Saturday, July 31, 2021

Summer PD: A Walk on the Wild Side

I mentioned in my toe-dipping into back to school ideas that I've been attending a series of one-day summer institute professional development days at school. They're run in-house and on a completely optional basis (though paid!) and cover a variety of subjects. One of the nicest parts is that you can gear it toward your own professional learning and interests. Additionally, it is a great way to meet up with a variety of our preschool to grade 12 colleagues and get to know them better. Classes run from from anywhere to 6-20 "students" (aka other teachers), so a quick connection builds and the discussions can become quite rich--both on topic during class and off topic during lunch.

Like most teachers, I love learning new things. I also often teach a class or two in the summer. This year, I co-taught a class called "Walk on the Wild Side: Integrating Environmental Education in Your Classroom" with an Upper School Science teacher. We taught it in Summer of 2019, and rebooted it this year. One of the fun perks is that we have all of the participants bring their bikes and we bike the 2+ miles between campuses on the community bike trail and picnic and geocache about halfway along the way. 

In addition to discussing  Florence Williams' book Nature Fix and the health benefits of why we need to get outside, we incorporated some tools such as scavenger hunts and nature observations which can help teachers get in touch with the outdoors. 

One of our activities was to inspire our participants to come up with a setting outdoors for a 2 inch Playmobil figurine using only natural items. (My kids loved these when they were little and we have a ton of them. They make the perfect teaching tool!) The neat thing about this activity is the curricular connections: it could serve as inspiration for a story students would then write;it could be to build and showcase a chapter in a book; or it could be a maker activity putting the design process to work solving a problem. Our adult creations and backstories were phenomenal. Plus, it got the juices flowing for other ways teachers could modify these (and other) activities in class.

Along with afternoon work time for teachers to think of their own ways to infuse the outdoors in their classes, we invited participants to add to the growing document of ideas that we started, that grew in 2019, and grew even more this year. The list is housed in a professional development part of our online portal and available to all. Here are some of the inspirational and collective ideas from our teachers to you! We broke them down into time periods so anyone could find something that fits with whatever time block they have available!

5-10 Minute "Walk On The Wild Side" Classroom Activities to get kids outdoors--Many at this time period could be"brain break" events:
  • Hide and seek with objects or people -- especially in foreign language classes
  • Pato pato ganso (Duck Duck Goose in Spanish) or on hot days, drip drip drop or tie in with new vocabulary (example: noun, noun, adjective)
  • Numbers freeze dance on playground using sidewalk chalk and music
  • Compare our weather to weather in target country
  • Sidewalk chalk recording and illustrating the themes in the book as an anticipation strategy prior to reading
  • An inside activity, but daily: tally the number of days or hours you DON’T need to turn on lights due to lights coming into the room.

10-20 Minute Activities
  • Scavenger hunt with nature vocabulary, team building, or tie to concepts and bring it outdoors
  • Bury magnetic letters in sandbox and have preschoolers dig out and identify letter
  • Book Club Activity based on a novel about survival/nature
  • How many triangles can you make with 9 sticks?
  • Practice writing letters using water and paintbrushes
  • Play season detective and scour the schoolyard for all the signs of the given season 
  • Use sidewalk chalk to create a grid where kids can count and sort objects
  • Build a nature structure using “found nature” items outside for a “character” (Lego or Playmobile figure). Put a time period on it. Photo and share (or annotate), museum walk, etc. Put on parameters about how tall, wide, the perimeter, etc.

20-30 Minute Activities
  • Maximizing the exploding can (hydrogen coffee can experiment)
  • Bohr Model of the Atom Amphitheater
  • Build a Structure for Lego person and calculate “you size” (scale/dimensional analysis?)
  • Soccer with language immersion (foreign language)
  • Collect flowers and leaves and do leaf rubbings with crayons (younger students)
  • Novel read aloud at outdoors- have the kids “act out” different characters and add stage directions to the text 
  • Shape walk, followed by sketching and labeling what you saw
  • Write math problems on the blacktop with chalk and have students find pinecones, rocks, etc., to represent the answer.
  • Build a model of a topographic map with natural items

30-45 Minute Activities
  • “Escape Room” that takes place/incorporates outdoor space 
  • Have students chalk compass directions onto the blacktop and take note of what they see in each direction. 
  • Form adjective list, then go on a walk or on schoolyard nature trail and try to find an object that matches each descriptive word.

