The Physics of Santa 2.0

The Skeptical Teacher

Years ago I posted here about how I kill Santa with science, and it goes without saying that doing so can get quite a reaction out of people. Some reactions have been negative, but a surprising number of people have contacted me actually thanking me for killing the Santa myth.  In fact, I was recently commissioned to write a formal article on killing Santa with science for TESConnect, an educational magazine and networking organization centered in the UK.  I am happy to share with you the full article in all of its colored glory, along with explicit physics calculations, below… Happy Holidays!🙂




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It’s been a tough year…so I need to establish some poise?

This is a tough year.

I feel like that has been the mantra for teachers and me for the last few years.  Is it the Common Core?  Misguided accountability?  Children now-a-days?  The mountain of paperwork?  Who knows… In the end, what it comes down to is that I love teaching.  And when it gets hard, I head back to one of my favourite books…

Simple Abundance is a staple for being the better me.

So, I went to open it up today…I do try to read most days in order. But when a topic speaks to me, I let it.

My Nook literally took me to October 10th…the date 3 days before my anniversary, and a month and 7 days before today.  “Poise Wreckers.”  Just the title gave me pause.  I feel surrounded by chaos and difficulty.  People I love are struggling…are sad.  I just can’t manage to ‘master’ my classroom this year…and my family seems in some disarray.  And I haven’t felt up to par.

So why poise?

Honestly, I don’t think much about poise.  I’m not exactly sure what poise is.

 Well, maybe it’s time.

“No quality is more attractive than poise – that deep sense of being at ease with yourself and the world.”

Good Housekeeping, September 1947.

Sarah Ban Breathnach describes a day she changed herself for a meeting rather than relax and be who she is.  In the end, she worried herself up to late at night, dressed outside her comfort zone, and ended up farther away from happiness and peace.

“To achieve order within, begin with outward order.”

Sarah Ban Breathnach

When I start to struggle, I always look for clues for how to get back to the better me.  It’s true.  It’s difficult to feel confidence and serene amid piles of stuff.  My classroom feels in disarray…my home is still not done from summer….I feel like I am always a full five steps behind where I need to be.

How can my teaching feel together and with it, if my life is ‘cluttered’ and ‘jumbled’?  The Common Core feels like a ‘new look’.  (The new Florida standards is the Common Core – except for a sentence or two each grade level.)

According to SBB, “If you want a new look, put it together thoughtfully and gradually, so that you’ll be at ease with the final effect.”  Well, I don’t feel like I have put this new look together well.

The implementation feels jumbled, my thoughts are cluttered with new stuff, I just don’t have the ‘poise.’  Maybe that is where I am going wrong.

“Poise is often overlooked when we think of putting together our authentic look.”  So…if I stop focusing on what’s going wrong, what feels off, Sarah says my smile will become ‘warmer’, my laughter more ‘spontaneous’, and my thoughtfulness will ‘blossom.”  I soooo want that!  I am very reflective and I feel if I am not quite right with the world, my students aren’t heading down the smoothest path possible.  And honestly, I know I challenge them…but I still want their challenges to feel they are developed in strength and not chaos.  Does that make sense?  So, I need to gain some poise…find some order and take time to have a ‘beauty routine’ that sets my day BEFORE I leave my home.

Poise is more than just looks, it is that ease with my self.  As a leader in my classroom, I need be the calm before the storm, rather than the wind than brings in the tornados and hurricanes.  And these days, I feel more like I am weathering storms, rather than having the confidence gained with good planning before one. (I feel like I’m thinking in idioms.)

That said.  I am heading back to blogging my thoughts….getting my mental dressing table prepared for each day…making sure my classroom plans reflect the planning and preparation I expect for myself…and that I need.

I need to include my family in that…and my own health.

You are probably thinking I am already out timing myself…where will I get all this time?  I need to focus better, rest more, and exercise.  I need to eat healthier…and use each minute well.  More important…

The only way we become truly at ease with ourselves is by knowing who we are.

Sarah Ban Breathnauch

Maybe that is what is the most wrong this year.  With all the changes and piling paperwork…less time…mounting family challenges…maybe I’ve lost sight of who I am in all of this.  I have always sort of know who I was as a teacher and my strengths.  This year I feel like I am facing so many challenges, I am losing site of who I am.

