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.