Monday, November 5, 2018

Beyond the walls: passionate and connected educators

I have long advocated for breaking down the walls in instruction. We can do this both within the classroom and outside. This post is about something a bit different. This is about what it really means to be an educator, and more.

It has been months since I last posted. I did some writing as I worked on another, somewhat related, project at the start of the summer. Then, I stopped. I just stopped. I could feel something shifting and, to be honest, I got shoved way out of my comfort zone a couple of times. And then, magic started happening.

As summer came to a close and we entered the full swing of the school year, the shift continued. I jumped back into Twitter chats that I have missed for months, close to a year in some cases. I continued with the necessary shift taking place and my classroom and my students are better for it. I am better for it. Still, it was reconnecting with my PLN that really made a difference I could feel and experience in a more immediate way. When your bucket fills on a Monday night as you connect with TOSA Chat or your heart grows exponentially on a Thursday night with the DitchBook Chat, it just feels good. The more long-term changes resulting from the shift that started over the summer started giving me more tangible results as the first trimester went on. In the meantime, the short-term bucket fills and heart growth helped make the long-term things come to life as well.

So, for the first time in nearly six months, here I sit, reflecting. I planned to write about FallCUE a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, that has yet to happen. It, too, has been shifted. Let's take a look at what being an educator really means.

Stay with me here.

Teachers are Special People

We pour so much of ourselves into our classrooms and our students and our lessons. Someone recently said to me, "it takes a real passion to do what you do. Teachers have to be passionate people." If you ask a middle school teacher to describe kindergarten teachers, they will quickly say that kindergarten teachers are very special people who do extraordinary things. "I could never do it," will declare the middle school teacher. Then turn around and ask kindergarten teachers to describe middle school teachers. You will hear the same thing. "I could never do it," will declare the kindergarten teacher.

That says a lot right there. All teachers are special. All teachers are capable of doing extraordinary things. The patience demonstrated by the kindergarten teacher is quite similar to that of the middle school teacher, but the ages of the students are different and how that patience is practiced will vary.

But wait...there's more.

I am incredibly thankful for my extended PLN. In my PLN, I have  chance to connect with teachers across all grade levels, as well as TOSAs, administrators, and support staffers. I have worked in everything from SDC and resource in public schools to as a TOSA at a K-8 private school to in both small and large middle school classrooms. As such, I feel myself constantly wanting to learn more and be more and do more. My extended PLN allows me to do that. I have grown as a math and science teacher, especially, over the years. I thank my professional development opportunities for that.

But wait....there's still more.

It is about what we do outside of the classroom as much as what we do in the classroom. Who we connect with and how we learn and the extras we do will make long-term, meaningful impacts. While we may not see the ultimate impacts of the choices we make now, they will happen. And that is what has me reflecting tonight.

The Risk Effect

When I attended my second Spring CUE conference, I ventured out for the karaoke meetup. I had considered it the year before, but skipped it. This year, I was determined to go. When I attend Spring CUE, I have traveled by myself, I have stayed by myself, and I pretty much have paid my own way for every bit of it in one way or another. So, there was this CUE Karaoke thing happening in what was essentially a section of a hallway in the Renaissance Hotel. It was y second time attending the conference, so I knew faces better and I had started to connect with people on Twitter more. Still, I didn't REALLY know anyone. I texted back in forth with my best friend as I worked to select a song to sing. I don't sing well, but I love karaoke. I picked "Friends in Low Places." As I sang, I got more and more nervous, in part, because hardly anyone in the small crowd joined in with me. But, I did it. I took a risk. I did what we tell our students to do every day. Take a risk. The only failure is in not trying. Right? It sounds silly that it started with karaoke, but I was able to take things to the next level. I submitted a proposal to CapCUE's TechFest and presented there the following September. The following February, I was presenting at ETC! the education event put on by SCOE at Stan State. Less than a month later, I was back at Spring CUE and I ventured out for dinner by myself where I ended up eating dinner with a few educators from Bakersfield then we headed over to CUE Karaoke. I picked Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee." I had no expectation of anyone singing along, but I was comfortable enough with myself and the song and life in general that I didn't care. And then, it happened. People sang with me. It was super rad, great fun! It all started with a risk.

Making Connections

Getting to know our students is imperative. Connecting with them provides us insight into how they think, what motivates them, and how we can better serve them. Finding out what kind of music a student likes can provide a wealth of knowledge about that student. Just the same about other interests such as sports, other extracurricular interests, friends, and such. I used to tell students, "I don't care if you like me. I do demand that you respect me." What I have come to realize over the years that what they likely heard was "I don't care" and everything after that was lost. And, the fact of the matter is, it is important to me as an educator to make connections and know my students. The person who recently said that educators are passionate about what they do is absolutely correct. We have to be passionate about what we do and who we serve. If I see a student is struggling to accomplish a given task, I will take the time to ask how we can tackle the issue. When a student is ready to give up on a math problem, I will turn their question around and have them explain it to me. When a student feels lost, I will do everything I can to lead them and then teach them how to lead. But it goes beyond that. I have attended water polo scrimmages, football games, confirmations, graduation parties, and stage performances for past and current students. I have seen faces light up because I was present for something that was important to them. I also use "optional field trips" on weekends or holidays to connect with students and their families. We meet for hikes or movies, but this year I am branching out some. We're doing a bigger hike, farther from home, and in December, a few of us are going to see A Christmas Carol in San Francisco. I am also looking at visiting the USS Hornet later in the year.  There are many wonderful opportunities in the world to expand our learning. And I will continue to do those things as long as I possibly can, no matter how old they get, no matter how old I get.

