book-of-joyI admit, I have been thinking about my new annual blog post with some trepidation since I could not think of one word that may sum up the year well.  My past two years have been change and opportunity.  So, coming into this New Year’s Eve, I have been thinking hard how to best represent this year and up until about 45 minutes ago, I was pretty stumped.  There was a lot of good about the year that I will discuss later, but there were also some things about the year that were tough.  Both of my sons now live away.  As a parent, and as a single parent, that is tough not having my children anywhere in the vicinity.  But as a parent, you want your children to follow their own paths, and that they have and I am proud of them both for their choices.  After a grueling 29 months of doctoral work, that lack of “focus” has left me a little unhinged, which is what I guess can be referred to as post-doctoral blues.  Pursuing and obtaining my doctorate gave my life purpose and structure in a time of great transition (and I also greatly enjoyed my research topic), so at times, I struggle to get done simple tasks whereas a year ago, I was keeping a million balls up in the air.  And I admit, I am tired of being a single person and would love to have a new special person in my life.  18 months ago, I saw a psychic in Santa Monica who predicted that by the end of 2016, there would be a new light in my life.  With 2016 coming quickly to an end, that was not the case and I admit, it was kind of bumming me out heading into New Year’s Eve. Yesterday, I started a book that was recommended by a dear friend called “The Book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  I thought I may find some nugget of advice there.    But as I read the table of contents, I wondered if I was truly at the “Joy” stage quite yet.  And there was a section called the “Eight Pillars of Joy” that spoke to me.  I don’t have all eight pillars yet, but I think I can speak to a few of them starting  with gratitude.

Gratitude:  Tonight, as I sat in my living room, with a flute of Israeli sparkling wine with my dear friends Nancy and Gregg, I thought about how grateful I am to have such wonderful people in my life.  We had just seen Lala Land (a must see).  While not giving away too much, it is about hopes and dreams.  Sometimes all your dreams come true, some time they partially come true.  Not everything in my life has gone according to what I had hoped, but I have to say, I am so grateful to have my people always in my corner.  The Dalai Lama said, “I am fortunate to be alive.  I have a precious human life.  I am not going to waste it.”  At the end of this year, I am extremely grateful for my sons who have grown into wonderful caring adults, the friends whom I have laughed and cried with over the past year, the support of my family, the incredible colleagues and friends that I have had from Natick Labs, The Discovery Museum, from the Concord Public Schools, and now in Weston.  I am grateful to have a wonderful home, kind and caring neighbors, and the beauty of our natural resources.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree and was even grateful for having suffered so much in the 2014 Boston Marathon as that suffering provided me with good perseverance that I would need during the dissertation defense phase. Looking at Nancy and Gregg tonight reminded me that perhaps like Lou Gehrig said in his goodbye speech, I am the luckiest person on Earth.  I have people that I love and who love me, I have a job that stimulates me intellectually and colleagues who are incredible, I have a home that I adore and a dog who greets me every day with great enthusiasm.  I have much to be grateful for on this now new year.

Perspective:  Another pillar of joy is perspective in that there are many different angles.  One needs to look at an event from  a wider view.  I like to equate this with my photography.  As most folks know that follow me on Facebook, one of my favorite places to walk and do some photography is on the Battle Road Trail  This year, for some reason, I noticed a little shed that I had walked by hundreds of time.  But for some reason, it caught my eye this year and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of it from different angles, in different colors, in different times of the day.  All of these various snapshots contribute to this one place, but it is important to look at not just this shed, but many events and people with a wider lens.  I think going through the dissertation process was an example of having to look at the different perspectives of your dissertation committee.  One person would want one thing, another would question another thing, the third would want a focus on another point, and the fourth would have another slant to take.  I needed to consider all of those perspectives and by doing so, it created a stronger end product.  So, in the year ahead, we all need to look at events and people with a wider lens in order to look at all different angles that make up an event or a person.

Humility:  Some of you know I was selected to be the student reading at the Hooding Ceremony for Master’s and Doctoral students.  Here is a copy of my reading that I think symbolizes the need to be learners, to be kind to one another, and to keep your eye on what matters:

Bring your purpose. Find you path. Now that we are finished with our degrees, we need to find a new purpose that incorporates our learning that we have acquired along this path. To help us form a new purpose, I turn to Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Psalm 118, and Ralph Waldo Emerson for words of wisdom.

