Category Archives: Spady Blog

#mathcurse with the #spadyboys


I know I’ve blogged about this before, but seriously, you can really turn anything into a math problem!

I recently read a blog post by @raspberryberet3 about teaching financial literacy in the classroom and I couldn’t agree more!  Even better, let’s get into the habit as parents of  pointing out situations when we use math in our daily lives.  I realize I’m a math teacher and sometimes my problems are a S-T-R-E-T-C-H for practical applications, but it does get us talking about math in different ways.  Below are a few ways I talk about math with the #spadyboys.

  • I always point out geometry vocabulary while driving.  It’s not uncommon for me to pull off on the side of the road to take a picture of an object with lots of geometric terms.  This one is one of my favorites!  Can you see the quadrilaterals, triangles, transversals and supplementary angles?


I have a collection of pictures here: and recently I had my pre-algebra students use these pictures and @explainevrythng on their iPad to define and highlight the “Geometry Around Us.”  It was much better than writing down a bunch of definitions in a notebook.  Check out Tyler’s example here:


I’m excited about some of the new vocabulary ideas I learned from @rwootenits at NETA this past week!  There are lots of tools and resources we can use to make the vocabulary much more meaningful for our students.

  • My favorite place to take the #spadyboys is the @DollarTree.  Before we get to the checkout, they have to calculate the sales tax.  Food isn’t taxed so they have to figure out how many non-food items we have.  Then, if it’s 7% sales tax, that’s $0.07 for every dollar we spend.  They often have the total calculated before the checker scans all the items.
  • Percents show up everywhere!  When I read @raspberryberet3‘s blog post, I immediately thought of my awesome shoe deal at @DSWShoeLovers last month.  The shoes shown at the top of this page were originally $60.00 marked down to $39.94 on the yellow sticker.  The yellow sticker meant that I could take an additional 80% off!  What was the final price for the shoes?  Figure it out and leave a comment below!  Whenever I can, I stress that we don’t always need calculators or tip cards to figure out percents.  With a little rounding and estimating and moving decimal places, we can do it all mentally!
  • I have a fascination with palindromes and get super excited when my odometer (currently at 159710 miles) reads a palindrome.  Not only does it make for a cool pattern of numbers, but we can also figure out when the next palindrome will take place.  BTW…how many more miles do I have to drive in order to reach a palindrome?  Palindromes pop up all the time on the clock!  Even my 5-year-old is getting the hang of it!

You truly can turn anything into a math problem.  Whether it’s a practical application of percents or a fun pattern of numbers that create a palindrome, let’s work on turning the #mathcurse into #mathopportunities!

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To Code or Not to Code, That is the Question

“Code is the next universal language. In the seventies, it was punk music that drove the whole generation.  In the eighties, it was probably money. But for my generation of people, software is the interface to our imagination and our world. And that means that we need a radically, radically more diverse set of peopleto build those products, to not see computers as mechanical and lonely and boring and magic, to see them as things that they can tinker and turn around and twist, and so forth.”
~Linda Liukas

Two of the #spadyboys sharing their coding knowledge with Westside teachers during Professional Learning Day, January 18 #WestsidePL

I have written about my passion for coding/teaching kids to code before, but I thought I would jot down and reflect on some recent experiences related to coding…

  • A parent emailed me awhile back asking if I had heard of Bitsbox.  It rang a bell and I remembered signing up for a free teacher’s kit.  I’m a little embarrassed to say that when the kit arrived, I set it aside because I wasn’t sure what I supposed to do with the little booklets.  Anyway, the parent’s email prompted me to dig out the booklets and show them to some students.  WOW!  Talk about instant excitement and engagement!  Words cannot express the joy and excitement on these kids’  faces when they created something with code!  In addition, students were helping each other troubleshoot and problem solve when something didn’t work.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard a student say, “You forgot an apostrophe!” or “That needs to be capitalized!”  Who knew…punctuation and capitalization matter not only when writing, but in coding too!  My first subscription to Bitsbox arrived last week…20 beautifully illustrated pages filled with coding projects.  I can’t wait to share them this Saturday at Coder Dojo!

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“If you can create the technology you want, you can create the future you want, too.” ~Ayah Bdeir
“Build in extra learning time for failure, trial-and-error, and space to really tinker and, therefore, learn. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. Give learners time to explore the new tool, strategy, or knowledge.” ~Jasmine Escalante

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  • Like most teachers, I really enjoy learning!  I love putting myself in the student role and experiencing the struggle that often accompanies learning.  Believe me…that struggle happened this past Saturday when I attended #NodeSchool_Omaha at @ObjectPartners (A confession, I signed up primarily because they were offering free lunch-Woo Hoo! @qdoba)  I immediately felt in-over-my-head surrounded by people who knew a lot more about coding than I did.  Luckily there were mentors there to help me every step of the way and I ended up earning my badge!