Being "kid-people"

Educators have to be in the business of kids. I know that. Still, it amazes and impresses me when someone does something super special for a kid, especially my kid. My kids and I do a podcast that we record irregularly, but are passionate about doing. We call ourselves the EdTech Family. We share this with anyone and everyone who will listen. It is a special thing for us. We also listen to education podcasts together. Well, one at least. (I listen to most others on my own.) The Check This Out Podcast has fascinated Connor for about three years and now that we spend more time in the car together on weekdays, both kids are hooked. Recently, Connor found their website and went on to record a message for Ryan and Brian. These two amazing educators took his recording and played it then talked about it in what ended up being about a two-minute segment on their recent episode. As we listened, Connor lit up. I teared up. The entire thing was completely beautiful, and appreciated beyond words.

Side note: Ryan is one of the people who led the charge for singing along with me at that karaoke a few years ago.


So, let me wrap this all up together.

Educators are special people. They go the extra mile. When that extends beyond the classroom, magic happens. When you get shoved outside of your comfort zone and there is someone there saying, "it's all good...ready, set, go..." Magic happens. The things we do for each other as educators makes a world of difference. The things we do for our students outside of the classroom makes a world of difference. The things we do for kids whether they are our students or not, makes a world of difference. Keep writing, keep recording, keep connecting, keep shining, keep existing, keep being in the business of people, of kids, of learning. Be passionate. We educators can be, should be, and are some of the most passionate people on this beautiful planet.

And to my educator friends, I thank you for all you are and all you do. I also want to remind you that every little thing you do matters and you are constantly making a difference. If you feel pushed out of your comfort zone and you're wondering where the magic is, I assure you, it is coming. Magic is happening and the lasting impact of everything you do may not be immediately evident, but you are making lasting impacts. There are people who appreciate what you are doing. Again, I thank you.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

You are more than students, you are our kids

In November 2016, I wrote abut being the guide for my students. I wrote that I hoped for the best for my students and that they are why I do what I do. I shared that even my own children know this.

Today, as my children and I loaded into the car, I was buckling in my seven-year-old as I said, "my kids have pictures first thing this morning." She looked at me and said, "you're talking about our students, right?" "Yes," I replied. She knew. She and her brother have been students at the school where I teach since the start of this school year. She knows that they are my children and she knows that I consider my students "my kids."

Dear student,
You are more than a body in a classroom. You are more than a test score. You are one of my kids. I will look out or you. I will help you. I will guide you. My goal is not to set you up for failure, but to help you succeed. Let me guide you to success.

Ms. Remkiewicz

When I see something isn't working right, I adjust. If a timeline is too tight, I will look at it and, if necessary, change the deadline. If you need the materials to complete a task, I will make sure you have them. If you are frustrated because a costume isn't quite right, I will find you something that works. If you are cold, I will find a jacket for you. If you are hungry, I will feed you.

My students will not fail because I will not fail them. I will not fail them because they are my kids.

I am imperfect. I know this. I embrace this, in fact, each and every time I admit that I am perfect in my imperfections. However, I will always do everything I can to help a student on the road to success. I hope they know that. And, I hope they will take me up on my offer.

You need ingredients for the latest Kitchen Chemistry assignment? Tell me, Write me a list. I will provide what you need.

You are cold and can't find your jacket? Here's a sweatshirt.

You are hungry and don't have a snack today? Please, grab a cheese stick from the fridge.

You are working on a video and the app isn't working? Let's find a solution.

Your file won't upload? Let's look at it together?

You need a charger? Here, I don't use Apple products, but I bought this for you to use.

I am not setting you up for failure. I will set you up for success.

But, you do have to do your part. You have to ask. You have to be willing to accept help. You have to take your own steps. I can't walk the walk for you, but I will walk it with you.

I am preparing to send a graduation card to a student I had several years ago. He didn't need any of these guiding parts of what I do, but he appreciated every step I walked with him and he keeps in contact.

I made items available to former students so they could complete high school projects.

I will continue to do this and whatever else it takes to help students meet the successes they deserve.

My pay off?

Their learning. Their achieving. Their success. I love watching them bask in their own greatness. No material thing should ever stand in the way of a student's success. I will invest in every single one of my kids just as I would invest in my own children. Why? Because I am a teacher. I am an educator. I care. I love deeply. I guide. And, I am not alone. There are so many like me.

You are more than our students, you are our kids. I am thankful for the educators I know who live by this.

You are our tomorrow. Let us help you through today.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Up, up, up, and away...The first 24 hours at CUE18

I arrived at the Ontario Airport yesterday afternoon and grabbed my rental car so I could get myself to Palm Springs. I arrived earlier than hotel check-in, but they happily accommodated me and got me into my room. Everything has been smooth so far and for that, I am thankful.

A Groovy Kind of Love

I am thankful to once again have the opportunity to attend the Spring CUE Conference. Every year has provided a different experience for me and I knew coming into this year that this would be a unique experience in itself, and it is far more than the fact that the weather is cool and drizzly (though now the rain seems to have finished and moved on).

I very nearly decided to skip CUE this year. I've started looking at ways to reorganize my schedule and maximize my time. I want to be selective about when and where I go for PD while making sure that I am bringing back the best of everything I can for my students. If you've read my posts before, you know that I firmly believe that in making myself my best me, I will make my students their best selves as well. I love this conference, and I think I was looking for a "reason" to attend, a "sign," if you will. And then, the signs started popping up and I knew I had to be here. Matt Miller speaking at the opening keynote made me want to make the trip. Becoming part of the Central California CUE Board gave me a sense of obligation. I had made my hotel reservations last summer, so I was in good shape there. Then, I secured my slot, made my reservation for the conference. In the meantime, my class and I submitted a project idea for the 2018 Leroy Finkel Fellowship AKA Leroy's Big Idea. In February, I received notification that my idea had been selected as a finalist and now, I NEEDED to be in Palm Springs. And so, here I am.

