Mrs. Daubert ELA

Instructional Media Weblog

Author: rebekahdaubert

Genius Hour and Student Choice: Your classroom WON’T end up like Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games. Really. I Promise.

If your teacher education practicum courses were anything like the ones I endured in college, the professors filled your head full of every terrible scenario possible that could happen if you lost your grip on your class. Combine that with our inherent, “I’m the adult; you’re the child; Everything is ‘because I said so,'” set of norms to which we subscribe and it’s easy to see why handing the reigns over to a class full of 13-year-olds is absolutely terrifying.

Trust me. I know. Even though I’ve been doing Genius Hour projects several years, that initial step that it takes to let the kids run things while I step back still causes heart palpitations.

If you aren’t completely familiar with Genius Hour, learn more, directly from their website or follow Genius Hour on Twitter.

The basics boil down to this: when students are given a specified time to pursue their interests, they become more engaged learners with a desire to own a stake in their education.

And that’s exactly what I’ve found with Genius Hour in my classroom.

But I can’t exist in a vacuum.

So my focus this week is removing some of the fear out of risk taking as an educator in the hopes that I can get more of my fellow teachers to take the dive into the deep end of the pool that is student-centered learning.

I was incredibly lucky to join forces with Zach Musser, teacher leader and technology integration coach at Lebanon School District. Watch us as we put our heads together and discuss how to get more teachers to integrate student choice in their classrooms:

Before I even thought about having this conversation with Zach, I collected resources to better wrap my mind around Genius Hour itself, how I could do it better, why incorporating student choice is such good practice and how I could encourage colleagues to try it. I discussed in an earlier post that, given my proclivity to distraction by shiny objects and adorable woodland creatures, I felt Feedly was the safest curation tool for me. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback to the free version of Feedly is that it has no share feature.

In my best attempt to share my curated resources with all of you, I decided to do the next best thing–a narrated screencast of my feeds and boards on Feedly:

So that brings me to putting it all together. In the following AdobeSpark video, I take a look at Genius Hour, where it came from, how to do it, who’s doing it, why some people DON’T want to do it, and why ultimately, I think the benefits justify the risk:

A lot of us talk a good game about how we want students to take risks and own their learning, but how can we expect them to do that when we don’t do it first? Maybe you’re not ready for Genius Hour, but think–really think–about how you can incorporate student choice into your classroom this school year.

Friends, this has been a blast blogging for EDIM 516, but all good things must come to an end. Finish your summer strong. Take care of yourself. Do. Good. Work.


Mrs. Daubert

Gaming in Class != Fluff

(If you can read this title, thank a forward thinking teacher)

Photo Credit:

Sitting with a team of my co-workers during our common team time:

“WHY are the kids just playing around on Minecraft during computer class?! There are so many other things they should be doing!” My teammate loudly complains (I only recount this story because this particular teammate now lives and works in a different state).

“When it’s done right, Minecraft EDU teaches kids collaborative skills, critical thinking, and digital citizenship” I remind her.

“Who cares? They don’t need games. They don’t need coding! They need to be learning things that are actually useful–how to set up a spreadsheet, format a formal paper, type on the home row!!”

IN WHAT UNIVERSE ARE ANY OF THESE THINGS A VALUABLE USE OF TIME AND RESOURCES?! That’s what I want yell. But I don’t. In over a decade of teaching, I’ve learned when a fight isn’t worth starting. Sometimes you’re not going to win and you’re not going to change someone’s mind.

But let’s think about this: what did you do the last time you had to format a document or create a spreadsheet, follow APA format, embed a picture or a link or a video? If you didn’t already know how to do it, I bet you either googled it or looked it up on YouTube. Right?! Why then, should a computer teacher spend class time teaching something any able-bodied person can figure out on his own? Exactly. That would be madness.

My former teammate is not alone in her view of gaming in class. All you need to do is walk into any teachers’ lounge and listen. You’ll hear very nearly that exact conversation. (Reason number 587 to avoid the teachers’ lounge–it’s the place where good attitudes go to die).  Sometime between years 5 and 10 of teaching we hit our stride as educators. We’ve figured out some things that work. We’re confident in our content. And that’s great. But it’s also a very dangerous time. It’s so tempting to close ourselves off from new ideas; we’re comfortable and we’ve been doing this longer than a lot of new teachers manage to hang in there these days–how dare anyone suggest we change what we know is best!

We all have that handful of moments that defined us as educators and what I’m about to share was one of those moments. I was trying Genius Hour with my classes for the very first time–my English classes are leveled (don’t get me started–that’s another post for another time) and I was launching the projects across the board from the lowest to the highest. I had just finished a particularly exciting brainstorming and planning session with my class that contained most of my GIEPs. They were politely filing out of the room after class, as those kiddos often do and a boy stopped to talk to me. He was a bright young man, kind and helpful, a real people pleaser–one of those kids who masters “the game of school” early in elementary school.

“Mrs. Daubert,” he said in a way that made me think he thought I might be a little simple in the head, “This is very nice of you and all and it seems like it’s going to be lots of fun. But it’s not your job to entertain us, you know!”

It was a moment of extreme clarity that hit me so hard, I felt a knot form in my stomach. How many teachers over how many years had said that to him how many millions of times–so many times that the words parroted themselves right out of his own mouth?

It’s not my job to entertain you.

I didn’t know what to say. I wished him a good day and went about my business. Later when I bumped into my building principal, she asked how the projects were going and I told her about what the young man had said. She immediately had words where I’d had none: “But yeah, it kind of is, isn’t it? If we’re not entertaining them at least a little, what in the world are we doing?!”

That boy’s words and my principal’s response have stayed with me closely ever since.

But Video Games, Mrs. Daubert? Why are you talking about those things I benevolently, if not VERY occasionally, allow students to play when they’re finished with ALL of their regular classwork?!

Ever watch a group of kids play an 8-player round of Halo (or another similar multiplayer strategy game)? If you haven’t, I HIGHLY recommend it. If you have, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is some of the most focused, creative, true collaboration I’ve ever seen. Why wouldn’t we want to harness that in a classroom?

