Thursday, February 28, 2013

DSMA: A Belated Valentine

Rather than a good book, fall in love with a good blog or at
least thank you for stopping by and making me think you are!  
The prompt for this month's Diabetes for Social Media Advocacy Blog Carnival is to let your readers, commenters, and lurkers know just how much you care about them.  I delayed writing this Valentine until the end of the month, because I thought it would be great to thank you before I begin this year's Slice of Life Challenge in which I will attempt to blog every day during the month of March and comment on at least three other bloggers.  I did accomplish this last year, but I also have to encourage my graduate students to make it through the month, so it may be a little hard as I resolve to read and comment on their blogs daily, not just the three required by the challenge.  

I do know that people stop by my blog and I know that they read it when they tell me face to face, write comments on Facebook or share the link on Twitter.  Until I participated in last year's SOLC, I didn't think that I cared about a readership until people actually started reading my blog and commenting on it. I especially value those who take the time to comment on my blog because I know that is not easy to do.  Sometimes when I read I blog, I don't know what to say, but I always try to leave a comment just to let the writer know about the impact of their words.  

Readers, commenters, and lurkers thanks for stopping by, you let me know that my words mattered on some level.  Writing digitally is different from writing on paper in that I can control who sees my words, but with digital writing the possible audience adds a layer of excitement.  I learned this last year too.  I do know that words have power too.  

I don't just blog about diabetes here and I don't just blog about teaching here, but I do blog about my life and what matters to me in hopes to make a little more sense of it. I blog to think, to share and to educate. My hopes are that you understand a little more about the world of teaching and diabetes, because stories matter. 

I'll be writing more than ever in March after all it is the Slice of Life Writing Challenge. Maybe you'll join me!  If not, Happy Belated Valentines!  Thanks for taking the time from your busy sojourn around the planet to make a brief stop here!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


You never know what will bring people together, a chocolate party, boot-camp, or a half-marathon, but I can tell you that I was happy to be a part of a kickball tournament that brought over 200 teachers and students together last Friday after school.

It always starts with an idea. Ideas are only dreams, however, if there is no action forward. Also a little funding never hurts! In September, the athletic directer shared his idea about having a kickball tournament.  The cafeteria manager told me that she always wanted a hydroponic garden.  Our SLC leadership team for the College of Health & Public Affairs wanted to integrate more fun school-wide physical fitness activities such as the Zombie Zumba we were planning.  Cobbled together our ideas became an inter-connected reality after winning a Fuel Up to Play 60 grant. (If you are looking for ways to bring play back to your school, I would suggest applying for one of the many grants they have available. It requires you to bring together a team including your cafeteria manager and your physical education department.  It also requires you to bring kids into the fold as well. They are currently offering a student-led grant that is due on March 25th for about $4000.)

Setting up a kickball tournament is easy. Executing it the first time with warm bodies is difficult. Whenever you do something new, you never are sure of the response. We had an overwhelmingly positive response. We charged a nominal fee of $10 per team with a minimum of 12 players. Deans sponsored teams and coaches formed a "superstar" team (which lost every game), but most importantly kids organized their own teams.  Teams represented ROTC, other sports, different colleges, and just groups of kids who wanted to play together. And they played together well.  (Most of the time!)

The logistics were simple: an open field, rubber balls, and bases. No uniforms! No umpires (Next time REAL UMPS!). Field space could be a challenge.  On our 35 acre campus we have the luxury of field space so we were able to set up 5 fields although we could have set up more if needed.  Training? Who needs it? Playing kickball is something that most people have experienced in most American physical education classes.  You don't have to be a super star athlete to play kickball. Though I must confess, I was better at fielding than kicking.   

You might wonder why a reading coach is involved in setting up a kickball tournament.  On a professional level as a leader, I look for ways to bring people together.  We don't often have fun with each other at school. We work hard.  We have fun with our students in our classroom, or the students on our teams or in our clubs. We might laugh with our colleagues in our department once a week or the few actual adults that we see during our daily work, but we don't always get out and see each other and mingle with different teachers. Our teaching lives are compartmentalized by period, by department, and by demands.