45-60 Minute Activities
  • Kite flying (and making) for the Breadwinner chapter book unit
  • Book-themed party hosted outdoors w outdoor challenges/activities 
  • Scavenger hunt from PD Day 
  • Solar Ovens/Wind Turbines
  • Water Quality in pond or stream
  • Carbon sequestration (tree diameters)

An Hour-long + Activities

Apps & Other Goodies

Art from my camera or created on

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Canva For Education

In my last post, I mentioned toe-dipping into some edtech tools this summer. It left me with needing to put Canva in a post of its own!

Canva has long been a go-to website for me for creating digital signage and imagery. I've used it frequently here at GTG, always referencing when I do. They've made some additions with their Canva For Education which make it a teacher's dream! No doubt it's one of the many edtech shifts that have come out of remote and hybrid teaching during the pandemic, making it easier for students and teachers to connect.

The perks of Canva for Education:

  • It's free to K-12 teacher's and their students--sign up just entails a teacher login on your school domain and verification.
  • Teachers can invite students to their Canva classroom to assign and manage class activities.
  • It works seamlessly with Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, and more.
  • It opens up pro features including fonts, icons, and images.
  • The templates!! A wealth of customizable templates on every subject including social-emotional learning. Insert 3 thumbs up here!! Some of the broader category of school-specific templates include:
    • Class Posters
    • Schedules
    • Graphic organizers & mind maps
    • Lesson Plans
    • Certificates
    • Bookmarks
    • Certificates
    • Class Decor Kits
  • Not to mention all the templates they already had which could be adapted to the classroom: 
    • Integrating Bitmoji's (just discovered that one!)
    • Presentations
    • Infographics
    • Business Cards
    • Brochures
    • Newsletters
    • Resumes
    • Invitations
    • Even fun stuff like T-shirts, menus, postcards, and logos. Just think of the literature extension ideas you could use by assigning creative activities like these.
The possibilities are endless, both from the teacher productivity standpoint and the "create and write" standpoint for your students! 

"Head Back to School With Canva" art created at; Graphic organizer image screenshot from; Logo from

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Toe Dipping into EdTech Tools For the Fall

I think I've entered that "toe dip" season of the year. I'm not talking pool or beach or other water sports, which are all at full emersion! The "toe dip" of which I speak is that point in the summer where my mind is slowly going to thoughts for the new year. Slow. Bite sized. Bits. Then instantly jumping right back into the full emersion part of the pool! A slight visit, but then a swift return to make sure that I'm "wearing my summer well." It's an interesting evolution that happens for teachers. It's all part of the swirling healing process of closing out one school year and the recouping and readying for the next year.

I've had some mid-summer one-day professional days at school.We do these "Summer Institutes" every summer so our teachers can learn from our teachers on a myriad of topics. These become the perfect toe-dipper kind of days. Good time to rejuvenate and refocus, and learn new items, which in turn start those spinning wheels to start looking into other things. My next several posts will be on some of those workshops, and on some of my other toe dips along the way.

Today's toe-dips include some really cool online edtech resources I've run across that would benefit any teacher. They include timesavers as well as other inspirational finds. May you enjoy toe-dipping into them at your leisure:

  • Seesaw Connect, which is an online virtual global conference for Seesaw Teachers next week: July 26-30. Once you register (free!), you can can take a multitude of online, on-demand short courses to get your gears turning on how to incorporate Seesaw in many different ways. Access remains open until August 13th.
  • Education World has a slew of templates, diagrams, forms and charts all classroom-centric that you can print. Great resource!
Best part of can take one, try it out, then go right back into summer mode. You can investigate while you've got some of that free time on your hands and check out what's new out there. May this little list inspire a tidbit of toe dipping, then let you re-immerse yourself into whatever part of summer you wish. My favorite is always my pool!

