Monday, December 23, 2013

Passing on the Blogging Torch

A few weeks ago, blogger @edtechsandyk brought me into a blogging challenge. And, I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to contribute. Waiting, I thought about this same idea applied to students - how can we get them involved and connected in larger communities? Though many may contribute to blogs, are they for the greater good? Do they achieve a sense of sense of community? Recently, I’ve seen instances of students contributing to forums; however, the consensus of the forum is to attack, not to foster growth.

So, in contributing to this, I am brainstorming ways to get students involved in positive online communities. And, I’m also finding ways to make bloggers seem more human and authentic online - showing all facets of life.

Here are the rules:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they’ve been nominated.  (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
Step one was completed in the opening paragraph. So here goes step two...

11 Random Facts About Me

  1. By the time I entered college, I had attended 9 different schools (excluding Pre-K and daycares)
  2. I was a skydiver and miss it.
  3. I’ve climbed Cotopaxi, a mountain comparable to Mt. Kilimanjaro and it was the greatest physical feat of my life
  4. I’ve been an avid runner all of my life, racing in over 500 races thus far.
  5. I want to run my own art business on the side from art I’ve made.
  6. I love to travel and explore and I always have a trip planned.
  7. .If I could live anywhere, I’d live right over Central Park in New York City,
  8. I thank my third grade teacher, Mrs. Estes, for providing me with a friend and showing me the gifts I have to offer. She changed my life.
  9. I thank my college professor, Mr. Meishen, for encouraging us to create ePortfolios before they were popular. That single assignment propelled me to becoming a tech leader at my first school district and led me down the path of edtech. I thank that one assignment for my career path.
  10. I have a desire to work overseas and reconstruct failing schools.
  11. I have never worked less than two jobs at a time, but my family will always be the most important.

Answers to the Questions from the Bloggers Who Nominated Me

Here you go, Sandy! Thanks for encouraging such a positive use of blogging.

  1. Why did you start blogging?: I started blogging in 2008 to record the great stories my students and I wrote in my creative writing class. A friend had told me to keep track of them and, what better way that on a blog! In 2009, I started this blog as a way to talk about literacy in the digital age. That was the focus of my Master’s degree and I felt I had a lot to say on it.
  2. What was/is your favorite lesson to teach in the classroom?: I loved teaching searching and web evaluation strategies. I also loved teaching writing in different media. For instance, how to write in a movie context versus an email format. Now, I love getting to teach students to make ePortfolios and how to program in day-to-day classroom affairs.
  3. If education wasn't an option in any form, what would you be instead?: I would be an artist or be in the Peace Corps. I wish I had more time in a day so I could be all of these things.
  4. What was the hardest lesson you learned?: To always be myself despite what is happening around me. I think this applies in everyday life - even when others aren’t responding to your teaching, it is important to keep trying and not take it personal or get angry with them.
  5. What is your proudest moment?: Becoming a Google Certified Teacher this summer was a life-changing experience and it has changed my network and my beliefs on education. I still beam when I think about it.
  6. How do you explain your job to people?: Great question - and a difficult one! I tell people I innovate. I hate throwing out the word technology because people think of it as being separate then. I like to tell people that I work to innovate education and to bring about positive change. In effect, that’s what we all do, right?
  7. If you could send a message back to yourself 20 years ago, what would it say?: Well, I would be 9 going on 10. I would tell myself not to worry about speaking up in class. I would tell myself to take more risks in school and with my learning. I think it’s something a lot of students need to do. Too often, we’re focused on grades and afraid to try something new when it comes to learning.
  8. If you could wave a magic wand and fix one thing about the public education system, what would it be and why?: I would change our grading system and change it to reflect PBL practices. I think this is true learning and it’s authentic.
  9. If you could visit any event in recorded history, what event would you pick and why?
  10. What is the title and author of the last book you read for fun? Mr. Penubra’s 24 Book Store.
  11. What is your favorite movie?: Planes, trains, and automobiles. “Those aren’t pillows!”

11 Questions For the Bloggers I Want to Know More About

I really liked Sandy’s so I’m going to stick with them.

  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. What was/is your favorite lesson to teach in the classroom?
  3. If education wasn't an option in any form, what would you be instead?
  4. What was the hardest lesson you learned?
  5. What is your proudest moment?
  6. How do you explain your job to people?
  7. If you could send a message back to yourself 20 years ago, what would it say?
  8. If you could wave a magic wand and fix one thing about the public education system, what would it be and why?
  9. If you could visit any event in recorded history, what event would you pick and why?
  10. What is the title and author of the last book you read for fun?
  11. What is your favorite movie?