  • Persist in striving for excellence, but as the Sisters of St. Joseph suggest, “temper that excellence with peace, joy, and gentleness”
  • Fall in love with your new path. Arrupe tells us that “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything”
  • Continue to ask questions about the world around you. As Einstein stated, “Be passionately curious.”
  • Use your knowledge to help others. King would assert, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”
  • Define success in the words of Emerson as “laughing often and much, appreciating beauty, and finding the best in others” rather than defining success as the amount of your paycheck, your job title, or the size of your home.
  • Enjoy each and every day. Life is a gift. “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

Humor:  Laughter and Joking is Much Better.  This year, I started to feel like my old self when I had a few episodes of just laughing and laughing.  Boy does that feel great! The first time was when at friends, three of us were trying to light 50 candles on her brother’s birthday cake.  You can take a look at this movie of that moment here.  What you can see is that clearly you would never accuse any of us as being pyromaniacs, but you would clearly see that we can laugh at ourselves.  Another moment was up at a friend’s New Hampshire lake house, two of us took out a paddle boat.  But unbeknown to us, a cable was disconnected and we ended up just going in circles.  I was laughing so hard I was of no use but boy again, did that feel great.  I hope 2017 holds many moments of laughter for us all.

So, as we are now in another year, I wish you all joy in the coming year.




Since I became a doctoral student, I have had to “quit” blogging as my blogging writing style and APA style are not really simpatico.  My last blog post was last New Year’s Eve, and I thought that once a year should not interfere with my doctoral writing.  Yes, on this New Year’s Eve, I could continue on with Chapter 4 of my dissertation, but thought that perhaps a blog to reflect upon 2015 would be more appropriate.

Self_Motivational_Quotes_Wallpaper-3.jpg_20120826Tonight, I had New Year’s with dear friends once again.  One of my friends, who has also had her share of difficulties over the past year, remarked when leaving. “We made the best of opportunities that we weren’t looking for”.  While last year’s post was about the chaos that led to many changes in my life, I thought about how this year, the opportunities that arose out of many changes that I did not actively seek out would be good to reflect upon.

So how did these changes represent opportunities?  First, let’s talk about my new (well not so new now) job.  It is true that I was not actively looking to change jobs in the midst of all the other big life changes occurring in 2014.  But the life changes freed me up in a way to seize on an opportunity.  And I can say, Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 10.36.46 PMnow that I have gone through one year of my new professional opportunity, that it is precisely what I needed to recharge my professional battery.  I am so blessed to work along side some of the most talented, funny, compassionate and caring group of five women that I call both colleague and friend.  Despite any difficult moments, we have each other’s backs, and I am very grateful for their friendship.  I love the work I am doing and yes, it is still my “dream job”.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 10.14.57 PM

Prospectus Defense

Also, on the professional opportunities category, I have to reflect on the opportunity to work on my doctorate.  Some might have thought this was an absolute crazy move, especially in the midst of the chaos of spring 2014 (death of my dad, divorce, and moving out of my house), but this opportunity has been stimulating, challenging, overwhelming, and quite the ride.  The opportunity to have this set of classmates in my cohort on this ride has been great.  We are each other’s support system as we travel through this EdD journey and I too am grateful for their gift of friendship, the laughter, the ability to reach out to anyone about how to run a certain statistical test, and sharing burgers and beer at our doctoral hangout.  To my professors, who have accompanied us throughout this journey, I am also grateful to the opportunity to learn from you.

Snowshoeing - lots of opportunity last winter!

Snowshoeing – lots of opportunity last winter!

If you had asked me three New Years ago about the opportunity to move, I never would have seen myself leaving West Concord.  But now after being in my new home in Maynard for over a year, I love the opportunity to live in a town in a new home that I love.  This “opportunity” has provided me with the chance to shovel through 110 inches of snow last winter and figure out what has happened to the electricity on several occasions.  Yes, I have had to be dependent on only me and this

Many veggies from my garden

Many veggies from my garden

opportunity has been empowering.  I feel stable once again, an opportunity that probably would not have existed if I had stayed in my old home.  This opportunity allowed me the chance to have a wonderful vegetable garden, and to take up snow shoeing since I live nearby to a golf course.   I love the opportunity to host family and friends in my new home.  I love the opportunity to be two minutes from a movie theater and from fun shops, restaurants, and cafes.