I could go on and on about my experiences with teaching kids to code.  So for me, To Code or Not to Code is not a question.  I’m interested in your thoughts though.  Below are some articles/blog posts about the topic.  Leave a comment and share your thinking and/or other resources to consider.

Learn to Code, Code to Learn:

The President Wants Every Student To Learn Computer Science.  How Would That Work?

Should we really teach all kids to code?

Best Jobs in America:,20.htm

5 Reasons Some Doctors are Learning to Code:

Future of Work: Why Teaching Everyone to Code is Delusional Promote Computer Science:

5 Unbeatable Reasons Your Kid Should Be Coding:

It took awhile, but schools are starting to boot-up computer coding classes:

Pondering Perfectionism

perfection ~ noun

the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects

I’ve been pondering perfectionism lately and thought it would be the perfect opportunity to write a blog post.  Part of setting my goal of blogging 2x a month this school year was to try and break free from the disability that perfectionism has played in my writing.  I have come a long way and still have a long way to go.  I will say that I no longer despise the act of writing, but have grown to accept it as a welcome challenge.  (Side Note:  I just spent 10 minutes looking up whether it should be ‘welcome challenge’ or ‘welcomed challenge’.  UGH!  These are the details that frustrate me when writing!)

Instead of writing elegant paragraphs for this blog post, I’m using a strategy I have suggested to some of my students who struggle with writing.  Start by writing a list of your thoughts and then organize them into categories.  Here’s what I have so far…

  • Quotes
    • Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection ~Kim Collins
    • Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence ~Vince Lombardi
    • I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection.  Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business. ~Michael J. Fox
  • Articles
  • Questions
    • Is perfectionism a bad thing?
    • How has media enforced perfectionism?  Is it all the media’s fault or am I unintentionally/unknowingly demanding perfection in my children/students?

I’m interested in your thoughts about perfectionism?  Do you have any resources to share?Maybe you’re like me and have more questions than answers.  Leave a comment below.  I look forward to learning from you!


Free JavaScript Workshop-January 30

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I have an interest in coding and learning more about JavaScript so I registered for a free event here in Omaha on January 30!    Even though it might be over my head, I’m certain I’ll be able to connect with someone at this event who will teach me more!  Would you like to  join me?
From the Site:  Learning JavaScript gives a new developer access to run their code in any browser in the world. Learning Node and NPM can give established developers new skills that are currently in demand. But as with any new skill, just getting started is often the hardest part.

That’s why we’re here to help you level up with a FREE workshop from!

Westside Community Schools does not sponsor or endorse the organization or activity described here.  The sharing of this information is provided as a community service.

Who is Siri and Where Does She Live?

Siri, who let the dogs out?

At one point, my boys couldn’t get enough of Siri’s response to this question.  “Who, who, who, who?” she would reply and there would be laughter and begging to do it again and again.  At the time, Toby was 3 and he wanted to know all about Siri and where she was.  The conversation went something like this…

Toby:  Mom, who is Siri?

Me:  She helps answer questions that people have.

Toby:  Have you ever met her?

Me:  No, she’s not real.

Toby:  Where does she live?

Me:  Well, according to Siri, she lives right here in my phone.

The boys remembered that question a few days ago and asked Siri again, “Who let the dogs out?”  Her reply this time?  “Due to unforseen circumstances, that witticism has been retired.”

This morning, I got a notification that I had a new follower on Twitter…Susan Bennett (@SiriouslySusan) is a voice-over artist and singer.  She is also known as the voice of Siri.  Whaaat!?

Me: Hey boys!  Guess who just followed me on Twitter?  Siri!

Trea: (my 8-yr-old comedian) Mom, did you know Siri is a spider?

Me:  Huh?

Trea:  She lives on the web!

Oh the joys of raising kids in this ever changing technological world!  My boys will never know what the world was like pre-Siri.  What else will they never know existed?



One point away from being gifted…

During my tenure as Teacher Leader for the Excellence in Youth (EY) team at Westside Community Schools, I’ve heard the following comments made by students…

  • I was one point away from being in EY
  • I’m not smart and that’s why I’m not in EY
  • I was absent the day of the test so that’s why I’m not in EY

Let me let you in on a little secret (it’s actually not a secret-we’re trying to let EVERYONE know)…

You don’t have to be in EY to participate in seminars or other
learning opportunities that the EY team sponsors.

