Saturday, May 31, 2014


I admit I have a problem.  I suffer from FOMO - the fear of missing out. Not really, but sometimes it feels like it!  I know I can’t be everywhere all the time and I have to find a balance between life and work - I know all of this.  But when I get on Twitter and I see people in my PLN doing awesome things and attending great events I just want to be there with them!  

Friday night while reading through my Twitter feed and I saw a post from @Glynn_ed saying that #EdcampELA in Poway was Saturday morning and not sold out!  Well Poway only about a 7 minute drive from me and I wanted to go.  I asked my wife if she was ok with taking both of our girls to dance class so I could attend another edcamp...not reminding her I am going to #EdcampOC in two weeks :)  She said yes - but asked why I wanted to go to an ELA edcamp when I teach science and am now a technology TOSA.  I didn’t really have an answer other than my FOMO condition!

So I registered on EventBright and I was ready to attend!  I arrived a little late Saturday morning - I was trying to get the kids ready for dance to make things easier for my wife.  I sat down and immediately recognized 5 other people from my Twitter PLN - one of which is the mom of a girl in my daughter’s dance class (we were both ditching dance for edcamp)!  We were asked to chat with the people at our table and I made quick friends with @SharmilaKraft and @EUSDLeighangela  We were talking so much none of us got to the session board to put up a session! I was hoping to put up a design thinking session, but it didn't happen.  But in perfect edcamp fashion it was filled by others:

Image from @JenRoberts1

The first session I attended as Leadership Supporting Teachers with CCSS.  I learned that admin are working hard to help teachers...and teachers are working hard to help students - but we are not all really sharing our ideas.  It was very interesting to hear from people from the classroom all the way to assistant superintendents - we are all trying to do the same thing, help students succeed.

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taking a selfie between sessions!

My second session was Primary CCSS ELA.  I sat in on this session since I am a science and technology teacher.  I wanted to hear what people are doing for this monster in front of us - CCSS.  Most teachers felt they were behind because they are just not starting to get resources for Common Core, and they still need to go through them, modify them to fit their needs and teach the students!  I left this session with a great respect for all ELA teachers.

Session three was about Writing (I can’ remember the exact title).  I sat through it thinking that blogging would be a great tool for these teachers - but when I brought it up they let me know they don’t have the technology for the kids.  Most teachers in the room only had 1 or 2 iPads and maybe a few computers.  We talked about how they could do a class blog or try to do Google Docs to start - or even start with a paper blog.  @JenRoberts1 shared @lindayollis’s class blog and shared ideas on how they can do something similar.  Again, I left the session with a great respect for ELA teachers and how they are working hard to make students better writers!

Time for the last session of the day - Subtext (I know @HollyClarkEdu would be proud!), iPad and the Global Read Aloud.   We talked about several other great apps for students also - NewsELA, DOGO News and Tween Tribune.  Again, just another chance to meet with other teachers to hear how and why they use these tools in their classrooms.

At the end they had a modified “SLAM” session and gave away several books and prizes.  Everyone at my table won something!  But that was fine - I was there to meet people, hear what they had to say and get a better insight to the world of ELA.  A huge thank you to @Glynn_ed and @Dicarlo_edu who I know were two members of the organization team.  Overall it was a great day - and even though I had to do the dishes, make the bed and do laundry when I got home - it was worth it!  Another big thank you to Poway Unified and Midland Elementary for putting on this specialized edcamp!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A coder's paradise

I love technology - I like to use, learn, hear and use it.  I first was introduced to computers in 1987 in an 8th grade computer class.  There were 25 students with 12 Apple IIe computers (with dual floppy disk drives - remember the 5.25" floppies?) around the room.  They had the old monochrome (green) screen because color monitors were super expensive back then (people who had them also had gigantic box phones in their cars - super cool!).  My basketball coach, math and computer teacher (I went to a very small junior and high school) taught us how to write a code on the computer that would draw a line across the screen!  We were so impressed...I mean you have to typed in a bunch of code and pressed a button and a line drew across the screen - all by itself!  Amazing right?  I mean who wouldn't be hooked at that point :)

I remember buying a modem for my computer so I could go on the 'World Wide Web' and hear those magical words "You've got mail!" (go ahead and click know you want to!).  I began teaching and in my second year as a teacher finished my Masters degree in educational technology.  I have always loved computers and using them to create things like websites, videos or communicate with other people all over the place.

