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 +!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fen Favs in Google Slides & more Google Tools!

I've seen and made a ton of how-tos for Google. However, I often find myself asking - what are others' favs? What are the selling points for Google? So, with that in mind, I'm starting a series of short Google Slides with my favs and the favs of my teachers. Feel free to comment with your favs. I would love a collection of ideas that are easy to find and easily searchable. Because, unfortunately, it's also easy to get lost and overwhelmed in ideas.

So, let's start with Slides - here are my favs and my staff's favs. What are yours?


Here are some of my other favs - What are yours?


Docs



Forms



Google +



Sheets




Let's see if we can make an easy-to-access resource for others to find new ideas that are easy to implement and easy to revolutionize!

Check out Fennovation.org for more Google-icious information. Respond to this post with your favorite ideas for Google Slides & Sheets!



Friday, November 21, 2014

Hour of Code - why do it?

There is a lot of buzz surrounding coding in schools right now. If you mention coding, I'm sure you will generate a lot of attention.

However, before moving down the path, I think it's crucial to ask yourself "why?" Why is coding important? Why does everyone want to code? Is coding just the new buzzword? Well, yes - it is. But, it can be more than a buzzword.

It's important to know why you're jumping on the coding train. Because of it's new popularity and support from several high profile names, it can become something people just do. For instance, I have encountered several educators this year who are now pushing the Hour of Code and code in the classroom because of its fame but not because they know or understand the need.

And, as a result, we have classrooms where coding is separate, where coding is this fun extra activity, where coding is an addition. Rather, coding should be pushed for it's value; for what we know it does: encourage logic.

Logic is a way of thought that is difficult to teach. However, coding can be implemented in any curriculum to help with this understanding. Logic is a skill everyone needs.

So, I urge you - do join in on the coding momentum because coding is logic and logic is a way of thinking we all need to be skilled at. However, don't join in the coding movement simply because "everyone else is." This only separates coding from being an integral part of the classroom. We need to know and understand why it's necessary.

In honor of Hour of Code, the two clubs I sponsor at my high school, Girls Who Code and Warrior Tech, will be sponsoring a week of activities including an introductory session and a mentoring session. Rather than simply engaging in the games - because everyone is doing it - these activities (all still part of the Hour of Code) have purpose behind them - teaching logic and mentorship. Our students will assist other students in completing the activities to shed light on their clubs as well as our Computer Science classes. Our students will also assist students at an area elementary school in completing the hour of code. By doing this, students see a purpose and a connection.

Your challenge: when completing the Hour of Code, give it purpose and continuance. Don't let it just be an "hour," but, rather, use the Hour of Code to bring it into the classroom full-time.

Curious what we're doing? See our activities below and read about them here.




Thursday, November 13, 2014

GEG Lesson Plan - afterthoughts



Earlier this week, several chapters of GEG Texas led a pilot of Google's Lesson Plan Jam with 30 educators in Google's Austin offices. In the planning process, we weren't entirely for sure of the outcome, but that's the beauty in it. It's great to not have a known outcome and to let learning guide the day. At the end of it, I was surrounded by 30 educators determined to make a difference for their students for 8 hours. And, what more could a girl ask for?



Other than, perhaps, Chrome cookies! 


The day was full of pods of innovation, connected in the context of one room. 


And a team of MCs with a passion for creativity and learning. 


Wait! And, more Chrome cookies. 


The day started off with discussing current frustrations in the classroom via sticky notes. Problems ranged from frustrations on document naming conventions to a lack of admin involvement in PD. 



And, after a brief tour of the Google Austin offices, educators were sent back to develop unit plans - either as a group - or individually met to innovate or target those problems.


3-4 educators were paired with a subject-area lead learner who helped pair the technological leader with the content expert. 


The pairing led to a room of inspired educators.




 With great collaboration not just on technology, but in person and on drawing boards. Sometimes, there is no substitute. 

 

Like teachers presenting to teachers their ideas through Demo Slams and project share-outs.


Or teachers just having fun, having the time to plan and collaborate. 


Guest appearances by Google for Education. 


And a late afternoon share-out of the day's learning.

Educators have a week to complete the lessons/unit plans started at the Jam. Once completed, lessons and unit plans will go up on our GEG Lesson Plan Jam site for others to search and adapt. The goal is to share learning and ideas. And, though many educators chose to integrate GAFE into their plans, the end goal was meant to be on the students - sharing, collaborating, and innovating the existing educational wheel. 

Check out our event's Google Site for more details on the lessons submitted. 

In the meantime - how can you get involved? Join your area GEG and what not join GEG CENTX while you're at it?! Stay tuned for more events - both virtual and face-to-face - in the coming weeks. 