I feel more connected this year than in previous years. The first year I attended, I came by myself. I ate by myself, I wandered the exhibition hall by myself. I slowly started talking to people, but for the most part, I was a loner. At the end of the conference, a friend met me and we spent the final evening celebrating my birthday before I returned home the next day. By the following year, I knew a few folks, but still traveled alone with the exception of my friend making part of the trip with me. We got an AirBNB and grocery shopped and settled in for the weekend. When she suddenly left after the first night, I was on my own. We did celebrate my birthday before her departure, but I spent most of the conference solo. Each year, though, I have made more contacts and worked on connecting myself with other educators from whom I can learn, but also with whom I can share. This year, I feel more myself than before. I spend time with people and take a few moments to myself.

Did I mention, I love this conference and love my CUE PLN? This year, CUE turns 40. It seems pretty groovy to be 40 and helping CUE celebrate its 40th anniversary. Of course, upon my return home, I will cruise over the line to 41.

Making connections and nurturing edu-relationships

Over the past few years, I have connected with more people. I have attended local education events and participated in education Twitter chats. Coming to CUE alone, yet feeling connected is such an awesome feeling. Dare I say, "eduawesome." It is here in Palm Springs that those relationships are nurtured and then allowed to continue to grow in other areas throughout the rest of the year. Now being a member of our local affiliate board has given me new insight to the importance of these edu-friendships. This year, I reached out to more people ahead of the conference and worked to make sure that I would connect with people once here. I am thankful I did that. My participation in the DitchBook chat (Thursday nights at 7 p.m Pacific Time) was a large part of my WHY for this year. Getting to meet Matt Miller could be seen as a "fangirl" moment, but what I realized was that I was excited to meet him for some of the same reasons I am excited to meet anyone from my PLN with whom I had not previously connected. Having these face-to-face moments with people I have collaborated with is important to me because the things we discuss, the ideas we share, and the benefit to our students are all very important matters.

Badges? We DO need stinkin' badges, trust me

For the second year, CUE is running a game where you can earn badges. Last year, I felt highly competitive and sought to WIN the game. This year, it was more about earning the badges and moving forward, connecting with people, and enjoying the conference on the whole. Let me tell you, I am not alone in enjoying gathering stickers and actually earning badges takes it to the next level. I have started digital badging in my class this year. I look forward to expanding my use of digital badges and hope to one day have stickers to go along with them. I started working on my CUE game accomplishments before I even got on the plane to come to the conference, as did others. I wrapped up a few accomplishments today and it felt good. Setting aside the competitiveness and focusing on a more well-rounded experience felt even better. I also got nurture relationships that were established last year, in part, because of this game.

If you haven't started the game yet, it's not too late. Give it a try. You may find some fun in it as well.

The second 24 hours at CUE will take me into my Leroy Finkel Fellowship presentation. I have invited as many people as I can to come check out all of the finalists and I have shared on social media. I think it will be a great afternoon and look forward to sharing it with some of my favorite people, other educators who, like me, have big ideas.

#cue18 #WeAreCUE #wheresmsrnow

Monday, March 5, 2018

Presenter feedback tips and thoughts

Dear conference and workshop attendees past, present, and future:

If you have never before presented, you may be unaware of what happens with the feedback you submit. That feedback goes to the organizers of the event, but it also goes on to the presenters. As a presenter, I assure you, I read the feedback I receive. In fact, I count on it. As I present, I am constantly looking at how certain aspects go and making mental notes. Once I have completed my presentation, I make notes on things I want to change. Many things can factor into this: reaction to certain pieces, flow of the presentation, questions asked, how different topics develop organically, and how I feel about the information I have presented. Then, once I receive feedback passed on to me from the organizers, I incorporate that into how I make adjustments to my presentations. I never have presented the same thing exactly the same as the time before because I update my presentations each time.

As a presenter, I rely on your feedback. Other presenters do as well. What I am sharing with you here, I share on behalf of presenters everywhere who have had similar experiences.

When you submit your feedback following a session, the words you say can be incredibly helpful. I welcome constructive criticism. I need it in order to be better. I want to improve. I want the things I present to you to be the best I can make them. If something works, I need to know, just as I need to know if something doesn't work. I welcome any supporting statements to your reactions that you may offer. Please tell me why something just did or didn't work for you. That will help immensely.

On the other side of this coin, though, I have found hurtful comments that do nothing to help me improve the information I bring to you nor my presentation style. If you simply write something such as "boring and uninspiring," you have successfully hurt my feelings and told me nothing of why you felt that way or how I could do better. Just the same, if you think something is "fantastic," I need to know why.

Recently, my ten-year-old son has started presenting with me. We developed "If you give a kid a camera" originally for a (future) conference that would target parents, home-school parents, and alternative educators (think independent study, for example). We based it on our experiences as the #EdTechFamily which include family experiences, lesson designs, projects he has created as a student, and student creations from my classes. When we presented this at the end of February, he was an official presenter with his own email correspondence from the event organizers. This meant that feedback would go to him too. Ladies and gentlemen, let me say again that the feedback you give goes to the presenters for review. This time, I was stunned. The email came through and mixed in with some great feedback and constructive criticism, I found some blunt, hurtful comments. The people in the room, I assume, are educators. Before you fill out those feedback forms, whether the presenter is 10 or 40 or 70, please stop and ask yourself if you would respond to a student the same way. Ask yourself if it is potentially helpful. I was able to filter what my son saw eventually and I am thankful for the help I had with that. That said, if you would not say it to a student, then probably you should rethink your phrasing.