Here’s the deal…You don’t have to wait around for anyone to tell you that you’re passionate about something.  I’m pretty sure you could list 10 things right now that you’re passionate about or interested in and you don’t need a high IQ or a standardized test score to tell you that you can explore those areas.  Let’s just take a look at a couple inventors:

  1. Les Paul designed a solid-body electric guitar in 1941.  Guess what?  When he was young, one of his teachers told his mother that he’d never learn music.  That didn’t stop Les.  He taught himself how to play several instruments and by the time he was a teenager, he was performing with country bands all over the midwest.  Les didn’t need a score to tell him what he loved doing.  He had a passion and pursued it…it’s as simple as that!  Information taken from:
  2. Joy Mangano designed the Miracle Mop.  I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t check to make sure her IQ was high enough or that her math achievement scores were in the 99th percentile before coming up with her idea.  In fact, according to, Joy was frustrated with household mopping and came up with a new one (  She also came up with several other ideas and eventually sold her company to the Home Shopping Network (HSN).

The EY team has the great pleasure of providing opportunities for all students…regardless of whether or not they are in the EY program.  These opportunities are sometimes based on students’ interests or talents (Musician Andy Hackbarth and Job Shadowing-see below).  The opportunities are sometimes based on what’s available in our community (Orpheum-see below).  In some cases, students and parents suggest ideas (Moon Bot Seminar-see below).  Whatever the case may be, the EY Team is open to ideas and we are passionate about getting kids plugged into these opportunities.  We want students to explore areas of interest, as well as foster talents that may already exist.  We want to open doors for students that they never knew existed.  We want to ignite the passion that exists in all students!  We want to encourage all students to change the world…regardless of their IQ score.


Cale, a 5th grader from Westbrook has an interest in computers.  The EY Team arranged form him to shadow Mr. Sanchez at WHS to get a glimpse of a possible career path in technology.  One thing Cale learned…”There’s a lot of parts to a computer and taking them apart and putting them back together takes time.”

IMG_3126Musician Andy Hackbarth ( came to Westside Middle School a couple weeks ago and worked with a group of aspiring musicians.  No IQ or test score required to attend…just a passion for music!  Andy talked about the math and science behind music, as well as the literary aspects of writing music.  The result was AMAZING!  Sixth grader Erin from Loveland said, “This was the best day ever!  I wish we could have spent 2 full days with Andy.  I learned so much!” Click here for a sample of one group’s song.


Omaha is very lucky to have a variety of organizations that support and expand appreciation for the arts.  Omaha Performing Arts is one such organization and through their student matinee program, schools are able to offer opportunities to students who may not have the experience otherwise.  Last week, a group of students went to Pedal Punk at the Orpheum.  I wish I could have captured the wide-eyes and jaw dropping that took place throughout the performance.  It was priceless!

Last week, 22 students from various elementary schools came together for our first ever, Path to Personalization Seminar.  The ticket to attend?  Just explain something you’d like to work on for an entire day.  We had students writing scripts, taking photos, researching 3D printers, sewing, and more!  We even had a student design a MoonBot seminar that he is planning to lead during the spring semester.  Said by one student, “I just enjoyed working on something I love doing for an entire day…no interruptions!”

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There are so many amazing things happening K-12 in our district.  It’s a great time to be an educator and an even more exciting time to be a learner!  Let’s not exclude students based on their test scores, but rather celebrate and continually look for and provide opportunities for all students to explore their passions.

Please leave a comment and let us know what you’re passionate about.  Got any ideas to share?  Do you have a suggestion for a seminar?  We’re all ears!

Writer’s Block

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Can I count the image above as a blog post?  I know, it’s more of an excuse, but I’m really struggling with my goal of writing two blog posts a month.  Even though I’m only a few posts in, I’m really beginning to understand why some students struggle with writing.  It can seem like such a daunting task!

Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all. ~Charles Bukowski

So I guess this post will be about writer’s block.  I found this blog post to be very useful in finding some possible solutions.  Fear and Perfectionism are probably my two biggest obstacles.  I can definitely think of at least 100 excuses why I can’t write…not enough time, there’s nothing interesting to write about, the dishes need washed…

Alas, excuses won’t get me anywhere.  For now, I will be satisfied with the fact that I at least wrote something and remind myself of why I set a goal in the first place.  I want to become a better writer and I want to be able to empathize with students when they are struggling to write.

I’d love to hear any suggestions you have for writer’s block.  Leave a comment below!

Move over Screen Time…Makerspaces are Moving In!

