Has Tech Replaced Play As We Knew It?


Christmas break is a time for my family to reconnect. We like to do this by choosing a series to watch. This year we chose The Goldbergs. This sitcom focuses on the Goldberg family and their life in 1980s. My children have a fascination with the 80s. They ask about historical moments, 80s pop culture (you danced on cardboard?), fashion (why would you wear parachute pants?) and often will ask to listen to music by Michael Jackson, Journey and Def Leppard. But nothing surprised and shocked them more than a Goldberg episode on how we played in the 80s.

In the episode, the middle child Barry and his younger brother Adam, made up a game called “Ball Ball”. The object of the game is to block your opponents score using every body part imaginable. However if your opponent does score, the game is over and they receive the “Ball Ball” trophy cup with their name and date written on it. My children were flabbergasted.

“Why are they playing this?”

“They look like barbarians!”

“Don’t they have games to play? I know they have Nintendo. Why would they make up such a dumb game? What’s the point?”

Their criticism led me to think about today’s child, their toys and their playtime. As toys change, has play itself fundamentally changed? For that matter, does the early attachment to grown-up toys… iPhones, iPads, laptops… in some way shorten the imaginative world of childhood?

Play during my childhood was filled with imagination, outdoor adventure and creativity. I remember building my own Barbie dream house out of shoe boxes and transforming spools of thread into chairs, and using peanut butter lids and thimbles as coffee tables. I remember our neighborhood roller skating shows. We would create simple costumes, bring out our boom boxes and put on a roller skating dance show that was judged by the neighborhood kids. The “winner” was the next judge. Simple wholesome fun. Children of the 80’s were their own source of entertainment. Even now, I can create a fun game out of just about anything! But, can my kids?

My children rely on their tech toys and devices for entertainment; TV,  iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, desktops, and the X-Box One. As I observed them over holiday break, they would go from one device to the other, to a tech toy, and back to a device. This upset me greatly, so…I created a new game. I proposed the Device Free Challenge (a DFC day). One day, no devices of any sort, and find something to entertain yourself. A day of creation, imagination and reconnecting with each other.

The resistance came early.

“Can we talk about this?” Gabriel, our oldest child pleaded.

“No”, I replied.

It was 8:30am. We were at the breakfast table and had just told the children that we were not allowing any tech devices for the day. Nothing. They needed to hand over their iPods, iPads, iPhones by 9am. There was to be no TV, no computers, and no video games. Sarah, our youngest, began to cry. Sophia, our middle child, sat there stunned.

“May I please say my peace?” Gabe shot back.

“Sure”, I said.

Gabe began explaining to me how his generation was practically born with a device in their hands. He went on to say how he remembered being 6 and playing with his dad’s iPhone and how even little Sarah was younger and played with the iPad. How these devices assist in problem solving, reading, writing, (“yes, texting is writing mom”) and math exploration. On his iPhone he can blog, any time he is inspired. On Sophie’s iPod she can design music videos on musical.ly and even Sarah can create her own worlds on Roblox.

“These devices are a part of our lives and have sparked our imagination and creativity in a non-traditional way. Why cant you see that?” he pleaded.

Gabe continued to discus how a device free day is unconstitutional, un-American and will result in serious side effects for them all.

“Nice try, my friend”, I said with a smile.

thisMy kids began their day reading. Each had new books from our local B&N for the holidays. A few hours later, they played card games. They started playing bullshit (a favorite), then moved onto war, then onto rummy. I announced that I was making cookies in the kitchen, they each came in looking to help. They sat at the island, handed each other the ingredients, stirred,  poured, measured, laughed, and joked the whole time. After some cookies they moved on to wrestling, tag, hide and seek and poke your sibling until they scream.

While folding laundry, their creativity and imagination kicked in. A game of sock-o-dunk was born. The object of the game…simple; try and shoot a pair of socks into the laundry basket while your opponent moves the basket and fakes you out. As Sophie, our resident athlete said,

“It’s all about predicting where your opponent will move that laundry basket next, you gotta plan ahead.”

They played “sock-o-dunk” for quite some time. I was happy to see them enjoying a simple game of fake out. It may not have been the best day. There were some “I’m bored moments”, but it was a really good day. A day without checking a screen and hearing a buzzing alert. It was a day to reconnect, talk, laugh, joke and make memories. And it proved to me and to my kids that old-fashioned play…without tech…will not result in any side affects.





Leaping Into PBL Waters



I always purchase a few Christmas presents for myself. Usually, these gifts turn out to be books floating around on my to read list. So, this Christmas, I decided to treat myself to a new Hack Learning Series book.

Project based learning has a long history in American education, dating back to John Dewey and other early advocates of learning by doing. The project approach has gotten a second wind over the past few decades, as a key strategy to engage diverse learners in rigorous learning. I remember the first time I implemented PBL in my classroom. Our real world problem for my third graders was one that a student discussed in her blog and led to a classroom discussion. She was scared to ride a roller coaster over the summer. Her friends continued to tease her about it. She was hoping to learn more about roller coasters to ease her fear. Her question in her blog was simple, “How can a roller coaster car even stay on track?”.