Well, regardless…resilience is one of my superpowers.  In the end, I love my family, I love my students, and I love to teach.  So, I need to put my head down and organize my ‘dressing table’ and closet.  I need to spend some time putting my new self together thoughtfully and gradually…and enjoy the growth and change.  I need to gain order outward, before I truly have that inward order.  I need to personally groom my inner own sense of style…that comes from celebrating on my strengths and less on the shortfalls.  I need to place nurturing my ‘inner poise’ into A daily ritual…I need to have a daily beauty ritual!

And of course…it only costs me time…ugh..and self nurturing…well…. as many spouses, parents and teachers will tell you…that will be the biggest challenge.  ‘Who I am’ and ‘time for me’ seemed to be at the end of the line when it comes to work and family.

That’s where I am going wrong…so…Poise wreckers…move over!  I can ‘bend and snap’ like the rest of them!

First on my list..going to be early and getting some good sleep!




Understanding by Design…. new year, new teams…but old ways!

 Back to school in a week and this kitchen remodel has placed me well behind my goals.  Still…it is a good experience for someone who loves to plan and keep chaos at bay…because, there has been so much I could not manage.  Sometimes, I realize I just need to “Let it Go!”  (My summer mantra.)


Getting started for the new year!

Well, now that I have a floor, I have started to clean inches of concrete dust, have a clean space, and I have found my work!!   (Although, I am wondering why I didn’t just hang out here by the pool most days.)  All in all, it was needed.  I can honestly say I barely thought about the new Florida standards and this year, which I think was good.  I also better see my priorities…I have an amazing husband and family that needs my time.

As far as school, I’m fresh and unfocused…sometimes needed for creativity or starting a new path. 

To gear up, I have started Wiggins’ “Understanding by Backward Design.”  Although I usually start with the standards and student outcomes, with all the changes this year I figured I needed to go back to the foundation. So, I’m heading back to the ‘old ways’ –  focusing on assessment for learning and student outcomes.understanding by design

This blog will be up and going more this 2014 to 2015 school year.  There was a lot of great things that happened over this past year, but time seemed so fluid it was difficult to write down my reflections.  And yet, I felt I should have.  There were times I thought things through, had great ideas, was trying to self-assessment a path I was on…and I would wake up, or drive home, and it was gone!  Sometimes temporarily…sometimes I would think, “I had it all figured out and it’s lost.”

I was going to start my MA in Ed Leadership.  However, I am the 4th grade team lead, on the team for the new Florida Standards Implementation at our school, and have 2 interns from August to December.  Although my degree is important (  :0 )   , I want to achieve better balance this year (don’t laugh).  I want to be more present with my family and more targeted at work.

I have always wanted to be a teacher trainer, and now it’s here!  I love teaching and want to share that.  At the same time, I am curious when it comes to adult learners.  Having taught grown ups in the Air Force, I have some experience; however, I expect this to be very different.

Teaching can be personal.  It is not a career that ends at 5pm and you leave at the office. Curriculum, students, events, moments…all stick in your head when it comes to the children you teach.   They are not computer programs or ‘widgets’ you walk away from when you turn off the lights.

Although I wonder if teaching has to be a passion or calling, I do feel that our education mentoring program here in Brevard (education in general) could be improved – and I hope to see if my thinking has positive outcomes.

Just like I believe in assessment for learning, metacognition, and personal goal setting with my students, I intend to use those strategies with my interns.  At the end of our time, I want these new teachers to feel stronger, more knowledgable, more skills, and better prepared for teaching with a greater idea of their personal strengths and challenges.

Therefore, “Understanding by Design” will not only help me think through the new Florida standards, but I intend to ‘plan’ my time with my new teams and my interns.  We’ll see.

We will see.  All very grand ideas and then the school year hits….

Gifted Kids Write to Parliament

Creatingcurriculum's Blog

96 students from Gifted Kids have collaborated to write an open letter to Parliament. What can this inspire you to write to someone who can make a difference?


To All Members of Parliament

You don’t know who I am, what makes me tick or just how clever I am. You may walk past me in the street and not even notice me. You wouldn’t be the first. But it’s likely I’m going to be the next Bill Gallagher, Witi Ihimaera, Michael King, Janet Frame, Trelise Cooper or … To be a successful adult, I need to be a successful kid. To be a successful kid, I need your support now.