11 Bloggers I Want to Know More About

  1. Tracy Clark - @TracyClark08
  2. Kellie Arnold - @ceclillearnold
  3. Jennifer Flood - @Floodedu
  4. Margaret Roth - @teachingdaisy
  5. Lacy Bartlet - @whatifclass
  6. Greg Garner - @classroom_tech
  7. Joan Le - @beenschooled
  8. David Therilault - @davidtedu
  9. Aimee Bartis - @aimeegbartis
  10. Jo-Ann Fox - @AppEducationFox
  11. Ann DeBolt - @EdTxAnn
  12. YOU! (If you haven't been tagged yet, don't let that stop you! Write a similar post and tag some folks. Be sure to Tweet me and let me know you did it, or leave a comment below!)

Thank you, Sandy, for this great community blog!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Student empowerment

This year, I've been focused on empowering students and on making change within education through the hands of students.

Recently, we had an issue of students - highly capable of advanced computer skills - "hacking" and sharing confidential information on social media. What can we do to guide students towards using their power and skills towards a common good rather than a common "bad"? Within the same week, though, I had the privilege of touring an extremely disadvantaged school. However, the students had developed a student tech system whereby they serviced common computer problems for both teachers and students. They had a warehouse of computers, labeled with work orders, and students had their own badges. During off-blocks where our students would have been trying to break codes, these students were fixing computers and earning certifications. These programs are not new, but they are not as widespread as they should be. From GenYes to Mouse Squad, these program models are out there so why not try them?

I started an elementary-student program last year, focusing on leadership and citizenship. This year, these same students are now the tech leaders within their classes. When there is a problem, they assist the other students. The program affects more than just their computer skills. And, that is the goal, isn't it? To empower students.

Check out our student tech slam (#fnetech14), Digital Learning day, and I<3Tech Fest (#i3tech14) coming up in January and February where students get a chance to showcase their creative talents to other students - in a playdate format!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Turning Educators onto Google +

Our district opened up Google + to employees late last year. However, it has not taken off at the level I would have hoped. Instead, many of our teachers have stuck with the email method of delivering information. Some feel the organization of Google + is too chaotic while others deem it as social media and do not want to air themselves in that manner.

However, I view Google + differently than most social media. Yesterday, I had a group of teachers post after a training tools that they feel they can immediately take back to the classroom and practices they hope to keep with them. Teachers categorized their posts for our teacher tech slam. Now, teachers can go back and search.

How do we get teachers to see the power in Google +? We are a heavy-using Edmodo district and my teachers wanted to use Google + in that regard, but as elementary teachers, their students were not allowed to use Google +. So, that became a negative about Google +.

Do we view Google + as another tool/social media site or do we view it beyond that, as an opportunity to collaborate? I argue for the latter. However, collaboration and going outside a school is a concept that is only slowly growing.

Therefore, Google + is symbolic for a shift in education - a shift toward collaboration and shared classrooms. What do we need to do to facilitate that change?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Being yourself

At the end of my student teaching semester, one of the fellow teachers sent me home with a quote that has been my inspiration each day since:

"To be nobody but yourself in a world that is trying its best--night and day, to make you everybody else--means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting."-e.e. cummings
I used to think of it as being to not worry about fitting into a crowd. I thought of it as meaning to be unique and, that I did. I shared it with my students every year nearly every day, reminding them to break the mold. And, I'm glad I did. However, I think there is a deeper meaning

Think about the day-to-day: someone cuts you off on the road and it makes you enraged and act in a way that is out of character. If we held back in a situation like that, they we could say that we are being "nobody but yourself."

Think about this on a larger, social media stance, related to digital literacy and citizenship. How can we teach students to hold up to values and standards no matter what the situation and no matter what the medium?

Friday, December 13, 2013

A little bit of holiday in the hour of code

Kudos to Scratch for their easy-to-follow tutorials for students. It makes it easier to win over teachers and students into the world of coding when programming can be put into layman's terms.

Since I don't have a regular class anymore, I decided to change things up for my weekly Tech Stars (students in grades 3-5 who love technology - what's not to love, right?) Instead of working on our current project, we participated in the Scratch holiday card. Though not advanced, my students were able to leave - after 40 minutes - with a nearly finished, animated holiday card.

In the process, they learned order and procedure, if and then, plot development and more. From deciding which action needed to come first to picking out the right (or wrong) character for the setting, students mastered many of the state standards. Reason number one for bringing in code into the regular classroom.

We will continue to bring in code into our program. Now, it's time to bring in code into the regular classroom to help students with higher order thinking.

What do you think about code in the classroom?

Check out our works-in-progress (some were meant to be comical) from 4th and 5th grade students in a 40 minute class:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What do you do when students don't get it?

What do you do when students don't get it?  That was the question I was tasked with my first year of teaching in a PLC school district. Sometimes, that question was related to in-class informal assessments. However, most of the time, that question referred to when students did not master objectives on an assessment. Do you continue on as a teacher and keep that failing grade OR, do you make those select students master those objectives before moving forward?

