Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Blog is Moving

Hey friends!

With a new job and new responsibilities, I've decided to move my thoughts to a new blog.  You can find my ramblings about life at Yealey Elementary at Blend That Learning.  I'll be writing about blended learning, Chromebooks, Google Classroom, iPads with little ones, and scads more.  Please join me on my new venture and learn along with me.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016


The 2016-17 school year is going to bring some massive changes in my professional life. I'm starting a new job which means I have a new EVERYTHING!

Starting this month, I will be RTI Math and Blended Learning Teacher at Yealey Elementary in Boone County School District (Kentucky).  This is a massive change from where I've been.  For 22 years, I taught and worked in private schools.  My most recent role was TechLead, which was a combination of computer teacher and tech integration specialist, at Miami Valley Christian Academy in Cincinnati.

Boone County School District has a major shift toward blended learning and project based learning.  My experiences in these areas of education and ability to wax eloquently helped me get this job.  I'll be helping our 3rd-5th grade teachers learn to implement the 1:1 Chromebook initiative we have in the district and also help figure out how to solidify everything to one learning management system platform.  I'm geeking out over this!

Obviously, there will be a lot of changes and a lot I can't predict.  Of course the biggest change will be the step from private to public education.  Both have their own lingo, regulations, and ways of doing things. While teaching is teaching, there will be a learning curve moving into this new role.  Another big change will be the shift from OneDrive to Google Classroom.  While I got used to OneDrive, I am very happy to make this move.  My early Google Drive experiences bring happy memories, and I'm looking forward to it.

With all these shifts, I'm not sure what that means about this blog.  Do I keep it up?  Do I start all over?  I'm still pondering these things, but till then, please feel free to keep reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Innovation Projects -- Spring 2016

The end of the school year is quickly approaching, but we took one more leap at Innovation Projects this spring.  The last time we did these projects, I was extremely frustrated by Microsoft's Teacher Notebook, as I tried to force it to do something it wasn't created to do.

This time around, I used OneNote Class Notebook and was much happier. Everything was much better organized and I could check work more efficiently and with much less hassle.  If you are in a OneDrive school, I highly suggest this tool for your Genius Hour projects.  I'd be happy to walk through the specifics with you. I also introduced my sixth graders to Sway (a newer piece of the Office Suite) and you'll see some Sway presentations in action below.

As it is, I wanted to get right to the student projects -- the true highlight reel. Here are the best of the best.  Enjoy!

Learn how to cook an over easy egg from this sixth grader.

Here is a Sway presentation about American Sign Language.

Two fifth grade girls teamed up to create this video about the Civil War.

This sixth grade girl created a quiz about dogs on Emaze.  I never heard of Emaze before these projects, but I really like what I've seen from this tool! 

This fifth grade girl taught her class about sign language on her video. 

Here is a 6th grade boy who wanted to hack an iPhone charger.  

This fifth grader taught us how to make a birdhouse. 

I had never heard of EOS life hacks before this sixth grader suggested it for her project. 

Click the link to see a Google slide show about how computers work created by a fifth grade boy.

It was a great year working with these innovators, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them grow, learn, and create this year.  I'm so glad I started Genius Hour projects in my elementary computer classes and look forward to keeping this tradition alive in future years!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Thanks, Coach!

This past weekend was the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati.  I had the joy and privilege of running the 26th Mile with my 7-year old daughter. Never heard of the 26th Mile?  Don't worry, I'm a newbie too.  She joined the Running Club at school and "ran" 25 miles with them this spring.  The last mile was run through the streets of Cincinnati and we crossed the finish line of the real marathon.  It was a great experience, even if we were drenched and cold with rain by the time it was over.

Oh! The memories this brought up!

I was a cross country runner in a former life. I started in 7th grade and ran right through college.  Maybe I should rephrase that.  I was on a cross country team when I was younger.  Maybe that's more accurate.