Hi! We are Gifted Kids from the Hutt Valley. We are 96 students in years 1- 8 who attend Gifted Kids, a specialist strength-based programme one day a week with other like-minded students. We learn in an environment where everyone…

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At moments like this, I just want to share how much I love teaching…

This has been such a wonderful year…
I enjoy my 4th grade team. They motivate and support and truly make me smile!
I love my nearby teacher roomies…they challenge and inspire me beyond belief!
I have an administration that models leadership and encouragement…
And I have students that make me work harder and think faster just to keep pace – not ahead, but even.

As we head into our Tea design challenge and into the last FCAT 2.0…

My only true worry with 5 perfect scores in my class and bunches of 4’s is will I teach well enough for them to show growth? It’s not even me ‘teaching’. Will we work and learn together well enough to show that growth? I don’t want to be under 0 for VAM next year.

It will not be from a lack of assessing, tracking, differentiating, and using assessment for learning with students – as well as metacognition, PBLs, higher order questioning, I can statements, student choice, learning styles/multiple intelligences..



Video: Susan Kimball, Kindergarten Teacher: Too Much Assessing and Not Enough Teaching Under Common Core

Wow! The video is tough to watch because you can hear the teacher’s frustration and concern. I haven’t been opposed to the CCSS because I have only been back in the American classroom for the last 3 1/2 years – only 2 of which have been teaching literacy and now math.

Regardless of my thoughts, I am so thankful we live in a country were these conversations occur and there are Senators that listen to the people. I truly hope the teacher can go back to a position where she can enjoy teaching her students.

I still miss the influence of higher education that I felt was apparent in England.

I would really like to hear from them on the CCSS and more.


Susan Kimball, an elementary school teacher, testified to the legislature that:

In a professional development meeting inservice in November and at a faculty meeting in January, we were told in my building, and I quote: ‘Be careful about what you post on Facebook or talk about in public regarding Common Core.  Don’t say anything negative. It could affect your job.’

“So even though many teachers were hating the Common Core curriculum, they would not voice their opinon to anyone. So I began speaking out –trying to educate and inform anyone who was willing to listen.  When I turned in a personal day request to come to support the rally for House Bill 1490, I was asked by my principal, ‘Do you really want that in your personnel file?’ 

“And then I was bullied and ostracized by my administration, a few other teachers, and the president of the school board, and…

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Brilliant Teachers Expose Federal-Corporate Connivance

I am not sure what to think about this. I understand the potential for data tracking and value the standard by standard feedback I receive from out current district assessments. But on a national level, by student, long term….as a parent that concerns me. Ugh. What are your thoughts?



First, here’s a list.

It’s a smattering of teachers’ names with links to what they have said or spoken.  Their experience and research make a powerful, nearly unarguable case for stopping corporate-federal Common Core.  They are current teachers, retired teachers, and teachers-turned-professors-or-administrators.

Malin Williams, Mercedes Schneider, Christy HooleyPeter Greene, Susan Kimball, Paul Bogush, Paul Horton, Gerald Conti, Alan Singer, Kris Nielsen,Margaret Wilkin, Renee Braddy, Sandra Stotsky, Amy Mullins, Susan Wilcox, Diane Ravitch, Susan Sluyter, Joseph Rella, Christopher Tienken, Jenni White,  David Cox, Sinhue Noriega, Susan Ohanian, Pat Austin, Cami Isle, Terrence Moore, Carol Burris, Stan Hartzler, Orlean Koehle, Heidi Sampson; also, here’s a young, un-named teacher who testified in this filmed testimony, and  an unnamed California teacher/blogger.

Notice that…

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The essay my mother wrote

I want to share this with my children. Very touching and so true. Thank you for shading this with us..

Jeremy Podolski

Five years after her death, a 20-year old letter tells powerful story of a mother’s love

I was rummaging this week in my Windows documents folder – my generation’s version of a cobwebbed attic – looking for something I no longer recall, when I saw a folder simply labeled “Mom.”the essay my mother wrote mother and sonIt’s been more than five years since my mom died of ovarian cancer at much too young an age. Five years: a blink and an eternity all at once. I try desperately to remember the sound and cadence of her voice. I trip over triggered memories of time-bleached events, hoping to add new detail to my imperfect archive of childhood. Occasionally, I pick up the phone to call her, only realizing my folly when I struggle to remember her number.

