Old School Marbles & 21 Century Students

I was recently trying to come up with new ideas of how to teach my students the precursors of the Revolutionary War. We had already labored over the long list of intolerable acts, taxation without representation, the Boston Massacre, and the famous tea party. Great stuff, but the information was flat and dry and I wanted more than anything for my students to get as excited as I was about the content.

In my attempt to get them engaged in the curriculum, I knew I had to get them up & moving. Well, the battles between the Patriots and the British during the Revolution was a fantastic opportunity to flesh out strategies used by the opposing sides of the conflict. Students had a great time strategizing, assessing, collaborating, and having fun in mock battles.

Old school marbles, game boards, strategizing and teamwork made for an amazing learning opportunity.

The Patriots Won!

Mass Murder, Fire, and the Power of Pictionary

Early Thursday morning, I rolled over in bed to silence my alarm. I checked my phone and saw I had an international text from my daughter serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa. I was hoping for reassuring information related to her safety, and the safe return of 80 school children abducted just two days prior in a northern region of Cameroon. The text read-only, “What is happening in Thousand Oaks?” Assuming she wanted to hear about events taking place locally, I quickly shot back a text saying a new Dave and Busters was being built in town.

It was at this point that automated texts began to populate my phone and interrupt my texting. I read warnings about road closures and canceled classes at the local university. As I started to wake up and connect the bits of information, I saw news coverage on a mass murder that had taken place hours earlier in the city of Thousand Oaks. I sat transfixed watching news outlets and trying to make sense of what I was seeing on TV and reading online. 13 dead as a result of an attack at a local bar on college night. Time stood still, yet the clock advanced, and questions from local parents started saturating social media and neighborhood sites; was it safe to send their children to school? Was school canceled altogether? I got dressed and headed out to Thousand Oaks High School; where I have taught for the past 12 years.

School staff met in the library at 7:45 am for a brief meeting called by our principal. He addressed the tragedy, and let staff speak. He unified us before our classrooms filled with students. As a high school teacher, I have multiple classes in a day. I had the opportunity to spend the day with over 80 students. My classes were mostly full, some empty chairs, but so many students were in attendance. During our allotted class time, we spoke of community, and they asked questions. Some students shared how they found out about the mass killings, or how they were related to a victim or a survivor. I relayed my sorrow that our town had experienced such a loss, and there were side conversations between peers. I told them all I was thankful they came to school on this day.

Students played Pictionary in my classes. Mostly because it is fun and a game in which all students participate, and laughter is a byproduct of scribbles on the whiteboard. Students were communicating instead of their faces transfixed on their phone screens. Teamwork and collaboration filled the space. It was a long day. Each new class of students bought different sets of questions, and my emotional resolve was waning towards the end of the day. I had cried several times, gave and received hugs from friends and colleagues. I reassured students again and again that Thousand Oaks is a safe place to live and we are a strong community.

When the last school bell rang, I was preparing my classroom for Friday’s lessons, when a text came in accompanied by a picture from Jeff, “Get home.” The image was of the house with smoke in the background. I rushed home in thick traffic, driving into black smoke. Arriving in the driveway, I found out we were being evacuated because of fire in our local area. We began loading our cars, trying to decide what was worthy of saving should the house burn down. With our vehicles full, we pulled away from the house.

As of today, fire is still raging, and we are still under evacuation. Schools have been canceled for today. A lot has transpired over the last 48 hours. I am still grappling with the magnitude of the events, all of them, and their impact on myself, my family, my students, and my town. Interestingly, only days prior I had been so worried about my own daughter’s safety. She was now telling me that she feels safer abroad, in a country where armed secessionists brazenly abducted teenaged students in an attack. It is interesting how you begin to normalize traumatic events. My daughter has every reason to worry about her community back home.

I want healing to take place, and I know Thousand Oaks will serve as an example to others in our country of a community pulling together in difficult times. I am exhausted, I am scared, and I am hopeful. I will be back at school on Monday ready to teach.

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I will be at school ready to teach again on Monday.

Everybody Needs A Mentor

I’ve been fortunate to have an incredible mentor; Dr. Therese Eyermann at California Lutheran University. Dr. Eyermann, a higher education professor in the education leadership department, has been a guiding force in helping me reach my goal of studying overseas. With her input and cheerleading, I applied for and was awarded a Fulbright award. Dr. Eyermann was among the first people I shared my news with.

I will be headed over in January to complete an inquiry project as a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher. My focus will be special education and organizational models that support students in career education programs.


My advice to students – FIND A MENTOR!

College & Career Readiness Goals for Students

With the goal of preparing students for college & career – high school students benefit from connecting academic courses with career technical education (CTE) training. Applying theory and abstract concepts to concrete activities enhances opportunities for engagement. Learning becomes experiential and for many students, this is how they practice new 21 Century skill sets.

As a special education teacher, I know first hand the power of hands on activities to bring clarity to a complicated new concept. Take riding a bicycle. We don’t learn to ride a bike by reading about it, learning the parts of the bike, how to master the breaks, and the theory of balancing your body by reading about it- we learn by doing! Apply this concept to nursing, welding, machine tool technology, construction, video production, as well as a host of other course offerings. I am getting the word out about the power of CTE.

I Work With An Ambassador

In my 17 years of teaching special education I have had the opportunity to impact many students. In those same years, there have been students who have impacted my life as well. One example is this guy, JO. He has pushed through many barriers; physical barriers, language barriers, educational obstacles, limited access, and equity barriers. I have been fortunate to witness and support JO as he has become an advocate for his family, himself, and his education. JO is a Career Technical Education (CTE) Ambassador, paving the way for students receiving special education services to access Career Education pathways.

Studies indicate that special education students that participate in CTE courses are less likely to drop out of school, increasing their opportunities to graduate. Additionally, participation in CTE provides the education and training which leads to an increase in full time employment and higher pay.

JO is taking full advantage of CTE courses and participating in experiential learning. Courses include cyber security, drone application, mass media, and business courses. JO participates in classes that connect real world issues with concrete learning opportunities, and his take away are 21 Century skills that he can use to extend his learning & apply in the work place.

JO is a shining example of a motivated student pushing through barriers.