". . .the word of God is not bound." II Tim. 2:9b

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A Song in Heaven

I've been stressed by all of the life events that have collided upon my week: two drama play performances, changes at church, student issues, and minor health problems to name a few. The drama performances alone would be enough to stress a person out. It's so tempting during times like these to forego Bible reading, but these are just the times when we must depend completely on God.

This morning I reread a passage in Revelation that has stuck with me for a month or so.

"Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created." Revelation 4:11

This is one of many songs and choral speeches in the Revelation. When I read them, I'm at peace. My stressful week is surmountable when I look to the God whose will created all things. Like thankfulness, praise reverses anxiety.

Friday, April 22, 2016

"We Are On A Marble"

So these guys make a scale model of the solar system in a dry lake bed. Earth is a marble. The Atlantic video here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Come and Worship" Meets Evolution

Author David Rains Wallace wrote in 2004 that "If there is a Sistine Chapel of Evolution, it is Yale University's Peabody Museum." This month's Smithsonian magazine cover invites readers to "worship" there by way of the issue's pages. For so many of its adherents, Evolutionary theory is true religion.

"Now the Left is the discriminator"

In a new article on nationalreview.com, David French writes about how officials in the state of Georgia are practicing discrimination against Christians working in the public sector for their beliefs as expressed outside of their public capacities. The article focuses on Dr. Eric Walsh, a Seventh-day Adventist who was terminated from his job as a district health director when officials were assigned to listen to his sermons (delivered on his own time), did so, and fired him. The resulting federal lawsuit is the second to target allegedly discriminatory Georgia public officials. In February, the city of Atlanta fired fire chief Kelvin Cochran after learning he'd written a book that reflected a Christian view of sexual morality. Also on his own time.

Why link to this article on a blog meant for Christian teachers in public schools? Because, as French states,
". . .now the Left is the discriminator, seeking to purge vocal Christians from public life. Now, even sermons are not safe from government scrutiny, and a man who’s never been accused of workplace discrimination finds himself unable to find a job in the public. . .sector."

The time has come when all public employees who are Christians will face growing discrimination. I'm thankful that the Bible gives us a road map for navigating the new terrain. We will certainly need it.

More soon on this topic. Please share Bible verses you're turning to as the times change. And let's be praying, even so much the more as we see the day approaching.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Conference Fatigue? 6 Strategies To Avoid Burnout At Education Conferences

I once ditched part of an afternoon's worth of conference sessions I was supposed to attend. The culprit? I could blame a friend and coworker who agreed to ditch with me (was it my idea or hers?). I could blame my undiagnosed adult ADD. The real culprit, though, was conference fatigue. Fortunately, my friend and I had a cover. We were skipping conference sessions to visit the book store. Which translated into a fictitious conference session, "Breaking Down Borders and Building Literacy." Get it? Borders? Actually, that would make a good conference presentation. (Squirrel!) Okay, if you're worried that I lied to my boss, I am pretty sure I 'fessed up later.

But conference fatigue is a real thing. Sometimes you need to pack up your tote bag and head to a quiet place to digest what you've learned, not keep cramming in new information on dozens of topics over a three-day period. We're like cows. We have to ruminate.

How can we optimize our precious time at education conferences so that we glean the most valuable new learning, yet keep sane and engaged enough to retain it? Here are my six best tips:

1. Go with a friend, or better yet, a group of friends. You'll bounce ideas off each other on the car ride there or in the hotel room. You'll swap notes, handouts, and links to double or triple your take-home stash. You'll still network with strangers, but you'll have a safety net of friendly faces if social anxiety kicks in. And when you return to work, you'll have backup when it's time to present to your school staff.

2. Take few notes. It sounds counter-intuitive, but you'll actually take away more of value the fewer notes you take. If, that is, you listen attentively and jot down Web site addresses, key words, and other links to allow you to access the information later. Don't skip note-taking altogether. Just don't worry about encapsulating the whole presentation every hour. Chances are, you'll receive an email with a link to a Dropbox folder containing all the conference sessions. If not, you can often purchase CDs or audio files for a minimal fee. If you'll listen to it later, it's worth it. If not, skip that, too.