As much as I enjoyed the time running with my daughter, there was a lot of frustration as well. While I attempted to act only positive and encouraging on the outside, on the inside I was constantly thinking things like, "Why on earth do you need to stop and catch your breath after 10 steps?" "I can see the finish line! Why are we stopping? SPRINT!" Our practice sessions were just as frustrating...

And I couldn't help to feel a bit like Mr. Preston must have when I was a part of his cross country team as a teenager.

My first memories of running for Coach were from seventh grade. My older brother had been on the high school team, but Coach wanted some middle schoolers to round out a freshman invitational team.  I joined up and had no idea what I was doing.  But I was quickly acquainted with Mr. Preston's competitive nature when I heard him yell, "Go Blue!" from across a lake.  (Yes, we wore blue outfits.) I couldn't help wondering how the guy could even see me from so far away.

I was not what one might call an avid runner. In fact, I was a very stupid runner.  I spent all summer working at camp, chowing on unhealthy camp food, and getting fat.  Then, I would go to cross country camp with a big gut and try to run 100 miles a week in August heat and humidity.  I would be slow and hampered with shin splints and knee problems. Needless to say, my race times were abysmal. By the time I shed the weight and started to run competitive times, the season would be winding down, and another season would be lost to a summer of bad self-discipline.

But, Coach never gave up on me. He was always patient with me.  And he always pushed me to be my best.

A miracle happened in my sophomore year.  I did well enough at the end of the season to land the 8th position on our state championship team, which is fancy for saying I was the alternate to state. I got to spend an extra week running with the varsity team while my other friends were home watching Spider Man reruns.  (Literally.  One of my friends told me, "Have fun sucker. I'll be home watching Spidey.") I remember one practice while I was huffing and puffing trying to stay up with the other seven guys and coach running alongside me talking to me about dedication.  One thing has stuck with me for the past 30 years.

"Those kids who you work with at camp. What would they think if you told them you were only half dedicated to running?" 

Coach, I'm sorry I never applied this thinking to running, but it has become a life mission to be hyper focused and do my best at everything I do.  As a teacher the past 22 years I have felt those eyes watching every move and want to be the positive example they need.

Speaking of examples, we knew we had a great coach because he ran with us.  No matter the workout, we knew he was out there working along with us, sweating and hurting just like we were. (Well, maybe he didn't hurt like me since he was always in running shape.) If I ever picked up "leading by example" as a leadership style, I can give Mr. Preston credit for that.

Coach didn't settle for anything but excellence.  Remember my sophomore year?  That was a rebuilding year, and the worst state finish I can remember.  I rounded out my high school career soundly embedded on the JV team as my fast friends won states the next two years.  In fact, Coach Preston and Council Rock went on to win (I think) five out of the next seven Pennsylvania State Championships.  That's incredible!

Mr. Preston wasn't just a cross country coach, but he was also my Algebra 2 teacher. I don't remember a lot about Algebra 2, but I do remember his undying passion for math.  I learned a lot from him that year and loved math class.  In fact, I graduated from high school wanting to become a math teacher.  (I got sidetracked from that dream, but that doesn't discredit the initial dream).

Coach was tough -- as a coach and a teacher.  But I always knew he cared.  I went to a small college in the area and got this harebrained idea of becoming a hurdler for our track team.  I called up Coach Preston and asked him to teach a friend and me how to hurdle. He gave up a Saturday morning to spend time with a former runner and his goofy friend to teach us a new skill.  My father was in a serious accident the day before our session, and I remember asking him to pray for Dad, which of course he promised to do.

Now that I am well into my adult years, no one will ever mistake me as a runner.  However, I hope they do see in me a work ethic and enthusiasm that I picked up from Mr. Preston so many decades ago.

Mr. Preston, as I enjoy my Teacher Appreciation Week, I wanted you to know that I am forever thankful for the life lessons you taught me sweating and gasping through the trails of Tyler Park.  Thanks for not giving up on this kid who looked like he swallowed watermelon seeds.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week, Coach!

I have no idea why I don't look happier in this picture, but it's the best I have. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Does Innovation ACTUALLY Work?

