Robyn Barberry is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart, the mother of three precocious boys, and the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen.


April 2017
March 2017

Email Subscription

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Comments

Thank you Robyn for so eloquently stating some of the obvious reasons this proposed ordinance makes no sense. I intend to be present at the council meeting on the 10th to publicly state my opposition.


Your words are always so inspiring. I also spent 12 years in Catholic school and chose to give my children a Catholic school education. It is the best decision we have ever made!


No Child Left Inside

There’s a Nature Valley granola bar video circulating where an interviewer asks three generations of four families what they did (or do) for fun as a kid.  The grandparents discuss berry picking and escaping from near-bear attacks. The parents also describe creative outdoor play. The kids’ responses are alarming. “Fun” makes them think of their tablets and video games.

It’s heartbreaking on many levels. For one, millennials are living excessively digital lives, spending less time with peers and more time expressing themselves with their fingertips. (I have a theory about why so many young people I know are postponing their drivers’ licenses. They don’t need to get out of the house to socialize!) According to the Nature Conservancy, 88% of kids spend time online every day, while only 66% of kids have had a meaningful experience in nature. 

Far too many of today’s kids aren’t playing outside. When I was ten, my neighborhood was composed of entire families of “free-range children.” We’d set up camp by the creek, pick berries, collect rocks, and study bugs. Today, for valid safety reasons, parents are discouraged from allowing their kids to explore the outdoors unattended. I doubt many of them would be interested in doing so, anyway.

The most detrimental loss belongs to our environment. Because so many kids aren’t spending time getting to know the plants, trees, animals, and water that make up planet Earth, one out of every three young people doesn’t feel obligated to combat the damage our world has suffered at our hands. (Again, according to the Nature Conservancy.) How will the next generation continue to sustain life on earth, if they don’t care about the ecosystem or don’t know how to help it heal?

In response to all these issues and more, the state of Maryland has developed and implemented a series of environmental literacy standards for teachers to use in their classrooms in the hopes that students will be both inspired and armed with the knowledge it will take to save Mother Earth.

But, what am I to do? I’m but a lowly art teacher?

“Nonsense,” says Notre Dame Maryland University professor and STEM coordinator, Dr. Juliann DuPuis. After moving here from New Hampshire, she established a Summer STEM Institute for teachers at the University.

Through day-long programs such as Project WET (about oceans and other bodies of water), Project WOW! (Wonders of Wetlands), NOAA’s Globe Project, Project Learning Tree (I think you can guess what this is about), and Project WILD (about wildlife), Dr. DuPuis and guest environmental educators modeled dozens of ways that the twenty teachers in my class can incorporate environmental science into our wide range of grade levels, curriculum, and school environments.

I sat next to Donna Jones, an inquisitive algebra teacher at Woodlawn High School. Even though our jobs couldn’t be more different, we each managed to find ways to incorporate the activities our instructors demonstrated into our classrooms. The games we played were both fun and educational, and we got to spend plenty of time on the gorgeous grounds of NDMU.

The final component to the class was our “No Child Left Inside” research project. I chose to focus on the Anna C. Leight Estuary Center at Otter Point, which is a ten minute drive from our school. There, we will contribute to clean-up and wetlands restoration projects while practicing wetland photography. The class will write and illustrate a book about our experience, including facts about wetlands and our best photographs from our field trips.

I’ve also decided to establish a “We Love our eARTh” theme for the school year in my art and library classes (yes, I’ve taken on a new role!). Stay tuned for the results of my students environmental art projects, more than a few of which will come from the guides and exercises I gained during my week at the NDMU Summer STEM Institute!    

Model of the water cycle my group made for Project WET.

We went with an "Itsy, Bitsy Spider" theme.

My group, Donna, Alex, and Noelle, building a boat with sticks and yarn for Project WOW!

Our boat had to be float and hold a tennis ball without allowing it to get wet in the small pan.


We did it!

My second team gathers data, including GPS coordinates, for our GLOBE location.

My team surveys our location.

