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Percent Math Game

I’m writing this blog as a resource for any others who like math and games. It’s a math game. The math group that meets bi-weekly has really enjoyed playing, so I thought it would be fun to share with others.

We have started working how to calculate percent, and I thought it would be fun to play a game with some real life scenarios involved. This game helps you practice calculating tips at a restaurant, sales tax, and how much money off when something is on sale.


  • Playing Cards, printed on blue, white, or green card stock
    • White: Restaurant cards – make receipts & scenarios. You can see my examples in the link, but I suggest using restaurants your students would actually go to with items they recognize. Making people they know the waiters/waitresses in the scenarios can be fun too.
    • Blue: Sales tax cards – look up what the sales tax is in your state.
    • Green: On sale cards – I used items that I thought the kids would like to buy.
  • Game Board with green, blue, and white spaces. We just printed this on paper and laminated it.
  • Die

Mini lesson before playing:

I asked if the kids notice at restaurants that their parents leave tips for the servers. All of them knew this. I asked them if they knew how much most servers make, and some didn’t realize how little their hourly wage was. I explained that this is why it’s customary to tip here in the states. Not all cultures have this practice though, which I also told them about.

I let them know that it’s common to give 18% gratuity. Having been a server before, I told them that I would always leave a tip, even if the service wasn’t great because I know how hard it is. I also know that sometimes it’s the kitchen who messed up, not the server. I explained that it would have to a terrible experience for me to leave only 10%, and many times I tip 20%.

Then I said, “If I told you that I was happy about 90% of the time, does it mean that I am happy most of the time?” I gave a few other examples like this to reinforce the concept that a percent is part of a whole. Anything over 50% is more than half of the whole, 25% is a quarter of the whole, 20% is 1/5, 75% is 3/4, and other benchmarks like this.

Then we went over strategies to calculate percent. I like reminding the kids that there are many ways to find answers to mathematical problems. I tell them that different strategies are like tools you put in your toolkit. You can use different ones in different orders to figure out what you want to figure out. Sometimes I may give them a tool, sometimes they come up with one, sometimes they learn it from a peer, or their parents. To me, it’s really fun to try out different ways to figure out problems.

The strategies we came up with:

  1. The Halving Strategy: It’s easy to halve any number. Then you can find 50%, 25%, or 12.5% or 6.25%

If you are estimating, this works just fine. Let’s say you want to leave a 18% tip, and the bill is $45. Half of $45, or 50% is $22.50. Half of that, or 25% is 11.25. Half of that, or 12.5% is about $5.62. Picking a number between 20% and 12.5% will get you close to 18%.

2. The Ten Percent Strategy: It’s easy to find 10% of any number by moving the decimal place to the left one time. If your bill is $4, 10% is 4.50, and 20% is just that number, doubled, or $9, so you can calculate a 20% tip like that.

You could do this for calculating any percent off as well. If something is discounted 30%, well, multiply 10% by three.

You can use this strategy to find 5%. Just halve 10%. If sales tax is about 5%, well find 10%, halve it, and you have the 5% tax.

3. Multiplication: Using a calculator or paper and pencil, you can just multiply to find the answer. The kids in this group have spend time practicing the multiplication algorithm. While I’ve shared the strategy of just counting up how many decimal places there are in the problem and making that the same in the answer, I prefer for them to first estimate and make sense of the problem and decide where the decimal point goes logically.

For example, if you are finding what 85% of 60 is, I have the kids say what the answer would be close to. In this example, it’s going to most of the number, 50% of 60 is 30, and 100% of 60 is 60, so the number is inbetween 30 and 60.

If you use paper and pencil to multiply 85 x 60, you get 5100. Where does it make sense to put the decimal place? The only logical place is 51.00 because that is between 30 and 60.

Of course, using a calculator you would just type in .85 x 60 🙂


How to Play:

The kids take turns rolling the die. The color they land on determines the card they take, whether it’s a receipt & scenario card, a tax card, or a sale card.

The rule we use is that no one helps unless they ask for help, and we create space and time for people to think. Some do all the calculation in their heads and some use paper and pencil.

We have been having “picnic math” where we lay out a blanket and eat and play this math game.



  • Ditch the board and kids just pull the cards they want. The kids I work with love the restaurant cards and just taking turns with these back and forth.
  • Create variations that are for different skills. I have receipts that have no cents and receipts with cents and the kids choose the difficulty level they want to have.

What I like about the restaurant cards is that the kids choose the percent they tip. A child can tip 50% if they want, and that’s fine and easy to calculate. Some kids want to make it hard for themselves to figure out so they will choose 18%, or even something like 6%. So starting with just restaurant cards would be a good way to go if you have someone in your group that is hesitant to calculate in front of people.

Fortunately, the vibe with the kiddos I am working with is really supportive. They like challenges and it’s not a big deal to get problems wrong. I think this game has been big hit because it involves real life situations they they have encountered before. I’ve had kids sharing with me that they have asked to calculate their parents tips at restaurants and this is so fun to hear!

I think playing this game as often as the kids want is great for several reasons:

  • It solidifies the understanding that fractions and percents are a part of a whole.
  • They get to practicing using easy benchmark fractions/percents with a variety of numbers.
  • They are making logical sense of the situation around the calculations so they are not just following step by step rules to solve a problem, but also making sense of what they are doing.

Later we will move on to doing more with fractions, but this game gives them lots of practice so they can understand part-whole relationships that I can help them build on.

If you try the game out, let me know in the comments. If you know other strategies you want to share, also type that in the comments!

2017 Story Writing Intention

I believe stories can be the next powerful tool to help normalize self-directed education. I realize that the students at ALC still read books and watch movies where school learning look very different than what we do. They want to play school at ALC, and sometimes, they worry that they aren’t doing what other kids are doing. I imagine that being a student in a small self-directed school is more challenging when you see kids in just about every other media outlet doing something different than you.

Where are the examples of children powerfully navigating their lives in a self-directed education model? Where are examples of children sharing their intentions for their day or week, choosing to learn about whatever they are interested in? If the only examples they get from movies and books are of kids sitting through classes to learn, then the kids are getting the message reinforced that this is what learning looks like. Imagine the confusion of reading and seeing this example, and then going to a school where the adults are telling you that this is not the case, that learning can be different.

So, for 2017, I want to embark on a story writing journey. I want to focus my writing on stories, on sharing some actual stories from Mosaic, but also writing fiction pieces that are just written for entertainment – but all the kids will be in a self-directed education model.

I may not be an incredible writer, and that’s ok. I want to write anyway. Maybe someone reading will be an incredible writer and they will write better stories involving children who self-directing their education.

I have built a page here where I will compile my stories in one place, so readers don’t need to hunt through my blogs for them. Enjoy if you wish!

Tuck Everlasting ALC Fan Fiction

Last year I wrote a fan fiction piece during Writer’s Workshop with the students. I only shared it with a few of the kids, who either loved the story or thought it was very weird. I’m sharing it now to share with the ALC Community my 2017 Story Writing Intention. Currently, I am working on a longer fiction piece, one that will have all made up characters and is inspired by The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe from the Narnia series.

I had Alona’s permission to write using her as a character, but she had no idea what I was going to do to her in the story! I hope you enjoy it.

**If you have read Tuck Everlasting you will have a better understanding of what is happening in the story. This is a fan fiction spin off.**

I looked at the small spring of water, my mouth feeling dry and parched. I could almost feel the cool water trickling down my throat. Hesitantly, I reached out to touch it. Just touching it couldn’t have an effect on me, I thought. Yet, at the very last second, just millimeters from the glassy surface of the water, my hand froze, then I withdrew it.

This was not any ordinary spring. This was not any ordinary day. I stood here with the opportunity only one other person on this planet has ever had, the opportunity to experience immortal life.

I thought the story of the Tuck family was just a story. I read the book and watched the movie just like so many other children out there. It was made-up, fiction. Right? Wrong.

I found my mind wandering back to the day I met the Tucks. They were so curious about ALC and were eager to enroll their 15 year old son, Jesse. Now Jesse has been a student at our ALC for over two years. I could always sense a wisdom in his eyes that was well beyond the “17” years he claimed to be. Had it not been for the bond between Jesse & Alona, I would have never found out the family secret.