Two years ago, the year after my first experiences with Genius Hour and with a whole year of blended learning under my belt, I felt confident enough to try gaming as part of my regular instruction. Before I did, though, I turned to a local expert, Mr. Daniel Figueroa, civics and government teacher at Lebanon High School, Lebanon, PA (follow him on Twitter).

Um, excuse me, Mrs. Daubert? Isn’t he your childhood friend?

Yes. Our mothers are friends, we grew up a half a block away from each other and he had a TOTALLY BOSS treehouse in his yard. Sorry that I’m NOT SORRY.

None of this changes the fact that he uses Minecraft EDU  in his civics classes like a beast.

Fully understanding that not everyone grew up with a classroom gaming expert practically in their backyard, Dan also suggested the work of Mr. Glen Irvin, Spanish teacher in Sauk Rapids, MN (follow him on Twitter). Mr. Irvin is a true gaming pro. He created the comprehensive document, Gamification-Game-Based Learning For World Language Teachers Resource Document- Lesson Plans

This document is an incredible, downloadable resource for teachers anywhere who wish to incorporate gaming into their content.

After speaking to Dan, my own school’s computer tech teacher, and some local heroes in my district’s tech department Zach Musser, Ben Brewer, and Shawn Canady, I was ready to pitch a gaming experience to one of my classes.

Important side note: if you want to try something new but are nervous to do it on your own, reach out directly to your school’s tech coaches and tech department. They LOVE helping teachers try new things–and they love teachers like me who have a touch of the crazy. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten jealous comments from colleagues who see how much support I get from my pals in the tech office. Dude, ALL YOU’VE GOT TO DO IS ASK! Helping you with awesome classroom tech in your room, is far preferable to them over processing repairs on student devices and the rest of the hum-drum monotony of the day-to-day in the district tech office. They are probably just waiting for you to ask!!

Anyway, my classes had just finished reading, The Diary of Anne Frank and it was nearly the end of the school year. I was ready to do Genius Hour projects with all of my classes and decided I’d be open to student ideas involving gaming.  As luck would have it, the Genius Hour gods smiled upon me: one of my classes wanted to do a split project–half of the class wanted to build a tabletop model of Auschwitz 1 and the other half wanted to build a virtual model together using Minecraft EDU. Both would create presentations to go along with their models.

Fortunately, my classroom is located next door to my school’s one and only “spare” computer lab. Still, I can’t split myself in half so I reached out to my friends in the tech department–they were more than happy to take turns team teaching with me to keep both room adequately manned by a responsible adult (I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect they may even have fought over whose turn it was–room 307 is typically a super fun crew to hang with). As adults switched between rooms so that I could monitor the progress of both, I noticed some truly incredible developments.

Initially, old lady that I am, printed the entire class a detailed paper layout of Auschwitz 1. As I check in with the Minecraft group, I stand back and watch the project unfold.

One student calls out to the others from  his computer, “Hey guys! That map Mrs. Daubert gave us? I found a PDF and imported it. Can everyone see it?”

Mice click,  tabs open, and there is a steady chorus of “Got it!” “Yup” “Right here!”

Another student calls out, “Who’s going to build each part?”

Answers follow, “I’ll take the perimeter” “Hector and I will build the barracks together” “I’ll build the guard tower” until all parts of the map are accounted for.

They were doing every lick of this together and totally without help from me or any other adult. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful! Awestruck as I was, I at least had the wherewithal to snap some pictures of the process:

Well, Mrs. Daubert, that’s a lovely story. It’s easy to pilot a new idea with your highest level class, of course!

Except this wasn’t my highest leveled class. On paper, it was my lowest. They were collaborating in an authentic way I’d never seen from any other class in all my years in education–regardless of the level assigned to them in their course enrollment (which if you haven’t already guessed, I clearly don’t put much stock in, anyhow).

If that doesn’t make you a true believer in classroom gaming, I don’t know what will.

A taste of success always makes me want to push things farther. Using premade games in the classroom is valuable in its own right, but I wanted my kids to create something others could play to learn. This year, I went way outside my comfort zone and, at the suggestion of one of my in house tech gurus, had my 8th graders remotely collaborate with a class of 1st graders in my district. The 1st graders sent us story ideas and illustrations. Again, with the support of my tech department friends, my 8th graders worked in teams to use the stories to craft interactive, digital choose-your-own-adventure stories we could send back to the 1st graders. The final results were stunning. They are creations that will make both groups of kids proud for years to come. Take a look at the two best products of the bunch:

Fairy Tale Adventure

Burning Alien Cat Princess

 I hate to tell you this, Mrs. Daubert, but these are just Google Slides presentations…


Are they, though? Look closer. They are carefully crafted programs that rely on simple coding and linking pathways in order to create an engaging, interactive learning experience for younger children.

Bet you didn’t know Google Slides could even DO that, huh?

And isn’t that really the spirit of gaming in the classroom? Taking something ordinary, tweaking it and playing around with it until you figure out how to make it do something extraordinary.

We know how important play is for the learning and development of young children. Far too infrequently we fail to recognize how powerful play can be in the learning process of older children and even adults.

Where do you stand? Are you a gamer? A skeptic?

For my part, I believe that playing is good, hard work!


Mrs. Daubert

It’s Okay; Just Take a Deep Breath and Calm the Flip Down.

“Mrs. Daubert, did Daniel Keyes write anything besides Flowers for Algernon?” a student asks me one day while we’re working in a small group.

“I dunno,” I shrug, “Get out your internet machine and check.”

The kids roll their eyes and chuckle–they’ve stopped indignantly telling me, “IT’S AN IPAD, MRS. DAUBERT!” long ago–and the student who initially asked the question quietly takes out his iPad while I keep working with the group. A minute or two later the student politely breaks in, “Yeah, he did! Here’s some of his other stuff…” The group nods and makes a comment or two about how interesting that is and we continue on with the task at hand.

This is something that happens in my room at least once a day. Every time it does, I’m reminded how my role in my classroom has changed. The kids don’t need me to be an information delivery system anymore–if they ever did at all. They carry one of those with them at all times.  My role in their education has become far more personal.

