Writing and Tweeting

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Someone I talked to recently said that they believed social media is a “career killer.” They are afraid of it ruining their professional life. Although I can’t argue with the fact that people have lost jobs over MIS-use of social media, I couldn’t disagree more with this statement for me.

I have been on Twitter since 2009–to be honest, I signed up to get updates on the NFL draft during my husband’s cousin’s wedding. What can I say, the Lions had the #1 pick that year. It was too important to miss! Since then, my Twitter account has been a source of professional inspiration for me. In the last few DAYS alone, I have made connections with people I never would have otherwise. These people have become writing collaborators, helped me with my research, and opened up doors for other opportunities to serve my community. And these are people from all over the country, ensuring that I get to hear from people that don’t share my same viewpoint or life perspective. And I LOVE this. It’s also nice to whine to people from the south about the insane amount of snow we’ve been getting in Michigan, since I get true pity from them. (Probably a foot just this morning. Thanks Detroit!)

As it always does, my inspirations turn into writing. My writing goals for March are mostly about learning more about how teachers use social media to network. I am so intrigued by this idea of networking and community among educators on social media. I started a book called “Net Smart” by Howard Rheingold. I skipped right to the chapter on networking and he described how people in these social media communities like the NerdyBookClub or #sschat help each other out of a sense of duty. They help complete strangers because they know complete strangers will help and have helped them. It’s like the ultimate pay it forward. In a world where the voice of the teacher is being silenced and teachers are being compared and in some cases pitted against each other like competitors, finding spaces where the opposite is happening is amazing. I want to know more, and write more, about this space.

So…the writing goals for March. (I am hoping to blog about more than writing goals and more than once a month, but for now…)

Grant Proposal for Research Study on NerdCamp

I am attending NerdCamp this summer, another brain-child of a Twitter community. I wrote a little bit about my study in the hopes that I can get some funding to interview a lot of social media-using teachers there.

Book Review

I’ve been asked to write a book review for a book about integrating social studies instruction with other subjects. Something I know a bit about! The book review genre is a bit challenging, but I am excited to take it on for an online publication.

CUFA Proposals

I am just finishing up my proposals for the NCSS research conference in November. I am working on two proposals with a lot of collaborators. One of the proposals is on the affordances and challenges of using social media with students in social studies classes. It should be no surprise that I connected with collaborators for this proposal on Twitter! I have never met them in person or “IRL” if you will.

I am also getting ready to present about another research study I did on students’ Twitter use in one of my classes at AERA in Philadelphia. My adventures in Philly are sure to fill another blog post not about writing goals.

A Slice of Life!

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This week in my writing methods course, I introduced my pre-service teachers to the idea of writing about a “Slice of Life.” Many blogs do “Slice of Life” challenges in March, and I used the Two Writing Teachers blog for examples of slices. During our weekly independent writing time this Monday, I had them all write “Slices.” I was reading through them today and my goodness, they really understood this genre. I was really into all of their pieces–some of them made me laugh out loud. They have such unique voices! I want to ask them if I can post some to this blog; hopefully they agree. Many of them are too good to share.

Independent writing time in a methods course is going well. I was nervous that they would think it is lame or that they wouldn’t see the point of it. A student today said she was really enjoying my class because of the independent writing time– she called it “peaceful.” The only “complaint” I have received so far is that one girl wrote that she didn’t enjoy the Madonna song I was playing during writing time. I think it’s going well, which makes me feel good since this is the first time I have taught a “writing” methods course as opposed to a “language arts” methods course.

In my own writing world, I finally submitted that lingering piece yesterday and it felt very good to get it off my plate. I just needed to sit down and devote a couple hours to it and finish it up, but I was struggling to make myself do it. I finally buckled down on Tuesday and it felt great to send it off. I have another journal article now that is in the polishing stage and then I can send that one off too– hopefully this week. My collaborative proposal pieces are starting to take shape as well.

This was a good writing week! Let’s hope I can keep it going!

Writing Ruts

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My goals for January writing and #nerdlution were very ambitious, I know. I actually made pretty good progress. But then I decided to get to one particular journal article and I got stuck.

I often get into these writing ruts–I’ll work on a piece for a long time and get excited about it, then get to a place where I am out of ideas. I put it away with the intention of getting back to it sooner than later, but it always ends up being later. Now, here I am, knowing that I need to pick it up again and I am dreading it. I am dreading it mostly because I still don’t have any ideas about how to fix it. I know that the best way to write myself out of a hard place is to just write, but my brain is pushing back on this. How much do I listen to my head, and when do I push through?

Here are my writing goals for February:

1. Finish that lingering piece. It’s about economics instruction in the elementary grades and using the inquiry arc/approach to do this. I am stuck, but my first Feb goal is to get unstuck.

2. Finish that civic engagement piece from January. This one should be easier to write, since I have already written chunks of it and outlined the order for these chunks. Now I just need to put them in place and polish them up.