With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to have my learners design and build their own roller coaster during our force & motion unit for science. Although I had never designed a PBL unit, I had done quite a bit of research to assist with my planning and understanding of implementation. My students collaborated together, discussed ideas, and researched how best to design their roller coaster. We viewed Disney Imagineering videos, interviewed an engineer from Hershey Park and were so fortunate to have a parent (and engineer) come and assist with our designs. Their hands on exploration of potential and kinetic energy, as well as friction, carried over into other areas. My learners were writing about their trials and errors, reading about clothoid loops and even tied-in math when comparing times of their car launch with each design. Did it go smoothly? No, not even close. Was it a learning experience for both learners and teacher? Yes. Did it stop me from implementing PBL into my classroom again? No way. As I look back, I wish I had a step by step outline to assist. I wish, at the time, I had the book Hacking Project Based Learning.



In the book, Hacking Project Based Learning, Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy discuss how to over come challenges that PBL may possibly pose for teachers and students. One of the scariest things about implementing a project based learning approach with your learners is letting go; letting students take ownership of their learning. Even the most creative teachers, who have taken the leap into the PBL waters, continue to find it difficult to let go of their role as teacher, despite having the best intentions for their learners. One reason a teacher may be reluctant to let go of the reins, is the fear of losing control, or that the class may go off in some random direction.

Cooper and Murphy discuss the importance of how to create a vision for a project, and setting the stage for an authentic learning experience. PBL provides an opportunity to help our learners make authentic real world connections. Each morning my learners entered our room, enthusiastic and ready to discuss their ideas. They were eager to share valuable insight with their classmates, and get right to work.

Instruction and learning is different in problem based settings than traditional instruction. Problem based learning provides challenges for evaluation and assessment. Hacking PBL provides a plethora of ideas such as a Progress Assessment Tool and how to evaluate group and individual work. Each year my learners reflect on their PBL project and each year my students’ reflection provides a new piece to the puzzle on how to make the unit better.

“If we want the emphasis to be on the learning and not the grading, we ultimately want to give our students a tool that helps them to self and peer assess throughout the PBL process.”

~Hacking PBL

I have been a huge proponent of Project Based Learning both in my traditional brick and mortar classroom, and the modern cyber classroom, I teach in now. Although they look very different in each environment, my PBL units continue to emphasize solving highly complex, real world problems. PBL requires that students have both fundamental skills (reading, writing, and math) and 21st century skills (teamwork, problem solving, and research). With this combination of skills, students become directors and managers of their learning process. The old school model of learning facts, and then reciting them out of context is no longer sufficient to prepare learners to perform in today’s world. If you’re thinking of implementing PBL into your classroom, do it! Project Based Learning provides a rich learning experience, one that your learners will eagerly devour. Oh, and do yourself a favor, read Hacking Project Based Learning. It is a critical, and necessary component to a successful PBL launch.








It’s early Saturday morning. I’m awoken by giggles coming from our office downstairs. I check the time and realize that I must shower and get ready, I have a breakfast date. As I walk downstairs I see a sweet moment to capture. My youngest, Sarah, is sitting on her brother’s lap. Gabe, our eldest, has his left arm wrapped around her, and is helping her construct a world on Roblox, a game Sarah enjoys playing on the desk top. I can’t help but smile. As I gaze at them, admiring their closeness, a few questions pop into my head…

What is at the root of these incredible sibling bonds? Do parents help shape these bonds? Or is it an innate feeling between siblings? What can we learn from sibling bonds? How do they shape the people we become?

The drive into my home state of New Jersey is one I love and hate. I love that New Jersey IS my home state. I boast every chance I can of my “Jersey Girl” roots. I can spot a Jersey native out of the crowd of thousands too. I am not fond of the traffic, the congestion, the occasional construction and lane closures. I like to be surrounded by open spaces, mountains, nature. While driving I think about my bond with my siblings.

img_4555A sibling relationship is probably the most enduring relationship of our lives. The impact they have on our young and adult lives is enormous – they shape our history and our character, to a far greater extent than is usually acknowledged. Siblings are a crucial part of a child’s development. They can teach one another socialization skills and the rules of life. I’d like to think that most sibling relationships are close. But, sadly that may not be the case. The truth is that if you really didn’t get along with your siblings, there’s only one way to change that pattern in adulthood. To change it you need to be determined and have the will to work things out.

A sibling connection is hard to describe in a single word. It’s the comfort you feel when you sit in the same room with your brother and sister, in pure silence, yet you both know how the other is feeling. It’s picking up right where you left off, even if it’s been weeks, months or years since the last deep conversation. It’s the knowledge that, at the end of the day, you’ll always be able to call on that person for support.