Who are the digital natives?

Recently, I was having a discussion about online textbooks.

Who are digital natives? Well, it's not the students.

The term "digital natives" has become part of common speech - so much so that the meaning has been lost.

According to Google's definition, it's "a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age."

In talking with teachers about online textbooks, the point was raised that many districts go online because "students are digital natives" and "students are doing everything online." And, though, I'm a proponent of most things online, I have to disagree with this assumption.

Even with my Warrior Tech students - students who run Linux on their HP Chromebooks - I would disagree that they are digital natives.

Rather - I would say that they are digital users. They are not native to this environment. Native implies they are from a place. However, students are not from the digital age. WE ARE. We are the ones who witnessed the evolution of digital tools. We are the ones who created those tools. And, we are the ones who have the foundation in it. Students have been transplanted into this digital age. Additionally, digital native implies that students must also be familiar with computers and the Internet.

However, as students born in a digital climate, they are immediately exposed to the current digital world, with little foundation in the previous digital worlds. This is where the disconnect occurs.

We make the assumption that our students know the digital history that we know, but they were not around to witness that. And, as a result, we have students coding and running systems, with little background as to why its necessary or what power it has.

We cannot make the assumption that students are digital natives until we also have proven that they are familiar with computers and the Internet. As a whole, we assume that since the first half of the digital native definition is true, the other half must be true of students. However, that is a great fallacy.

Students are brought up in a world where there are textbooks on almost any concept. However, we cannot assume that, therefore, they are familiar with the concepts in those texts. Computers and the Internet familiarity are the same. We cannot assume students know and understand it.

What are students familiar with:

  • Social Media
  • Collaboration

What are we familiar with:
  • Content
  • How the pieces fit together
We can use what students do know to help them become fluent, but we must not assume they are digital natives. 

What do you think? Where do you expect students to be now? Are they matching up to those standards?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Google Classroom - Month 3

Three months ago, my teachers took the plunge into Google Classroom and have not looked back since. There are now teachers who were not using Google Apps who now using it as a result of Google Classroom. I still have several teachers on the line on whether or not to use it and plenty not using it.

Though I don't think all teachers need to use it, I think it fulfills several basic functions like digital dropboxes that can't be overlooked. It also allows teachers and students to be mobile and to be non-device specific. With new devices entering the classrooms and businesses frequently, it's crucial to be able to operate no matter the platform.

So, I'm composed a list of frequently asked questions for why you should use Google Classroom and how you can make the migration simple. These ideas are not new. However, I've kept them concise so as not to overwhelm teachers.

Lastly, I've found that creating a Google Classroom for staff is a miracle in the making. One drawback for my teachers was that they did not know what it looked like from a student's perspective. So, why not create a faculty Google Classroom? Have teachers join as teachers (important) and then, post assignments for them. Allow them to add comments and turn in work. This is a huge eye-opener for staff!

View the complete Google Classroom Tips & Tricks below and here.


YOGA CLASSES.png

To make your classroom migration smoother

  1. STUDENT COMMENTS

Choose to either turn this feature off or educate users on this feature.
Option 1: Educate students - remind them that their name is displayed next to their post and can be
easily printed for administrative action.


Option 2: Set students to read-only viewing - With this component, students
cannot post. They can only view the teacher’s posts.


  1. GOOGLE DRIVE FOR DESKTOP

Install this or have your ITS install this for you. Since Google Classroom creates accompanying
Google Drive folders, this allows teachers and students to access their classroom files from their
desktop - perfect for when the Internet goes out.

  1. DIGITAL DROPBOX
If you use Google Classroom for no other reason than for a digital dropbox, you are still making
waves. No more worries about how to share documents and folders; Classroom does it all for you.
Assign ANY type of file for your students (even Photoshop) and allow them to upload it to classroom. Access it online or on your desktop (for those who downloaded Google Drive for Desktop).

  1. DON’T FORGET THE ABOUT SECTION

Since you cannot pin a post to the top of your stream, why not use the About section to put in links to
documents/files that students will need throughout the semester or year. By placing links in this
section, students no longer have to scroll for information.

  1. LEAVE YOUR DRIVE ALONE

The temptation is strong for some of us, but leave those Google Classroom folders alone in your
Google Drive. This is the advantage to Google Classroom - you don’t have to manage those Google Drive folders and sharing anymore. So, let Google Classroom take care of it for you. Think of of this as just a storage space. The real work happens in Google Classroom.


  1. Stay tuned for more!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day 30: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 30 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in day 1. And, today marks the end of this great blogging journey!

Today's challenge: What would you do as a teacher if you weren't afraid?

