EdCamp Happy Valley & Why You Should Try an UnConference

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending my first EdCamp. Hosted by two teachers in our district, it was free, it was local, and it was fun (and I think EdCamp Happy Valley will be back next year). If you haven’t attended an EdCamp before, essentially it is an unconference. This means there’s no set schedule or set presenters until the day of the event. Whoever shows up shares ideas of what they want to talk about/learn about, and then the organizers create a schedule based on what people present want to explore.  Once the schedule is completed, you go to a room where there’s a topic interesting to you, and you have a conversation about the topic.

This democratic approach to Professional Development was eye-opening for me.  I know there are some amazing professionals in my district and in nearby schools, and this opportunity to network with them and share ideas and learn about how they approached challenges in their classrooms was fascinating. to me.  I attended a session on flipping the classroom and walked away with people to contact, with ideas of how to integrate it, and advice on what is best practice for flipping with high school students.

There was one session I did go to where there didn’t seem to be anyone in the room who was an expert, and when people just started Googling information on the topic, I excused myself and went with a colleague to start brainstorming ideas from a previous session.  The beauty of the EdCamp model is the concept that if you don’t find a session working out for you, it is not frowned upon to remove yourself and use one of the spaces designated as learning lounges.

The timing for this event was perfect for me. We’ve returned from spring break, the third marking period is ending, and I needed some re-energizing to approach the last marking period. If you haven’t had a chance to try an EdCamp yet, I would recommend it.  At first, I thought it was all tech-centered, but I realized when I arrived, any topic could be suggested.  Driven by teachers, centered on students, EdCamps provide a new model for professional development that I found appealing.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

EdCamp Happy Valley & Why You Should Try an UnConference

Emily Dickinson: A Light Exists in Spring

Emily Dickinson

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human naturefeels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.


Emily Dickinson: A Light Exists in Spring

Why (& How) I’m Using Snapchat as a Teacher, and Why You Should, Too

Why (& How) I’m Using Snapchat as a Teacher, and Why You Should, Too

Snapchat has been around for about five years now, and I’ve used it for the last three, but in the past year, I’ve been using it as a teacher, and sharing my user ID with my students. I did a survey at the beginning of the year, and more students used Snapchat daily than any other social media (I’m not counting email or GoogleDrive because they have to use that for school).  I decided I needed to capitalize on the fact that over 70% of my students were using Snapchat. Once I announced that I had a public account, many students were incredulous. One even asked how old I was.  However, over the course of the year, I’ve seen benefits in using Snapchat in terms of sharing resources, reminders, book recommendations, poetry, and, of course, cat videos.

(For a great resource on the history of snapchat, complete with a timeline and tutorials, check out this article: “The Snap Generation: A Guide to Snapchat’s History”)


When I’m planning for our next class, sometimes I’ll share a clip of what we’ll be doing. For example, when we read Hamlet, I snapped a short video of David Tennant‘s version of Act II scene ii. Students arrived to class excited to watch the entire thing (and one confessed she ended up watching a bunch of David Tennant’s Hamlet videos the night before class).

Recently, I was watching Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events, which numerous students told me I needed to see. When the episode with all the Moby Dick  references came on, I snapped a video and shared it to my story, which let the students know I’d seen it, and then gave us something to chat about before class the next day. I do this whenever I see a reference to one of the books we read in class in other works.

Sometimes I’ll snap an image of a New Yorker cartoon relevant to what I’m teaching (here’s one relevant to this post).


When important due dates are coming up, I often snap a photo of the calendar to remind students about it (in case they haven’t recently opened up my constantly-updated online version of the calendar).

I also share general school announcements/reminders.  Posters hang all over the walls of our high school with information about clubs, activities, opportunities, and lectures. I make it a point to snap those posters and announcements regularly. I find that many students take screen shots of many of these posters (you can tell on your story if someone has taken a screen shot) and this encourages me that what I’m doing is useful to some students. In snapchat you can circle the date or add an emoji to your picture.

