Posts Tagged With: SOL

The First Breakout

IMG_0039.PNGThe sound of my heels clicked in quick staccato as I flew down the hallway clutching my breakout box to my chest.  The last few students wandered off to lunch, their voices echoing in the stairwell.  I burst into the room and made eye contact with the teacher.  We practically squealed.  Then we set up the clues.

Today was my very first Breakout EDU game, a game that I had painstakingly created after scouring the games on the website.

The topic: Illinois

The purpose: Launch a unit of study

But more…so much more.

In essence students must solve a series of clues, to open the locks that are on the box.  Their purpose is to open to box but ours is to help them learn to collaborate in teams and use some critical thinking skills.  At least that’s what I thought the purpose was.  I now know that there is even more to be gained from this process.


The students returned from lunch.  We decided to do groups of 10, the other students in the class going to one of the other third grade teachers for read aloud.

I read the story and then I set them loose.

They scattered like a bag of marbles dropped on a wood floor.  I hoped they would settle, read clues, dig in.  That didn’t happen.  I watched them ping back and forth from clue to clue looking for an immediate solve or answer.  Things that I thought were obvious were glossed over.  I was beginning to wonder if I’d made the game too hard. Fifteen minutes in they used their first clue card.  Finally success!

They continued to struggle, wander, talk, get distracted, try.

When the timer was up they were working on the last two locks.  They were sweating and exhausted.  They had not opened the box.


As I sat to reflect I made a few adjustments.  We discussed some clues that were needlessly hard.  We discussed some that were hard but that we wanted to keep that way.  We discussed their approach to the task, how they gave up quickly, how they bounced back and forth, how they looked at one thing but not the other.

I was reminded that third graders don’t have very good web navigation skills and that some things I took for granted needed to be addressed or taught.

I learned that most third graders don’t know how to open a lock.

I saw how we desperately need to work on perseverance, tenacity, critical thinking, team work, troubleshooting, and so much more.

I watched as one little girl looked around completely lost and wondered how I might support students with diverse needs in this process.

I reflected on my own process as I built the game, looking at content in a completely new way.

Breakout EDU illuminated so much about how our students approach complex problems and I could see how this approach hinders or helps their work in all subjects.

Mostly, I can’t wait to do it again!


Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments



I’m always intrigued by Slices of life in different formats.  This slice was inspired by Fran’s post from a few days ago.  Since I’m struggling today I thought it would be a great time to play with something new.  I don’t know if the picture really goes but I told myself I’d do one for each post so, yeah…


Listening to the joyful sounds of a girl and her Pappou playing hide and seek.

Planning for the week ahead but really thinking about spring break.

Sipping Jasmine tea hoping for my stomach to settle.

Stalking my friends facebook for picture of her baby.

Hoping the weather is beautiful this week so I can go for a walk.

Ruminating on a blog post for the Educator Collaborative.

Waiting for my BreakoutEdu box to arrive, wondering if I’ll have to go buy supplies at Home Depot instead.

Searching the internet for a new house.

Reflecting on the fact that things aren’t so bad, in fact they’re pretty great.



Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

You Greet Me



You greet me at the door, dressed in your snowsuit.  “I need my boots, I’m going outside,” you state with confidence.  Before I even set my bags down and unload my work day you are searching for your hat.  Yia Yia arguing with you about wearing gloves.  You are shouting, “Papou! Pame!”  (Grandpa, let’s go)

You look at me and smile.  You have done this yourself.  Gazed out the window all afternoon waiting  as the snow fell.  I can imagine you asking to go outside over and over again while Papou and Yia Yia tried to distract you.  I can see the moment the snow stopped, you were tired of waiting so you went to the closet, pulled your step stool close, and yanked your snowsuit from the hanger with fierce determination.

You’re out the door in a whirl.  Bossing Papou into pulling you on the sled-barely enough snow to make it slide.  Falling on your back, you make a snow angel even though no one ever taught you how.  You are as wild and as free as the snowflakes themselves.

When did you get so big?

I turn my attention to your sister, kicking her legs furiously in the swing.  Her smiles have given way to impatience.  She uses grunts and kicks to communicate.  A stark contrast to your three-year-old independence and fire.  As I approach her she squeals with joy.  I hug her to me feeling her warm little heart beating.  We stand at the window and watch you take on the world.

