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 understand...you 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 it...you 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 table...you 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 todaysmeet.com - 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 :) 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Share the White Board

When I first saw RealtimeBoard  I wasn't sure it was going to have a use in the classroom - it is more of a business tool.  But the more I thought about it...and then when I started playing with it - this tool is awesome!  We all have the little whiteboards in our classroom (some have even make their own with this DIY video and a trip to Home Depot) and many of us use and love them - they are a great resource.  But...how many whiteboard markers do you buy each  year and still hear "my marker doesn't work"?  And what is your breaking point with students drawing random pictures on the boards?  Well RealtimeBoard helps with these issues - and many more!

First of all the whiteboard has a lot of space - you can just expand it more and more...it seems like it goes on forever (well not forever...but check it out and  you'll see what I mean).  Also, you can add text, images, lines and arrows, URLs, video, files from your computer or Google Drive - just about anything.  I wanted to practice creating one...so here is my "Chemical Reactions" practice board:

As you can see, I have jpegs of my PPT slides, video from YouTube for different reactions and I have linked them together with the text boxes in the middle (one of the templates provided).  So now you're saying to yourself "big deal, I can do that with popplet or some other program".  Yeah, I know - and I said in the first paragraph that this is awesome...so I have to give you more reasons to use it right?

Well this little icon is a game changer.  You can leave little notes on different items for students to read - or to remind yourself of things (we are all getting older and more forgetful - post-its may be our future...time to get used to it).  But seriously, leaving notes for students to refer to is a very helpful feature of this web 2.0 based product.  You can remind them of where to find other resources, give them questions to answer, give more instruction or just let them know what you think about a video.

But wait...there's more!  You didn't think I was going to tell you that just leaving a note made this "awesome" did you?  Here is where it gets powerful - it can be shared like a Google Doc and students can collaborate on the whiteboard!  The image to the left is an example - I left a note to my students and they can also leave a comment back to me.  What's that?  Oh yeah...awesome right?  Let's see, we can check off Create, Collaborate, Communicate and we can get students thinking critically with the right assignment!  So yes - it fits right in with Common Core.  And you can share it with specific people via email or just have it open on the internet.  So here is a link to my practice board...check it out and leave me a message on the board!

How do you export is your next question...I know - it was mine too!  Check this out:
So you can export just about any way that you want!  You can also make multiple boards and put them together if you like.  The only thing missing seems to be a link to share it via Twitter :(

OK - here is the downfall of this tool.  You can sign up for a free account - but you only get 3 free boards. After that, if you want to upgrade it goes to $8.50 a month for unlimited boards.  I know, I know - I got you all worked up and ready to use this and then pulled the rug out from under your feet (or maybe I'll go with Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown).  Sorry about that :(

Oh but wait...there is still more!!!  Since we are all educators (and I don't pay for many things for the classroom) - there is a way to get a free license.  If you click on the education link on their website you can input your school email and web address and they'll look in to giving you a free account...and the same for your students.  So like I said...this really is an awesome tool!

 So what are you waiting for?  Give it a try and let me know how you used it...and even better - let me know what your students thought of RealtimeBoard!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Get Creative

Have you always wanted to be on the front cover of a magazine?  Or maybe a movie poster was more your dream?  Or maybe you just want to have students create cool things to prove they have mastered a topic in your classroom?  If so, I found something you may be interested in!

I discovered a great - free - resource to create magazine covers, movie posters, mosaics or motivational posters (but wait...there's more!).  Honestly, this site has a lot to offer and it is all free!  The site is Big Huge Labs.  At first I thought this was just a "fun" little site...but then I started thinking about how it could be used in the classroom.  In history students can create movie posters about a time period or event.  In English they could create a magazine cover for the main character in a novel.  In science a mosaic of pictures from their lab would really show some creativity in their lab report.  And in math students could create motivational posters based on different rules like PEMDAS or reducing fractions.

