The Year I became a Hooker: My Crochet Journey

How it started.

Last year, as part of my Year of Restore, I decided to try something new. I taught myself how to crochet. This was not the first time I tried to crochet. About 10 years ago when the kiddos were small, I bought some yarn, a hook and gave it a go. You can see my first masterpiece in the pic. No, I have no idea what the hell it was supposed to be. I do know that it was kind of a disaster. Looking back I can tell you what I did wrong…. everything. That yarn is definitely NOT a beginner yarn. I would bet money that I was using the wrong hook size and I had no pattern. This was an aimless attempt at learning a new skill. As you can guess, after this monstrosity, I hung my head in shame, set down my hook, and gave up learning how to crochet.

I was not going to be a fiber artist. For years to come, I would still find myself wandering through the yarn aisle wishing I could do something with all of that beautiful yarn. This went on for years. Me looking at yarn and wanting to create something beautiful and then remembering the pink and blue eyelash yarn abomination. I would then leave the yarn aisle and head to the bead aisle feeling defeated. I would even see cool projects like temperature blankets and think, “That would be so cool to do if only I knew how to crochet.” Knowing, that I would probably never learn. Such quitter talk, I know.

The Pom-Pom Project

Holiday Pom-Pom Décor

In the winter of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, something changed. I finally gave in to my yarn yearnings, bought some plain old yarn, and started to make pom-poms. I don’t know why. It was something to do I guess. I made them for all the windows. For the manel. For picture frames. I made a black and red one for our tree at work. I even sent some to friends and colleagues. There were pom-poms everywhere!! It was delightful! It also reignited my desire to give crochet another try.

I had befriended yarn again so it was time to pick up a hook and make something. But as the disaster danced in the back of my brain, reminding me of my failure, I knew that this time I had take a different approach.

Try Again

Learning from my past mistake of jumping in blindly with no direction or plan, or clue, I decided that if I wanted to learn this for real, I needed to start with the basics. So I found a pattern labeled easy and gave it a try. It was not too bad. The pattern was easy to follow. I successfully made a hat but I still made many mistakes. I used yarn that was a little hard to work with and did not use the right sized hook. But, despite that, I did create a hat. A too big, lopsided hat. Still basking in the afterglow of a semi-success, I turned to YouTube and found a video tutorial for a “simple” octopus. The tutorial was good. After a bit of struggle and some rewatching over and over, I made an an octopus! Like the hat, it was a little wonky and filled with mistakes but, it was were what it was supposed to be. It was at that moment I decided, I could crochet! I was now a hooker! OK, not really but I had made it further than I ever had before. I had some confidence and more yarn!

Taking the Big Step

After my two successful projects I wanted more. Since it was the holiday break in the middle of a pandemic, we could not really go anywhere, I started playing around with a few more simple projects. I made three more octopi and a few gauge swatches. The day after Christmas I decided that if I really wanted to do this, I needed to go big. My mind drifted back to those temperature blankets I had admired so many years ago. I decided that having a year long project to focus on would be a great way for me to practice my skills and get better. I was right. (If you want to learn more about the blanket project, you can read about it here.) Long story short – I kept with it over the course of 2021 and completed the blanket! The coolest thing was to see how my skill changed during the year. The beginning of the blanket was a hot mess. The edges were terrible and there were so many dropped stitches. But, I got better and better the more I did it every day. Seeing my skills improve gave me the confidence to try other things and keep learning!

How its Going

Over that past year, I have gone from the creator of wonky things to the creator of slightly less wonky yet beautiful in their own way things. Since that first hat twelve months ago I have made five blankets, one pillow, three pairs of fingerless gloves, a cardigan, (yes, a cardigan!! Who would have thought?) two wraps, six scarves, three hats, a dog snood, twenty mug cozies, a dice bag, a fox, a sting ray, a water molecule, some stars, some skulls, some Christmas trees and a hyperbolic pseudosphere. Whew. It has been a busy year. I do not even want to know how many hours of video tutorials I have watched or patterns I have tried to decipher. It has all been worth it. This time was different. I approached it like like an educator. I identified my objective, found the resources that would support my goal and I made things. Over and over again.

How its Going

It Ain’t Nothin’ Unless You Learn Something

I have learned so much and am really proud of how far I have come. It has been fun to challenge myself with different projects and techniques. With any new hobby or skills there are things you learn as you put in the time to move from beginner to…er… less of a beginner. Some of these lessons are specific to crocheting such as the difference between a signal crochet and a double or why it is important to write down which hook you used if you are going to pause a project. (Don’t ask me how I know. Just know that I know.) But, some of the lessons we learn along the way can be applied more broadly. So what did I learn as I hooked my way through 2021. Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are some of the things I have learned on this journey.

