This week my 3rd grade special education students and I have been practicing the skill of inferencing. We used the book Erandi’s Braids as our anchor text, and I created this anchor chart to go along with the book. I found this book to be an engaging one for teaching inferencing. Students wrote their inferences on post-it-notes and got to put them up on the chart.

Prior to reading Erandi’s Braids together, we played a game to introduce the skill of inferencing by looking through my backpack and making inferences about why I have particular things in my backpack. I found this picture on Pinterest that inspired me.


I also found some great worksheets online to reinforce the skill through mini-passages. These worked nicely as quick assessments to check for understanding. You can check them out here:

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Spotlight on the PODD Book

ImagePODD Book photo courtesy of the Southern California AAC Network

Back in the fall I attended a two day training on using Pragmatic Organization Dynamic Display (PODD) communication books with our school’s speech language pathologist and early childhood special education teacher. PODD uses picture symbols from Board Maker organized through pragmatic language branch starters and communication themes to help increase communication and language access for students with disabilities.

Since the training I have implemented PODD with one of my students who has complex communication needs. My student is a third grader with Down’s Syndrome and when I began teaching her this year she had very limited ways of expressing herself. She would typically only communicate to express displeasure through saying the word “No” repeatedly, scratching, screaming, kicking, and hiding herself in small spaces to get away from an adult or avoid the task. We have now been using a basic PODD book with her for 4 months and the increases in her communication skills have been amazing. The meltdowns in my classroom have almost entirely stopped. I learned that often she would do a task incorrectly in order to tease me or make a joke. Instead of recognizing her joke, typically adults in her life would scold her for making a bad choice, but now we can laugh with her and show our enjoyment. She is now regularly communicating when she likes an activity, something is wrong, when she is making a joke, to request items, use the bathroom, eat regularly, and to explain when she wants more of something or is finished. The amount of talking she is doing has also increased exponentially. Using the PODD book is still a work in progress, but I cannot recommend it enough as a tool to increase communication in students with complex needs. I feel it would be great specifically for students who have physical disabilities, cognitive limitations, autism spectrum disorder, and language processing difficulties. It can be adapted for students who require the use of switches and who have visual impairments.

You can learn more about PODD here on the Novita Children’s Services website:

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People Not Programs

I have over 27 different types of reading and math curricula for grades 1-4 in my classroom. If I add in science, social studies, and social skills/behavioral help, then that number would probably be closer to 50. The number of apps students use throughout the week probably hovers around 50 as well. This means I should in theory be proficient in over 100 different programs. Wow.

Lately the buzzword in my district and in other schools across the country has been “fidelity” particularly in regards to following Response to Intervention (RTI) guidelines that the majority of states are using for special education referrals and general student tracking. Questions get asked about whether programs are being done with fidelity in regards to specific components, times, and materials, but I’m starting to wonder if instead of thinking in terms of programs we should be thinking more about people. What are the non-negotiable aspects in your teaching philosophy that you feel should be present in every lesson? Are you practicing those things with fidelity? For me, fidelity looks like making sure the emotional needs of my students are always given time, that we focus on depth vs breadth in our learning and meaning, and that I give students the power to be active learners who shape their realities with their choices and preferences.

There are great components to all of my 27 different programs for teaching reading and math to students with disabilities, but how many of us really remember a specific curriculum that shaped our lives? Instead, we remember the people. The teacher who held us accountable, who listened to our problems, who helped us when we needed the extra push or problem set, and who gave us the power to pursue our individual vision for success whether that meant getting a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam or simply passing the class.

Likewise, the reason I have 27 different programs is because no program fits the needs of every learner just like every teacher will affect students differently. This means that there is something powerful in every type of teaching style. Instead of feeling overwhelmed in a sea of curriculum, programs, and educational buzz words, let’s remember the things we can control: teaching to “fidelity” with our own individual styles and providing time and energy for each of our unique students who cannot simply be boxed into a program.

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Sitting in Mexico

I couldn’t shake the feeling that today has a special meaning for me while I was working during my prep at school today. I was racking my brain to think of what it was and then it hit me: two years ago today I was sitting in the Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City for 18 hours waiting for a flight to take me back to Costa Rica.

Today is the day I realized that I wanted to be more in control of my work, that waiting 18 hours for a plane is a great time for self-reflection, and that I was ready to come home from Costa Rica back to the United States.

Two years later and three moves across different countries, I am able to look back and know that I am on a good path. I made a lot of mistakes when I left Costa Rica, and I still make a lot of mistakes every day in my life, but knowing that I am actively working towards a better future, my goals, and my vision for what education should look like for children makes me pretty damn happy. Today is a good day.

Errando se aprende a herrar (by error we learn). Gracias al aeropuerto para el espacio a aprender.