Well, we have all come a long way since then - and now I am a dad with two daughters (ages 4 and 6) who are digital natives.  We've all heard the term digital natives, but what does it mean really?  Well, Oxford Dictionaries defines a digital native as person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the internet from an early age.  I think anyone with kids today would agree that this definition fits all of our kids!  When I take a picture of them they ask me if I am going to put it on Facebook so the grandparents can see it.

This year I left the classroom and I now work with teachers in our district to use technology in their classroom.  As I go in to different classrooms I imagine if one of my own kids were sitting in these seats and I think about what I would want for them.  My oldest is only in 1st grade but she loves my iPad.  We have not decided to get her one of her own (though the more I see the more I can make a case for her to have one of own soon).  I don't let her use my iPad very often - I want her to draw, color, read, play outside, build forts in the living room, play at the water know, all the things kids should do without technology.  But when she does get some screen time on the iPad she starts off playing a math game...but ends up doing some sort of dress up thing (girls love princesses - and princesses need to be dressed up).

Monday night I was following #edtechchat (5-6 PST) and I saw @Kodable tweeting on the chat.  I had also seen them tweeting somewhere else last week.  So I decided to find out what Kodable is...and what I found is a great free iPad app (sorry android users).  The app helps teach young kids to write very simple code.  There is no actual "code" - kids use pictures to move a cute little member of the Fuzz family through a maze.  From the Kodable iTunes page I learned the following:

The fuzzFamily crashed their spaceship on Smeeborg and need your help to explore the planet's Technomazes. Use your finger to drag and drop instructions for your fuzzes to follow. Then hit Play to watch them roll through the maze with curiosity. BEWARE: Fuzzes are very LOGICAL and will follow every command exactly as you tell them! Get rewarded with stars, coins, and even EXTRA members of the fuzzFamily as you successfully complete mazes.

I downloaded the free version (I've never paid for an app) and started to play.  It is pretty fun!  I know my 6 year old will love it...and my 4 year old will want to play too.  I have read that preschool and kindergarten are great ages for kids to learn a new language - so why not code?

The app is listed as ages 5 and up - but like I said, I know my 4 year old is going to want to play...and will most likely be able to figure it out.  The levels do get more and more difficult as you go - but they also offer more tools as you move up (like a loop).  There is also a 27 page pdf file with lesson guides and recommended activities they will email you when you sign in as a parent or teacher.  I had to add this part from the forward of the pdf file "This book is designed to help you help them learn with the Kodable Curriculum."  Doesn't that just remind you of Jerry Maguire?!

The Pro version of Kodable is listed as $6.99 in the app store - a pretty steep price for a guy who has never bought an app in his life!  But...if my kids really take to it and start learning the logical sequence of coding - I'll probably buy it for them (and have to give up my iPad more often).  I think we can all agree that technology is not going away - and where there is tech there needs to be programmers.  So maybe in 20 years one of my daugthers will write a program that will help me everyday...or maybe they'll earn enough money to reimburse me the $6.99 :)

Friday, November 15, 2013

10 minutes?

I am a teacher - I have been for the past 16  years.  I've been at the middle school level for 10 years and in a high school for 6 years.  During that time I have tried what is new, given old strategies a new try and I have learned what works and does not work in my classroom along the way! I started my career as a high school chemistry teacher - long before "Breaking Bad" gave chem teachers some 'street cred'...and during all this time I was never a proponent of giving students homework just to give them work to do at home.