In a traditional classroom, that is a tough battle as most classrooms have at least 30 students (in urban high schools) and classroom management is based on the idea that all students work at the same pace. There is not enough personnel and the existing structure does not always support differentiated instruction. So, what do you do?

This was the question I asked my future teachers last night. And, most did not have an answer.

So, I changed up the question - what technology exists that can help us help students who "don't get it"? And, does technology have to consist of computers or can it be something as simple as having whiteboard paint on walls and rolling chairs? What does a modern class look like?

Can we change what we deem as mastery in the class?

Questions to ponder...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Robotics for Newbies

This year, I mentored my elementary school's first ever competition robotics team to a robotics competition that we attended just two days ago.

From the beginning, our team was different. We did not cut any members. We kept all 30 students who attended practice every week, eager to learn. We also did not meet multiple times a week. We met once a week to ensure that students could still be involved in other activities, not limiting them to just one. Our team was also made up of 60% girls. And, we were all newbies. As the coach, I had never attended a robotics training, and especially never attended a competition. It was a brand new experience for me. And, as students, they were largely 3rd and 4th grade students, students who only recently learned to log in to the computer. So, to say our experience at the robotics competition was an eye-opener is an understatement. However, it did something for my students - it opened them up to a world where math and science were cool. Every one of my students - despite not winning any physical awards is ready to try it again next year - either at our elementary or at the middle school. They have ideas for how we can improve. They grew as a team. Students who had been relatively quiet stepped up and helped lead our team. Our students represented hard work, determination, and gracious professionalism.

And, though, they did not win any awards, I will continue to strive to motivate them. In some ways, it was disheartening to see the same veteran teams winning award after award while my team looked back at me with hopeful eyes, desperately wanting to take home one of the prizes. I wanted to let them know that those teams fit the stereotypical robotics image. Ours was no where near the typical team. And, our mission was never to win.

From the beginning, I kept the motto that we don't cut members and we allow all members a chance to try out all aspects of robotics. By keeping all members, it made it much more difficult to effectively compete, but, I think, it held true to what robotics should be - about getting our students excited and hooked in STEAM.

Next year, we will no longer be the newbies. However, we will continue to keep all members and we will continue to give all members a chance to lead because those are the values we deem important. Though, I wish I could have given my hopeful students a physical award, I hope they know and understand that the award is only physical evidence of something they all know. And, when they win next year, it will be that much more special.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Why code and why the big push to code?

With the hour of code coming up next week, there has been a large focus on coding in classrooms. So, why the big focus on coding? What does coding offer for students?

Regardless of any intellectual benefits, I think it is based on the concept of coding. It's about taking risks and exploring potential and problem solving. No, we will not all become professional coders. However, we can all learn from the skills involved in coding - problem solving, creative thinking, and risk-taking. It's a risk to learn something new and to try something new. It's also a risk to code because the product is not always known.

Growing up, I was a sports addict (and still am). My dad, a coach himself, believed strongly in guiding girls through sports for one reason - it taught failure. I thank him for that - for teaching me that failure happens and failure allows us to grow. I started running during a time when girls were still getting the chance to run longer distances. And, I attribute women rising to leadership roles to women being allowed in more competitive sports - it allowed them to fail and it allowed them to build relationships.

However, now girls in sports is a common thing. In fact, we guide children into a variety of activities. But, we do so in a different way. In our attempt to get more students involved, we also removed the aspect of failure. And, this has been a detriment to American students.

And, this is why coding has taken the spotlight. When coding, students do not always know the answer. They have to problem solve. And, sometimes, they go down deadends, but they have to find a new solution.

I urge you to implement "code thinking" in your classroom to encourage problem solving and, yes, to encourage failure.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Google Web Designer?

Just when you thought Google was done adding products, they release Google Web Designer (downloadable application). For all of you who wish there was more elements you could tweak in Google Sites, Google Web Designer is for you.

Unlike other Web development software, Google Web Designer is free. You can easily create CSS, Java Script, XML, and HTML files along with three different ad formats.

The best feature, though, is it's ability to do animation and 3D design. Though, I will continue to steer my teachers to Google apps platforms like Google Sites, this is great for those teachers who want to go above and beyond, creating animation and 3D effects. With Career and Technology classes, schools can utilize this free software to do animations that once cost dollars schools could not afford.

Want to read and learn more about it? Try their help page where you can download the Beta version of the application.

Monday, December 2, 2013

National Write to a Friend Month - who is your friend?

December is National Write to a Friend Month and November is National Novel Writing Month. With the focus on getting students writing, I think back to how I was introduced to writing as a child and how we can encourage literacy among students.