Well, Mrs. Daubert, that’s very nice for you–you’re so comfortable with all of this crazy modern learning stuff, but I just can’t do it…

Before you travel too far down that line, let me tell you about the teacher I was just three short years ago. I had ten years of experience under my belt and I was burnt out. Year ten was filled to the brim with challenging students–I had an entire class that year so rowdy there were days they were unteachable. None of my old standards that had seemed to work passably well were working anymore. I still had great relationships and rapport with the kids–that’s been my strong suit from year one–and sometimes that was the only thing that kept a class from imploding and being sucked into a black hole on any given day. I was ready to quit. I didn’t have a private sector job lined up, but I sure thought I wanted one.

Then they dropped The Big Bomb on us: all of 8th grade would be going 1:1 with iPads and following a blended learning model the next school year. AND the entire 8th grade staff would be required to attend SIX DAYS worth of crash course blended learning professional development starting immediately after the last day of school, while the rest of the staff would only need to attend the usual two days of PD.

I’ve always thought that sounded like a disease, PD.

“Hey Becky, a bunch of us are going out after work. Wanna come?”

“Ugh, I can’t. I have PD.”

“Aw man, that sucks. Feel better!”

Sounds gross, doesn’t it? Anyway, I put on my big girl pants and muscled through those six days. I would love to tell you that by the end of the sixth day I was completely sold on blended learning and well on my way to becoming the energetic, effervescent educator you know and love today. The hard truth? I ugly cried in the car on my way home every day.

So I took a few steps back. Carved out a few weeks over the summer to pretend I was just another worker bee with a whole lot of vacation days to burn. In late July, I reluctantly dragged myself back into school. I knew this thing I had to do was going to require major changes in the way my classroom was set up. I had my doubts; I thought I had tried every possible set up–groups, rows, pairs, a horseshoe, a circle–and nothing had ever quite worked the way I wanted it to. I got my room into something that resembled one of the configurations they showed us in those grueling six days and that’s when it finally happened. I could see it. I could see the way things were going to work. I could see where the independent work would happen, where student groups would collaborate, and where I would lead small groups. I was ready to at least give it a try.

Still I hung on to some of the things that made me feel comfortable–giving notes and mini lectures to small groups in the direct station, worksheets and book work for the other two stations. I was barely putting a toe on the “S” rung of the SAMR. But something had started to happen naturally before I was fully aware of it. By total default and happenstance, the students and I had been thrown into this thing. It was a completely new way of doing things for all of us and we were learning it together. I loved learning along with the kids, investigating, and figuring things out. I let go of always having to have the answer and instead of losing my expert status in the eyes of my class, I was shocked to find that it increased. The kids still needed me but in a different way–a deeper and more challenging way.  My classroom management locked into place in a way it never had before.  I rarely, if ever, had behavior problems in class (and that is still the case three years later). That’s when I knew I was ready to try flipping some of my content.

Just an itty bitty flip

Here is a version of the first lesson I ever flipped. In its original incarnation the kids had a guided reading sheet and an audio recording of my voice. For you, dear readers, I got all fancy, mashed it together in iMovie, processed it, and posted it for your viewing enjoyment on The YouTube:

As you can see, it’s a straight up flip. No frills. Just my voice, a video, and some simple instructions. It’s something I would have done with the entire class before I started blended learning. Now? The kids could do it without me. I had it assigned as group work in the collaborative station so that the kids would receive the content before coming up to work with me in the direct station. And now that I didn’t have to deliver content in the direct station, I was free to have an actual discussion about the meat of the literature. We could sit in our small group and really dive in deep to talk about the writing and make connections. I had never been able to teach on that level before.

If you are completely new to the idea of flipped learning, here is a great video to give you the quick and dirty run-down:

Why I don’t totally flip out

I use flipped lessons when I think they really work and add value for my students, but I never have and don’t think I ever will completely flip my class in the classic sense of the concept. I found two poignant articles that express my concerns with a pure flip–and by that I mean, students consume the content via video/media outside of class and do “homework” during class time. In his post “The Dangers of Letting Kids ‘Go at Their Own Pace,'” Paul Emerich expresses his concern regarding bright students working too quickly–while a fifth grader might be able to click the right buttons to seemingly have mastered an eighth grade concept, he or she doesn’t yet have the maturity to understand its nuances and complexities.

Jerry Brodkey expresses his concern at the other end of the spectrum in his post, “A Math Teacher and Dad Comments on Kahn Academy.”

He explains his daughter’s struggle with flipped content because the material was over her head and she wasn’t getting enough face to face instructor support. I see both authors’ points and while I recognize the value in flipped content, I won’t make it my exclusive mode of instruction.

So does that make me a flip flopper?

No. Since its earliest inception, flipping has taken on a far broader definition than the “purist” flipping 101. In my own context, I find that flipped learning is really about not simply the ability to access learning outside the brick and mortar, but more about the drive and desire to do so. The feature of blended and flipped learning that appeals most to me is that my students and I can still connect and learn even when we’re not together. In 2016, I attended my first ever PETE & C conference. I was so excited about what I was learning that I started using course updates on Schoology (my school’s LMS of choice) like a social media feed so that students could share the experience with me:

This prompted something I hadn’t expected–the kids began bombarding me on Schoology messenger excited to hear what I was bringing back to them. I remember sitting at lunch with two colleagues during the conference. I scrolled through my Schoology messages and smiled.

“What’s so funny?” one of them asked.

“Oh, it’s just the kids. They’re asking what I did in the last session.”

“What?” the other said in disbelief, “My students are glad that I’m gone for the day. How did you get yours to care like that?”

Clearly blended learning works in my classroom–even if I’m not flipping every lesson. Learning, collaborating, and chatting even when we’re not face to face is just a normal part of what we do.