When I started teaching I wasn't very good - I'll be honest.  I lectured 2-3 times a week and we did a lab on the block day.  I would give HW nearly every night because that is what the teachers I had in high school did and that is what the teachers around me were doing.  As time went on I started to think more about what I was doing and I started to become a better and more effective teacher.  I had students working fairly hard in my classroom and I started to see that they didn't really need to do any HW as long as they were working in class.  I also realized students in my classroom had more going on after school than I did 'back in the day'.  They were on travel club teams, took music lessons, had to babysit their siblings or just about anything else you can think of - kids today are busy!  Over time my philosophy about HW has changed.  I was able to watch Waiting for Superman and I made some changes in my classroom.  I gave little to no HW, but I expected students to work hard in class.

Last week while reading my Twitter feed I came across a tweet from @jcorippo - which was actually a retweet of @TDOttowa who had 'scooped' a blog from @pernilleripp (just another example of the power of Twitter).  If you don't understand the "@" or "retweet" or "scooped" that is all fine...that is just how I ended up reading this great blog "Why the Grade x 10 Minutes for Homework is a Fail".

While reading the blog I started thinking about my 6 year old daughter who is in 1st grade.  She is a great kid and seems to love school and learning.  When she was in preschool she would tell me the things she had learned that day and she was excited to share what she had heard in a book or from her teacher.  In Kindergarten her teacher was able to keep her enthusiasm to learn at a high level and she learned to read - giving her the ability to learn more things on her own.  Over the summer between Kinder and 1st she started saying things like "I'm going to have a lot of homework in 1st grade" and "I think 1st grade is going to be hard".

I knew that she was right and I said things like "you don't want everything to be easy, if it's always easy you aren't learning anything" and "that's ok, you are a hard worker and with hard work you'll be able to figure it out".  She is now 11 weeks in to 1st grade and I asked her what she thought about 1st grade so far.  Her answer surprised me. 

She said she liked school and she was having fun...but she also said she didn't like going to school any more and she wished it was summer already.  (From an 8th grader I would understand this...but not from a 1st grader)  I asked why she wished school was over and she said something like "I used to like to go to school because it was fun, but now there is too much homework".  Of course I tried to remind her that she was working hard and doing well and I told her that I thought she actually likes the HW.  She quickly told me "I used to like HW, but it is always the same thing over and over".  She followed that up by telling me "my HW is just doing what they did in class at home".  She is only 6 years old and she understands that HW is just a repeat of what she has done in the classroom.

She goes to a great school (971 API for those of you who understand that) and I know that her teacher is awesome and doing all she can to prepare her for 2nd grade and the impending Common Core State Standards that are just around the corner.  I have felt like she has a lot of HW so I sat down and took a look at what she was doing each week.  Here is what I found...

My daughter receives a homework packet every Monday that is due the next Monday.  It is fairly simple and I always think it won't take too long.  The packet includes the following:
  • Small amount of ELA for each day (3 mins per day)
  • Book report - one page that does not have too much writing (20 mins per week)
  • Oral report - reading something and then practicing (20 mins per week)
  • CCSS Math workbook pages (5 mins per day)
  • Spelling list - 10 words that are all super easy right now (2 mins per day)
  • Optional math work in the packet (3 mins per day)
  • Reading log (at least 10 mins per day - for 7 days)

I have seen many articles and blogs stating the typical amount of HW for students should be 10 mins per day per grade level - so 10 mins per day for a 1st grader (120 mins a day for a 12th grader).  My daughter's HW adds up to 155 mins per week or 22 mins per day - double what I expected.  I hadn't really thought about it too much...but when I add it up and see 155 min per week that seems like a lot.  And realize this does not include soccer practice, AWANA (church group for K-3), soccer games on Saturdays, church on Sundays and any other family time!  My wife and I have talked about getting her back in to swim lessons, maybe signing up for gymnastics and/or piano lessons - but I'm not sure the poor kid has any time left in her week (although we just decided she is going to play softball starting in January).

