Sunday, April 10, 2016

Starting the Genius Hour Project

As usual, I have bitten off more than I can chew. I have been working as a sub at an international school here in Norway. My husband and I moved to south Norway from northern Norway, thus the URL LifeInTheArctic Circle. Anyway, we moved here without jobs and I am so fortunate to have found a job in my field. Subbing is rough but I have learned so much. Recently, I was offered 2 long-term sub hours in the middle school and I said, YES!

Since the year is almost over and this class only meets for 45 minutes once a week, plus, it is the type of course that is perfect for independent inquiry-based projects because they can easily be tied to the standards. And, so the Genius Hour was birthed. I started my research at While this is a student-led project, it still requires a lot of work from me to ensure that they are responsible with their freedom...and the students only have about 5-6 solid weeks to work on their project so I won´t be surprised if during their "pitches" I will have to reel a lot of them in since there is so little time. I think the lack of time is going to be the biggest obstacle. It is stressing ME out at least!!!

I started out showing this TedTalk, which I had since a couple years ago and love. It inspired me do a type of Genius Hour project last year with my 6th graders at a Norwegian public school, and it was, in general a success.

This is where it really started:

Week 1 was showing this video and explaining "the pitch", which will done "shark tank" style. 4 slides 1) WHAT will you be learning, WHAT will you be producing 2) WHY what is your purpose 3) HOW what is the plan 4) SUCCESS how will it be measured

Week 2 Present pitch. I bet we won´t get through all the students and that will be frustrating to use 2 weeks on this part, because I want them to get started right away- again, because there is so little time! Because of time restraints, I won´t have time to teach students about quality feedback, but I will be attempting to model this type of feedback during the pitches

I must admit, I hope a student comes without a pitch because then I will invite them to help ME in the process and that can be their project. I really need help- as in there are not enough hours in the day to do this the way I want to do it so I could use a little help that way!

I will also show this video and the following list of ideas at the beginning of class because maybe it will help students re-evaluate their pitch even before they give it!

Week 3 NEXT WEEK will be finishing up the pitches and some work time for the students.

Week 4 Work time

Week 5 Share time- report to your group what you`ve been learning, get feedback.

Somewhere in between make a video similar to the one above, but not use class time, so I guess during their recess/lunch???

Friday, July 19, 2013

New surroundings- Oslo

We've been renting an apartment in Oslo for the month with the plan to move here, but, alas, northern Norway calls. We will be moving back to Båtsfjord on August 8 and we'll spend the next year there while we wait for Ben's green card to be processed. Still, we've had a GREAT time in Oslo!

We've done a lot of touristy things while here, liking visiting this Oslo landmark-
Holmenkollen ski jump. 

This is the view from our apartment. We have seen many amazing "sunsets" (this is the land of the midnight sun so the sun is only down for a very short time) and skies from this view. We can even see Holmenkollen from our window!

 This is the most popular beach in Oslo, called Huk, on an island in Oslo called Bygdøy. The boys love playing in the sand and swimming. I, personally, want to come here every day!

Warm day- cold, yet refreshing ocean swim! Me and Phoenix!

City slickers!

Another one of our favorites- Vigeland Sculpture Park, over 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron. It is the world's largest sculpture park by a single artist.

Found a 4th of July party in Oslo with an American Hot Rods car show. 

Our little Vikings (with new haircuts). 

Our Surroundings- Båtsfjord

The drive out of town. 

Ben and I got a few hours to ourselves.
We went to this waterfall, just a few minutes out of town.

The fort that Ben has been building for the boys in "the backyard". 
Ben's mom's house/childhood home and where will be living this year, 
is the green house on the left. 

I think Rio likes the fort!

