Tuesday, April 15, 2014

When the curriculum and instruction and technology stars align, it's nothing short of MAGIC! #PBL #edtech

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MA-GIC, MA-GIC, MAAAAGIC...MA-GIC, MA-GIC, MAAAAGIC...  I swear I heard Sting singing in the background last week when Pam Plagens ( - KES Instructional Coach)and I were planning a second grade PBL unit at #keswired with two traditionally reluctant teachers.  It was possibly the best day of my year - a day when everything I am trained to do paid off and I wanted to run singing through the halls!

It happened by chance that these teachers asked me a question about a unit assessment.  Now, I was fully prepared here to tell them I have NOTHING to do with assessments and walk away, but then I realized the problem was that there WAS NO unit assessment and they were freaking out.  No unit assessment?!  WHAT-EVER WILL WE DO?!  Hmmm...how about look at the performance indicators for the unit and plan a PBL unit?!  :)  (Man, I was glad I didn't turn my back when I heard the word assessment!  This was an OPPORTUNITY!)

It took 2 hours to plan 10 days, but it was as if the heavens opened and shone the good light down on Pam and me!  We were on FI-YAH!  Pam brings such great verbiage and strategies to the table.  (I was taking notes of things to say in future planning meetings so I can talk the talk!)  Her perspective as an Instructional Coach is SO VALUABLE to me.  I was able to interject with technology resources and PBL planning steps, strategies and documents.  It was amazing to feel so alive with Pam and also with two teachers who were surprisingly on-board not afraid to let us guide them!

At one point I went to make a copy of a rubric (yes! we even created rubrics!) and ran into our district Writing Curriculum Specialist, Alex Ratcliff.  I asked her if she would stop by our planning session to see if she could add anything.  It was awesome!!!  She advised us to change the word convince to persuade and suggested letting students create a rough draft of the brochure we had planned so we could cover some writing TEKS as well.  Such a simple thing, but with such BIG impact on helping the teachers see it's really quite easy to plan cross-curricular activities!  Alex even had the idea to have students write a mock letter as a reflection (which we revised to postcard) instead of the same old "journal entry."  FUN!

Since then, we've created a Google folder with planning documents, rubrics, and supporting materials.  We shared the folder with other Instructional Technology Specialists and Instructional Coaches in the district, as well as all of the 2nd grade social studied teachers in the district so they can contribute and benefit, as well.  Everyone is excited and I think they really see the advantages of putting our heads together ESPECIALLY in the PBL planning process, which can certainly be daunting alone.

The moral of this story:

TEACHERS - trust your support staff (Curriculum Specialists, Instructional Coaches, Technology Specialists, etc)!  We can HELP YOU.  We WANT to help you!  Together we're better, right?!  Help US help YOU!  ;)

SUPPORT STAFF - don't give up!  Be ready to step through the door even when it's just open a crack!  I happened to be in the right place at the right time last week and it was amazing.  And WORK TOGETHER!  If coaches and techs and curriculum peeps present a united front and work together as a team with teachers, it really is pure magic!

If you would like access to the unit we developed, please comment below.  We are more than happy to share it when all of the materials and planning documents are ready.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Is going #paperless really enough? How can we take it one step further?

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Image from http://blog.shoeboxed.com/
A few years ago when I was re-entering the education field after a brief hiatus to work for my husband, the big industry trend was "going paperless."  I remember thinking what an awesome idea this was and how it could really push educators and students into the "digital age."  Teachers were going to the cloud, reducing worksheets and embracing services like Edmodo to engage their students online.  Fast forward 5 years and in some regards I feel like we've gotten stuck in the paperless rut.  I am afraid that some teachers view online versions of worksheets and assessments as technology integration.  Please don't get me wrong, the reduction of paper waste and use of technology tools in place of traditional worksheets and assessments is great and definitely a step in the right direction.  However, I am curious to get your thoughts on the following:

  • How we can move past the going paperless rut and take the next step to true technology integration?
  • How can we get teachers to move past substitution (simply digitizing their traditional worksheets and tests) and move toward augmentation ... or even modification!?
  • What tools are you using that could possibly replace traditional worksheet activities (ex: research reports, vocabulary practice, reader's response, etc)?

I am anxious to read your thoughts on this topic and maybe get some ideas for my teachers!  We're all in this together and I would love to brainstorm with you!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Goo in the Loo is ALIVE thanks to #GTACHI!