As a child, I lived in a variety of places around the United States, but spent several years in Missouri, where my family originates. In Missouri were my cousins and, in particular, my favorite cousin - the one closest in age to me and the one I called my partner in crime. When my family decided to move, I was upset as was she. We did not understand how we could keep in contact with the miles in between us. Therefore, my mom suggested we become pen pals. From that day on, I became a writer. I wrote to my cousin; I wrote to my grandparents; I wrote to my former classmates and teachers; and, I even wrote to President Clinton and Bill Cosby. I documented all of my letters in my very own Lisa Frank notebook. Because I wrote letters and found pen pals in them, I viewed myself as a writer. And, this is the main difference between writers and non-writers, artists and non-artists. Those who consider themselves writers have been encouraged or have found a medium of writing where they can be successful. Every student can be and is a writer. However, many struggle on getting started or think on published authors are writers.

As we reflect on National Write to a Friend Month, how can we encourage students to write and to consider all forms of writing as just that - writing? Though most students would not identify with my pen and paper pen pals, they can be connected to students across the globe through Google Hangouts, ,Google Docs./Presentations, and a variety of other products. There are many more forms than just pen and paper to be considered a writer.

Today, let's use technology to encourage reluctant writers to become writers - something we all are.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to innovate your school

Recently, I read a great article about how schools can innovate with Google's Nine Principles of Innovation. And, I'm reminded of a recent TEDx (TEDx Congress Avenue) event I attended where innovation was defined as making something new with something "old." Anyone can innovate and innovation can be done immediately. Invention, on the other hand, is making something new out of something that did not exist. And, that can take years. However, schools do not need to invent. They can, though, innovate existing systems.

And, the best part is...anyone can innovate. It does not need to come from the top-down. Why not give students the power to innovate? Why not adapt learning so students are innovating and causing innovation at a larger, higher level?

At the first school where I taught, we were pioneers in the PLC movement. And, the question we had to reflect on everyday was - what do we do when students don't get it? The truth is - that answer changed for each student. There was not a one-size fits all solution to learning. Therefore, we had students who "just didn't get it." And, the solutions needed to intervene for each student were different. Keeping it the same would have been a detriment to those students. If the end goal is learning, that should be the priority. Many teachers will agree with that, but will contend that they are still forced to give grades. So, what's stopping us from innovating? Do we have to wait for upper level education to make the change away from current assessments?

And, the most innovative schools do just that - they give power to the collective brain power of their staff and students. They give employees that "20% time" to collaborate, innovate, and create. And, they understand that change happens rapidly now. Long-term implementation plans are not relevant anymore. But, that's the beauty of innovation - it's not an invention - and it does not need to happen over 12 years. It can happen today.

Most importantly, to me - innovative schools focus heavily on collaboration and sharing ideas. Staff and students are encouraged to network. Recently, I celebrated connected educators' month, but was disappointed by the small number of my staff who participated or who could say they were connected. Connected does not have to mean being on Twitter. Connected comes in many forms. But, being connected involves seeking information and ideas outside of your circle.

And, we all must be able to fail. I love the saying - fail forward. When we fail - as all innovators do - fail forward into a new discovery.

Are you innovating?

Monday, November 25, 2013


When MySpace, yes, I said MySpace, started spreading, it became popular to have the most "friends." On the same thread, it also became important to put on a more public face for your followers. Sometimes that face was just just a cleaned up version of the real thing while, other times, it was an exaggerated version of one side of the person.

Then, when Facebook took the front stage, it, too, became a challenge to get the most friends, have the most popular status, etc.

Moving forward to Twitter: Within my personal and professional learning networks, I have elected to keep my Twitter account focused solely on my career - education. I do this so I can model the network to other teachers and showcase it as an educational tool rather than a private Miley Cyrus network. Because I only follow educators and I only have educators follow me, I expect a slightly different audience than Facebook and...MySpace. However, I've noticed that, even though the conversations are different, there is still this need to have the most followers.

Is that need there to facilitate networking and to push ideas out to the most people? Or is that need there to show a Twitter-lebrity status? I have seen a recent push-back in educators and heavy Twitter users who have found a focus on facilitating a public face rather than creating authentic connections.

Likewise, can you judge your success as an educator - or a person - by the number of retweets, favorites, likes, or +1s? How many people have you impacted (and you may not even know) who do not acknowledge your social media presence? How should we judge our larger success - through our social networking face or our day-to-day educator face?

This is a discussion I would like to have, not only with fellow educators, but with students. This is digital literacy; however, the recent focus has been on to comment and become a public face. That is important, but so is learning to be authentic and to make authentic connections.