But Mrs. Daubert, I’m worried about losing my personal touch in my classroom if I go too high tech

I’ve found that the more I dive into blended learning and flipped content, the more powerful and personal my voice becomes. I’m about to finish up here with a horrifically embarrassing story about myself. In school year ’16-’17, I suffered a very serious concussion. How did I sustain this injury? Well, you see, I have a thin tack strip above my blackboard at the front of my room. I was brainstorming with a class one crisp fall day and had tacked up several large pieces of chart paper so that we could map out our ideas. I’m not a tall woman by any stretch of the imagination and in order to reach the paper, I was standing on a chair. The kids were cranking out some fabulous ideas and I was very excited–I was turning and writing and turning and talking and gesturing with large sweeping arm motions. Yeah, I lost my balance. Crashed to the floor in epic proportions. Whacked the back of my head on a table on the way down. Swept a massive stack of paper off my desk with one of my legs. Somehow ended laying face up, staring at the florescents with one foot in the recycling bin. I am absolutely not joking when I say that at the hospital, I forgot how to spell my own name. I missed a week and a half of school and was on half days for another week and a half after that. This meant that my last class of the day didn’t see me for THREE WEEKS. And it’s not like they had a long term sub either–this was a day to day thing, so they had a different teacher every day. I peeked at my grade book during the very limited tech time I was permitted as I recovered and saw how badly all their grades had plummeted. They were my tough class that year–the class in which, inevitably, the scheduling gods in their mightiness decided to place all of the behavior issues EVER. But I could work with them. I actually loved them–they had so much personality! And they loved me. I knew their grades were suffering because they missed me (and boy did I miss them too). One day I used my flipping skills to make them a little gift which I posted to their Schoology landing page:

When I checked the grade book again the next day, I saw nearly all of them had turned in their missing work. If that doesn’t speak volumes to how powerful we are in our classrooms, I don’t know what does!

What are your experiences with flipping? Is anyone out there totally flipping out? Or did you get to the end of this post and feel like flipping me off?


Mrs. Daubert

Musings on Classroom Configuration on the Hottest Day of the Week in My Third Floor Classroom Where Maintenance has Turned off the Air Conditioning for the Summer

Alternate Title: Dear Dean Shareski, You’re LUCKY I want an A

Disclaimer: Dean Shareski did NOT require me or any other member of EDIM516 to physically suffer for the sake of this blog post. He did, in fact, advise us against it–I’m just allergic to listening.

It happens every summer; the custodial crew has such a big job to do all over my district. They deserve major props for all the hard work they do in buildings and grounds to get every inch of the district ready for the new school year. However, my first visit to my classroom after The Cleaning is always a bit of a shock. This morning was no different. I approached my doorway and was greeted with familiarity:

These are my #shelfies–pictures of me posing with all the books I read from spring until the last day of school.

Opening the door and stepping inside was quite another story:

Combine this with the fact that the air conditioning was off for the summer? Welcome to the 7th layer of Dante’s Inferno, Ladies and Gentlemen.  I took some time to at least put the furniture back to what I consider home base. I’ve mentioned before, my school follows a blended learning model. I teach five, one-hour long classes each day during which the kids simultaneously cycle through three stations. A station for independent work:

A station for collaborative work:

And a station where small groups receive direct instruction from me:

Notice how I’ve ingeniously kept my 5 and 7 year old busy while I move furniture by dumping out a bucket of pennies and asking them to search for any “special” ones!

Here’s what my classroom looks like during the year when it’s populated:

My classroom also has a very large free reading center in what would have appeared as a large blank space in my initial pictures.

People have said I’m nuts for this, but I usually have my phone out at the direct station where I use it as a timer or if we need a small secondary device for some reason. Inevitably, the students sneak my phone and snap selfies. I don’t particularly encourage them to do it, but I don’t stop them either. And by the end of the day, my camera roll is filled with something to give me a good laugh. As you can see, I actually keep a lot of the pictures. My building principal once said, “Kid pictures are completely different from grown-up pictures.”

The pictures you just saw are my “home base” set up. It’s how my school year always starts and it’s also my default mode for when we’re not doing anything super crazy.

Oh, but, sometimes, darn if I don’t go crazy!

I’m no stranger to flexibility in my set-up. There are times when I play it pretty fast and loose. In my last post, I mentioned my love of Genius Hour and other PBL endeavors. As much as I love my configuration for blended learning, it doesn’t work for some of my more intense creative projects. We move the room around to suit our needs:

For one Genius Hour this year, we turned the front of my classroom into a makeshift kitchen. The kids put together a class cookbook of their families’ favorite recipes, filmed cooking tutorials, and we had a class potluck to close the project.

In another Genius Hour, one of my classes created an Anne Frank themed escape room. For that, we had a few days during which the room needed to be our prop workshop.

The classroom configuration insanity doesn’t stop there. I have several videos posted to my Twitter of other snapshots of my crazy, beautiful, messy, Genius Hour life. In this Tweet, my students are hard at work on their breakout jobs for a larger project. In this Tweet, we are connecting via Skype with a sister class in the Dominican Republic–we’re all up front using the Smart Board as a video screen.

I’ve even dabbled in student-created spaces.

Near the end of the school year, my building got a VERY LARGE book donation from a local charity. The idea was to send the kids home for the summer with some reading material. I knew about all of this, so one day when my principal saw me in the mail room from her desk in her office a good 30 feet away, jumped out of her chair, and darted faster than I’ve EVER seen her move in my general direction, I froze, held my breath and waited.

“We’ve got to get these books out to the kids and FAST. Can you come up with something?” She asked.

“Give me 10 minutes and a quiet place to sit and think. I’ll come up with something,” I answered. I’m probably the reason she has to dye her hair BUT she knows that even if my ideas and projects sound completely insane, not only are they going to work, but the results are typically nothing short of amazing.

“All right. Let me know what you need and when. It’ yours.”

True to my word, ten minutes later, I asked for a vacant conference room and permission to pick a team of ten students. After getting her official administrative blessing, I set to assembling my team. What I’m about to say may seem radical, but trust me, it is the absolute truth. When I need a group of kids to come up with an innovative idea quickly, I don’t look to the straight A kiddos–the well-mannered cherubs who have become experts in the “game of school” (don’t mistake, I love these children, just like I love all the others!). When I need an amazing idea that sparks and pops? I raid the in-school suspension room. (Cue gasps from anyone who fears the unknown.)

Good, God, woman, WHY? Simple. These kids are the disrupters, the authority questioners, the can’t sit stillers, the your-rows-and-your-full-class-lectures-don’t-work-for-me-ers. These are the kids who think differently from everyone else. They are also typically the kids with whom I have the best relationships. Crazy loves crazy. We manage to find each other every year whether I actually teach them in class or not. Here are the specs on the team I assembled for this task: all were in ISS at least once this year, over half were OSS at least once, one was up for expulsion, one was a rowdier member of our self-contained emotional support class, and several failed a grade at some point in their school career.