As you can see - this site will  help students be creative...Yeah for Common Core!  The possibilities are endless really.  You all know what would work best in your classroom - I just thought I would share the site so that you can put your creativity to work!  And like most of us all know already...if  you put the tool  in the hands of the students they will do amazing things!

Here is a quick little practice magazine cover I created while practicing with the website:

One downside - there are a lot of ads on the site...they have to make money in some way.  You will need to teach students what are ads and what buttons they need to click to create their project.  But, there is a link at the top of the page for education where you can sign up for an educator's account so that you can:
  • Pre-register your students so they can sign in without requiring an email address.
  • View and download content created by your students.
  • Use the site advertising-free. And we absolutely do not try to sell anything to your students.
  • Ready to print ID cards for your students
Signing up for an educator's account is easy.  All you need to do is:
  1. Create a free account or sign in. (Registering with your school email address isn't required but it does speed up the approval process.)
  2. Return here to scan and upload proof of current educator status. This can be a scan of your official school identification or similar document.
Anyway, check it out and give it a try.  I created the sample above without adding my email or creating an account.  If you do end up using it - respond and tell me what you did and if the students enjoyed it!

Friday, September 27, 2013


Remember - I am not an ELA teacher, I am a science teacher who loves technology.  So I found this cool new tool and I wanted to share it.

I stumbled upon this website that I think teachers could easily use in their classroom.  This could be used in any subject area - but I think it would be best in ELA, History and Science.  Sorry math folks, I don't think this one would be that helpful for you.

The tool is call Rewordify - and it will take a text and quickly define words that are difficult.  I tested the site with the poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" by William Wordsworth.  The poem was written back in the early 1800's and most students probably would not relate to the poem as it is written. Rewordify highlights in yellow the more common word and (with a few changes to the default settings) will also highlight in purple the word it is defining. Here is what I found when I copied/pasted the poem on their site:

I know the actual words make the poem much more descriptive and it reads better with the original text.  I also know that with Common Core just around the corner we need to be teaching academic vocabulary and having students understand what these words mean.  But with this tool a student can better understand the meaning of the text.  I am guessing that many of our students may not know the word "pensive" or "sprightly" and I know they would not know the word "jocund" - but this tool gives students a quick replacement to help them  understand the meaning.

Also...the site quickly will give you a data table (there is the science teacher in me) that looks like this:
I do not know if the reading level is accurate or not - but it tells you what it thinks...based on the total number of words vs the number of words it has to define.

Anyway - it is simple to use, free and it might help your students with some of their assignments.  So give it a try and pass it along to other teachers, students, admin and parents!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

When 20 Days = 1 year

Over the summer I had set 4 goals for myself for the 2013-2014 school year (they are listed below).  Well, my school year did not last as long as I had anticipated - I only taught 20 days instead of the regular 180.  As many of you know I have moved to a district edtech TOSA position where I will be working with a team of people to help train teachers to use technology in their classrooms - and we are getting ready for CCSS.  So anyway, since my official school year is over...I thought I would reflect back the 2013-2014 year in review (all 20 days of it)...

Here were the four goals I set for myself at the beginning of the school year - and my success level for each during my 20 days:

1. Be in class
This was a big one since I had missed 18% of the school days last year!  Well I am happy to report that I had perfect attendance this year :)  Sure, it was only 20 days - but I was asked to go to two meetings and a training during that time and I said no to all three so I could be there for the students (before I left them).

2. Blogging
Oops!  The goal was to blog twice a week - that just did not happen.  My last blog was on Aug 25th!  That means that during my 20 days of teaching I only blogged one time.  I would count that as a total failure - or as the students say "Epic Fail".  I keep thinking that  my new position will give me new topics to blog about...so we'll see if I can get to blogging more often.

3. Flipping the classroom
This was both successful and not - if that is possible.  I created all the videos and I posted them online for students to view.  But since I knew I was only going to be in the classroom for a few weeks I decided not to do a full flipped classroom model.  I taught the "old fashioned" way but gave students access to my at  home lectures if they wanted.  Some students loved the ability to re-watch lessons - others never clicked on the link.  Overall I think it would have been awesome...but I didn't have the best situation to try it out.

