Thursday, January 29, 2015

What's the best thing you do in your job? #YourEdustory

What is the best thing you do in your classroom/school/district/job? 

Education, like many professions, is full of ambiguous words. And, the words "you" and "best" are no exception to that rule. It's hard to define the BEST thing that I do in MY job. 

To start, I'll clarify that I am only as effective as my network and my students. So, it is hard to define the BEST thing that I do. But, I can say that collaborating and building up my network does bring benefits to my job, teachers, and students. 

My creativity and perseverance are, perhaps, my two most valued assets. They are what I bring to my network. My network, in turn, turns that creativity into practical solutions. Case in point - I am only as effective as my network. My creativity and perseverance are a great asset, but my network spins them into gold. 

So, what do I do? I bring in my network. 

Google Teacher Academy (GTACHI) Reunion 2014 - my best network I can bring!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How are you or is your approach different than your favorite teacher? #YourEdustory

Third grade. That was the year I became a learner. It was also a year full of challenges I would not wish upon any third-grader.

On one particularly challenging day, I was sitting alone at recess. After a humiliating lunch of sitting alone, I was ready to hide in a hole and be transported home. I desperately wanted to not be noticed. But, I noticed a shadow approaching and the slight ring of "Christy" coming my way. I looked up and there stood my teacher, Mrs. Estes. I can't say whether I was embarrassed or relieved that my teacher had broken my silence. Whatever that feeling was quickly changed when I noticed that she had two students behind her.

By the time I was in third grade, I had some clear passions that I made evident through my dress. I only wore race shirts I had earned in road (running) and track meets. My shorts were fitting of a runner. And, I only wore Nikes. I had a Nike binder, bag, shoes, shirts, and shorts. In short, they called me "Nike Queen." From Mrs. Estes' perspective, there was no doubt I LOVED running.

Mrs. Estes greeted me and introduced the two students as classmates of mine. She noted that they were interested in running road races and that I would be the perfect person to talk to. I was fearful of talking to other students. However, Mrs. Estes pinned with with a barrage of questions. Quickly, I assumed position as the leader of all things running. And, I was talking on my own to the other students.

It was after that moment that I found my identity - I was the runner. That changed over time, but it provide me a sense of pride and a safe place that I had never found before. And, for that I am forever grateful to Mrs. Estes.

So, what did she do? What made her special? Simply put - she listened and she gave me the chance to find my own passion and be an expert. Listening is one of the best skills and gifts a person can offer to another.

__________________________________________________________________________

When I  became a teacher, I set out with Mrs. Estes in mind. She was my ideal teacher and the kind of teacher I wanted to be. And, I can't say that my approach is all that different from hers. However, I am different. That is the factor we forget as we become teachers. We can mimic an approach, but we are different. We have had different life experiences and different moments of inspiration. Mrs. Estes inspired me but someone else inspired her.

So, as I have grown into my teaching shoes, I have changed. My outlook is still similar to Mrs. Estes, but because of my life experiences - because of people like Mrs. Estes - my approach has changed. I work to empower teachers and students like Mrs. Estes did, but I also work to innovate my classroom in ways others don't. And, I work to innovate it because of students who have crossed my path.

I had those moments like Mrs. Estes had with me when she taught. They changed my teaching just as I may have changed her teaching. And, gradually, I became the innovative, creative teacher. I became the artist and runner that she brought out in me.

How are you different? Share #YourEdustory


Thursday, January 15, 2015

How will you make the world a better place? #YourEdustory

I had a teacher you used to tell us to leave our classroom better than we found it. At the time, we all said, "that's not fair - the other classes left it that way." And she would always reply, "we're in this all together."

I had no idea what that meant. To our class, it seemed unfair that we would have to be responsible for making the classroom look even better. But, ten years later, when I had my own classroom, I found myself saying the same thing: "Leave this lab better than you found it!"

Why? Because we are all in this together. We are all connected. Our lives intersect constantly. We are a community.

When a community member builds a park, soon, children go out to play. And after that, play groups form, and park events develop, and members connect. And, that's how I met my very first friend. We are connected.

So, if we are all connected, how does one person make the world a better place?

One person does NOT make the world a better place.

But, a community DOES make the world a better place.

For starters, the mindset that you alone will be the one to to make this change is incorrect. You can come up with a brilliant idea to create the change, but without your followers and implementers, change will not come. So, to begin, we must begin to think of ourselves as a community. That alone will make the world a better place.

So, how will I make the world a better place?

I will not make the better place.

Instead, I will work each day to be a member of a community and to make others feel welcome in a community. When we belong somewhere, we can help.

So, we should not strive to see what we alone can do to make the world a better place, but what we can do as a group. We can all have great ideas, but if we are all leaders, we have no room for implementers and followers.

This video summarizes it for me.



I ask you - how will WE make the world a better place? I'm starting changing one negative thought at a time.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Professional Development for...teachers

We've all heard it: I don't want to be here, Why are they making us be here?, Why can't I just be in my room working, and the list goes on and on.

Professional development in education can feel like pulling teeth. On one hand, teachers are overworked and desperately need the time to work. But, on the other hand, professional development is REQUIRED by the state and it is necessary to go outside one's comfort zones.

Educational Professional Development is also a lot different than education for adult learners. I've worked with a variety of adult learners and the outcome is usually different than professional development sessions. For instance, we I assist a teacher in his/her classroom, teachers are engaged and ready. However, when I put it in a training, some teachers are readily engaged, but some are uttering the familiar why are they making us be here?

