Seven Sign-Off Saturdays

Back in August, I made a decision that I didn’t think was going to be a big deal. I decided that I would set aside technology every Saturday in exchange for some down-time.  Anyone who knows me, knows I live a tethered life. My five (yes, 5!!) mobile tethering devices are never far from my grasp, and my weary eyes are the poster children for Visual Fatigue. After years and years (and years) of seemingly non-stop connectivity, I needed an intervention. I was finally committed to unplugging one day per week for my family.

sign off

Now, I know the promise I made wasn’t all that original, or unusual. Folks all over the globe take technology vacations, cut back on connectivity and (like me) ironically post about their experience online.  I know in the whole scheme of things, Saturdays sans technology isn’t THAT big of a deal.

Except it is.

It has been a very big deal.

My first Saturdays were spent in a bit of a lost-puppy phase. Without my Saturday morning technology check-in, I had to re-work my schedule.  The couch beckoned to me.  My laptop lay silent; pouting.  My iPad rang out with a chorus of dings and chimes which were clearly an attempt at a Siren Song.  I restlessly searched for diversions….  laundry, dishes, vacuuming, dusting, weeding, errands and (?!!?) more laundry.  I was trying to keep busy to keep away from technology.

You are probably seeing it already, but it was a lot longer before I did – I was missing the whole point, wasn’t I?

I had given myself the opportunity to connect with others and enjoy some down-time, and instead I was just trying to fill the time with busy work so that Saturdays would go by faster.  Seriously? I wanted to Saturdays to go by FASTER?  Ugh, I needed a re-intervention!!

When I woke up to the realization that I needed to enjoy Saturdays, I saw my behavior patterns change.  I started cooking, and shopping with my kids (it seems teenagers love to shop), and spending time with Mr. Brooks. We went seaglassing.  I took photographs. I volunteered my time.  I began reading actual books!  I started looking forward to Saturdays, wishfully hoping they would last a bit longer.

Tree collage

I also started being very aware of how technology-dependent everyone else appeared on these Saturdays.  After all, it wasn’t like the Internet shut down on Saturdays just because I didn’t show up.  I still received messages, and emails. I was missing photos and videos.  I was putting off responding until Sundays while I payed attention to what I saw going on in my home and in my community.

One of my favorite device-tethered people. My daughter, Kendyl.

One of my favorite device-tethered people. My daughter, Kendyl.

Heads-down and fingers flying, folks around me were Liking and Pinning and YouTubing and e-mailing and Vining and Tweeting and Posting in ways that made me see myself in a new light.  I realized the promise I had originally made to my family was essentially a promise to myself.  I was reminded of all the things I loved doing before technology overtook my very existence.

What surprised me the most over these past seven Saturdays was the fact that I started to crave down-time even more.  So, soon after school started, I designated Wednesdays as Web-Free for Me.  I check my email before leaving school, but now am trying my best to stay logged-off until Thursday morning rolls around.  I’m also finding myself setting aside technology earlier and earlier on Friday evenings; essentially extending my Sign-Off Saturday by a few more hours.

While striving for balance has been a goal of mine for quite some time, I feel that I am finally making strides in the right direction.  Admittedly, I have a ways to go.  Please don’t ask me about Stuck Online Sundays!  If you have any advice or connections to share, feel free to leave a comment!

Homemade zucchini bread, anyone???

RemindersPicture Day is Tuesday! Please have your child bring in their order form.  Thank you!
Thank you for returning your green forms. We are hard at work, trying to reduce class sizes for the benefit of all children. Your support is so very much appreciated.


Speak Life,

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September 29fourth graders Letter of the weekSeptember 29 letterfourth graders video of the week

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A Day in the PARCC

As the sun came up Saturday morning, I was bound for UMass Boston for a day filled with testing. I don’t mean I was being tested. Phew! I was asked by TeachPlus to join a group of teachers who came together in an effort to analyze and give feedback on the next generation of standardized tests for students. Feedback groups were assembled in cities such as Boston, Chicago, DC, Memphis and Nashville.

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Taken from the Student Center at UMass Boston – what a beautiful campus!!!