See, Jesse was Jesse Tuck. From the book Tuck Everlasting. The supposedly fiction book that has sold 2 million copies. For all these years, the Tucks had quietly hidden from the public, transforming their lives every few years, always on the move. The longest they ever stayed in one place was 5 years. After that, they had to leave or their secret would be out. They are immortal. Never aging, trapped, suspended in bodies that never change.

Sometimes they lived for years hidden in some remote off-the-grid house, living off the land and away from civilization.

Eventually, Jesse would either erupt with anger over the tedium and sameness of the remote living. The family would pick a town to move to and enroll Jesse as a very tall 15 or 16 year old so he could have three to five years of making friends and a “normal” life. But in the end, it was always the same thing: leaving, saying goodbye to everyone he knows, never to see them again. He would send them letters, and then as cell phones were invented, texts or emails, but always with the intention to slowly fade away and out of their lives forever.

Two years ago, our ALC was where Jesse ended up. He had never experienced a school like ours before and was full of questions. He loved the freedom to choose what he wanted to do and learn each day. I mean, think about how many trigonometry and P.E. classes he has had to endure each time he re-enrolled in school! Here, he was free to explore any interest of his choice, with other people who were excited to explore those interests too. He also had ample time to do what he actually wanted to do: make friends. That was the actual reason he would drag his family out of the safety of rural living. The loneliness was unbearable.

Within a week of joining us, it was clear that he and Alona were going to be great friends. He loved to write fiction and learn about biology. He had so many stories to tell from his 200+ years of living. He also had extensive experience treating animals without any medication. For during their time living remotely, there were no vets to visit on account of a sick pet or upon finding an injured wild animal. Therefore, he learned different ways to communicate with animals to understand them, as well as how to identify hundreds of wild plants that could be used to treat their injuries and ailments.

Alona, of course, was fascinated by his knowledge of healing. When Buns fell ill during the early weeks of Jesse’s arrival at ALC, Jesse quickly identified an iron deficiency and fetched some weeds outside for her to eat. Within a day, Buns was happy and energetic again. After this experience, Alona and Jesse were inseparable as they feverishly explored animal biology and healing, learning from and with each other. Alona also had years of research behind her, despite her young age. Combined, the knowledge they had of animals was remarkable.

At that time Alona was 15, and so was Jesse…supposedly. Of course two years later Alona was a full grown 17 and Jesse still looked exactly the same! He would joke that he hit his growth spurt early and that explained why he never grew taller or filled out more.

As Alona excitedly filled out college applications, encouraging Jesse to pick the same college or one near her top choices, inside Jesse was in agony. This was the best two years he had experienced in the last two centuries! To say goodbye to all of us now and go back into hiding again felt unbearable to him. For those who know Jesse’s story in the embellished, and what I thought, fictional, story, he lost gaining a forever friend and potential wife when Winnie Foster refused to drink from the spring of water that granted immortality. Jesse has long wanted a friend, a partner to share his life with before Winnie and ever since. His shared passions and deep friendship with Alona was too much to bear losing. His family felt his despair and his mother, Mae, was pushing for the family to leave soon before it became even harder for him to cut ties.

Again, for those who have read the Natalie Babbit version of Tuck Everlasting, you may have thought the spring was forever lost after builders developed the land and covered it with a concrete jungle. After almost being discovered during the Winnie Foster brush-in, Mae reached out to Winnie to spread a rumor that the spring was located in her family woods as described in the book. Then the true location of the spring would be forever hidden. Winnie told the tale to her children and friends as an urban legend, a fairytale of sorts, and eventually it was published in Babbit’s book as fiction. By convincing others this was made up, their secret was safe from the world.

Jesse wanted Winnie to join him in immortal life, yet Winnie could not do it. When faced with the decision, she realized all the implications that came with immortal life: including always watching death, but never experiencing it. It meant isolation and loneliness, as Jesse knew. It meant hiding your truth from the outside world. It meant constantly moving, never settling down.

Over the centuries of living, Jesse had wished many times to die, but immortal life was forever his curse. When faced with the realization that he would have to say goodbye to ALC and his closest friend, Alona, he snapped. He did the unthinkable. And then I became involved.

You see, a week ago, one week before the end of Alona’s last year at ALC, Jesse asked us to go on an end of the year camping trip. Since neither of them had cars yet, I was requested to be the driver, (and also for fun as I am a good friend to the both of them). “One last hurrah together as members of ALC,” Jesse proposed. Alona and I were excited to go, calling it their ALC graduation party.

Yesterday, we arrived at the campsite. Jesse directed us, saying he wanted us to go to his favorite camping spot. Without using GPS, he navigated me to the mountain by car. Without any map, he led us on a 4 hour hike to a remote campsite. He obviously knew this area like the back of his hand.

Yesterday, mine and Alona’s lives were still normal. Yesterday, Alona was still a mortal being.

If Jesse could be killed, I might have been angry enough to kill him for what he did! This morning, while I made breakfast, Alona and Jesse went for a walk to check out what wild edibles grew in the area. I was so calm and peaceful as I scrambled eggs and fried up turkey bacon. I remember humming “Lean On Me” as I cooked, one of my favorite songs. I was interrupted by the sound of hysterical sobbing and crashing in the woods. I looked up to see Jesse’s tear soaked face emerging from the brush nearby.

“Jesse, what happened?” I tried to remain calm, but my heart felt heavy and my eyes searched frantically for Alona. I didn’t see her anywhere.

“I…I…I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” he choked out between sobs.

“Jesse, where is Alona? What happened?” I asked, my concern growing.

“I…,” another giant sob bursted out, “just follow me.”

I followed Jesse through the woods, my heart pounding in my ears. He took me to a big tree with the small tide pool of water shimmering between its roots, and there Jesse told me everything, his past, is life, about it all.

On their hike that morning, Jesse led Alona to the tree. He wanted to ask her to drink from the pool and have immortal life alongside him, in hopes that his loneliness would end. Once they reached the pool, Alona ran over and drank from it, unaware of what this pool of water was or Jesse’s story. It was hot and she was thirsty. Through sobs, Jesse admitted that there was time to stop her, but he hesitated. He wanted her to drink it. He was worried that if he stopped her, and then asked her to drink from it, she would say no. So he didn’t stop her.

However, immediately after she drank it, Jesse realized his terrible wrongdoing. How would Alona ever forgive him? He robbed her of choice – choice in a matter that is life-changing. After letting her drink, Jesse dropped to his knees and told her everything. Alona slapped him in the face and then ran off in the woods. Jesse thought she must have been trying to get back to camp to find me. Still in shock over his grave mistake, it took Jesse a few minutes to get up and go after her. Unfortunately, it looks like Alona got lost in the woods trying to find me.

“Jesse, you know these woods well, right?” I asked.

“I know every nook and cranny. Every branch, every rabbit hole.”

“Go. Go and try to look for her in the woods. I think I need to stay near the camp in case she does find her way. I’ll find our whistle and blow it. I hope she hears it.”

Jess ran off. And now here we are back to the beginning of this story:

I looked at the small spring of water, my mouth feeling dry and parched. I could almost feel the cool water trickling down my throat. Hesitantly, I reached out to touch the water. Just touching it couldn’t have an effect on me, I thought. Yet, at the very last second, just millimeters from the glassy surface of the water, my hand froze, then I withdrew it.

Of course I don’t want immortal life. Right? I remember thinking about this when I read the book when I was younger. I remember thinking about what I would do in Winnie Foster’s place and knew I would do the same thing. Immortal life is not a gift, it’s a curse.

But a part of me is still curious. What would it be like? Never aging. I’d be thirty-two forever. I could have children and live to see their great-grandchildren. I think I could even convince people I was as young as 25 and then live in one place for over a decade without having to move. That’s an advantage I would have over Jesse, thankfully I wouldn’t be frozen at an age that looks so young. I would be treated as an adult.

But what about my government ID? I would have to get fakes after a time because when I’m 60 I can’t keep my same birthdate on my current ID! Logistically, immortality would be quite complicated. I have no idea where I’d even get a fake ID. However, the Tucks have managed, I’m sure they have figured something out.

Can I even imagine outliving my family? My husband, my children? That would be hard. I couldn’t imagine re-building a new family after my current one had passed away.