Book & Poetry Recommendations

I like to share my reading life with my students, so Snapchat allows me to do this in an unobtrusive, but consistent way. I find myself taking pictures of the books I read (I also keep my instagram as a record of books I’m reading, as well as my Goodreads, since they disappear off my Snapchat story.) Students will often screen shot the book covers, favorite passages, or entire poems that I share. This lets me know, again, that some students are benefitting from my recommendations.  Often, I’m reading a book recommended by a student (like with the snap below about We Are Not Ourselves) so it is a way to acknowledge how much I’m enjoying something a student shared with me. 


Another fun way to use Snapchat as a teacher is to celebrate what happens in the classroom. Now students across classes can see fun things we’re doing.  For example, I can video a short performance: our school does singing Valentines and I was able to record some of those on Snapchat, allowing students who were singing to see themselves. When we do creative activities in class (like this illustration of a quote on a page from an old copy of Moby Dick) students can see their own work celebrated and also appreciate what classmates created.  (I also hang them up on my classroom walls, but I’m not sure they notice that all that time.)

Cat Videos, Adventures, and Cookies

Finally, Snapchat allows me to share some of my own goofiness / quirkiness with my students. I often snap little videos or pictures of my three cats, or of adventures my husband and I take, or of the hijinks we get up to on weekends. For example, here’s what happened in a Target one Saturday: 

When we had a snow day recently, I snapped the process of making chocolate chip cookies.  I like my students to remember I’m human, but also to give them ways to connect with me. Students who love my cat videos will share pictures and stories of their own cats. Students who have been places I visit will ask about my trips (plus, there’s a really cool thing in Snapchat called Geotags that allow you to use a filter when you’re in a particular location.) Being able to form connections with students is a step in helping them take academic risks and grow as learners and writers and people.

Paradigm Shift

By using Snapchat, I’ve even shifted the way I think about teaching, and I’ve asked students to use it in the classroom.  When teaching Of Mice and Men, I had students create a snap Lennie or George might have sent to each other. This helped them make meaning of the characters a little better, and demonstrate to me they understood what the story was about. 

This year, when a student struggled with how to explain his claim about agony and how it appeared in a sculpture (related to Moby Dick), I suggested he use Snapchat to diagram the lines on the image. You can upload an image to Snapchat and draw on it, so this made it easier for him to write about the image once he used Snapchat to modify the it in the ways he referred to in his paper

There’s so much Snapchat can allow you to do for your students and your classroom. I admit, when I first heard of it, I dismissed Snapchat as a silly app, something I would never need or use. However, now I find myself snapping something anywhere from 3 to 10 times a day.  It has allowed me to communicate with my students when they’re not in my classroom and it helps me shift my thinking at times.

The important thing I would add here is the way I’ve set up my account. I have it set to public, so anyone can follow me, but I do not follow my students back. I figure it is just better for everyone involved if they can only see my story, but we aren’t actually “friends” on the app.  This makes it more professional.  You can change that in the settings of the account.  If you’d like to follow me, my snapchat ID is k1a9t7e5. Just be prepared for a few cat videos mixed in with the English snaps.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Why (& How) I’m Using Snapchat as a Teacher, and Why You Should, Too

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

A former student sent me this book as a surprise gift, and I’m grateful, although I’m overwhelmed by all the feelings I had while reading it.  Another friend warned me I wouldn’t be able to read it all in one go, and he was right. I found myself reading about 30 or 40 pages and putting it down to process and to regain some emotional distance.  This book takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions.  Partially because you go from present day Griffin, who mourns the death of his best friend and former boyfriend Theo, to past Griffin, who comes out to Theo, begins to date him, and allows us to see how their relationship formed.

Silvera masterfully crafts the novel with just the right amount of information.  He keeps us waiting to figure out why things are awkward with Wade, what he said to Theo on the phone, and whether Jackson will be a part of his life, too (after all, Jackson was dating Theo when Theo died). He also waits to give us the whole story of the day Theo dies out in California. The suspense created kept me going back to the book even though it was at times depressing.  Additionally, Silvera writes all his characters compassionately. Whether it is Griffin explaining his compulsions (scratching, counting, walking on the left) or Griffin talking about Theo’s family (and younger sister Denise).  These are complex young people who have real conversations, real struggles, and real sex (yup, there’s some sex scenes in here, just in case you thought about handing this to a much younger reader). Plus, there’s plenty of references to Harry Potter, Star Wars, and imaginary worlds with zombie-pirates, so that made me pretty happy to read a book with nerdy people like me.