First and foremost, don’t let past failures, challenges, or mistakes stop you from trying again. I say that all the time. I’m surprised I let a failed attempt define me as a crafter. If you really want to do it, try again. Only this time find the resources and tools that will help you be successful. I could not have done this without all of the great YouTubers out there doing demo videos. Thank you, fellow crochet people!

Nest, don’t be afraid to start. Some time projects seem so big and overwhelming that you don’t even know how to start. Crochet a yearly temperature blanket. Wow – that is a lot of work. But not when you break it down into single days for about 15 minutes a day. That makes it much easier to attack! Make a cardigan. What? I never thought I would be able to make a cardigan. As I was working on rectangular blankets I could not even imagine making something wearable. But, I found a great pattern that broke it down into easy to follow steps and one week later, I had a wearable. (The pattern was the Kami Cardi by TL Yarn Crafts.Check out her stuff. It is amazing!) Breaking it down into pieces helped my get over the overwhelming idea of the finished project. Take it one step at a time.

Image from NASA.gov Hubble Space Telescope – https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/multimedia/index.html

Going back to failures – just because you made it, doesn’t mean you need to like it or keep it. Frogging is a crocheter’s best friend. Made a mistake? Frog it. Made something weird and ugly? Frog it. In the world of crochet, “frogging” means to rip out stitches. (Yes, I use crochet slang now.) Remember my first wonky hat? Well, it was kind of unwearable so, I frogged it. It is now art of a beautiful blanket in my office. It was hard to frog that first piece. All I could think about was how all the time I put into making it was wasted. But really, isn’t it wasted if the hat just sat there unloved? Frogging is not admitting failure but correcting a wrong or giving something new life. Speaking of past failures – that pink and blues eyelash monster might be just what I need to create a crochet version of the above Hubble Telescope image. I look forward to frogging that thing and using it to make something new and (hopefully) beautiful. Bit, if it doesn’t turn out, no worries, just frog it. This is becoming my second favorite F word.

It was a Crochet Christmas this year!

And finally, it is ok to pause a project and start something new. Blame my weird brain but I get bored with big projects. As soon as something becomes repetitive my brain finds something shinny to focus on instead. I found that taking a break from a big project to complete a small quick project gives me the break I need to continue. It’s ok to have multiple projects going at a time. Give yourself permission to project hop. (Just remember to write down your hook size before you move on. Again, trust me on that one.)

The End?

Well, that post is way longer than I expected. But, I guess I was trying to reflect on 365+ days of my crochet journey. There was a lot to cover. Big thank you to all my IRL and social media friends who have suffered through the MANY pictures of the various projects and all of my talk about yarn. I appreciate all of the support this past year as I tried something new. This is not the end of my journey but the start. I have so many projects I want to try (and so much yarn)!!

Resources

If you are thinking about taking your own crochet journey, I support you. Do it! It’s a fun hobby. Oh – and my fitness app counts my hand movements as exercise. So, bonus!! As one newbie to another, here are some of my favorite resources for learning.

  • TL Yarn Crafts – patters and tips. Her videos are what really helped my with technique. She also has great Tunisian Crochet tutorials.
  • Ravelry – Join this free community for so many patterns and to connect with others who are just as passionate for the craft.
  • Bag-O-Day Crochet – Watch her videos for tutorials and yarn reviews.
  • Alt Knots – Do you need you dark soul but still want to crochet? Try Alt Knots. She puts the spooky in spooktacular crochet videos.
  • Jonah’s Hands – This kid is amazing! He has great tutorials and is a joy to watch.

Have fun hooking!

Word of the Year 2022

Happy New Year!

It’s that time again when we dust off all of our failed resolutions from years past, shake off the disappointment, and give them another go. For the past five years I have gone against the grain and instead of coming up with a list of things that I will not accomplish, I have instead, chosen a word that will be my focus for the upcoming year. (Apparently, this is a whole thing now online. It has a hash-tag and everything – #OneWord2022. I like to think that I was a trendsetter with this one.)

For the most part, this idea of one word to rule them all for the coming year has been a fun exercise. It has given me a way to focus my energy and drive my priorities. At the very least, it’s a way to plan for the year in January and a framework for reflecting on the year in December. I think I have been fairly creative in my word choices over the past five years. I have tried not to be too generic with words like Love, Believe, or Hope. Don’t get me wrong, they are all good words. But none of them have the teeth I needed to be inspired for a whole year. So, what have been my words for the past five years. Well, since you asked…here is the list (if I blogged about it, I was even so kind as to give you the link.)

Past Words of the Year

  • 2016 – Nourish
  • 2017 – Transform
  • 2018 – Boundaries
  • 2019 – Reach
  • 2020 – Less – I thought this was a great word at the time. Hindsight, am I right?
  • 2021 – Restore

It has been fun to pick the words. I was super proud of 2020. It was going to be the year of “Less but Better”. All I can say is the Universe is full of irony. I was smarter in 2021 and chose Restore so I could focus on bringing back some of the good things. Yesterday I took some time to reflect on the positives from 2021. There were quite a few and I do feel I restored some important things. So, what to choose for 2022?