3. Interview people. In other words, network. When I go to conferences, I like to visit with other attendees between sessions. I'll ask, "What's your favorite education book?" or "What Web sites do you use every day?" or "What's your favorite science unit that you teach?" It's a great way to get right to the heart of what other teachers are doing well. They'll be thrilled to be the expert for five minutes!

4. Attend for the job you want, not the job you have. Okay, it's supposed to be "Dress for the job you want," but this applies, too. When choosing which sessions to attend, pick one or two that are intended for school administrators, technology leaders, or reading specialists. Branch out. Aim high.

5. Eat out. Don't go back to the hotel room with a doggy bag from the conference. Either eat in the conference dining room with other attendees or go out to a nice restaurant with a few old or new friends. You'll all be ready to talk after taking in lectures (or if you're lucky, interactive sessions) all morning. Share!

6. And yes, do carve out some time to ruminate when the need arises. Maybe you attended a STEM session that has you frantically texting ideas to your teaching partner back home. Or maybe it's day three and you have a migraine starting. Take a break. Put your head down on a table somewhere, sip a latte, or check out your favorite Bible verse app on your phone. Thank God for the growth you're experiencing as a teacher-leader. Breathe.

I hope you attend some fantastic ed conferences this year! I'm looking forward to the P20 Educator Conference in Twin Falls, Idaho in July (I'm presenting on Faith and the Classroom Teacher) and the Idaho Super Conference in Boise in October. What conferences are you looking forward to? What are your best tips for avoiding conference fatigue?

Showing Compassion

Call it drama, call it bullying. A lack of compassion crops up all too often in school settings. It's tough on teachers, who have to try to stand up for the victim and simultaneously set the aggressor back on the right path. Sometimes outside help is required. It'll make you sick to your stomach and have you wondering why you didn't become a ballerina or a long-haul trucker instead of going into teaching.

We're in good company when we stick with the job and act as peacemakers, though. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

Jesus himself is our prime example of peacemaking. One of my favorite verses is Mark 6:34:
"When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things."

It's our job to take compassion on those kids who are suffering and in need of an advocate. When Jesus had compassion on the people who followed him around, he didn't stop to ask them if they agreed with his politics or his mode of dress or his leadership style before welcoming them. They were like sheep. They needed him. So he taught them many things.

May God help us to teach and feed and love the unlovable, having compassion on them.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Learning Through Writing: Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid, I loved to read books from the Choose Your Own Adventure series. On each page was a choice, something like this. "If you decide to risk the mountain lions and explore the cave, turn to page 23. If you decide to look for a stream to replenish your water supply, turn to page 71." If you were killed by mountain lions on page twenty-three, you could always go back and see where the other choice led. In fact, you often died. No problem. Just go back to page one, or wherever you left a bookmark last.

Similarly, video games often include a story with many choices for the player to make. The decisions you make alter the course of the game. When your character dies, you play again.

I like to assign a choose-your-own story to my high school students. It's digital, with hyperlinks to different documents in a Google Drive folder for the pages. The first page sets up the scenario ("You are Sir Lancelot. The castle at Camelot is under attack") and the viewpoint character. Second person present works best for the point of view. At the bottom of the page is the first set of choices. Instead of using "turn to page 5," use "click here" or "click to page 5." Then, link to the new page. Be sure to put the page number at the top of each page, and save each document as the same number. Keep the story to twelve pages or so for beginners, and keep a running list of how each page turns out if you are concerned about the ratio of positive outcomes to negative outcomes.

There are several Web sites students can use to help them write choose-your-own stories, but I like the challenge of creating my own story, format and links. The students are up for the challenge, too.