Wow, this is now Alona’s fate. She has to be thinking of all this right now, too.

Deep breath in. This is not an option for me. Unless…

Unless Tomis would drink it too. This is what Jesse feels! What he did was terribly wrong, but his loneliness and desire to have a partner join him in his immortal fate drove him to those few seconds of hesitation that has forever changed Alona’s life. Perhaps Alona will recover from her shock, and probably anger, and come to find excitement and happiness in her new fate alongside Jesse.

The End

Change up Change Up

The title is a sentence, not a repetitive title! The following is a story from our last Change-Up meeting, re-told a couple days later so know it’s from my perspective and memory, and there may be parts I fill in from imagination to make the story flow. An example of this is filling in specific words said when there is no recording of the exact phrasing. In these cases, I strive to portray the integrity of what was said or meant, rather than caring to know the exact phrasing of words used. There’s also the possibility that I confuse later conversation into the ones from the moment of the story due to memory mix up. Finally, for those in pictures, I will change the names of the kids for their privacy. 

Knowledge that is helpful to know before reading is that we’ve changed up Change Up a little this year. There are times where it only takes 20 minutes to go through the Community Mastery Board, so we spend the other part of the hour doing some type of Community Connection – a game, an activity, a discussion, a group challenge or a practice that helps us bind as a community. For this Change Up meeting, participating in a group challenge (within smaller groups) was the activity presented.



“I can’t hear anything, how am I supposed to do this?” Marcy cries out in frustration, after asking a group of boys nearby to be quieter.

“Hm, I see it feels really challenging for you focus on what you’re doing when the room is so loud. The noise level is challenging for me too. I see that the other kids are also trying their best to so speak and hear each other, and there are probably ways this activity could have been set up differently. I’m sorry, Marce.” I respond, genuinely appreciating the enthusiasm of the kids who are being loud while also really empathizing with how the set up is challenging for her to participate in the way she really wants to. The activity is really fun, and most of the kids are pretty excited to do it.

The room is loud and cluttered with the bodies of children, blocks, blankets and boards. I listen.

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“Okay, so take the longest rectangle block and put it sideways on the ground, so it’s right in front of you. Like if you are sitting criss-cross applesauce, the block is sideways just like your leg is.”

“Now take the red block – you’ve got two left, right? Okay, put it so it’s make a cross with the yellow one on top of that castle piece, that one that’s like a cylinder, ok?”

“Put the block so it runs like a path from you to me, along the ground in front of the tower. Make sure it touches the bottom of the arch piece.”

I look back at Marcy, who is trying to so hard to hear Shawn’s instructions on where to place her blocks. Rena, Marcy’s partner, has moved closer to the white board that divides them from Shawn and Jennifer so she can hear better. She’s repeating the instructions given so Marcy can feel included and can participate in recreating the block tower that Shawn and Jennifer made. Their challenge is to build structures with blocks and then explain to another group how to build it verbally. The other group is behind some type of barricade so they cannot see the structure that was made. They just have to listen to the explanation given and recreate it.

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I walk over to Melissa. “Isn’t it fascinating to observe this? I feel like I am seeing their personalities come alive, seeing their differences and how they respond, describe, and engage! Like, how when Andrew and Gabe first described their structure to Luke and Ayan, they said told them to take all of their blocks and build a wall. So the two walls were completely different. But how Caleb jumped in right away to describe every single block in detail and give very clear, step by step instructions. Both sets of kids given the same instructions, and both carried out in completely different ways!”

Melissa chuckles, “I know, it is really interesting. But have you noticed how Gabe and Andrew’s group have become more detailed in their description since?”

I look over and see that Luke and Ayan are now giving instructions and that the towers being built are similar in appearance from other side of the barricade.

“Can you guys PLEASE be quieter?” Marcy interrupts my observation, and I can see in her face she is thoroughly exhausted from the mental exertion it takes for her to hear their instructions in separation from the background noise. The other nearby group is engaged in their challenge and communicating through the noise. It doesn’t seem to bother them to be in a loud room.

“This is really hard for Marcy,” I say to Melissa.

She nods, “Yeah, and do you notice how Evan isn’t even participating? He would have probably been able to engage if it was just him on one side of the barricade and just one other person on the other. Working in a group like this, in this setting, is not easy for him.”

“Totally. I feel like we can learn a lot from this experience.” We both drift away from each other as we continue to listen and observe.

“Nancy, we’re done, can we do it again?” Caleb calls out, this activity seems to be well suited for his strength in articulation and explanation. I noticed this right away, he is really adept at voicing his thoughts and this task is right up his alley.

I walk over to the group to address all four of them, “So how would you like to take all your blocks into the cloud room and try again? I think Marcy might like to experience the block challenge in a different setting.”

“Yes!” she exclaims, “Thank you! That would be so helpful!” The group members gather their materials and run off.

The challenge continues as Melissa walks over to me and says, “Now wouldn’t this be really funny to do with spouses? We should invite parents to come in and try this, it would be a real test of communication!”

“Oh my goodness, that would be funny to see,” I chuckle. I look around and notice that groups are finishing up, “Oh, how about you and Tomis do the challenge together! Then the kids can see how adults fare at this.”

“What, you don’t want to do that with him?” Melissa asks.

“Ha! Let’s try just two grown ups before we jump into the spouse challenge,” I laugh as I respond.

A group of four boys have finished their challenge, and Tomis and Melissa take over their station. Tomis builds a structure and then the descriptions begin. Slowly but surely, a crowd of children form around them.

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“Okay, so you see the small piece that has indents on one side, like a castle?” Tomis asks.

“The castle turret?” Melissa responds.

“Well not the cylinder, but the really small piece that has the indents on one side.”

“Oh I think I have it. I think you mean the piece that looks like a Pacman ghost.” She does have the correct piece in her hand, the rest of us could see this from our view point of both sides.

“Okay, so put it on top of the cube piece with the windows, but put it so the ridges are facing you, you see how one side has ridges? Put it so the ridges are facing you.” Tomis explains.

Melissa looks confused. From where I stand, it seems so clear the confusion, and hilarious! His vocabulary changed, and she’s examining the side for ridges, and the indents are facing down, so the piece literally looks like a Pacman ghost. He wants her to lie the piece so the Pacman ghost is laying on its side, feet facing sideways.

“Do you understand?” Tomis takes Melissa’s silence for confusion, which is totally correct.


He continues with another explanation that is not understood, and finally Melissa just says, “Okay, I think I have it, what’s next.”

I look at the faces of the kids, they are whispering to each other and trying not to laugh. I turn around so they don’t see me trying to hold back laughter as well, I don’t want to give Tomis a clue that Melissa needs more explanation.

We gather in a circle after everyone wraps up to discuss the activity.

I look around at the kids and ask, “So I’d love to hear from you, what did you think of doing this activity? Was it fun? Was it challenging? What was easy? What was hard? For the sake of being able to hear all voices, let’s practice hand-raising for this sharing.”

I sit comfortably in the silence, giving anyone who wants to share time to do so.

A couple hands then go up and I call on them to share.

“It was really fun.”

“It was hard to hear.”

“Can we do it again?”

“I thought it was interesting to see what people would make from our description. I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to follow the instructions given.”

“I am glad I was allowed to ask questions. If I couldn’t ask questions, I don’t think I would be able to do it.”

I call on myself to share my own observation, “I found it interesting that some people describe using more imagery and others are more about describing the shape, like Melissa’s Pacman ghost. If Tomis described the shape as a ghost, she would’ve understood how to place it.” I pause, and then pose another question, “Why do you think Melissa and I proposed this activity for today’s Community Connection time during Change Up?”

“To help us with communication skills.”

“So we can practice working together.”

“To have fun.”

Rena’s hand goes up and I call on her. “I think it’s an empathy practice. It was really fascinating to me to describe something, to say all the words that I know mean putting the block the way I have it, but then seeing that someone else interpreted those words differently. I can see how someone else understands those words, and how it’s completely different than what I meant.”

I am floored at her insight. “Rena, I didn’t even think about this being an empathy practice, wow. I’m so grateful for you sharing this perspective! Your description of this reminds me of many times in my life when I have said something to another and then later realize how it was received was completely different than what I intended.”