As co-organizer of EdTech Women - Austin, this is a question we ask of our members - what would they do if they weren't afraid. It's a critical question that we should all ask ourselves - students, administrators, teachers, and more.



I like to think that I take a lot of risks as an educator. In fact, my co-worker and I were talking about this the other day. When we look at our students and teachers we help, we have some who aren't afraid to press the buttons and troubleshoot. And, then, we have a section who are afraid to break something so they don't touch those buttons and, consequently, don't learn. It is this way in every industry. You have the people ready to press all of the buttons and the people who don't want to out of fear.

We need to press those buttons.

We need our teachers and our students to press those buttons.

I can't say I'm afraid to take risks. My entire teaching career has been one of risks. However, there is still more to do that I have not done. So, I guess I would say: what do I want to do? Isn't that the same thing? There should be no difference in being afraid or not being afraid.

I want to change policy. I want to change our definitions of learning and teaching. I want to walk into classrooms and see learning at all paces - not one mandated by the state. I want to see innovation happening. I want to see students and teachers pressing those buttons.

How will I do this? Gradually. I work on this every day. I try to create environments open to learning. Baby steps with teachers in the form of App-y Hours, and numerous informal learning opportunities.  Opportunities for leadership with students in the form of student tech clubs. I inundate people with learning and innovation opportunities.

What about you - what would you do if you weren't afraid? Or, better yet - what WILL you do?

This has been an awesome 30 day challenge and a great model for student blogging. Please share out and give it a try! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 29: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 29 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in Day 1.

Today's challenge: How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

I'd hope everyone's answer would be YES! Change is part of any profession - not just education. Each day, each year, each decade are not the same. Therefore, your practices should not be the same.

That said, I like to think I've a very different educator from when I first started. When I first started, I was fairly creative in the types of lessons and assignments I assigned. I loved integrating technology and I loved trying new things. However, I was also less confident and was overwhelmed by all of the demands placed upon teachers.

Part of my change is due to just advancing in a career - meeting new people, encountering new situations, and just wising up. However, other parts of my change are due to my connections.

In my first year of teaching, my principal said, "Hey, you're getting an eMINTS4ALL classroom." And, that was that. So, for the next four years, I implemented more and more as part of the program and attended training after training. It was, in those four years, that I really found a love for instructional technology and helping teachers help students. So, I switched roles.

I became a tech director.

It was in those two years that I realized I did NOT want to be just a fix-it person. I had to work with teachers and students. And, I realized I wanted to influence change in education more than ever.

So, I became an instructional technology specialist. I'm in year three of this position now and, each day, my focus and passion narrows, causing me to adapt who I am as an educator. I used to be about the tools and now, I'm about the content driving the tools. I'm more liberal as an educator and more forgiving of students. It's hard to say exactly how I've changed, but I continue to evolve from the people I meet each day.

What about you - how have you changed? Consider reading this article and see if it changes you.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Day 28: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 28 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Today's challenge: Should technology drive curriculum or vice versa?

On first glance, I thought - well, curriculum should always be at the foundation of any educational decision. And, while it is, technology is also at the foundation.

Here's why: technology drives change in our society. Facebook was created and now, our social interactions have forever changed, calling for action in the education industry. So, in that regard, technology does drive curriculum because it creates changes in our day-to-day lives, which calls for change in education.

HOWEVER...curriculum should also drive technology or at least be the backbone. One of the common mistakes I see teachers make (and I do this myself more often than I'd like to admit) is find a cool new tool and try to force it into their curriculum. Doing it that way is just forcing technology into the curriculum. When I ask my high school Warrior Tech members how technology should be used in the classroom, they say "it shouldn't be used to just use it. It should be clean and careful." Meaning, technology should be used to help teach something you couldn't without. For instance, when I taught HS English, I was frustrated at teaching research skills to my students. They did not grasp citations nor did they ever cite their work. I stumbled upon Easy Bib and integrated into my classroom as a solution to that issue - not because I just had to use Easy Bib. See the difference? It's a fine line.

So, I guess they are kind of the same. Technology is used to help students learn. It drives change in our day-to-day lives which, as educators, we must address in the classroom. In addressing it, we may use technology to help those students. It's cyclical. You can't have one without the other. You need both technology and curriculum. And, they aren't separate. For every curriculum discussion, there needs to be those in tech-focused areas involved and vice versa.

I could go on...

What about you? Should tech drive curriculum or vice versa?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Day 27: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 27 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in Day 1.

Today's challenge: What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

During my first years of teaching, I would say, "weekends, holidays - huh?" And, I still do spend a lot of time working during them. The difference is, now, I dedicate any work I do during them to learning. For instance, I will catch up on Twitter and Google +. Learning is fun and I think weekends and holidays should be a mental break from labor. Therefore, I compromise by dedicating any work I do then to learning something new. Last weekend, I taught myself how to cartoonize myself in Photoshop. The educational value was not high, but I learned something new I can utilize at a later point.

