Episode 118 – Kristin Merrill

118 - Kristin Merrill

Meet Kristin Merrill

KRISTIN MERRILL is a fourth grade teacher in south Florida who specializes in language arts and strives to make lessons interactive and engaging through the use of educational technology. She teaches at a smaller elementary school with a diverse school community, where she’s affectionately referred to as “the Dinosaur of Fourth.” She recently co-authored The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom.

Questioning Her Vocation

Kristin recalls a time in her career when she found herself questioning much of what she was asked to do as a teacher. She decided to start making changes to her practice based specifically on what was good for students and their learning, but the changes weren’t always warmly received by colleagues. At times, she felt a sense of distance and isolation as she worked to reinvent herself, but she found strength and support in a growing PLN.

Today, she’s happy to report that as her network has grown and her influence has increased, she enjoys much more support and collegial relationships in her current context. One takeaway for other educators is that professional resistance to innovative practices tends to be a passing season; keep pushing through it and consistently grow your practice, and things will eventually get easier.

The Interactive Class

Writing The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom was never on her bucket list, Kristin says, but as she and her husband Joe shared their teaching ideas and strategies on social media, a friend encouraged them to publish a book. Kristin and her husband Joe are passionate about helping other educators build classrooms that are student-centered, fueled by the creativity and collaboration of students, and the book helps them share that message.

The Interactive Class is divided into two parts: first, the philosophy and rationale behind interactive teaching strategies, and second, the applications and best practices of interactive teaching and learning. Although Kristin and Joe come from primary classroom contexts, many of the lessons and strategies they describe could be applied at middle school grade levels or higher. 

On the Subject of Recess

When asked about whether recess should be used by teachers as a carrot or a stick, Kristin says that recess should be considered an essential part of childhood. There is so much that kids learn just through play and social interactions outside of the classroom, she observes, not to mention the processing and recharging time that recess allows young learners. Why would we ever want to take these times away from them?

What Else is Setting Kristin on 🔥 in Education Today

Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt is a kindergarten teacher who does a phenomenal job of building student inquiry, interest, and relevance into her learning activities. Kristin has been obsessed with her lately, following Rebecca on Instagram and taking notes from her latest projects. Recently, Rebecca built an impressive inquiry-based learning experience around pets, and Kristin is a big fan.

A Professional Goal: More Relevance

Motivated by Rebecca’s example, Kristin’s professional goal for the year is to make her teaching more relevant. This means more than just making sure her content and teaching strategies are as current as possible — she also wants to better understand what students view as meaningful. She plans to do this by looking for more ways to incorporate student voice, choice, and inquiry–even when that takes her into uncomfortable worlds like Fortnite! 

Personal Passions and Recharging Activities

“Education is my passion,” Kristin admits, explaining that professional learning really does energize and inspire her — even when she’s at home. Aside from education, she enjoys the simple things, and often those simple things relate to life with family. Whether it’s walking at the beach, exploring a nature trail, or sitting by the fire, it’s in the simple and quiet moments that she feels recharged and prepared for more creative work.

Personal Productivity: A Personal Planner

Social media doesn’t always portray an accurate picture of what life is like for educators, Kristin observes. We all have moments when we don’t have it all together and the tensions between personal and professional spheres make things a little chaotic. Her go-to tools include a personal planner that she maintains on paper, and she writes down every task, priority, and concern that she sees weeks or months away on the horizon.

It’s not to say that none of the plates ever fall, she says, but as long as she’s intentional about her most important priorities, she’s learned to give herself the grace she needs when the house doesn’t get cleaned perfectly or other ideals aren’t met.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Kristin’s Practice

Over on Twitter, Kristin recommends following Andy Knueven @MrCoachK15. He’s a master of Flipgrid, Minecraft, Wakelet, and a ton of other interactive learning approaches in fifth grade.

It’s just too painful to narrow her favorite edtech tools down to one, so Kristin shouts out three legendary creative apps: FlipGrid, DoInk, and Adobe Spark

Kristin has two book picks to share. The first is a children’s lit favorite: The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. The second is an education classic — The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck–101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers, by Ron Clark.

A favorite podcast that works with her limited time for listening is the Ditch That Textbook Podcast with Matt Miller. After taking a two-month break in the fall of 2019, Matt is back and publishing short episodes almost every day.

One of Kristin’s favorite YouTube channels is The Bucket List Family, a family that travels the world and documents their adventures.

When time allows her to enjoy some Netflix, Kristin’s tuning in to Grace and Frankie. She connects with their sense of humor!

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Kristin gives the best ways to follow her online. See below for details!

You can connect with Kristin …

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel!

*This page contains affiliate links.

Episode 65 – Kate Lindquist

65 - Kate Lindquist.png

Guest Profile

KATE LINDQUIST is the founder of PeaceLoveArt, which is all about “Enriching heARTS thru self expression and soul connection.” With a Master’s degree in Education, Kate is a passionate educator, artist, consultant, speaker, and contributor to @DisruptEDTV. Follow Kate on Instagram and Twitter @heARTISTatWORK.

Kate teaches in West Palm Beach, FL. She grew up in this county and always attended public schools in the area as a child. Today, she’s motivated to promote arts education, particularly in areas and with learners who are often overlooked. Although her K-8 students come from a wide socio-economic spectrum, she says “no matter what, they all just need love.”