Another unintended good opportunity has been the ability to travel and to try new things.  2015 brought lots of those opportunities.  Over the past year, I

Kayaking on the Potomac

Kayaking on the Potomac

spent Easter weekend with Christopher in Los Angeles.  I got to go to the Pacific Ocean twice, climb a dusty mountain with great coast vistas, and cook with my son.  In June, I traveled to Baltimore to see Christopher and Emma.  While there, I had the great opportunity to go kayaking on the Potomac River.  Being on the water in a small boat with yachts and pirate boats around was certainly pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  But in my old life, I probably would not have had the opportunity to do something like kayak.  In July, I traveled down to see my good friend in Long Island.  There, I got the opportunity to go to the horse races for the first time.  It was a blast!  For Christopher’s 25th birthday, we saw Billy Joel in Philadelphia.  And then in late August, I went to a silent meditative retreat in Barre for a weekend.  Again, I was presented with this opportunity from my angel neighbor Carly to apply.  If life had still been the old status quo, I would not have applied.  And this was a magical, incredible weekend.  I am looking for the opportunity to do this again in 2016.

Summit of Mt Monadnock

Summit of Mt Monadnock

And 2015 also provided me with the opportunity to do some new physical activities that I had either not done for 30 years or had never done.  Starting with my California trips, I started to do some hiking, an activity that I had not done since 1985.  In April, for my birthday, Ben brought me up to Mount Monadnock.  He elected to take me up the “shorter but steeper” route to the top.  After a tough winter, the mountain was still icy in many spots, the wind was gusting pretty hard, and this 55 year old was pretty dubious about climbing up some of the rocks that we would need to do.  But Ben was wonderfully encouraging and we made the top finally.  While it was really windy and I thought I would get blown off,  I cherished our time up and down that mountain that day.  Ben and I then did Mount Watatic on Thanksgiving and Christopher and I did Mount Tom the day after Christmas.  These opportunities have led to some wonderful moments with my sons (who sometimes I think they

Kayaking on the local rivers

Kayaking on the local rivers

forget I am old!).  The excursion on the Potomac led to four more times kayaking on the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Rivers with my dear friend Nancy, with Ben, and with Ben, Emma, and Christopher.

So, while I get ready to turn the calendar ahead to 2016, I wonder what opportunities await me in the new year?  Maybe the best opportunities aren’t necessarily the ones that you are actively searching for.  Maybe the best opportunities might be the result of the ones that you aren’t looking for and that arise from the difficult moments and changes that life sometimes throws you.  Something to ponder…….

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 11.27.49 PMThe pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. 
Winston Churchill

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God’s handwriting — a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson


Happy New Year to You All

“All Great Changes are Preceded by Chaos”

chaosAs I sit here with seven minutes to go until 2014 is over, it would be easy for me to want to burn the calendar as this year has been undoubtedly a tough one. With all the life changes that have come my way, it would be easy to say this year was my worst year on record. My almost 27 year long marriage came to an end, my father died, I had to move from the house where I had lived for 26 years and raised my children. It would be natural to feel bitter, to feel happy that 2014 is coming to an end. But as I read in the Tiny Buddha blog today, the author stated that instead of all the ball dropping, champagne popping of New Year’s Eve, that she likes to take stock of what she was grateful for over the past year and what her intentions are for the coming year. It sounds like she had a similar year and she started off by reflecting, “I am grateful that I have survived this year”. I would start off similarly, so here goes: I am grateful that I have survived this year. However, I don’t think I just survived it, I think I learned a lot about myself and about people in general along this journey. This year tested me in ways that I was never tested before. The circumstances allowed me to see what I was truly capable of doing.

In August 2013, after my life became undone, I wrote a series of questions in a journal. That journal became my mileage log and I just found what I wrote over the past few weeks. One especially deep question was “Who is Susan?”. I think today, now technically, January 1, 2015, I am more clear than ever on who Susan is and what Susan is truly capable of doing. In the book, “Broken Open”, the author discusses how hard it is for a seed to blossom. Sometimes, while it is easier to stay safe in that seed status, it is not always beneficial to one as a person to stay in that seed state and you need to start to blossom, even though it is hard work. Lesser also discusses the “Phoenix Process” , which is “reproducing ourselves from the shattered pieces of a difficult time” (p.55). I think that I am a Phoenix today – however, I don’t think I would be at this point at this New Year without the help of so many people. This past year held so many changes, however, I think the chaos that was surrounding me, almost freed me in a way to turn things even more upside down than they were. I think I decided to not stay frozen any longer and to take chances. I am grateful for so many people’s love and support over the past year. I would never have come through the chaos so smoothly without you all. So, here goes a partial list of some of my list:

I am grateful for two wonderful sons. They have grown into wonderful men who have been extremely supportive of their mother. They are my greatest pride.