The Right Word for 2022

Finding the right word is hard. I really thought about it and was about to give up all together. This was going to be the year with no word. Just a year. Then I listened to a podcast from one of my favorite thinkers, Greg McKeown. In fact, his book Essentialism is what inspired the Year of Less. I was listening to one of his recent podcasts, episode 83 to be exact, while working on a project and thinking about why choosing a word was so hard. The episode dove into the first chapter of his new book and asked “What if this could be easy?” Seriously, I stopped what I was doing and repeated that out loud. “What if this could be easy?” The past two years have been really hard. What if it could be easy? That is when my word for 2022 hit me right in the face. Easy. This year will be the year of Easy! It all made perfect sense. Look at the definition below.

eas·y/ˈēzē/adjective

  1. achieved without great effort; presenting few difficulties.
  2. (of a period of time or way of life) free from worries or problems.

Don’t both of those sound amazing? I want to achieve without great effort AND have a period of time that is free from worries or problems. I wish that for all of us!

So, how do I plan to approach the Year of Easy? After kicking the word around in my head a bit and completely overthinking it, here are my three Easy Goals.

Be Easy – Don’t Over Complicate

I know that living Easy is not going to be…well, easy. It feels like today’s society believes that things of value or quality are hard. (That might explain some of my underlying issues with Impostor Syndrome if you think about it.) And, if you take the easy way out you are lazy or what you do is low quality. I don’t think that’s true. For example, over the past year I’ve been learning how to crochet. I have seen that even the easy stiches can create beautiful things. So, the year of easy is not about quick fixes and low quality. It is about simple solutions and less complicated actions. I am going to look for the easiest way to get the best result and stop over complicating (and over thinking) everything.

Go Easy – Don’t be a Jerk

Also, as I said before, the past two years have been hard. For all of us. And we, my friends, have been kind of hard on each other. I mean really, some of us have been complete jerks to each other. It is time for us to stop and go easy on each other instead. Show some compassion, some grace, some empathy. We all deserve it. I mean, come on, even Adele gets it.

If you go easy on me, I’ll go easy on you. Haven’t we all been through enough?

Take it Easy – Slow Down, Partner

It’s ok to slow down.

The Year of Easy will also be about slowing down and enjoying life. I will continue to nurture those restored habits of creative pursuits, finding joy and being connected. We can’t do that if we’re rushing through life. So, take it easy. Slow it down. Enjoy the ride a bit more.

There you have it, everyone. My 2022 word of the year and more explanation than you ever asked for. My wish for you is that you all have an easy, yet amazing year. You have all earned it.

21 Positives from 2021

I don’t know about you but 2021 was another rough year in what I hope is not a string of rough years. We, as the collective human race, have had to deals with some…stuff. Yes, we had some big challenges, but we had some big wins too. It can be difficult to see the wins when we are constantly bombarded by the negative messaging that reminds us about how hard and terrible things are right now. Yes, things are hard. Yes, there are some terrible things out there. However, there is good too. I want to take time during my traditional year end reflection to do a good old list post of some of the positive things that happened over the past 365 days.

But First…

Ok, before you you start down the “toxic positivity” path – yes, I know that we cannot ignore the things that are terrible. In order to fix them, we need to see them, discuss them and take action. Also – yes, I know that it is ok to not be ok. I’m not saying it isn’t, I’m just saying that you can’t ALWAYS focus on the negative and difficult things. That makes you no fun. And, if you know me or follow me at all, you know that I LITERALLY see the world through rose colored glasses (actually hot pink glasses but I’m not here to be picky). So, I tend to skew to the positive and its my blog so I can write about whatever I want.

The Year of Restore

Before I get to my list of 21 positive things from 2021, a little background. 2021 was the Year of Restore. That was my word of the year. Restore. You can read about the goals I set for myself in this post here. The Tl;Dr version is – I wanted 2021 to be the year I restored some good things in my life, creativity, balance, health, etc. Well, as expected, I was successful on some and not others. So, this list of positives includes a few of my successful restores.

