Category Archives: Motivation

The Scariest Thing in the World

Kid President covers the topic of the scariest thing in the world in his latest video, and gives us all the best advice – to live our awesome lives to the fullest.  Shout out to Damien for a great dance!  I will be adding this my collection of “Inspirational Videos for Students.”

Screen shot from Kid President's, "The Scariest Thing"
Screen shot from Kid President’s, “The Scariest Thing”

I Just Want to Know Why Joel Didn’t Save the Goat

I despise routine, mundane activities.  My daughter inherited this attitude, unfortunately, so we often find ourselves at an impasse when neither one of us feels motivated to do something that needs to be done.

She rides a shuttle bus from her magnet school each day, and her responsibility is to text me when the bus leaves so I can meet her at its destination.  My responsibility is to keep reminding her to text me so the rest of our afternoon doesn’t turn into angry accusations about who forgot who.

The other day, she actually remembered to text me as she left.  Usually, I try to reward this with a response like, “On my way!” or , “Okay!”  Feeling a bit perverse and bored with always giving the same answers, I decided to text, “ocean,” instead.

“?” she texted back.

I don’t know why I texted “ocean.”  Moms aren’t supposed to do random, unexplained things.  Why did I type “ocean” of all words?  Where did that come from?  How was I supposed to follow that?

“Joel,” I texted next, feeling that I might as well make her think I had gone completely insane.

No response.

When I parked at the school to wait for her bus, I sent one more word – “goat.”

Unsurprisingly, my daughter had raised eyebrows when she finally got in the car.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“You’re supposed to figure out what all three have in common,” I said – as though this had been the plan the whole time.

“They all have o’s?” she asked.


After a few more guesses, she resorted to Google on her phone.

“So, apparently, a guy named Joel saw a goat jump into the ocean,” she said.

“Yeah.  That’s not it, either.”

Google finally rewarded her after she sifted out all of the suicidal goat links.

“They’re all Billy’s!” she exclaimed.


“This is fun!  Let’s do it again!  I might actually remember to text you if this is what happens every time.”

Her last statement penetrated my teacher brain, reinforcing something that I’ve known for awhile but never considered applying to our minor daily Battle of the Texts.

We all enjoy challenges that are in our Zone of Proximal Development.  In fact, they can engage and motivate us.  I observe this daily in my students when they make faces about tough math problems or reading passages – yet beg for more after they’ve succeeded.  It’s why activities like Breakout EDU and the Wonder League Robotics Competition missions are so popular.  These problems are novel and require deliberate thought, but are achievable with hard work.

Many of us struggle with how to motivate our children and/or students.  Rewards seem like bribes, and punishment causes resentment – which is never productive. We want our young people to develop intrinsic motivation instead of becoming eternally dependent on a carrot or a stick.  That ZPD contains the secret. Find that activity that makes them think a little harder, but is within their reach, and their eventual success will make them hunger for the next challenge instead of dreading or avoiding it.

By the way, it has been two days since the first random, accidental text.  So far, my daughter has not forgotten to text me and even, much to her delight, was able to solve one of my puzzles without any help from Google.  Of course, you don’t have to think of your own puzzles like this. Tribond is a game with the same purpose, and there are plenty of resources on the internet that are similar.  If you want something a bit harder, check out “Kennections” by Ken Jennings.

Someone please tell these goats not to jump...
Someone please tell these goats not to jump…

Choose Kind

Today I want to give a shout-out to a teacher.  I’m not going to give his name because I don’t want to inadvertently embarrass the student involved.

Yesterday, my daughter told me about a girl in one of her classes who realized, too late, that she studied for the wrong quiz. Apparently, the teacher alternates Type A quiz and Type B quiz, and she had studied valiantly for Type B on a Type A day.

When the student realized her mistake, she was genuinely horrified and upset.

Before my daughter told me the outcome of the story, I thought about how I would have handled the situation as this student’s teacher.

I’m sorry to say that, as a 5th grade teacher many years ago, I probably would have told the student that she should have checked her agenda and I hope she learned from her mistake.

Inwardly I hoped that my daughter’s teacher was better than the rookie teacher I was 20 years ago.

My daughter told me that the teacher didn’t say anything.  However, as the teacher passed out the quizzes to the students, a Type A to each, he silently gave that one girl a Type B quiz instead.  

What an awesome teacher.  He realized what took me too long to realize – that you never discourage a child’s effort to learn!

Plus, way to be organized and have the other quiz ahead of time😉




Classroom Design

My latest post for Fusion, “The 7 E’s of Classroom Design,” has just been posted.  I was really inspired while I researched that particular article, and knew I needed to step it up in my own classroom. I’m still working on it, but I thought I would show you a few changes I’ve made this year.

Right now I’m working on 2 of the E’s, “Equable and Empathetic Classroom Design.”  With the trend toward flexible seating options for students, I started hunting for some alternatives to the hard plastic chairs in my classroom.  I also aimed for a 3rd E, “Economical,” because, well, I’m a teacher…

I found a $19 rug at Walmart, as well as some $10 end tables and a $20 coffee table.  The coffee table and rug serve as a sit-on-the-floor area for the kids.

