Saturday, November 19, 2016

My Primary Colors of November

What do I love about Google. Let me count the ways...
  • Its free for Education
  • Seamless integration amongst apps
  • If you have a need, Google probably has a tool
  • Extensions and add ons for customized functions
  • They keep innovating
  • Access across any platform
  • All my stuff is in one place
I could keep going (but I won't).

November has been a very Google-y month for me. It started with my application to become a certified Google Trainer. I found this process to be much more fun than the teacher certification and it gave me the opportunity to be creative. The application process consists of an online test, a 3 minute self-promotion video and finally the application itself. My fingers are crossed as I wait to find out if I'm selected!

This month our district hosted the CenTx Google Summit. Thanks to +Amy Mayer and her group from @friEDTECHnology for organizing such a great event. I presented an advanced session on the autoCrat add-on. autoCrat adds useful functionality to Google Sheets and Forms. I use it to manage form workflow for online course enrollments. As expected, I had a small group of attendees which was perfect for meeting the needs of individuals and answering questions specific to the contexts in which this tool would be useful. I had a district AP who has a need in which autoCrat would be a perfect tool and I'm looking forward to supporting her with this. I'm hoping I can convince her to share how she is using autoCrat with other administrators at this year's Fusion conference in Hays CISD.

Google just updated a couple of features which I'm very excited about: the capability of uploading a document in a Form and the newly designed Google Sites. Both of these changes offer teachers more functionality in tools they can use with students. I will be encouraging teachers to use sites as a publishing  tool for students to give them an authentic audience. The simple interface means students will spend less time on the technical aspects of building a site so they can focus on the content.

I will continue to post month updates on how I'm showing off my favorite color pallet and my mission to Google-ize Hays CISD!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Innovators Mindset Part I #IMMOOC

As I read The Innovators Mindset by George Couros (@gecouros),  I highlight and sketch note ideas that resonate with me. In order to process and reflect on my reading, this blog post will highlight concepts that are important to me.

Chapter 1: What Innovation Is and Isn't

  • The Why of Education- The purpose of education is to develop learners and leaders who will create a better present and future. I personally do not think the 20th Century "Factory" model of education was designed for this purpose. Why do our schools still operate like factories or institutions that utilize bell structures, compliance, conformity, age grouping and ridged paths for college and career readiness?
  • Innovation= a new way of thinking. Just doing something new is not enough, it needs to be better. Things, tasks and technology are not innovations in and of themselves but can be products of innovative thinking.
  • Innovation Starts with a Question- What is best for this learner? Questions regarding our practice should make us feel somewhat uncomfortable because they make us focus outside of our comfort zone and acknowledge the fact that we may need to change.
  • Open Innovative Learning- because innovation is about creating new and better, examining the work of others and reflecting on how it is relevant to ourselves can ignite innovation. We take an idea from someone else, filter it through our current state of reality and change it to suit our particular needs unique perspective. Technologies allow us to connect, share ideas, remix and re-share on a scale not previously possible.
Chapter 2: The Innovators Mindset
  • The quote at the beginning by Stephen Downes immediately conjured a thought about professional learning. I see myself and my colleagues as avid learners. We engage in twitter chats, blog, read professional articles, research and books, attend EdCamps. We don't wait for someone to tell us what to learn or when we can learn it. I think many educators view professional learning as an event or requirement for their jobs rather than looking at is as a continuous process that is most effective when we are driving it for ourselves.
  • Creating something new and better- Translating knowledge into action is even more important than acquiring information. If your brain is simply a vessel that contains knowledge but does nothing with it, what use is it? You might be great a trivia games but what are you contributing to the world around you? I don't understand why we are still teaching students factual information that can be found in a Google search rather than putting more emphasis on creating new ideas, process, products, solving problems, engaging in debates, asking questions, and challenging the status quo? That is what we need from them as adults to meet the previously stated purpose of education.
Chapter 3: Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset
  • Empathetic- We need to think about the environment and opportunities we are providing from the students perspective. I know it may be fun for the math teacher to stand at the front of the room while drawing and explaining a concept on the board, while they are in the middle of a rapturous lecture on how to determine the domain and range of a linear function in mathematical problem what is the learner experiencing?
  • Problem Finders/Solvers- This requires teacher to reflect on and analyze their practice. If your lesson did not turn out the way you hoped, you have to get down in the mud and roll around with it for awhile and figure out why and what could've made it better.
  • Risk takers- This involves getting out of that comfort zone and being prepared to fail and iterate. If you are not a risk-taker then your students will not be either and innovation can not occur.
  • Networked- The idea of the Audience Effect. When you have an audience you have to really understand your thinking in order to be convincing Your performance or product has a new level of importance when you have an authentic audience and you want to do your best.
  • Observant- Sometimes ideas come from unexpected places. Mine usually come to me in the shower ( or while trying to fall asleep) while thinking about something I've seen or read recently and how it relates to a project I'm working on.
  • Creators- This characteristic really resonated with me. Creation takes time. Our current system focuses on "covering the curriculum". "You have 10 days + or - to cover this unit." Not investing in process of creation actually limits the development of a deep understanding of the content. The constructivist approach to learning is built on the premise that people construct learning/understanding through their experiences. Creating something new connects the learner in a personal way to the content they are learning and develops in them a true understanding of concepts.
  • Resilient- innovators must be prepared to move forward, even when the risk of rejection is involved. Several times this week I have met with rejections and resistance to an innovation I am working on and have felt the desire to quit. When I reflect and discuss with my team it helps me build resilience!
  • Reflective- DEAR= Drop Everything and Reflect. I love this! Reflecting in this blog post has helped me process the new learning from this book!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Fear Factor: Embracing Failure as an Educational Innovator #immooc