I am grateful to have the best friends in the world. You are my stars. Even though I may live alone, I know I am always surrounded by your light. You have sat with me in divorce court, you have been my before school therapy, you have been there to “talk me off the cliff”, you have fed me both physically and spiritually, you have let me use your home when I didn’t have anyplace to go, you have cheered me on every step of my marathon – both literally and figuratively. You have laughed with me, you have cried with me, you have been happy for me, you have been sad for me. I will forever be in awe of your friendship. I am so blessed to call you friend.

I am grateful for my family. Knowing that you always had my back helped me trudge through some of the more difficult moments of 2014. I am grateful for my aunt and uncle who have supported and loved me since I was the littlest of girls. I am grateful for the technically not my brother in law, but who I now call brother, who recognized my grieving process and stood by me, especially on that last hot July day on Laws Brook. You all are my foundation and even when there are cracks that appear, I know I can always count on you.

I am grateful for the awesome opportunity to work for 15 years in the Concord Public Schools. It was the most wonderful and awesome responsibility to teach 15 classes of children and to work alongside with dedicated educators who always put the students first. I am grateful for the support that I always received in pushing students to new levels.  I am grateful for the support of the many parents that I had the opportunity to connect with over the years, I am grateful for the continued opportunity to work at Regis College as an adjunct and to work with a wonderful colleague as we hopefully impact teachers in a positive manner. I am equally grateful for my new opportunity to work at my dream job in the Weston Public Schools. My first four plus months there has been extremely nourishing and working alongside a team of creative specialists is an incredible experience. I am extremely grateful for being a doctoral student at Regis College. My professors are simply incredible at pulling me to be a better student by providing authentic learning experiences. But most importantly, I am grateful that they see me as a person first and foremost and they supported me during some really bumpy moments. I am equally grateful to have wonderful classmates. I am so lucky to have met folks who are fun to be with and who are supportive of one another. It has been a great first year of studies.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be a home owner once again. I love my new home. I am aware that I am very fortunate to be in this type of position as I realize that many divorced woman do not end up so fortunate. To that end, I am grateful that I had a great divorce attorney, who recognized the emotional side of  divorce as well as the legal side of divorce. I am so grateful for my wonderful realtor, who was more than just someone who wanted to make her commission and move on. She provided me with a lot of advice, not just about how to stage a house, but on moving through this grieving process. And my great real estate attorney was not afraid to sit me down and tell me like it was and that I needed to trust the process.  I love my home and as I start 2015, I am not uncertain like I was a year ago when I didn’t know where I would go. I am grateful for my angel neighbors at 457. They snow blowed the monstrous amount of snow last year, left little gifts and cards on my stoop, and made me feel like one of their family. And I am grateful for spending four months at “The Cottage”. My wonderful landlords were more than just picking up the rent check. Their friendship and beautiful spot started to provide me with a sense of security once again.

I am grateful to all of you who supported my Boston Marathon effort. Your donations to the MGH Children’s Cancer Center had a big impact. Walking for this cause helped put my life into perspective. I am grateful to those of you who came and cheered me on in April, who partied with me after the marathon, and who I knew were with me every step of the 26.2 miles. This was undoubtedly one of the most difficult things I ever did and there were times that I wanted to quit, but your support kept me going. I am also grateful to all of the folks who have supported JHYSF. To think that this little grassroots organization has donated 1.1 million dollars is incredible. And it is because of your support over the past ten years that sarcoma patients now have more options than ever before. Thank you.

I am grateful for the help of a wonderful therapist to help shepherd me through this process. Her humor and compassion are wonderful gifts as I start to heal.