So what's my take away from all of this?  Like I said, I know that she is in a great school and I truly believe that her teacher is awesome and is doing what she needs to do in order to prepare her for what is next in a 1st grader's life.  So for this year I'll continue helping my daughter with her homework and encouraging her to do her best.  I want her to love learning - and I'll try to keep that as our focus.  Hopefully as she goes through the rest of her school years she will find a balance between learning and homework.  Hopefully more teachers will realize how busy kids are and keep them working hard in the classroom so that their time at home can be a time for family and extra curricular activities rather than worksheets and busy work.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What the Gami?

Here is something you can use in your classroom for many different things!  The app is called Tellagami.  It only works on a mobile device (iPad, iPod, iPhone or android) - but the great thing is that you do not need an account, so you can share your device with students.  What it Tellagami you ask!  Well, it is an app that allows students to create a 30 second animation (very easily).  Students control the background, character and dialogue.  One of the best things is that they do not need to type everything on the device - they can  just use their own voice for the animation!

Take a look at mine (only lasts 20 seconds - and only took 3 minutes to make):

The only negative I have found with this app is how you share the "Gami" (that is what your animation is called) once you have finished.  Students have the option to save their Gami to the device, send it to Facebook or Twitter, send a text message or email a link to someone.  If they are on their own device they can easily just email the link to you.  If they are on a school (or your personal) device they can copy and paste the link of their Gami in to a Google Form or Google Site that you have created for the class.  If students have a blog site they could use the embed code to post their Gami there (just like I did!).  Or if you are using a social networking site with your class like Edmodo, My Big Campus or Moodle - or using a back channel site like - they could post the link to these sites.

I know you can find many different ways to use this in your classroom!  If you come up with some great ideas let me know - just paste the link to your (or your student's Gami) in the comments below.  I'd give you more details about the app...but honestly, you should just check it out for yourself - it is that easy!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


You do great things in your classroom - and when you can't be there because you are sick, you have family obligations or you have to be out of the room because of a district wide training - you don't want your students to "lose" that day of instruction.  Why not create a screen cast and have the substitute teacher just play your video to the students?

Or maybe your students have created a great project and they want to share it with the rest of the class, school, district or world.  You could have them create a quick screen cast and upload it to your class webpage for everyone else to view!

I have done both of these things in my classroom.  I have tried different software and web 2.0 tools - but the one I found that works the best (for free) is screencast-o-matic!  This web 2.0 tool allows you to record your screen, voice and video from your webcam for up to 15 minutes for free.  When finished you have options of saving the video file to screencast-o-matic, YouTube or to your own computer.  

Here is a 9 minute tutorial on how to use screencast-o-matic:

A few other things:
  • You can create an account and login so that when you are done with your video you can save it right to their website.  This also allows you to store your screen casts all in one place.
  • Go Pro! - for $15 a year you can add many features to your account.  Highlights include no watermark, editing features, draw and zoom, screen shots and publishing to Google Drive.

Monday, October 28, 2013

PBS Math Club

The flipped classroom - some think it is revolutionizing education while others believe it is just another education fad that will go away soon like "No Child Left Behind". Either way you see it - this website I just found will help students learn math in a fun way while at home! We may not all agree if the flipped classroom (in any of its many forms) is good or bad for students, but I think we can all agree that if students want to watch math videos on their own time...then we should encourage this in any way we know how.

PBSMath Club helps math teachers (or parents) get their students learning on their own. This is a YouTube Channel where 5 teens are hanging out and talking/teaching math. Grace, Hannah, Jazmin, Jacob and Madison give students a quick (about 5 minute) lesson on a topic - and they include an interactive quiz!

You can also use their website to get handouts and worksheets for their videos - but you will have to create an account after you view two resources (and I still am hoping that you'll go the more paperless route).

The quiz is the best part in my opinion. If students select the correct answer they are taken to another YouTube video as a reward. If the answer is incorrect the video link takes them to a quick tutorial of the concepts learned about the incorrect question.