4. Going paperless (or using less paper)
I'm going to count this as a success.  I did not make a copy until my second to last day on the job this year...and that was a common assessment that I had to give on paper :(  My syllabus, safety contract, 5 labs, two study guides, 4 activities and 2 tests were all paperless!  I do have a confession to make though - I was using printed out sheets of paper from last year...like the lab sheets from last year were used again this year.  So during my 20 days in the classroom (including 3 prep days) I only used 172 sheets of paper!  I had to print out 150 sheets for the common assessment (I had some left over from last year for the other 30 students - large class sizes!) and I printed out my roster (12 pages) and my seating charts - twice because I move the students once (5 pages).

Sunday, August 25, 2013


I have watched the movie Reality Bites several times - and one scene that popped in to my head this past week was when Lalaina (Winona Rider) is coming home from a job interview where she was asked to define the word irony and she stumbled over her words and was not able to fully explain the meaning of the word.  When she got home, she asked Troy (Ethan Hawke) if he could define irony and he said (without hesitation), "It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning".  And in some way that is how I am feeling during this first week of the school year.

I knew when the school year started that this was not going to be my typical year.  I knew that I would be leaving the classroom in just a few weeks so that I could work with some awesome teachers that were on special assignment in ed tech.  But I had already set my goals for the year (see them here) - and one of them was to try and be paperless...or at least use a lot less paper this year.  

So since I am not going to be teaching the entire year (if you want to know why read this) there was a big room change during the first week of school.  My room was taken by another chemistry teacher, and I ended up moving to a different room in a different pod.  So where does the irony come in you ask?  I was moved to the closest room to the copy room!  There are teachers who would love to have this room - steps away from three copy machines.  My resolution of not using paper makes the location of my room somewhat worthless.  We are one week in to the school year and I have not used 1 sheet of paper yet - our AP Environmental Science teacher has used over 1,000 sheets!  So while I am doing my best to be paperless, at least my new room allows me to see many teachers each day :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Decision Made!

As some of you already know (from this blog post) - I had some decisions to be made as the school year started.  I have a wonderful schedule at my current school...I would almost call it my dream schedule!  I am teaching 4 periods of chemistry and 1 period of video production.  I have a passion for both and I like the science team, the school, the administration and just about everything having to do with this school year.  But...(and isn't there always a but) a week before school started I applied for a technology TOSA (teacher on special assignment) position that recently opened in the district and I also applied for an assistant principal opening within my district (at a school where I taught for 8 years).  

A day before teachers were to report back to school (we come back 3 days before the students), I had my interview for the TOSA position.  I felt I did well in the interview and I was excited at the opportunity to work with other teachers with the integration of technology in their classrooms.  Later that same day the executive director our technology department gave me a call offering me the position!  I was excited - but knew that I would be interviewing for the AP spot in a few days...so I accepted the TOSA job with the understanding that if I was offered the AP position I would have to take the administrative role instead.  He was very understanding and wished me well in my interview and let me know that he would hold the position for me.

Two days (and a lot of prep work) later, I went in for the AP interview.  Again, I felt I did well and was hopeful to get a call back for a second interview.  The call came later that day - and I was schedule for a follow up interview on Monday - after our first day of school with students.  I met with the superintendent and the assistant superintendents of human resources and instructional services (doesn't get much higher than these people in our district!).  Once again, I felt it went well...I answered their questions as best I could and let them know why I felt I was the best person for the job.  They let me know that I would know in the next day or so - and I was anxiously awaiting the call for the next 24 hours!  The next day I had a message on my phone from the assistant superintendent of HR!  We exchanged phone messages and we ended up speaking the next day.  When I spoke with him he let me know that they were selecting someone else.  I wasn't devastated - I knew this was a possibility - I was, however, a little disappointed.   The good news was that I had students that were going to walk through my classroom door in about 30 minutes...so there was no time to think about it - I had to move forward quickly!