Allow me a moment to translate the "boring and uninspiring" example from above. "This session was not what I expected and I didn't get anything useful from it because..." "Next time, try to liven things up a little more." "The son needs some more practice, but good for him for stepping out and trying to present this." "I really would like to see more (such and such)..." See the difference?

Another tip for attendees:
I subscribe to the EdCamp way of thinking. If you're in a session and it isn't working for you, then please feel free to go check out another session. Yes, I will notice that you're walking out the door, but I won't take it personally. If my session is different than you were expecting and you need something different, that's ok. I understand. Heck, I've been there. You need to get the most out of your conference and workshop experiences that you possibly can.

Be kind and thoughtful in your feedback. Do what you need to do to maximize your conference experiences. And, please remember that your feedback can potentially help make a presentation better.

Those of us who attend conferences as presenters do so to try to offer you something. We are educators, just like you. Some things work, some things do not. Tomorrow is a new day.

As the big Spring CUE Conference approaches, I hope you will take some of what I have said here to heart. I hope you have a fabulous experience in Palm Springs! If you see me there, please say hi and, if you're so inclined, let's take a selfie. I don't have any sessions this year, but I will be presenting my "big idea" on Friday afternoon as a Leroy Finkel Fellowship finalist. Come on by and check it out if you don't have another session to attend at that time.

#CUE #CCCUE #WeAreCUE #ETC2018 #IfYouGiveAKidACamera #Eduawesome #Adventure #wheresmsrnow

Sunday, February 25, 2018

"EdCamp! EdCamp! ETC!" and the hashtag effect

I've been chanting this in my head this month. EdCamp! EdCamp! ETC!

It has a nice ring to it.

February has offered some fabulous learning experiences and excellent connection-building opportunities. The shortest month of the year has been packed full of awesomeness. It kicked off with EdCamp0203 in Sacramento, CapCUE hosted the all-day event that included lunch midday. The day was full of so many good sessions, I had a difficult time choosing what to attend. The first session of the day rocked. I enjoyed collaborating with other educators as we discussed video and audio recording. We shared podcasts we enjoy and tools we use. The biggest take-away for me came from a math session in the afternoon. I still have to revisit some of the resources and see how I can incorporate them into my math instruction effectively. This year I have set my sights on focusing my learning in areas of STEAM, especially math. I have a goal of establishing a STEAM club and I am always interested in how to make my math instruction stronger with great engagement for my students. One day, I hope to get to a Bootstrap session, but that's a whole separate post for another time. The co-ordinators of EdCamp0203 did a really good job of providing collaborative resources using tools that teachers are using in their classrooms. Each session had a Padlet where we shared ideas, questions, and resources. There was a Flipgrid set up for the day where educators collaborated and shared as well. I haven't yet caught the "Flipgrid Fever" but seeing this particular application of it helped me see how it is something worth looking into more. It may be a toll I incorporate in the future, but for now I was happy to have it to use as part of my professional development.

The second Saturday of the month landed me in San Jose for another EdCamp. This one lasted for about half a day. It started with bagels and coffee provided by Panera as educators gathered, wrote their ideas on sticky notes and the session board was built. For the first time, in what seems like ages, I saw Craig Yen who I first met through attending various EdCamp events.  I missed seeing some of my favorite faces, but gave thanks for the location. Notre Dame High School provided a beautiful location that seems so full of campus life and a positive atmosphere. I took notice of inspiring notes on lockers and absorbed some of the various projects on display. Campus life appears to be strong and that helped make this smaller EdCamp event breathe a life of its own. Sessions were small and cozy with great ideas that developed through the day. Now two weeks out, I just closed the last of the Google Docs I had open from the day. We collaborated in Docs and emailed follow-ups from attendees kept the learning going.

The big event of the month came just yesterday. Every year the Stanislaus County Office of Education puts on ETC! I have greatly enjoyed his day filled with education technology learning the past few years. This year I presented for the third year in row. I brought back "Technology as the Swiss Army Knife of Education" with some updates. Interestingly, as I presented, I found that it is time for some more significant updates and I will make them then propose this one again in the near future. The other session I did was "If You Give a Kid a Camera." The cool thing was it was more than "my session." My ten-year-old Connor joined me for the second time this year in presenting it. He adds something special to the whole thing. We have a version I present solo and another version we present together. This one rocked! I look forward to building it, updating it, and continuing to present it with him. He and his sister have an idea for our EdTechFamily to present together in the future, too. I love that they love sharing ideas with educators and I hope educators are ready, willing, and able to listen. So far, so good. These kids bring such awesomeness to my life as a mom and as an educator and I enjoy seeing what they want to share with others.

The thing that makes my sessions improve with time is really quite simple. Feedback. I LOVE constructive criticism. I LOVE hearing what works. It is with feedback that I can return to what I have presented and find ways to improve it, update it, and make it what educators need. In an EdCamp format, we spend our days collaborating constantly. We share what works, what doesn't, and the why of it all. We learn because we go in and know that the smartest "person" in the room is the room itself. We have a day f give and take. We go to learn, to share, and to grow. Of course, those are also reasons we attend conferences such as ETC! The format is what varies, naturally. So, as a presenter at conferences, I anxiously await feedback. I know that I can sense certain things and that provides me with my own self-reflection and subsequent changes to what I present. However, feedback from attendees is always a significant factor. I have received straight criticism and it hurt. I found myself digging into it, trying desperately to find something constructive in it to use. I have received written high-fives. It makes me feel good, but lacks something substantial to tell me why something worked. All of that is ok, but, of course, I prefer constructive criticism. Knowing this about myself, I have worked to be more diligent in filling out feedback forms following sessions. I know that every presenter needs feedback. I have found another form of feedback that works really well.