First, let me start this post with this.... "Hi, Mom!"  Yes, I have a proud mother who reads each of these posts. So, let's hope she enjoys this one.

I recently finished reading this article by Will Richardson, and I happily agreed with (just about) every word of it.  In the article, Mr. Richardson argues that innovation in school can't stop at the shiny tech tools and toys we tote around our schools.  No matter how we dress up our curriculum and make it look innovative, it's not really.

We all know that when an authority dictates what we learn and when we learn it, school gets really boring really quickly.  We know it because we lived it.  Real learning -- deep learning -- comes from exploring a topic that we have a true passion about.  As educators, our job is to foster that passion, to fan its flames, and teach our students how to learn rather than what to learn. And that is when we become innovative teachers in innovative schools.

Yet, as I nodded my head up and down, a gnawing thought continued to work on me.

How do we know this innovative thing is actually working? 

Let's say you've been reading about maker space or Genius Hour or some new-fangled 21st century way of teaching and you really want to bring it to your school.  You put together a great presentation about what this will look like and how it will be a great asset to your school and sit your principal down to talk pitch your idea.  What if... your principal says, "That sounds great, but how do we know it will increase student learning?"

What do you say?  How do we prove it's a good thing?

Gut feelings, bright and cheery faces, and snazzy TED-like talks aside, how do we know this thing we're doing is making a difference in our students' lives -- today and in the future?

And, yes, there are a lot of question marks toward the end of this post because I'm really asking these questions. I'd love to hear what sort of data you are putting together to show that your innovative philosophy of teaching is truly making a difference in the lives of your students.  Please share.


Monday, February 29, 2016

More Innovation Projects

Last week, I wrote a post about my upper elementary Genius Hour projects. In that post I mentioned that I still had a number of presentations to watch.  Now that the dust has settled and nearly all students have presented, I have a few more things to show off for you.

This fourth grade girl learned how to make exploding fish (a new recipe for me) and demonstrated at home via video.

This sixth grader would like to be a triathlete one day. so she created this Haiku Deck about how to train for a triathlon.

Here is a fifth grade girl who asked her dad to teach her how to play guitar.  The result is this video.

This sixth grade boy created a stop motion video about Jesus walking on the water. I love the waves in the video!

Who will win the Rodent Race?  This sixth grader pitted two family pets against each other in a maze. Find out who will win! 

Here is a great stop motion video teaching us how to make an origami star. 

Thanks for watching! What have you been doing with Genius Hour in your class?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Innovation Projects in Upper Elementary: Debriefing Myself After the Winter Projects

As an elementary computer teacher, I see my students for about 50 minutes a week. While I love the idea of Genius Hour in my classes, I find it hard to implement a "traditional" Genius Hour model with my students, so I developed a "Genius Nugget" concept. This is the second time this year we have dedicated roughly four weeks of classes to student innovations.  Read below as I interview myself about the process.

You already did these projects in the fall.  Did you make any changes in the project for the winter?

Yes, I made a few changes based on the outcomes of the fall projects. I recognized that most of our projects before were fact-based and not truly innovations. So for this round, they had to learn a new skill or build something new. Likewise, I realized that far too many students created a PowerPoint and didn't try to stretch themselves with their presentations.  That made me ban all PowerPoints, forcing a lot of videos. We also so a number of Haiku Decks, Educreations videos, and a couple web sites.  

I also made some organizational changes, but I don't really want to talk about those.

What were those changes? It's OK to share. 

Well, with 61 students doing these projects at one time, I wanted one central place to collect, assess, and return student work.  Microsoft has a great tool called Teacher Dashboard that does this.  I love Teacher Dashboard for most assignments. As long as the assignment doesn't need to come back to the teacher a second time, TD works like a charm.  However, I quickly came to realize that this is a horrible tool for Genius Hour.  I essentially wanted students to use the same document to communicate with me each week. I thought TD would help us cycle back and forth between student and me, over and over.  Nope. It was a hopeless mess and wasted countless hours on my part.  In the end, I was collecting work in any possible means, negating my original goal of having a super organized workflow.

