February 15th, 2019

Adventure and Experiential Education

I had the opportunity to attend the ACCT (Association for Challenge Course Technology) Conference last week in Denver.  Adventure Education is something I have always been passionate about, it offers opportunities for both students and adults alike, to learn about themselves, and let down the walls that we put up around ourselves.  As a high school teacher, I see more and more students wrapped up in technology, and not engaging those around them.  The philosophy behind Adventure Education is for growth to occur both emotionally and relationally while facing calculated risks and challenges.

At the conference I was able to attend workshops that gave new insight into the adventure industry and some of the regulations that the state of Pennsylvania requires for rock walls and other elements.  Aside from the regulations, it was a chance to be emerged in an environment that promotes and specializes in experiential education.  Through experiential education, students are able to not just theorize or test on a subject or content area, but are able to live it.  They have to engage each other and the problem in order to solve it.  Students are able to use strengths, recognize weakness, and analyze their ability levels in different situations.  Each activity is followed up by a debrief.  A chance to reflect on and apply what they just faced.  The opportunity to gain new knowledge and activities by attending this conference will allow me to engage students in a new and refreshed way.

Many of the activities are able to be done in small spaces, classrooms, or even auditoriums where seats are bolted to the floor.  Experiential education doesn’t just have to happen outside, but can be re-thought to be implemented in the gym or classroom.  Students can benefit from the chance to just play with one another, even at the high school level.  Learning to interact with each other is one of the greatest things we can teach our youth in today’s society.  Adventure education is a great tool to utilize, even if it is simply embracing the philosophy behind it.

February 15th, 2019

2019 Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference (PETE & C)

The Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference (PETE&C) is a statewide event that provides quality programs focused on technology in the educational field. Each year, hundreds of exhibitors showcase their latest technology products and services to the vast audience of teachers, administrators, technology directors, school board members and more. Monday and Tuesday mornings kick off with keynote speakers that serve to educate and inspire. Throughout the three days, I attended concurrent workshop sessions and informal poster sessions.


Full HyperDoc Report


January 18th, 2019

Math Open Ended Questions Workshop

On December 6, 2018 Dana Bealing and I attended a workshop at the LIU on open ended questions for mathematics.  The morning session of the workshop focused on DOK levels.  The presenter shared that DOK is more about the thinking and not the difficulty level of the question.  When identifying the DOK level it is not about the verb being used, rather it is more about what comes after the verb.  After the presentation, we broke into groups by grade level and looked at various keystone style questions to discuss the DOK level for each question.  A common misconception among fellow math colleagues was a multiple choice question could not be above a level of DOK 2.  However, we learned that it is possible to have multiple choice questions be a level of DOK 3.

In the afternoon, we looked at the SAS website and investigated the scoring of released sample questions. We did learn some valueable information from the standpoint of how questions are scored. First, students should not circle their work/answer.  If they circle work or answers, then that is the only part of the problem that will be scored rather than the scorer looking at all the work that was done for the problem.  In addition, students always show work inside the given boxes.  Anything written outside the box will not be scored.  Lastly, if using guess and check as a stratedgy, students must show two wrong attempts in addition to the correct attempt in order to receive full credit.  At the following website you can look at sample question responses and see what score would have been given for that response.


The other valuable information we gained from the afternoon, was a website of mathematical T charts.  This website breaks down the standards and how they would be applied in various careers.  It also provides a lesson, sample problems, and an answer key for how that skill would be utilized in a specific career.


December 28th, 2018

Technology in Context: Aligning Speech-Language Interventions with Research-Based Methods

On Friday, December 14th, Bethanie, Vanessa, and I attended a PaTTAN training called Technology in Context: Aligning Speech-Language Interventions with Research-Based Methods. The training equipped us with research-based knowledge and tools to better serve our students. Our speaker, Sean Sweeney, emphasized the importance of incorporating evidence-based techniques in a meaningful context – in this case, technology. Throughout the training, Sweeney provided evidence of the importance of selecting apps that are for co-engagement (i.e., create a shared context) and that have the appropriate level of interactivity for your student. He suggested using “FIVE” when selecting apps to use: fairly priced, interactive, visual, educationally relevant, and “speechie”. By the end of our training, we were given many functional tools and strategies for incorporating technology and research-based methods into our speech and language therapy lessons in both a meaningful and effective way. Listed below are some of the suggest apps we learned about that day.