World War 2 Nazi Base

Finnmark is the county farthest north in Norway. It is also the least populated. This is where my husband grew up, in a fishing community called Båtsfjord. During World War 2, Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany. There are a number of their bases along the Finnmark coastline. Like most boys, ours love a good fight, a story of good overcoming evil. And with a backdrop like this, they are having fun pretending to be the "good guys", defeating the "bad guys"(war is obviously not that simple though!). Ben loves talking about war history and his boys eat it up. Ben brought his Nazi helmet along to play with! These pictures are from Kongsfjord, Norway, near Berlevåg

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Life in Norway so far

The reunion
Trying to enjoy the 39 degree weather- in June!
Ben working on the rock fort he is building for the boys. 
Frying fish cakes made from fresh haddock caught right here in the Barents Sea.
YUM! CARDAMOM donuts! And the last of my Starbucks VIA. 
It was summer-like weather for a couple weeks.
Had the boys running on the beach and wading in the arctic waters. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Special needs parenting

In the grand scheme of things, I really have nothing to fear
with these guys protecting me!

Today I had a "special needs parenting" moment. I decided NOT to have Phoenix participate in his theater class' end-of-class performance...and I realized why, for now, I'm content with Phoenix being in a self-contained special ed classroom instead of an inclusion setting. Phoenix had been part of CYT's great inclusion program for the past 8 weeks, but in the end I had to be realistic. If Phoenix had gotten up on that stage tonight he would not have been successful compared to his typical classmates. Likewise, if Phoenix was currently in an inclusion classroom I think that maybe his aide would be successful, not Phoenix! And that is pretty much the struggle I'm in right now- having high expectations for Phoenix but being realistic.

Still, it's so odd that I expect him to be like everyone else. It's strange that I hear "treat him like everyone else" when he is NOT like everyone else. He has an extra chromosome in every single cell of his body, ya know! OF COURSE I know all the positive stuff, that he is more LIKE his peers than NOT, etc, but, RIGHT NOW in my life I think that being realistic about Phoenix's capabilities is going to help him actually meet those high expectations.

In my daily life this struggle exhibits itself in the disciplining. Let me be the first to tell you that I am TERRIBLE at any form of discipline of any type of child!!! Typical or not. I'm unsure, I'm inconsistent, I yell, etc. With Phoenix especially it's hard, AT TIMES, to distinguish between expecting him to behave like a typical 6 1/2 year old and when to be realistic. I know that 9 out of 10 times he should/could behave like his peers but that 1 other time quickly trips me up and puts me in a bad place of second-guessing myself and telling God that HE CHOSE THE WRONG MOM for Phoenix. Ugh, I hate going there! Overall, this ART of parenting is likely the hardest part of parenting any child.

On a side note, we had a good day! A good day in our house means MOM DIDN'T FLIP OUT! I wish I knew what was different today so that I could do it again and again! It could have been the 4pm cup of coffee that gave me an energy boost or the fact that I worked today (teaching adult ESL) finding myself in a role other than "mother" or the undeserving peace of God. Somehow I "did it all" (dinner, homemade cookies, cleaning, hand-written valentines, story time, and bedtime) without losing it FOR ONCE! I long for the day when this is our NORM and not the exception!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Happy Birthday Tiago!

In honor of Tiago's 2nd birthday I am reposting his birth story.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Phoenix's 1st Violin Lesson

I am hoping these adorably chubby hands will soon be playing the violin.

Yesterday was Phoenix's first violin lesson. Why violin? Our family LOVES fiddle music AND someone gave us a violin. So here we are. We found a Suzuki instructor close by and we're giving it a shot!

As for the Down syndrome part, this is how I handled it. First, I just inquired about lessons. We set up the schedule. Then I told her Phoenix had Down syndrome. (You never know how people are going to react to your child with special needs so I wanted to tell her ahead of time. Believe me, we sadly get some pretty cruel looks from strangers from time to time. So I was protecting both myself and him.) She was totally fine with it. I gave her an out and she didn't take it. She doesn't have any experience with students with special needs and I kind of like that. She treated him like any other student.

First lesson, he didn't even play! He practiced standing, holding the bow properly, balancing the violin under his chin with no hands and bowing. It was great! He learned new words and had another opportunity to practice following directions (we prayed about that part on the front steps outside her home!).

When we got in the car after the lesson I rhetorically asked him, Did you play the violin? He shook his head NO. That's right! He didn't play it! LOL! Just a lot of prep work!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Annual Fishing Derby (Willow Creek Community Church)

Excited at the prospect of catching some fish!

Freezing cold after FALLING IN the pond! (I guess he really WAS excited!)