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What’s Your Theme?

I have never been huge on New Year’s resolutions, but I do love taking this time to reflect on the past year.

Man, 2013 was so much better than 2012! Despite the fact that I got married in January 2012, the year 2012 had to have been the most stressful year of my life. I essentially had 5 different jobs in 2012, and managed to narrow it down to just 2 in 2013. Hooray! I went from living paycheck to paycheck in the uber expensive Bay Area to feeling comfortable in central Wisconsin. I was able to enjoy buying Christmas gifts this year for family instead of feeling buried by obligation like last year. Feeling more security this year has allowed me to focus on some larger priorities and goals for my life. Namely, I opened two companies this year, and I recently applied to get my doctoral degree in education. I got a lot accomplished this year, yet so much of it is a blur.

Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup, posted a question on Twitter yesterday and asked “Do you have a word or theme for 2014? (If so, what is it?).” I thought about this and it dawned on me that in 2014 I want to focus on creating and consuming quality content, ideas, and products. For example, instead of traveling to so many places, reading countless books, and participating in many different types of activities, I want to zoom in on quality experiences and embrace the saying “Less is more.” Since we moved back from Costa Rica, I have been so focused on rebuilding our supply of kitchen appliances, a wardrobe, sporting equipment, etc. because we sold everything prior to our move that I now realize I have become caught up in the very thing I sought to escape by moving to Costa Rica: mindless consumerism. This year I want to focus on creating a few special vacations instead of trips every other weekend, enjoying the quiet moments at home or at our cabin, and consuming only quality materials and content including food (no easy feat in central Wisconsin). I saw a quote on Cody’s Pinterest board that sums this up nicely that I have posted below: “Drive German, Wear Italian, Drink Scotch, and Kiss French.” I think 2014 will be a great year if I focus on those four cultural priorities. 🙂

So, what’s your word, theme, or mantra for 2014?

2014 Priorities
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Birthday Goals for Age 27!

September seems to bring transition into my life each year, and this year is certainly no different.

At age 25, I had recently moved to Costa Rica and was celebrating my birthday for the first time by myself in La Fortuna. I ended up having one of the best trips of my life and learning how well I travel by myself and make connections to people. Within a day of being in La Fortuna, I’d made friends with an American-Costa Rican from Wisconsin who owned a banana and coffee farm. I got to spend lunch on the farm and watch a Packers game to finish out my trip.

Last year, at age 26, I lost my job the day before my birthday, and it was the most miserable birthday I have ever had because I let it be that way. I was only able to focus on my failures and inadequacies and these thoughts consumed me for months after. 

It’s hard to believe that was only a year ago as it feels like it has been 5 years since that happened. In typical fashion, my life has moved rapidly since that moment. In the past year, I moved back to Wisconsin and was working in wilderness therapy up until about a week ago. I have learned so much about myself – the good, the bad, and the plain ugly – in the past year through relationships with friends and family, my professional development in education, my Reality Check fellowship, and through a lot of deep reflection. I’ve been able to translate my thoughts into real values that I can live my life by including:

1) Meaningful work

2) Close relationships

3) Financial security

4) Freedom

5) Adventure 

When I look through these blog posts over the past few years and consider my life over the past 10 years, I realize that these have always been my core values and they continue to be what I strive towards. They were what helped me decide to move home from Costa Rica, back to Wisconsin, and recently to transition from my job working in wilderness therapy to going back into the classroom to teach special education. 

I feel a sense of peace going into year 27 and like suddenly my life is starting to make sense. I know there will continue to be big changes because I choose to value freedom, adventure, and meaningful work, which often cause me to pursue new opportunities. I also know that financial security and creating deep, personal relationships are incredibly important to my well-being and living a happy life, which is why I chose to recently leave an 80-hour a week job, so that I could spend more time at home and with my friends and family.  

When I think about my goals for the upcoming year of age 27, here is what comes up for me:

1) Digging deeper into some of the unsavory aspects of my personality and relationship style. Specifically, why I do some of the things that I do that tend to sabotage myself. 

2) Losing 27 pounds for year 27. I’d lost almost all the weight I needed to lose when I was living in Costa Rica, but upon moving back to the U.S. I gained it all back and then some due to some thyroid issues. Everything has stabilized now, but I need to dig deep and make the weight loss happen. 

3) My #2 core value of close relationships is something I need to intentionally work on. It’s the hardest value for me on my list. I grew up moving around a lot and attended over 10 schools in my K-12 education. I learned to make friends quickly, but not really to move past the surface because I knew I would be moving again. It doesn’t help matters that as an adult, I have continued to repeat this cycle by moving constantly, but there are still many people I care about that I have done a shitty job keeping in touch with or people that I have broken relationship with that I have never attempted to repair. This connects back to goal #1. 

