Saturday, February 28, 2015

Why a Teacher?

Week 8 of the #youredustory blog challenge brings the question "What was the defining moment you decided to be a teacher?"  To me this is an interesting question because I can not think back to one moment - it was more like a series of events.

My mom was a teacher - she retired three years ago - so I grew up with a high school math teacher as a my mother.  I would always be one of the first kids dropped off at school since my mom's school started early and we didn't have anyone else to help out.  She was also the cheer adviser for a long time so I remember going to practices, games and competitions - and even now I know more cheers than I think a grown man should know!

But I don't think anything my mom did made me decide to become an educator - in fact, as a kid I wanted to be a lawyer or chiropractor.  I didn't decide to become a teacher until my third year in college.  I was a Biology major, so I was in classes with all of the pre-med students and the competition was fierce.  I held my own, but I realized then that I did not want to spend another 4 years in school with that type of student.  So I started looking in to the teaching program.

Nice farmer's tan!
At that point I started to think back to my grade school teachers and a few stood out.  There was Mr. Huff in 4th grade who made me "try-out" for the basketball team (I played ever year after and ended up as a high school coach for several years) - I don't really remember him in the classroom, but I loved that he pushed me to do more outside of class.  And many of my high school teachers - Mr. Simpson, Mr. Barbour, Mr. Booth and Mr. Webster.  The first three were also my coaches - basketball and football respectively.  And Mr. Webster was my favorite science teacher (and I eventually became a science teacher).

I can't point back to one moment in time when I said to myself that I was going to become a teacher - but with so many caring educators who took the time to teach me, coach me and mold me in to the person I am today I found my path.  Sometimes I think about all the students that I had pass through my classroom and I wonder what type of seed I may have planted for them?  Hopefully one day they will sit back and think that I had a positive impact on their future - though I may never know!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why I Do What I Do

Week 7 of the #youredustory challenge - "People don't buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it" Simon Sinek - Why do you do what you do?

As a technology coordinator I do what I do now for the teachers and the students.  I work to keep things working in our district so when a teacher has an awesome idea for a project - the technology won't be in the way...instead it will help make their work easier.

I do what I do so that when a student wants to use a device to get their work done and needs technology to do it, they can.  I would love to see a device in everyone's hand, and I do what I do to try to make that happen.

It isn't very glorious day to day - but when you see what you have done "behind the scenes" working without people knowing it in the classroom each day - it makes it all worth it!

I've always said that the technology department can never win - we the tech works, people don't think about it...but if it doesn't work it is your fault.  So I do what I do each to so teachers, students and admin don't have to think about it!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

How do you connect?

Week 6 of the #youredustory challenge brings a topic I have worked on personally over the past 3-4 years.  The prompt is "What is connected learning and WIIFM?"  Now honestly, I saw this and my first thought was - what in the world is WIIFM?  I thought maybe it was a game of some sort, you know, because of WII.  But upon further investigation I found that is stands for "What's In It For Me?"

If you would have asked me 5 years ago if I was a connected educator I would have told you yes!  I met with colleges, went to district PD (even days I didn't have to attend) and I was part of a science grant that gave me a larger group for my "connected-ness".   So yes, I thought I was connected and doing a great job.  Or was I?

In 2011 I started using Twitter (it took me a year or so to realize the power of  Twitter) and I realized I was able to connect with people around the country from my computer.  I started following other science teachers and sharing ideas, getting new lessons and discovering what others were doing in their classrooms.  Now I was connected for sure!  Or was I?

Someone introduced me to Google+ and truthfully it was not my favorite to start.  It took some time for me to find the power of G+, but once I found the communities I fell in love.  I was able to reach out to more educators who had my exact same interests, questions and passion.  We could share links, pics and ideas.  Finally - I was a connected educator!  Or was I?

Conferences - now that's the ticket!  To be connected I had to meet these people face to face and really get to know them.  I attended my local CUE event and went to annual CUE.  I became an #edcamp junkie.  I had FOMO (fear of missing out) and started signing up for webinars left and right.  I felt like I had to learn everything and be able to share what I learned with everyone.  I became a #GCT and went to Google this past summer!  So now I felt like I was connected - part of the secret family after all these years.  Or was I?

Voxer, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram - new ways to connect!  I'll spare you the details, but they are not the silver bullet either.

None of those things singularly are what makes me a connected educator.  A connected educator is someone who can find what they need when they need it.  They share what they have learned so others can learn with them.  Being connected isn't done through a website, an app or in a conference room - it is all of those things put together.  I don't like to think of WIIFM when being connected, I like to believe in the #bettertogether concept so we can all do awesome things.