What do you think? Can we push social media to be more authentic?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Google Online Courses & Gamification Wrapped Up into One

Recently, Google announced several online courses they would be offering as part of Google in Education. Last year, they released their searching courses - power searching and advanced power searching - which were hits and highly informative.

In looking at these courses, our district is seeking to award teachers PD credit for them. And, why wouldn't they, right? However, it raises great questions in the era of online courses and gamified PD. What constitutes a valid online course that is not from a university? Do they even have to be from universities (I'd say no)? And, does it warrant a badging system?

This year, we organized a district-run Google Summit as we have the largest group of Google Certified Trainers in one organization in the state of Texas. We decided to run it with the Ninja theme off of Jeff Utech's Google Ninja program, a program that is based around receiving badges and credit for advancing to new levels. When sharing this concept with teachers, the concept was foreign to many.

In returning to the Google Online courses - do we award credit and better yet, do we award badges for these levels? Is there a difference between awarding student badges and teacher badges? I started awarding badges to teachers at my elementary campus last year and many enjoyed it. However, I had to post the badges on their Sites and walls for them. It was not intrinsic.

So, do badges motivate educators to push further in their learning? Or are they a way for us to track their learning and categorize levels?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Future of interactive whiteboards and slates?

Last night, I taught a class of future teachers about interactive whiteboards, response systems, and interactive slates. Though most understood the benefits of response devices (from cell phones to clickers) - immediate feedback, revising lessons, adapting lessons to fit student needs - many did not see the value in interactive whiteboards.

Perhaps, that is because I have lost seeing the value in them as well. With BYOD, 1:1 initiatives, and the dawn of tablets and cell phones in all hands, it is hard to argue for a large whiteboard. It is even more difficult when many do not understand how to make them interactive - how to use them beyond just, well, a whiteboard.

When I mentioned interactive whiteboard to my future teachers last night - the age bracket that grew up with these devices - their first comment was "how is that any different that an overhead projector or markers and a board?" If they don't see the value or see how they can be interactive after witnessing them in use, are they interactive? Or, are we just not using them to their full potential? Is their hefty price tag warranted? At over $1600 a piece, the ActivBoards make it difficult for many campuses to afford. However, a Mimio Teach  runs for around $700. As a result, I have seen my district and others move away from the traditional interactive whitebaord. Outside of the Mimio, there are not interactive projectors, and apps like Doceri for the iPad that can do similar things for far, far less.

Therefore, I spend less and less time training on the IWB and more time training teachers on design thinking, problem-based learning, and challenge-based learning - styles that promote authentic learning with the help of technology.

Where do you see IWBs headed? Education Week made several great comments nearly two years ago, but yet, the discussion still continues...

Monday, November 18, 2013

TedX Congress Ave. Speaks of Failure, Moving Forward

"I don't care what it was designed to do. I care what it can do."

Quoted from the infamous Apollo 13 mission, Mark Simmons began our TedX Congress Avenue event. How many times are we limited by a product or vision because we are focused on what it is supposed to do? How many times has that stifled our creativity? How often does that happen to students?

When I taught high school English, so many of my students had a hard time beginning writing because they were too afraid to fail at it or they didn't know the correct way to start. Therefore, I would begin my spiel on how there is no "correct" way to be creative. This belief that you had to do something one way and one way only is stifling. It's what turns our child artists into non-artists. Any art teacher will tell you that we are all artists, but somewhere along the way, we are told we are not because we do something in a non-standard way or it doesn't measure up to society's standards of art. However, it is still art.

Likewise, whurley, founder of Chaotic Moon Studios in Austin, Texas said we have to create opportunities to fail. It's not about spending 8-10 years perfecting something, but trying something completely different, not begin afraid to take risks. It is the risks that get us on the Discovery Channel. It is the risks that push us forward. And, we have to understand the difference between invention and innovation. Invention may take years, but innovation doesn't need to. Innovation is taking something already out there and using it in a new way - just like the famed astronaut said: "I don't care what it was designed to do. I care what it can do."

I left TedX thinking about how creativity and "failing forward" affect education - how we drill in the correct and wrong ways of doing something. We live in a time of innovation, open access to information - should we not take advantage of this? How can we get our students, educators, administrators to take risks, to fail so they can move forward? How can we reward creativity without killing the genius, making us mad?

As I gear up for our Tech Fest, I want to find ways to fostering this creativity in students while holding them accountable.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Using technology to enhance the TEKS

Many of the teachers I work with still complain that they are not "techies" so they don't know how to do technology in the classroom. However, isn't the point of technology not to make it inaccessible, but to help teach in learn in ways that could not be done before? If that is the case, then technology needs to be accessible and the way we teach teachers and students need to change.

Should be base it on what teachers and students want to know or what we think they should know? We need to model for them the way technology should be used. But, are we doing that? I'd like to see teacher pd centered around building products to leave with - building needs assessments, building lessons, solving issues. This is meaningful and this is, ultimately, what we want of our students.