21 Positives from 2021

Now it is time for the list. Drum roll please… wait, one more disclaimer. There were so many good things that happened this year that my list is not all inclusive. Obvs. I am not going to talk about Covid vaccines or some of the other big things related to the crappy things because enough people are already talking about that. Go read their stuff. This is my list of things that have given me a positive vibes for 2021. Ok, now, I need a drum roll please…

Personal Positives – My own personal wins

  1. I made a bunch of things! I wanted to restore create pursuits this year and I did. I learned how to crochet and made a bunch of cool things. More on that in a future post.
  2. My family celebrated some great milestones. From our 27th wedding anniversary, to milestone birthdays and new births. There were some awesome celebrations.
  3. The kids (they are young adults in college) had academic wins this year. Way to go kiddos! Mom and Dad are proud of all your hard work.
  4. I hugged people I have not seen in years and in some cases decades. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to hug people again. Even some I had not seen in almost 30 years. It was amazing to talk to people in person instead of on Facebook or Twitter.
  5. The husband and I took an actual vacation. Just the two of us. It was to Iowa, but it was still wonderful to escape and explore together.
  6. I went to festivals, heard live music and saw art again. The extrovert in me was so happy to be surrounded by creative people and their creations again.
  7. I played. My gnome warlock and I got a workout this year. It was great to play and go on adventures. In other words, I took time out for fun. Yay me!

Professional Positives – Big wins on the professional side

  1. This year my team and I did STEAM programming for over 1000 kids! From virtual summer camps to in-person STEAM workshops, our programs were back and we were loving it!
  2. Our Artificial Intelligence Summer Camp team won and Impact Argonne Award for Extraordinary Effort. So proud of the amazing team and our campers. Read more here.
  3. Our team received funding to start a STEAM afterschool club for local middle school students. We kick it off in January and I am so excited about what these kids will do!!
  4. Became part of a state-wide effort centered on Career and Technical Education. This will also have a huge positive impact on our Illinois students as well as business and industry. Here is a bit more about that project. Again – so excited!
  5. STEM Fest!!!!!! For the 12th year in a row, NIU STEAM held STEM Fest. After a virtual event in 2020, STEM Fest was back, in-person, and in the heart of campus. I am so proud of the team for making it a huge success!! Want to know what goes into planning an event like that – read this. Learn more about STEM Fest 2021 in this article.
  6. My team and I had a chance to regroup and refocus on our Why. I am looking forward to what we will do in the new year.
  7. I feel I have grown as a leader. Through successes and challenges, I am a different leader than I was 12 months ago. I have learned a lot and will continue to learn through the adventures to come.

Planetary Positives – Good things from planet Earth and beyond

  1. The Mars Rover, Perseverance, and it’s little buddy Ingenuity landed on Mars February 18, 2021 and have been up to some amazing things!
  2. Wired Magazine reported that cheese in not actually bad for you! Yes, the article sites a 2018 study but they published it in 2021 so I count it as a 2021 win.
  3. Medical Science continues to explore and test treatments for ALS. (That one is for you Larry! Miss you.)
  4. Scientists wirelessly connected a brain to a computer. Yay… I think.
  5. The James Webb Telescope successfully launched on December 25, 2021.
  6. Vertical farming, farm to food pantry initiatives, and urban farming continue to grow to address hunger and food scarcity.
  7. Despite what the news might say, many people came together and found innovative ways to connect with each other, help, support and learn from each other. Many of us learned something from strangers on TikTok or YouTube. We reconnected with family, friends and colleagues though hybrid events, in-person gatherings or virtual game nights. We collectively chose to focus on what was import in our lives and found good in things. Way to go humans!

Goodbye 2021

My big goal for 2021.

So, there are the 21 things that have given me positive vibes for the past year. I asked this question on Facebook and Twitter and have received some great stories of personal positives from 2021. Based on that, I would say the Year of Restore positively had some successes. I did not meet all of my goals but I met some of them. The ones I didn’t meet, my friends family and the human race met them for me. So, goodbye 2021. I think we were able to meet the biggest goal I had for 2021. It sucked less than the year before.

As we approach 2022. I wish you all health, joy, humor, creativity, connections, and balance. As well as the strength and support you need to overcome any of the challenges you may face.

Happy New Year, from HotPinkTech!

Exploring Micro Fiction and Visual Stories

Here we are, another NaNoWriMo and I still have not penned the next great American Novel. Every year I think, “This is my year! I will write that book that has been bouncing around in my brain! I’ve got this!” Then December comes around and I realized that I did not have it and the story has again gone untold. Sigh.

Yes, I know that I can write any month of the year. It does not have to be a November thing. But, there is a hashtag. So… #NaNoWriMo

This year however, I have discovered a type of fiction that seem much more my speed. Micro Fiction!

Several years ago I started writing little mini one or two sentence stories. But I didn’t think of them as stories. Just short little musings. I was inspired by one of my favorite artists, Brian Andreas of Story People. I discovered his quirky art twenty five years ago on a business trip to Decorah, IA. (If you have never been to Decorah, go. Go now. I’ll wait.) There was something about his whimsical, child-like drawings and the simple statements that really spoke to me. I loved his messages and was inspired to start writing some of my own. They were silly and sappy but I would post them to social media anyway. It was fun. I mentioned this fun hobby (Is it a hobby? I don’t know.) to a writer friend of mine and she said, “Oh, you write micro fiction!” Micro fiction. What is that? My interest was piqued.