My sister, Nia and I are close and I’m happy to be in constant contact, and yet it’s not an easy relationship. Our sense of devotion when we were younger was very strong. She raised me. She was my protector, my playmate, and my role model. She taught me how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them. Although we drifted apart as young adults, we have strengthened our bond recently. We are similar; strong, compassionate, capable and yet so different. As adults, we support each other, especially when it came to dealing with our parents death. She was the pillar of strength for me and my brothers. Guiding us through unbelievable grief and sorrow. Her loyalty to family never wavers. Never. My sister, is the first person I want to talk to when there’s something that worries me; I know she’ll be worried, too. I know she’ll give me counsel, a perspective that I would not have considered; all the while, cracking a joke, poking some fun and making me laugh out loud. Nia teaches me on a daily basis the importance of supporting other women and embracing the bonds of female friendships. She inspires me, everyday, to be a better person; to rise above, to listen, to empathize. I know there is no one who wants better for me, more than she does.

“Sibling relationships outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, and loyalty. ” ~ Erica E. Goode

I reach my final destination, Rose’s Place in Netcong, New Jersey. I walk in and see her sitting there in our booth, waiting for me. Her smile lights up the room. We kiss on both cheeks, the Greek way of greeting people. She jumps eagerly into conversation, asking about the kids, my life and work. Time quickly passes, the waitress drops by for a third time to take our order. We hastily order a simple Jersey breakfast of eggs over easy with bacon and rye toast.

As Nia continues to talk, my mind is a drift. Thinking of our bond, of this person I am proud to call my sister. I know in a blink it will be time to say goodbye. We’ll fight over the check, I’ll give her “the look” and beg her to leave a tip. She’ll smile and say “You pay next time”. Glad to know there will always be a next time, even though I know she will never let her little sister pay.


Celebrate Everyday Moments



As I prepare for our New Years Eve festivities, I cant help but reflect on 2016.  My “one word” last year was …more. I was hoping for “more” in different aspects of my life; more travels, more learning,  more advancement, more family time. This year, once again, I am reading my PLN’s fabulous blog posts about their one word. I’m hoping for a word that I can blog about and embrace throughout the year. I don’t want a “one and done” type of post. I want something that I can write about and revisit time and time again. I want to live it, breathe it, be inspired….every day.

This holiday break, I find myself thinking about my learners a lot. I miss them tremendously. I miss hearing Maia’s stories, Aidyn’s silly jokes, Sarah’s thorough explanation of concepts and I miss talking Eagles football with Nye.  I think about the learning that happens in our live lesson room. Everyday my learners bring it. Some learners come to me excited, happy to absorb new discoveries. Some learners come to me in the most extreme circumstances. They may be homeless, hungry,and in troubled times. And yet, these learners come, try and give it their all. I like to think of learning as a wonderful celebration. My learners and I celebrate our writing and blog posts each month by dancing to Celebrate by Kool and the Gang.  Shout outs are given for their math fact accomplishments on Reflex math, we give props and kudos for their JGB projects, and I send them reading certificates for their achievements. But, as I write, I realize that we’re only celebrating their successes.  Would my learners accept their failures better if we acknowledge and, in a way, celebrate them too?

I also miss the team of teachers and colleagues I work with. There are many wonderful and talented professionals I come in contact with everyday. They push and challenge me to do and be my best. I often think about the challenges they work through and the risks they are hesitant to take, but do. When I close my laptop for the day, I still see them…logged on and working into the night. I’m sad to say, I’ve missed opportunities to celebrate them and their hard work. Often times we acknowledge their work and success after the fact. Why don’t we celebrate our colleagues and acknowledge their work more often?

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

-Dr. Seuss

Our lives are filled with millions of simple moments, everyday occurrences that we won’t remember tomorrow. We get through each day while looking forward to and focusing on the big moments: family vacations, friends’ weddings, the arrival of children and promotions. These milestone celebrations are indeed fabulous, but then we turn back to our normal, everyday lives.We all have celebrated moments that are unforgettable.  We freeze special times and make sure we will never forget a treasured experience.

Administrators may hold off until the end of the year to praise teachers on a job well done. Most teachers will celebrate big moments in their classroom from time to time.  Who says that celebrations should only be limited to one day? Who says celebrations should be limited to certain milestones or successes? What if we celebrated a small speck of magic in those everyday moments?


There are opportunities to celebrate the wonderful little things in our life and in our classrooms, all the time. Sometimes the big things wouldn’t have happened without the accumulation of smaller events along the way. Taking time to celebrate the little things is an opportunity to create strong bonds and relationships; not to mention lasting memories. Acknowledging and celebrating the good, the bad and even the ugly (yes, celebrate the ugly!) helps to make others feel valued, accepted and loved. It may also provide a great model for turning a negative event, an error or mistake, into a positive learning experience. Years into the future, you may not remember the exact reasons for all your small celebrations, but others will remember the joy and ease of being a member of your class or learning network.


Don’t wait for a special moment or milestone; celebrate the magic you see in everyday moments. My one word for 2017 is Celebrate.

How will you celebrate everyday moments with your learners and colleagues?