Categories: Slice of Life Challenge, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

Feeling Lucky Again

I wrote a slice about feeling lucky for the great school culture and PD that I’ve had in my career. I agree in many ways we do make our own luck. Today I am feeling lucky again to work with such an amazing staff of teachers. Back in the fall Steve Zemelman and Harvey Daniels came to our school to take footage for a DVD that will accompany their new edition of Best Practice. Yesterday the trailer for the DVD came out. I was so proud to see my fabulous teaching partner on there along with other teachers from our school and some amazing looking teachers from Chicago. Let me tell you, Chicago needs this. We need it bad. There’s even one still shot of me pointing my finger at some life changing image, no doubt, my mouth open and poised to say something brilliant, I’m sure, and my hair frizzed out with the sheer electricity of my instructional genius. At least I picked a dress that hid my gut. But honestly I can’t wait ’till it comes out. If only so I can learn even more! Here’s the trailer if you’re interested.

Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: | 5 Comments


Yesterday I didn’t confer with any students during writer’s workshop.  Yesterday I grabbed a new notebook, a beautiful azure leather notebook given to me by a student.  Yesterday I sat down on the carpet and I decided to write with my students.

I’ve teaching poetry forms and I’m really trying to stay AWAY from some of the “kid” forms of poems.  I haven’t shown anything that rhymes.  No concrete poems.   I like those forms but I know my fifth grade writers won’t grow as writers unless they struggle a little.  So, I’ve been using styles and poems from Nancy Atwell’s Naming the World book.   I don’t ask kids to spend the whole period writing in a specific style.  Each day I present a few poems, we draw conclusions about what the parameters of the style might be and then we have a go.  Some students find that they need to “break” the rules to make their poem great which I both discourage and encourage.  By that I mean that I tell them to try it both ways and then compare.  I’m a very tricky lady.

Yesterday I decided to join my students while they wrote.  I decided to step away from “teacher” and just be a fellow writer.  I spent the first five minutes staring into space.  I couldn’t think of one thing to write.  A good reminder that students need time to think.  I spontaneously turned to my neighbor and asked her what she thought of my idea, a pantoum about Katniss.  She thought the class would like that.  A good reminder that children need to talk before they write.  I wrote furiously pausing to frown in the air.  My other neighbor asked me what’s wrong.  “Nothing,” I said.  “I’m thinking.”  A good reminder for them that it’s okay to struggle and think through something.  That the words don’t always just appear before you!  When I finished I bothered the same neighbor because I just HAD to share what I wrote.  A good reminder that children need to share their work, get feedback, and feel honored.

Yesterday I took some time to walk in my students shoes so that I could remind myself how challenging and rewarding writer’s workshop can be.

Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: | 12 Comments


I’ve been working on poetry with my class.  Yesterday we tried out Tritinas.  It was a real challenge for some kids but they enjoyed playing with this style.  So, my slice is a Tritina today.  And because my blog is Coffee Fueled Musings the topic is…coffee.

Grasping a warm mug of bold,

dark brew.  Starts the morning, promises to excite.

Fills me up inside and trickles into my mind.

Afternoon, a lull in the day and I can’t get sweet coffee out of my thoughts, my mind.

I’m searching for something to jolt me into bold.

Something recklessly poured over ice, a splash of milk, something to excite.

As I put the straw to my lips it begins to excite

me.  The possibilities of the surge racing through my mind

wanders into my glazed eyes.  Bright, Brighter, Bold.

I begin to believe that the ills of the mind can be excited by a bold brew anytime.

Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: , | 7 Comments

I’m Not That Ethnic

*A member from a particular ethnic group.
*This group tends to be very old and can be traced down from generation to generation, and has a geographical location which is occupied by most of its members.
* Members of this group, share the same customs, language, and culture, and belong to one race, and common ancestery, and some tend to be family oriented.

What does it mean to be ethnic?  Frankly it can mean different things to different people.  Sometimes people use it in a negative way.  I’ve heard parents in Chicago say they wouldn’t send their kids to a school because it’s too “ethnic.”  That’s really just their way of saying their aren’t enough white kids there.  I look at the term ethnic as a positive thing, as a legacy of sorts.  To me people who are “Ethnic” have strong ties to their heritage and culture.  They have family traditions that go back generations.

I’m not that ethnic.  What I mean is my family doesn’t have a strong ethnic background.  By blood I am mostly Irish and Italian, some Scottish, a bit of English, some German, and yes American Indian.  I have always suspected that I am somewhat Spanish because I have a strange affinity for Flamenco.  Oh, and I can dance.  I don’t know where that comes from.  I don’t mean like white girl cheer dancing either.  Maybe that’s the Native American in me?  I don’t know.  It’s funny to need to connect these things to a culture.    These stereotypes are so pervasive in our culture we often don’t even notice when we perpetuate them, or limit ourselves because of them.