A little over a year ago, I stumbled across the hashtag sticky notes at Dollar Tree. I instantly picked them up. And then I picked up some more. And some more. I saw them and I know that I needed them. The idea hit me instantly. "These are going with me to conferences!" I carry a couple of packs of them in my backpack. I keep them on hand for the end of sessions. It is perfect! Pull out the sticky notes, walk around the room, and ask attendees to "Hashtag this session." Anyone active on social media will know exactly what you are asking of them. Summarize it. Tell people about it. Simply. The "hashtag this session" moments provide us with instant feedback. It also tells us what the big "take-aways" were. This may be the most constructive, to the point feedback you may receive. Sometimes I run out of time for this. and that's ok.

The success or failure of my session does not ride on whether or not attendees have a chance to hashtag it for me. Connor and I added a slide to our "If You Give a Kid a Camera" session so when we get to the end, we can do this together. He hands out camera stickers while I hand out hashtag sticky notes. It works. Yesterday, it worked exceptionally well. A few folks walked out without doing it. One flat refused a hashtag. That's cool. We get it. Not everything works for everyone. But, we also received some fantastic feedback in the form of hashtags. And it gives us something real to hold in our hands, look over, and discuss afterwards. It helps us as we go back and look at what we shared, how we shared it, and how we will rework certain things. It helps us see what educators got from it and compare it to where we started when we designed the session. It's just a simple, quick, EduAwesome moment of our session time. EdCamps, conferences, and various professional development events all have their own hashtags. We develop hashtags for our sessions. It just makes good sense to have hashtags develop out of  our sessions as well.

I will eventually have to look at how to continue this after we run out of these great sticky notes, but the general idea is something I plan to hold onto for awhile and will use more in future sessions.

How do you get feedback following presenting a session? What is your preferred format? Why? Also, as a session attendee, when and how do you prefer to offer feedback?

#eduawesome #adventure

***Revisit how Hashtags Changed me Life.
Bonus share: my quick video from awhile back about why I love EdCamps.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Live from Lit Conference 2018

A STEAM review. Students watched this video then wrote their thoughts on the this STEAM project.

Reviews include:

From session one:
M.K The video showed the capabilities of the robot but did not show how the robot was put together or why the person who built the robot chose this project.

B.C I want to know how it worked.

M.U Very fascinating.

L.H Whoever must have created the robot was a total genius and pro. (Not the smart)

From session two:

E.C. I think this is interesting that a 7th grader could build and program this.

A.C. I would recommend this video for someone who wants ideas of what to make for robotics project.

V.K I want to know the resources for this project.

B.D I'd recommend this to anyone who like Rubik's cube 

M.E I would recommend this to people who want to just watch something interesting but it needs more facts like how does it work.

E.E. The video is mesmerizing. 

N.M. I wonder if the robot works for every position. The Rubik's cube was put in there in a certain position, is it programmed for just that one placement or does it work for for any random one?

Many thanks to the fabulous middle school students who contributed to this blog post.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Extracurricular or supplemental? That is the question

Once upon a time, I had a nephew. (I know, this is a bit of a strange start.)

I was in my 20s and my nephew was in elementary school. The school offered music to students. My nephew was struggling in math. The solution that the teacher and the school came up with was to take music away from him.

That has stayed with me for years. That nephew is now the same age I was at the time I watched this unfold and struggled with the idea. How would taking away music help?

Here are three things I have witnessed throughout my years as an educator:

*A student struggling in math has music taken away (as punishment, consequence, incentive, something)
*A class struggles to sit still for lessons and thus experiences a lack of Physical Education (PE) time (as a punishment, consequence, something)
*A teacher sticks so firmly on language arts instruction that there is no time for art (a consequence, of sorts)

Here's the interesting thing: all of these things fit so nicely together. Music can re-enforce math instruction and teach fractions among other things. Physical Education can help students get their wiggles out. Art can easily become incorporated into language arts. Here's a piece of art, write about what you think is happening here.

I can take it one step further. A painting portrays a group of people waiting to vote in an election and appears in a history book. Students can write a description of what they see happening in it. Or, they can choose a sub-group and write a "script" for what that small group is saying in that very moment. Boom. History, language arts, and art all rolled into one.

We are in an era where we can easily teach across the curriculum. Why aren't we doing it more?

A science lesson can tie into mathematics, language arts, history, and art. Build a bridge. You first design it. Then you write about the materials you use and why. You describe how it works. You find bridges similar to it in other points of history (example: bridges over the River Seine). Want to throw in one more area? Find paintings or photographs that incorporate similar bridges. Math is automatically built in as students measure and build the bridge.

What is a half-note? a quarter note? Oh! MATH! In music, no less.

I learned so much art, history, and literary awesomeness during my time at the arts high school between the years 1992 and 1994 that you may well be stunned. We had our academic classes in the morning then our art specific classes in the afternoon. A great deal of learning came from my experiences over the course of those two academic years. However, a great deal of learning can also come from integrating all of these things.