My friend's amazing daughter who has a huge heart for kids with special needs! She hand wrote notes inviting her classmates with special needs to the derby AND volunteered! Love this girl!

Phoenix's wonderful and adorable aide at church. She volunteers weekly and sometimes twice a week for Phoenix. She and her friends also teach cheerleading to kids with Down syndrome and raised money to buy their uniforms. "The Gems" have numerous performances throughout the year.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Rio's first movie- RIO, of course!

This was both Phoenix’s and Rio’s first time to the movie theater. I obnoxiously cheered every time they said “Rio” and I will probably download the songs that mentioned his name.

A new tradition

Our 1st Annual Last Day of School Tradition- Dairy Queen! While it has been unseasonably cool even for spring, that did not stop us from walking to our neighborhood DQ and enjoying some dipped ice cream cones. It was only the end of their first year of preschool, but why not start some family traditions? Lucky baby brother, only 1, got join in too!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rio's First Day of School

So the Nystad brothers are going to school together, taking the bus together and their classrooms are across from each other. This was such a sweet moment to witness! I wish I could have spied on them at school. I wish I could have seen them walk down that hall together.

Rio is attending Phoenix's school because he has some speech and developmental delays. It's kind of funny that I never ever worried about Rio's development. I figured that he was just learning at his own pace; it is Phoenix who we have to worry about! I think that all Rio needs is a boost (but, if not, that is fine too) and I am so thankful that he's able to receive the help he needs.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I'm sad that I can't blog everyday this month like I had committed to. Life is just pulling me in every direction.

Thank you to those of you who follow my blog and the Down Syndrome Awareness campaign 31 for 21.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Isn't It Ironic

by Professor Jerome Lejeune, Discoverer of the gene for Down syndrome

"Many years ago, my father was a Jewish physician in Braunau, Austria. On a particular day, two babies had been delivered by one of his colleagues. One was a fine, healthy boy with a strong cry. His parents were extremely proud and happy. The other was a little girl, but her parents were extremely sad, for she was a mongoloid [Down syndrome] baby. I followed them both for almost fifty years. The girl grew up, living at home, and was finally destined to be the one who nursed her mother through a very long and lingering illness after a stroke. I do not remember her name. I do, however, remember the boy's name. He died in a bunker in Berlin. His name was Adolf Hitler."

Note: This story is almost assuredly apocryphal. I am leaving it here because even though it probably isn't true, it does express a truth. That truth is that we never know what our children will become. A healthy baby can grow up be a murderer while a baby with a chromosomal abnormality can grow up to be a loving and loved person. On the TV show, Touched by an Angel an episode featured a couple who found out that their unborn child had Down syndrome. The couple were sitting in a diner and the father was talking about what he wanted for his son and why he wanted his wife to have an abortion. A young man walked in wearing a letter jacket from the local high school and when the father sees him he says that he wants his son to grow up to be like that young man. With that, the young man pulls a gun out and robs the diner.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Uncle Scott

This is my one and only brother who is 9 years older than me. Many of my friends have never even met him. In the past he has wanted NOTHING to do with his family. My parents could call him every day for 14 days straight and he wouldn't even think to call back. He'd change phone numbers and never tell us, so my parents would hunt him down and show up at his work. And then when we did finally force him to hang out with us he'd act like we were bothering him if we attempted to make conversation with him! In my heart of hearts, these family gatherings hurt. They sucked. I hated what my brother's behavior did to me and, even worse, my parents, who would drop everything to do some ridiculous favor for their son just for a moment with him.

OK, after all that, I will say that he is a decent guy. If need be, he'll go to bat for his friends and family and he's an incredible tennis coach. I love that when I played on one of his teams and we made to the finals, he paid, out of his pocket, for a limo to drive us to the finals!!! It was cool! (And we won!)

But the coolest thing is that, as of late, he's not disgusted by us!!! He will actually come to my parents house and hang out all day doing nothing but just hanging out! We don't even invite him every time. Sometimes he just comes...and it's Rio who loves it the most!

Rio has really latched on to Scott. He loves Scott's Ford Mustang especially. And now he includes Scott's name in his plans. For example, he loves to list who is "taking the train to Chicago" and who is "going to Gigi's Playhouse". He says things like this before he goes to sleep. Maybe he's make the next day's plans???