3. CUFA proposals. The annual conference for NCSS is in Boston this fall, and I have three ideas for proposals for CUFA, the research part of the conference. I am excited because these pieces are collaborations and I love writing with other people. However, these can sometimes take longer because they involve talking with other people, and usually I conceptualize writing in the car or the shower–hardly the best places for collaboration.

I’m keeping my goals to three this month (but really #3 is 3 pieces in and of itself, but whatever). Let’s hope I get out of my rut and get back in the groove.

Mentor Texts: Borrow or Buy?

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I haven’t blogged in quite a while, I know. Lots of personal things going on have kept me from writing as much as I would like, and blogging about NOT writing probably wouldn’t be all that interesting to read. I have made some progress on my overly-ambitious January writing goals, but I haven’t accomplished everything I would like. I’ll set February goals and share those soon.

The biggest thing I’ve been doing in January, when I haven’t been interrupted by polar vortex snow and cold days, is teach a couple classes of my writing methods course. I’ve also been teaching my social studies methods course as well. The last few weeks in both classes, I’ve brought in children’s books. In social studies, I wanted to show how teachers could use text sets to teach certain social studies concepts in ELA, and I just packed a huge bag of books for Monday’s writing class on mentor texts. 

Whenever I want to bring books in, I run into the same dilemma– I don’t have nearly enough children’s books. I mean, I have a decent amount (especially for social studies) but I always envision stacks and stacks of books to bring in for these classes and I don’t have stacks and stacks. So, what to do? Do I buy more to add to the collection or do I borrow?

I never know the right answer. I don’t have a ton of money to spend on books. I have asked around about funding options at work and have hit a few dead ends (most of the funds I have available are for research, not books). I am not giving up on finding funding, but even if I did find money to spend on books, where would I start? There are so many options! And I would want to stretch my dollar the best I could–where would I purchase them?

So borrowing from my local library is nice and free, but lately I have had some specific titles in mind that aren’t available. My library is quite nice, but it can be a pain stopping in every week to check out a new stack and then taking them back when I’m all done. And borrowing books just means I have to keep revisiting the well every year and I don’t get to just pull from my shelves.

What approach do others take? Do you spend a ton on books or borrow? If you buy, where can you get the most bang for your buck?

And not bringing books to class just isn’t an option. The smiles on everyone’s faces when I walk in with a giant box or bag of books is too good to pass up!

Kids Are Capable of More Than You Think

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I have spent a lot of time lately researching and writing about some pretty complex topics–  social entrepreneurship, microfinance loans in developing countries, and international human rights documents. What surprises most people when I discuss my work is that I research teaching these topics to elementary students. 

I taught middle school social studies for several years and have had other classroom experiences working with elementary students as young as Kindergarten. I also spent many years consulting with elementary teachers about social studies instruction. In my work, I came across lots of people that doubted what young students could do regarding social studies–so much so that they were hesitant to teach the subject at all. I heard so many comments like “These students can’t work in groups”, or “No way will these students understand [fill in the blank historical event” or “My students can’t….” 

You get the idea. In my opinion, some of these statements were a bit unfounded. Sure, a lot of the students in these classrooms had very little experience with social studies but that shouldn’t be a reason to NEVER give them that experience. I’ll never forget one teacher saying that she couldn’t teach social studies in Kindergarten because her students had no background knowledge. They’ve only been on the earth for 5 years! Of course they have very little background knowledge! Instead of the attitude of “I need to give these students the background knowledge and experience”, she used their inexperience as a reason to avoid social studies. In these teachers’ defenses, however, many of them have had very little experience learning social studies themselves. When it requires some work, knowledge, and guidance to help your students learn social studies and you are out of your comfort zone providing this, it makes sense that this becomes a very scary endeavor.

But let’s not project this discomfort on students when making claims about what they can or can’t do. I came across this quote from Sheldon Berman last year as I was writing my dissertation:

Our conception of the child as egocentric, morally immature, uninterested in the social and political world, and unable to understand it has effectively deprived young people of the kind of contact they need to make society and politics salient. Young people’s distance from politics and their lack of interest may be the effect of our misconceptions, our ignorance of their potential, and our protectiveness (Berman, 1997, p. 193).”

Berman understood that sometimes young children’s perceived or actual inabilities are because of our own projections of what they can do. In my work, I set out to show teachers and students that are doing amazing work to highlight what students CAN do, and I am continually impressed but not surprised when young students rise to the challenge.

Most recently, I worked with a group of 5th grade students at Lanley Elementary. I engaged these students in a project-based unit centered around economics, but also integrating math and literacy as well. The students learned about entrepreneurs and what they need to start and run successful businesses through concepts of revenue, cost, profit, loans, interest, and price. They also learned about how some entrepreneurs start social businesses that address community needs and that some people in developing countries need small loans to get these businesses off the ground.