Pin It Yesterday I received one of the best tweets I've had all year!  Thanks to +Marek Beck and +Mike Arsenault, I learned that the Goo in the Loo posters I created (with lots of help!) for my #GTACHI Action Plan are alive and being used!  This was a dream I had during my time at Google Teacher Academy Chicago and I immediately set to work on crowdsourcing the Google Certified Teacher and Trainer community for the best Google tips out there.  I managed to get a poster created for every month of 2014 and then 2014 hit me like a freight train.  My life has been a bit tumultuous, so I've been doing the best I can to stay afloat.  Unfortunately, that means my Goo in the Loo roll-out has been put on hold.  HOWEVER, I have a renewed excitement about the program after seeing these tweets yesterday!

I pledge to fulfill my Goo in the Loo promise and post these flyers on our campuses in the fall.  I also pledge to follow through with partnering with local businesses to try and spread our Google goodness throughout our community.  I can't thank you enough, Mike and Marek, for the reminder that this program is simple, fun and effective - our BISD Tech Dept motto for this year!

If you would like more information about this program, please visit goointheloo.com.  I would love to hear if you're implementing this program in your school or organization!

Monday, March 31, 2014

See who's left your class and for how long with ClassManager - a Chrome Web Store app by @codingwithclass #TxGoo

Pin It What do you do when you need a program that will track your students as they leave and return to class?  Well, if you're , you just ask your son, , to write you one and stick it in the Chrome Web Store!  Introducing ClassManager...

This is a simple and effective way to track when students leave your class and when they return.  You can find a video overview of the app below from the creator himself, .

Want to see more from  and ?  Join us on May 17, 2014 at the Brenham High School for the second annual Texas Google Summit and attend sessions with both of them!  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why shattering my Samsung S3 was the best thing ever!

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Last Monday I dropped my Samsung S3 and shattered the screen.  While I cringed at the thought of how much $$$ I was going to have to shell out to get a new phone (nope - no insurance), I was secretly doing the happy dance and here's why...

A few months ago I did the update for my S3 and it was all downhill from there.  It became unresponsive and apps were crashing left and right.  The battery was dreadful and I found I was restarting constantly.  The biggest problem was the flakiness of the camera.  I take a lot of pictures and when the camera app crashes as soon as my kids do something amazing, I lose it!  I am not a patient person and my phone is really my #1 work and personal technology device, so this was not ideal.

I had been researching phones for a few months and kept going back to the Note.  (iPhone is no longer an option for me - sorry Apple)  I was, at first, concerned about how large of a device the Note is, but I finally concluded that I rarely use my phone as a PHONE.  I really use my phone as more of a tablet.  That shift helped me get over the size issue.  (Even though it won't quite fit in my back pocket..grrr)  I also had hesitations about getting another Samsung device given my distaste for my last one.  But, online reviews and personal contacts kept singing the praises of their Notes, which made it hard to ignore this device.  Finally, there is the learning curve issue.  I am a fairly techie person and it only took me about an hour to make the transition from my iPhone to my S3, but I honestly didn't want to have to learn a new device.  Call me lazy.  After a few minutes comparing phones on this awesome site (http://geekaphone.com/compare-phones) my pal +Amy Mayer shared with me, my decision was made.

I went with the Note 3 and I am SO GLAD I shattered that S3.  Here are my favorite features of my shiny new Samsung Note 3...

  • The charger is the SAME as my S3!  Hallelujah!  Thank you, Samsung, for not making me buy all new chargers!
  • The battery life is STELLAR!  It easily goes a day without charging and I'm a power user, so this is impressive.
  • I love the stylus!  I really didn't think I would care, but it's cool to have and it works like a charm.  The hover feature is cool and love the action button in the action memo.  Screen Write is also great for making tutorials.  :)
  • The camera is AMAZING!  Much faster and it has cooler options than my S3.  Like this...
  • Screen resolution and screen size - both much better than the S3.  I admit, bigger really IS better.  :)
  • Haven't gotten one yet, but I definitely see a wireless charging kit in my future!
  • This is silly, but it autofills my email information when I am filling in forms.  Time saver - big plus.
  • And finally, this thing is SOLID!  It's not flaky, it's not unstable ... it's reliable and responsive and SUPER fast, which makes this impatient full-time working mommy VERY happy!
Who could have possibly known that shattering my old phone would have proven to be so exciting!?  I would love to hear from you about tips and tricks of this awesome tool, as I am still learning about all of the cool features.  If there's something I really need to know, tweet me or leave me a comment below!  As my dear friend +Kellie Lahey says, "Together we're better!"  ;)  Amen, sister!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

#bmswired Innovation Day - what we did well and what we'll do differently next time!