4) Balancing my sense of adventure and freedom with financial security. I still love to travel and it is a top priority on how I spend my money. I also really love to see money be added to savings, retirement, etc. My biggest conflicts with my husband and myself internally tend to be related at the intersection between these two things. I hope to get a better system in place on how to handle the balance between travel and spending money. 

Looking forward to an incredible 27 and continuing to become a better person. I’m beyond grateful for the friends, family, colleagues, and strangers who have made age 26 such an incredible year of learning and self-development. 

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Hike #6 – Shinn Pond

I am not too sure if you can call Shinn Pond a hike since it is probably more like a very short walk, but I am going to count it as it has become a new favorite spot for my dogs, and I have met many East Bay residents who have never heard of it. I feel like it deserves a mention.

Shinn Pond is located in the small town of Niles (very close to Fremont). The best parking to reach the dog area is at 3rd and H streets. Take the trail towards the Alameda Creek Regional Trail where a large grassy area where will be waiting as well as the pond area for the dogs to play in. There’s generally a group of dogs already playing in the water. Some friends of Shinn Pond put together a great website with photos of it if you are interested in seeing more of what it looks like:

Grade: B – It is a great place to go to tire out any dogs that love water, but not a real athletic walk or hike.

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The Basics of Travel Hacking

Lately, I have been hearing from a lot of friends that they wished they could travel more or that they wished they had the money to go see a certain someone. People are shocked when I tell them it is possible. Cody and I have been traveling around the world and the United States for peanuts with just about 10 minutes of work a week. I am here to write down some basics that have helped us travel. Please let us know if you ever want to go somewhere! Top of my list currently is Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, and Colombia.

1) Begin with a trip in mind – The easiest way to travel hack is to plan backwards. For example, if I know I want to go to Hawaii, then I should start looking into the airlines that will get me to Hawaii from San Francisco as well as the hotels I might want to stay at. From there, I can figure out who has the best deals to get me to Hawaii for the best bang for my buck.

It took me a few tries before I started to take this advice to heart. Cody and I were just hoarding points for no reason, which started to make me depressed because I wanted so desperately to travel, but we couldn’t justify using them because we had no trip in mind.

2) Maximize credit card points & rewards – There are many credit cards out there that will give you major airline frequent flyer mile points or hotel points after a minimum spend or the first initial purchase (these are usually easier). For example, the Chase Sapphire Card offers 40,000 points after $3,000 worth of spending in 3 months. These points can then be redeemed with United, Hyatt, etc. 40,000 points is good for about 2 round trip domestic economy tickets or one international ticket.

If you are looking for a hotel card, then I’d recommend the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card that offers 2 free weekend stays anywhere in the world after spending $2,500 in four months. It also gives you gold status which saved me at least $200 dollars last week in free meals.

I just learned about the Hawaiian Airlines Visa Signature card which gives you 35,000 free miles after your first purchase (think small coffee at Starbucks!). I’m planning on applying for this shortly to aid in my plans to go to Hawaii. This is enough to get 1 round trip ticket to Hawaii.

For those credit cards where you need to meet a spending requirement, it’s not actually that hard to do this. I can pay our rent and mortgage with a credit card, which adds up quickly for the initial spend. You can also pay for the gym, groceries, etc. with a card to get there. Just be sure to pay off the card every month, so you don’t get screwed. For those people afraid that this will hurt their credit scores, I would say that it has actually helped Cody and I with our credit, and I haven’t seen any decreases from it.

3) Keep track of what you have – I use a simple Excel spreadsheet with each airline and hotel that I have points with. I update this Excel spreadsheet once a month. There are also some online programs you can use to track them available here.

Let me know if you have any questions! I’m always happy to help coach people through this for a free coffee or beer. 🙂 Like I said earlier, Cody and I would love to do some traveling soon with other people who are interested, so we should all make it happen!

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25th Year in Review

Wow – I cannot believe it has almost been a year since I was last sitting in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, relaxing alone for my 25th birthday and thinking about my future. Little did I know what a whirlwind this past year would be and how many changes would come (and how many things really do stay the same).

This past year I have gotten married, lived in a foreign country, moved to a new city in the United States, found a new passion in CrossFit, and changed jobs!

Last September 2011 I sat down and drafted some goals for myself for the year. Now it is finally time to check in and see how I did towards fulfilling these goals. I wrote Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 updates that you can read as well.

Goal #1 – Continue exploring new countries and places. I’d like to see at least 3 new countries and spend at least 30 days in places other than our home (Montezuma or Fremont). 