In teams, the students started social businesses that addressed a community need that they chose– helping raise awareness of child abuse victims. The students received a loan to create and sell products like homemade calendars with inspirational messages, and a variety of children’s toys that were royal blue, the color of child abuse victims awareness. Together, we found an organization working to build a homeless shelter specifically for children and teenagers. Because we had learned about human rights, the students made the connection between homelessness and child welfare. By the end of the project, the students had more than $700 to donate to this shelter. They created a final presentation that they gave to the entire school that described their work and presented the shelter with their profit money.

I faced the same problems as many teachers do when I began the project: the students had trouble working together in groups and they had little to no background knowledge on economic concepts. But we kept at it, and yes, even though this project took a while and was very challenging at times, the students rose to the occasion. That paragraph above doesn’t do justice to all that they learned about economic concepts and math concepts. It doesn’t do justice to all of the amazing literature they read through the unit and the practice they had reading complex informational text, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More importantly, in my opinion, the project gave the students experience making a positive impact in their community. After one successful experience making a difference; whose to say that they won’t be inspired to do more now that they have done it once before?

Since I now am responsible for working with pre-service teachers, I need to somehow get it across to them not to underestimate their future students either. This will involve me getting them more comfortable with teaching elementary social studies to break this cycle. It’ll be a lot of hard work and effort on my part, but I’m pretty sure pre-service teachers are more capable than one would think as well. 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mead


Students reported profit totals at the end of every day as part of their math instruction. All profits were later donated toward the construction of a youth homeless shelter.


Writing Goals for January


Happy new year!

A year ago this week, I declared 2013 to be the official “Year of Writing.” True, I wrote a very important piece last year that took up an amazing amount of my time, but I have since decided to dub every year of my life the “year of writing.” I would like to spend my time in 2014 writing more and different pieces, as opposed to only one the entire year.

To celebrate what hopefully will be quantity and quality, I am going to post my writing goals every month. These will be pieces that I hope to write this month. Hopefully the blog will keep me accountable. I am going to try to make January pretty prolific , so we’ll see how that goes. Here’s what I hope to accomplish in the first month of 2014:

An Article About Teaching Human Rights

The teacher I worked with in my dissertation study taught a thematic unit called “Human Rights.” I really want to use my observation data from my time with her in this unit and write a piece about what it looks like to teach about human rights in elementary grades. I need to read more to write this article, for sure since it wasn’t a focus of my actual dissertation study.

An Article About Civic Engagement Among 5th Graders

A main finding in my dissertation was about how teaching a project-based service learning unit helped develop 5th grade students’ civic engagement. I have a LOT of data for this, and even some text drafted. So this will take some time for me to cut & polish & add.

Plan an Article About Using Read-Alouds in Social Studies

One of my favorite professional experiences of 2013 was presenting at the National Council for Social Studies with my colleague, Stephanie. Our research interests about using literature in content areas are pretty similar, so we put together a poster presentation. I had so much fun talking one-on-one with teachers (as opposed to the stand-and-deliver type of presentation) about their interest in reading more about this. At the end of the allotted time, we just looked at each other and thought– we have to write about this more! Hoping to make this thought a reality.

Revise Two Pieces I’ve Already Drafted

I have an article coming out in the fall of 2014 that needs a few tweaks. I also wrote another article that needs a lot of tweaks before I submit it for publication.


Of course, I want to write more about writing. I am teaching a writing methods course starting Monday, so I know I’ll have lots to share from my students and my own experiences teaching writing. I can’t wait.

Let’s hope 2014 is productive!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?



I have seen this meme on others’ blogs (Book Journeys and Teach Mentor Texts among many others) but this is my first time participating. I figured that now that I am officially on holiday break as of last night, and my main goal is to put a dent on my to-read stack, why not? Here’s what I am currently reading as well as what’s next up on the list.

For my “work reading”, I am browsing through Regie Routman‘s Writing Essentials. I am looking for good pieces of it that I can share with my pre-service teachers.


I am also nearing the end of my every-odd-numbered-year re-read of the Harry Potter series. I recently blogged about my love of Harry Potter on the Nerdy Book Club blog and why I re-read this series every other year. I am trying to finish before 2013 is out and I am very close. I am at the very end of the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Last night I had to stop because I was getting to the crying parts and I didn’t want to get all emotional before bed.


Next up on my to-read list is Allegiant, the final book in the Divergent trilogy. I bought this back when it came out, but it’s been sitting on my Kindle app ever since. I have heard mixed reviews about it (and even some spoilers), so I hesitated to get started. But who am I kidding, I have to read the end of this story. That’s what I’m starting after Harry Potter.


Also on my to-read list is a different kind of book: Fantasy Life, by Matthew Berry. I am an avid fantasy football player– I have been playing for 10 years! Matthew Berry is an ESPN analyst whose fantasy football podcast I listen to daily during the football season. He wrote a memoir of sorts about his life playing and making a living off of fantasy football. My husband read this book and loved it, and he reads about 2 books a year, tops. So if he recommends it, it must be good.


So that’s it for my first IMWAYR post! Let’s hope that once the semester starts again I can keep it going! 


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