I see some nods around the room. Marcy raises her hand and adds, “It’s really interesting to see how you can describe how to put a block, and your description is right, but that when someone puts it down, how they put it is right too based on the description. But it’s different than how you put it!”

“You all have added so greatly to the value of doing an activity like this! I was thinking it was a neat brain activity, one that challenges you to use your articulation skills and your listening skills and you all have shown me it helps us practice even more than that. I like that it’s also hands-on so you get to feel kinetically, and of course you are using your eyes as well. You’re coordinating so many different skills that your brain has to really work. Our brains contain so many different neural pathways, and it’s a healthy practice to challenge it to do fire neurons in many different ways. That’s how we work out our brain. It needs work outs just like our muscles do. That’s why I think it’s healthy to try new things when I can, so my brain can work out.” I get up and do some brain gym movements that we’ve done at school before and continue, “And these movements also help our brains work out differently because you need coordination skills to do them.”

Then Liberty raises her hand to speak, and I call on her. “How come we aren’t doing regular change up?”

I look at the clock. It’s five minutes to three, whoops. I intended to only do this activity for the first 20 to 30 minutes as our Community Connection, but then to have Change Up meeting as normal afterwards. We never went through any of the items on the Change Up board.

“I lost track of time, Lib, I’m sorry. I did mean to go through the board but I was having too much fun with the activity and the discussion. I guess I didn’t want to stop it and it seemed like most of the group was happy to keep doing the activity too.” I pause and hear some “yeah’s” and nods, especially from the kids that I know do not like Change Up meeting. I make gesture toward the Change Up board and say, “This board is really useful for some things. It is helpful to make community agreements and see how we are doing. But I think it’s important to do more than talk about the culture we are doing, but to actually come together and create the culture we want by doing something together. It challenges us to interact as a community, to see each other, to learn how to communicate with one another, and so I think that spending this hour with a mixture of a game, activity, challenge and then sometimes reviewing the board is a healthy compromise.”

Tomis raises his hand, and he adds, “I agree, and also, the culture here has grown to a point that we probably don’t need to have regular change up meeting every week. Perhaps we do something like this every other week for the whole hour and only go over the board every other week, we can talk about that at the next Change Up meeting.” The kids really perk up at this. This statement is a huge compliment and accomplishment. We’ve worked hard as a group to grow to a point where conflicts don’t take up most of our time, but the pursuit of our interests, passions, hobbies, and play do.


Spawn Point Vignette

Please enjoy a Spawn Point Vignette published in Tipping Points Magazine in December 2016! I have copied and pasted the content below, the format is a lot prettier from the original publication.

I walk into the Quiet Room, the home of my Spawn Point, after our clean up time. At an Agile Learning Center, a Spawn Point is a small group of students and a facilitator who start and end their day together. It’s about 3:10pm. Clean up keeps getting easier and faster, I think to myself. I look at the facilitation sign up board and see that Evan is facilitating this afternoon.

“Hey Evan, Ayan and Elisha are going to be here in a few minutes.” I see he’s moved the magnets on our GameShifting board to Connection Activity –> Game.

“Hey Nancy,” he says, “I was thinking we could play the game where someone is blindfolded and then they try to walk across the room with our directions.”

For some reason when he tells me this, a big light bulb goes off in my head. Last week I learned about a game I really wanted to play with the kids, but I drew a complete blank on the rules when I was at school. All of a sudden the directions to the game come to me and I can’t help but share.

“Oh, I do like that game, but Evan, remember last week when I forgot the rules to the new game I wanted to play? It just came to me right now. Can I explain it?”


“This is a game where we get to test our mind connections, like a telepathy game. One person looks around the room and writes down 5 objects they see. These objects have to be small enough that we can pick them up and put them on the table. They don’t show anyone their list. When they say go, everyone else goes around and picks up an object and brings it to the table. We try to see how many matches we get!”

Leyla, Tessa and A.J. perk up, chiming in that they want to try this game.

“Can I pick the objects?” Leyla asks, directing the question to Evan, our facilitator.

“Okay we can try it,” he responds.

“Hey Ev, we really don’t have to play this game, I just wanted to share the rules while I remembered them. I love the blindfold game too and would be happy to play.” I really didn’t want Evan to feel like we had to switch games. I have no name for this game and cannot remember where I learned about it. I have no idea why I couldn’t remember it last week, and why it jumped into my head today.

“I want to pick objects.” Leyla says, hoping we will still play the new game.

“It’s fine, we can try this game,” Evan says.

I toss Leyla a post-it pad and a marker. Just as she uncaps the marker the write, Ayan, Elisha, and Tom come in. Tom is visiting from Australia for two weeks. He and his wife are planning to open a school in January of 2018. Tom really wanted to see an ALC in action before they opened, so here he is!

“You’re just in time for our game!” I say, and explain the rules. We sit quietly as Leyla writes. She looks around and is really deliberate and thoughtful about her choices. I look around the room and observe quietly to myself all the objects that look small enough to put on the table. I see the workbooks on the desk, the hands-on equation set, a little painted peg-person on the shelf. That peg-person should be in the basket by the blocks. I make a mental note to put it back where it belongs later. I see the singing bowl, the spirit animal cards, the dry erase markers, my shoes. Would she choose my shoes? I don’t want to put those on the table.

“What would Leyla think to choose?” I say aloud. “This game will give us the opportunity to focus on Leyla and think about what she would pick out in the room. Right now, I’m trying to see the room through her eyes.”

Leyla smiles as she continues to add to the list. She’s not quite done yet when Evan gets up and moves Penguin, our school stuffed animal/therapy toy, to the table.

“Hey Evan, she’s not even done yet,” someone tells him.

“Yeah, let’s wait for her to finish first. Are you almost done, Leyla?” I’m an adult and I’m getting a little antsy, so I completely understand Evan’s excitement to get started. Evan puts Penguin back and waits for her to finish.

Leyla nods, writes one more thing down, and then says she’s done. Before she says “Go!” everyone is up and moving, thinking about what object they want to pick.

The room is pretty quiet. I stand up and turn around to face the altar I have set up against the white bookshelf. I scan the room. I reach for the turkey feather on the altar, but hesitate. Is this what I want to choose? My hand says yes, it’s still reaching out for it as my mind hesitates. I go for it, placing it on the table. I guess I’m just going with my first gut instinct.

This time Evan places a pen on the table. Someone grabs the game of Dixit. A few other items are placed. Finally, Tom grabs the guitar and puts in on the table, the last item. We all look at Leyla, excitedly seeing if we got any of the items correct.

“Do you want me to tell you?” she says, with a smile on her face.

“Yes!!” we all cry.

“It was Penguin, the feather, Dixit, the guitar, and a magnet.” We look at the table. All of us are shocked that three out of five items are actually there.

“Evan, do you realize that your first instinct was to have Penguin on the table? That would be four out of five items we got!” I say, still amazed that we actually got so many of the items correct. I thought we’d be lucky to guess one correctly.

“I’m putting it back!” he says, moving the pen out of the way to make a spot for Penguin. The rest of the kids seem to be in agreement that Evan’s initial item should count. We clean up and then sit in a circle to look at our intentions from the day.

A GameShifting Board helps facilitate group gatherings.

“Okay, let’s go turns in a circle,” Evan starts. “No, wait, we’ll go in board order.” He moves the magnet under Communication Style from turns in a circle to board order.

“Hmmm,” he ponders, taking a few moments to stare up at the board. Then Evan leads us around the board, checking in with everyone about what they intended to do that day, and if they got to do it or not. We each have our turn and share. Then, after the last person is finished, Evan walks halfway across the small room, looking up at the clock.

“Okay, it’s 3:23,” he says, smiling broadly back at us.

“Wow, Evan,” I say, actual tears brimming up behind my eyes. “Do you realize that you set the intention to learn to tell time about two weeks ago, and now you know how to do it?” His smile gets even bigger, “Yeah.” Words can’t begin to describe the feeling I have inside. Here’s a kid who knows how to learn. He learns when he’s ready, on his own time table.

A few weeks ago, Evan decided he wanted to learn how to read an analog clock so Melissa, one of my co-facilitators and his mom, found some resources online to support his interest. Evan’s motivation was clear and remained steady. He spent a couple mornings using some worksheets to identify the time, and would constantly test his knowledge on the analog clocks to check his own accuracy. Now, he’s mastered this skill.