As we all know, MCAS has been around for about 17 years. With the onset of the Common Core in 2010, there has been a need to improve testing to reflect the critical thinking and hard work students are doing in schools. To this end, a consortium of many Common Core states came together and are developing the PARCC test. Some students already field tested the computer-based assessment last spring, and Falmouth students will be taking the PARCC (instead of MCAS) as part of a pilot program this year.  With feedback from field tests, pilots and teacher reviews, the folks at PARCC will improve and adjust their product so it is rigorous, engaging, well-aligned to the common core, and appropriate for each grade level.

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On Saturday we spent a lot of time analyzing the variety of question types on both the ELA and Math portions of the PARCC. We used an extensive rubric to evaluate whether or not the tests met the criteria for high-quality assessments.

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I can say without a doubt these tests will measure what students know, understand and are able to do.  MCAS questions were limited in their variety. Students either chose a multiple choice option, wrote a short answer, or composed an open response. Students now will answer multiple choice questions where they may have to choose more than one right answer. They may have to defend why they chose a multiple choice answer by finding evidence in the text. They will drag-and-drop information to organize tables and graphic organizers. They will compare multiple pieces (written and video) and compose written responses using those sources as evidence. They will complete multi-step math problems where process and understanding are key to the solution. They will use many dynamic digital tools to organize and explain their thinking.

I feel good about the fact that the PARCC test developers and the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education heard our hopes, concerns, criticism and praise.  As teachers, we were given a voice on Saturday, and I am learning what a powerful thing Teacher Voice is.  We want our students to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged and we all know tests are not the only measure of a whole child. While the system is not perfect, we are making strides in the right direction to improve education for all students. Thank you for your support this year as we scaffold students through a rigorous curriculum and find the balance between Play and Preparedness.

These tests will reflect the understanding students are developing as they become ready for college and careers over time. Though that “finish line” may seem so very far off from where we sit in 4th grade, I can assure you it is right around the corner.  My daughter is finishing her Senior year in high school, and my son will be taking the MCAS for his (hopefully) final time this year as a Sophomore as part of his graduation requirement.  They were little  just yesterday, believe me!  Their path towards who they will become is already being paved, and they are charting their own course. I can only hope there will be many folks lighting the journey for them along the way.


Thank you to those who made it to Meet The Teacher night. It was great meeting everyone! Also, thank you for returning your parent surveys. SO valuable!
Remember tomorrow is our first Early Release. Be sure to send in a note if your child’s dismissal plan changes.  Thank you!!

Speak Life,

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September 22fourth graders Letter of the weeksept 22 letter

fourth graders video of the week

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Getting Acquainted

We’ve had a great start to establishing a sense of community in Room 303. I am getting to know your children and they are getting the hang of our schedule, routines and expectations. A combination of games, videos, songs, lessons, and assessments have helped us  come together as a group and are allowing me to gain a clearer picture of these fourth grade students as learners.

This week, parents have homework, too! Please be sure to fill out the surveys I’ve sent home so I can get to know your family a bit better. I refer back to these several times during the school year as I find them to be very valuable.

I gave students instructions on how our Homework Menu works. Each square on the homework menu is designed to take about 15-20 minutes. Students are required to do at least one square on each night the Homework Menu is assigned. Adults are asked to sign the block with a quick note about what it was the student did.

I have been enjoying the weekly letters 303 students have written. Students should work on drafting, revising, editing and publishing their letter for about 10 minutes each night. I’m certain their writing skills will improve over the year and we’ll get to know each other better in the process.

Meet the Teacher Night is this Wednesday at 7pm in the classroom. I look forward to meeting everyone as we kick off your children’s final year at Mullen-Hall.


RemindersWe have PE on Tuesdays. Please be sure your child is wearing sneakers so he/she can fully participate in the lesson.

I am getting XtraMath up and running for the year. Once you register your child his/her progress from last year will carry over to this one. <<Fingers Crossed>>.


Dream Big,

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September 15

fourth graders Letter of the week

September 15 letter

fourth graders video of the week


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We are on a journey to memorize all of the states and capitols! Wish us luck!!

IntheHall Studios… In The Making

My fourth graders have been chomping at the bit, begging me to open the boxes that arrived in our classroom last week:

what is in the box

I had them make written predictions about what was in the boxes….  Their guesses ranged from iPads to Purple Ponies.

mystery boxes

When the time finally came, I still didn’t make things easy for them.  We opened up the items, one by one, with students furiously taking notes all the while.   They wrote down what they thought all the items were, and how much they thought everything was worth.  There were some familiar items, like silver umbrellas, while others were unfamiliar, like a 4-foot-round silver frisbee-looking thing.