I am grateful to live in an area where natural resources are treasured. Walking on my trails brings me a sense of peace and calmness. I am grateful for my dog Kyla, who greats me enthusiastically every day. I realize I have probably forgotten someone, but let’s just say, I am grateful for so many reasons. I am a rich woman who isn’t going to be defined by the bad events over the past several years. I’d like to close with this poem that really summarizes my deepest gratitude:


Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness, you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say it is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you every where like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihbab Nye

Progress Reports: Persevering Through the Learning/Training/Growing Process

One standard from our progress reports

One standard from our progress reports



Every January, K-5 teachers in Concord sit down to start writing their progress reports.  The Meriam-Webster online definition of progress is:

  • movement forward or toward a place
  •  the process of improving or developing something over a period of time

Since my life is about to become more complicated, I sat down this morning at 8:00 a.m. and started writing the first of my 24 students.  The students and I had sat down this week and discussed the “Personal Development ” standards on the first page.  We went over what this would look like.   When I asked them what does “student focuses on teacher instruction” look like, the students said, “Mrs. Erickson isn’t standing on a table to get our attention.”

So, this morning, after I did a few, I started to think about the timing to do my 11 mile walk.  A friend called me early to say it was pretty icy outside.  I decided to wait until about 10:00 a.m. to venture out.   While inside, I debated waiting until Sunday when it was suppose to be sunny outside.  I looked at that said there was a risk of thundershowers during the late morning.  I seriously thought about delaying, but adhering to my strategy of facing head on any challenge thrown my way, I changed into my workout clothes and headed out.

photoWhen I arrived at the Meriam Corner parking area for the Battle Trail, I was encouraged by what looked like a clear path.  The one thing I have missed during this winter training was my trails.  I loved training for my first marathon on my trails and since my last walk on them on December 9th before winter hit us pretty hard.  So, I turned quickly towards my trail.  And within 100 yards, I discovered that the trail was not mud, but ice.  And treacherous slippery ice. The kind of ice if I fell, I would probably hurt myself pretty badly.  Sadly, I turned around and headed towards the road.  After about 1.5 miles, I discovered that some of the puddles that I had to cross through had a thin coating of ice at the bottom.  And shortly after that, the sky opened up, drenching me.  2.4 miles into this walk and I suddenly thought that I needed to persevere through this winter training.  Much like my students said, persevering is not just saying immediately, “I can’t do this.”  Life’s curve balls have taught me that I can do this.  I am training for a marathon where I am raising funds for children who are fighting cancer.  They don’t have the option of saying it’s raining and wet and icy, I don’t want to do treatment today.  So, on I trudged.  During this excursion, I discovered many different surfaces.  There were those patches of pavement where I could walk really quickly without feeling like a tight rope walker.  There were those parts of the sidewalk where there were glacial like ice formations where I needed to totally slow down and inch my way across.  When I tired of those side walk glaciers, I tried walking on the side of the road.  There were deep puddles and very icy patches that caused me to think if I slipped here I would end up in the road, so I scurried back to the sidewalks.  There were the sidewalks that were completely muddy.  There were the sidewalks that had mud and ice.  There were sidewalks that had deep puddles that totally soaked my shoes.  And there were the sidewalks that had the deep puddles with ice at the bottom.  There was dense fog that blanketed parts of my walk.  But, I made progress and managed to stay upright for the 11 miles.

While I was moving along, I kept thinking about this standard and how it could also connect to not just learning, but also to growing.  “Perseveres through the growing process” is not a standard on the progress report, but is applicable to both the students and myself.  Before vacation, one of my students didn’t react well to some feedback that they received on a piece of writing.  I was trying to chalk it up to it was right before the holidays and we were all a little stressed.  But during this walk, I thought, I need to reconnect with this student and talk about how this was a growing process — to be able to hear something you weren’t expecting to hear and how to handle that type of situation.  It is a both a learning and a growing situation.  Sometimes life does not go the way you wanted it to, and how you handle that disappointment is really important to your growth as both a student and a person.

Perseverance is a key attribute to have in all aspects of life.  It’s a great standard not just on our progress reports, but on our life progress reports.  And progress, moving forward or towards a place, or the process of improving or developing something over a period of time, is another thing we can all strive towards.