Another great thing about PBS Math Club is that you can access these well-made videos free of charge on YouTube! The bad news is that many schools do not allow YouTube on school computers...and PBS Math Club has only created made two videos so far...but they are funded by Newman's Own Foundation and PBS so I would expect to see more in the future!

I embedded the video and quiz for "What is an Interger" below. Take a quick look and then try the quiz!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Boom! and you're published

Did you ever take a road trip when you were a kid?  Our family drives from California to Colorado twice a year!  Yes, that is 14-16 hours in the car with a 4 and 6 year old.  That is a long time in the car!  And while watching movies helps keep them entertained,  as a parent I don't want them to sit in front of a screen for that long (even if it does keep them quiet).  So we come up with games to play in the car.  We do some of the classics like I spy, guess what animal I'm thinking of and finding the alphabet on road signs.  
These games are great time killers on a long road trip, they don't really stimulate imagination or creativity in my kids.  To try and get them using their imagination more we play the "add on to the story" game.  This is where one person starts a story and then another person picks up where the first left off and adds their own part of the story.  Then it moves to the next person and so on until the story ends.  It may start off with "Once upon a time there was a princess that lived in a castle... "and end with "...they lived happily ever after"  (I have two girls) - but the middle is up to them to imagine and create as we drive.

I thought this would be an awesome thing to do in the classroom if possible.  Well, while looking around online this weekend I found a tool that makes this happen!   Admittedly this tool is probably best for elementary school aged students - but I think with some good directions and a little planning it could be used in the upper grades.  The website is Boom Writer - or @BoomWriter_ on Twitter.  
The website has a great "how-to" graphic...but here is a quick explaination.  The teacher goes in and creates an account and then adds their students in their classes within the site (as a MS and HS teacher I would not want to input all of my students in the system...but a good TA could make it work!).  There are ways to have them enter themselves in the class also if you want to go that route also.

Next you select a book beginning.  You could write your own or select from one of the many they have available on the their site.  And here is where the fun begins!  You have students read the first chapter and they write the second chapter to the book.  But wait - you don't have time to read all of the students second chapter, select the best and then tell students who had the best and why.  So Boom Writer sets this up for you!  Students go on and read other students chapters and they vote for their favorite.  I would be worried students would just vote for their friends or the "A+" student in the class.  But Boom Writer keeps the authors anonymous so you don't have to worry about those problems :)  

Once the second chapter is selected you can continue in the same way...keep going until your book is complete.  So if a student's chapter was not selected this will motivate them to write again to hopefully be voted in for chapter 3.  This just seems like a great tool and I would love to see my 1st grader get involved with this in her class.

So what happens at the end?  Well, I'm not in love with the way it ends...but there are pros and cons I suppose.  Finished books are published!  The problem is that they cost $9.99.  I did not see anywhere on their website that you can get a free book - but I suppose they do need to make money.  Again, in an elementary classroom this could be a great opportunity to have parents buy the book for their child as a keepsake.  It would be nice if Boom Writer would give the teacher a free book if 20 books were purchased - but like I said, I did not see that as an option on their website.

So anyway, I thought this was a pretty cool tool and wanted to share it with you.  I can see it being very powerful in the lower grades...allowing for creativity and critical thinking (leaving the story open so it can continue).  In the upper grades I think you could create a story for each class.  And maybe you just have them write but they do not purchase the book in the end?  

The possibilities with this are endless.  I can see two or three classes at the same site (or even better in different cities, states, countries) all in the same "class" all trying to be voted as the best next chapter.  As a science teacher I could see some sort of sci-fi book with real science facts intertwined.  History teachers could re-write history and see what changes students would allow.  Elective classes and PE could start any story they wanted and easily have students writing in their classes also!  And I think ELA teachers could figure out how to use this without any problems!

So if you give it a try let me know how it goes!  I'd love to read your story :)