Pin It Friday, February 28 was the first ever Innovation Day in Brenham ISD and it was held at the most adventurous (IMHO!) campus in the district ... Brenham Middle School!  We started talking about having an Innovation Day many months ago, but didn't really get the ball rolling until after Christmas.  About a month ago, we introduced the concept at a faculty meeting and the plan was set into action.  You can see my timeline of tasks here.  :)

We got a lot of our inspiration for Innovation Day from the fine ladies at Huntsville ISD, +Amy Mayer and +Jessica Powell.  They were kind enough to share all of their materials and give us some guidance along the way.  You can read more about their day here and see their video here.

So, here's how Innovation Day worked for us this year (and then I'll let you know what to do differently so you don't run into the same problems I did!).

  • 3 weeks before the day we had teachers introduce the idea of Innovation Day using a presentation I created.  They sent home the parent letters with the planning sheet on the back.
  • After 10 days, only about 60% of the students had returned their forms.  This was the first big problem I ran into.  I called in some back-up and we individually conferenced with over 250 students to get their forms completed.  Tough - this was really tough!
  • When I had collected most of the forms, I spent an entire day sorting over 700 forms into "like piles."  I looked at what materials they needed from the school and what they would be creating.  This was my second problem - this was really hard for one person to do.
  • I sat down with the Principal, Peggy Still, and we determined how many teachers we needed in each "interest group area" and then I passed the sorted forms over to Instructional Aide EXTRAORINAIRE, Wanda Kramer.  She spent hours putting all of the students into a Google Spreadsheet that we could share with teachers, complete with interest group and room assignments.
  • The third and probably largest problem I ran into was collecting materials.  Good.  Grief.  In our defense, we didn't want to tell any child no this first time.  So we didn't.  I scrounged and begged and shopped to get as many of the requested materials as I could.  For over 700 students.  My office looked like an arts and crafts clearinghouse. 

This was around the time that I started to freak out.  HOW on EARTH was I going to collect everything that I needed for these sweet babies?!  How was I going to make sure that every kid had a good experience ... and the teachers, too?!  How could I possibly get it all done in time?!  Peggy Still, BMS Principal and planning EXPERT, told me to take some OCD meds and stop worrying.  So I took deep breaths and reminded myself that no matter what happened, we did our best.  No one has ever done this in BISD before, so we can't mess it up!  Right?!  They don't even know what it's supposed to look like!

The day came and somehow we managed to pull together enough materials - MANY teachers were SO GENEROUS and I admit - I did make a last minute run to the Dollar Store and Wal-Mart the day before!  :)  We got the room assignments, interest group areas, and modified lunch schedules to the teachers the morning of Innovation Day (yep, we'll give them more notice next time!).  I also gave each teacher a folder with the following items:
  • "Day of" Checklist to check off and put on door when ready - this helped us when we were walking around to see when everyone was ready to move
  • On the back of the checklist was a "Help! I need..." list for teachers to let runners know what materials they were missing.
  • Journaling Mini-Book for kids to complete throughout the day
  • Set of "Task Cards" for the students who finish early
Once the students left their homeroom and headed to their interest group areas, I grabbed a walkie talkie and got moving.  We had some students who didn't know where to go, some materials that couldn't be found and some teachers who needed a little guidance.  I loved EVERY MINUTE of walking in and out of classrooms seeing students AND teachers having a blast!

It was a successful day and I think the vast majority of students and staff enjoyed it.  We had teachers who were connecting with students in a way they had NEVER connected before.  We had unlikely groups of students pairing up to help each other.  There were students painting, building, glueing, constructing, writing, drawing, filming, interviewing ... you name it, we had it!  We set up large tables in the hallways with materials for the kids to go "shop" for things they needed.  We even had one of our Instructional Technology Specialists, Troy Kuhn, pushing a cart around advertising supplies!  My other colleague, Ann DeBolt, took pictures all day and composed an awesome Animoto video to document the day.  We showed this to the students at the end of the day after they completed a Google form with their reflections from the experience.

Our feedback was very valuable and both students and staff members had excellent suggestions.  Our data showed the following:

BMS Students

BMS Staff

Overall, it was a positive experience for everyone.  But here are the things we will do differently next year to improve the day for both students and staff...