2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,100 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 52 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Finding Their Genius

When I finished my student teaching in Lexington, my cooperating teacher, Len Swanton,  gave me a wonderful book, Starting from Scratch:   One Classroom Builds Its Own Curriculum by Steven Levy.     Since 1998, this book has served as like a bible to me.  I have used parts of it, adapted parts of it, and retread parts of it for the past 15 years.   Levy describes this as “How can I create an environment that allows every child to express and develop his or her true genius, the essence of who he or she really is?”  Levy goes on to explain that “genius” does not mean that every child is a genius, but rather “that everyone has a particular character or essential spirit.”  Like Levy, I try to build my learning colony to enable every child to “manifest the genius that he or she brought to the classroom.”

So, over the course of the first part of this school year, I have been watching the children.  We have now been in school for 30 days, and for many of those 30 days, I have focused on  finding the  “genius” in each student as well as for the entire class.  What makes them tick? What excites them?   How do they like to learn best?    What makes them  squeal in delight?  What are their strengths?  What are their weaknesses?  How can I set up our learning environment to make it one that the children will take risks. will love learning, and will own their learning?

Water Filters

Water Filters

Together, our Learning Colony has really melded together to define what makes us tick as learners.  Our first science unit on Water Filters shed a lot of light onto this Learning Colony’s genius.  They loved the building of the water filters, they loved testing and improving the water filters, they loved applying “QCE” to this process, and they loved using technology to create iMovies, Pic Collages, and Explain Everythings about their water filters.  I loved hearing the squeals from the children as their dirty water came out clear after passing through the water filters.  I loved witnessing the incredible

Notebook with Filter Design

Notebook with Filter Design

conversations between group mates, and I loved how engaged the students were in their learning.

We then ventured onto Big Maps.  Again, the ability to design the maps on their own was another “genius” point.  This moved onto designing a village on the banks of the

1013 Village

1013 Village

Assabet in 1013.  I was impressed with the amount of detail, the amount of thinking, and the amount of creativity displayed in their maps.  I am looking forward to going outside and building some of our village attributes.

Our second science unit, Rocks and Minerals has provided similar enthusiasm for learning.  I showed the students the skills that they were suppose to master during this unit.  We then brainstormed investigations

Some of our Tools

Some of our Tools

that would help students meet the standards while at the same time, would incorporate their genius points.  Students were introduced to certain “tools” such as hand microscopes, rulers, magnifying lens, and pan balances.  Instead of copying the worksheet found in the curriculum notebook,  students created their own attributes while looking at the rocks and mineral specimens.  Again, the

Rock Investigation Details

Rock Investigation Details

engagement in the room was wonderful.  The amount of detail in notebooks was great.

Another “genius” point has been collaboration and creativity.  During band on Thursday, I asked a student who was not in band to show the remaining students in the room how to do Scratch.  I know a few basics, but this student took about 13 students and in a 45 minute period, had them creating wonderful creations on Scratch.  She remarked about their ability to just play around and find out some neat things.  Finally, our last day before the three day weekend allowed

Collaboration During Scratch

Collaboration During Scratch

students to employ both collaboration and creativity.  This particular group has loved learning and using iMovie on the iPads.  I have a group of boys who have made movies during sleep overs and then have asked to give up their recess to make movies.  So, on Friday, as we headed out to our morning recess, they once again asked to be able to take an iPad out to recess.  Two other groups also asked to do the same activity.  It occurred to me after witnessing enthusiasm for about 15 minutes that perhaps I was going to switch up my writing lesson to something a little different.  I called all 23 students over and gave them a challenge:  In 15 minutes, they needed to all shoot video footage.  Then they would have another 15 minutes to edit their movie before showing it to the entire class.  Off they ran to plan out their movies, and shoot many versions of the trailer “Super Kids”.  Each group put their own spin on their movies. Before showing them to the entire class, I asked what skills did we use in producing these.  Their answers surprised me, “team work, collaboration, time management, creativity” were some of the skills that the class came up with about our little film challenge.  These were all what I would call “Applied Open Circle Skills” and the class did them well.

So, here is what the students and myself have discovered to be genius points for this year’s class:


Engineer:  Build, Test





It promises to be an exciting year!