Art created on (my next-time toe-dip tool to share!)

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Power of the Wind and the Weather

Two days prior to my wedding (in the wayyyy back machine), we had a "Hurricane Day" off of school (think "snow day") two days prior due to Hurricane Floyd. It rained and rained, and I gleefully tackled all those last minute bride things. Unfortunately though, our wedding venue had it's power knocked out, and we had to re-route the entire wedding in about 24 hours. We did--the day ended up being a beautiful day--and we are still in our "happily ever after."

Flash forward a handful of years.

We moved to Florida for my husband's job, where we lived about 6 years. During the first two weeks of our move there we had a tropical storm. I don't even think it had a name. The idea of it scared this Midwest girl to death. Unlike before when I was living in Maryland and it wasn't a direct hit, the intensity of Florida weather brought about more of a fear factor. All we got in my Hurricane Floyd experience was rain and power outages. Not necessarily direct hits. I was way more accustomed to the occasional weirdly-green sky that accompanies a tornado and the dash to the basement than any kind of water/ocean destruction. Other than anxiety, we clearly survived with the only fall out we had was a hyperspaz dog and watching the intensity of rain fall on us. 

Flash forward another handful of years.

After living in Florida, you find yourself saying seemingly-bizarre statements like "It's only a Category 1 hurricane" and "that 'cone of uncertainty' will shift and we'll be fine." It's funny how experience of "weathering the storms" gets you here. Yes, we boarded up our house a few times, and we also packed and left occasionally, to go to the other side of the state to avoid the brunt of it. But we were always fine. However, we also saw the destruction from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. At one point earlier in its trajectory, Katrina had been tracking right to us. Luckily it shifted leaving us fine, but horrified for New Orleans. We counted our blessings on more than one occasion.

Flash forward 16 more years.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Elsa swept through our time while we were vacationing in Duck, NC a few weeks ago. We had a lovely day of massages in store--perfect for the rainy weather--and were surprised by the limited amount of rain we actually got. We had already preemptively "battened down the hatches" the night before at our rental house,  so we weren't really worried. Yes, there were white caps on the 2-3 foot deep Currtick Sound out our back window, but nothing more. Those comments came back to our kids: "It's only the tail end of a tropical storm." It made for a relaxing indoor day of books and games and comfort food. Until bedtime.  That's when the strongest band of weather came through. Being in a beach house and right on the water, we were more exposed than I had ever been in a weather situation. I've never felt a house shake like this. The wind was intense. I later discovered it was upwards of 25 mph with gusts up to 42 mph--all from 11 pm to 3 am. No wonder the house was shaking, the way these homes are built up--not fully on stilts, but with openness underneath.  I never got into full panic mode, but it was a level of angst I hadn't felt in awhile. I think some of the calming effects of the massage earlier that day had worn off.

But we weathered the storm and even slept some. In fact, the sun was out and skies were clear by 7 am the next morning. The only true evidence of a storm (other than the still-jitters in my stomach) was the debris line halfway up the yard showing how high the water rose.

Even the osprey nest next door looked like it had also weathered the storm quite well. Given that, I'm a bit in awe at their construction skills!

It definitely shows you the power of nature, and leads you to a reverence where you honor that power. It causes you to take pause as you watch the events and intensity on the rise and breaking records. And it certainly has you counting your blessings. 

"Tropical Storm Alert" image from, Hurricane Floyd weather map from, Category 1 hurricane chart from, Wind Chart for Duck, NC from, all other photos from my camera.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Biodiversity, Birds, & The Outer Banks

As I mentioned in my previous post, we vacationed this summer in Duck, North Carolina. A trip planned in February when the future of the pandemic was still unknown and a driving getaway vacation seemed like the best plan. Mountains last year in New Gorges River, West Virginia; beach this year in the Outer Banks.