So here are some pictures of my sons spending time with their Uncle Scott.

Friday, October 8, 2010

If People with DS Ruled the World

I received this article upon Phoenix's birth. It was written by he Director of Psychosocial services at the Adult Down Syndrome Center in Park Ridge, Illinois, in 2005. I know it is long, but it is worth reading at least some parts of it!

Here is a link to the original. (May be easier on your eyes?)

What would happen if people with DS ruled the world?

If people with Down syndrome ruled the world:

Affection, hugging and caring for others would make a big comeback.

Despite the fact that my family was not terribly affectionate, I have had a crash course in hugging at the Center. I am confident that if people with Down syndrome ran the world, everyone would become very accustomed to the joys of hugging. Fortunately for me, I had a head start. My wife is a native of Argentina, and I got some intense exposure to hugging when I landed in her country and found there were 6000 members of her family waiting to be hugged as we got off the plane.

All people would be encouraged to develop and use their gifts for helping others.

In our world, too often people with Down syndrome are “DONE FOR” by others, when in fact they are great givers. If they ran the world, their ability to minister to others would not be wasted.

People would be refreshingly honest and genuine.

People with Down syndrome are nothing if not straightforward and unpretentious. As the expression goes, “what you see is what you get.” When you say to people with Down syndrome, “You did a good job,” most will answer simply and matter-of-factly, “Yes, I did.”

We believe, too, that a stuffy high society would probably not do well in the world of Down syndrome.

However, we believe that BIG dress up dances would flourish. People with Down syndrome love dressing up and dancing at big shindigs. They have a ball, and ...can they dance! (and by the way, who needs a date... “Just dance”).

Most people we have met with Down syndrome also love weddings. This should not be a big surprise. They love getting dressed up, being with family and friends, having good food, and, of course, dancing until the wee hours of the morning. (Many people love it so much, they will chase the band down at the end of the night, begging them to continue.) Perhaps, too, part of the reason they love weddings so much is not just because of the food and dancing, but because in many cases the rules against hugging are temporarily suspended. This may give people a little piece of what I experienced in Argentina. Whoa! Can you imagine what the world would be like with so much affection unleashed?

People engaged in self talk would be considered thoughtful and creative. Self talk rooms would be reserved in offices and libraries to encourage this practice.

People with Down syndrome have a reputation for “talking to themselves.” When conducted in a private space, self talk serves many adaptive purposes.

It is a wonderful means to ponder ideas and to think out loud. It allows people to review events that occurred in the course of their day. It allows people to solve problems by talking themselves through tasks. It allows them to plan for future situations. It is also helpful in allowing people to express feelings and frustrations, particularly if they have difficulty expressing their feelings to others. There is even evidence that athletes who do not have Down syndrome use self talk to motivate themselves. Certainly people without Down syndrome talk to their computer (particularly when it crashes), and likewise many people talk out loud when driving in Chicago. (Of course they may also make odd gestures as well; not recommended if long life is one of your ambitions.)

Order and Structure would rule

We have heard that many people with Down syndrome are stubborn and compulsive. Now, I know what many of you are thinking...“Did you really have to bring that up?” I’m sorry, but—we do. What we hear is that quite a few people have nonsensical rituals and routines. They can get stuck on behaviors that can drive family members a little crazy.

Despite the irritations, there are also many benefits to these “obsessive compulsive tendencies.” We actually have termed these tendencies “Grooves” because people tend to follow fairly set patterns, or “grooves,” in their daily activities.

What are the benefits of Grooves? Many people with Down syndrome are very careful with their appearance and grooming, which is especially important since they often stand out because of their physical features. Grooves also increase independence because most people are able to complete home and work tasks reliably when these tasks are part of their daily routine. (And while they are not fast ... they are very precise.) For many with Down syndrome, grooves serve as a way to relax. Some people repeat a favorite activity in a quiet space, such as writing, drawing, puzzles, needlepoint, etc. Grooves also serve as a clear and unambiguous statement of choice (very important for people with language limitations). This may even be a way for teens with Down syndrome to define their own independence without getting into the same rancorous conflicts with parents as many other teens.