Curve Ball Central

When you keep getting thrown curve balls, you need to keep hitting!  Over the past month, I have had numerous curve balls thrown at me personally as well as professionally.   I have thrown some of my own curve balls at my new students as well.  I think while curve balls are difficult at times, it teaches you to problem solve, persevere, and practice the skills that you may have been taught through out the years.

photo 08Curve Ball #1:  In August, I decided to get away for a few days and head to the ocean in Gloucester.  Driving on the highway is not my cup of tea, so I was stepping out side of my comfort zone.  During this past year, I bought myself a Mini Cooper convertible, who I called “Gigi”.  Since the weather was glorious, Gigi also went to Gloucester.  After a few days of sand, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and some beautiful walks along the rocky coastline, I was headed back to Concord.  I was about 25 minutes into my ride down Route 128, at the spot where Route 95 merges into Route 128 and Route 1 exits the highway.  I was in the right lane of Route 128, and there was the passing lane to my left.  There were also two lanes entering and exiting the highway to my right.  I noticed a truck with a tarp over its flat bed.  “Look at that jalopy,” I thought to myself as I started to come up on it.  Right then, a piece of plywood flew out of the back of the truck.  I knew it was heading right towards me and that there was no way for me to avoid it.  If I stopped in my lane, I would be rear-ended and probably killed.  I couldn’t go to the left as it was heavily traveled.  I thought to myself, “What would Mr. Raeke do?”  Mr. Raeke was my Driver’s Ed teacher in high school.   During driving lessons, he would often put a notebook in front of our face and say “Your hood just opened up, what would you do?”  What could I do to minimize the impact to the car?  In a split second, I decided to hit it on the right side of my car, swerve as much as I could in my lane, and hope it worked.  I hit the plywood, swerved to the left and waited to see if I blew out a tire.  Gigi handled beautifully.  My tires were fine.  I started shaking uncontrollably and knew I couldn’t pull over as I probably wouldn’t be able to ever keep driving.  So, I pulled the lessons that I had heard Kathy Bowen teach to many of my classes during Open Circle — positive self talk.  “You can do this, you can do this…” I kept repeating to myself as I kept on driving down Route 128.  A bit of problem solving along with practice helped me hit that curve ball instead of being hit by the ball.  And Gigi only suffered minimal damage to her front spoiler.

Curve Ball 2:   As mentioned in previous blogs, I am training to walk a marathon, which will happen on October 6th.  On the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend,  I set out for a 20 miler, which would really give me a good idea of my fitness level.  The weather was a little iffy, but I set off around 6:40 a.m. with hopes that the Weather Channel would be correct and that the sun would come out before long.  At around the four mile mark, which was almost to Monument Street on the Reformatory Trail, I felt a sharp pain in my thigh.  Looking at my thigh, I saw a welt forming and I knew I had been stung by something.  I still had 16 miles to go.  While I have never had an adverse reaction to a sting, I was a little nervous as it hurt a lot and it was in a spot where my shorts ended, so it was getting irritated.  I didn’t have an allergy pill on me, so I decided to “phone a friend” and ask her to go to the house, pick up an allergy pill, and find me on the road.  So, Johanna showed up around mile 6, gave me the allergy pill, put some anti-biotic cream, and set me back on the road.  At around the 7.5 mile mark, I heard thunder rumbling in the distance.  It was dark to the south, and if you know me at all, you know I am not a fan of thunderstorms.  I was wondering if I should just call this a day and not keep going.  I was by the track, so I thought I would walk around that for a while.  While on the track, my friend called me to report a severe thunderstorm warning.  I assured her, I would stay on the track until it passed.  Seven miles later on the track, the sky looked a little better, so I headed off back onto the road.  At around the Old North Bridge (or mile 16), it started raining gently.  Two miles later on Lexington Road, the skies opened up.  There was no thunder, but it was torrential rain.  By the time I got to the Battle Road trail at mile 18.5, it seemed to be even raining harder.  I kept on going.  Teams of cross country runners sploshed past me.  The path had turned into a river.  It was exhilarating.  I felt like the runner of my past and felt really strong despite all the difficulties I had encountered during this particular walk.  This curve ball required me to problem solve and persevere through some incredible trying experiences.