On a personal level, I love sports and I love friendly competition. As a Type 1 diabetic, I know how much physical activity matters not only for the body, but also for the brain. In the end, Juice, the soccer team won and the dean didn't really promise to shave his head if his team lost that was just a rumor, but most people went home for the weekend happy they played.

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's Monday! What R U Rdg? Past, Present & Future

Inspired by the work of Sheila at Book Journeys,
but  visit Kellee &  Jen for more titles at Teach Mentor Texts.

 This week's reads lead me into the past, situated me in the present, and throttled me into the future.  I started the week by finishing The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain, a historical fiction novel, told from the point of view of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Richardson.  This book documents Hemingway's struggles with writing, their courtship and married life in Paris. If I were to use it with students, I might suggest 11th-12th graders. I loved the point of view and the backdrop of Paris life of the up and coming authors of Hemingway's time. You get a sense of the struggling that a writer endures as well as where Hemingway found inspiration. I might also pair it with Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, a movie worthy of any English teacher's time.

I also spent some of my time not quite finishing Lee Ann Spillane's debut professional book, Reading Amplified.  It is a professional read in a different format than other texts.  It is a read and watch book available at Stenhouse. I am not quite finished with it because I find that I cannot keep up with a chapter a day during the work week. I do like participating in the  virtual professional book club. It is hard to work all day and come home and read and think professionally.  The conversation is still going on inside the book as well as on the facebook group. I am hoping to finish before the final chat on Twitter this Thursday.  If you are interested in how to use technology with the readers in your classroom, this book is a great place to start.  Feel free to drop by the Facebook or Twitter discussion.

I finished off the week by traveling into the future with Stacey Kade's The Rules, the first in the Project Paper Doll series. It deals with bullying and by-standing, but also the invisibility that many teens seek in high school.  Ariane, however, follows the rules of invisibility as a life or death mission following her outbreak from the lab in which she was born and raised. No man is an island, even Ariane.  Her relationship with her best friend instigates the breaking of the rules and the discovery of love. This book is one that I would share with students who have loved Marissa Meyer's Cinder or Jessica Brody's book UnRemember that I shared a few weeks ago.  All of these books have strong female protagonists who are slightly altered.  They must confront what makes them different and challenge their makers.

This week I will reread of Jeff Anderson's book Ten Things Every Writer Needs to Know with my college students  as well as finish The Walking Dead Compendium One since my daughter asked me to read over Christmas. Happy reading this week!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Boarding the shuttle
Photographer Lee Ann Spillane

This weekend I finished my first half marathon. In hindsight, I wish I ran more, but I honestly wasn't sure that I would finish. Many people can just pick up and run and it's not complicated.  Okay, it is a little more complicated, but as a LADA, it took a little more thoughtful planning and practice than just gauging miles. I honestly would not have chosen to do this half if my aunt, a breast cancer survivor, had not asked me to last year.  My thinking was that if she can do it so can I.  I trained with 5 women in Orlando and we ended up with a team of 14 women each of whom finished on Sunday.

In my longest practice, 10 miles, I discovered the perfect starting blood glucose for me 129, the perfect breakfast and the perfect timing of snacks.  At every 2-3 miles to keep my blood glucose at the optimal level, I used mini Uber Lara bars that I had scored at a run earlier this year, only 12 carbs and a great mixture of fruit and nuts. I also discovered that the pain I was having in my left foot at mile 7 was a gigantic blister in my foot pad, not a wrinkle in my sock.  This discovery called for new shoes with less than three weeks to run time. All in all, I was as ready as possible for my half.

But the best laid plans don't always pan out.  During the night before the race, I experienced several lows, at least 4 that I remember between the hours of 1 am and 4:45. My friends thought that people were texting me all through the night as the vibrations of my continuous glucose monitor woke them. I had planned so well for lows during the race, but I had no plan for lows while sleeping.  I rarely if ever experience them. As I treated them with the jelly beans I had brought for the race, I worried about how the lack of sleep would affect me too. Needless to say when the alarm rang at 4:45, I got up and got ready to move.

The race, however, was exciting. Pink confetti at the start, people lining the neighborhoods cheering, and breast cancer survivors side by side with you, the one mile memorial walk on the beach. My PA encouraged me to mark every milestone so my time was probably not as fast since we took over a hundred pictures.  Most importantly every person on my team finished, including my aunt who asked us to join her as a breast cancer survivor.  Crossing the finish line for the second time with her was the most powerful part of the race for me.