So given what we know about people with Down syndrome and grooves, how would they use this to run the world? Here is how:

Schedules and calendars would be followed.

Trains & planes would run on time.

Lunch would be at 12:00. Dinner at 6:00.

Work time would be work time.

Vacation would be vacation.

At the Center, our receptionist, Shirley, will often have people at her desk pointing to the clock or their watches. Obviously, she hears about it when we don’t take people back at their appointment time, but she also found that some people refuse to go back early: “Nope I am not going at 9:45, my appointment is at 10:00,” nor does going over into the lunch period work. I am sure all of you have similar stories.

But there is much, much more:

People would be expected to keep their promises.

Last minute changes would be strongly discouraged (if not considered rude and offensive).

Places would be neat, clean, and organized (not just bedrooms, but cities, countries, the whole world).

Lost and founds would go out of business (even chaotic appearing rooms have their own sense of order).

The “grunge look” would be out, way out.

“Prep” (but not pretentious) would be very big.

In the world of Down Syndrome, there would be a great deal more tolerance for:

Repeating the same phrase or question

Use of the terms “fun” and “cleaning” in the same sentence

Closing doors or cabinets that are left ajar (even in someone else’s house)

Arranging things until they are “Just so.”

Despite their compulsions and grooves, people with Down syndrome rarely have the really ‘bad habits’ that so many of us have. In fact, out of approximately 3000 people we have seen at the clinic, we have not seen any drug addicts or gamblers and just two alcoholics and a very small number of smokers. However, we think that pop may be a common addiction in the world of Down syndrome, and of course some people are incurable savers and hoarders of just about everything, but especially paper products and writing utensils. Because of this, I could see maybe a Betty Ford Center for pop addicts and extreme paper hoarding.

The words “hurry” and “fast” would be not be uttered in polite society. “Plenty of time” would take their place.

At the Center, we frequently hear about pace, or how fast or slow people move. Quite often these issues are discussed in disparaging terms by harried and frustrated family members. In this world, people with Down syndrome have a reputation for having two speeds, slow and slower.

Therefore, in the world of Down Syndrome:

Our current mode of dealing with time, also known as the “Rat race” (or rushing around like our hair is on fire), would not survive.

Here and now would command a great deal more respect than it currently does.

Stopping to smell the roses would not be just a cliché.

Work would be revered, no matter what kind, from doing dishes to rocket science.

We have consistently seen respect and devotion to work by people with Down syndrome. This is such a strong characteristic for many that they don’t want to stay home from work even if feeling ill. Perhaps more importantly, they value any kind of work.

Therefore, if people with Down syndrome ran the world:

Speed would be far less important than doing the job right.

Work would be everyone’s right, not a privilege.

However, we think there would probably be no work conducted during the time that “Wheel of Fortune” is on TV.

All instruction would include pictures to aid visual learners.

Many studies have shown that individuals with Down syndrome have deficits in auditory memory. If they cannot remember verbal instruction, they may be considered oppositional or less competent in school, home, or work environments. Despite this, they have exceptional visual memory-they are visual learners. If they see something once, they can usually repeat it. They also have an exceptional memory for facts and figures of interest (favorite celebrities, movies, music, sports teams, etc).

If people with Down syndrome ran the world:

School and work sites would have picture, written, and verbal instructions to accommodate different learning styles.

Counselors would be able to use visual mediums to help solve problems.

What About News?

If people with Down syndrome ran the world:

Weather would be the only essential news item

News would be more local (“A new McDonalds just opened up,” or “A dance tonight,” etc.). After all, what is more important than that?

What About Bad News?

If people with Down syndrome ran the world, would there be wars or murders? We don’t think so! There may be too many McDonalds but definitely not the wars or murders we have in our “civilized societies.”

What About “Behaviors”...

...and terms such as (the ever popular) “Incident reports,” “Outbursts,” “Unprovoked outbursts” (one of our all time favorites), and of course “Non compliance”?

We believe that in the world of Down Syndrome, anyone writing “incident reports” would have to go through sensitivity training, which would consist of someone following them around writing down everything they did wrong. Brian Chicoine and I both figure that we would have been on major psychotropic medications long ago if we had people writing up incident reports on us.