Creating our Class Promises

Creating our Class Promises

Curve Ball #3:  This curve ball was administered by me to my new students.  When I was teaching my old 5th graders last year about colonies, I decided it would be a good idea to try to have the students experience what it must have been like setting up a new colony.    So, this year, I did not set up my classroom at all.  In fact, I had Mario push all the furniture into one corner of the room.  I put into my welcome letter that they would be setting up the Erickson Learning Colony, but didn’t put any specifics.  I told the parents the room would be set up a little differently than what they probably expected.  So, on the day of the Open House, I heard many different reactions.  “Whoa…”  “Boy you have some work to do,” and “Interesting” were a few of the comments.  On the first day of school, the students started the day off by sitting on the rug on the floor drawing their idea of an ideal classroom.  We brainstormed different ideas about what the room needed.  And then we separated into groups and set off to work.  I was pleased to see how well they were handling this rather large challenge for the first day of school.  By the end of the day, the class was set up, and coincidentally much like I would have set it up.  But the difference was that the students took the curve ball and hit it, and owned the learning on this one.

Curve Ball 4/5:  At the beginning of our first full week of school, I knew we would have a fire drill, mandated by  the State.   And sure enough, at about 11:12 a.m. on Monday morning, on our way from gym to our classroom, the alarm went off.  What made this was a curve ball for both me and the students was that I had never experienced a fire drill when I wasn’t in a classroom.  With 24 students, our line is quite long, and I am never at the beginning, but usually towards the end.  So, I was just in the hallway near the stairs when the alarm sounded.  I called to my class to come to me so that we could go out a different exit.  When we got outside, I noticed that my usual long line did not look so long.  Six students were missing.  However, Mrs. Swain, quickly brought them over to me and we stood quietly until it was time to go back inside.  This little curve ball gave me a good teaching opportunity to discuss this scenario, which was new to us all.  If you look at curveballs as a learning experience, it is certainly good to get one every once in awhile.  But in this case, awhile didn’t last very long.

On the next day, I was excited to take my class out to the river for their first trip.  Trips to the river are always very calming for both me and the students, and I was looking forward to our trip.  Before heading out, I quickly checked the weather radar and it appeared that a line of rain was heading our way.  What made this unusual for me was that for the first time in years, I had no other adult with me on this trip.  So, we headed outside and just as we got outside the side door, I felt rain drops.  I asked the students to turn around and go back in.  They wanted to still go, claiming they wanted an adventure.  I was pleased by their sense of adventure and figured out why not, if we get a little wet, it is no big deal.

The river before things got ugly!

The river before things got ugly!

When we got down to the banks, I asked the students to spread out and find their “place”.  I quickly scampered down the bank to the water to do the temperature before it really started pouring.  I had time to snap a picture before one of my students came yelling up the path that another student had been stung.  So equally quickly, I called all the students to come to me again and then assessed my student.  She had certainly been stung and was being very composed considering how much it must have hurt.  We quickly got to the school, when another student felt like they had also been stung.  I sent these students with another one up to the nurse, and I went and found Mrs. Richards, who was in the middle of her lunch.  I told her about the situation.  Two more students came up to me, feeling they had also been stung, and I sent them up to the nurse.  Just then, one boy started swatting at a hornet that had hitchhiked its way up with us.  The hornet flew from his hair, to my jacket, to a girl’s hair.  I took a field journal, swatted it out, and it flew up to a light.  I took this opportunity to lead the class up another stairwell, away from the hornet.

We arrived back down and I asked them to write a small moment about the situation.  It took a little while to settle them back down.  Things were quiet when all of the sudden, several students jumped up and declared there was a bee on another student in the room. Three-quarters of the class ran out screaming into the hallway.  I quickly asked for one of the remaining students to get an adult from the next room.  I grabbed the boy who had the hornet on him, unzipped his sweatshirt, threw it to the floor and stomped on the hornet.  I put the body into a baggie and went out to find my class.  They were still all in a dither and myself and Ms. Hobbie-Welch, tried to quiet them down.  We decided to check out their hair and shake out their clothing to make sure there were no more surprise attackers.

By after lunch, all was much calmer.  In seven years of taking students to the river, I had never experienced anyone getting stung.  One child had been stung 10 times, and three others were also stung.  This was quite a curve ball and on Wednesday, we talked about what went well about this scenario and what could we have done better.  Many of the students realized that they should not have gone into total panic.  This curve ball provided another great learning experience about how to better handle an unexpected situation.  I know that once the exterminator comes, I will have to get them back outside once again.  But I’m hopeful that we won’t have another curve ball thrown at us and if we do, that we are better able to swing at it.

Curve balls:  a great opportunity to practice, problem solve, and persevere.  May next week be calmer!