What does that PD look like? And, who wants to join me in providing relevant, hands-on training to educators and students?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What is a teacher?

Yesterday, I asked my class of future educators to think about the term "edtech" and whether the term forces those of us in the industry to be viewed as separate and not part of the education sphere.

Sadly, whether I want it to be or not, educational technology is still separate in many cases. And, I attribute that to the word technology. Many view technology as tools, fix-its, and gadgets. However, we fail to recognize that technology was once the paper press, it was the railroad, it was the telephone. Technology in itself does not mean fix-its or tools and gadgets. Rather, the common thread in technology is innovation and invention.

So, when we look at the word edtech and we substitute technology for innovation or invention, we start to get a different meaning.

And, what is education? Well, the Greek root of pedagogy means "to lead a child."

Putting that together, edtech means: to lead a child to/with innovation.

Isn't that what all educators are trying to do? If so, then how can we educate others to bring edtech under the same best practices umbrella?

Talking to future teachers and current educators, many focus on the word technology and view it as something extra, something else they have to learn that they don't have time for. However, if it was moved to being a best practice, would it still be viewed as separate?

According to John Adams, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."We need leaders to help move education forward and to re-evaluate best practices.

Monday, November 11, 2013

EdCamp ATX in Review

With over 300 registrants, EdCamp ATX was a great success, bringing the unconference PD craze to Austin, Texas. This was the first true unconference in the Austin, Texas area surprisingly.

It was full of many instructional technology and tech director folks and some teachers. However, I would still love to see more teachers coming to these events. In fact, we had a student SWAT team in the unconference because they valued the learning and wanted to bring back ideas to their teachers. That is true learning and that is what we should want from our students.

The unconference style is built upon the concept of no agenda. Learning is driven by demand. Isn't this how learning should be? Should teachers and admin dictate what learning should be or should it be student driven? Likewise, should professional development be driven by what staff developers think is needed or what educators think is needed?

I believe it is our place to guide those in their learning journey, but if we want learners to be passionate and driven to learn, it needs to come from them. They need to supply the topics and we need to narrow them down and call upon those who do it best to lead them.

On Saturday, I watched as educators supplied the topics and others - who may never have presented before - led sessions. The line between teacher and student was blended and true learning occurred. 

How can this model be taken to the classroom? Everyone had a role in the learning process and everyone walked away with new connections and experiences. Edcuation and Educational Technology were also blended together in a way that promoted best practices.

If you want to join the edcamp movement, check this out. Way to go, EdCamp ATX! (@edcampatx & #edcampatx)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Google + Community Potential

Yesterday, Google + Communities in GAFE domains gained additional possibilities - they can now be set to only domain-level viewers. Though we could have opened up Google + to our high school students, this functionality (or lack of) stopped our admin from making that decision. However, there is still the issue of students being able to see communities outside of the domain and join those communities.

On one hand, being able to connect at a students' choosing is a great freedom and learning tool. On the other hand, though, schools could be liable for any communities students choose to join that are not school-appropriate. How do you decide what community is school-appropriate and what community is not?

I am anxious for more of our teachers to join into Google + and for our students to be able to use its features. However, when we polled users after our Google Ninja Conference on Saturday, only about half said they would continue to use Google + beyond the conference. And, I think that number is higher than the true number. Why do teachers not deem this a valuable tool? Do they see it as risky or do they classify it into the same category as Facebook?

Recently, I have read some innovative examples of teachers using Google + in the classroom. For instance, one educator had students create Google + pages for literary characters. It was a place to gather information about the character as well as get into the mindset of the character. Another teacher used Google + Communities to create a virtual art gallery for his students and other classrooms around the world. What a great, authentic experience to have art galleries that students can display for the world to join, comment on, and enjoy?

If you are on the line about Google +, I recommend joining the Google world. And, you can start with the Connected Classrooms Workshop. It, too, was released yesterday. You just need to request to join (you will get an invite to the Google + community afterward). It connects classrooms around the globe and provides virtual field trips to and from the likes of solar planes and more. You can also meet a variety of educators with the same purpose and goals. I recommend taking the plunge!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Google Ninja Academy Re-cap

We finished the Google Ninja Academy with over 500 registrants from around the nation! We had over 100 sessions, demo slams, learners' playgrounds, Bloggers' cafe, Chromebook showcase, Google Sensei Bar, and more! And, after many, many hours of prep, the academy went off without any major hitches. As with any big endeavor, however, we have found ways we can improve for next year. For example, I'm already anxious to start recruiting students for a student showcase/playdate to be held within the academy. This will give students a role and a chance to show off their learning in a maker's square environment. I also want to make sessions open - without having to register for sessions. This will give it more of an unconference feel and cut down on the workload of assigning sessions. I would also like vendors to help finance the conference and donate larger prizes. In addition, this will give educators direct access to those who are making the tools they are implementing in their classrooms.