They all very willingly assembled with me in the empty conference room and listened to the  situation: we had HUNDREDS of books we needed to disseminate to the student body for the summer in such a way that said books would be loved and voluntarily kept and READ–without ending up in the gutter of the very busy street out front at our landlocked, urban school. Then I stepped aside and allowed them to puzzle it out. I answered questions when they had them and occasionally consulted, but the kids did all the problem solving on their own. The result? A student run free book room set up book fair style where classes or individual students could sign up for time slots to come peruse the selection and take as many free books as they wanted home for the summer. The student team would be there to help their peers select books and generally provide some good old fashioned customer service.

The set up was far better than anything I would’ve come up with on my own:

It was a resounding smash hit for the entire school. If I hadn’t been able to relinquish control and allow the students to do what they wanted with the space, it never would have been the incredible success it turned out to be. We had students taking home grocery bags and boxes full of books. Once school was out on the last day, there was a young lady pounding on the front door in tears, begging to be let back in because she wanted to grab just a few more books.

So, what’s your point, Mrs. Daubert? You’re already clearly doing some great things with flexible configurations…

This is where we all have to be careful as educators–when we think we’re good at something. It would be easy for me to say, I’m doing great; I can just stop here. But that would be a true detriment to myself and my students. There are ALWAYS things we can do to grow, learn, improve, and make things better. In these situations, it’s best to look for other experts. I’m the ONLY teacher in my building trying anything like this. Where do you get ideas when you’re an island? Well, thank God for them internets! I faithfully follow A.J. Juliani and in his fantastic blog post, Genius of Making: 5 Ways to Mash-Up Genius Hour and Your Makerspace, he talks about some practical ways to be flexible with your classroom set up. He mentioned something that  rang really true  for me, “We often have these grandiose ideas of makerspaces and fab labs in our mind. Forget that. Start a makerspace in your classroom so your students can use it whenever they want.” I don’t have a makerspace in my classroom all the time. Sure, I’ll completely overhaul the room for the sake of Genius Hour, but I don’t have a permanent spot for kids to freely create when it’s not a “special” time for creating.

I want that. I can do that. Juliani talks a lot in his post about how many kids never get a chance to play around, tinker, and create. I didn’t when I was a kid. I was a straight A honors path kid. I spent all my time sitting in rows, being lectured at, taking copious notes, and getting ready for what everyone told me college would be like. At home? I was constantly making and creating–burning myself with hot glue, getting covered in paint, hounding my dad until he agreed to show me how take appliances apart and fix things. It didn’t occur to me until a few years ago that any of that could or SHOULD have been part of what I did at school. I certainly have the room to create a permanent makerspace in my classroom, so that is definitely an addition to my configuration for this coming school year.

Still hungry for more fresh ideas, I hopped on to Discovery Education to see what I could see and was immediately struck by Kathy Schrock’s post, “Creative classroom configurations.” I mean, seriously? The exact thing I was looking for right there under featured posts?! It doesn’t get much more serendipitous than that! She is so thorough on the science of classroom design which gave me lots to ponder, but the thing I appreciated most was the concept she brings up right from the start: primary teachers are GREAT at designing flexible learning spaces for their students; middle and high school teachers tend not to embrace this. Perhaps they feel students at this level are too mature or that all of this is somehow “kid stuff.” I used to think that too. But I got over it. Middle and high school kids learn better in flexible, multipurpose spaces too!

Schrock got me thinking about a large area of unused space in my room. As you saw in my pictures, I have a totally baller free book space on one of my counters. This is awesome. Know what I don’t have? An equally baller space for kids to sit and read. I need that. And again, I’m fortunate enough to have the space for it, so that’s another addition to room 307 for the upcoming school year.

What might I do if I had $1000 to invest in my set up?

Honestly? Probably not much. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m equal parts pirate and hacker. Sure, I’d probably replace my collaborative desk groups with tables and chairs, invest in some arm chairs and comfy things for a reading area, and some cool things to punch up a makerspace. But generally, I’m really happy with the mix and match vibe my classroom has. It looks like me and more importantly, each year it looks a little bit more like the kids.

“Revolution Means Turning the Wheel” – Igor Stravinsky

How about you? What are you changing in your room for the upcoming year? What’s staying the same? How do we get other educators thinking about this too?


Mrs. Daubert


Following the White Rabbit Down the Pinterest-hole

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“What do you MEAN you aren’t on Pinterest?”

It’s a question I hear constantly and incredulously from teacher friends and co-workers. No, I’m really not. And before you label me Queen Velma of Old Fart Island, let me assure you, I’ve got a good reason.

Would you believe I’ve been trying to write this post since early Monday morning? I had NINE browser tabs open while I was chatting on Facebook Messenger to two or three different people, messing around with Flipgrid, checking emails, answering inquiries from my postings on Letgo on my phone, staring longingly at my copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords (I’m one chapter away from The Red Wedding!!!), contemplating cup of coffee number three, and SQUIRREL.

Every other day this week was much the same, though the distractions changed from time to time. The only way I was able to actually buckle down and finish writing was to close all of my browser tabs, log out of all my email accounts, put my phone on airplane mode, and lock myself in the home office (sorry kids, you’re on your own for breakfast this morning–Mommy’s GOT to get this done).

Author’s Edit: By the time I had finished posting, my sons had made themselves each cups of hot chocolate as big their faces and buttered toast that they proceeded to meticulously cover with Teddy Grahams and Trix. I wonder if my mom wants them today…

Putting myself on Pinterest would be downright reckless. Oh, I’d start off with the best of intentions–perhaps I’d like to pin some ideas for first month of school bulletin boards–but before I knew it, I’d be so far into Pinterest-land that I’d be planning a killer birthday party for the kid two blocks down the street and terribly late for a very important date.

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Come on, Mrs. Daubert, curation tools are extremely valuable for educators.

Yes, I know. I don’t have anything against them; in fact, I WANT to use them. I just need to find one that works for me and given my easily distracted brain, I know Pinterest is not my thing. So I decided to try a few others.

I started with Symbaloo. I’d had an inservice on it about two years ago and vaguely remembered thinking it was neat, so that seemed like a good place to begin. After about five attempts, I remembered my old username and password and I was IN.