Science tells us that most of our memories, even the ones we hold most dear, are false. They are nothing more than stories constructed by our brains using bits and pieces of fact mixed with ideas from our imagination. But when I remember you I smile so I have decided that I like the way my brain thinks.

K.A. Brynteson

I started doing some research. It is a thing and apparently very popular. From the two sentence horror stories to six word summaries to (let’s be honest here) the social media posts we write with a 144 character limit. We all write micro fiction from time to time.

As I’ve had fun writing more, I’ve been look for ways to connect this type of writing into the classroom. I know that there are many students out there who love to write but find longer works a bit overwhelming. Shorter stories, 100 – 500 words or less, can be an accessible alternative. Accessible, but not easy. The constraint of few words helps you be creative in your word choice. You have to flex your writing muscles. Each word is necessary. They kind of remind me of some of the activities I do in my visual literacy class with images such as my Tell a Story with 5 pictures or my Photo a Week photography prompt. They both focus on constructing a story with either your visual vocabulary or a few well selected images.

Because of this connection, I have started taking the mini stories and turning them into a visual posts, adding a layer of visual literacy into the activity. For the examples I’ve shared in the post, I used Adobe Spark. If you read my blog at all, you know that this is one of my most favorite tools. I use Adobe Spark tools all the time for digital storytelling. I found it was a fast way to take the text and create a visual representation. I experiment with fonts and colors and shapes until I have a composition that I feel compliments the message of the passage. This would be a very simple activity to do in the classroom. Have students write their own micro stories and then us their design skills to turn them into posts or even posters for the classroom.

Here are a few more examples.

Ok, I admit that I am starting to creep into Jack Handy’s deep thought territory, it is still a fun challenge to see if I can take an idea and turn it into a mini story. No, they are not all good. I know that. They are not up to the level of Story People by any means but it is fun. I have also found that I go back and edit them often. Especially when I turn them into a visual post. I play around with the word choice to see if I can say the same thing with fewer words or in different ways. It feels more like playing with words than actually writing a story.

I’m sure that there are students out there that might feel the same way. Micro fiction could be a way to turn even your most reluctant writer into an author, a couple words at a time. Give it a try and see what they create.

If you want to learn more about using Micro-Fiction in the classroom, here are some lessons and blogs to check out.

Happy mini-writing!

Word of the Year: 2021

Last year I was really excited about my word of the year. Less. Less seemed like such a good choice at the time when there was so much noise it was hard to focus. 2020 was going to be the year of less but better. A year to focus on the essentials and eliminate all of the unneeded stress and clutter in my life. Things started off pretty well. Then a global pandemic hit. The world turned upside down. The dumpster started on fire and well, forgive my crudeness, everything kind of went to shit. The Year of Less took on a whole new meaning and became something very different than what I originally had in mind.

2020 is over and we’ve made it through. I could spend this post reflecting on all the lessons learned during the shit show that was 2020. (Yes, despite it all, there were many lessons learned and perspectives gained that I will carry forward for the better.) But, this is the first post of the new year. Time to focus on the future. I’ll save my ruminations and reflections on the past for a future post. Let’s move forward, shall we?

Time to Restore

The Year of Less was full of challenges to say the least and there were many things I let go of just to cope and make it through. Some of those things I was glad to let go of and happy to leave behind. However there are things I lost that I’m ready to bring back. So, 2021 is the year I Restore. This does not mean I want to spend my year going backwards, starting over, or reverting to some past iteration of my former self. It means I want to restore some of the habits and mindsets that I seemed to have lost through the passing of time. The idea of restoring something is hopeful. It means the skills and knowledge need to accomplish this goal are in me because I’ve done it, or something similar, before. Ha! I can do it again. For me, restore does not mean restart or return. It means to renew, refresh, and rejuvenate. After a long hard year, I think we might all need a bit of rejuvenation. Don’t you?

The Goals

So, what do I have in store for the year of restore? Well, here is what I’m thinking. Some things on this list are specific while others are a bit more abstract and cerebral but together it makes sense to me.