I've never been to Duck, nor the Outer Banks in general. I've been reading about this "ribbon of sand" of barrier islands in a book in our rental house entitled Duck: An Outer Banks Village by Judith D. Mercier. Printed in 2001, it is 20 years out of date; however, given it's a historical "biography" of the town, it's only omitting the last 2 decades. History is history, and it's been interesting learning about Duck's and seeing in the pages some of the places we have already been. 

Additionally, Duck is a designated bird sanctuary. Approximately 400 bird species have been seen in and around this part of the the Outer Banks and their waters. The variety of habitats such as tidal flats, ponds, salt ponds, grass beds, shrub thickets, and maritime woods--plus other factors including the barrier islands becoming a good "stopping spot" when winds and weather hit--makes it a perfect spot for a bird sanctuary, indeed. Additionally, it's part of the migratory waterfowl's Eastern (or Atlantic) Flyaway, making it another reason for birds to stop and visit, especially in the spring and fall. Ironically, the only thing using the duck blinds out in the sound are the migratory birds!

Not far south of Duck is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1938. It too is a "nesting, resting" sanctuary spot for migratory birds and other animals, including the endangered Loggerhead sea turtle.

Darn it, why did we forget the binoculars!

Interestingly, Twiddy (the rental company we got found our vacation stay through), has an amazingly extensive Birding Guide to the Outer Banks of coastal North Carolina birds of the barrier islands. Featured on that page along with the slew of native birds to this area are 20 bird facts featured in infographics.

Another excellent resource on birds is The Cornell Lab's online portal "All About Birds." Using this, I think I've determined that my white diving fisher birds are Northern Gannets. They do make a dramatic plunge!!

Of course, I can't mention Cornell's Bird Lab without mentioning Merlin--their birding app. I had to move this one to a more prominent spot on my phone and make sure to add the US: Southeast Bird Pack!

From Mercier's book mentioned above: "Today, ornithologists and ecologists value ospreys as an indicator species. These birds help gauge the general well-being of an area's ecosystem and the health of its waterways" [page 249]. Despite the growth of development in both Duck and all of the Outer Banks aver the last several decades, the fact that we have these bird sanctuaries and the variety of biodiversity bodes well for the area. Just as we have seen eagle populations grow and flourish over these decades, ospreys have too

All of which brings me back to the osprey nest I've been watching here from our back balcony at Duck. As quoted from Judith Mercier's Prologue [pages ix-x]:

"A pinch of earth separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Currituck Sound. Generations ago, a meager band of seafarers, fishermen, and duck hunters settled this area of North Banks land. They and their families built a small community, a neighborhood sheltered by the oaks and pines growing atop the sand hills. Today thousands of summer tourists visit the same place, a bantam village they know as Duck.

Duck constitutes barely 2 percent of the land area of North Carolina's Outer banks. Virtually hidden until the early 1980s, the village and its inhabitants enjoyed several centuries of solitude and anonymity."

Yes, traffic was a bear on Duck Road when we arrived. However, once landed, like the nested ospreys I'm watching, you understand why. The Northern Gannets know why. And probably so do the other 300 or so species. 

Duck is certainly a good spot to nest and rest. 

Quotes from Judith D. Mercier's book: Duck: An Outer Banks Village, map from, all other pics from my camera and compiled in

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

#Blueminding in Duck, NC

As I'm writing this, we are on vacation in the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Duck, specifically. 

It ties in so brilliantly with having finished re-reading Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do byWallace J. Nichols. Our backyard view is the Curritick Sound and water as far as the eye can see. In fact, on our dock this very instant, I have a hunting osprey who is lying in wait atop a post, ready to swoop down on any fish nearby to bring home to his or her little one in the nest two doors down. All of this puts 3 ospreys in easy view, adding both a show and symphony from their squawks of these magnificent birds. 