Its a well-know fact that people we view as innovators endured their fair share of failures. It is a critical part of the process. People like Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Temple Grandin all achieved their accomplishments because they embraced failure and iteration in order to refine and perfect the products and processes they envisioned.

How do innovators rise above the fear of failure? It has been ingrained in most of us since we were little that failure is a bad thing and should be avoided. When I reflect on where that fear of failure came from in my personal life I would have to say two sources; school and my parents. Sometimes
Each week at Reeble's Grocery we could get a new volume
at a low, low price! I loved these books!
those 2 were inextricably combined. I will never forget a negative experience 2nd grade. We had over the course of time acquired a set of Funk & Wagnall's Encyclopedias as a part of a weekly promotion at our grocery store. I loved reading the facts in them and learning about people and places around the world. At school we were learning about the pilgrims coming to American. I read all about them in my new encyclopedias and took it upon myself to write about what I had learned. I was proud of my paper and although I had just done it for me and not for school I decided I'd share it with my teacher. I thought she would like it since we had been learning about the Pilgrims in class. As my teacher sat down to read it she picked up her red pen and started marking up my paper. I was mortified. She noted all of my errors in my spelling and punctuation. I remember her handing it back to me, all bloody with red ink and I walked away from her desk feeling very sad. I did not write for enjoyment for a long time and I certainly didn't share anything else I was proud of with her.

I understand that to innovate in education I have to embrace that fear. That's tough when you have been an educator for awhile and people expect you to be the "expert"; to have it all figured out. When something I try doesn't work out I feel like an imposter, like a failure. It is hard to get out of that failure mentality when it has been perceived as such a negative in learning all of my life. I think we need a new word. The term failure has such a negative connotation I don't know that it can ever be redeemed or redefined as a positive.

This year I am practicing what I have been preaching. To innovate means to try new techniques, fail, iterate and try again until I find the process that works. I am part of a team that believes that blended learning models will allow us to leverage technology to create personalized learning for students that will help them succeed in Algebra I. We are piloting this with 2 classrooms and will be comparing data with non-blended classroom models. We have already hit some challenges that we did not plan for and some days I feel that anxiety of doubt creeping up my spine and tightening its grip around my heart. I don't like that feeling, nobody does but it is a feeling I'm committed to pushing through in order to be a part of team willing to challenge the status quo. We will be blogging about this as a team of teachers, administrators, directors and hopefully a few students to share our successes and challenges throughout this learning process. I am hoping that being a part of the Innovator's Mindset MOOC will provide me a networking opportunity with others who are facing the fear factor of failure and embracing it as we strive to innovate our practice and meet the needs of today's learners.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Elementary Adventures with Macbooks and iBooks Author

As a result of campus based decision making regarding the purchase of shared digital devices, our district purchased macbook air carts for each campus. One of the tools we were most excited about is iBooks Author. We feel that this easy to use program has the potential to create transformative learning opportunities for students of all ages. The experience of authoring and publishing a book for a real audience rather than just the teacher is a powerful motivation for students to bring their writing "A" game. When you put your words out there for the world to read (and possibly critique) you want it to be good.