So, what is the perfect blend? At what rate will learners disagree with the training just because? And, where do we make systemic changes in professional development? Is this problem specific to education or is it in professional development in general?

We will probably never have 100% agreement on any topic, but I do believe we can have learning.

Today, I helped coordinate a professional development session called Warrior Chef, modeled after Krista Moroder's ISTE session titled, EdTech Chef. As a participant of the ISTE session, I loved it. It was not a sit-n-get. Instead, it involved partnering teachers across the curriculum and challenging teachers to create. It's different.

Most PD I have attended, I sit and work on something else. I'll admit it. I am a heavy user of Google + and Twitter so I find I learn most content-based sessions through my social networks. That's why this form of PD was entertaining to me - the content was fresh and completely-teacher driven. Last year, I organized a modified EdCamp for my teachers and it went off fairly well.

However, today's session did not feel as successful. Why?

We put in a TON of work behind the scenes creating the materials necessary to take out the legwork for 150+ teachers. Having issues with Google Spreadsheets (limit of editing users) did not help matters, but I believe the issue stemmed deeper. When we did the EdCamp, it was AFTER school was out. There was not a desire to get back and work. However, there was a desire to just go home. Perhaps this was fueled by just returning from a break and being asked to create. Or, maybe, it's because they have not been asked to create before.

I love EdCamps. They are holistic, but they do not always challenge someone to create or leave with a creation. I think that is a missing element. And, perhaps, since this is so rarely seen in professional development, educators revolt.

Thoughts on what makes professional development work for you?

I would still love to complete a Warrior Chef again. But, as I would do if I were in the classroom, I'd revise it:

1. Give back-ups to submitting projects. There is a limit of editors on Google Spreadsheets. You must take in account those who are just lurking in the documents as well.

2. Don't do it with so many people. It's great to allow everyone to present. With too many people, this opportunity goes missing. Do it on alternating staff development days.

3. Provide the training on days when grades are not due or on days other than returning or leaving for break.

4. SMILE. They are watching. And, it will make you happier too.

5. Don't let negativity stop you from focusing on the positive and from assisting those in their learning process.



What are your suggestions?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Forms and Docs just got even better

And, if you're not using some of the great new updates, you really should.

Check out some of my personal favorites below and respond with your favorite uses of them. How will you use them to innovate? How will you use them to close achievement gaps or increase engagement?

 The new & improved Google Docs:


The new & improved Google Forms:


What are your favorites and how will you use them?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hour of Code follow-up

I'm an avid supporter of coding and getting girls into STEM-related careers. However, I support it with a twist. 

While I support the activities that are specifically created for Hour of Code and I love the enthusiasm surrounding this week, it should not just be a week. In some cases, it's similar to jumping on the bandwagon. Many have joined in support of coding, but do not know why and do not have the infrastructure in place to continue it. 

Therefore, I think the focus should shift to sustaining interest. Hour of Code is awesome at generating interest, but how do we sustain interest? In working with elementary students the past few years, I gained insight into the STEM shift that occurs between elementary and middle school. In elementary, I had over half of my robotics members represented by girls. There was a focus on problem-based learning and the approach to STEM was different. It was not just "taking notes" as a 12-year old girl mentioned to me. Instead, it was collaborative and it appealed more to ALL students. 

However, in middle school, a shift in school happens and STEM becomes an area that is not as conducive to ALL learners. This is not a slam on STEM programs, but merely an observation. 

So, I ask, how can we lessen that shift? How can we still keep kids interested (not just girls) during that gap between elementary and middle school? 

And, secondly, what are the reasons to keeping kids in STEM? I have my own reasons, but what are yours? Why is it important for students to be able to code?

Before starting the Hour of Code, I think it is an important question to ask yourself - why do you students need to code? There is no perfect answer, but every person should have their opinion. 

With that in mind - our programs (Warrior Tech and Girls Who Code) focused on mentorship. Mentorship is our reason to get others into coding. 

Yesterday, several of our high school students went to a high-need elementary school and helped classrooms with several of the featured hour of code activities. When young students able to see where coding could take them (through the various high school students), there was purpose. 

Today, the clubs hosted an informal event in the library for students in all levels of computer science - from beginner to advanced. The goal was to gain exposure and give students that entry point (that is scary to many students). 

We hope to continue to reflect on the whys - why should we encourage coding, computer science, and STEM?


One of our high school students helping fifth graders get started with HOC activities. 


 Another group of high school students helping a very excited group of second graders. 



 Second grade students at their best - collaboration and teaching others. 

Our main feature high school event - an informal space for students to come and learn code from our students. 






 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Google +: a match made in heaven

Our district is and has been a fully implemented GAFE domain for sometime. We've used Google + Communities since they first started and, as a result, they have become an integral part of our learning, sharing, and growth.

Still, though, I still get a lot of push back from educators who are afraid of "Google taking over your life" with Google +. Though, I won't argue the logistics and ethics of this, I will say that you can still use social media - despite its invasion - to learn and grow. And, with school-issued Google + accounts, educators do not even need to set up a separate account or profile. It's already there!

And, don't worry about lurking - you can still lurk until or if you decide you want to share out to the Google + world.

In the meantime - in case you aren't already sold - I've listed my favorite features of Google + as well as a few favorites of my teachers.

Please respond with your favorites! I'd love to create a collection of practical uses of Google +!