  • Instead of having classroom teachers introduce the idea of Innovation Day, I will personally meet with the students during their PE rotation for a sort of Innovation Day pep rally.  That way I can get the kids pumped up and give them all of the information directly.
  • We plan to have Writing teachers help students complete the planning forms IN CLASS after a good brainstorming/roundtable session.  The information will be submitted via Google Forms so the data is automatically populated into a spreadsheet.
  • We'll then use Autocrat to generate printable PDF planning forms from that data for the students to take home with the parent letter for a signature.  (Why didn't I think of that THIS YEAR?!)
  • Likely, instead of asking students wide open questions like "What do you need from the school?!" we will provide each room with a core set of materials (paint - WASHABLE ONLY!, tape, glue - ESPECIALLY HOT GLUE GUNS, scissors, cardboard, markers, crayons, foil, yarn, etc).  If students need additional materials for their project, they must bring them from home.
  • Also, the form will be modified to include a checkbox for interest group area.  We likely will not ask the students to indicate which subject their project aligns to, but instead choose from a set list of interest group options.  This will expedite the sorting process.
  • Along those lines, I will DEFINITELY utilize a committee next time for help with sorting the forms into interest groups!  This is more than a one-woman job!  :)
  • I also foresee that we will enlist the help of our PTO (again, why didn't I think of this?!) and give our teachers more ownership in helping collect materials.  If we begin this process a little earlier (like more that 3 days before!), this should not be a problem at all and I think the teachers want to be involved further.
  • We found that there was too much downtime after lunch and that was when students started to get crazy and restless.  I think our schedule will be modified a little to have less work time after lunch.
  • Finally, instead of having the interest groups rotate to see other interest group projects, we will dismiss students to take their projects back to their homeroom teacher after lunch.  Homeroom teachers told us they wanted to see what their kids did!  Then, the teams can rotate through each other's classrooms to see their fellow students' creations.
I realize this post has gotten VERY LENGTHY, but it's difficult to recap such an awesome experience in few words.  :)  I cannot possibly thank all of the people who helped me gather materials, conference with students, deliver paperwork, etc, but I have to thank Kim McCorkle, who was my planning partner in crime.  Without her enthusiasm and the scheduling vision of Peggy Still, we never would have pulled this off.

I would love to hear from you about your Innovation Day experience and would be happy to collaborate with you if you're in the planning stages.  As my good friends say, TOGETHER WE'RE BETTER!  :)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Not my normal topic ... Preparing for a good end of life

Pin It Usually my blog posts are about technology and instruction and tools and tips.

Today my post is about people.  Today my post is about my life.

Just over three weeks ago we very suddenly lost my father-in-law to a heart attack.  He and my husband and my brother-in-law ran a family business.  Although my father-in-law was not a teacher in the traditional sense, he did teach my husband many things about business, manufacturing, and how to be a wonderful husband, friend and father.

Just a few days ago, I lost my dear friend and the BMS Librarian, Deb Tackett, after a mean, hard battle with cancer.  She was a student advocate, a believer in the power of books AND technology, and my coach on how to be a good boy mom.  If you'd like to know more about her journey, you can find it here, although the last post is about a year old.

Yesterday I happened upon a TED Talk titled "Prepare for a good end of life" in which Judy McDonald Johnston (odd that we have the same last name, huh?) talks about the sad, often taboo, fearsome topic of dying.  I will warn you, if you have lost someone recently, bookmark this and watch it later.  It was very hard for me to watch.

It did get me thinking, though, about the loved ones I've recently lost, the accomplishments in their lives and how to preserve their legacy.  How many of us actually think about the end of our life?  I know, I know - it's sad and hard to do.  However, I find myself very reflective lately about how I am using my time, what I am doing with my life and what legacy I will leave behind.

For me, preparing for a good end of life means making sure I don't have words unsaid or deeds undone.  Every breath we take is a gift.  Are you living your life as such?  As educators we have a SEA OF OPPORTUNITY to touch lives and leave a lasting legacy.  Often, we are too tired or too stressed or too worried about standardized testing (yep, I said it) or too wrapped up in general life strife to really take advantage of those opportunities.

I hope this post will make you stop for just a second and think about how you interact with your students, with your colleagues, with your supervisors, friends, families, children...  Are you preparing for a good end of life by building a legacy of compassion and humility and courage and love?  How can we work on this right now?  Give a child a hug, use a softer tone, go the extra mile, bite your tongue (harder...HARDER!).  :)  Seize the day - it is certainly a gift.