Unexpectedly finding something that is about her, belonged to her or pictures her is like discovering treasure buried beneath a…

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No…I am, was, could be…one of the worst teachers in my state! Florida VAM #higherED Where are you?

I read Simone Ryal’s post today…

Then KAFKAteach’s post:

I know Valerie Strauss stepped up to the plate:

However, at the end of the day, the State of Florida has data that says I am not a valuable teacher.😦  In fact, I’m pretty bad according to them.

Tuesday, after the Florida Writes, I was tired.  It is a tough writing test to work towards because 3rd grade teachers, rightly so, spend so much time hitting reading for the Reading FCAT – writing is not their focus.  So in 4th grade, we have from August to February to get students writing a solid, organized, fluent, well-developed 4 to 5 paragraph essay that ‘feels whole’ and has vivid detail.

So, it’s kind of the night that should be about kicking back and taking a deep breath.  I’m so proud of my students.  They worked hard.

But, I heard the VAM scores were out.  I looked myself up. I love teaching, I get good results, I work hard, tutor after school, help my students achieve their best…or at least try…right? How bad could it be?

I was devastated.

(In the end, the district said the data on the website below was “nothing related to reality…all over the place…and inaccurate.”)

These are my 2011 to 2012 Scores right from the site.  I was a Kindergarten through Second Grade (Year 1 to Year 3) Science Teacher (No FCAT tests in those grades) and a Gifted Pullout Teacher for 1st through 6th.  I saw the GSP students for 3 hours a week total.

My scores show I taught 41 reading and 41 math students for a combined total of 8200%.  My reading VAM was -15% and my math was -0.042  My VAM combined was -9%.  I was one of the lowest ranked teachers in my school.  I’m not sure who the students are that I received my grades from.  I was one of the lowest teachers…so it couldn’t be a grade level score or a school score.  It’s just my score.  (I don’t want to be a GSP pullout teacher again!  NO WAY!)


In 2012 to 2013, my scored looked like this…

I was a 4th grade reading teacher for 44 students.  The entire 4th grade had 87.  I only taught 44.

According to the state, I taught 81 reading students and 4100% math students for a combined total of 122!  My VAM reading was -9% (I’ll round-up) and math was -4%.

I looked up the science teacher because I taught reading to my 22 home room students and her 22 home room students.  Her VAM states that she only taught 44 students in reading and had a positive reading VAM of 10% (I’ll round-up).  Although she saw all 87 students in the 4th grade for science only…she had no math scores?

But I only taught our 44 students reading…no math…no 81 students…and not all the 87 in our grade level.

I really don’t understand.  How can she show positive reading gains on students I taught…yet I show negative reading and math gains on more that the students I taught?

And where did the math come from?

And why does it not appear across the board for our whole team of 4.


I did forward the data to my district, my boss…I was truly prepared to apologize to my students and parents….because in this age of accountability…I am terrible right?  I really intend to apologize to my family.  You know how many times I am grading or planning or researching for my classroom?  (Or buying?)  And for what?  I am significantly below the expectation for value.  I am not just maintaining the standard…I am more that 10% below expectation.  I am a “Loser” – Big ‘L’ – that was the sign for the day as we passed through the halls.

Wednesday was a dark day.

Isn’t the assumption that the State of Florida, who is going to use this data to assess me and decide any future raises…who will use this data as 50% of my teacher evaluation…isn’t there accountability for them for accuracy?  Honestly, it felt terrible…but I didn’t truly believe it was wrong.  I don’t still understand it…but I assumed the state would not give out wrong data. Right?

I am truly grateful for my administration, district accountability team…and my teammates.  Even when I was  (not am) a ‘negative’ VAM…they still encouraged and were supportive.  However, it was devastating.  I didn’t look up my teammates in my new school.  However, I guess there are quite a few that join me in the VAM ‘pit’.