As educators, we work, work, and then, work some more. We feel guilty when we don't do work on a week night, weekend, or holiday so, we continually take work home with us. When we don't complete it, we feel bad about it.

But...we shouldn't.

Last year, I adopted a new plan to stop the guilt and start the learning. Learning is both a great use of time and a mental break.

I thought back to my days of coaching and competitive running. When I got closer to a competition, I had fewer, more intense workouts. But, I also had active rest days. That's what educators need: active rest days. For me, those days are catching up on my social media, exploring new sites, and making myself get inspired.

What about you? What are weekends and holidays for?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Day 26: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 26 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Today's challenge: What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching?

Today's world is about the knowledge of the whole as opposed to the knowledge of the individual. That said, most of my knowledge comes from the groups I'm involved in. The more I network and the larger I make my group, the more resources I have. And, perhaps, this is the point of October, Connected Educators' Month - expanding circles. This is the most important skill I have - the ability to find information and the ability to use that information.

So, how do I expand my group? What is in my group?

1. Google + Communities. I am a member of quite a few Google + Communities between my two main Google accounts. When I have a question directly related to work, I post it to my RRISD ITS Community. When I have a more general question, I post it to any one of my Google Educator communities and, instantly, I have answers. Not only are these communities responsive and a wealth of information, they are real people and real relationships!

2. Twitter. I joined Twitter shortly after Twitter was created. However, I did not use is very much until about a year and a half ago. With Google + Communities, it made sense that I would find information in those communities. However, with Twitter, I was overwhelmed with "how do I search for information and find it?" I understood hashtags somewhat, but not how to search them. When I discovered the Chrome extension, TweetDeck, my world changed and I was instantly able to search various hashtags that were useful to me.

3. My trainer forums. I know this is not a site, but the feedback I receive is instantaneous and it is game-changing. If I have a question about using Google or some other application, I can ask and I know I will get many responses from awesome educators. It is important to have your go-to people. Even though I don't know every one personally, they are now a community to me - a learning community.

PLNs are the way to find resources. Period.

How do you get your resources? 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Day 25: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 25 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Today's challenge: The ideal collaboration between students - what would it look like?

I really enjoy seeing students collaborating without an awareness of the teacher. I like watching students collaborate because they are empowered and because they are directing their learning. When the collaboration is forced, it doesn't work.

For instance, as I am starting our Warrior Tech program for some of our high school students, I have so ideas of how I would like to see it run and I interject every so often, but mostly, I sit back and let them take charge through pointed questions. I ask them to describe what it is they want to see happen at campus and why they joined. And, I work as a note-taker, jotting down their ideas and reading them back to them.

I wish I had done this more as a teacher. In just a month of doing this, I have learned so much and we have already started to make strides - in ways I had not imagined.

Giving students the power and freedom to collaborate is the best way for students to collaborate. I know that sounds ambiguous, but there is a real difference between forced partnering of students and giving them assigned tasks and giving students questions and allowing them to break off in those questions.

When I think about, I know I dislike being paired with my co-workers to complete tasks that someone has assigned me. It feels mindless and I don't feel creative. However, when I collaborate with my peers based upon similar interests (ie. starting the Ninja Academy last year with +Brandie Cain-Heard was done from our mutual desire to bring more learning to our teachers - it was not a forced initiative, but one that we created ourselves), the "sky is the limit."

When we allow our students to do that, learning occurs.

How do you envision an ideal collaboration? 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Day 24: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 24 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed the previous 23 days, you can read more about it in day 1.

Today's challenge: Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why? (Mobile-learning, project-based learning, game-based learning, etc.)

I'm going to change up this question some as I tend not to support the word "trend." Yes, there are good elements to each of the trends listed. However, learning is not a trend. It will continue to stay as trends change. But, we can focus on the important elements of the trends:


  • Collaboration - across classes, across curriculum, across the oceans
  • Student empowerment - putting students in positions to take charge of their learning and direct their learning
  • Active learning - less sitting and more giving 
  • Real world ties - providing curriculum and content that is driven by students' real world needs. 
And, aren't these the things our mission and vision statements are always made of? So, as much as I love the idea of game-based learning and some of the other trends, I try to avoid the name and focus on the elements that are important. I've found seasoned educators are skeptical of new trends, stating "they have been around before." Therefore, it's crucial in my role to not "sell" a particular method of learning as a trend, but rather focus on the elements that are critical for our students - like the ones mentioned above.

What about you? Do any trends capture your interest or are you like me on this one?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Day 23: My blogging challenge

Welcome to day 23 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in day 1.