What should they write about? This assignment works well for fiction or nonfiction. My daughter wrote one in which the reader is a trout. It required her to research the life cycle of a trout and what the trout's natural predators are. I'm researching Antoine Lavoisier, a chemist who was guillotined during the French Revolution. Turning Lavoisier's life into a choose-your-own story has been challenging, since I am working to understand the science part and then to make the concepts easy for my students or other young readers to understand.

To get a better feel for how it all works, see if your library has the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books, or pick up similar versions by R.L. Stein or other authors. Then, create your own story to share with your students. They'll be raring to write!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Universe From Nothing

One of the stickiest conversations you can ever get into centers on the origins of the universe. Among scientists there is no consensus. Among biblical literalists there is hardly agreement. Read an online article about the topic from any viewpoint and. . .well, be prepared to skip the comments posted at the end.

As a Christian who is curious and (on a good day) analytical, I enjoy reading about theories of how the universe began. Some cosmological theory jibes with what I believe God has recorded in the Bible for our hungry minds. Some does not. Many of the terms are puzzling and the ideas baffling. But I like to think about them. I'll listen.

Recently, my school librarian was culling old back issues of magazines from the shelves. I grabbed all the Discover and Smithsonian I could find (leaving Teen Vogue for another day). Over the last few weeks, I've used pictures and stories from the magazines to inspire classroom writing. Then one day I found an article that startled me.

"Starting Point" by Steve Nadis (Discover Sept. 2013) describes cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin's theory of a universe created from nothing. The idea reminded me immediately of the Latin phrase ex nihilo, or "from nothing." It's the wording used by Creationists to describe the way God spoke the world into existence when nothing as yet existed.

Most startling, though was the statement that "something [was] in place beforehand--namely the laws of physics." That reminded me of John 1,
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made."

I know nothing of Vilenkin's religious views, if any, but I wondered how he is getting away with saying the universe was created from nothing. To many scientists, that's heresy. (I like this kind of heretic).

I'll be following Vilenkin and his journey to understand our cosmos. If you concur, check out this short video, "A Universe From Nothing."

You can read the Discover article online here.

Turnitin's Free, Virtual Conference on Writing Education

"Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!" Job 19:23
Writing is a skill that isn't going away just because the world is changing. I'm excited to tune in to Turnitin's virtual writing/tech conference, The Writing Mindset, next week. Sessions from previous years are posted on the site, including "The Future of Writing: I Wandered Lonely In The Cloud" by Anya Kamenetz, Lead Education Blogger at NPR, a session I listened to avidly this evening. What's coming at this year's conference? "How Writers Read," "Teaching the Writing Brain," "Mimicry and Plagiarism," and "What's the Story Behind Why We Write?" to name a few tempting-looking morsels.

These webcasts would make a great discussion starter for English departments, as well as a resource for new teachers and homeschool parents who aren't sure how to approach teaching writing. Just fill out a simple form and click to view.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Get College Credit for What You Already Know

High school seniors are looking frantically for college funds. What if they could receive credit for what they already know, saving time and money? When I was just a homeschooled kid, my mother signed me up to take the College Composition CLEP (College Level-Examination Program) test. I scored well enough to place into English 103 at my college of choice, receiving credit for English 102. (Interestingly, my college still required me to take the English placement test upon arrival--bureaucracy, I tell ya). So there I was a freshman in class with sophomores, having spent the equivalent of today's price of $80 instead of whatever a three-credit English 102 class costs.

English isn't the only subject you can rock. CLEP currently offers 33 exams in five subject areas. 2,900 colleges and universities accept them for credit.

Also from collegeboard.org, now through May 9, creatively announce your college decision for a chance to win $5,000.


My school may be small, but we have an active PTO. This year, the parent-teacher organization brought the STEM Bus to visit and give K-12 students a chance to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in an upbeat, hands-on environment. Stembususa.org offers teacher resources, summer STEM camp information, and info on how to bring the 60-foot Mobile Discovery Lab to your school. I got to test out an Oculus Rift, something even the most avid gamers among my students had never done. The virtual reality OR was also my son Axel's favorite, though he spent a lot of time with the electronic circuit set. It wasn't just me and my kid geeking out, though, Every single person, students and teachers alike, was having the time of their lives. I highly recommend this experience as a spark of inspiration and just plain fun for all ages. Talk to your PTO about booking the STEM Bus for your school!