I can tell you…as someone that loves teaching and that works so hard… it’s just sad.  For our whole team…it’s just sad.  As someone who has spent too much time and money on teaching and could spend more time on family and self…it feels like I made a big, long-term mistake.

In the end, the district said the data on the website was “nothing related to reality…all over the place…and inaccurate.”

According to the district, my VAM scores for the last 2 years were positive.  Marginally so… between 0 and 1.  We had VAM scores over in England and the range was between those values…so I think I’m where I need to be…but always have room to improve.  The district said I was right where I needed to be.

Ok…at least I’m not hurting the children I teach?  Because for a second there…  I want to be improving their lives…ugh.  I’m grateful for my district…but I’m at a loss for the on-line data published.

I still don’t know what to think.  However, it has really been on my mind. I need to re-group and re-focus on my students and my job. I have an observation on Tuesday…I have the FCAT reading and math in 2 months…tests that will determine the next round of scores, that I am sure, will be published.  Is this process supposed to make me better?  Because right now…it’s not.

I have 5 students with perfect scores in my class right now.  Imagine… ‘I’ have to maintain that.  I was up for the challenge and have monitored, tracked, differentiated, taught them metacognition, assessment for learning, choice, critical thinking…and hopefully, a love to learn.

I love to teach! I felt like I wanted to be an astronaut and did work in space…but this profession was just so dynamic and working with children such a joy.  Never did I ever think…I would be labeled a ‘loser’ on the world-wide web.😦  I wanted to teach teachers…I’m not sure that’s the best option for teachers right now.

I am blessed…and I will refocus….I always do.  But there is something different this time.  I’m not sure about teaching for the first time.  I need to step back.

I do have a challenge though…

I challenge higher education to step in…true researchers and teachers…to give us researched based practices.  I challenge parents to help those who love their children.  We need education professionals, not politicians, to have a strong voice in Education.  We need people like Cambridge and Harvard, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Columbia, UCF…all these universities and more to step forward to lead us – at a national level….at a local level.  I want to hear from you!  Not Scott, Bush, and all the others benefitting from the sale of education…but true educational researchers leading us with strong, research based practices.  Isn’t that what you ask of us?

Gates Foundation…I believed it you!  Rick Stiggins, Black and Wiiam, HELP! Howard Gardner… if it’s right, if this is valuable…then so be it.  But it’s its not…please let us hear from you.  Where are all our great leaders in Education?

Also, I truly wish, these political ‘leaders’ would be required to step inside the classroom for a full FCAT cycle.  Then let’s see their VAM scores.

Higher Education….where are you?


Gosh Damn! That’s a Bad VAM!

I don’t know weather to be encouraged that I am not alone…or discouraged that with all of the accountability for teachers, there is no accountability for our Fl. Department of Education. I haven’t blogged much this year because I have worked so hard in the classroom – I have 5 perfect scores that will need to be maintained. I PMP, track, differentiate my higher students as well as my lower. When my VAM scores came out, I was devastated. I still am. As a GSP pullout teacher, who had students 3 hours a week…and who taught K-2 Science, my 108 ‘reading students’ gave me a VAM of -15%. My 8000% (yes…80000% was the number) math students were negative as well. The following year, when I only taught 44, 4th grade reading, my 81 math students were negative still and the ’81’ reading students? -10%. The science teacher…whose students I taught reading and who taught all of the 87 students in the grade for science only, received a positive 10% for the 44 reading students (I taught…go figure)…and had no math scores. 😦 I truly just don’t get it. How can a teacher get the reading scores of the students I taught…and I get 81 students for reading and math (that I didn’t teach) in a grade level with 87? 😦 Devastated.


In my last blog post I revealed that I conducted a very unscientific study and concluded that I might possibly have the worst VAM score at my school.   Today I conducted a slightly more scientific analysis and now I can confidently proclaim myself to be the worst teacher at my school, the 14th worst teacher in Dade County, and the 146th worst (out of 120,000) in the state of Florida! There were 4,800 pages of teachers ranked highest to lowest on the Florida Times Union website and my VAM was on page 4,795. Gosh damn! That’s a bad VAM! I mean, I always feared I might end up at the low end of the spectrum due to the fact that I teach gifted students that score high already and have no room to grow, but 146th out of 120,000?!?! That’s not “needs improvement.” That’s “you really stink…

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