  • MarcoPolo Weather
  • Panda Toy Cars
  • Toca Life: Farm
  • Book Creator
  • Sago Mini Space Explorer
  • Toontastic
  • Pic Collage
  • Epic Books for Kids
  • Kidspiration/Inspiration maps

December 10th, 2018

2018 PAGE Conference

PAGE Conference

Nov. 29 & 30, 2018 * Deb Sowers (with Melissa Wilson)

Melissa and I attended the annual PAGE conference in Pittsburgh this year.  Because I am not a specific member of a team of teachers, I always appreciate the opportunity to attend this conference as it gives the the chance to interact with and learn from people who “live in my world”.  I attended the pre-conference activities on Thursday. Our first session speaker was Jim Delisle. He talked about “Learning to Exhale: Meeting the intellectual and emotional needs of gifted children and teens” and how important it is for our kids to be able to demystify giftedness.  Among many points he made and stories he shared, two stood out in my mind:

A. The importance of distinguishing between “Gifted” and “Talent”  

Talent is something you do.

Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.

–Annemarie Roeper

B. There are eight great gripes of gifted kids.  Delisle outlined these in his book, GIfted Kids Survival Guide

He encouraged us to talk with students about these; perhaps before the discussion, have students circle ones that they’re concerned about and explain.  The common grips are:1.

  1. No one explains what being gifted is all about
  2. The stuff we do in school is too easy and it’s boring.
  3. Parents, teachers and/or friends expect us to be perfect, to do our best all the time.
  4. Kids tease us about being smart.
  5. Friends who really understand us are few and far between.
  6. We feel too different and wish people would accept us for what we are.
  7. We feel overwhelmed by the number of things we can do in life.
  8. We worry a lot about world problems and feel helpless to do anything about them.

A take-away I had from this session is to use this “Eight Great Gripes” as a discussion launch during an upcoming Socratic Seminar.

Our keynote speaker was Ashley Flynn from the Center for Talented Youth.  Her topic was “Under the Radar: Innovations in Identifying Students from Underrepresented Populations”  This talk as well as another session I attended entitled “The Other 97%: Challenging Gifted Learners in the Regular Education Classroom”, gave me some great ideas to share and try.  Specifically, I’d like to push in to classrooms and do mini-lessons with first graders to help gen ed teachers help to begin noticing and identifying students who should possibly be screened for gifted.  Just going in once a month for 15-20 minutes can be helpful. I also would like to work with grades 2-4 graders in developing some special programs to help challenge those several students in their classroom who may not be identified gifted but could use the challenge (it’s hard to explain the idea without showing an example!).

I always appreciate being able to attend this conference and bring back some strategies and ideas to share within our district.  Please feel free to contact me for more specific notes of these and other workshops I attended. I decided just to share the big takeaways from the conference rather than ALL of what I learned.

Thanks for this opportunity,

Deb Sowers


December 7th, 2018

MAKERSPACES: Creating Motivating, Engaging Work Spaces for Your Library

On Wednesday, December 5, Kim Ackerman, Kimberly Porter, and Stacey Fisher attended a  Bureau of Education & Research workshop by Tricia Kuon called MAKERSPACES: Creating, Motivating, Engaging Work Spaces for Your Library. The UTEC model of Makerspaces was shared- Using, Tinkering, Experimenting, and Creating, and we worked through the model ourselves and learned how to “level up” experiences. Makerspaces emphasize the 5 C’s- Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Citizenship and give students the opportunity to engage in learning. Incorporating hands-on activities that extend a lesson or concept increases student learning significantly whether it’s in a library makerspace or a classroom. The resource handbook includes an array of best apps, websites, books, technology ideas, craft ideas, and best ways to market the makerspace which will be useful in accessing resources, tools, and ideas for creating a dynamic and fluid makerspace at all levels K-12.

December 6th, 2018

PCTELA – October 19

On Friday, October 19, Kari Irvin and I (Nicole Shepski) attended the first day of the Pennsylvania Council for Teachers of English Language Arts (PCTELA) in Harrisburg, PA. Here is a break-down of our day:

Session A: Interviews as Stories, Nicole A. Bond and Kayt Schott

Story Corp was used as a resource for capturing interviews/stories of individuals who experienced 9/11. The project was then used as a resource for informative writing.  Students learned interview etiquette, video-editing skills, and informative writing craft in an authentic and meaningful setting.

Featured Speaker: A.S. King

King shared her personal experiences with ELA teachers and how they impacted her life either positively or negatively.  She stressed the importance of celebrating individuality when it comes to crafting and telling stories.