I ended up visiting one new country, Nicaragua, in December for Christmas with Cody. I visited Mal Pais, Arenal, Tambor, and San Jose in Costa Rica (9 days). I am spending the next 5 days in San Diego, California, attending a conference on unschooling. I attended a work retreat in Mill Valley, California for 2 days. We went to Bend, Oregon, for 3 days in May for Cody’s birthday and spent 3 days in Chico/Magalia, California visiting family over Easter. I spent 7 days in Wisconsin taking care of my mom after she had knee surgery. We have spent a day in Santa Cruz and camped for 2 days outside of the Bay Area when we first moved back to the United States. This puts me at a total of 33 days. I just barely squeaked by the second part of my goal!

Grade: B

Goal #2 – Read at least 25 new books this year.

In the past year I have read: Man’s Search for Meaning, Killing Castro, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, Ask the Dust, College Without High School, Mockingjay, Catching Fire, The Hunger Games, What It is Like to Go to War, Unschooling Rules,Unschooling 101, Weapons of Mass Instruction, Life is Hard: Machismo, Danger, and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua, Practice with Purpose: Literacy Work Stations for Grades 3-6, The Saint, Unschooling, Sloppy Seconds: The Tucker Max Leftovers, Imagine, Boomerang, Bossypants, Linchpin, Nonviolent Communication, Zen to Done, The $100 Startup, and the Edupunks’ Guide to a DIY Credential.

Total: 25 books + countless magazines, newspapers, recipe books, and other exciting books like The Ultimate Eli Manning Fun Fact and Trivia Book (a personal favorite since he is my Fantasy Football quarterback).

Grade: A+

Goal #3: Practice Spanish at least 5 hours a week

Okay…I have sucked at this since we moved back to California. Truthfully, I haven’t spoken Spanish aside from communicating with some of the chefs at the schools I managed this past summer. I did so-so with this while we were living in Costa Rica, but overall it has really fallen to the wayside.

Grade: D

Goal #4: Give 10% of my income to small charities or through micro-loans each month.

The first 6 months of the year, I exceeded this goal and gave 12% of my income to charity. I haven’t given nearly enough since we moved back to the United States as we have been trying to get back on our feet. Giving roughly 6% total overall though for the year is something I am proud of!

Grade: C+

Goal #5: Lose the last 10 pounds.

After doing CrossFit for the past 6 months, I have decided to stop counting pounds lost and rather to keep monitoring my body fat. I am at a point where I really don’t need to lose weight, but rather convert some fat to muscle.  Overall, I am going down, but it’s still a slow grind at this point.

Grade: B-

Goal #6: Save at least 10% of my income each month.

Haha…Costa Rica was expensive. Moving back to the United States has been expensive. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area has been a joy but also really expensive. The good news is though things are looking good and back on track.

Grade: B

Goal #7: Exercise for at least 4 hours a week.

Since moving to the Bay Area, Cody and I have gotten really involved with CrossFit. I used to dread going to the gym or working out until I found CrossFit. Now I look forward to it because I get to see awesome friends. Plus, who doesn’t like feeling and looking like a bad ass by lifting triple digit weights above your head.

Grade: A

Stay tuned for some updates on my 2013 goals, the world of unschooling, and reflections on our move from Costa Rica to California!

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Hike #5 – Deschutes River Trail Bend, Oregon Edition

Today while we completed Hike #8 of our 52 Hikes in 52 Weeks Dream, I realized how far behind I was in updating this blog with some of our more recent hikes. We are now 2 hikes behind schedule of 1 hike per week. We have completed a total of 9 hikes with a repeat of Fort Funston a week ago because we loved it so much. I am hoping we will be able to catch up quickly now that it is the summer and my work schedule is a bit more regular.

Today I’m writing about Hike #5 that we completed about six weeks ago in Bend, Oregon with Clint Burckhardt while we were on vacation there to celebrate both Cody and Clint’s birthdays as well as Mother’s Day for Krista, my sister-in-law.

We stayed at the Seventh Mountain Inn Resort for the weekend using Groupons both families had purchased. They had really lovely condos that we stayed in that were right next to the Deschutes River Trail. Cody and I had originally planned to take the trail from our condo all the way to the Deschutes Brewing Company, but we didn’t have enough time. Clint, Cody, and I hiked the trail for about an hour and then returned back to the condos to pick up Krista and Elliot, their son, for lunch. The trail had beautiful views of the river that would be awesome to do a rafting trip on and giant houses so close to the river that Clint kept shuddering thinking about flooding (a major problem they have finally closed the chapter on in their lives). We ate lunch at Bend Brewing Company where they have quite the talented female brewer, and then Cody and I toured the Deschutes Brewing Company.






Cody and I also made a detour on the drive up to Crate Lake National Park. Unfortunately, there was still so much snow that we weren’t able to do any hiking, but we will return hopefully in the winter this year with our snowshoes to do some winter camping and hiking.

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