  • Restore healthy habits. Move more. Eat well. Be mindful. I have done this before with success. I felt great, mind and body. But then bad habits became easier than good habits and easier felt good at the time. Time to put those habits back in place. I’ll feel better when I take better care of myself. Right?
  • Restore creative pursuits. When you are just trying to make it through the day, you don’t have much time for creative things. Last year was not the most creative year for me. This year I’m restoring creativity, whimsy, and wonder as priorities. More writing. More making. More exploring. More curiosity. To get me started I teamed up with some friends to make a temperature blanket! Nothing says creativity like learning how to crochet while creating a usable visualization of daily weather data! Yes, I’m super stoked for this project! Hopefully it will be my first of many new projects and experiments this year.
  • Restore connections. Last year was isolating. Both physically and mentally. So much changed in the way we interacted with each other. Some changes were needed and some were healthy. But some changes were damaging. This year will focus on restoring lost connections and reconnecting with people in meaningful ways. I don’t know about you, but I really miss people. I’m so thankful for my small bubble of folks but man what I wouldn’t give to feel safe standing in a crowded venue surrounded by the energizing buzz of strangers again.
  • Restore balance. My balance went a little wonky in 2020. Working from home and dealing with that ever changing “new normal” threw me out of whack. I’d over compensate one way just to then over compensate the other way trying to stay a float in a churning sea of anxiety, fear, doubt, and pressure. It was exhausting. It’s time to restore a bit of balance and calm. Don’t ask me how. I haven’t figured that part out yet. But I’ll work on it.
  • Restore joy. It was hard to be joyful last year. So much was happening to so many that even small moments of joy had cloudy film. I stopped doing things that brought me joy and just kind of existed for a while. If 2020 taught us anything, it is that life is fleeting. Why waste that precious time focused on the negative or worse, nothing at all? I know it sounds naïve but I rather spend my time spreading and sharing joy. Time to spread some happy!

The First Steps

Reading back through the bullets I admit I feel a bit overwhelmed. Those are some big goals there, 2021. Do we need to talk about managing expectations? I remember this time last year as I wrote my post and looked optimistically to the shinning promise that was 2020, the Year of Less, and then how quickly things shifted. So, this year I’m approaching the new year tentatively optimistic. Less of a shinning promise and more a sparkle of restored hope. The goals might be big but small steps can still move me forward. And that is ok. And forward I shall move.

So, as we clean off the layer ash from last year’s dumpster fire and sort through the debris from the shit storm that was 2020, I wish you all peace. I hope you all have a year that helps you restore what you need. Whether it is health or hope, faith or friendships, creativity or community or all of the above or something entirely different. Today is a new day at the start of a new year. It might not be a magic flip of the switch that will make everything better or “normal”, it is an opportunity to take a step forward in a new direction. A time to Restore, Renew, Refresh, and Rejuvenate. So, that’s what I’ll do. Happy New Year, everyone!

Word of the Year 2020

Word of the Year: The Year of Less

Happy New Year!

For the last few years, instead of creating a list of resolutions that I am sure to break in record time, I have selected one word as my anchor and focus for the coming year. Last year, my word was Reach.

The Year of Reach

Reach seemed like a good idea at the time. I was going to spend 2019 reaching for my goals. Reaching outside of my comfort zone. Reaching for the stars or something like that. For the most part, I did. I reached for all kinds of things. I reached. And reached. And reached. As I was reaching, I learned that when you reach, you also stretch. And when you reach too far or for too much, you get over stretched. That was my year of reach. I was over-stretched, spread too thin and that left me out of shape, both mentally and physically. (I really did not intend to reach for 20 extra pounds but what can you do.) So, this year I wanted to find a word that would build on the good things I reached for and incorporate all I learned in 2019. But I also needed one that would remind me of reaching for the important things and what happens if you reach for too much. So, I tried a few words on for size. I tried, happy, joy, and even strong, but none of them really fit what I was looking for. None of them seem right. Then, as I stood in my house surrounded by stuff and thinking of all the things I had to do, it hit me. I don’t need more of anything. I need LESS.

The Year of Less

Welcome to 2020. My year of less. My goal this year is to focus on less so I can do more.

The Goals

Here are my goals for the Year of Less.

  • Purge the crap – Remove things from my life that cause clutter and are not essential. That includes everything from materials things to mental things to edible things. I have too much stuff to deal with. It is time for the extra and unnecessary things to go.
  • Focus on the important – Getting ride of the extra stuff will help me focus on the important things. When I have less to focus on I will have more energy to dedicate to the important things.
  • Stop ruminating – Worrying and stressing about…well, everything, has not been productive. I need to stop that. Less worry. Less stress.

I could keep listing all of the ways I want to embrace less but these three sum it up pretty well.

Getting Started

To get me ready for the year of less, I spent time on New Year’s Eve day unsubscribing from a ton of email lists. Oh my, that felt good. I even emptied out a junk drawer and threw out the broken toys that have lived there for the past 10 years. I’m not gonna lie. It felt good. This less thing might really work.

I also started reading the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I listen to him talk about Essentialism and the art of saying “no” on a Tim Ferriss podcast early last year. As a chronic people pleaser, his message really struck a chord with me. Through all the craziness of last year, my brain kept retreating back to his message. He stressed the importance of saying no to the nonessentials so you can focus on what is essential to you. Yes! With the help of Mr. McKeown and some of my favorite accountability partners (you know who you are) I hope to do exactly that!Less but better.

So, here we go. The Year of Less! I’ll blog my progress over the year so stay tuned!

What is your word for this year?