I realized while I was teaching my first class of the day that I was no longer in decision limbo. The decision had been made - I am going to be a district technology TOSA this year!  No more wondering what if...I now had some clarity in my school year.  Now I can focus on things like My Big Campus, Google Docs, Cloud computing and so much more.  I am very excited about my new position and having a different role in the district.  I know it will allow me to learn so much more as an educator and it will afford me the opportunity to work with many other teachers in our district.  So I am jumping in with both feet!  I am going to need a new name for my blog and a new Twitter handle (any suggestions for either?).  I do have to wait about 3 weeks before I can fully invest the time to be a tech TOSA - until the district hires someone for my current position.  Anyone want a great chemistry job?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Do you ever turn off your iPad?

About 2 years ago I was lucky enough to win a video contest from Turning Technologies for an iPad - here is the video I created that won first place!  Since I received the iPad I have downloaded many apps - some are educational (TED, Elements), some keep me connected (Twitter, Edmodo), some are for a purpose (Evernote, Diigo), some are specifically for my kids (Fish School, Alphabet Games) and some are just a waste of time...but they are fun (Turbo, Hill Climb Racing).  But in the 2 years that I have used my iPad...I have only turned it all the way off two times!  Once was at a school in-service when another teacher said, "You know you need to turn it off at some point to let it reset" and another was this morning - because some of my apps were not working correctly (Google+ and Feedly).

This got me to thinking - as teachers I suppose we need to be turned off and restarted at some point too.

My family and I just returned from a week long vacation where we had no cell service and no electricity - we were "off the grid".  We stay in a little cabin in the mountains of Colorado with my in-laws and the cabin has no electricity.  This gives us family time with out the distractions of cell phones, computers, iPads or television.  To some this may sound horrible...and others may think it is the best thing in the world - it just depends on what you like for your vacation.  As for me I am happy to spend time with the family and fishing with my little girls is a great way to be together...but after they are in bed I would enjoy reading through a few blogs, checking my Twitter account and maybe play some mindless game.  But before you start to feel sorry for me let me explain that we were not totally out of reach to the real world!  If we wanted (or needed) to be a part of civilization again all we have to do is drive in to town (about 30 minutes) and we can get a signal on our phones - back "on the grid".  So I was not totally out of touch for the entire week...but to someone like me who is typically always "plugged in" - it sometimes felt like it!

Anyway, back to my thought about turning off the iPad.  When I turned my iPad off and let it restart, the apps I was trying to use worked.  This is something that we all do...but never really question - if a computer (or electronic device) isn't working...restart it and see if that works - and it typically does!  So as teachers we need the summer as our time to "restart".  Some people (who are not teachers) think that we have 2.5 months off in the summer and that is our time to rest, relax and re-energize for next year.  But if you are like me...and if you are reading this in August you probably are - you spend a large part of the summer months planning for next year.  We try to find new things/ideas to use in our classroom - new apps, different ideas, work on fresh strategies and just try to make our classrooms a better place for students.  So while we are not waking up at 5am and driving in to school - we also are not powering down and restarting either.

So I am glad that I was able to take this past week to unwind, unplug and relax.  I officially am due back to school in 2 days...though I was at school today and I'll be there tomorrow.  I am hopeful that my trip to Colorado will serve as my "restart" and will give me the energy and excitement for the first week of school.  I also hope that you have found time during the summer for your "restart"!  Have a great last few days of sleeping in, reading a book and not grading papers :)

How can you not be happy and relaxed when you see something like this?
Don't worry...she ate the fish :) 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

I have been teaching for 16 years - the last 9 have been in the same district (8 years at a MS and last year at a HS).  I have been trying to move from the classroom to the administrative level for the past few years.  The move to the HS was to help with my administrative aspirations - my plan was to teach at the HS for at least 3 years and then start looking for admin positions again.  This would give me more experience at the secondary level and help round out my resume.