Last month Evan decided he wanted to learn how to ride a bike, and last week he biked 6 miles from school to Uptown and back. After watching Evan learn to ride a bike at age 10, Melissa told me, “It just goes to show you that when they are ready, they will learn, and they will learn easily. I could’ve spent a lot of time worrying about how he couldn’t ride a bike, but I’m happy I just let it go so he could do it when he was ready. I think this is a great reminder about reading too. I think if more kids were able to just wait to read when they were ready, it would happen a lot easier for them.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I look at Evan’s face, and I see that he feels really good about himself. It feels great to decide you want a new skill, then to go after it and master it.

“We still have time for a game,” he tell us. Now I can see he understands how many minutes away from 3:30 we are! We dismiss at 3:30.

“Oh how about a magic trick?” Ayan asks. I hear murmurs of “Yes!” coming from the girls sitting on the couch.

“I want to play the object game again, can I be the person who writes the list?” Elisha pipes up. The kids are directing their requests to Evan, who is back by the GameShifting board, considering how he would like us to spend the last few minutes of the day. He picks up a jar filled with popsicle sticks that has been sitting on the small shelf that props up the GameShifting board. Again, here is another item I need to remember to put away, I think. Like the peg person, I have no idea how this got left here. It’s a math game that belongs in the storage closet.

“I want to play Kaboom.” Evan looks around the room, and I can see he is filled with certainty about playing this game.

“Cool,” I say with a shrug, “I’ve never played it before, but I’m happy to play whatever you want.” Here I am trying to make up for derailing his earlier game choice! I’m still feeling a little bad about that.

“Okay, I’ll tell you how to play. It’s a game my mom made.” He continues to explain how there are multiplication problems on the bottom of each stick. You pull a stick out, answer the problem, and then if you get it right you can keep the stick. If you pull out a stick that says “Kaboom!” you have to put all your sticks back in. You can make the game shorter or longer by setting the winning number of sticks higher or lower. He decides we’ll play to the amount of 6 sticks.

We begin passing around the jar, pulling out multiplication problems. They are all one digit by one digit for the most part, the only two digit problems involving tens. The game was made when Melissa was trying to support kids in finding fun ways to memorize their multiplication tables. I look around, seeing how happy and calm the kids are as they play.

The jar gets to our youngest Spawn Point member, who is 7.

“Hmmm… 3 times 1,” she ponders. I sit back and just observe what will happen. A.J. is a new student at school. I have no idea if she even knows what multiplication is. “I don’t know.”

One of the other other kids tells her it’s 3. That any number times one is just the number.

The jar continues around the circle, and then it’s back to A.J. again. “3 times 4,” she reads aloud.

“A.J. hasn’t learned multiplication yet,” her sister, Leyla, tell us.

“Oh that’s no big deal,” I say. “Hey A.J., so multiplication is just adding a number multiple times. 3 times 4 means you add 3, 4 times. 3 plus 3, plus 3, plus 3.”

She starts counting on her fingers, then looks up and says, “12!” The jar continues around the circle.

The jar keeps moving.

Back to A.J. again. “6 x 3” she reads. Short pause, and she is counting on her fingers. “18.”

How Apples Got Their Stars

Two weeks ago, Vidya and I went to a “More than Mindfulness” conference at Rainbow Community School in Asheville. Each morning, the kids there start their day with a centering activity, and we got to watch what those were like. The teacher leads an exploration, story, or activity to start the day.

We were really thankful that we were able to observe the teachers and kids in the classroom, and watched some neat activities we wanted to offer to our kids at Mosaic. I learned about a Waldorf-inspired story about how apples got their stars and decided to offer it to the kids learning Spanish and German at school so they could learn some new vocabulary, hear the story, and eat a snack together.

I read the story using props for the characters and silks for the background. Some words in the story were said in Spanish and German, and these words were also printed out on paper in front of the kids listening. Here is the story:

Once upon a time, there was un árbol/baum growing in a field. El árbol/baum was a happy arbol/baum most of the time. Each día/tag it enjoyed feeling the warm sun’s rays upon its branches. It loved the gentle breezes that tickled its leaves. However, as the sun set each día/tag and los estrellas/sterne came out in the sky, the arbol/baum felt a deep longing. It tried every noche/nocht to stretch taller and taller and taller. It wanted one of the beautiful twinkling estrellas/sterne for itself. After many weeks of this, one noche/nocht, as the arbol/baum was stretching itself upwards, a had/fee a flew from around the hill to ask el árbol/baum what it was doing.

“What are doing, dear árbol/baum?”

“I want una estrella/stern. I want one so badly.”

“Oh dear árbol/baum, don’t worry. I will grant you this wish. All you need to do is focus on growing delicious manzanas rojas/rote apfeln. If you do that, your wish will be granted and you will have your very own estrella/stern.”

“Gracias, hada! Mucho Gracias!”

Many días/tag passed. Then weeks. Buds grew on el árbol/baum and then flores/blume grew from the buds. Eventually, green manzanas/apfel formed on el arbol/baum. El árbol/baum grew excited waiting for them to turn roja/rot so it could receive its estrella/stern from the hada/fee.

Finally los manzanas/apfeln turned roja/rotes. El árbol/baum waited patiently día/tag after día/tag and noche/nocht after noche/nocht. The hada/fee did not return. El árbol/baum became sadder and sadder.

Then one day un madre/mutter and her hija/tochter came walking along the field.

“I’m so hungry!” The hija/tochter said to her madre/mutter.

“I’m sorry, hija/tochter. I don’t have any food.” Her madre/mutter replied.

El árbol/baum heard this and stretched one of its branches down to the hija/tochter, giving her one of its shiny manzanas rojas/rote apfeln.

“Gracias, árbol/baum!” said the hija/tochter, showing the manzana/apfel to her madre/mutter.

“Give it to me, hija/tocther, I will cut it for us to share.”

The madre/mutter cut the manzana/apfel in half and handed one to her hija/tochter.

“Madre! Madre! Mutter Mutter” her hija/tochter cried, “Look! There is un estrella/stern inside my manzana/apfel.”

El árbol/baum looked down at the manzana/apfel and realized that its wish had been granted after all! Inside each of its manzanas rojas/rote apfeln was a tiny estrella/stern.

I don’t really know German, so it was challenging to figure this part out! Thankfully I had help from another adult who helped me with this part. After the story I held up the tree, fairy, mother, daughter, the backdrop for the day, night, star, and pointed to the color red. The kids called out what the word for those items were in Spanish or German, depending on which language they have been practicing. I also told them how in Spanish they would say “manzana roja” or “apple red,” reversing the noun/verb order we use in English. German does not do this.

Finally, I asked the kids if they wanted to see if there were really stars inside the apples. We cut them open and…


Then we all enjoyed a snack of apples and roasted pumpkin seeds together!



Roll A Story

I gained a week of life after school on Friday! The entire day I thought it was the Friday before Halloween. I carved pumpkins with the kids, thinking this was the last opportunity to do so. I also gave out these fun Roll-A-Story activities, some being Halloween themed and others not (because not everyone likes or celebrates Halloween), during our Friday reflection time. Then after school I realized it was Oct. 21, not Oct. 28. Silly me!

Still, I thought the Roll-A-Story was super cute and the kids seemed to enjoy it. Some kids wrote their stories on paper, some wrote them in blog posts, and some told stories out loud. Here’s the Halloween Roll-A-Story I used:


Roll One – Main Character Roll two – Setting, Time Roll three – Setting Place Roll four –


1 Vampire Midnight Haunted house An unusual discover is made
2 Witch Halloween Night Graveyard A Mystery Needs to be solved
3 Ghost Noon Abandoned School A dangerous journey takes place
4 Monster Sunrise Pumpkin Patch Someone is afraid of something
5 Zombie Sunset Laboratory Something or someone is missing
6 Mummy During a rainstorm Dark Woods Someone needs to be rescued

You use a die and roll 4 times. Each roll dictates an element to your story. I rolled 6, 6, 5, 4. So I wrote a story involving a Mummy during a rainstorm, in a laboratory and in this story someone is afraid of something. Enjoy!