Session B: Secondary Students Learning About themselves through Independent Reading, Jolene Borgese

Jolene Borgese book-talked diverse young adult literature and expressed the need for these books to be used as mirrors and windows. She shared lists of top-reads for us to take along and use in our classrooms.

Session C: Teaching Contemporary, Multicultural Young Adult Literature to Foster Equity and Advocacy, Michelle Knotts and Adison Godfrey

This session also focused on diverse literature being used as mirrors and windows for students to build empathy.  They provided examples of how these titles could be used within an ELA classroom.

Featured Speaker: Ruth Ayres

Ruth Ayres is the author of the book Enticing Hard to Reach Writers.  She shared many points from her book including how traumatic experiences negatively impact the development of the brain and how writing can be used as a tool to help these individuals heal.  It provides them with an outlet for their emotions and stories.


Reflection – This conference session was extremely motivating and rejuvenating. We came away with numerous applicable ideas for our classrooms and would highly recommend this conference for any ELA teacher in the future.

December 5th, 2018

“A Healthier Mind is a Happier Life” 2019 American Mental Health Wellness Conference

On Monday, November 19 and Tuesday, November 20, 2018, Laura Murphy and I attended “A Healthier Mind is a Happier Life” Conference sponsored by the American Mental Wellness Association.  The American Mental Wellness Association is a relatively new “umbrella” organization that aims to unify various health and wellness initiatives in order to streamline how mental health is treated as well as increase funding for mental wellness programs.  Sharon Engdahl, the Executive Director, would like the American Mental Wellness Association in mental health to become what the American Cancer Society has become in the medical field.

The opportunity to attend this conference appeared in my inbox last spring and I shared it with my some of my colleagues involved with Aevidum, Take a Stand Committee, and the diversity committee.  I was interested in attending because of a tragic suicide of a student in our own district.  I believe that improving school climate and creating an inclusive environment for all students would help to prevent tragedies like these.  I also think that mental health is a growing public health concern that will affect all aspects of American life, including the school and local community.  I wanted some strategies for how to deal with an increase in the amount of students dealing with mental health issues as well as a sense of where the mental health initiatives are heading and how that could impact education.

I cannot say that I walked away satisfied that I achieved my set outcomes. However, I did learn a ton about mental health and how individuals struggle or learn to live with their issues.  I learned that more Americans suffer from mental health disorders than cancer, heart disease, and lung disease combined.  I also learned that most mental health disorders can be effectively treated if we use prevention and early intervention techniques.  While the conference did have breakout sessions called “In the Classroom” specifically aimed at education, Laura and I found that we were not truly with “our people;” most attendees were mental health professionals and among them, only a small fraction worked in education.  We were definitely welcomed with open arms, but educators were not the primary intended audience, which made it more difficult for me to reach my own intended outcomes.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was mental wellness and how we need to spend as much time tending to our mental health we do tending to our physical health.  Americans spend billions every year on diets, cleanses, exercise equipment, and gym memberships to keep our bodies in shape.  What are we doing to take care of our mind at the same time?  While physical fitness helps keep our minds sharp, it is not the only answer, especially if we have low self-esteem, lack of boundaries, lack of positive relationships, lack of communication, and lack of commitment.  Recently, the trend in education is that teachers with five years or less experience have been “burning out.”  This is my fourth year in South Western School District and fifth year of teaching overall, so I can definitely relate to this.  I have to figure out how to tend to my own mental wellness in order to be at my best for students.  I also learned that some of my coping strategies for stress are not always effective or healthy.  Having attended this conference, my own mental well-being has become more of a priority for me.  Grading papers will have to wait if it means I can spend quality time with my family, which recharges my own batteries.

One of the most powerful sessions was called “Prepared & Ready to Promote & Support Mental Wellness/Safety in the Workplace.”  This session was labeled “In the Community,” but I figured it could benefit both students and teachers.  In this session, I learned a lot about empathetic listening.  According to one Harvard study, there is an epidemic of loneliness in this country.  So, how can authentic social connections help this epidemic?  I learned some strategies to becoming an empathetic listener, such as authentic presence through body language, respect even if you do not agree with someone, and the difference between empathy and sympathy.  Empathy takes more emotional connection, while sympathy can actually drive disconnection.

I also learned about an organization called Someone to Tell It to, based in Harrisburg, which actually helps train people to become better listeners.  This session really resonated with me.  It was a good reminder for dealing with both students, colleagues, and administrators.  Empathetic listening is what helps me connect so well with students and build relationships.  I also value empathetic listening from my colleagues and administrators.  I do not always feel “heard” and this feeling fosters disconnection, frustration, and distrust.  Upon reflecting, I think Rob Freil is truly an empathetic listener from my experience with him on the new councils created this year.