We need to look beyond the pacing guides. We need to look at our individual students and meet them where they are while taking them where we know can go. We can bridge students from where they are to where we want to take them. We can use various tools to get them there. If we believe in them and guide them, they can accomplish great things. This is something both we and they can never forget.

Perhaps it is time to stop thinking as some of these things as EXTRAcurricular activities and to start thinking of them as supplemental activities and bridges to eduawesomeness. They've got this because we've got them.

Taking the EdTechFamily show on the road

Last weekend, my ten-year-old and I hit the road with our "If You Give a Kid a Camera" presentation. There were moments of awesomeness, to be sure. Perhaps one of those includes a moment of great disappointment for Connor as a first-time presenter.

We packed up after school on Friday, January 12 and hit the road, traveling south on Highway 99 to reach another part of the Great Central Valley. We started by meeting four educators for dinner at a Pho restaurant in Visalia. This gave Connor the opportunity to meet some folks I knew from previous educational encounters. The four: @edcampOSjr (the one and only, Ed Campos), @CoriOrlando1 (the fabulous Cori Orlando), @dustin772 (Dustin Ellis, who I beat out by moments to win a fun competition at CUE last year), and @DougieFreshTech (Denise Douglas, who always makes me feel welcome, and like me was enjoying Pho for the Phirst time). They welcomed Connor into the fold and seemed to put him at ease ahead of the big day to follow. Back at our hotel room, we set up our Chromebooks and sat across from each other as we made some final edits and went through what we felt would be the best presentation style for this event.

Saturday morning, we woke up, saddled up, and headed out for the Tulare County Office of Education TechRodeo. We were scheduled to present during the second session which gave us a chance to settle in and gave Connor the opportunity to become more familiar with how one day education events operated. We grabbed some breakfast and coffee, networked a little bit, and then headed over to the gym for the keynote address. We stuck together for the first session and checked out Ed Campos' 360 Math ideas. We headed to our assigned room for the second session and got things set up for our presentation. Connor was anxious, excited, and ready to roll. He handed out stickers, as all good presenters seem to do (he definitely picked up on some things from my previous experiences and from the start of the day). He welcomed our one attendee. We had a couple of other people pass through and check things out throughout the hour, but I could see the disappointment in his eyes, I sensed what he felt, and I felt a great sense of pride as I watched him continue through the presentation, share his ideas, and answer questions. This kid nailed it. Later, we talked about how he was feeling. He got a great pep talk from Kyle Anderson aka @AndersonEdTech over lunch and then Connor was ready to continue through the rest of the day. I pointed out to him one very important thing. When we first started developing "If You Give a Kid a Camera," we did it in anticipation of presenting a special CUE Rockstar event designed for parents/homeschool families and independent study educators. The one person we had attend our session had recently transitioned into a role working with independent study students and expressed to me that we gave her some ideas for her role as an educator and hearing ideas from Connor gave her something to try with her grandson, as well. I was again reminded of the story of the starfish. Our presentation mattered because we positively affected an educator. Bonus: she was exactly the type of educator we had in mind when we first drew up the concept behind this. That became a huge take-away for Connor.

We bounced around some during the third session and checked out a few different things, including yearbook layout ideas from students, robotics and coding, and Google Hangouts (a personal favorite tool of mine and Connor's). Then, something huge happened. For the fourth and final session of the day, I headed into a session I was excited about with Jeremiah Ruesch @mathkaveli where I could get some new ideas for my math instruction. Connor decided to go out on his own. He went to explore Google's "secret menu" with @JoeMarquez70 (Joe Marquez). This sparked something new and even more wonderful in my co-presenter. He set up a blog and started writing. He started looking even more into the future.

At the end of the day, we headed downtown to meet up with a few of the educator folks with whom we had just spent a great day of learning. I had a chance to have some good debriefing time with them and noticed that Connor did the same. He continued to get new ideas and brainstorm for the future. He arrived home later that night, sat down at his Chromebook, and started developing a presentation of his own for a future TechRodeo event.

My big TechRodeo takeaways:
1) Students make incredible presenters both in full session presentations and in poster sessions
2) Educators are typically welcoming and encouraging individuals and this day was no different
3) My heart is full of gratitude for the way my ten-year-old was welcomed, encouraged, supported, and inspired

We expect to have a new podcast ready very soon and we are looking forward to presenting together again at ETC! at Stanislaus State on on February 24. I will also present "Technology as the Swiss-Army Knife of Education," one of my favorites to present. We make up two-thirds of the EdTechFamily and love sharing our ideas with others.

The case for Google Classroom

About two years ago, I first shared about some of the awesomeness that is Google Classroom. There are many aspects of it that I really like, of course, but two things stand out to me above all. Additionally, it is important to note that Classroom continues to make additions and modifications that improve it.

I first "met" Google Classroom at a session during the CUE Conference in 2015. At that time, you could only access Classroom if you had a school Google domain, which I did not have. So, I watched and listened and soaked in all that I could without actually digging into myself. At the subsequent West Coast Google Summit, I asked about possible plans to allow teachers who did not work at a Google domain school having access to Google Classroom. I also took back my lessons to my school and began a push for a Google Domain. By the time I returned to the CUE National Conference the following year, my school had established its own domain and my life as an educator had changed.

In fact, prior to the CUE National Conference in 2016, I had my first Google Classroom experience that changed my life as an educator. I had traveled to southern Alabama to meet with educators and to visit classrooms. While on this trip, I posted from and interacted with students from afar. One of the things I love about Google Classroom is the ability to be present from afar.