One item that was a big hit was the 30-foot expanse of packing paper! We dragged that off to the art room to be re-purposed into something cool.

packing paper

Now, students are busily writing predictions on what everything will be used for. We’ll share more about our new project, soon!!

Welcome to Grade 4!

This is officially our first week in 4th grade, and I think I’m already starting to get the hang of things!!  I thought I’d use this blog post to show you everything that will soon be coming your way via email newsletter. Though I write a weekly paper newsletter, and post resources here on the blog, our classroom email newsletter is the best way to get ALL of our resources in one place!  If your email is already registered with the school office, your email newsletter will come to you automatically (within the next few weeks). Be sure to sign up if you haven’t already!!


Each week, you will receive a newsletter. Sometimes it will be a curricular update. Sometimes it will describe current or upcoming projects. Sometimes the newsletter is simply a reflection of what is happening in our classroom.  In any case, it will help you to gain a clearer view of what goes on in Room 303.

fourth graders weekly newsletter

Psstttt….. Our “newsletter” this week is exactly what you are reading, RIGHT NOW!!!! :)   Sometimes, I will also include

Remindersfor upcoming dates and events, as well.


Our homework for the week will also come home. For the first half of the year, students will receive a weekly packet, all due on Fridays. Oftentimes, our homework includes time to read, practice math facts, our weekly letter, and I’ll add in some extra practice here and there.  Our Homework Menu option is for students to choose that which they need to improve (organization, math, vocabulary, exercise, etc…).  There will be no homework on weekends or on early release days.

September 7

reading and math practice log

Created using Stationery Studio from the awesome folks at FableVision Learning!

homework menu

fourth graders Letter of the week

sept 7 letter

In class each week, I share a video with students. We watch it several times to allow learning to sink in a bit deeper. This video is shared on the website and in our weekly email newsletter.  Most of these videos are from YouTube and require an adult at home to assist in watching. In the classroom, we do not allow students to watch YouTube videos unattended.  Adults are always in charge in playing the videos, and I oftentimes use ViewPure, a website designed to remove advertisements and suggested videos.

fourth graders video of the week

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Our e-mail newsletter always includes a weekly website of interest to parents and families. I will not include this website on our blog or our paper newsletter. ;)

fourth graders parent site of the week

Edutopia is one of my favorite websites for current and relevant information.  This link will bring you to a Parent Guide for 21st Century Learning:

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Finally, our e-mail newsletter includes links to our classroom Twitter account, classroom videos, student presentations our curriculum resources, and any other opportunities I create during the school year.

fourthgraders twitter page

Whew! Looks like we’ll have resources floating around everywhere! Please let me know if you have suggestions or feedback to make communication more transparent as the year goes on.  WELCOME!!

Dream Big,

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Mr. Brooks, Kendyl and Carson are ready for the Patriots Game. Kendyl and I saw the Nutmobile and hung out with Mr. Peanut!

Mr. Brooks, Kendyl and Carson are ready for the Patriots Game. Kendyl and I saw the Nutmobile and hung out with Mr. Peanut!

To See, I Had Only to Look

Summer is drawing to a close, and so have my searches.  There were two things I spent my summer searching for, and I came to find they were there all the while… if I just looked a little closer.


My first search was for sea glass, which Mr. Brooks and I have collected together for 23 years. He has eagle eyes for sea glass and finds it everywhere we go. Me? I look and look and look (and look) and usually cannot find it. My mind wanders off to my to-do list, or I start looking at the ocean or watching birds. I get very frustrated because he makes it look so easy.

sea glass bottle

This year I joined an online group of over 8,000 sea glass enthusiasts. Every day I see their amazing images of treasures they find on beaches all over the world.  From marbles to pottery to beautifully colored glass – each of the members share photos of their finds. One of my seaglass friends is Cherylann. She lives in Puerto Rico and has been collecting sea glass on those beaches for 2 years. Here is her photo showing the work she has done sorting her collection by color:

Cherylann Sea GlassHer beautiful photos and story inspired me to put new effort towards my own search for sea glass. Recently, Mr. Brooks and I went to Sagamore Beach to look.  At low tide, our beach is SUPER rocky, and I usually have a terrible time being able to find anything but rocks. Take a look:

rocky beachSee???? Every time I leave the beach without sea glass, I usually feel sorry for myself.  I think everyone else must be better at sea glassing than I am.  I believe I must be one of those people who can’t do it. It’s pretty pathetic, really.  For some reason, this day I had a positive mindset. I decided I would focus only on hunting for glass, and would think about nothing else.  Each time my attention wandered, I would refocus. I was in the Zone!  Before I knew it, I had collected a whole handful of sea glass!

sea glass

I truly believe it had been there all the time…. It seems my lack of finding was directly related to my willingness to actually look for it. Lesson learned? Anything worth finding is worth the effort to look for. .

Why am I posting about sea glass hunting on my classroom website?  As you may have guessed, it has to do with the second thing I have been searching for this summer….


I have been a third grade teacher for the past 9 years, and tomorrow I’ll start my first year as a fourth grade teacher. Though on the surface, this transition may seem like a small one, to me it feels like a very big one. I loved third grade, and really got the hang of it over these past years. All summer, folks have been asking me if I am excited about going to 4th grade… Am I ready?  Do I need anything?  Their support and encouragement has meant the world to me.  However, I have been looking and looking and looking (and looking) for my “identity” as a fourth grade teacher.  When someone asks me what I teach, I want my automatic answer to be “I am a fourth grade teacher!”.

I contribute to an online Pinterest group with over 35,000 followers, all surrounding topics important to fourth grade teachers. Every day I see amazing pins from teachers in classrooms all over the world.  From lessons to strategies to beautifully organized classrooms – each of the members share photos of their craft.

pinterest page

The more time I spent on these websites, the more I learned about all fourth grade had to offer. I became engaged by new curricular topics and the opportunities of working with older students. I stopped seeing my shortcomings and started to recognize the signs showing I am already a fourth grade teacher.  Check out what I mean:

My family vacation took us to Washington DC this summer, which I absolutely loved.  I think my travels JUST MIGHT come in handy while working with fourth graders…

dc collage

Similarly, I’ve been decorating around the house, and look at what I’ve got to share….

A chronicle of our family’s US travels is in our new kitchen:

travel map

My grandmother made this quilt documenting her trip cross-country with my grandfather, dad and aunt. Each button marks a spot and the embroidery follows the route they took.

map quilt

The more I really looked around me, the more I found all signs pointing towards fourth grade. It seems to me, that to see myself as a fourth grade teacher, all I had to do was look more closely.

So, I’m leaving third grade behind, and am setting off on a new adventure alongside my students who have never been in fourth grade before themselves.  I can’t wait to see them tomorrow <~~ that never changes! Be sure to stop by and say hello!!

Still Dreaming Big,

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Non-Stop Flip-Flops

“Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.”  ~Sam Keen 


Newport, RI

Here we are, past the middle of July – I can scarcely believe how quickly the summer is flying by. Though laziness is a bit elusive for me, I keep searching high and low for opportunities to be just that. A drizzly Sunday morning seems just the right time to kick off my flip-flops, plop on the couch and do a quick check-in post before the days get away from me…


My trip to ISTE earlier this month was amazing. I recently posted all about it in a blog post on the IntelEDU Teachers Engage website. You can read all about it (and check out the photos) here:

This Much I Know Is True


The Brooks family has been hard at work, keeping our eyes peeled for license plates.  We have already found 47 on our list!  Have any of you been playing The Great Summer State Plate Race?  Be sure to share your progress so far.  Here is our list:

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Our house is still coming along since it was flooded back in December. We have 3 major projects left to do, but have gotten quite a bit done since school let out.  Our latest project was finishing the basement (again), so the kids have a place to hang with their friends one side, and our playroom on the other side is now a home gym!

Carson and I worked together to refinish this smelly old weight bench I bought, using a LOT of paint and elbow grease:bench old

Mrs. Brooks will have no excuse for not exercising more, now!

workout room


Soon the 4 of us are headed to Washington, DC.  Mrs. Brooks will be attending in the ASCD Leaders to Leaders conference, and the rest of the Brooks family will be sightseers.  We have carved out enough time for all 4 of us to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum and to take a night tour of DC.  It should be fun for everyone!