Today's challenge: Write about one way that you "meaningfully" involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don't yet do it, discuss one way you could get started.

I have this discussion often. Recently, we were asked if our district should be responsible for supplying access to online resources while at home. And, my dilemma is that, at the end of the day, tax payers fund our students' learning and resources. And, we are required to represent those interests. With that in mind, how do we "meaningfully" involve the community in our learning while respecting their interests (as vested taxpayers and as critical voices) and protecting our students' and teachers' interests?

For me, I love to showcase what our students are doing while giving the community an opportunity to come and share. Last year, fellow ITSs, +Krista Tyler and +Shannon Sieber and I hosted an I <3 Tech Fest for students, teachers, and community members. We set it up in a makerspace kind of environment. Beforehand, we asked students, teachers, and community members to submit ideas to share. Then, we opened it up for community members, parents, teachers, and students to attend. Though our turn-out was small, the learning that occurred was amazing. We had one community member come in and set up a table about Gamestar Mechanic while a teacher shared out Google Calendar has saved her marriage. Several students shared Scratch and projects they have done with it.

It was a great way to bring in the voice of the community, pool their knowledge, and share back. I think those three items are crucial when bringing in the community: their communal wealth of knowledge is unimaginable, but it is also important to share back the learning that occurs as they are vested parties.

What about you - how do you "meaningfully" involve the community? Here is the link to the I <3 Tech Fest that we did last year in case you want to replicate it.





Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Day 22: My blogging challenge

Welcome to day 22 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in day 1.

Today's challenge: What does your PLN look like and what does it do for your teaching?

My PLN consists of Google + (and a GAzillion communities), Twitter (and many associated Twitter chats), my GTACHI crew (Google Teacher Academy Chicago 2013), my Google Educator Group Texas, my Google Education Trainers group, my own Round Rock ISD community, the teachers on my campus, and more. In fact, my PLN grows each day. One network I'd never give up is my GTACHI friendships. I've forever changed as an educator since my GTA experience.

GTACHI 13

GTACHI 13

GTACHI 13

GTACHI 13

I've said it many times and I'll continue to say it, but the most learning I get comes from my PLN. I have been to numerous conferences in the past, but I have to learn as much at any of them as I do on a daily basis from my PLN. The benefit to the conferences is networking in order to build up my PLN more.

As a teacher, I understand it can be easy to become overwhelmed by too much information, but I also know that my PLN helps me solve problems quicker than ever and become a better educator. Therefore, it's crucial to help other educators build PLNs that matter to them and that are not burdensome. For instance, not all educators will benefit from Goolge + (even though, I feel I could not live without it). But, they may benefit from attending Twitter chats.

PLNs are about customization. There is no "one size fits all." In fact, any attempt to make all educators join a particular community or network is a disservice to them. Rather, it's important to guide them into networks that will help them advance.

What about you? What are your favorite networks and how does your PLN influence you?

Day 21: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 21 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in Day 1.

Today's challenge: Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain.

Definitely. I like to consider myself a pretty creative person so I always try to bring in creative elements into what I do. Though not all students and teachers consider themselves creative like me, I also think it's important for the teacher to be human for the teacher to bring in their unique qualities. It's in that connection and in that sharing that trust and growth happens.

When I taught High School English, I incorporated music creation, movie creation, website creation, newspaper creation, story creation and more. If it involved creating, I brought it into the classroom. Likewise, in my role working with teachers, I try to be a creative leader. I look for creative or out-of-the-box solutions to everyday problems. I believe this helps with solving those problems when traditional methods just aren't doing the trick.

From thinkjarcollective.com


What about you? What unique elements do you bring into the classroom?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Day 20: My blogging challenge

Welcome to day 20 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in Day 1.

Today's challenge: How do you curate student work or help them do it themselves?

This is where EdTech comes into play nicely. There are so many tools that serve this purpose. However, so many use this technology for the sake of creating a movie rather than for the purpose of curating. There is a difference.

Google Apps for Education is awesome at helping curate student work. If students create their work in Google Drive, Google Sites is a logical solution for curating and showcasing that work.

I also like sites like Canva and PicMonkey for creating infographics and curating data.

Blendspace is also a personal favorite for curating multimedia and showing off work. It has a great quiz and commenting feature that helps set it apart.

Audio-wise - I love Vocaroo for curating quick audio tracks as QR codes for others to access.

What about you - what are your favorite ways to curate student work?

Day 19: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 19 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in day 1.

Today's challenge: Name three powerful ways students can reflect on their learning. Discuss closely the one you use most often.