Overcoming Adversity

Kate recalls the frustration of being the art teacher and yet being asked to cover teaching assignments for absentee teachers, monitor the computer lab, and fill in wherever needed around the school. Although she loves to be in the classroom, she began to feel like her passion and the place of art wasn’t being valued the way it deserved to be. This experience led to her new mission and the vision that is PeaceLoveArt.

The Mission of PeaceLoveArt

PeaceLoveArt exists to help people of all ages find their voice and let it be heard in a creative manner. Kate strives to help students develop their self-expression as an important companion to other academic areas and an essential area of growth. She wants people to see that the arts are a gateway to curiosity and learning in general.

Goals, Passions, and Productivity

Kate gets excited today when she sees all the passionate educators who are pushing for systemic changes and progressive transformation in education policy. She feels like this is a time when educators are rising up and saying “policy-makers, let us show you what we can do.”

Kate’s biggest goal is simply to heal more hearts through self-expression. To do that, she plans to seek out more corners where learners of all ages can benefit from PeaceLoveArt. She also plans to continue her own learning and development through books and active involvement on Twitter. Since arts education doesn’t always the same levels of professional development that other academic areas enjoy, it’s important for art teachers to take the initiative and derive learning from a strong PLN.

Kate describes herself as insatiably curious – wherever there’s learning to be done, she’s there. One area that has really captured her curiosity lately is the realm of science. In particular, she’s been enjoying a show called One Strange Rock. The show’s been blowing her mind with incredible facts about our home planet. Whether it’s learning new phrases or getting into meditation, she just enjoys following her interests and “whatever tickles her insides” to see where the learning leads.

In order to stay productive and creative, Kate thrives on checklists, and she keeps an ideas list handy at all times. Her ideas list is made up of anything that captures her fancy that she wants to return to later. As one of her grad professors told her, “Always keep an ideas book with you, because you never know when inspiration is going to strike.”

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Professional Practice

On Twitter, Kate’s recommendation is @TracyScottKelly. He’s been a friend, mentor, a source of constant encouragement, and someone dedicated to making positive changes.

Kate’s favorite creative apps right now include Canva, PixArt, GIF Maker, and Pixaloop.

Kate’s book pick is Einstein’s Dreams. She’s read it through a few times and it blows her mind every time.

For podcast picks, Kate points us to The Ed Podcast and The Hidden Brain Podcast. Follow these podcasts on Twitter @TheEdPodcast and @HiddenBrain.

On YouTube, Kate recommends following the legendary Will Smith as a source for constant creativity and fun. And for art activity ideas in the classroom, subscribe to Art for Kids Hub. Follow the latter on Twitter @ArtforKidsHub.

On Netflix, Kate is watching Genius. Among other prolific characters, the show features Albert Einstein – clearly a favorite of Kate’s.

*In my conversation with Kate, we also discussed the idea that all learners can improve with feedback and practice. It’s the power of YET. To watch this in action, check out Austin’s Butterfly.

Follow Kate …

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

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Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 28 – Jordan Potrzeba

28 - Jordan Potrzeba.png

Jordan Potrzeba is a 4th grade teacher at Walter Caldwell Elementary School in Auburndale, FL.

Imagine being told by your principal in your first year of teaching that you were different and didn’t belong. After experiencing just that, Jordan moved from Nebraska to Florida, where he found a school that welcomes his energy, ideas, and unique personality. In our conversation, Jordan shares about his passion to see teachers grow, share, be vulnerable, and take risks. He also describes how travel and music enrich his life, and offers some great recommendations around books to read, Twitter accounts to follow, a great YouTube channel to subscribe to, and more.

Follow Jordan Potrzeba on Twitter and Instagram @JordanPotrzeba, and check out his reflections on education at https://bloggingjungle.blogspot.com/.

TIMESTAMPS. In this episode, Jordan discusses …

  • 0:58 – his teaching situation: 4th grade teacher at Walter Caldwell Elementary in Auburndale, FL
  • 2:10 – a low moment in his career: being told by an administrator in his first year of teaching that he was different and didn’t fit in
  • 7:45 – what gets him excited about education today: seeing teachers stand up, share their voice, be vulnerable, and regain their passion
  • 12:22 – another area of personal passion and learning: travel
  • 13:36 – a personal habit that contributes to his success: listening to music no matter what the context, dancing when possible
  • 15:23 – two accounts we need to follow on Twitter: Nicole Taylor (@GuysBride) and Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd), co-author of the new Sparks in the Dark
  • 16:34 – his favourite edtech tools: Nearpod (@Nearpod) and FlipGrid (@FlipGrid)
  • 19:21 – two book recommendations: Refugee by Alan Gratz (@AlanGratz) and Play Like a Pirate by Quinn Rollins (@jedikermit)
  • 20:36 – a YouTube channel pick that works well in elementary Math classrooms: NumberRock Math Songs
  • 22:44 – his go-to on Netflix (even though he’s currently not a subscriber): The Office
  • 23:23 – the best ways to follow him online … see above!

Song Track Credits

Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

LISTEN to this episode on YouTube and SUBSCRIBE for more episodes!