Even with the meager content I had curated who-knows-how-long ago, this was just too busy for my brain to handle. Like Pinterest, it was too pretty, too exciting. I wanted to click, click, click, add, add, add, and share, share, share–but not any of the things I was SUPPOSED to click, add, and share.

My mind works an awful lot like the 8th graders I teach. Sometimes, that seriously hinders my productivity.

Exhibit A:

A few years ago two boys were standing in my doorway before the start of the school day. One starts running in circles around the other.

“Look, Mrs. Daubert,” one of them proclaims, “We’re the moon orbiting the Earth!”

And without even stopping to think, I immediately respond, “Could’ve fooled me–I thought you were a gaseous cloud orbiting Uranus.”

This stops them in their tracks. They look at each other. They look at me. Then an expression comes over both of them like I’ve just handed them liquid gold and they run to another room to show off their “new” joke. Way to go Mrs. Daubert. Way. To. Go.

Exhibit B:

Fast forward to this school year. It is a dress down day and I’m wearing my Run DMC t-shirt.

“Ew,” a student says, “Run DMC is old and corny!”

“Oh yeah?” I retort, “Well, without Run DMC, Drake would have to find something ELSE to be terrible at.”

The class erupts in a chorus of OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHs. Yep, I made my own class spontaneously combust.

These isolated incidents aside, being able to think like an 8th grader has its advantages. As the kids would say, I’m a BEAST at planning lessons that maximize productivity and minimize distractions. It’s all because I do one simple thing: let the hyperactive 8th grader part of my brain run wild while I’m planning. If I can’t focus on the activity, they won’t be able to either.

If I am looking at curation tools not only as a means for me to collect and store ideas, but also for student use in my classroom? Pinterest and Symbaloo aren’t going to make the grade.

On to the next one!

I tried Flipboard next. Seemed like a logical choice. I’d seen it recommended on several “hotlists” and I already used the app on my phone.

Disappointment again. Just like Symbaloo and Pinterest, Flipboard had the potential to become very busy, very quickly. On top of that? Oh, the pre-curated articles about politics! I follow politics the way some people follow their local home team. I have favorite anchors, pundits, and commentators. I yell at the TV when I watch cable news. Flipboard encouraged me to waste time on pet interests even more than the others! For heaven’s sake, even the productivity tab was encouraging me NOT to be productive:

Finally, there it was–standing right in front of me all along like true love in a Rom Com

Feedly! At the suggestion of a professor from one of my summer grad school courses, I’ve been using Feedly to curate my classmates’ blogs and get notified when someone updates a post. I dove in a little deeper to see what else I could do with the tool.

Here is an awesome quickstart tutorial for anyone who wants to try it:

This tutorial helped me to understand what else I could do beyond the simplicity of following a feed of my classmates. It focuses on the iPad app, but the concepts are easily applicable to the web version as well:

The verdict from my busy, busy brain? Feedly is much cleaner looking than the other curation tools I tried. My mind found the linear layout soothing rather than overstimulating. In short, Feedly allowed me to do what I wanted–find, click, add, link, compile, organize, and share without encouraging my poor brain to chase white rabbits. It even has features that allow me to eliminate or hide content I find distracting.

And if I can focus while using Feedly, that means my students will be able to as well. Ultimately, this is what I want. Three years ago, my school adopted a blended learning model and the more I learned professionally, the more I knew I wanted Genius Hour to be part of what I do in my classroom. I’ve done Genius Hour projects every year since. Some incredible projects have come to fruition during this time, but as anyone who has ever done Genius Hour or any other large PBL undertaking knows, keeping everyone organized and on track can pose a challenge.

I believe Feedly has the power to help me with that. To that end, I’ve begun the process of putting together a board that will help me get ready for next school year’s Genius Hour. Here is what I’ve got so far (the biggest drawback of the free version of Feedly is that I can only share boards and lists via email, not with the internet in its eternal vastness):

Now that we’ve found love, what are we going to do with it?

This is where you come in, dear readers! What should I add to my Genius Hour board? What do any of YOU do with Feedly? Have I made a grievous error in my denouncement of the other curation tools I tried? Have I missed or overlooked something that prevented me from being able to calm my dumpster fire of a brain? Or has it all really just been a futile exercise in…

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Mrs. Daubert

First Amendment Shmamendment – So You Want to Work in the Public Sector

It took me longer than I would have liked to get this post up and running but I had quite a bit to sort out in my own mind before setting it all down in type. Now more than ever, teachers are public figures. Social media can be advantageous and useful, but it can also get us into trouble. This article outlines the story of a teacher who got herself into some hot water when a parent caught sight of her social media page and didn’t appreciate the “off color” memes regarding the teaching profession she had posted.

Rather than dive right in with my own take on this hot issue, I’m going to start by examining several ways of looking at things using a four corners graphic:

My younger self would have fallen stoutheartedly into the “Strongly Disagree” corner. I would have railed against The Man. I would have insisted that teachers have a right to privacy and work-life balance. We have the right to express our opinions in whatever way we see fit. I would have been outraged that a parent had the audacity to complain over some innocently humorous memes. Clearly, this teacher was just blowing off some steam and who could fault her for that?!

Luckily, I am no longer my younger self. Self-righteous and a bit irritating, wasn’t she? The person I am today just finished her 13th year in urban public education in the town where she herself has lived her entire life. The “me” I am today falls into the “Strongly Agree” corner. I know this may not be a popular opinion among my colleagues but I’d like to take the time to explain how I’ve come to this conclusion.

I was a relatively late arrival to the social media game. I didn’t bother to join Facebook until 2009 and even then it was really just so I could communicate with friends and family who lived in far off places. My best friend was in Japan for a while, a former student with whom I’ve remained close joined the air force and was stationed in Yemen, my dearest aunt and uncle live in Florida–you get the idea.

In 2012, I lost 90 lbs. using a popular health program and for a time, worked as a coach for the program. It was then that I realized the raw power that exists in social media. I learned a great deal about advertising and using social media with purpose through seminars and workshops within this program. Somewhere along the line, I stopped coaching for the program and figured out how to use what I’d learned  in my teaching life.

All humility aside, homegirl’s social media skills are on point.

I made my Facebook page public five years ago and I’ve never looked back.  That being said, with great posting, comes great responsibility.