Mummy Mystery

The sound of pounding rain on the metal roof was deafening. Dr. Morkle winced as she carefully unwrapped the outermost layer of the mummy’s bandages. It felt like an impossible task to have the mummy ready for the museum display next month. There were many tests to conduct on the remains, so much careful and deliberate care needing to be given so they didn’t destroy this archaeological wonder.

I bet this mummy is from over 9,000 years ago, Dr. Morkle thought. Her fingers continued to quiver as she cut back another bandage layer around the mummy’s face. She was afraid she’d damage the remains and lose her job.

“We are trusting this job to you,” her boss told her. “Are you up for it? This is going to make or break your career here.”

Thinking back to his words, Dr. Morkle shuddered. Her boss was really intimidating and she wished that he wouldn’t use fear as a way to motivate the scientists to do their best. Dr. Morkle needed to see if there was any remaining tissue left in the mummy to do a DNA analysis. She was also going to conduct mass spectrometry, an analysis technique that sorts the different kinds of molecules in compounds. From this, she could find out if the mummy remains contained caffeine, plant steroids, arsenic, lead, and even opiate drugs. This would tell everyone a lot about how this person lived.

She peeled back another layer bandage, and finally could see the actual remains. She sucked in a deep breath, this was Dr. Morkle’s favorite part of her job. She was about to see firsthand the actual tissue of someone who walked this earth so many years ago. As she reached the tip of her forceps to push the bandage to the side, there was a loud bang.

She looked up and saw a huge dent in the metal ceiling. The torrential rain still sounded like a symphony of hammers banging on metal trashcans. Was this hail, she wondered?

Just then the lights flickered twice, and then the entire laboratory went black. No, no, no, this is not good for my deadline, Dr. Morkle thought desperately. Boss wants the tissues samples first thing in the morning!

Using her hands, she felt her way through the maze of tables to find her desk. Just as she slid her hands over the handle of the desk drawer to retrieve her flashlight, the sound of the rain stopped completely and the lights came on. The sudden quiet almost sounded as loud as the pounding rain and felt like a heavy drape over the entire lab.

Happy to get back to work, Dr. Morkle went back over to the sarcophagus. She grabbed her forceps again, but as she leaned over, dropped it on the floor with a loud gasp. It was empty.


The Visionary and the Implementer

I’ve been having a ton of fun at school! I am really enjoying doing many types of activities with the kids each day. I love getting messy, making things, and facilitating activities for kids to try out.


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From top, then left-right: Paint pendulum activity, baking cookies, making playdough, open art studio, Spanish restaurant, Mystery Science lessons (bridges and slides), more art studio – making magnets and painting peg people for our castle blocks. 

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Fire station tour and bike ride to Uptown (last week and this week).

In a class with Kristen Oliver this week, we revisited concepts around divine feminine/divine masculine traits. I loved the idea of re-naming the feminine and masculine to “Visionary” and “Implementer!” We all have these traits within us, so it feels nice to have different words to explain them that are not gender-related.

I posted a bit about this in a previous blog post, and I’ll re-share the traits but this time use Visionary/Implementer rather than feminine/masculine:

Words to describe the Implementer:

positive attributes: active, intelligent, logical, rational, linear, determined, reliable, strong, stable, protective, sensible, heroic, focused, single-minded, practical, goal-oriented, consistent, predictable, capable, smart, rugged, ordered, disciplined.

negative attributes: rigid, stubborn, aggressive, tough, ruthless, violent, non-communicative, self-centered, authoritative, dominating, dogmatic, closed-minded, autocratic, rule-bound, heartless.

Words to describe the Visionary:

positive attributes: soft, warm, sweet, kind, loving, nurturing, gentle, creative, receptive, flexible, adaptable, yielding, forgiving, understanding, caring, care-giving, serving, passive, peaceful, open-minded, beautiful, mysterious, spontaneous, ever-changing, inspirational.

negative attributes: weak, dramatic*, irrational, illogical, unpredictable, bitchy, stupid, powerless, manipulative, controlling, indecisive, fickle.

* This word list is from energyenlighten.com “emotional” is the word they use. I would rather see the world “dramatic” here. Emotional implies that having emotions are negative, which I disagree. Dramatic, I think, is a better fit because it describes one being emotional for the sake of gaining attention from others, “woe is me!!” “look at me!” “feel sorry for me!” 

I think this is super important to think about as an educator. Am I creating a space that only serves to express Implementers? Or am I supporting the expression of Visionaries too? Most of the world does not support the expression of mature feminine – so you have a lot of negative words to describe the artists of the world – indecisive, fickle, unpredictable. They can’t “commit” or be depended on. Well now I don’t see it like that – I think about the environment that one is in and try to consider what can be changed to support that one in expressing their powerful Visionary traits. They can be considered as spontaneous rather than fickle, they are inspirational, ever-changing! 

I think it’s important for Agile Learning Facilitators to remember that we are creating environments that are inclusive to all ways of being, all people. Our tools and practices, like Set the Week, Kanbans, Spawn Points, Change-Up are really great ways for us to help structure the community so we can all stay connected, informed, plan group activities and make decisions about what we want to do as a community.

However, if adults in the space aren’t careful, they can easily fall into the trap of only celebrating the traits the conventional schools celebrate – typically those on the Implementer list, like: intelligent, logical, rational, determined, reliable, sensible, focused, practical, goal-oriented, predictable, disciplined.

These are great traits to have, and also, if only these traits are encouraged and celebrated, then we’ll see an imbalance. We’ll notice that we’re getting a lot of the negative Visionary traits expressed rather than the positive. It’s important that we are a space where a person can express themselves as a Visionary, because the Visionaries keep the Implementers (others and within themselves) from  being cogs in a machine. If you carefully examine those Implementer traits – they are traits of really good, complicit students and employees. The ones who can do and be depended on – great traits, but in the wrong environment, they are also the ones who are more susceptible to blindly follow (ever hear of the Migram experiment? Controversial, but interesting to learn about).

If we only produce Implementers, than we aren’t doing a service to the world. We need to create environments that allow for the expression of Implementer and Visionary to express within individuals, knowing that we all have at least some of both. Some may have balance within themselves, while others may learn how to pair themselves with those who complement their own expression. There are even times when I can see in a relationship with one person that I am more of an Implementor, but in others, I am the Visionary.

Due to this awareness, I am careful to observe the students at school and think about how I can encourage positive Visionary expression. I think this deserves a lot of attention because the world already tells us all the message that intelligent, dependable people are good. I want to, in addition to the positive Implementer traits, send the message that being spontaneous, ever-changing, flexible, and driven by inspiration are also positive traits. This means that when I see students who cannot plan or commit to activities in advance, or students who are wanting to observe before doing because they need to be inspired into action, aren’t condemned as lazy, fickle, or those other negative Visionary traits. I instead use this as an opportunity to say, “Oh! How can I enrich our environment to support these Visionary students?”

One way to do this is to be constantly engaged in the environment and to provide opportunities for spontaneous action and activities in addition to planned ones. The examples above are my attempt at doing this. The pendulum art project was simply inspired action – seeing a video and just doing it at school and those who joined, joined. Mystery science I always do in the big room and anyone inspired to join is welcomed! I don’t care if they planned to be there or not. After lunch each day, I’m setting out materials on the lunch table for kids to engage if they feel moved to. This is fun, and it creates opportunities for those kids who aren’t sure what they want to plan/commit to at the beginning of the week.

It’s a fun practice to think about different people and how they think/behave/act. It’s why I’m attracted to this profession. When I consider the quote that is most commonly attributed to Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid,” I recognize that when I am frustrated with what I see in another, it’s because I am seeing them through my perception of what I believe is genius. Then it’s up to me step back and consider another perspective and to do my work to open my mind to see other ways of genius.

Malcom Gladwell examines creativity and genius in this easy to listen to podcast, titled “Hallelujah,” a part of his Revisionist History podcast. I won’t summarize it here, but I will post the link if you are interested in exploring his examples of how genius can be expressed differently. I enjoyed listening to this as I thought about myself and the kids I work with, and how to recognize the different ways genius can be expressed. I think about how the Implementer and Visionaries may show this to us differently, and how to recognize and celebrate the different ways it shows up in our children so they grow up appreciating their gifts. A child who is a Visionary genius may be told by the world they are fickle and irrational, and then grow up to be this, never finding their way to express beauty to the world. When I hear about teenage suicide or a parent telling their artist child that they need to get a real job, I think about this. I work with children different than me, and it’s not my job to make them like me, my role is to open my mind and my perspectives to see the beauty and genius in them.