The Why
Teachers sometime see a cool tool and think" wow that looks fun. Let's do a project." Its my job to help them focus on the "Why" first. What is the learning that you as a teacher want to reinforce? After identifying the learning objective, we can then look at other variables such as time allotment, engagement, relevancy and ease of use to pick the best tool.

In this particular case, two 5th grade teachers wanted students to conduct research on subjects in social studies (World War II and the Civil Rights movement), demonstrate writing and editing skills and present information to an audience. iBooks was a tool they had seen demonstrated and felt that it would engage students in relevant work and get them excited about research and writing while learning the social studies concepts.

The Set Up
The three of us met to discuss the learning objectives and how iBooks Author could be a tool to which students would respond positively. We discussed our timeframe for the project and what pre-requisite instruction would need to take place. Teachers designed a rubric to identify the level of achievement students would need to demonstrate for each of the learning expectations. They then planned lessons around the research including the collection of copyright free images and videos to add visual interest to their writing. Citing sources was one of the language arts and technology application TEKS included in their learning expectations.

Once the research was complete, students created rough drafts and completed an initial editing process.  Teachers then had students use Google Docs to type text and check spelling and punctuation. Next, I was invited in to demonstrate iBooks Author.  Because this was an introduction, we kept choice to a minimum. The template and book structure was predetermined and included five chapters and 2 pages of bibliography. The chapters consisted of an introduction, three main idea chapters and a conclusion. To prepare for the day's work, students downloaded the folder from their Google Drive that contained their images, videos, bibliography citations and the text for the book. Downloading the folder to the desktop made dragging and dropping images into their iBook placeholders very easy. They were then able to copy and paste text previously created in their Google Doc and paste it over the placeholder text in the iBook. Additionally, students selected key vocabulary within their text to highlight and add to their glossary. This process required them to evaluate vocabulary important for their readers comprehension while reinforcing their own understanding. Students who finished this process rather quickly were given the option to add a review widget to check the readers understanding of the text.

The Surprises
Although I expect it in Kindergarten and First grade, I really did not think snot would be a problem in 5th grade. In case you are wondering, a trackpad covered with a wet, slimy substance does not track well. Frequent hand washing and the application of sanitizer employed during the lesson. The other surprise was how smoothly the workflow functioned with the use of Google Drive. The technology worked and the students were able to easily follow the directions.
The Successes
I was very pleased with how well the 1st class successfully completed the process. Students were highly motivated and fully engaged in the 2 hour activity. Nearly all students completed their book components including adding cover and page images, video, glossary items, text formatting and bibliography pages. I attribute this to the preparation on the part of the teacher and the scaffolding of the instruction for each phase of the project. Although less focused than the 1st group, the 2nd group got it done with additional support and modeling.

The Next Steps
I will be working with the 2nd class this week and will post my reflection and comparison in the comments. Once books have been graded by the teacher, students will have the opportunity to make improvements should they decide to and those who met the requirements of the rubric will have their books published on the teachers website for home downloading. This project was an introduction to iBooks Author as a tool for writing and publishing for an audience. It is my hope that by year's end students will have the opportunity to create their own book with various choices under their control with a goal to publish quality work to the iTunes Store. I would also like these students to showcase this tool to other teachers and demonstrate the ease of use and instructional benefits.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Transformative Power of an Authentic Audience

Look at our society today and it doesn't take long to see evidence that people enjoy an audience. Sometimes the public stage contributes something valuable to either the audience or the contributor such as with Thomas Suarez, a young app developer. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of unproductive and harmful things being shared publicly.