Donna examines a "tree cookie" during Project Learning Tree.

Pretending to be "hungry" trees during Project Learning Tree.

Alex and Noelle examine a black bear's fur during Project WILD.

August 04, 2015 03:38
By Robyn Barberry

Welcome to the Dojo!

In addition to being a STEM school, St. Joan of Arc also embraces the PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) philosophy of classroom behavior management.

In the past, teachers spent so much of their time and energy disciplining students who were misbehaving, that the other 95% of the class was missing out on instructional time. PBIS flips the traditional model of classroom management by encouraging teachers to praise those students who are doing the right thing, and ignoring those who do not.

Students who follow directions, show respect, and go above and beyond in their classrooms are rewarded. Sometimes it’s a sticker (my second graders devour my colorful stars!). Sometimes it’s a trip to the treasure chest. But in some cases, an entire school shares a reward system.

At St. Joan of Arc, students receive paper “shields” for outstanding displays of respect, responsibility and leadership. The shields are submitted to the office, where they are entered into a drawing. The winning students’ names and their good deeds are announced on Fridays, and they can come to the office to claim their prizes. (Collin was the lucky winner of a “free shoe” day where he got to wear his sneakers, rather than his dress shoes.)

As I mentioned earlier, SJA is a STEM school, which means we try to integrate technology into everything we do. PBIS is no exception. Last week, we instituted a new program called Class Dojo, which allows us to use an app to give immediate points to students who are meeting and exceeding specific behavioral objectives.

I run the app on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but many teachers are using it on their iPads. Using my stylus, I click on the class, select the student from the roster (which is alphabetized by first name and demarcated by adorable little monster avatars), and award points where they are deserved for being ready to learn, teamwork, paying attention, being quiet in the halls, cleaning up, and any other behaviors that are essential to succeeding in my classroom. All it takes is a quick tap.

I can offer an award for achieving a certain number of points, such as a sticker or even a shield. But, even the intangible reward of a point is enough to keep many of my students motivated. When I walk around the room and announce who is receiving points and why, it gets quieter. Students sit up straighter and redirect their eyes to the work in front of them, waiting to hear their names.

The name of the PBIS game is recognizing kids who do the right thing. And isn’t that what God does for us? In providing children with a Catholic education, we are not only offering top-notch academics, but a high quality character education, too. Class Dojo enhances PBIS so that rewarding good behavior can be efficient, effective, and high-tech to meet the demands of the digital generation. 

March 02, 2015 04:04
By Robyn Barberry

The math lesson

I always joke that part of the reason I chose to major in English is that I wouldn’t need math. My distaste for numbers began in third grade when I struggled to learn my times tables. In sixth grade, the letters showed up next to my numbers, and rather than rising to the challenges Algebra offered, I resorted to doodling in the margins of my notebook. I took the most basic math class I could in college, “Mathematical Ideas,” then turned my back on calculations and equations for nearly a decade. I taught myself algebra last summer to prepare for my real estate exam, but there are still more holes in my math education than there are digits in pi.

So when Dr. Peter Litchka and Dr. Peter Rennert-Ariev of Loyola University, the directors of the revolutionary professional development program St. Joan of Arc has joined alongside several other Archdiocese of Baltimore schools, asked my colleagues and I to go “out of our comfort zones” and observe another teacher from another subject area, I knew where I was heading.
Enter Kim Evelyn (pronounced “EEVE-lin”), the middle school math teacher at SJA. She invited me to visit her sixth-grade class on a Wednesday morning to observe a lesson on decimals. 

Class began with a homework check, a quiz, and an awesome and unexpected prayer.

Mrs. Evelyn defied the traditional model of teaching by spending less than 10 minutes in front of the board introducing the new topic: decimal place value. “Remember: this is the pennies column and this is the dimes column,” she explained. I wish I’d learned that in sixth grade!

Students spent a short period of guided practice time delving into the fascinating task of measuring gerbil’s tails to the required decimal place (within the confines of their textbooks, of course.) And then, the most exciting thing happened … the iPads came out.