Some of my favorite scores were storage ottomans.  Big Lots had some ottoman benches for $30 that I purchased, and I found a set of 3 cube ottomans on Wayfair for $50.

I visited Goodwill 3 times, and have been scouring Craigslist every night for some other wish list items (like a faux leather futon).  So far, that hasn’t been successful, but I’m not giving up.

I went way out of budget (okay, I’m lying – I didn’t really give myself a budget) with the bar stools, but the pair was on sale for $120.  I tried to make up for that splurge by making my  own “bistro” table.  I used a tall set of plastic storage drawers and a piece of drywall we used last year for Sphero painting.  I taped duct tape on the drywall to class it up (maybe that’s not your definition of classy, but it looks better than the drywall ), and then taped a laminated mandala on the top for the kids to decorate.  To make the front look more “table-y” I velcroed two of my $10 end tables together.  We can still access the drawers on the back when needed, but I put stuff-we-don’t-use-too-often in there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the corner, I put the huge executive desk I inherited when I first moved into the classroom, which has a pretty handy glass overlay that was perfect for the new world map I placed underneath.


Since I teach pull-out gifted and talented classes, most of my groups are not very large.  But I was teaching a 5th grade enrichment class last week to a full crowd, and let them test out the new seating area after we went over some expectations (such as, “don’t twirl around in the bar stools even though that’s a very fun thing to do and we all know that it’s extremely tempting).

5th graders using our new seating area

The students did great.  No one fought over seating and they immediately got to work on their projects.  It was pretty amazing to watch.

As I mentioned, the makeover is not finished.  I still have a few more E’s to cover.  The students will be helping me with some of those, so I’ll post those pics as we complete more of the project.

Don’t Try this With a Car

Thanks to my friend, Suzanne, for sharing this awesome video with me!

In this video from Smarter Every Day, the host, Destin, demonstrates what really happens when you actually try to change your mind.  I don’t mean when you switch to pizza instead of a hamburger.  I mean when you try to change something your mind has done the same way for decades, like riding a bike.  You will see the neuroplasticity of the brain in action, and realize that it takes a lot more work when you’re an adult than a child to create new paths in the brain.

Of course, you will immediately want to take the challenge of riding a backwards bike as soon as you watch the video.  If you are so inclined, you can buy your own for $500 at the Smarter Every Day shop.  There is a disclaimer, of course, that you will basically be paying a lot of money for a bike you won’t be able to ride…

Brain Bike Disclaimer from Smarter Every Day
Brain Bike Disclaimer from Smarter Every Day

I’m adding this video to my Growth Mindset Pinterest Board, and I’m going to use my left hand to click on the mouse. Baby steps…

Word Dream

Word Dream is one of those apps that I downloaded because someone mentioned it on Twitter –  and then I forgot to try it.  It is free for iOS, but there is also a paid Pro Version and there are in-app purchases to unlock all of the “goodies.”  I actually did fine with the free version, but had a gift card balance left on iTunes and decided to splurge for everything.  Now I can give my text a 3d appearance or add a fish-eye bulge to it, among other things.

I started playing with Word Dream because I read A.J. Juliani’s post about the “7 Mantras” he is displaying for the year and wanted to make some of my own.  I have a Pinterest board full of favorite quotations, but sometimes I discover an inspiring piece of text that hasn’t been graphically designed by a clever person yet.  Therefore, I wanted to try my hand at making a few of my own.

Word Dream allows you to choose a background from Pixabay or one of your own images.  Then you can add your text using numerous different options for the layout, color, and effect.  It’s not a unique idea, but I found Word Dream very easy to use with plenty of choices for design without too many to overwhelm me.  If Word Dream isn’t quite what you want, here is a list of 20 Alternatives – many that I’ve tried but deleted for one reason or another.

Here are a couple of samples I made while learning the app.  I’m not sure if I’m going to include them in my set of mantras, yet!  The black dog, by the way, is my daughter’s puppy.  (She was a bit more cooperative than my bulldog when I asked her to look adoringly at me.)

Photo Aug 30, 5 52 55 PM



Welcome, Mr. Reed!

I want to welcome a new teacher to the profession.  I don’t know him.  I don’t even know where he teaches.  But I know he teaches 4th grade, and I’m pretty sure his students are going to have an awesome year.

Mr. Reed Welcomes His New 4th Graders
Mr. Reed Welcomes His New 4th Graders

Mr. Reed made a special music video to welcome his students to 4th grade, and watching it made me wish I could be in his class.  I love that he found a way to combine two of his obvious passions – music and teaching.  I also think it’s great that you can download the music track for free here.

You’re incredible, Mr. Reed.  To you, and all of the other new teachers beginning their careers this year, I welcome your energy, enthusiasm, and elation. I wish I could make you feel as special as your students must feel.  Thank you for committing to this profession and, more importantly, to the students.  I don’t have a music video to communicate how great it is to have you join our ranks, but here is a link to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Video for Teachers to help you out on those days when you start wondering if you made the right decision.  (Trust me, you did, Mr. Reed!)