Learn Genetics through Dragon Breeding

I remember my high school biology class. Being fascinated by dominant and recessive traits such as eye color, and tongue rolling. I remember learning about how an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel experimented on pea plants to learn about inherited traits and genetics. It was one of the cooler biology topics. You know what would have made it cooler? DRAGONS!

Well, thanks to SpongeLab, your students can now explore Mendelian Genetics by breeding their own dragons with Dragon Breeder.

Rise of the Dragons

Genetics Lab
Genetics Lab

In Dragon Breeder, you are an apprentice breeder, breeding different types of dragons to earn rewards and hone your skills. There are two types of gameplay, campaign-based and free play.  The campaign is a story based game that moves your through the journal of Esse Ipsum as he analyzes the genetic makeup of different body traits such as body shape, head shape, and wing type. As you move through the story, you receive work orders and take on specific breeding challenges. You earn rewards as you successfully complete challenges. Use those rewards to purchase skills and level up. In free play you practice your breeding skills by breeding and selling dragons with different traits. There is also sky mode where you fly a dragon around the sky looking for chests of rewards.

Learning Tools

Tutorial - The Dragon Breeding Handbook
Tutorial – The Dragon Breeding Handbook

Breeding dragons is not easy. Luckily, there is a tutorial level that walks you through the process. The tutorial level is easy to follow and works to build your understanding of both the game and basic genetics. I would recommend walking through the 8 tutorial levels before starting the game. They are very helpful. I only completed up to level 4 and then started the game. It was fun to click around and see what you can do in the game. However, I think I would have been more productive if I would have finished the entire tutorial.

Worth the Play

It has been a long time since I explored Mendelian Genetics. I think high school me would have enjoyed playing this game. Because, really, who doesn’t like dragons? The gameplay is a little clunky but the game is in beta. Also, I didn’t play through all the tutorial levels before going into campaign mode. So, that is on me.

If you are teaching genetics, give this a try. It might be what you need to hook your reluctant geneticists.

 

Make your classroom eLibrary Epic! – Epic! Books for Kids

This post goes out to all you bibliophiles out there who can’t seem to get enough books for your classroom. Epic! is a digital library with, according to the website, “over 25,000 books, videos, quizzes, and more!”

Build Your eLibraryEpic

Anyone can create an account and start reading some of today’s most popular picture books and early reader chapter books.

For parents, the first 30-days is free. After that, it is $7.99 a month – which includes no ads and no in-app purchases.

For educators and librarians, registration is free. This comes with a whole host of great resources.

Epic! for Educators and Librarians

I was so impressed by all the resources available for educators and librarians on Epic! Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites.

  • Class management tools – Educators can invite their students to their elibrary using a class code, copy/paste in a class roster or import a roster from Google Classroom. From your class roster, you can assign books and quizzes and share information with your student’s families. Your class roster also lets you monitor student progress on assignments and quizzes.
  • Curated Library – You can build your own custom collections by exploring the entire library. You can share your collections with the educator community or browse through collections from other community members. I have already started building my Unicorn collection. Not only do they have some of the newest titles, I  even found one of my own childhood favorites – Morgan and Me. The Serendipity Book by Stephen Cosgrove. Yay!
  • Vast Collection of Media – Epic! is not only books. You can also find videos, audiobooks, and read-aloud books.
  • Integrated assessments – You can create quizzes right in the books to check for student comprehension. Go to your dashboard to see how your students did on their quizzes.

    Epic! Resources for educators.
    Epic! Resources for educators.
  • Resources – I am most impressed by the resources available for educators. Everything you need to get started is included right there on the website, including a Quick-Start Guide, full guidebook,  a parent letter, a Back-to-School presentation, lesson plans, classroom decorations, and (my personal favorite) the Readerpillar! Look at how cute it is. Your students will love reading and adding to the Readerpillar.

If you have a classroom and struggle to keep your class library up to date with new books or you want to create collections based on the ever-changing interests of your students, then Epic! is the eLibrary for you. Head over to Epic! to create an account and start building your Readerpillar today!

Epic! might just be what you need to help cure your book addition. Ok, not really, we know that that can’t be cured. Just go read.

Travel the World with Google VR Tour Creator

Virtual field trips are my new obsession. I love them. They curb my wanderlust just a little. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at creating my own but my lack of a 360 camera makes it difficult. And, no matter how much I beg, no one will buy me one. (Not sure what I’m talking about? Here is what you need to know about 360 cameras.) I should have known that Google would have a tool to help me solve my lack of 360 camera dilemma and fill my need for creating VR tours.

Google VR Tour Creator

Google VR Tour Creator is an easy to use tool for creating VR tours using either the 360 views from Google Street View or your own 360 images.

Development interface of Google VR Tour Creator.
Development interface of Google VR Tour Creator.