I am a lifelong member of the community where I teach, I went to school there myself, I reside within the district, and there are even students who live in my neighborhood. My next door neighbor was in my class two years ago AND I went to high school with both of her parents. I gave up on trying to keep my personal life to myself YEARS ago. Beyond that, I’ve come to believe that giving up most of my anonymity in my personal life is part of what it takes to do my job effectively. My community is economically depressed and for better or worse, I am far more involved in the lives of my students and their families than the average bear.

I’ve started several outreach initiatives outside the regular school day–a Friday night program in which teachers, students, and parents do social activities in the community, a free book crusade to provide as many community members as possible with quality reading material to foster a community-wide love of reading. I need my social media outlets–they are a massive ingredient to my success. Because of this, I take my social media posts very seriously. I would never post anything that might detract from my mission.

So, how exactly do I use my social media page with purpose?

The special projects I do require community and parental support. I use my social media to keep the community informed and to ask for help.

My most recent project is my reading initiative. Research shows that students who read for pleasure have a significant advantage over those who don’t–and that advantage increases astronomically when the adults in their households are readers as well. On that front, I’ve got two awesome things cooking this summer: a free book room for the students required to attend summer school in my building, and a stand at an outdoor community market where I give free books to community members. My social media has been crucial to my success. Here is a post from Facebook about the summer school book room:

I updated again when the book room was ready (I find it especially powerful to include photos and use humor when I can):

I definitely sprinkle some very intentional humor to get my followers to pay attention:

This has proven incredibly effective for me. My community knows what I’m up to, where my heart is, and what they can do to help or get involved. I’m not interested in jeopardizing that because I’m feeling extra free-speechy on any given day.

I do still CAREFULLY pick hot button issues to weigh in on

Sometimes, there are controversial topics that, as a human, I feel I can’t stay silent about. In these cases, I do comment but I am still very careful with what I say and how I say it. I recently spoke my piece about family separation at our southern border:

This post generated some backlash from a follower or two, but at the end of the day, I felt justified in expressing myself. On other occasions I have exercised extreme restraint. This year I had a student born female who identified as male (I’m going to use the pronoun “they” because that is what the student prefers). The student had recently shared this realization with their parents and it did not go well. I was a huge part of this student’s support network as they worked through this extremely difficult time. Because all of this was going on, I have not posted ANYTHING on my social media about LGBTQ rights recently even though it is an issue near and dear to my heart. I made this choice because I felt a deep responsibility to my student. If their parents saw a pro-LGBTQ post on my social media page, they could have requested their child be removed from my class and I no longer would have been able to provide the student with the support from a loving adult they so desperately needed. This more than any other reason is why I do believe we check some of our own free speech at the door when we become educators.

But, hey, I can’t be expected to be serious all the time…

Part of the joy my followers get from my page is that sometimes, I’m just one purely funny lady:

Most of all, though, my social media is my outlet to tell the world I’m proud of what I do.

During the final two weeks of school, a 6th grade student at my school was tragically hit by a car and killed. Our entire school grieved together, and a group of my 8th graders did something impressive beyond their years. Proud teacher that I am, told the world in this post

Similarly, after a very successful experience with my free book stand, I decided I wanted the world to know

After this many years of doing what I do, I truly believe that yes, we as educators give up some of our rights to free speech for the good of our communities. As Kermit would say:

Where do you fall on the four corners of this issue? Leave it in the comments!


Mrs. Daubert

Scavenge, Steal, Smash It All Together…See What Happens

The title of this post is my spirit animal. My advisor in college used to tell me, “JACOBS [my maiden name], your ideas are creative and fabulous. Now KNOCK IT OFF. You’re working too hard. You don’t have to be creative and fabulous all the darn time. Somebody else has probably thought of your exact idea and it’s just sitting out there somewhere on the internet–waiting for you to find it!” And like a good little bright-eyed, green, shiny new teacher, I completely ignored him. It wasn’t until about five years into my career that I finally understood what he’d been trying to tell me all along: the best teachers don’t constantly create their own original content.

Good teaching is equal parts outright theft and allowing your own good ideas to be burglarized.

Where do my teaching resources come from these days?

The best I can do is give the “right now” answer. My sources are ever evolving because education is ever evolving. Teaching from the textbook simply doesn’t–and shouldn’t–cut it these days. I use the resources most teachers use like PDE SAS, ReadWriteThink, and Teachers Pay Teachers. But I also like a little spice in my professional life. Here are my top spots I plug into for great content for my students and inspiration for myself.

  1. noredink – This is my go to for most of my students’ grammar and writing needs. There is a premium/pay version of the site, but I’ve found the free version to be so robust, the thought of paying for the premium service has never crossed my mind.
  2. Collins Writing Program – My school pays for a Collins Writing consultant to come work with us a few times a year which is great, but even if your school doesn’t have that luxury, the Collins Ed website has volumes of common sense, user friendly graphic organizers and tips to help students improve their writing in all subject areas.
  3. Crash Course Literature – As an ELA teacher in a school that has adopted a blended learning model, I’m a HUGE fan of Crash Course (and the Vlog Brothers–but I’ll get to them in a bit). Crash Course saves me from constantly having to generate my own content for flipped lessons. The videos are attractive, engaging and high quality. I love starting my school year with John Green’s Why and How We Read.

Finding the support I need

I learned a long time ago that no one was going to scoop me under their wing and ask if I needed help. Good teachers advocate for themselves and seek feedback. At my school our 8th grade ELA teachers have a collaborative group on the platform Schoology. Here, we post resources, materials and provide each other with much needed support. We even swear we’re funny sometimes:

I also look to Twitter for new research and ideas. Twitter isn’t just a place for angry old men to yell at the world–it’s actually a pretty hip place for educators. There is lots of sound educational research posted daily just waiting for us to find it and use it. If you’re new to, and perhaps a little intimidated by, the “Twitterverse” here are some of my favorite people and pages to follow: Michael Soskil (@msoskil), George Couros (@gcouros), Carl Hooker (@mrhooker), and Genius Hour (@geniushour). These are great pages to get you started. Heck, you could even follow me in my own little corner of the world, @TheDaubert.

Oh, and let us not forget the blogs!