Presenting Faith and the Classroom Teacher

This July 12 and 13, I will be presenting at the P20 Educator Conference: Reaching for New Heights at the College of Southern Idaho. The subject of my session is Faith and the Classroom Teacher. We'll look at current controversies over First Amendment rights of teachers and students, laws we live by, and crafting a personal philosophy of faith in the classroom. It's my first time speaking to a conference audience on these topics, and I'm eager to open the conversation. Join me in praying that the session will be a blessing to teachers and administrators who attend.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

That Techy Kid

We haven't quite gotten to the point yet where every teacher in every school uses technology seamlessly. Okay, that's a gross exaggeration. We're all still learning. But it won't be long before teaching means tech and learning uses tech and kids are techy at all times, even those kids who see tech purely as a means to their own ends. While we're caught in the middle, older teachers who remember when there were no computers or when there was no Internet or when cell phones were the size of shoe boxes. . .let's just say we can struggle to connect our students to the tech they need. And they do need it--their world will require it as it requires air.

My own son has helped me push the limits of my tech knowledge. I believe in the Bible verse,
"Train up a child in the way he should go; Even when he is old he will not depart from it."
There are different interpretations of Proverbs 22:6, but I apply it in two of the main ones. First, I try to guide my children on the right path, the way to God, the way of righteousness. Second, I try to notice my children's natural inclinations, such as my middle son's inclination toward engineering and technology. Seeing his gifts, I can steer him toward resources, experiences, and opportunities that will encourage those gifts. The opposite of that would be pushing my child to pursue a career in business or some other field for purely financial reasons when he has no interest or affinity for that field.

My middle child reads well and excels in math, but has trouble seeing the value of those pursuits. Only through art and technology (think STEAM) does he lose himself in the joy of discovery and learning for love.

Without knowing much about animation, I have begun to steer my son toward computer animation in small steps. Recently, I told him about some stop-motion animations that the freshmen at school have created. We watched one called The Orange Mission that depicts Lego guys peeling an orange. I offered to help my son learn to do the same kind of animation; we would just have to learn how to put the photos together into a video. To my surprise, he said his Nintendo 3ds had a stop-motion animation feature, so it wouldn't be an issue. Over spring break, we tried it out at our hotel, animating a Beanie Boo owl turning on the faucet and pondering jumping into the sink. Then, without my help, my son made an animation of the owl diving into a bag of Doritos head first, tail twitching happily as he eats.

Next step? Free computer animation software. Last night we downloaded Pencil 2d after watching some Youtube videos for an overview. We tested the software out, not knowing what we were doing. Mostly it was a fail. I went to bed a little frustrated, but trusted that we'd figure it out soon by watching more tutorials. This morning, my son popped into my room. "Mom, I made an animation and it's really cool." Sure enough, he'd spent the early morning figuring out how Pencil 2d worked (by trial and error, the way we learn tech and many other things best) and animated a guy morphing into a cat. Leave it to the third-grader!

I want my son to know I believe in his need to journey. He will explore his way to a career that is right for him and that allows him to use the gifts God has given him. When he is old, he won't depart from it because he will find fulfillment in it. I can safely resist the urge to tell him he won't get paid to play video games all day because that line of "work" is too competitive. Instead, I can help him find what he is truly made to do. This purpose will be a positive gift from God for all his days.

Teachers can foster the same sense of journey toward fulfilling work in our students if we are in tune to their gifts and inclinations. It's one way we can live out a Christian world-view in our secular field.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Tech Quotes

"Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response."
– Arthur Schlesinger (Historian)

Taken from Robert J. Szczerba's list of "20 Great Technology Quotes To Inspire, Amaze, And Amuse" on forbes.com.