One of the most exciting sessions I went to was called “Utilizing Trauma-Informed Culture & Neuroscience Applications to Improve Student Learning” from the “In the Classroom” pathway.  At this session, I learned that the Red Lion School District is focusing on implementing trauma-informed practices in the classroom.  This is their only initiative this year; no new curriculum, no technology initiatives, nothing else.  A “Brain Strategies Team” was put together to look at the scientific research on trauma and the brain.  They were trained on best trauma-informed practices for the classroom and now they are rolling out a district-wide professional development on these trauma-based practices.  Some examples of these practices include class meetings, mindfulness, walk & talks, pulse oximeters at the nurse’s office, and buddy classrooms.  The district is rethinking consequences vs. discipline and they are educating teachers about this difference.

Lastly, I was excited to hear Dr. Tim Murphy, former PA Congressman, speak about the new Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which became law in December 2016.  Dr. Murphy spoke about how mental health and wellness law will be changing and how there will be new and improved government oversight of this field.  I learned a lot from this Keynote speaker, but I did not get a real sense of how this law could affect public school.  I suspect that it is not clear how this could impact the educational community since the law is still being implemented.

Overall, I had a great time at the American Mental Wellness Association’s first conference, but I do not know if I would attend again.  I could possibly be interested in attending one day, but not two, and only if there were more sessions offered specifically for educators.  I enjoyed getting to know Laura Murphy more, since we drove together each day.  I also enjoyed visiting the Hershey Lodge while it was decorated for the holidays.  I suspect the knowledge I gained from the conference will continue to inform my practice as a teacher.

December 4th, 2018

American Mental Wellness Association 2018 National Conference

American Mental Wellness Association 2018 National Conference


At this conference, I attended several different sessions. In this post, I’ve included notes from each section but the biggest take-home points are:

  1. Mental health is a costly economic issue that is not properly funded and largely stigmatized; we should view mental health as mental fitness.
  2. Negative brain changes can result from brain injury, brain illness, stress & trauma.
  3. Brain health relies upon: Nutrition, Socialization, Spirituality, Mental stimulation &
    Physical activity
  4. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common. In a large survey of middle-class Caucasians, almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. Increased ACE scores result in increased health risks.
  5. CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is  a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive hits. The TAU proteins in the brain are misfolded. CTE can only be diagnosed after death but include (short list): Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment), Impulsive behavior, Depression or apathy, Short-term memory loss, Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function), Emotional instability, Substance abuse, Suicidal thoughts or behavior. It is being recommended that children under 14 do not participate in contact sports.
  6. The “choking game” is a “game” which children suffocate each other to seek a “high” but is killing children. It goes by many other names; for more info: www.erikscause.org


Some websites for further information:





Additional Reading:

Fingerprints of God

Scalpel & the Soul


Living on the Offense, Eric Hipple

The monetary impact to society of mental illness cost is greater than cancer & diabetes combined

$1 trillion/year = on addiction

$93 billion = suicide


Brain plasticity – change connections

  • Inability to solve problem is the problem
    • Brain injury
    • Brain illness
    • Stress
    • Trauma
      • Brain tries to fragment memory
      • Stays on the emotional side & doesn’t get processed until an activator causes trauma to “pop”back up
      • support/mentor trauma → triumph


  • Our Story’s shape us but don’t define us


  • Mental health should be viewed as mental fitness
  • Keys to mental fitness

*responsibility      * self-esteem  * boundaries    * vulnerability  * communication     * commitment

Executive Function: A Window to Optimizing Student’s Learning

  • Dr. Kaufman will be releasing a new Maslow’s hierarchy very soon
  • Executive function = mental & behavioral control
    • Fully developed
      • Womens ~ 22 years old
      • Men ~ 25 years old
  • Adult attention span is 12 minutes
  • Stress shrinks brain network
  • Higher scores on ACE (adverse childhood experiences) are directly correlated with higher health risks
  • Takes 6 seconds to change an emotion


Brain Health Across the Lifespan, Dr. Paul Nussbaum


  • Brain health relies on these core principles:
    • Nutrition
    • Socialization
    • Spirituality
    • Mental stimulation
    • Physical activity
  • Travel reduces the risk of dementia due to new experiences
  • To process information women tend to use both sides of the brain, men tend to use one side of the brain
  • The hippocampus can generate new brain cells
  • When you love, you shut off the anger area of your brain

Recommended reading: Fingerprints of God, Scalpel & the Soul

Trama in Our Communities – It’s Impact – How to help – Joyful Living; Ellen Smith, Elaine Strokoff, deJoly LaBrier

Disease Control and Prevention, Kaiser Permanente. The ACE Study Survey Data


Score %
0 36.1
1 26
2 15.9
3 9.5
4 12.5


  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common. Almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs.