Tone Setting Camping Trip Vignettes

As we drove up highway 85 towards Hanging Rock State Park, I racked my brain for items I may have forgotten to pack. Sunscreen, check. Bathing suit, check. Hiking boots, check. Coffee…uh oh. No check. Hmmmm…oh well. Tomis roasts coffee at home and we have become quite the coffee snobs lately. We wanted to bring our own special coffee with us to enjoy during this trip. I was surprised at how this realization didn’t bother me at all. The thought of being in the woods for the next three nights was exciting and only brought the feeling the joy, not having coffee wouldn’t ruin the experience. Either I’ll go without or another one of the adults would have some to share, I thought. Hoping Tomis would feel the same way, I picked up my phone to let him know.

“Hey babe, I’ve got some bad news.” I said.

“Um, okay, what’s that?” he replied through the hazy sounds of the bluetooth car connection.

“I forgot to pack the coffee beans. I packed the filters, pour-over mug, and the grinder, but I forgot to put in the jar of beans.”

“Oh, I did that this morning,” he tells me.

And so it was, we had coffee for the trip! After I hung up the phone, I reflected happily on the fact that during the few minutes I thought we wouldn’t have coffee, I didn’t waste any energy being mad at myself for forgetting to pack it. I decided to keep that mentality going for the rest of the trip. There are many things in life that just aren’t worth the time being upset over!

On our second night, a child lost their toothbrush.

“Alright, well I know we’ll find it somewhere. I’m happy to help you look! Let’s imagine what it’ll feel like when we find it,” I said.

“Oh, I’m not worried at all. I know I’ll find it. If I have to go a night without it, it really isn’t the end of the world,” he replied.

We looked a little, didn’t find it, and released finding it for the night. Neither of us was upset. About 30-45 minutes later, before going to tent for the night, there it was in plain sight on tree stump nearby. Off the child went to joyfully brush their teeth!



On the second morning at camp, I woke up in the morning to the sound of quiet clapping.

“Ayan.” Clap. “Ayan.” Clap. “Are you awake, Ayan?” Clap. In my head I’m laughing hysterically. Tomis looks over at me with a huge smile on his face, also holding back gales of laughter.

“Well, he’s certainly going to be awake after that,” I whisper, trying to keep quiet so we could listen to what would happen next.

The conversation of the boys tenting right next to us kept us going to bed and waking up with huge smiles on our faces.

Me, in front of our tents. Ours is the little orange one, the boys shared the bigger green tent. We were VERY close to them, as you can see, and could hear every rustle and whisper from their tent!
Me, in front of our tents. Ours is the little orange one, the boys shared the bigger green tent. We were VERY close to them, as you can see, and could hear every rustle and whisper from their tent!

“What are your top five favorite animals? Do you know all their top speeds?”

“What do you mean you don’t know how fast a peregrine falcon can go? This is your favorite animal, you need to know this!”

“My dad’s a graphic designer and a broker, do you know what that means?”

“Um, well a graphic designer is different than a designer right?”

“Yeah, and it means he gets samples. Do you know what a sample is?”

“Yeah I do, samples are like a smaller thing of a bigger thing. Like a little model of what the bigger thing is that you want to make.”

“No! It’s like if my dad designs 6 shirts, he’ll get one shirt before those 6 shirts are made. Like it’s another whole shirt outside of those 6 shirts. It’s the same size as the actual shirts. He gets one so he can see what it looks like first. We get hats too.”

“Oh! Okay. What’s a broker?”

“Oh well, he’s a graphic designer. So he can design things and not leave the house. He’s also a broker so people send him things and he sends them to other people, and he gets more money that way.”

Tomis and I look at each other. During this trip I tell him, “I now know that if we have a baby, I will be totally happy if it’s a boy or a girl. The boys are so fun to be around!” Previously, I thought I would only want a little girl. This is no longer the case for me! (By the way, Tomis is my husband).



Huffing and puffing I climb the stairs up to Balanced Rock and Moore’s Knob, the highest peak of Hanging Rock State Park. It’s straight up. The map said this hike would be strenuous, and it certainly was! As I approached each curve, I thought, Please let this be the last set of stairs. For many of those bends it wasn’t. Behind me, I could hear Caleb and Tomis talking, Tomis patiently supporting Caleb up the many stairs. Caleb was already down one water bottle in the first 30 minutes of the trip and, having not had much breakfast, asking to turn back.

I look back at Alona, whose face was as red as mine, and smiled. She smiled back and said, “I don’t know if I would’ve signed up for this hike if I knew this is how it started!”

“Well, if there is one thing I know about mountains, it’s that if you get to the highest peak, the only way off is to go down. So after we get to the top, it’s got to get easier!” We laugh at my response.

“That’s totally true,” she responds, still determined to go up.

I glance up at the backs of Andrew, Gabe & Tessa. “How do they do that?” I ask aloud. The boys are far ahead, talking to each other as they quickly and efficiently climb the stairs. Tessa is right behind them, determined to catch up. I think to myself, she’s so low to the ground at her height, that’s how she’s making it look so easy.

“I don’t know!” Alona exclaims, “It’s like they are robots!”

I slow down to chat with Tomis. “Hey babe, I think we should give the boys a map and tell us to meet us at the tower. Let’s let them go. I think they can do it. As long as they stay on the trail with the red circles, they can’t get lost. I can show them where everything is on the map. How does that feel to you?”

“I have no issue with that. Is that what you really want to do?”

“Yeah. I mean, people let their kids loose in New York City with a subway map. This is way easier than that. The worse case scenario is that they get hurt and sit for a bit while we catch up. But obviously, I would only have them do this if they actually feel comfortable going up ahead.”

“Sounds good to me,” he responds.

I catch up to the boys. “Hey, do you want a map? You can just go up ahead and meet us at the tower.”

Andrew quizzically looks at me. “Like just go ahead and meet you there?”

“Yeah, if you want to. Here, look at the map.” I show him the trail, and remind him that the Moores Knob Loop is marked by red circles. I point out Balanced Rock and the Fire Tower that are coming up ahead. “This is where we are going. There will be signs, so stop at one of these and we’ll find you for lunch. We’ve got to be halfway there already.”

“Awesome! C’mon Gabe, let’s go!” They take off up the mountain, as the rest of us prepare for a water and snack break.

“Can I go to?” Tessa asks, already climbing up after them.

“Well, I’d love to have you stay with us, but I’m totally cool with you deciding what you prefer,” I respond.

“I’m going!” she yells down to me, her back already a flash of red, disappearing up the mountain.

I look at Alona and shrug. “Well, let’s see how this goes!” I think she’s a little shocked that I let them go up alone. I was confident the signage was clear, and knew that with the freedom, they would be even more careful than if they were with us. I know these kids. If they felt unsafe, they would turn around and come back or stop and wait. I had not one shred of fear about them getting lost. Okay, well maybe one shred, but I knew that was my “panic-how-I-was-raised” mind, not my grounded, centered mind.

We keep climbing, and about 15 minutes later (it really wasn’t that far off that I let them go ahead), we reach the signs for the fire tower and balanced rock. “Andrew? Gabe? Tessa?” I call out. No signs of life. “Hmmmm….” I wonder aloud. I had run up a little ahead of Tomis, Caleb and Alona, wanting to find the other kids. There were no kids here.

Well, I think to myself, somehow they have missed all these signs and walked past it. Knowing that we actually weren’t that far behind them, I guess that if I yelled pretty loud, they’d hear me.

“ANDREW!” Why I chose his name to yell, I don’t know. It just came out that way.

Faintly I hear, “Yeah.” Sighing, I melt into relaxation. It felt good to hear his voice, confirmation that everything I was sensing was on point.

“YOU MISSED THE SIGN! TURN AROUND,” I yell. I hear faint yelling in response. A couple minutes later, the three of them come tromping back.

“We were already on our way back when we heard you yell!” Tessa says excitedly. “We felt like we must have gone to far.”

I smile, totally happy to know that the kids did exactly what I knew they would do: turn back if they felt uncomfortable so they could find us again.