Since this blogging series is about reflecting, the first one I'll say should definitely be blogging. Writing is a great way to pull out thoughts and make an analysis of them. And, being on a blog is even better because you can have an audience if you so choose.

I'd also add to that list:

2. Teaching. The best way to truly understand something is to have to teach it to others. And, likewise, the best way to teach something is to be able to learn from students (of any age).

3. Talking/Social Media. I'm an advocate of social media for students for this reason. When used and taught appropriately, it can be an incredible tool for student voice and collaboration. Some of my students loved to talk to reflect while others liked to voice theirs quietly. With social media, students who are more quiet now have a large audience to hear their reflections and to converse with.

Since my students are now teachers, I can say the way I have them reflect most is through teaching and listening. When they are required to teach the concept, they understand it and provide more thorough questions.

What about your students - what are the three ways students can reflect and which one do you use the most often?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Day 18: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 18 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in Day 1.

Today's challenge: Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching style. For example: a "teacher is a __________."

I like to keep it simple in teaching. I think the should be about the learning.

So, to keep this short, I'd say "teaching is learning."

Simple. Each day, it's the teacher's job to learn just as it is the students' job to learn. When the learning just falls on one population's shoulders, it is the community's responsibility.

What is your metaphor? What is teaching to you?

From pyrgopriory.co.uk


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Day 17: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 17 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Today's Challenge: What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?

I think some of the most challenging issues are the ones we make ourselves that can be avoided. There are plenty of issues I see that I would love to fix, but I'll focus on issues in EdTech.

In a recent meeting with my vertical leadership team, we were asked to address how we, instructional technology specialists, can help reduce the gap between low-SES students' test scores and the general population. In my own experience, I've seen a huge disconnect in views on solutions. On one hand, we need to get equity within technology. However, on the other hand, we need to understand that technology is not a fix-all.

Right now, I'm seeing districts pouring technology into students' hands, but not also adding personnel positions to support that. Many forget that it's not innately the technology that solves the problems. Rather, it's the people who administer the technology.

In dealing with gaps between student scores, my immediate fix is to get those students more 1:1 time. Yes, better access to technology is important. But, even more important is surrounding them with more personnel support to administer that technology. Unfortunately, with that comes cost concerns.

It's not the technology that fixes things. It's the people behind the technology that fix things. We need more of both, but first, we need more trained personnel. Finding this balance is key.

What is the most challenging issue in education to you?


Day 16: My Blogging Challenge`

Welcome to day 16 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Today's Challenge: If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?

From blog.teachersfirst.com


If I could do anything, it would be to blend in. Even when I taught high school English, I had students say "well, you are just good at this naturally." Now, when I teach teachers, many think I was given super powers with technology when, the truth is, I wasn't. I'm just more willing to take chances than most. So, if I could do anything, I'd love to blend in so I don't appear like an expert. This would help me better connect with teachers and it would allow teachers to feel more confident in taking chances. Many see me now, after several years of being in the tech field, but don't see my progression from classroom teacher to instructional technology specialist. I want my teachers to know that "they can do that!"


From blog.teachersfirst.com

What about you? What super power would you like as an educator? Or, maybe - what would you like to be more of to make your teaching more effective?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Day 15: My blogging challenge

Welcome to day 15 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Today's challenge: Name three strengths you have as an educator.

This question sounds eerily familiar to my first teaching interview: "name your strengths & name your weaknesses."

Though, it's important for all of us - students, teachers, administrators - to know where our strengths are and where our weaknesses are so we can call for help. Help is one of the most underrated things I see. From teachers and students working as islands to those who know who to ask for help and who know how to share and collaborate. If I could +gazillion sharing and collaboration, I would. So, with that, I'd say my strengths as an educator are:


  1. Sharing and collaborating. I love bouncing ideas of of others and just running with ideas. That said. when I run with an idea, I enjoy having a partner in crime. 
  2. Not afraid to try. As a teacher, I loved trying new things with my students. If they flopped, they flopped. But, when they worked, it was a huge advancement. I'm working to get more of my co-workers and students to open up to failure. It's not a lonely place. And, actually, from failure, I have some of my most moving moments with students and teachers. 
  3. Patience. I will continue to help other teachers and students no matter how many struggles we endure. Patience is a hard thing to teach, but it is so important in teaching. Though, I find I'm am more patient in my work life as an educator than I am in my personal life. I'm learning to spread the patience love to my personal life. 

What are your strengths? Do you know what your weaknesses are and who to rely on in those areas? 

Day 14: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 14 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in Day 1.

Challenge: What is feedback for learning and how well do you give it to students?

Well, nowadays, my students are teachers. But, in the end, it's the students who are the ones effected. In a sense, then, I'm giving feedback to teachers so they can help students improve their learning outcomes. Quite the chain, isn't it?!