I must say that I am really happy with where I am right now.  I am teaching at a school I love in a district I think is one of the best in the county.  My schedule this year is just what I wanted (4 sections of chemistry) and I am teaching an elective class that I am passionate about (TV news and video production).  I am also the school's Advanced Placement coordinator and I look forward to all that this duty entails.  This upcoming year I have some great new technology in my classroom - an Epson BrightLink 475Wi interactive projector along with an iPad and Apple TV!  All summer I have been prepping for these classes and I am excited about the upcoming year - I even blogged about it here!

A few tweets, emails and phone calls later, everything changed.  Over the course of a week two other positions in our district opened and I was torn whether to apply for them or stick with my dream schedule and 3 year plan.  The first position that came up was a teacher on special assignment (TOSA) for secondary educational technology services - a mouthful I know!  I spoke with the executive director of technology for our district about the position and he laid out the job details and they sound awesome!  Everything from training teachers to use GAFE (Google apps for education) with their students to helping open a new high
school and working through the ups and downs that would come with new infrastructure.  I called the person who previously held the position and he encouraged me to apply (he had moved to an elementary administrative position).  He talked me through what he had done, what he was working on and what he did day to day.  I was excited and nervous at the same time!  I thought this position sounded great...but I was really excited about my current position too.  I only had 7 days to decide if I was going to apply - and 5 of those days I was going to be in a small town in Montana fishing with a poor internet signal and virtually no cell service!

The lower level was our room!
My brother-in-law and I were sharing a room in Twin Bridges, MT - and if you've ever been there you'll understand when I tell you that the cell service was basically non-existent for Verizon customers (can you hear me now - nope!).  Also, this is not the kind of place where the front desk person gives you a wi-fi code with your room key (in fact he said - it's probably unlocked...but here's a key just in case).  So with no wi-fi and my cell phone not picking up 4G, 3G or any service whatsoever - I pulled out my iPad to use my Kindle app to read my book.  Just for fun I thought I'd check the wi-fi to see if I was able to get on someone's network - not crossing my fingers since there wasn't even a stoplight in the town.  Well to my surprise I found an unsecured network named TBPL.  I looked around and couldn't figure it out?  Where was this faint (1 bar) signal coming from?!  Then I saw it - across main street I saw what TBPL was - Twin Bridges Public Library.  So I had a wi-fi signal at last!

I tell you all of this because what I saw when I was able to check my email almost made me fall over!  The assistant principal at the middle school where I taught for 8 years had changed schools - leaving an administrative vacancy - a position I have wanted for a long time - and another decision I would have to make.  To fully understand my shock you need some background.  She had been an AP there for 16 years - and during the 8 years I was there she was awesome (she was probably awesome before I got there too).  She gave me tips on how to become an AP, helped me when I was a substitute AP in the office and she talked to me about being an administrator on several occasions - encouraging me to make the move.  I had always hoped to work with her someday - and now I was hoping to fill her position!

So when I got back home - to a strong cell service and wi-fi - I started to make some calls and figure things out.  I spoke with the principal and the other AP at the school (there are two APs at the school) and I texted with the AP that had changed schools.  I knew this was a position I had to go for...so I found the listing on edjoin (where/how we apply for jobs in our district) and I applied.  I love the school and would love to be part of the administrative team - so I had to change my "3 year plan".  I have great rapport with the teachers, support staff and the other administrators...and I hope that I do well at the interview!

As you can see I have some decisions to make!  Obviously I will have to interview for both of these positions and nothing is a sure thing - I am just hoping for the best.  I would love to become an administrator at my old school.  I have been working toward that goal for quite some time now.  If that does not work out I think the TOSA position would be awesome - working with secondary teachers to use and implement technology in their classrooms would be really fun and rewarding.  But if neither work out - I know that I have a terrific job waiting for me - like I said, I am excited for my current class schedule and the school I am at right now.

I guess I can't lose in this situation - I have three terrific opportunities and I look forward to what is next :)  I'll keep you posted on what happens!