We have found that most people with Down syndrome are very sensitive to expressions of anger by others. I imagine they would do all they could to help reduce and solve conflicts between people.

Therefore if people with DS ran the world:

Anger would only be allowed in special sound proof rooms.

Trained negotiators would be available to everyone to help deal with any conflicts.

The word “non compliant” would not be used (except as a very rude comment). It would be replaced by “assertive,” as in “he or she is being assertive today.”

What About Self Expression?

Art and music appreciation would be BIG.

People would have time to work on paintings and other art projects.

Acting and theatrical arts would be encouraged for all.


You probably would not hear a great deal about exercise, but you may hear a phrase like, “Dancing tonight ... absolutely.”

The President’s commission on physical fitness would probably recommend dancing at least 3 times per week.

People would be encouraged to get married several times to have more weddings for more music and dancing.

Richard Simmons and John Travolta would be national heroes.


Elvis, The Beatles, and the Beach Boys would still be number 1 on the hit parade (Music of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s would be BIG)

Musicals would be very, very, very, big (such as “Grease,” and “The Sound of Music”)

John Travolta would be the biggest star.


Classic TV hits would be very BIG and take up at least half the TV schedules.

“I Love Lucy,” “Happy Days,” “The Three Stooges,” etc. would be very BIG.

Wrestling would be very Big.

“Life Goes On” would also be very Big and replayed regularly.


There would be fewer movies, but they would be replayed over and over.

Movie theaters would allow people to talk out loud to tell what happens next.

No Secret Agents

People would not hurt the feelings of others and they would also not lie or keep secrets.

Therefore there probably would be no secret service agents, spies, or terrorists.

The purpose of this article is to give back some of what we have learned to the families and people with Down syndrome who have come to the Adult Down Syndrome Center and who have been so giving and open with us. If people understand more of the special talents people with Down syndrome have, they may be more able to help them use and develop these talents to improve their lives. We also wanted to reassure families of younger children with Down syndrome who are concerned about their child’s future that there is much to be optimistic about.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Down Syndrome Creed- Anonynmous

My face may be different
But my feelings the same
I laugh and I cry
And I take pride in my gains

I was sent here among you
To teach you to love
As God in the heavens
Looks down from above

To Him I'm no different
His love knows no bounds
It's those here among you
In cities and towns

That judge me by standards
That man has imparted
But this family I've chosen
Will help me get started

For I'm one of the children
So special and few
That came here to learn
The same lessons as you

That love is acceptance
It must come from the heart
We all have the same purpose
Though not the same start

The Lord gave me life
To live and embrace
And I'll do it as you do
But at my own pace

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Literacy and Down Syndrome

These two manilla envelopes hold a world of possibilities! They teach reading to kids with Down Syndrome, and we all know the importance of being able to read. When I ask for donations to Gigi's Playhouse this is how it is spent. Sturdy, personalized laminated books are made for kids with DS who are learning to read!

A volunteer spends a half-hour with Phoenix every other week teaching him how to read. We also practice at home. (Phoenix's little brother Rio is even getting a head start on reading because he always wants to do the activities with us!) I just leave the envelopes out and Phoenix will climb whatever he has to in order to get his hand on these babies!

This is his family book. This is obviously his favorite book! He loves looking at pictures of himself and his family. It is easy to get him motivated about reading when he and his family are the topic.

It is helping with his spoken language too. Today he said "I see." It was amazing!

Right now he is matching words, so learning by sight. It is working! He knows what the words mean, if I say, "Give me Tiago", for example, he can choose correctly from a large group of words.

This book is about school. He also has books made for him on the topics of sports and food.

Here is a clip about Gigi's Playhouse. At 1:44 you can see a picture of Phoenix from when he was 1 year old posted outside the Playhouse. At 3:16 you can hear more about the literacy program.

SO PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING TO GIGI'S PLAYHOUSE by attending the Gala in February and donating to TEAM PHOENIX for the 5K in June! Or any other time of the year. 2011 calendars are also sale.

There are still kids who want to learn to read but don't have a tutor. Donate your time as a literacy tutor.
Training is provided and sessions run about 1 hour every other week. Email

Thank you for reading this, for supporting our cause and seeing the full potential in people with Down Syndrome.