  • As the number of ACEs increases so does the risk for the following*:
    • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    • Depression
    • Fetal death
    • Health-related quality of life
    • Illicit drug use
    • Ischemic heart disease
    • Liver disease
    • Poor work performance
    • Financial stress
    • Risk for intimate partner violence
    • Multiple sexual partners
    • Sexually transmitted diseases
    • Smoking
    • Suicide attempts
    • Unintended pregnancies
    • Early initiation of smoking
    • Early initiation of sexual activity
    • Adolescent pregnancy
    • Risk for sexual violence
    • Poor academic achievement


A Neuroscientist’s Perspective on Mental Health & Mental Illness, Dr. Karen Lankford,

  • Unconscious bias
  • Unconscious connect with conscious via emotions; if not through emotions can connect via bodily functional neurological disorders


New Federal Mental Health Laws: Impact on Mental Health Treatment in the Coming Decade, Dr. Timothy Murphy, former senator

  • “No one cares about crazy people”
  • 350,000 mental illness deaths/year


In the Military Traumatic Brain Injury, Hellp Recovery, Resiliency, Renewal of Military Members, Veterans & Families; Timothy Murphy, Karen Zegel & Doug Zegel



  • CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy )is  a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive hits. The TAU proteins in brain are misfolded. CTE can only be diagnosed after death but include (short list):
    • Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
    • Impulsive behavior.
    • Depression or apathy.
    • Short-term memory loss.
    • Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function)
    • Emotional instability.
    • Substance abuse.
    • Suicidal thoughts or behavior


  • From brain bank, brains that were autopsied due to repetitive hits
    • 91% of college athletes brains had CTE
    • 99% of professional athlete’s brains had CTE
    • 66% of veterans brains had CTE


  • Out of 2000 brains, 63 brains participated in contact sports
    • 33% of those brains  had CTE
    • 0% of brains without contact sports had CTE
  • 20% of suicides are veterans
  • “Normal” brain upon autopsy weighs 1400g, Alzheimer’s brain 1000g, stage 4 CTE brain 800 g
  • Stress can cause self-inflicted brain injury; cortisol levels cause brain inflammation. Cortisol destroys connections and cuts off the frontal lobe causing the hippocampus to shrink and the amygdala to overwork.
  • Anxiety is a response to a perceived but not real threat that is treated as real.
  • The brain is the only organ capable of destroying & renewing itself.

Therapy – ABC (Affect, behavior, cognition)


How we prepare for stress

  1. Resilience
    1. Building strength & tools to meet stress
    2. Adaptive thinking – correct choices
    3. Philosophies of life that are prepared for stress practice experiences
  1. Resistance
    1. Corussage to fight when faced with stress
    2. Correct choices, brain engaged
    3. Book – “The art of War”


  1. Recovery
    1. Hope: patience, persistence, forgiveness



Attitude Control


Training & learning




  1. Renewal
    1. Faith in renewal
    2. Transforming your view of self & world


December 3rd, 2018

Keys to Enhancing Your Effectiveness as a School Nurse

During the conference, the instructor discussed numerous ways to manage your time during the school day. One of the ways, and is so simple,  was to make a list of what has to be done today. She said the best way is to list three items and go from there so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. The time management part was beneficial to me since I cover 4 elementary buildings every day. This can be overwhelming, to say the least, but improving time management is important. The instructor discussed the school law which states that every certified school nurse can have 1500 students in their caseload( I have approximately 1430 students). It was discussed that the law needs to be changed so that the certified school nurse can be more effective in their practice. It has been in the house for years to change the ratio to 1 certified school nurse per 750 students. We talked about the numerous safe practices to deal with emergencies in the buildings, especially since the world has changed. We were updated on all of the new ways to manage an emergency with an intruder in the building. We discussed the importance of IHP’s and 504’s. We talked about the issues impacting the mental health and well being of our students and how certified school nurses can help these students.  The mental health aspect of school nursing is becoming overwhelming since we are seeing an increase in the acuity of our students, especially with anxiety and social issues. It was discussed that if we would be able to identify students with these issues early on in their elementary years it could possibly help these students have a better educational experience.

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