The Last Evening of Winter Break

So, here we are. Last evening of winter break, and I just put the finishing touches on my lesson plans for tomorrow. The last day of a longer break is always an interesting day. Equal parts sadness, anxiety, and excitement fill me as I gear up for a new semester.

Although I am of course a little sad that the break is over, I am grateful for the fact that I have a stimulating, fascinating, demanding, and exciting classroom to return to tomorrow. I am well aware of how fortunate I am to work in a school filled with wonderful students, interesting colleagues, and encouraging administrators. To be sure, not every day is perfect, and not everything goes the way I would want it to, but overall, I am so happy to be working in the school that I call mine. 

So, on this the last evening of winter break, I look back at two great weeks filled with fun, good times with family and friends, a little bit of learning, and I know that I am ready to go back. Ready to see my students again. Ready to try new things. Ready to be challenged. Ready to fall flat on my face a few times. Ready to find out what 2014 has to offer. Here is to hoping that this will be a great year.

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My Five Favorite Tech Tools

I use a fair amount of technology in my teaching, and as I come across them, I am always willing to try new tools, sites, and apps. Some do not work out as well as I had hoped, while others become cornerstones in my teaching. Below is a list (in no particular order) of some of the tools that I use on an (almost) daily basis.

1. Google drive. This app has profoundly changed the way I teach. I am almost completely paperless, and distribute all handouts as well as collect and grade most assignments via Google Drive. Invaluable.

2. Evernote. I use Evernote for a number of different reasons, but primarily for writing blogposts (the tagging feature is wonderful) and for storing interesting things that I find online. The ease with which one can organize and search the material in Evernote makes it extremely user-friendly.

3. Padlet. Another tool that has drastically changed the way I teach. I often have students collaborate in groups, and instead of each group writing their answers on a Word document, I now have them write on a Padlet that I display for all students to see. Increased visibility and collaboration are just two of the great advantages to this easy to use website.

4. ThingLink. I use ThingLink in a couple of different ways. Sometimes, I create a ThingLink image and assign it to my students instead of having them read a section in a textbook. I also have students create their own ThingLink images to demonstrate mastery of the material.

5. VoiceThread. Since I teach a blended class, I use VoiceThreads to deliver some of the content, and I also use them as forums for class discussions. Because my students can comment on the VoiceThreads, it makes this tool a great way for students to interact online.

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As so many other people did on Twitter today, I tweeted what will be my “One Word” for 2014. I actually had quite a few to choose from, but eventually settled on “Balance.”

I have always struggled with balance. I tend to immerse myself a little too much in whatever is at hand, whether that be my classes, coaching, exercising, tweeting, or something else. Too often in the past, I have found myself neglecting other important aspects of my life because I have become too invested in one thing. Of course, there are some benefits with putting a great deal of energy into what you do, but I tend to go overboard, which is why I will make a conscious effort this year to find balance in my life. A better balance between work, fun, family, friends, and hobbies will hopefully make me a better teacher, coach, husband, uncle, son, and person.

So, as the year progresses I will strive to identify when I am at risk of losing that balance. I will make the best effort possible to stay present, level-headed, and conscious of all that life has to offer. It will not be easy, but I am willing to give it my best try.

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How I Came to Love Hot Yoga (And What That Means For My Teaching)

I am writing this after having spent the day with my family, including my parents who are visiting from Sweden. Swedes celebrate Christmas on the 24th, and we had a wonderful day with lots of great food, presents, games, and all kinds of fun.

One of the things that I really like about my parents is that they are never afraid to try something new. They are both retired (or in the case of my father, should be retired, but works more than ever), and they spend as much time as they can traveling around both Sweden and Europe. They are the type of travelers who will go to a place, have few or no plans, but instead explore a city or country hour by hour, always open to any experiences that might come their way.

Although I am still not as good as they are when it comes to trying new things, I think I have made some headway in this area, especially during the past couple of decades. Growing up, I was very uncomfortable with anything that was not familiar to me, but I have now reached a point in my life where I am excited at getting outside my comfort zone.

I really believe that this development has helped me become a better teacher. I would argue that one of my strengths as a teacher is that I am always willing to try something new in the classroom. Sometimes it works well, other times it does not, but the simple fact of attempting something new helps me develop as a teacher, and it hopefully offers my students a more varied approach to learning.