So yes, get on Twitter, Google+, Voxer, attend conferences and watch webinars - but don't do it to "be connected", do it to be a better educator for the students in your room, at your school or in your district.  Being connected is no longer something we can put is a necessity for all educators (teachers, admin, counselors, coordinators, directors, superintendents) if we want to make our schools the best place for our students.

What is Learning?

I am 2 weeks late on this post - only 1 month in to the #youredustory challenge and I have fallen two weeks behind?!  The prompt for the week was "Define 'learning' in 100 words or less" and honestly, I was having a difficult time with putting together a post for this one.

Reading through other blogs that week I was inspired to do something great.  I loved the way people put their ideas together in different ways.  I kept thinking that I needed to do something similar, but I never found the time to make it great. 

So here goes - the down and dirty of what I believe learning is in 100 words (or probably less):

Learning is a process - something that starts on your first day of life and ends on your last. As children we soak up everything we can, from watching our parents, siblings and friends to hearing things in books, TV, playing games or (nowadays) in an app or on a computer.  The best way to learn is to practice, and with practice comes failure - but with perseverance comes success...and that process from failure to success is where we learn.

Only 76 words and two weeks late, but I think you get the point.  We learn through experience and failure - it may be by our selves, with a teacher or in a group - but we have to try things in order to learn things.  So, what have you failed at today?

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Time to Reflect

Week four of the #YourEduStory blog challenge brings a powerful reflection question from @MsVictoriaOlson:

"What is the best thing you do in your classroom/school/district/job?"

This is a great question for all educators to think about - whether you are a classroom teacher, a site admin or at the district office - the things you do each day make a difference in the lives of many children.  I have written about this a little in the past, feeling that my direct impact on students is not what it used to be when I was in the classroom.  In some ways I have less impact but in many other ways I have a much larger impact on many more students.

As for the best thing I do - I would have to say advocating for teachers within the technology department in my district.  As an EdTech Coordinator it is my job to keep what is best for teachers (and students) at the forefront of the decisions made in regard to our technology use and purchases.  This can get somewhat blurry at times because I may know what is ideal, but I also know the realities of budget and time constraints.  

Sure, I'd love to train every teacher in our district and help them use Google Docs in their classroom every week.  But can that be done?  That involves pulling teachers out of their classroom for training, setting a time to follow up, being in their room to help implement things if they want and making myself available for more help as they keep going.  And that doesn't even get in to the question of devices in their room - do they have any, can they get some, will they work when turned on, do the kids know how to use them, are the teachers comfortable letting the students use them, etc.

So I do what I can and work within the confines of what is currently available.  I work with a great educator - @adinasullivan - who is doing the same thing.  She is always working to find new and better ways to help the teachers in our district learn and use technology in their classroom.  We also have three TOSAs (teacher on special assignment) who are getting out in the classroom and showing teachers best practices and helping where they can each day.  So together we are working to shape the vision of technology in our district.

But with the grind of day to day work - meetings, more meetings and a meeting about the last meeting - sometimes that vision gets lost in the fray.  So I am thankful for this week's prompt to help me get back centered and focused on what I can do to help the teachers and students in my district.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Instructional Technology
Technology in the classroom - all teachers have complained about it at one point or another.  It never feel as though we have what we want in our classroom in the area of technology.  You end up comparing your classroom to someone else's or something you read on Twitter, hear on Voxer or see at an edcamp.  Maybe your projector sits on a cart in the middle of your room with wires laying on the floor or you have to work out a plan 3 weeks in advance if you want to borrow the cart of computers from the teacher down the hall.  Or maybe what would make you happy is a simple document camera in your room!

These are some of the things I have been thinking about the last few weeks.  But I am looking at it with a different lens - not what I would want as a teacher, instead, what is best for the students in the classroom.  I want to move from putting technology in the hands of adults and putting it in the hands of our students.  We are very lucky in our district - a few years ago our community passed a bond that will fund many things - one of which is an upgrade to the instructional technology in our classrooms.  We are very fortunate now, but like many other districts we have some areas where we can improve.

So here I am again, comparing our classrooms to others - looking at short throw vs mounted in the ceiling projectors, interactive boards vs interactive projectors, doc cams, voice lift systems, panels on the wall to turn everything on/off and so much more.  As a teacher I use say to anyone who would listen, "Why can't they just mount my projector?  I'd do it myself if they would let me!"  Now that I am in the tech dept I understand why I was never able to just do it myself.  So many reasons - if you want to know...send me an email.

Anyway, now I am looking at the potential of using LCD screen (like the TV in your house) instead of an interactive short throw projector.  And possibly using a tablet instead of a doc cam in the classroom.  At #edcampLA last weekend I saw a great set up at Winward School in Los Angeles.  They had a 70" display at what must have been the front of the room (you couldn't tell other than the large display) and a 40" display with a whiteboard on the other three walls.  I imagined being a student in this room and I was excited!  It wouldn't matter where I sat in the class I would always be able to see the screen.  I thought about being the teacher and having students display their projects on the screens for others to see - there could be 4 mini-classes in my room all working and showing different things.  I thought I was in classroom A/V utopia!  It is difficult when you start comparing yourself to private schools that have a $35,000/year price tag!