In the end, this was a great way to remind my students that failure is a part of innovating. You learn from your mistakes and move on, improving all the time. 

I am already planning on using OneNote Class Notebook in the spring.  

Let me add that the folks at Microsoft are wonderful.  I had two separate people listen to my problems and tried to help me salvage the mess.  I was really impressed with how much they were willing to help me out.  Microsoft has come a long way in listening to teacher needs.

What were some of your more interesting project ideas?

I must say that "learn a new skill" was not an easy concept for some students to understand.  One boy wanted to talk about how many touchdowns a particular NFL player scored, then bopped to another similar idea, and so on. I found myself saying, "What new skill will you learn?" quite often. It was hard for some students to nail down a good idea.

What I didn't want was to create a lot of work for parents.  However, I had one family that learned to ski.  Another (6th grade) girl decided she wanted to learn how to drive.  After her driving lesson, she switched gears and went with using a green screen. We had a few cooking demonstrations.  We had students teaching themselves French,  Japanese, and German. Overall, it was a great experience for most of them.

How did parents react to this project? 

Surprisingly, I got absolutely ZERO negative reaction to the projects this time around. Due to our technical difficulties, I had a lot of parent interaction, and everything was very positive. This is a unique project idea, and I think students and parents alike appreciate the ability to pursue something of interest to the student.  It's a lot of work, but it's work the student enjoys doing... and we trick them into learning too.

And, tell me what teacher wouldn't want an email like this?
And thank you!  He really enjoyed it and worked on it passionately because he had fun doing it.  As he practiced his presentation last night he said he was really glad he got to do projects like this.  I know it is a lot of work for you, thank you for making the investment.
What did you learn through this process?

I learned quite a bit, actually.

Obviously, I've already mentioned my Teacher Dashboard issues and learning that that OneNote Class Notebook is a better tool for this job.

I learned (or maybe re-learned) I need to be more proactive when looking over the shoulder of studying students. Some kids can work independently and come up with an amazing product. Others need more guidance, and I can't rely on them to come to me for help. I had a student who restarted his project two times before his parents had to intervene with just days left before the due date. It's easy to get swept up in the work that goes with 60+ projects, but it does me no good if I can't sit down next to a student to give him a hand.

Another issue a lot of families had was getting a video off of their phone or iPad and to me.  Those files are too big to email, so we had to brainstorm some alternatives. When I'm done with this interview, I'm going to make a list of ways to transfer video from phone to teacher. I'll make this part of the standard "paperwork" I give to students at the start of a project.

I also learned how hard students can work. Once the project got rolling, I was amazed at how well the students settled in.  There were no disciplinary problems, because students were into the project. I realized once again, that Genius Hour is such a great way for students to grow academically while also chasing down passions they have in their lives.

Are there any projects you would like to share with the readers?

I have quite a few of them I'd love to share. At this point, I still need to hear another 20 or so presentations, but here are the best of them so far.

This 6th grade student wanted to learn about archaeology as a potential career path and taught himself how to create a Prezi in the process. 

This fourth grader explored iMovie by making a silent movie.

This fourth grade girl documented her journey learning competitive cheer this year by creating a video. 

This fourth grader learned about stop motion on his iPad and used iMovie to add music. While the bulk of his video is a good anti-bullying video, I thoroughly enjoyed his dancing stickmen at the end. 

This is the cutest French lesson you ever get, by a lively fourth grader.

Learn about great moments and great players in baseball history from this web site. 

Who are the greatest athletes of all time? This fifth grader will tell you all about it on his web site.

Here is a fifth grader who created a cardboard track in his living room and showed us how he tested in with his R/C car.  Enjoy!

These three fifth grade girls worked together to learn how to make chocolate. Then, they each recorded their own videos in their  own kitchens. Welcome to Food Network, ladies.

Wow! That is some great learning your kids did. Thank you for showing off their work!

Hey, you're welcome.  I'm hoping to get another group of presentations ready to show off about this time next week. There are still some good things coming.