An air of giddiness swept through the room as students fired up their tablets and logged into an interactive program called IXL. IXL is an online, subscription-based program available for preK-high school levels. It covers both math and language arts and includes a variety of problems and games, all of which offer incentives (ribbons), scores, and constructive feedback.

The students were so engaged in the program that you could hear the tapping of their fingers on the glass screens of their iPads. Occasionally someone would exclaim, “I got a ribbon!” Mrs. Evelyn circumnavigated the room, spending a little more time with those students who weren’t grasping the concept and awarding those who finished with a small piece of candy.

Before I knew it, class was over. I was even a little disappointed, as I had been playing along on my phone. (IXL offers 20 free questions a day!) What a striking difference from the days when I tried to nudge the minute hand forward by squinting at it, rather than moving time forward by busily focusing on the problems in front of me. The marriage of technology and the modern, “guide by the side, rather than sage on the stage,” philosophy of teaching have transformed the way students learn. Mrs. Evelyn’s classroom reflects that. It’s a glimpse of the future of education. And it’s exciting.

October 16, 2014 02:56
By Robyn Barberry

Weekly Wonder Tech/Toy: Endless Alphabet

When Collin’s teacher told me he was having trouble with his sight words, I sought out some solutions to help kick start his reading.  I decided to search for apps for my iPad since I’d installed a handful of other learning games.  (Plus, it’s a great device for keeping him occupied in restaurants or during long waits.)  In my search, I discovered Endless Alphabet by Originator Kids, and decided to give it a try, especially since it had over 250 five-star reviews.

The program features a colorful, scrolling menu of words the user may choose to spell.  These aren’t your typical starter words, like “cat” or “dog.”  Children using Endless Alphabet will learn words like “famished” or “gargantuan.” When the word is selected, it is presented in fun letters and stormed by an animated army of little monsters. 

Next, the outline of the word is presented, surrounded by the missing letters, dressed up like little monsters, who are dragged into the letter spaces.  As they’re dragged, the monster letters repeatedly vocalize the sound letters make.  I admit, I found it annoying at first, but when I considered the phonetic value of the noise, I adjusted my attitude, sat back, and watched Collin learn. 

After the word is spelled, cheering ensues, followed by a short cartoon illustrating the word.  Lastly, a woman’s voice gives a simple definition.  “When you forgive someone, you stop feeling angry at them.”  What a perfect word to teach to children.

My one criticism is that the words can be spelled in any order.  I’d rather see the letters rejected if they’re meant to be used later in the word.  Otherwise, I’m doubtful that Endless Alphabet is an effective spelling tool.

Still, I’m pleased with the progress Collin is making with Endless Alphabet, even if the words are “gargantuan” compared to the sight words offered by Originator Kids’ much simpler app, Endless Reader, of which Collin is also a fan.  He laughs over and over again at the cartoons and has begun incorporating some bigger words into his vocabulary.  His greatest triumph was when he said, “Mom, let’s d-e-c-o-r-a-t-e for St. Patrick’s Day.”  With a request like that, the answer was “yes.”

Endless Alphabet is available at the Apple App Store for $6.99.  (Yes, it’s expensive, but considering the cost of other phonics texts and programs, it’s a fair deal).   


March 27, 2014 02:43
By Robyn Barberry

Some Christmas light(s)

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is driving around to look at lights.  When my brother and I were growing up, we were like network commentators during Macy’s Thanksgiving parade (or any given NFL game) on our trips around the neighborhood and to Baltimore’s famed 34th street, pointing out highlights to the left, the right and up ahead.

It’s been a joy to continue this tradition with our boys.  Our neighborhood boasts a few spectacular light shows, but we’re always hunting throughout Harford County (and occasionally beyond) for lights that inspire “oohs”, “ahhs”, and in Frank’s case – “yays”.