Image result for history is all you left meI would highly recommend this book for the writing, the storytelling, but also for the process of grieving.  Often in the book people tell Griffin to just move on, get over it, let it go. That’s much easier said than done, and this novel shows us why we struggle when someone we love dies sooner than we anticipated. And we need other people to help us through, just like Silvera writes: “There’s nothing wrong with someone saving my life, I’ve realized, especially when I can’t trust myself to get the job done right. People need people. That’s that.”

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Book Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Soliloquy

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s Soliloquy

This year, when teaching Hamlet, I offered a choice for students: they could write a traditional homework exploration, or they could rewrite the To Be or Not to soliloquy in III.i and also write a reflection about the process of writing it.

This came about because last year, a student included her own version in her final synthesis paper:

For the reader’s pleasure: Un Soliloque en Pointe

To dance or not to dance—that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The pain and aching of outrageous footwear,
Or to take arms against ballet tradition
And, by opposing, end it. To spring, to bend—
No more—and by a satin shoe to end
The bunions and the thousand shocks
A dancer’s foot is heir to—’tis an effectuation
Devoutly to be wished. To jump, to point—
To point, perchance with ease. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in shoes soft and dead what blisters come,
When we have shuffled off this marked sprung floor,
Must give us pause. There’s the misalignment
That makes arthritis of so long life.

The results this year were impressive, and based on reflections, I will be requiring it for students next year.Here’s why:

1. Students had to choose a decision they were thinking about and write about it, thereby putting themselves in Hamlet’s mindset. Now, there were a number of silly versions, but even in those, students had to consider both sides of the argument. Some wrote about the decision to go away to college, some wrote about taking a nap.

2. Rewriting it helped students really understand what Hamlet was saying–better than just reading and taking notes on it. Here’s one student’s thoughts: “Writing this version of Hamlet’s soliloquy gave me a better insight into what he was really saying. It’s easy to glance over something once and not understand it, but going through line by line to see what fit while making my own version really helped comprehension. I noticed while reading over it when I was finished that Shakespeare really did write in a way allowing natural breathing techniques for those delivering his lines, which made it easy to replace the words and still have it make sense.”

3. They were fun to read and also gave me insight into how much students understood about how the passage was composed as well as what they were currently struggling with in their own lives.

I also think this activity––having students rewrite a soliloquy from Shakespeare–could be transferable to other plays like Macbeth or Julius Caesar, or really any instance where a character has a solo where they’re trying to make a decision. Although only about half of my students chose to do this option this year, I’ll be having all of them doing it (with more guidance and deliberate teaching from me) next year.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

The Value of Asking Students to Re-Write Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Soliloquy

Students: submit poems by March 15

The National Federation of State Poetry Societies will be closing their student contest in 3 days on March 15, but there’s still time to submit to this free contest.

From their website:

No entry fee required.  Open only to students in grades 9 through 12.
Sponsored by Kay Kinnaman Sims and Nancy Baass.
Subject: Any
Form: Any
32 line limit.
1st Prize: $50. 2nd Prize: $30. 3rd Prize: $20
For contest rules head here.
As we’ve posted about before, having a real, live audience can encourage students to produce their best work. And having a cash prize doesn’t hurt, either!
Students: submit poems by March 15

A Poem for March: Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

I got your Letter, and the Birds –
The Maples never knew that you were coming –
I declare – how Red their Faces grew –
But March, forgive me –
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue –
There was no Purple suitable –
You took it all with you –

Who knocks? That April –
Lock the Door –
I will not be pursued –
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied –
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame –

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-7-58-09-amPhoto taken at Emily Dickinson’s gravesite in July 2016.

A Poem for March: Emily Dickinson