February 2016. I walked along a beach in Southern Alabama en route to a Catholic School. I took a picture of tar balls washed upon the shoreline and shared them in a post on Google Classroom. With a photo, I posted a discussion question. Students responded. Flash-forward one year and I was at a new school and using Google Classroom similarly. Flash-forward to January 2018 and, again, I was posting to communicate with students while away from the classroom. The absolute best part of Google Classroom is that it does EXACTLY what I want to do and it breaks down the walls of the physical classroom. I can monitor their interactions and mute a student who is off-topic. I can redirect students, if necessary. I can interact with students and guide them and discuss with them. This, my edu-friends, is the most important part of Classroom for me. It breaks down the walls and allows me to interact with students even when I am physically absent from the classroom. My physical absence is rare, but when it happens, it is important to me to maintain a connection with my students. Google Classroom bridges that gap. Whether I am sitting in the classroom, driving down Interstate 10, sitting in a doctor's office, or attending a conference, I can facilitate and monitor  class discussions and post assignments.

The second thing I love about Classroom is the ability it has to integrate across the curriculum. StudySync has done this especially well. Even when it isn't specifically integrated into a curriculum, I can use it facilitate student assignments. I can essentially make, create, and share handouts through an assignment or announcement on Classroom. This does amazing things. It is is not unusual for me to ask my students, "would you like me to create something on Classroom so you have a place to submit XYZ"? Even less unusual is for them to answer, "YES!" And so, I do. I can make copies of attachments from Drive for each student and/or give them editing access to an attachment. I have done this with Google Sheets in the past, for example.

Classroom has changed in the last year or so. We can now make assignments more personal, which assists in differentiated instruction and independent study. We can create assignments that push out to all students or we can select specific students for specific assignments. I used this recently when a student was out for a week in order to personalize her learning since she would miss what we were doing in the classroom. I can reach my students when and where they are. It transcends space and time (I can set up an assignment and have it post according to a schedule I set).

Perhaps the title of this blog post is more than is necessary. Perhaps I do not need to make a case for Google Classroom because you are already using it. Perhaps it would be better titled: Why I love Google Classroom. But know this, it is ever changing, ever evolving, and it is making classrooms places of success and EduAwesomeness. You can accomplish great things. Whether you're a longtime user of Classroom or hesitantly starting to check it out, you will find new and great things within Classroom. As I contemplated this blog post, what really pushed me to write it is that over the past week, I decided that Classroom is arguably my favorite (Google) teaching tool.

Last month, I had diinner with my "adult school chicas." We have all gone on to do other great things and we all four are (now) back in the classroom. We had great conversation about Google Classroom and we are now discussing the possibility of having a simple, personal training session because two of us are using it more effectively than the other two. What tips would you share? What are your favorite aspects of Google Classroom?

Do you want to take Google Classroom further? I suggest following Alice Keeler on Twitter @alicekeeler and check out her books including "50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom" and others, available on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thoughts about developing lifelong learners

I am a firm believer that every student should find something they love about school. Our job as educators is to educate rather than entertain, but that should stand in our way of making each day the best experience we can.

I know that as students grow older, they often drag themselves to school grumbling and they can find plenty of things they dislike. However, I have also seen sparks ignite in older students as learning becomes an experience.

Yesterday, I left my school a little later than I had planned, but I still found time to do a couple of things on my way to the Central California CUE Board meeting. I stopped by to drop off and pick up with the person who had checked on some things for us while we were on vacation and then, I hit the nail salon for a long-overdue polish change (so long, I had picked polish off of at least five fingers). I sat there hoping things would move along quickly and expecting to make it to my meeting on time. The place was near empty when I arrived; however, it started filling up with people needing various salon services. A woman entered with her two children. One sat with his small electronic and chilled while he waited for his mom. The daughter sat near another customer, an apparent family friend or some such, to chat while she waited for her mom. The very friendly young woman talked with the girl, making various small talk. They sat behind me, so I have no visual, only what I quietly overhear and how I envisioned what I heard.

At one point, the conversation turned to school.
"What grade are you in," inquired the woman.
"Kindergarten," replied the girl.
"Do you like it," asked the woman.
"Not really," replied the girl.

My heart sank. I heard very little of what was said next because I got lost in thought. How could a five or six-year-old not like school? Even on a bad day, both of my kids have generally liked school. I teach middle school and have heard the older student grumbles, but they still seem to like school overall. How could this young girl already be so turned off from the idea of school? In the midst of pleasant conversation, I am accustomed to young students glowing in their reviews of school. As a mom who has seen my children struggle at times, I have always heard very positive responses from them with regard to school. In fact, last night, my daughter flipped through her "First Grade Memory Book" remembering good times with friends, learning, and her teacher.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope everyone reading this is doing their best. As a teacher, I have good days and bad days. I try to keep those bad days in check and do everything I can to keep it a good day for my students. We should all be doing this. Frankly, kindergarten teachers are heroes. They do things that other cannot. They take young minds at the start of the school careers and prepare them to become lifelong learners. Folks, if we lose these kids in kindergarten, it will only get increasingly more difficult as they get older. Imagine what this poor girl may feel by the time she reaches middle school and high school. We have our work cut out for us.

I share a lot about making each day an EduAwesome Adventure. This is more than talk. This is more than a Facebook post or Tweet. This has become my philosophy as a teacher and as a mom. This is why I consider myself a TeacherMom. We need to strive to be engaging. We need to pull out our Educational Swiss Army knives and make magic happen in our classrooms. Will our students love every single day? Maybe not. But if we can build our resources, use tips from colleagues and edu-friends, teach across the curriculum, make things interesting, and work to reach each and every student, then perhaps we can potentially avoid our students sitting in a nail salon late one evening talking about not enjoying or liking school. We can do this. But we have to want it and we have to work for it.