In regards to sessions, many learners felt satisfied and excited by what they learned. Though, I would like to add additional black belt and master ninja strands to accommodate our more advanced users. I would also like to better showcase our open areas and explain the belt levels.

We used Google + Communities for all of our strands. However, it was not consistent. I'd like to make this more consistent in the future so all attendees are going to the same place for information.

I was thoroughly impressed with our students and the enthusiasm throughout the day. Our photo booth was a huge hit as were the extra features we added. Food was no problem and parking was a breeze.

It is great to see educators collaborate and connect with those outside of their content groups. To me, that was the greatest takeaway from this event - educators were exposed to a true edtech conference and educators were able to learn across content and school boundary lines. This is how we need our students to learn.

You can check out our photo booth here and catch all that you missed on our Tune in Later page.

We hope to see you next year at our Google Ninja Academy!!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Google Ninja Academy tomorrow!

In April, a co-worker and I thought it would be awesome to utilize our record number of Google Certified Trainers in our school district in a productive manner - through a Google Summit. At the time, we could only envision a conference run by a school district to bring notoriety to our school district. We knew that many of our teachers had not been to a true Google conference, much less a conference feature education technology. Most had only been to conferences where there was a main keynote who lectured. We wanted to expose them to a new style of learning - a learning style they could bring back to their classroom. Therefore, we opened up the academy to outside districts, hoping to build communities of innovation rather than pockets. And, thus, the Google Ninja Academy was born.

Six months later, we are one day away from our inaugural Google Ninja Academy, stressed, but excited. We are already making plans on how to improve it and grow it for next year. Some highlights include: over 500 registrants, over 100 sessions, a demo slam, learners' playground, Chromebook lab, bloggers' cafe, Google swag, and student-produced media. We will have a photobooth to document the academy and hopefully, encourage others to attend next year. We have also created our own Yapp App for the big day. Additionally, we have our own YouTube playlist for our Hangouts On-Air (yes, we have presenters coming to us from around the nation - through Hangouts On-Air) and our other big hits. But, best of all, we have plenty of learning opportunities for all learners!

Since this is our first year, we will have much to grow on and have already received feedback on ways to grow.  Please follow us tomorrow with #ninjaacademy and our twitter handle: @rrisdgsummit.

We also have Google + Communities you can join to find our session resources, located on our Website. Follow us tomorrow as we learn together!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Google Galore!

If you didn't have the chance to watch yesterday's Google + announcement, you need to. There are many great changes coming to Google + and Hangouts shortly. Though, I am most excited about the ability to now plan Hangouts On-Air in the future. This would have come in perfect for our inaugural Google Ninja Academy this weekend. What are you post excited about? The Official Google Blog lists a summary of what was shared in the Google Hangout announcement.

Speaking of the Google Ninja Academy, we are only three days away! This is an actual Google Summit, but our school district is putting it on. We happen to have the largest number of certified Google Apps Trainers in any organization in the state of Texas. Yes, that's 14! At 500+ registrants, this academy will be an awesome place for educators to connect. Many of our teachers have not been to conferences beyond those in their subject matter. With this, we hope to cross content lines and school district lines. Success is in those authentic connections and we plan to nourish those through this conference. Equipped with a tech slam, learners' playground, Chromebook showcase, bloggers' cafe, Google Sensei bar, and over 100 sessions, it is jam-packed with learning! We will be tweeting out from @rrisdgsummit, #ninjaacademy and we hope you will follow us to encourage educators from around the state of Texas. Check our Website for video feeds after our conference.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Googleable Questions

Recently, I had my college class of future teachers creating products to use in their class with Google Apps for Education and other cool Google tools. Some created instructional activities while some created learning products. Some students had made the comment that Google Forms allow students to take the quiz or assessment at any time - better fitting the needs of the class and the students. Throughout the activities, the common question, was "well, can't a student just Google that answer or use Google to find the answer" while completing that Google Form? Well, yes they can. However, if a student can just Google the answer to a question, is it really a worthwhile question? My answer is no.

If we go back to Bloom's Taxonomy and review the levels of understanding and questioning, simple recall and search and find answers are lower on the spectrum. Students need to be able to synthesize, analyze, evaluate, and create. None of those skills should be able to be answered through a Google Search. So, when teachers or future teachers worry that answers can be found online, I say, "great!" That means they need to reformulate their questions and make them work the higher order thinking skills on Bloom's Taxonomy.

What do you think? Have you encountered this line of thought before - fear of using online materials because students can "Google" the answer?