Back to reality...  A few years ago I applied for a grant to buy an iPad to use in my classroom, both as a tablet and as a doc cam.  I had found some nice DIY stands that would sit on to my science demo table where I could slide the iPad in and use the camera as a doc cam.  I also asked for an Apple TV so I would be able to use AirPlay to put my images up on the screen.  I did not receive the grant - but I am looking at that option again for other teachers in our classrooms.  Why not have a tablet (it doesn't have to an iPad) as a doc cam so that you can also use it to be more mobile in the room and give you some of the interactive features of much more expensive boards or displays?  I have heard pros (mobility, apps) and cons (lighting, low megapixel camera) to this idea - but I feel the ability to use it for more than just a camera that points at the table all day long makes it a great instructional tool for teachers.

I'm not going to drone on and on about these things - but just start to think about these items in your own classroom.  If you could start over and redo your classroom AV, what is your utopia?  What do you want/need to allow students to be successful in your room?  I have talked to many others and there are many ideas.  We obviously can't put in everything everybody wants - we need to standardize  items so we can give teachers the training they need to use the equipment and so a tech can go in the room and repair the equipment if needed.  But put together a list and share it with your tech may just lead to some much needed changes in your classroom for your students!

Friday, January 16, 2015

How will I make the world a better place?

Week 2 of #YourEduStory blog challenge for 2015 gives us a prompt of "How will I make the world a better place?".  I have thought about this for the entire week and struggled with finding something that I could do that would change the world.

When I was teaching I felt like I had a fairly large impact on my students and I knew some things I did in class made a difference in the lives of my 200 students.  But now, working at the district office I don't have a direct affect on students any longer.  Or do I?

As I began to write this I realized I may have a bigger impact on student's lives than I think in this position.  I don't see it day to day, students don't come up to me to tell me that I made a difference in their life, but decisions I make directly effect thousands of students each day in our schools.  While I used to be directly responsible for 200 students, now I am indirectly responsible for 21,000 students.  Thankfully it isn't just me - I work with many talented people that help me make decisions for the students in our district.  Sometimes I lose track of how the things I do in my day to day work filter out to all the kids in our district.

Here are a few things I did this week that make a difference:

  • Taught 25 teachers Google Docs (~675 students)
  • Helped order 500 Chromebooks for 12 classrooms (~300 students)
  • Worked to get 200 Chromebooks for 5 classrooms (~180 students)
  • Visited 6 classrooms to students online in their class (~160 students)
  • Let a co-worker know I appreciate her hard work (who knows?!)

I didn't do any of those things on my own - I  had help with each one.  Even the last one took help from my family to allow me time to visit a co-worker at the hospital.  I see the hashtag of #BetterTogether on Twitter or G+ - and that is what I am going to focus on this year to make the world a better place.  I will ask for help when I need it and offer help when I can be of assistance.

That doesn't sound like much - especially when you compare it to what others may do - but for me, if I can make myself better each day and help those around me do the same I consider that a positive change.  We can't do things on our I will do what I can to work with/for others.  If everyone did the same I think we really would do some amazing things to make the world a better place!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

One word to inspire in 2015

I am part of a Voxer group that started talking about starting a blogging challenge for 2015.  I told myself that I didn't have time to commit to a blog a week for the entire year.  I justified this thought by thinking through my weeks in 2014 and knowing I did not have time to blog how would I have time now?  But then I started seeing a few of my Twitter friends posting their #YourEduStory blogs.  I read a few and I got motivated to blog myself.  This week's topic is to come up with one word that inspire you in 2015 - and my word is Change.
Three years ago I was teaching physical science in middle school.  Two years ago I was teaching chemistry in high school.  Last year I was a teacher on special assignment in the technology department at the district office.  This year I am an EdTech Coordinator working with Chromebooks, Gmail, SBAC testing and hoping to help our district move to BYOD.  I recently applied for another position within our district and hopefully I may have another position next year!

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I have joked in the past that I am adverse to change, but in reality I thrive on it.  I love learning new things, working with different people and problem solving through issues that arise at work or home.  Sure, it is nice for some things to stay the same - but change is also needed to keep moving forward.  I have realized that I make mistakes and I make changes each day so that I don't make the same mistakes.  Each day I make little changes to make myself a better person.  Since I work in the area of technology now, if I don't keep moving forward and changing then I am falling way too far behind!

So I like the idea of jumping in to 2015 with a challenge!  I have a great group of people to lean on for support if needed...and those same people will help keep me moving forward this year.