Google VR Tour Creator has everything you would expect from a Google tool. Easy log-in with your Google account, intuitive interface, and easy to use features. In a matter of minutes, you can create interactive 360 tours of anywhere Google street view has been or, if you have your own 360 footage, you can upload your own images.

Key Features

There are so many cool features of this tool. I’m shocked that I have not played with it earlier. Here are just a few.

Search Google Maps for street views.
Search Google Maps for street views.

  • It’s free.
  • Use Google Street View to find 360 images for your tour. You can easily search Google maps and move your little street view person around to find the perfect shot.
  • Add interactive features to your tour. Using the development screen you can…
    • add a scene description,
    • ambient music,
    • scene narration,
    • identify points of interest,
    • add image overlays (you can only add images, no video or 3D models),
    • and points of interest narration.
  • If you are not sure how to get started, you can choose from the wide variety of templates to help you. Each template is a sample virtual tour with editable elements.
  • Once complete, your tour is published to Poly. You can choose the visibility level. List it publicly or leave it unlisted.
  • Device agnostic. You can view your tour on the computer or use VR apps.
  • Easy to use. My little sample tour below took less than 20 minutes to create.

In the Classroom

Google VR Tour Creator is a great way to get your students started in creating VR experiences. Imagine, instead of reading a report on a location, you can view a 360 tour that includes music, narrative, informative pop-ups, and photos. Not only are your students researching and writing about a place they are also building important media skills. The best part is that there is no special equipment is needed, just a computer and a Google log-in. Even your youngest students should be able to navigate through this application and create their own virtual tour. If you have a 360 camera, they can even take their own footage and incorporate it into their creation.

If you are like me and you do not have the joy of a 360 camera in your life, never fear. Google once again has your back. Download the free Google Cardboard Camera app. I have not yet tried it but, I will give it a shot this weekend. It might be a no-cost alternative to a 360 camera.

There are so many ways you can use VR Tour creator in your classroom. I’m excited to start creating my own virtual tours and playing around with all it can do. What are you creating with VR Tool Creator? Have your students used it? Share your ideas!

Create Interactive Lessons from any Web Page with InsertLearning

The internet is filled with amazing content. I am always assigning web articles, blog posts, and other web content to my students. I hope they read it deeply and critically think about what they are reading but, I can’t really be sure.

Insert, InsertLearning, formally known as DocentEDU.

Add Interactivity

InsertLearning is a Chrome extension that lets you embed interactive elements, such as discussion questions, multiple choice questions, and other media into any web page. Below is an example of a web page with highlighted text and a discussion question.

Common Core in Action 10 Visual Literacy Strategies Edutopia
Highlight text and add questions to any site using the toolbar.

You can even embed other media such as YouTube videos, Google Slides presentations, or anything with an embed code.

Common Core in Action 10 Visual Literacy Strategies Edutopia (1)
YouTube Video embedded in a website.

There is a long list of apps that can be added to a web page. I’m sure all your favorites are there. Such as FlipGrid, Thinglink, Edpuzzle, and more. The complete list is available once you have created your free account. It even includes easy to follow tutorial videos like the one below.

As you can see, it is super easy to add interactive elements and there are several templates that can help you based on the type of webpage you are using. For example, if I am assigning a current event news article, InsertLearning has sample lessons and discussion questions. Take a look here.

Key Features

There are tons of great features with this tool. Here are just a few.

  • Free access to all features –  InsertLearning is a free Chrome extension. With the free version, you can create an account, create 5 lessons, manage unlimited students, and use ALL the features, not just a limited set. If you want to create more than 5 lessons, there are a few tiers of pricing. An individual teacher can add unlimted lesson creation for only $40 a year. Here is more information on the pricing packages.

    common-core-in-action-10-visual-literacy-strategies-edutopia-2.png
    Easily assign lessons to multiple classes.
  • Assign and Manage Lessons – The dashboard is simple to use. You can create classes and assign lessons to one or multiple classes. Students join classes using a join code. You can even push your lesson out using Google Classroom or via an assignment link. You can also manage student scores through your dashboard.
  • Student Dashboards – Students can use their Google login to create a student account. Once they are signed in, they can use the class code to join the class. They now have a list of all the lessons assigned.
  • Tutorial videos – Ther is a substantial video tutorial library to help you make the most of all the features. You can find them on YouTube under DocentEDU. I already mentioned that this tool connects with many of our other favorites. The video library has videos that will help you incorporate those tools into your lessons.
  • Teacher Ambassadors – InsertLearning was developed by two classroom teachers. They have also created a community of educators called Ambassadors.  It seems like a wonderful support community. You can even become an Ambassador by running your own PD session. InsertLearning supplies all the training materials.

I am excited to start using this in my classes. My courses are mainly online and I’m always looking for discussion board alternatives. I think this has a lot of potential to add engagement to my online readings assignments.

Thank you InsertLearning for a powerful online learning tool!