Kids are comfortable in the public arena of the internet. YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and Snapchat are all popular venues for garnering an audience. (Facebook has dropped in popularity since the old folks showed up). Employers are starting to research what applicants are sharing publicly. They will either find evidence of values that will contribute to their organization, evidence of poor judgement or no significant evidence of anything.

How can we help students leverage the power of a global audience to promote themselves in a positive light and engage in dialog, inquiry, and the publication of relevant work?

Providing experiences that offer students an authentic audience have a transformative impact in the learning environment. No matter how awesome you think that Powerpoint project is, students really don't find it that important to do work that is only seen by the teacher. If they know their work may be potentially viewed by anyone in the world it takes on new level of importance. Students want their work to be great and they want feedback.

Check out this example of an authentic audience. Kids frequently muck about with their parents and a ball. Parents may even coach on their little league team. Small children are pretty motivated by feedback and support from those close to them but as they go through school they are less interested in what we think and more interested in feedback from others. This young man is experiencing the power of a larger audience. I'm betting there are some people in the stands are a little jealous.

My daughter has been sharing video and photographs on various sites since middle school. She has acquired a fairly large audience and she wants to showcase her best work. When she started publishing, she thought "more was better" but then she found she wasn't proud of all of the work she was posting. Through this process she has learned that for her, it is not good enough to post everything you do; it needs to be of a high quality.

I'm not advocating that everything we do should be public. When you are doing good work and want genuine feedback from a larger audience, technology provides a perfect medium. We need to be aware of and help our students understand that not all feedback will be positive and some may be inappropriate. We can teach them how to avoid unwanted feedback and how to deal with criticism, be it constructive or otherwise. Feedback is important to iteration and improvement.

Many kids will seek out the public audience available on the internet with or without us. It is up to parents and educators to teach them how to utilize this space in a productive way.

Examples of students who have garnered a world-wide audience.
Jack Andraka- at age 15, developed a test for detecting pancreatic cancer
Jacob Barnett- shares how autism gives him a different perspective
katexone Videos that address teen culture, interests, reflections
Cicily Boone- make up videos
KBOB TV- Bethke Elementary math tutorials created for students by students

Resources on Authentic Audience
An Authentic Audience
3 Easy Ways to Increase Learning Using an Authentic Audience
Another Study Points to the Importance of Students Writing for an Authentic Audience

Friday, February 12, 2016

Building Community Through Twitter Chats

Our school district has grown from about 10,000 to nearly19,000 since I first joined the team and despite this rapid growth, I feel a greater sense of community than I have ever felt. I think this is in part, because of the amazing leadership that has in recent years developed a shared vision for excellence. There have been growing pains and people have left but we are upping our game with higher expectations for educational quality. The curriculum and instruction department which previously felt a bit disjointed has really gelled as a cohesive and collaborative team; an amazing feat given that we have grown so much! For the first time, I feel a real sense of unity between content area specialists, Instructional Coaches, CTE. ESL and Special Education departments. This unity is great for our students.

In November, the Digital Learning Department, under the leadership of @jamielocklin, started a Twitter chat with the intention of bringing district educators together to share ideas, solutions, resources, pedagogy and other good news. We knew there were district people on Twitter but everybody was kind of flying solo. There was no mechanism in place to connect us in the vast universe that is Twitter. Our first Twitter chat was pretty well attended but it was mostly those of us in direct contact with each other in the curriculum and instruction department. The next chat was pretty abysmal with only half as many participants. The first chat of the new year was great with twice the number of participants. The word spread and campuses started to get involved. The next 3 chats showed an increasing numbers of people joining with the February 11th chat nearly doubling compared to the November. The Digital Learning Team fanned the fire by creating a giant Twitter sticker badge that was awarded to frequent participants. This has really helped promote the chat and drive more people to the conversation. This past week was another success with the chat being hosted by @AlejandroGongo1 and our bilingual department. In addition to the usually participants we had quite a few new district teachers join us as well as several people from other districts! We hope to build momentum to promote a culture of professional learners and a community that shares a common vision of excellence in education.