Lessons Learned for My Next Half
Crossing the finish line with my aunts and sister!
Photographer  Lee Ann Spillane

1.  If you have someone else carry some of your supplies, stay with them. I think my friend still has a pound of jelly beans in her backpack as well as a juice box, which I needed at mile 10.

2. Anything can happen, just stay calm.

3. You can accomplish most anything with your friends at your side, behind you, or in front of you.

4.  Costumes are always worth the time and make people smile. (We wore sequined hot pink skirts!)

5. Yes, I do need everything I carry and I CAN FINISH!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Strawberry Gelato & Lunch

Fresh picked strawberries from Pappy's 
We celebrated lunch on Fat Tuesday by eating homemade strawberry gelato from the berries I picked this weekend. It was delicious, but it was made better by the laughter and conversation of the teachers who don't always come by to eat lunch on a regular basis.  My friend Lee Corey always has a rule about lunch for teachers.  You take lunch with adults. You don't eat at your desk grading papers and you don't eat lunch with students.  Not everyone follows that rule, but when she was here she enforced it with a less than gentle reminder in her honest way.

That's a rule that I've chosen mostly to work by as long as I have been at my current job.  There have been times in the past three years where I've had to work through lunch.  There have also been times in my career where I've even opened my room so students could regularly eat lunch there or chosen to work through lunch. I did what I need to do at the time.

I don't regret the opportunities that I missed, but I recognize that the time I spend with colleagues in informal settings has helped me keep perspective.  At one school, I worked with an amazing ninth grade team where each person provided lunch for the week for the group, one week per month.  Talk about an entire month of food surprises and the luxury of only packing lunch for a week.  The science teacher, Steve, made an amazing creme brulee.  Dawn's secret family recipe for cooking beans is one I am still trying to figure out. My current lunch group knows that my husband makes my lunch and breakfast and I complain about that!  Everyone should be so lucky!
Current & Former Lunch Buddies

As a Type I diabetic, I could share about the health benefits of eating lunch. As a teacher, I could expound upon the meaningful conversations, the great ideas such as book fairies and the hard questions like the one continually posed, "Are you grading behavior?"that emerge at lunch. It may be short. It may be at 10:30, but it is the one part of our day that is not mandated. As few opportunities that teachers get to actually spend with the adults in their building in comparison to the time we spend teaching students or working isolation grading and planning, the conversation at lunch matters!  How do you spend your lunch?

Here is the recipe for the Valentine's Strawberry Gelato  . It is the type of recipe that a busy teacher can manage and even works with frozen packaged strawberries.

Monday, February 11, 2013

It's Monday! What R U Rdg? Sci-Fi & Mystery

Inspired by  Sheila's work, but
appropriate for younger readers
Go to Jen & Kellee's blog to connect
 to what others are reading
for younger readers.
You won't always love the books that you read, but someone else might, which is what I said  after I finished UnRemembered by Jessica Brody.  I might also be burned out on science fiction, but I can think of a few students who would like this book.  The premise is interesting. A plane wrecks and the only survivor is a girl, Seraphina, who remembers nothing.  Not only is it a story of discovery, but it quickly turns into a journey of survival. It is also a trilogy and I love to put series or trilogies into students' hands.  If you are teaching in a STEM program, it might also be appropriate for students there considering the topics of time travel and the line between human and robot.  Now that I am thinking about it, UnRemembered raises great questions about the intersection of humanity and technology.  For these reasons, you might pick up UnRemembered for your students when it comes out in March. It would be appropriate for readers in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade.

This week I also finished Meg Cabot's Size 12 and Ready to Rock.  Heather Wells, a former teen pop star, is now enrolled in college and serves as a residence hall director.  Another job she accidentally falls into is solving mysteries. Yes, this Meg Cabot wrote The Princess Diary series.  She also has written four books in the Heather Wells' mystery series.  I would put these into the hands of older high school students since the story is set at a college.  This book is not too adult, but pure fun.  Since students generally like to read books about people a little older than them, this series fits the bills for girls who are juniors and senior as well as adults who like to read mysteries, perhaps fans of Janet Evanovich's mysteries. If you want a break from ya or serious reading, the Heather Wells mystery is just one of the adult series books that Meg Cabot writes.  Perfect for summer beach reading!