As a former classroom teacher, I know how many demands are placed on teachers daily and the list continues to increase. So, with that said, it's really important to me to focus on one objective when I meet with teachers. For example, I will meet with them one-on-one during a planning period of their choosing. During that time, I'll ask them what objectives do their students struggle to master the most. With that one objective in mind, I'll conference with them over possible solutions. If a teacher mentions that their students struggle with showing vs. telling in their writing, I might mention to them ways to use telescopic text in their lessons. I look for ways to help teachers solve problems.

At the end of the day, I want to be an aid to teachers. I want to be their second hand. I want to provide them with valuable possible solutions to classroom problems.

How do you provide feedback? What seems to work the best for you?


Curious about feedback for learning? These two sites have great and thorough information. TeachThought and ASCD.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Day 13: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 13 of my blogging challenge! In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Today's challenge: Name the top edtech tools you use on a consistent basis and rank them in terms of their perceived effectiveness.

Can I just say: Google, Google, and more Google?

It's no secret that I'm a lover of all things Google. I think it's more than just Google - it's a way of thinking that their products evoke. They encourage collaboration, creativity, and more - the things we want our students to do. So, with that disclaimer, here's a few that I love.

1. GAFE - Google Apps for Education. If you're not using it at your school district, you should. And, guess what? It's FREE! Unlimited storage in your Google Drive, email, calendars, websites, presentations, and much, much more. Plus, it has added features of creation, collaboration, etc. that I could ramble on and on about.

2. Google Classroom - Yes, this is a new one, but I've had more "bites" this year than previous years because of this simple product. It's not perfect, but it doesn't have to be. It just needs to be simple, which it is. It's helped many of my teachers transition into Google Drive with ease. It's also helped them remodel their classrooms. And, it did it so seamlessly, without being an added thing to do.

3. For learning - I can't state how much I love Google + Communities and Twitter. I've yet to go to a conference in the past few years that I was exposed to something completely new and that's because of these two networks. Join one or join both!

4. Snagit - I use this tool ALL THE TIME to take screenshots and send teachers quick tutorials. It's amazing and even better that it's a Chrome app and extension.

5. Google Forms - these are awesome tools for getting into data.

6. Blendspace - I love this as an option for creating presentations. Tackk is another Chrome App that is useful in creating presentations (see also: WeVideo, PowToon)

7. Finally...shorten.me. I use this Google Extension every day to create shortened URLS and QR codes. Teachers can put up a doc on the projector, use the extension and students can access the site with ease.

What about you - what are your favorite tools that have a meaningful impact? Oh, don't forget the built-in Google Research tool!!! 

Day 12: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 12 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Challenge: How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?

Sometimes, it's hard to believe that I stepped out of being a classroom teacher in the spring of 2010 - almost 5 years ago. Since that time, my views of education and my role has changed dramatically. It's hard to imagine what it will be in another 5 years.

Some change will be due to the environment - technology changes, students change, teachers change and...eventually, policies change. And, the other portion will be due to my own evolution as an educator.

I began as a classroom teacher interested in being creative. And, at my core, I am still that. I am always looking for ways to be a creative leader. However, in my journey as an educator, I have fought to get change to happen. Consequently, I continue to change my role in order to have a more direct impact on change. As a classroom teacher, I was frustrated that I could be creative, but the state tests still were not. And, other teachers were not also doing it. So, I transitioned into another role, hoping to make an impact.

Five years later, I'm working with a 3000-student high school campus who is very high-performing, helping teachers integrate technology and helping students be responsible with technology.

In another five years, (as of now), I'd like to have a more direct role on professional development. It's still an area of weakness for teachers. They aren't given the time for it and they aren't given quality, meaningful PD. Though, I also want to change the way policy-makers view education. So, I'm torn in a variety of directions - as is the dilemma of many educators.

A potential future classroom


When you fast forward five years, where do you envision your teaching? What do you envision happening? 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Day 11: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 11 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Challenge: What is your favorite part of the school day and why?

My favorite part of the school day is probably different from most people. Since I work at a high school, students don't start until 9:05AM and teachers don't usually roll in until around 8AM. So, I like to come in early and use that time to get prepped. When I stroll in around 7AM, I have my smoothie in hand and a nice, quiet office to work in. Since the rest of my day is filled with people and non-stop movement, having that hour in the morning to work in quiet with my smoothie is very enjoyable. It helps me get my feet rolling for the day. I'm refreshed and ready to help and assist everyone and everything.