I don’t follow many blogs but there are a few I couldn’t live without.

  1. Jon Acuff – This is not a blog for teachers; it’s a blog for people everywhere who want to develop, grow, and get better at what they do no matter the profession. Acuff gives common sense tips and tricks for getting yourself organized, managing your time, and overcoming obstacles. He is also a spectacular author with several print books to peruse as well.
  2. A.J. Juliani – This man is a project based learning and Genius Hour powerhouse. I’m on his mailing list and I subscribe to his blog. If you are down with PBL, Mr. Juliani has got some killer resources for you!
  3. The Vlog Brothers – Yes, yes, I realize this is a vlog, not a blog, but it’s worth a look. Hank and John Green (yes, YA author John Green) produce fun, inspirational, and thought provoking content that motivates me as a human.

OK, Mrs. Daubert, this stuff is great, but don’t you teach in an urban public middle school?!

Yeah, so? Of course, my situation comes with its own unique challenges. Our 8th grade is 1:1 with iPads–cool, right? Sure, it would be if the kids had internet access at home–most of them don’t.  That means that most of the content I provide for my students either needs to be accessed during the school day or available offline.

In this situation, PDFs are my friend! If I can pop a few PDFs of necessary material on my course Schoology page, students can download it before they leave the building for the day and still have offline access on their devices at home.

I also find it necessary to frontload my teaching with tons of how-tos and tutorials on using electronics, whether they be the school issued devices or the students’ own devices, effectively. Most of the adults my students go home to aren’t tech savvy. If I don’t teach them how to do the required work on their devices, it’s not going to get done.

With creative planning and lots of patience, we rise to the challenge. I’m always learning and growing and I expect nothing less of the students in my classes.

In my world, stealing is a good thing, but so is sharing–and grabbing a little bit of everything off the buffet. In my world, risks are a good thing. I take them every time I try a new app or resource. And I expect my students to take risks too. Most importantly, in my world, not every thing works all the time. Sometimes, new ideas totally stink. But it’s all good. Failure is a part of the process too!


Mrs. Daubert


In his article “Essential Connections of STEM, PBL, and Tech Integration…What Would Dewey Think?” author Michael Gorman leads with the famous John Dewey quote, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” These words are the essence of Project Based Learning. Through PBL, students explore, manipulate, think, challenge, and do. The result? They learn. It is a natural process that facilitates not only student achievement in the classroom, but fosters the skills necessary for students to become competitive in the global workforce. We are no longer a society of Industrial Revolution factory workers. Sitting in neat rows and being good little vessels for content delivery no longer suits our students.

This is where PBL, technology integration and the SAMR model come together (More about SAMR). The first two levels of SAMR, substitution and augmentation, are the lowest levels of technology integration–using a Google Doc instead of a notes sheet, an etext instead of a text book, a self-guided Nearpod presentation instead of a teacher lecture with a PowerPoint, etc. PBL skyrockets students to the end of SAMR: redefinition. Through projects with high levels of technology integration, students redefine their learning. They aren’t theorizing about how they can help other students in the developing world; they are Skyping with a class in the Dominican Republic, asking what the students there need to help them learn better, and then formulating a plan to help them. This is not something that would be part of their learning experience without the available technology. The teacher isn’t over-extending herself trying to figure out the logistics and cost of busing to get her students to an elementary school for a mentoring experience; the class can do this without leaving the room freeing the teacher up to focus more on content.

Without the constraints of the four walls of the classroom holding them back, PBL can take on a life with a class that wouldn’t be possible. Technology helps students in the midst of a project to go beyond that trifold brochure or that posterboard and create a professional looking Prezi students are excited and proud to present to a global audience. When used at the end of the SAMR technology integrated PBL deepens student learning and provides for rich experiences that simply couldn’t happen without the technology to support them.


“Essential Connections of STEM, PBL, and Tech Integration…What Would Dewey Think?” – Michael Gorman

“Introduction to the SAMR Model” – Common Sense Media


In studying the three PBL exemplars, “More Fun Than a Barrel of…Worms?,” “March of the Monarchs: Students Follow the Butterflies’ Migration,” both by Diane Curtis and “Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning,” by Sara Armstrong all accessed from Edutopia, there are many commonalities. All three exemplars begin by discussing student inquiry and collaboration. Additionally, each piece touches on the importance of feedback from individuals outside of the school and the necessity of communication with outside experts as part of each project. While they do differ slightly in some of the finer nuances of their PBL experiences they generally agree that field trips and field experience must also be included in a successful project.


In all three cases, the majority of the work is student driven and based on collaboration. The teacher steps back into the role of guide or facilitator as the students move the learning forward. This creates more opportunities for student choice than “traditional” learning experiences and, therefore increases student engagement many times over. When students feel they have not only a say in the process but also a stake in the final outcome, they become engaged in learning is ways studying from a textbook simply cannot allow. Because these learning experiences are rooted in doing rather than passive listening the acquisition of skills and synthesis of content-based knowledge in unrivaled. Through these projects, students have learned by doing and there is absolutely no substitution for the deep learning that takes place.


Technology is used in all projects across the exemplars for research purposes. In Diane Curtis’ piece on the monarch butterfly inquiry technology is used heavily as a means of collaboration both with peers and experts across the globe. In Curtis’ other article regarding the projects at Newsome Park Elementary, students rely heavily on their available technology for research and also in the production of their end presentations. In Armstrong’s piece, students involved in the intensive architecture project use their technology for planning and implementing their designs.


Nearly all of the projects present come close to the Gold Standard for Project Based Learning, but none meet it perfectly. The Newsome park projects lack some of the public/community feedback necessary. They do invite parents to view projects and presentations but this doesn’t quite fit the bill of a true public source of feedback. The monarch butterfly project involves the least amount of student choice. The is some student choice involved, but not nearly enough to meet the Gold Standard. The architecture project is somewhat lacking in the aspect of authenticity. Yes, there are real world architects involved in the process, but the students are planning for a school that will never and can never be built.



“More Fun Than a Barrel of . . . Worms?!” – Diane Curtis, Edutopia

“Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning” – Sara Armstrong, Edutopia

“March of the Monarchs: Students Follow the Butterflies’ Migration”
– Diane Curtis, Edutopia


“Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements” – John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller

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