Other seabirds are fishing too, leaving a plethora of things to capture my interest the water, distracting me from my writing task at hand. However, ironically, the distraction IS the task. The writing IS the distraction. The water IS the point. Each dive-bombing bird on their fishing expedition brings a smile to my face. Being brought up a midwestern girl, this vista wasn't my typical landscape growing up. The cornfields are home, but water is my sanctuary.

Speaking of's calling. The water. The writing can patiently wait.

* * *

During our week in Duck, we distracted and #blueminded a lot:

Walk downstairs to paddleboarding 

Watching neighbors & their fishing mornings

Beach lazing 

Balcony gazing

Wave chasing

Deck sunning


Biking and board walking

Boating and dolphin watching

Dining on the gifts of the sea

I'm ready to go back.

Photos from my camera and graphics created at on

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Green & Blue: What the Doctor Ordered

On our road trip heading to our vacation destination, I was listening to a multitude of podcasts, and 2 of them talked about our brain's capacity to take in new information. Surprisingly, we can only learn 3-4 hours of new content a day. That goes for teachers and students alike. It really spoke about the exhaustion factor that comes with that--especially in remote (and hybrid) learning. When I think of the intensity of the learning curve for everyone on this planet the last 16 months, it shows me how "wired and tired"and over "tech-ified and fried" we all have been, and how much recovery time we all need. All of which brings me back to Florence Williams' Nature Fix & Wallace J. Nichols Blue Mind and of course the concept of "nature deficit disorder" coined by Richard Louv. We all need prescriptions to get outside, to then nearest waterway or green space. We need moments of eco-mindfulness to re-center, restore, and recover. Aaron Reuben reiterates the same thing in his May 2019 article for Outside Magazine "Science's Newest Miracle Drug is Free." 

If you need help finding someplace, ParkRX America's website is where you need to go. You can type in your address and instantly find some good green and blue space nearby. Plus, in their Media section, you can find a slew of good books to read to reiterate the point (both of which I mentioned above are listed!). And here's a good video from ParkRX to get you in the mood to head outdoors too. Which I will definitely make sure is a large part of my vacation!!!

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Red, White, & Rejuvenate

I ran across Matthew E. May's June 30, 2016 article "The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Productivity Over A Long Weekend Is Also The Most Fun." The "long weekend" in question was the 4th of July holiday, and he wrote it 5 years--long before pandemics and quarantines. Yet, "the meat" of the article still holds so very true. While "Red, White, & BBQ" sound like a great plan for the Fourth, his points in his article make a solid call for nature outings, unplugging, and firefly fireworks as being an even better plan!

He detailed studies from the University of Kansas and University of Utah that investigated the effect of stepping into nature and stepping away from our digital devices and their impact on creativity. I know I was pretty tech-centric 5 years ago (and often wrote about my love-hate relationship with technology--despite the fact that my job is very tech-connected)... but it doesn't hold a candle to the tech life I've lived this past year with zoom calls, hybrid & remote teaching, and the necessity of having to use texts, Facebook, and video calls with loved ones who live far away. If there was a researched and studied benefit 5 years ago, you can bet it's still needed and probably in the category of mandatory versus just plain necessary.

The findings in this study showed that a 4 days in nature (hiking, in this study) showed a 50% improvement in creativity. Futher findings showed that insight and problem solving were also improved due to stepping away from the constant demands that our pinging smartphones and digital data overtax our busy brains. This is particularly true for our the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for processing and organizing information, short term memory, attention, decision making, and impulse control. We get tired and stressed and digitally overstimulated, these sometimes are the first things to be affected and go on the fritz!

Whether it was a result of the increased time in nature, the decreased time with tech, or the combination of the two was not delineated. However, it does seem like a stellar combination to pursue given the outcome. Do we need days on end of this unplugged, nature-centric regimen? Probably not. But some time out in nature, soaking in some green or some blue, might be the best way for you to really reset this red, white, & blue holiday to help you not only rejuvenate but to also up your game at work or at home.

Images created at