From quotepictures.net

What about you? What's your favorite part of the school day? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Day 10: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to day 10 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Today's challenge:

Share 5 random facts about yourself:

  1. I can't blow up balloons, blow bubbles, or whistle.
  2. I'm sensitive to sounds and can't eat in complete silence
  3. I have to have my blinds fully open so I can see the world. I LOVE the outdoors
  4. I'm missing part of my pinky finger after getting it caught in a door as a child. It's a nice surprise for people when they see me.
  5. I'm a perpetual multi-tasker. I thrive on having too much to do; however, I also dream big of having nothing to do.

Share 4 random items from your bucket list:
  1. Ride in a hot air balloon over the Swiss Alps - dream big, right?
  2. Become a Google Teacher Academy lead learner!!
  3. Join the Peace Corps or a similar organization to live abroad and help others.
  4. Open my own art business/outdoors store. They combo may sound odd, but the focus would be on art in nature. I love art and I love being outside. It would be a dream to be able to devote my time to both.
Share 3 things you hope for this year - as a person or as an educator:
  1. I really would like to spend more time doing PD for teachers and working with student groups to help them build the skills to deliver PD to teachers as well. 
  2. I also hope to be able to bring back time to myself - time to do art, hike, and just enjoy the non-working hours.
  3. I hope to try to be a positive, influential person each day.
Share 2 things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator:
  1. Anytime I get together with my Ninja partners, it's usually a laugh fest with all of the puns. I love time to collaborate without constraints.
  2. Losing one of my advisory students during the summer after my first year of teaching was hard and a large dose of reality. He had just graduated high school, was a volunteer fire fighter, and was one week away from his departure date for the U.S. Navy. 

Share 1 thing you wish more people knew about you:
  1. I'm very introverted and, though I love time to collaborate and try to be a leader in all situations, I also like time to myself. I'm just also bad about saying "no." Consequently, people call on me for many tasks and, sometimes, it would be nice to be able to sit back and let others lead. That's a goal of mine for the year!
Let's here what you have to share! 


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Day 9: My Blogging Challenge

Welcome to Day 9 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what this is all about, you can read more about it in Day 1.

Challenge: Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching career that no one knows about (or may not care).

So this one's a difficult one - choosing one that may only have value to me and not to the rest of the world.

Being accepted into the Google Teacher Academy in Chicago 2013 was a huge source of achievement for me. It validated my efforts and it connected me to a group of educators who challenge me daily. However, I can't say that only has value to me or that no one knows about it. I'm pretty sure I told everyone about it. It was one of my top educational experiences of my life. Period.

However, those little things - the things that I get joy out of that I don't tell others or don't mean anything to others...

I can't provide specific examples, but I can be general - right now, it's in getting some reluctant teachers to TRY. That means a ton to me. Today, I just helped a teacher get her iPad (brand new) onto our school's network so that she could use Doceri with her class. This was a teacher who had asked her students to hand in their devices as they entered their class up until two weeks ago. So, in seeing and helping teachers take that plunge and challenge themselves, I feel accomplished. I'm sure I could list many more, but I love those moments.

A final one is being paired with some of the best co-workers. I worked hard to get to a point where I could collaborate with others. Having that opportunity to collaborate because of co-workers who love challenges, is an accomplishment. It probably is not as important to others and I don't brag about it. But, it's one of the main reasons I show up to work each day. Shout outs to +Krista Tyler and +Brandie Cain-Heard .

What are your best-kept secret accomplishments?

From: youngupstarts.com



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day 8: My Blogging Challenge

It's already day 8 of my blogging challenge. In case you missed what it's all about, you can read more in Day 1.

Today's challenge: What's in your desk drawer and what can you infer from these contents?

Well...here's my desk drawer. Or, should I say - lack of a desk drawer!

My desk on October 1, 2014


Of course, I share my Texas pride front and center. Beyond that, though, my motto is less is more. The longer I continue in education, the more clutter I get rid of. This is also similar to my belief on education - strip out the excess and go to the core of what matters: learning, sharing, communicating, creating, critical thinking. I know state tests and other higher-up-mandated policies can get in the way of this motto, but this is the one I strive for daily. I strive for it in my desk as well as in my dealing with teachers and students.

Additionally, I'm anti-excess paper. I rarely print and as a result, I don't have a need for drawers of paper and pencils. As you can see, I have my sticky note pad that I still use to jot down ideas on and place on computers for people. However, I like to mobile. I like that I can go to a teacher's room and have all of the same stuff I have in my office. And, I do this all through Chrome. I can't speak enough praise for Google and Chrome. It has change the way I educate.

There is also a stack of Dell Venues and computers to the side. Another element to my job does include "fix-its" so those often take up residence on my desk.

When I leave and arrive each day, my desk is empty except for my pictures and drawings. It helps with my no-clutter motto and the idea that each day is a fresh start.

What about your desk? What does it look like?