Our twitter chats don't solve the problems of the educational world but after a chat I feel so connected to my team. I am energized and proud to be a part of this community and I think everyone else that participates feels that too.

We have a lot of work to do in our district and we have some high expectations. The only way to get where we want to go is as a cohesive team and I feel that tools like Twitter chats are helping us come together as a community of learners.

A special shout out to @jimknight99 who spent 3 days this week with our instructional coaches, content coordinators, directors and principals. He helped us develop our understanding of "coaching done well" and how to communicate effectively to meet the needs of those we serve.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

“Shut the Front Door” Experiences at TCEA ‘16

TCEA 2016 is in the rear view mirror. As I reflect on my week, there were several experiences that really made an impression on me. These blog-worthy moments will be a source of inspiration as I set goals for leading learning in the next several months.

Adobe Mobile & Leslie Fisher
I’ve been a huge fan of Adobe products for years and use Adobe Creative Suite on my Mac. I don’t use CS that much but when I need it, I need it. I knew there were several Adobe apps out there but I really didn’t pay much attention since I already had CS and Adobe products tend to be pricey. Much to my chagrin, not only was I completely blown away by the functionality of the Adobe mobile apps but more importantly; that they are free. These products are simple to use beautiful in form and function and accessible. This opens a whole new creative component for students.

“Adobe Gone Mobile” was presented at TCEA ‘16 by Leslie Fisher. Despite the fact that she presented eleven workshops throughout the week, this was my first time seeing her. At 8:00 am on the last day of the convention, Leslie surprisingly roused the crowd; many of whom I suspect partied to the beat of the Spazmatics the night before. She is a high energy, humorous and knowledgeable presenter. If you ever have the chance to go to one of her presentations, you will not be disappointed! Leslie followed her Adobe workshop with a packed session on the Apple Watch which was equally engaging. I will definitely be referencing her website.

Emily Connelly
@EmilyTCEABound is a high school freshman. The description for  “Student PD: Passion Driven Technology Integration” began with “ My name is Emily. I’m 14 years old and in my first year of high school.” Her workshop had me at hello.

We hear a lot about student voice and here was a real student offering it up. The audience of educators were rapt. She was such an eloquent speaker and although nervous, quickly assumed the demeanor of a pro. She shared with us the tools that she likes to use for learning as well as some of the annoying realities that digital natives have to put up with from “seasoned” educators. She recounted a situation where a teacher required them to handwrite notes to study for a test. Involvement in sports meant that there were many evenings of homework on a dark bus, making it difficult to hand-write note cards. In fact, she would use the flashlight app on her phone so she could write out her notecards by hand. This task seemed completely pointless since creating her note cards in quizlet would have been just as effective for her learning and much less cumbersome.

Not all students are able to articulate their learning needs as well as Emily but I think part of our job as teachers is to help students find their voice and advocate for themselves. We can improve our craft by listening to those we serve.

George Couros, Leading Innovative Change
George is always and educational crowd pleaser and he never fails to engage and inspire his audience (and it was a large one). When he announced that the entire ballroom was going to play rock paper scissors until we only had 2 people competing in the entire assemblage, I couldn’t envision it. Two by two, partners squared off with the loser becoming the cheerleader for the next
Conversations we should be having with IT
 departments regarding decisions which impact
 by George Couros
match. The number of cheerleaders increased exponentially as the competitors decreased and soon the entire ballroom was a cacophony of shouts and cheers. In the end there was one winner but we all benefitted from the energy this activity created. I think the point George was making was that when we are transparent in what we do as professionals others witness our successes and not only rally behind us but also imitate, modify and iterate. My additional take-away from this is that when we all join together and support each other for a common goal, the experience is positive and powerful. Even when we are not successful we feel supported and are more likely to continue to take risks and improve our craft. Through this process we build a supportive community with a goal of continuous growth and improvement.

A final note
TCEA 2016 was a great experience. This was my first year as a presenter and although I was nervous it was gratifying to know that I was able to share some ideas that will benefit others. Rather than trying to cram everything in this year, I selected fewer workshops to attend and allowed myself more time for conversations and reflection. I think these things combined with great presenters made this one of the best TCEA conferences I’ve attended!