We eat lunch together on balanced rock, laughing and joking with each other. Caleb has totally bounced back after having food, water, and a break. He’s eating his sandwich, and we are all laughing hysterically at the breadcrumbs falling off his sandwich. We bought gluten free bread, and unfortunately for all of us who are GF…it was more terrible than usual. It literally crumbled apart when you touched it. The rest of us opted to not eat the bread today, (we suffered through it already for lunch the day before), choosing to make sandwiches out of tortillas instead. Caleb was dedicated to sticking to his GF diet this trip, and didn’t want us to waste the money we spent on this bread. In the morning, he proudly made his sandwich, and was now determined to eat it.

The breadcrumbs dotted his face like grains of sand, and he was laugh-crying as he ate. “It’s like eating cardboard with meat inside,” he wails, smiling though, knowing he is providing entertainment for the rest of us. The foil he has wrapped his sandwich in is the only thing keeping his bread from falling completely apart.

“Caleb, it’s okay, just don’t eat the bread. It’s so terrible! Why not just eat the meat out of the sandwich?” I didn’t want him to feel like I was going to force him to eat this mess of a sandwich.

“What?” He says, still laugh-crying, “I’m NOT gonna waste this sandwich. I’m eating this whole thing. I don’t care how bad it tastes!”

“Oh boy, I’ve guess I’ve told my story about my mom eating raw potatoes and raw fish one to many times. Now you all will never complain about food!” On our last roadtrip, after the kids complained about how much PB & J we ate, I told them how my mom survived her escape from Vietnam on a small boat with only raw potatoes and raw fish to eat for 30 days (I don’t actually know how many days they survived this, perhaps I should clarify this with my mom, but 30 days feels like a nice dramatic touch to the story). I told them they had no idea what starving was, that the most they’ve experienced is hunger and being uncomfortable and that eating PB & J wasn’t the end of the world. We were trapped in a food desert in Kentucky when I first told my mom’s story, in the middle of nowhere with one grocery store option to shop from. I remember walking in the grocery store and realizing that I didn’t see much that I would consider actual “food” inside. We did the best we could to feed the kids edible items for those two days…And from that point on I would hear, “I’m starv- I mean, I’m hungry.”

As Caleb struggled to finish his cardboard/styrofoam/sand sandwich, we noticed birds beginning to circle above.

“What are those?” I ask, squinting my eyes up to the sky. Three of the kids tell me they are turkey vultures.

“How do you know this?”

“We just know. Look at their wings. Those are turkey vultures,” Alona responds.

Andrew backing her up firmly says, “Those are definitely turkey vultures. I know it.”

I’m impressed. I have been to the raptor center several times and have also taught bird units to kids during my time conventionally teaching, and I still can’t seem to tell the birds of prey apart when they are flying way up above me. I have this memory problem that school taught me, the one where you remember something good enough to pass the test on Friday, and then the information just melts away into oblivion. The kids are describing to me how to tell raptors apart, and I’m glad to see they do not suffer from the same affliction.

Caleb begins laugh-crying louder now. “They are coming after my sandwich because it’s falling apart everywhere!”

Now we are all laugh-crying.

Here our group is on top of Balanced Rock, right before lunch.
Here our group is on top of Balanced Rock, right before lunch.

After lunch, we climbed to the top of the old fire tower, now simply a lookout for tourists to visit. Being a weekday, it was completely empty and we had the 360 degree views to enjoy to ourselves.

Caleb is dramatically making a statement about how hard the hike was up to this point in this picture...
Caleb is dramatically making a statement about how hard the hike was up to this point in this picture…

The highest point was about a third of the way into the 4.3 mile loop we were doing. As I predicted, this mountain was, in fact, like all other mountains I’ve climbed up: after getting to the highest peak, the only way back is down. We very quickly descended the mountain, Caleb, fully recovered now that he had eaten (albeit, a terrible sandwich), was at the head of the pack with Andrew and Gabe. Had Tessa been just a few inches taller, she would have been right up there with them. She wasn’t too far behind them, though. I felt like we were practically running down the mountain, and was carefully watching each one of my steps so I didn’t twist an ankle. Alona kept pace with me, trying to playfully place her steps where my step was just a moment before.

“They are robots,” I grunted back repeatedly to Alona. She was just as incredulous as I was at the speed they could maintain. Tomis was quiet at the very back of the group, I guessed just keeping up the best he could. We all made it back in one piece to camp, very proud of ourselves for completing this strenuous hike!



You can see more photos with captions of our trip here!

Week 2

Throughout our second week of school, I have been remained incredibly grateful for the smaller spawn point size, allowing me to get to know different students better. Before the year started, Jess, Melissa & I reconfigured spawn points, changing who was in each spawn point. I swapped siblings for two of my spawn participants, desiring to develop a connection to the sibling I didn’t get to be with last year. I also now have Ayan in my spawn point, who has never been in my spawn point for the two years we’ve been at our current Branches campus.

I find myself spending parts of every day now with Ayan, and I’ve really enjoyed this. It’s fascinating how simply switching spawn points has given us the boost we needed to get to know each other more. The spawn point really is the “preventative medicine” for our culture-setting. It’s the little family group within the big family. We practice listening and we each get a turn to be the focus of attention. We practice facilitation skills with a small group and feel out what that’s like. We play games and talk about our feelings. This year, I’ve even added a little “Spawn Point CMB” to our room, so if another person were to join our spawn point, they could read that and know exactly how spawn is run through what we are currently practicing.

For those reading who are starting ALCs this year, here are a couple activities we have done in spawn (and I would love for you to share back of what you are doing in your spawn point!):

  • A couple of students really like the ritual of ringing a singing bowl before the opening of spawn point. When I do it, I walk around the room with it, suggesting the kids close their eyes as I ring the bowl above their heads. The tone of the bowl is vibrationally grounding.
  • I also have waved a turkey feather over them, kind of fanning them. I always ask for consent before doing this. A couple kids ask for it and love it, some try it out and are fine with it, one says no – which is of course totally fine! The feather and bowl are just little ways to add ritual to spawn point. We do this to set the tone that the time we have together is sacred time. It has meaning and we aren’t just doing it because we have to – we do it because it’s important.
  • A couple kids decided to make a sign-up board in the room, so kids sign up to facilitate 2 times a week (either morning or afternoon). If someone is absent, they protocol is to switch that name with another. I started the year with a different process to rotate facilitation and happily changed it when the kids came up with an idea they preferred!
  • We’ve played a team challenge together: One person stands on one side of the room with their eyes closed. The other kids make obstacles all over the room, tossing books on the floor, moving furniture, etc. Then they describe to the person with their eyes closed how to cross the room to the other side, just giving verbal directions.
  • We have passed around question cards that Jess made to go with a “get to know you” game.
  • We have done feelings check-ins with our intentions or reflections.
  • I introduced the idea of “clearing” to the kids for two different spawn points I facilitated. If we want to, we share something on our mind that we might be worried about, or a problem we have that may or may not need solving or that is simply on our mind. The point isn’t fix anything, but hold space for a person to share what’s going on for them.

Another team challenge I want to do after we get back from our camping trip is a Lego building challenge. You get two sets of identical legos. Split the group into two, one group builds a design with the legos. The other group is in the same room but in a place where they can’t see the design. Group one explains the design to group two, with the goal of having both constructions the exact same at the end!

This week I also discovered Mystery Science, a really neat website with interactive discovery-based science lessons for kids. Ayan was showing me some magic videos on his computer one day and when he closed the window, this site was still open on another window. I asked him what it was and he told me that he’s been watching the videos at home and really liked them, but wasn’t able to print out the activities to do.

The next day, I went through one of the lessons on my own and loved it! I appreciate how the title of each lesson is a fascinating question to pursue. I decided to make a poster to hang in the food room where I list a bunch of the questions and the kids could write their names under the questions they want to explore. I am excited to go through more of the inquiries with the kids!

I’ll have to wait until next week to do that, tomorrow a group of 19 is headed to Hanging Rock State Park for our Tone-Setting Camping Trip!  I am really excited to spend three nights in the woods with the people I love. Tomis is coming with us, which I really appreciate. It makes a difference to have a male-bodied person come along.

Hopefully you’ll see blog post next weekend with pictures and reflections from that trip 🙂