Friday, October 25, 2013

I Love Tech Dates with Students

Jennie Magiera started the Play Date phenomenon of PD. Since then, we have been itching to offer something similar for our students. During October, the National Writing Project has been running a series of #geekouts for students. In these #geekouts, students come, they make, and they teach others how to make. Those others consist of teachers, community members, and anyone watching the GeekOuts. I really enjoy this form of learning. There is no agenda and it is built just around learning. People come to learn, to share, and to make. It blends the concept of makers' squares, Hangouts on-air, and Play Dates.

After connecting with a variety of educators and other professionals during connected educators' month, I became more adamant about getting students and parents connected. Too often, our parents are not connected. Many do not even have the knowledge of how to navigate the school's Website. Therefore, they are not able to provide support for their children. They also may not know what technologies to be using with their children - they may be fearful of using any or they may be open to any type. The spectrum is large.

So, how do we connect parents and students with teachers? We - two co-Instructional Technology Specialists - and I plan on building learning among our feeder schools. Therefore, we will bring the elementary, middle school, and high school that all feed into one another together. We will have a "what students love and love to share" area, a "what parents love and parents love to share" area, and a "what teachers love and love to share" area. These areas are flexible and learners and leaders can rotate between each. The goal is to promote learning - in its purest form.

We plan to host our first ever event on Valentine's Day to promote a LOVE for learning. More info will come later.

How do you promote a love for learning? How do you promote a love for sharing information?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

EdTech Austin Connects!

Tonight, EdTech Austin (@EdTechAustin) will be featuring a panel of educators all focusing on the topic of being a connected educator. Educators include moderators, Stephanie Cerda and Isabelle Shelton, and panelists, Jon Samuelson, George Couros, Greg Garner, and Sandy K.

This event is just one of many in EdTech Austin trying to bring connections between the EdTech industry and educators.

You can also stream live (through Business Hangouts) by registering here.

Or, you can tune in after the fact and watch it through the EdTech Austin YouTube channel.

If you have not tried out the Business Hangouts, you should! It integrates with the regular Hangouts On-Air, gives you the ability to have up to 20 registrants. Yes, attendees can register! Attendees can also raise their hands and you can send out confirmations, follow-ups, etc. It makes GHOs like WebEx or other comparable programs.

EdTech Women Austin (of which I am co-organizing) is also meeting up after the Connected Panel to discuss ways to give back to the community, ways to connect educators, and ways to get girls into EdTech. In upcoming meetups, we will focus on PBL - Passion Based Learning.

Stay tuned and join us tonight - virtually or in person! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

HIVE Learning Network and others

In light of connected educators' month, I started to think about what the goal of connecting educators is. It's connecting educators so that classrooms are connected, ideas are shared, and collective intelligence increases. However, I'm a proponent of also focusing on directly connecting students.

Yes, students connect on Facebook and other social media sites. But, are they connected by their passions? Are they connected by a larger goal? Or, are they just connected by supposed "friends." Sadly, I see a lot of the latter. How can we change that? How can we change the way students are connected to one another so that it is not just by "friends"? To me, this goes along with digital citizenship and using the power of a network to enhance the learning outcome. Rather than just focusing on connecting educators, I would like to focus on connecting students. They are our future.

Mozilla's HIVE Learning Network is one such example. They have partnered with Educator Innovator, National Writing Project, Geekouts and more to help connect students on global issues and to give students a voice of power. The HIVE NYC Learning Network has initiated a variety of topics from robotics and makers' squares to combating congressional issues. Today, the National Writing Project is organized a TweetUp in honor of digital citizenship week and Connected Educators' Month. Their goal is to have a national day of writing. What better way to connect students than through writing?

And, what about Mozilla's Web Maker? It lets students recreate the Web, connecting students on a common project.

How can you connect students? Must you be connected first yourself?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Education and Technology or just plain education?

Recently, I've had several conversations with those in the EdTech field all hovering around the same idea: education. Are we teaching teachers tools or are we showing technology to improve a learning outcome? If it is the latter, is EdTech really separate from education?

We talk about the nature of an ITS - helping integrate technology. But, how do we do that? Many of us mention sitting in planning meetings and finding a solution to the problems teachers mention. If EdTech is a solutions-based industry, are we not doing instructional design? I believe we are.

For EdTech to be successful, it needs to be education. It should not be separate. The longer it is separate, the longer it is not part of the education sphere. The longer teachers view it as "just another thing they have to learn." The longer PD needs revolve around "showing us how to use Evernote," etc. and not around "showing us the way to get all students up to par in writing." If it were the latter, Evernote could be just one tool used to solve the larger problem - writing. And, then, we would see change in education. Currently, we are facing the same problems we have faced for centuries.

How do we start changing this framework? Working from the top down or proving success at individual campuses?