Mostly, I’m just American.  I’d like to say that I’m proud to be American.  I guess in many ways I am.  I certainly feel fortunate when I think about the rights that we have in this country.  I know that we have so much when others have so little and I believe in the value of Democracy.  But I’ve traveled enough to know that the United Stated needs to fix some things and I don’t broadcast my Americaness when abroad.

My husband is “ethnic,” at least what I consider ethnic. His parents are immigrants.  He speaks more than one language fluently.  He has strange holidays with odd little songs that go with them.  In fact I love to write stories about his ethnic family.  I have embraced his ethnic heritage as my own and when people assume that I am Greek I don’t really correct them.  After all, I have a general Mediterranean appearance, I could pass.  I don’t do it because I want to be Greek, only that it’s easier that way.  It’s easier to be one thing, than explain the lot of things.  It’s easier to say oh I’m Irish and Italian, than go down the whole list.  In a way, I guess I stereotype myself.  But If I say I’m Italian everyone assumes I have a big loud family, that I have a secret pasta recipe, and that I wax both my eyebrows and my upper lip.  No, No, well ok yes on that last one.  If I say I’m mostly Irish, which actually I am but I don’t look it, people get a weird sort of knowing nod.  What IS that nod anyway?  It seems pretty full of judgement which I just don’t get.  If I list everything out they sort of glaze over.  If I mention that I am, in actuality, part Native American from the Choctaw tribe they ask me if I had to pay for college.  Idiots.

What is my truth?  Have you see the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  Well that’s pretty much on par.  I’m the white toast and my husband is the lamb on a spit ouzo drinking big family guy.  I mean his family isn’t that over the top…only sometimes.

I am happy with who I am, but I have always looked on my lack of “ethnic culture” as a weakness.  In a way, something to be ashamed of.  There is a certain pride associated with connecting oneself to the “mother country.”  But this is my mother country.  So what is my legacy?  I guess the truth is I need to stop thinking that things about me should be explained or excused by my background.  It is okay if I don’t fit the stereotype of the typical white girl raised in the Chicago suburbs.  Afterall, that may be why I left.  I am allowed to like booty house music, dance flamenco, and drink Tsipouro late into the night.  Perhaps this is what being an American Ethnic is about.  We take the best of every culture, background, and person we encounter and we honor it by taking it into ourselves and making it a part of who we are.

I know that I am fascinated, humbled, and in awe of the human condition.  I know that creativity, art, and beauty know no boundaries among cultures and religions.   I know this much is true.

Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: | 6 Comments


I got the letter in the mail yesterday.  The annual survey for my husbands health insurance discount.  Better to do it right away I thought.  I clicked through the list of questions: Exercise? try to.  Cigarettes? no.  Alcohol?  um, of course.

On the last page they had my height, weight, and waist measurement.

Now, I remember last year resolving to lose a few pounds.  Didn’t happen.  I measured my waist.

“That can’t be right,” I thought to myself.  I squeezed the tape measure a little tighter.  I exhaled all my air out.  Shit.

Despite little change in my actual weight my waist measurement was an inch and half larger.




Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: | 12 Comments

Shades of Summer

Shades of summer creep in through the slightly cracked windows.  The students try to remain calm, but the heat and sun awakes some primal urge deep within them to laugh, play, talk, and dance.  Soft breezes creep in, ensnaring the mind.  We all begin to yearn for long days at the beach, ice cold lemonade, and slight pink sunburn.  My mind drifts from math to an afternoon watching the Cubs from the bleachers.  Hot dog in one hand, beer in the other.  Mother Nature’s cruel torment is not a blizzard but a summer like day in the middle of March.  Where spring break seems like an eternity away and summer will never come.

Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: | 5 Comments

What Were You Thinking?

Excuse me, I saw your pole.  The one in the alley halfway between Wolcott and Winchester.  Pretty cool.  I was wondering…

Where did you get the photos?  Did you find them on a lost camera?  Or maybe they are yours?  Perhaps they were in a box abandoned in the trash?  Have you been collecting them for years? In a drawer, lost to time?

What did you put them up with?  I assume a stapler?  But do you carry one with you always for a just this purpose?  Or did you run home to get it?  Did you use a staple gun?  If so I don’t think that this was random, you must have planned it, right?

Do you do this often?  Is this your “thing,” decorating alley poles?  Can you find them all around the city?  Was this your first?  Or was this just a random moment?

What were you thinking?

Do you have a message?  Am I supposed to get some higher meaning from this?  What are you trying to say?  Is this just a random way to pass the time?  Are you watching from somewhere to see who stops to look at your art? 

What were you thinking?

Categories: Slice of Life Challenge | Tags: | 14 Comments

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