Please say I’m not the only one that comes up with crazy ways to deal with managing screen time!
  • If you read for 30 minutes and exercise for 30 minutes, you can earn 15 minutes of screen time.
  • No screen time during the week and two hours on the weekend.
  • You can “purchase” screen time with the buttons in your jar.  You can earn buttons by doing your chores, going to bed without arguing, and leaving your brothers alone.
  • NO SCREEN TIME…EVER!  I’m going to hide all the devices including the Wii remotes.  You will read and do homework from the minute you get home to the minute you go to bed!  (BTW…I’m not proud of that one, but yes, I have said it.)

This summer, I decided to approach screen time from a different angle.  Instead of coming up with more rules and regulations, I decided to create some spaces in my basement that might seem more appealing than screens.  Check out the the Spady boys’ Makerspaces.

My friend Karin recently gave her daughter Ava’s room a makeover.  What do you get when you combine a sewing machine, art wall, marble run, outdoor bird feeder, indoor garden, and a doorbell?  A makerspace fit for a queen!  What kid wouldn’t love a room like this?!  I’m thinking about asking Ava if I can rent the space for myself! 🙂

Makerspaces are popping up in schools too!  The library seems to be a good fit for these exploratoriums since students come in and out throughout the day.  Librarian and EY Coordinator Miss Heflin (@missheflin) is starting a Tinker Lab in Paddock Road’s library (@PaddockRoad66).  How exciting!

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So what are your thoughts?  Do you have any suggestions for managing screen time?  What kinds of materials would be in your ideal makerspace?  Do makerspaces belong in schools?  Leave a comment and share any resources!

Wisdom Begins in Wonder ~Socrates

I wonder if my repeated dreams about failing high school English class mean something (I didn’t fail it by the way).  I wonder how we can have a whole basket full of unmatched socks.  I wonder why the time of day with the slowest traffic is called rush hour (OK…I stole that wonder from a website, but now that I think about it, I do wonder why that is so).

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder”

lyrics from “I Hope You Dance” written by Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers

I sometimes think I’ve lost my sense of wonder.  The busy-ness of day-to-day life crowds my thoughts and most of the time I feel more like a wanderer versus a wonderer.  Thankfully, I have four boys who remind me daily what it’s like to be curious and wonder.  I’m also thankful for websites like Wonderopolis where I’m encouraged to explore, imagine, learn, and grow!

What do you wonder about?

I recently asked some students to show me their best wonder face.  I then introduced them to Wonderopolis and explained how to earn the Wonderific Certified Wonderer Badge.  Not even a week later, the same students are asking if there is an Expert Wonderer Badge and how they can earn it.  I wonder what other great ideas these kids have.

I wonder if anyone will read this blog post.  If you do, would you mind leaving a comment below?  What makes you wonder?  Maybe head to Wonderopolis and post something new you learned after reading a wonder.

Things I Learned at Camp

Zip Lining, Canoeing, Rock Wall Climbing,
Fishing, Horseback Riding, Slingshots…
What more could a kid ask for?


For the past 3 years, my boys and I have traveled to Montague, Michigan for Family Camp at YMCA’s Camp Pendalouan.  It’s a fun-filled 4 days and 3 nights of every outdoor activity you could imagine.  This year’s camp experience taught me a few things…

  • It’s all a matter of perspective!  On the 2nd day, thunder rolled through camp and a down pouring of rain left me panicked!  How would I find enough indoor activities to keep 4 boys busy?  Enter Professor Puddles (aka Sam from Wales with an awesome accent).  Wearing a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and a graduation cap, Professor Puddles invited interested campers to go on a puddle jumping expedition.  Why not?!  We jumped in small puddles, deep puddles, muddy puddles were judged on everything from the height of our splashes to the form of our jumps.  This experience reminded me it’s all a matter of perspective.  What might have otherwise been a dreary day turned into one of the highlights of my camp experience!


  • Kids know what they like and are perfectly capable of personalizing their day.  I will be completely honest and admit to having some control issues when it comes to keeping my boys busy and plugged into what I feel are appropriate educational activities.  After 12 hours of trying to keep all things in control on the car ride to camp  (books on CD, playing the alphabet game, looking for license plates, NO electronics), I decided to let my guard down and just let the boys decide what they wanted to do when we got to our destination.  The result was that each boy went in a different direction and found exactly what they wanted to do.  There was excitement and all sorts of stories to be told when we reconvened as a family at meal times.  The boys’  independence at camp got me thinking about this…
What would happen if the school day was structured like camp?  Could students be trusted to choose their own path and personalize at least part of their day?   I think so.

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Camp Pendalouan 2015 was amazing!  Each year, I am grateful that my boys are making  memories that will last a lifetime.  What did you do this summer?  Did any of your summer experiences teach you something new?  Leave a comment below!