By the way, I did make it to that meeting and it was a great one. I kept my nail salon experience in the back of my mind as we met. Now in a role where I not only have to reach my students where they are, but reach out to fellow educators, I think about these sorts of observations more and more. I am proud to be a part of an organization that builds up teachers who in turn build up lifelong learners. I am proud to be a part of something that is working to make each and every day an EduAwesome Adventure for students, teachers, parents, and the community. I am honored to have a place in this big world that is shaping things yet to come. Happy CUE Year! Now, get out there, hook your students, and do something amazing. They will remember you for it for a long time to come and their future teachers will thank you for sending along students who are engaged and ready for learning in all its forms.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Welcome 2018: turning rocks into crystals

At the start of each year, I pause and look back on the year behind. I do this as a parent, an educator, and as a person who always wants to do better and be better. I usually have it written sooner, but this year took a little longer to process through all of my thoughts. As 2017 entered its final hours, my seven-year-old daughter pulled out a crystal growing kit she had received from Santa. "Mommy, can we grow the crystals now," she asked. Perfect! Let's do it. We warmed and measured water together, then she dissolved the crystal mixture into it. Finally, after we poured the mixture into the designated "pedestal," she placed two rocks into. It was just after 9 p.m. and the instructions said that crystal growth would be seen within "a few hours." I looked at the clock, I looked at my daughter, and I said, "this year's rocks will be next year's crystals." She totally dug it. So did I.
And so it goes. As I look at the year ahead while 2017 flashes in the rearview mirror of my memory banks, I see great ways to turn rocks into crystals. Let's use the year ahead to make things sparkle and shine, using what we can bring along from the year gone by.

2017 ended with a major disappointment for me, so I think I will get it out of the way first. Excited with how my presentations have gone over the past couple of years, I felt hopeful about taking something new to the annual/national CUE conference in 2018. I submitted a proposal and coming off of the "high" from Fall CUE, I received a "thanks, but no thanks" email for spring. I actually was more disappointed than I had expected. With all of the fabulous proposals submitted from so many amazing educators, of course, not all will have a place on the schedule. Once I stepped back, put it in perspective, and took a breath, I felt much better. In fact, this is one of the rocks that I see growing into crystals in 2018.

Highlights from 2017 were many. I presented at the National CUE conference in Palm Springs for the first time in March. My ten-year-old and I continued to work on our "If You Give A Kid a Camera" presentation for other conferences and workshops. I presented three times last year on my own and it got great feedback. I presented at Fall CUE for the second time and while there got connected with the folks who were reigniting the Central California CUE affiliate and eventually was seated on the board, with my term starting November 30. Last January, I had a great, albeit small, edu-hike locally and did another with even more students in October. I have learned how to take data and combine it with my passion for incorporating innovative ideas into education to benefit my students while making me a better educator. My students created amazing ramps and derby cars for a gravitational raceway science adventure. My growth as an educator has helped my students grow as students. That's what this whole thing is about, right?! This is what we do in education. We learn, the teach, we guide, we explore, we grow so that our students can learn, teach, guide, explore, and grow.

Always embracing myself as being perfect in my imperfections, I realize that I have a lot more growth ahead. There were more rocks than I identified here, but I thin identifying that one will suffice as an example for the purposes of this blog post.

Let's start with Spring CUE 2018. At the time I received notification that I would not be presenting, I had already booked my airfare, booked my hotel, and scheduled my sub. All this really meant was that I would have take care of my registration for the conference. That is now done. Additionally, I get to go as an attendee only without the pressure of presenting. I like that. Best of all, this will be my first time attending as an affiliate board member which means there will be other work to do. We will need to host our affiliate meetup and reach out to our affiliate members. This is especially important this year as Central California CUE has not had a Spring CUE meetup in years. We have work to do. I look forward to being a part of that work and to networking with others. One last thing, I reached out to some former colleagues and encouraged them to join CUE and consider attending Spring CUE. At least one is planning to attend, which potentially gives me a roommate for the first time in my years attending. Taking that rock and growing it into amazing crystals!

My ten-year-old will present with me for the first time ever. We kick off our co-presenting of "If You Give a Kid a Camera" at the Tulare County Office of Education TechRodeo in just a little over a week. On January 13 we will spend the day together in Visalia, surrounded by awesome educators. Interested in attending? Get info HERE. This upcoming experience has also prompted us to get back to our podcasting. We have a couple of ideas and will use this week to record at least one and outline a couple of our other EdTechFamily ideas as the Voice of EduAwesomeAdventure. Stay tuned for more on that. At the end of February, we will again present together at ETC! in Stanislaus County. That same day, I will bring back my "Technology as the Swiss-Army Knife of Education" presentation, as well. Want more info on this great educational technology conference? Get info HERE.

I expect that 2018 will be a year of more writing and more podcasting and more connecting.
I expect 2018 will be a year of growing more as an educator and passing that growth onto my students.
I expect to see many crystals grow in 2018.

This post is less of a look back and more of a look ahead. In the words of Brad Paisley, "If you make the mistake of looking back too much, you aren't focused enough on the road in front of you." Just as when driving, though, we need to glance back and check our mirrors every now and then.

I start 2018 with a new Chromebook and a lens set to use with the camera on my phone. That means, I need to: write, connect, reach out, record, photograph, and I need to keep on this awesome path with my kids (including my children and my students). This year, we will grow the EduAwesome Adventure. Won't you come along with us?

What crystals will you grow in 2018? How will you grow them?