting my order shipped out again.

While getting that setup he noticed my address and said, “Freehold?  As in Bruce?”

When I said yes, that Freehold, he was very excited.  “I’m seeing Bruce this Saturday!” he exclaimed.

We chatted about Bruce Springsteen for a few minutes and when the conversation trailed off he told me my order was shipping out that hour.  Yes, my new order is already on its way!  And they are filing a claim with Fedex.

I loathe poor customer service and I love great customer service.  A nice customer service representative can save the day!


Slice of Life #9- Sounds

Who-ho-o-o, whoo-hoo-o-o, whoo!

Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep!

Quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack quack!

The forest is a cacophony of sound.

Today it was over seventy degrees and the amphibians woke up from hibernation.  I drove to Assunpink Wildlife Management Area today and when I got out of my car the noise was deafening. As I moved closer to the marsh and vernal pools the sound got louder and louder.  If I had been able to go deeper into the marsh I would have needed earplugs!

The sound linked above is a brief recording of the spring peepers and wood frogs advertising their mating calls while I was at Assunpink today.  I can still hear spring peepers outside my house at 11pm at night which means it is officially spring (no matter what the calendar says).

My morning started with noise, too.  When we left the house a little after 5am and well before dawn I heard the great horned owl hooting.  Only this time it was clear that Chris and I were listening to a duet!  Most likely a male and a female they duetted for the entirety of our morning dog walk.

Then about 12 hours later they started up again.  I crossed the street and decided to try to find the general area where the owls were hanging out.  Once I got into the woods I realized I was listening to at least 3 owls!  The male and female pair were making it clear that they were defending their territory while the third owl, much further away, hooted to or at them.

I didn’t find the owls, though I did narrow down the area where they are living/nesting.  I didn’t want to stress them as it’s breeding season so I’ll keep an eye out but I won’t go any deeper into the woods to find them.  Instead, I’ll hope that one of them decides to visit my backyard again.

Now it’s 11:30pm and the cacophony has finally quieted down.  But I know that the spring peepers are just getting started….For the next two weeks you won’t be able to hear yourself think outside my front door because the peepers will be desperately trying to attract a mate.  And you know what?  I’m ok with that!

Slice of Life #8


Today it was 65 degrees.  Today the sun was shining and the sky was blue.  Today was the perfect day for a long hike.

After school I changed into hiking clothes (my spring hiking clothes!  Not flannel-lined pants!) and packed up the dogs.  The days are getting longer so I decided to try to get a few miles in at Thompson Park.  Because I wanted to avoid the crowded side of the park I ended up driving around a bit in an effort to find a parking lot that didn’t bring us into the middle of the main, paved trail.  Because my dog hikes are also birdwatching hikes I prefer to stay on the unpaved trails and in the woods.

Eventually I found a parking lot that was across the street from the county park.  This lot did not have a gate so I didn’t have to worry about the possibility of getting locked in the park.  By 4pm we were on the trail, feet squishing into the mud.

We walked up and down the hills of the park for about 90 minutes and 3 miles.  I spotted common mergansers, savannah sparrows (lifer!), mute swans, bluebirds, red-winged black birds, robins, a red-tailed hawk, and some deer.  We didn’t leave until 5:50pm and I didn’t need a jacket or a hat.  I love spring!  Now I just need the spring bird migration to start….

Slice of Life #6


After I got home from tutoring this morning I made my way to the window on the far side of the house  Outside that window I can see my bird feeders (all eight of them).  Saturday and Sunday are my Project Feederwatch days so I make sure to spend a few minutes each day observing the feeders and writing down the species I see. I always keep my camera nearby so that I can photograph any new or exciting species that visit the yard.

As I settled in to spend a few minutes relaxing and watching my feeders something caught my eye.  Under the feeders, mixed in with a flock of blackbirds (grackles, starlings, and red-winged blackbirds), I caught sight of something different.  Something the color of a burnt orange crayon and about the size of a female cardinal. It hopped around, in between the blackbirds, and I suddenly realized what it was.

I turned to grab my camera and it wasn’t there!  Ahh!  That’s right, I had taken it on the field excursion yesterday.  It must still be in my field bag!

I flew out of the room, rushing past Chris.  “New bird!  Need the camera!” I explained. He didn’t even blink.  He’s pretty used to my bird antics at this point.

I grabbed the camera and rushed back to the room.  No!  The bird was gone!  I scanned the tree line and tried to see into the bushes.  Nothing.  Arg!

I was pretty sure I knew what I had seen but without a photo to get a closer look I felt guilty  counting it and adding it to my Project Feederwatch data. With a sigh, I packed up  the camera and headed out to run errands with Chris.

We returned about an hour later and I figured I’d give it one more go.  Not expecting to see the bird again, I sat down and started to count the juncos flitting about the feeders.

Then I saw it.  Red.  Orange.  Grey.  It was back!  I grabbed my camera and began clicking away through the window.  The bird hopped around, cracking sunflower seeds and safflower seeds, ignoring the other birds doing the same.  After taking a lot of pictures I grabbed my phone and opened up the Merlin app.  After inputting the size, color, and location of the bird I was vindicated.  My rare sighting was confirmed!

Meet the fox sparrow.  A first of the year, a first in the yard, and a lifer for me!

Slice of Life #4

27°. Not exactly what most people think of as “a beautiful day”. But it was perfect today.

My colleague and I teach a middle school enrichment class each spring that focuses on patterns in nature. Each week a different guest teacher comes to share their knowledge (and some fun activities) with the students.

The last class is always on a weekend and it’s a field study. We meet around 9am and spend the next three hours traipsing through the forest and fields with students. Today was no different. It was 27°, snow was on the ground, and the sun was shining. We had a beautiful day!

Slice of Life #3


Happy World Wildlife Day! The UN’s World Wildlife Day aims to “celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants.”  As a grad student studying biology whose campus includes the Wildlife Conservation Society’s NYC zoos and aquarium I was very excited to learn about this day!

As the weird English teacher who is always spreading the word about cool science stuff I decided to celebrate World Wildlife Day by sharing book titles in the eco-lit genre, books that will help inspire conservation ideas.  The theme of the day is “The future of wildlife is in your hands” and eco-lit can help ensure that the future of wildlife is in the hands of capable individuals.

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