And perhaps most importantly, trying new things has become fun to me. Not just in the classroom, but in other areas of my life as well. Three years ago, my wife dragged me to Hot Yoga, after telling me how good it would be for me. Despite having always been involved in sports, I was not all that keen on trying any kind of yoga, much less hot yoga. But, to my surprise and satisfaction, I absolutely loved it, and have been practicing ever since. When I tell my friends that I do hot yoga, they still look at me in a funny way, as to many of them, I am probably the least likely person to participate in this kind of exercise.

I guess the point of this somewhat rambling post is to encourage you to be as fearless as possible, and to be open to new experiences. Whether that is a new way of teaching a lesson, or a new form of exercise, give it a try. It might end in complete failure, or it might be the greatest thing you have ever done. The point is, you will never know if you do not try. That is one of the best lessons my parents have ever taught me

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Haiku For The First Day of Winter Break

Very first day of break
Home with bad ear infection
I thought: just for kids?

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Open Educational Spaces–The Future of Our Schools?

As we are approaching the end of 2013, media will be filled with all kinds of “best of 2013” lists, which I always enjoy reading. However, rather than looking back, today, I feel like looking forward. Although educators often view August/September as their “New Year,” the calendar new year is a good time to stop, reflect, and set some goals for the new year.

Rather than unleash my entire wish list for 2014, this blog post will focus on one thing that I hope to spend some time on during 2014. One of the things that is starting to gain some traction in the educational community is the redesign of the traditional classroom. There are already schools that have entirely or partially abandoned the “normal” classroom for more open designs. Although these designs vary from place to place, one of the common denominators is that they all embrace a less structured, more open design.

As my own teaching has changed during the past couple of years, these new design ideas are something that really interest me. So, for 2014, I will make it a priority to do some additional research on this topic, and to see if any of these ideas can be implemented in my own classroom. I am intrigued by the notion of a more open space to facilitate more creativity and collaboration, and though I am not entirely sold on the idea yet, it holds enough promise to merit additional research.

So, if you are an educator who has experience from these new learning spaces, I would love to connect. What are some of the positives and what is not working so well? I am curious to hear your impressions and how you think that we can rethink educational spaces to suit our students in the best possible fashion.

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It Is That Time of Year

The holiday season is upon us, and I am looking forward to a break and to spend some time with my family and friends. My parents are in town, and I will have a chance to spend Christmas with both my family and my wife’s family, so I am so fortunate, especially considering the fact that many people struggle through lonesome holidays without and/or away from loved ones.

Despite all of this, there is still a piece of me that is a little bit sad. I grew up in Sweden, and spent the first twenty-one years of my life there. When I was younger, my parents, my sister and I would all travel to the far north to visit my grandparents over the Christmas holidays. No matter how old I get, those twenty or so Christmases are etched in my mind and when I think of Christmas, my first thought always goes back to those holidays.

One of the difficult things of being an immigrant is that there are feelings, sentiments, and atmospheres associated with your home country that you can never escape. I am sure that I look at the Christmases of my youth through rose colored glasses, but still, these memories remind me of the difficulty of leaving one culture for another.

Do not misunderstand me. I am so happy to live where I do, and I would not want to change my current life for anything in the world. I have the most amazing wife that I still cannot believe actually agreed to marry me, my wonderful sister with her family lives nearby, and my parents make frequent trips from Sweden to visit. And yet, a small, small part of me still misses that very cold air as I stepped outside of my grandparents’ door to go cross country skiing. That same part sometimes longs for all the traditional Swedish Christmas food. It even misses the omnipresent darkness during the winter months in Sweden.

I am fully aware that I am being nostalgic, but then again, it is that time of the year. But, at the same time as I feel a tinge of sadness, I am grateful. Grateful that I had those experiences when I was younger. Grateful that I am now living in a wonderful city with a wonderful family who is helping me make new Christmas memories. Grateful that I have had the privilege to get to know two countries and cultures very intimately. Grateful that I have fond childhood memories to think back upon.

So, on Christmas eve, I will call my grandparents and ask them how they are doing, thank them for all that they did and continue to do for me, and then move on to enjoy the blessings of my beloved family. In the end, I am thankful for the little bit of sadness as it reminds me to appreciate all that I have had and continue to have. Not all of us are fortunate enough to make joyful Christmas memories, and the memory of the crisp snow under my feet as I walked through my grandparents’ city helps me see the larger picture. Yes, it is ok to miss my home country. But, more importantly, these memories help lift my spirits as I realize how incredibly lucky I am to be living the life that I do.

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