When Collin began preschool, his teacher told us that the class would be collecting pennies for a boy named Ryan in December and visiting a Christmas light display dedicated to him.  Last Thursday, we had the honor of visiting the Vogt House on Harrogate Drive in Abingdon.  We’d driven by before, and were impressed, but when we got out of the car to take it all in, we were filled with awe.

You could see it on the children’s faces as they crowded around Santa’s workshop, peeping in the windows down low at what? – I’m not sure I’ll ever know.  You could see it on the parent’s faces as they traced the lights overhead and were dazzled by the sheer number covering the modest, yet magnificent house.  There are trees, character cutouts, and even a tunnel.

We were honored to meet Mr. Vogt, himself, who told us that his light display started in 1990, as a way of making up to his daughter for a year without lights.  In 2006, it took on a charitable meaning.

The two most important parts of the display remain.  One is the donation pipe.  100% of the money donated, including the change collected by Collin’s class, goes to the Ryan Leung Autism Fund.  It helps to pay for Ryan’s camp and therapies, both vital to his social progress. 

The other most important part of the display is also the one highest up.  Mr. Vogt has installed a glowing red cross way up high behind the house.  You can’t miss it.  Next to it is a lighted banner which reads, “Keep Christ in Christmas.”

Here’s a brief interview with Mr. Vogt about his light display.  (You’ll need to login to Facebook to see it.)

If you live in Harford County or plan on visiting this holiday season, please stop by the Vogt house.  I’d also love to hear about some other over-the-top light displays from near or far!

December 17, 2013 09:10
By Robyn Barberry

Weekly Wonder Tech: "Christmas Story Premium" App

Now that Collin is 4, I feel the need to go in greater depth when telling the story of the Nativity.  He likes to ask "Why?" questions in his quest for greater detail.  And like the children in at the beginning of the claymation holiday classic "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" or like Clarence, George Bailey's guardian angel in "It's a Wonderful Life," Collin was curious about the details surrounding some of the characters associated with Christmas.  I let him know about Santa and Rudolph, but made sure he understood the person who matters most this time of year: Jesus.

One of the ways I explained the folk and religious stories behind Christmas was through books.  (I'll be publishing a list of my top titles next week). I also used movies, though most were on the commercial end of things.  But one new way I've added to my Christmas-sharing repertoire is the use of apps.

Collin and Frank love to play on my iPad.  I keep a few educational games handy for them for long waits during outings or as a pre-bed wind-down. One of the apps I've added recently is "Christmas Story Premium" by TinySparks.

(Photo via

"Christmas Story Premium" is an interactive storybook, which allows children to read the poetic version of St. Luke's gospel on their own or have it read to them in a man's gentle voice. Tinkly bells play music in the background and sound effects signal a page change or the placement of a puzzle piece (more on that later).  All of the sounds may be turned on or off.

The pictures are soothing to look at and seem like digitally created watercolor and ink paintings.  In addition to acting as an electronic book, the app offers very simple puzzles, most of which are based on images from the story. 

Collin is beginning to understand the Christmas story better now, and I think the app has helped.  He was, for awhile, focused on Mary's lack of shoes, but after I explained that Jesus' family was very poor, he began to zone in on the parts of the pictures that really matter. 

Hearing and seeing the story read over and over on the iPad has been effective, as Collin is beginning to say the words along with the narrator.  Repetition is important for children, in identical forms and through variety - hence my additional use of books and traditional storytelling from memory. 

Still, no matter how hard I try, I can't replicate my speech in the exact same way every time I read like this app can.  For Collin, who likes to mimic the precise tones and cadences of his favorite movie quotes, uniformity of sound is vital.

My main criticism of the "Christmas Story Premium" is that it doesn't offer coloring, puzzles, and/or games, as it's competitors do.  Additionally, the others' images are also a bit brighter and more kid-friendly. 

Overall, the repetition and simplicity of this app is ideal for my young children, who need to see and hear this beautiful story in every way possible. 

"Christmas Story Premium" is available for iPad only and retails 99 cents at Apple's App Store.

December 13, 2013 02:14
By Robyn Barberry