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's Monday! What R U Rdg? Love Stories

    It is Monday! What Are You Reading is originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts host a kidlit and YA version as well. 
This week I am excited to share two vastly different love stories, Ashfall by Mike Mullin and Beautiful Creatures co-written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.  What is thrilling about both of these love stories is that they are told from a male narrator's voice. I am ready to share these titles with several readers.

Ashfall was one of the titles that fell into my hands at ALAN 2012 and I would have finished it sooner had I been in still working in the College of Health and Public Affairs. One could probably argue that Ashfall doesn't actually fall into the teen romance category and that it is more about survival, but it is two love stories. It's about the love a teenage boy, Alex, discovers for his family once he is cut off from them after Yellowstone's supervolcanic explosion. Most of the story is about his travel to find them. It is also about the first love that most teenagers go through albeit under extremely difficult circumstances. Readers will enjoy journeying with Alex as he demonstrates tenacity when facing challenges that would daunt any adult.  The underlying premise about the explosion of a supervolcano makes this story even more compelling. It could happen! I might hand this book to readers who had enjoyed Susan Beth Pfeffer's, Life as We Knew It or use it as a lit circle choice while reading The Odyssey.

Honestly, I wouldn't have grabbed Beautiful Creatures from my friend's stack if I hadn't been intrigued by the movie trailer. How did I miss this series? What I love most about Beautiful Creatures is that the protagonist, Ethan, stands up and does the right thing even though it's hard and even if his whole world turns against him. This message is one of the most important messages that  I hope to impart to my students. Lovers of fantasy and historical fiction will be intrigued by the world of Casters and the mystery surrounding the Civil War flashbacks Ethan endures. I would argue that Beautiful Creatures is more than a love story because it is about survival too.  Surviving high school, the trial that hurts most when you are different from everyone else.

Both books fit into my ninth grade journeys unit and work with my one of  my essential questions "How do you survive?" Ultimately, both are adventure stories and they both are series, the kind of series that you like to get struggling readers hooked on because they always know what they are going to read next.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Sunday

When Americans sit down  to watch Super Bowl tonight, they will watch players who are ready to play with a set of rules that hasn't changed overnight. When these players step onto the field, they will be well prepared. They have studied film footage. They have access to resources such as the best trainers and the best equipment to prepare them for the big game.   They will have all resources they need to give a peak performance for the game of their lives.  

They rested well--- knowing that when they woke up this morning to play, nothing about the game changed in the midst of their preparation.  In fact, they and most every single viewer will have an understanding of the purpose of the game, the rules and what defines a winner.  They will not find that the length of the field has increased  They will not find that the ball has changed shape. They will not find that the referees are making calls using a different set of rules.  On any given Super Bowl Sunday, either team can win, because they are prepared for the most important game of their lives.  

On any given Monday, this is not the case for students in American public schools, especially students who are caught up in the trap of high stakes testing. Last week in Florida, the Department of Assessment  released another rule change for juniors who are already halfway through their playing season. Instead of an 18 on ACT, they now must have a 19.  Many juniors took the FCAT in October and some of them have taken ACT already passing in their mind with what the state of Florida deemed  to be the old concordant score of 18. Some students like the junior featured in this article will discover that they didn't actually pass.  

On Monday morning someone will have to tell students and their parents that their child is still on track to receive a certificate of completion rather than a high school diploma. This information was released to superintendents on Thursday, January 31st. You can read what superintendents received here.  It is easy to make decisions about people when they aren't sitting right in front of you.  The consequences don't seem that dire when you are considering numbers rather than individuals. It's just one point. Not only is this a major game-changer that the juniors will face, but teachers face incredible challenges preparing students for the big game.  

Teachers, students, and parents have not even seen the test that students are given. We have continued to prepare for players for a game without adequate resources and a level playing field while aiming for a moving target.  This decision is exceedingly unfair and the playing field is skewed. If this happened at the Super Bowl rather than in public schools, people would be outraged and there would be extensive media coverage.  

As I grappled with this information on Friday, I wondered what I should do. I not only needed to tell teachers, but students too.