So how is your summer shaping up?  What have you done so far? What are you looking forward to? I’d love to hear all about it! Feel free to say hello!!

Dream Big,

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ISTE Newbies: Don’t Just Survive… Thrive!

I know posting these suggestions a week after #ISTE2014 is a little #latetotheparty… but with my experience still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share anyways.  As an ISTE newbie, I spent hours and hours (and hours) reading survival strategies before I headed to Atlanta.  Many of them were helpful, but living it was far different than planning it. Similarly, I know deep down that each Newbie will have his or her own individualized experience. However, I cannot help but share my own First Time Wisdom!  What would you add, based on your experience?

ISTE Bingo

Keep your eyes peeled for a soon-to-come blog post detailing my time at ISTE.

Dream Big,

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Roadtrip! Next stop… Our Future!

I am sad to see #ISTE2014 come to an end.  What an amazing experience, with so much to absorb and carry home with me. I’m working on a blog post to be shared on the IntelEDU website soon….  But, in the meantime, I thought I would share something super cool created by the folks at Copernicus Education in the ISTE Expo Hall.


One of the first things ISTE attendees saw when they walked into the Expo Hall was this shiny Volkswagen Westfalia Camper. Beep Beep!!



Hanging above the Westy was a sign:


At any given time during the conference, I would see folks writing their messages somewhere on the van. I loved stopping by several times a day to read the thoughts of others. However, I never picked up a pen. The question really stretched me as a thinker – as I wasn’t sure what answer I could envision.


The responses I saw were:








And, depending on the location on the van….      creative:




and some were a call to action:



So, in the last hours of the conference, I was reading new posts when one of the friendly folks from Copernicus Education came over and offered to take a picture of me. I took him up on his offer and posted with Westy:


IMG_1258After snapping the photo, he handed me a paint pen and asked if I would like to add a message of my own. Here was the chance I hadn’t taken.  The pen was full of possibilities.  So, I plopped myself down behind the vehicle and started thinking.  Because I had chosen a tail-light, I was trying to be clever with my language.  I had just started writing when another teacher plopped down beside me and contemplated her post for the other tail light.


We chatted a bit, and soon we were done. Here are our results!


I followed the Twitter feed mentioning @CopernicusEd and was able to see lots of photos from Westy – be sure to check it out!  Their website even posted a heartfelt thank you to the amazing folks who attended ISTE and contributed to a powerful message.

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So, how would YOU answer the question? What WILL education look like in 25 years???  Feel free to leave a comment below.  If you wrote on Westy and snapped a picture, be sure to share that, too!!


Dream Big,

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Seeking Balance at #ISTE2014

About an hour ago I arrived in Atlanta for ISTE 2014 and I’m raring to go.  I’ve always wanted to attend ISTE, but it never came together for me. This year I was asked to work with IntelEDU as a teacher ambassador, and my job will be to share out all the amazing happenings on social media.

So, I printed out a new batch of business cards (do people even USE business cards at a technology conference??):

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Packed a few technology devices:


And I was using another device to snap the photo, lol!

And I was using another device to snap the photo, lol!

and headed from 65° Cape Cod to Hotlanta.


I’ve spent hours reading about all the offerings coming my way in the next few days. In some ways, it seems like I’ve arrived at a resort!  There will be karaoke, “cooking” demonstrations, music performances, free smoothies, parties, raffles, giveaways, and lots of new gadgets to play with. There will be thousands of people to meet and connect with. As a first-timer, I know the learning curve will be steep, and I will probably miss all the cool stuff (until I get my bearings).



The convention center is huge, and my schedule looks endless.  Though I have no limits to my enthusiasm, I do have limits to my energy.  I have to find the balance between scheduling every minute, and going with the flow. I have to find the balance between pure fun and academic focus. I have to find the balance between what I’m comfortable with, and what stretches me as an educator.



My Pinterest board will collect the resources, ideas and strategies I come across in the coming days.  Feel free to check it out. You can also follow the conversation using the hashtag #ISTE2012, or even #Suzy4Intel.  Join the conversation!!

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I’ve done a lot of thinking about what my focus should be while I am here.  I have a bunch of familiar topics I will be watching for,  and sharing out.  However, I’m especially excited about what I don’t know.  My possibility curve is awaiting – I best hop on that shuttle!!

Dream Big,

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