Monday, September 30, 2013

Digital Tools for Spelling?

Part of my job is to find digital tools teachers can integrate into their classes.  I love the research and being able to play around with different apps and sites to see what I like as well as the chance to help teachers use computers in their classes.

Our elementary students (grades 2-6) are entering a spelling bee, and my principal asked me to find some tools to help the kids practice.  (I did joke with her that this is pretty low on the SAMR ladder, but I still get to help kids practice their spelling. No worries...)

I'm not supremely happy with anything that I find. I suppose any of these will help students work with words, which is the main goal.  Most of the tools I find are in the following categories:

  1. Teacher types in the list, and students practice the list. (Pretty laborious, especially if a teacher has to type the same list into 20 iPads.)
  2. Students create words from randomly placed tiles -- like Boggle. (Students tend to try random letter combinations rather than actual words.)
  3. Students use pre-created word lists to play review games.  (I like that option, but sometimes the games are cheesy.)
What digital spelling tools do your students and teachers enjoy using in class?

Friday, September 27, 2013

What to teach the elementary kids?

The year was 1987. I was a junior in high school.  The class was Computer Applications. This was back in the Stone Ages, before hard drives were big enough to actually contain programs.  We had a DOS disc and a word processing disc.  (Now, when I say disc, I mean to say one of those old-fashioned 5 1/4" floppies that really were floppy.)  My older brother learn programming on cards; now he must feel REALLY old!

I don't remember much about that class. I had to teach myself how to type since my high school, in all their wisdom, had me in Typing I (with actual typewriters) for the second semester.  I remember doing word processing and databases and a bit of programming.  I also remember enjoying it a lot. Back then, there weren't a lot of applications that could be done in a school setting. I wonder if my teachers could have envisioned the technological world we live in now.

Fast forward to 2013, and I'm one teaching the computer teacher.  There are times when I wonder what is the most important thing to be teaching the students.  If high school computer applications in 1987 were word processing, databases, and basic programming, what would they be in 2013?

My predecessors spent a lot of time working through the Microsoft Office Suite in elementary school. I agree there is value in being able to use Word and PowerPoint, but how necessary is it for an 11-year old to know Excel? And, if I am teaching these things, how detailed do we get?  Do explore the intricacies of every drop-down menu, or do I allow students to learn the features as interest arises?  With so many other options I don't want to get bogged down in something that is less than exciting and miss other applications.

Right now, I construct my elementary computer courses around a number of themes and weave around them throughout the year.
  • Digital citizenship
  • Teacher support (integrating with classroom content)
  • Typing
  • Writing (word processing)
  • Math facts and skills
  • Critical thinking 
  • Design (aka Paint)
  • Presentation software (Educreations, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • I also want to delve into coding with my elementary kids, but I haven't taken that step yet.
I have also discovered a number of younger students struggle with computer basics.  What does "click" mean? How do I save things? Why is the screen broken; I can't move stuff around with my finger?

When my students have free time, I don't want them playing mindless games.  There has to be educational value to them.  I normally let them do something like Sumdog, Gamestar Mechanic, ABCya, or draw on Paint. What do you do with your free time?

This is where I need your help. Elementary teachers, what do you wish your computer teacher would do with your kids? Computer teachers, what great ideas have you come across? Parents, what has your kid come home doing that is just awesome?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Steve, PhD Candidate

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered. 

I called him Stevie Wonder Sebastian.  It’s not like he played piano (sax, I think), sang, did funny dances with his head, or was visually impaired.  It was just the relationship we had. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a student whose brain was so in tune with mine in all my years and probably never will.

And I’m not talking about academics here.  

Somehow my humor and his humor clicked and he thought he could always be the funny guy (which was my job). Many times he would hoist his hand up in the air, and I could never tell if his hand was up for something serious or hilarious or off on a tangent so far off course that only I could see the thread from where he was and where he should be.

And I loved it!

Had you told me 15 years ago that Stephen would be my first ever student to go for his doctorate, I would have laughed.  It’s not that I doubted his abilities but because I didn’t know he’d take school that seriously.

After graduating from high school, Steve went to Purdue to study computer science.  He wanted to learn how things worked, and computers and software made perfect sense to him.  One day in class, a different professor came in to say they were looking for volunteers to help with research on eyes, and Steve hopped in. What would have happened if he skipped class that day? His life calling could still be waiting for him out there!

Steve is now in his fourth year of PhD studies at The University of Texas in the Vision Science and Perceptual Systems Department.  The stuff he’s learning is far above my pay grade, so I’m just going to let him tell you.

I study how humans and animals process visual information. More specifically, I’m interested in the lens system of the human eye. For example, when you move your eye to a new object, that object will most likely be out of focus (because it is likely at a different distance and your eye can only focus at one distance at a time). Your brain must detect that blur and change the power of your lens to bring the new object into focus. Not much is known about how your brain does this, and that is what I study. It turns out that the auto focusing mechanism of the brain is much more sensitive and complex than even the most sophisticated camera!

Steve counts it a privilege to get paid to study something he loves to learn about.  After finishing up his PhD, he eventually wants to become a research professor so he can continue to learn and teach others about how vision and brains work together.

After having had my wife in fifth grade, Stephen was pretty excited to have me as his sixth grade teacher.  As I said earlier, we got along great. In fact, he’s the only student I know of that had my picture up in his locker (and not to throw darts at). He remembers my class as being the first to incorporate technology.  I had a “computer line” on the whiteboard with every student’s name.  The students at the top of the line got to use a classroom computer for 10 or 15 minutes for something educational.  Then, he or she would get bumped to the bottom of the line again. It was a good system for a room with only one or two computers.

However, I, once again, win the “You Apologized to Me” Award.

I don’t remember exactly what the incident was, but once you must have been a little too annoyed with me (I don’t blame you, I was probably very difficult to deal with in a classroom setting when I was 11), and you said something that hurt my feelings. Later you took me aside and personally apologized to me. The idea that an adult/teacher/authority figure would apologize to me for something they did meant a lot to me. I don’t know if you remember it, but it really stuck with me all these years. Thank you for your patience with me. It’s because of you and teachers like you that I was able to actually learn something in school.

I’m glad I can be remembered for being a teacher who apologizes.  I think it’s an important thing for students to see -- a teacher can humble himself to admit when he’s wrong.  I just wish I didn’t have to apologize.  Was my temper really that bad?  I think we all reach that breaking point.  Students -- either by accident or on purpose -- push us to that limit where we say something we wish we didn’t say.  On the other hand, I’ve watched other teachers in action who dispel bad behavior in a nice, sweet, loving manner that says, “I love you like my own child, but you’d better never do that again.”  I think I’d like to be more like that.

Last fall, Steve paid me perhaps one of the greatest compliments a former student could pay me.  My wife and I  were at one of his former classmate’s wedding and sat down about halfway down the aisle.  Steve’s parents sat in the same row but with about a half dozen seats between us.  Steve stepped over his parents and came and plopped down next to me. It was great to catch up and learn about what he’s doing with his life.

I’m proud to have known and taught Stevie Wonder.  I’m thrilled to know that his bright mind will be helping others learn about how the brain helps our eyes to focus.  Who knows what improvements he and his students will bring to the world of eye care?

Monday, September 23, 2013


As the tech lead in my school, I have the unique privilege of helping my colleagues utilize the technology at our fingertips in their classrooms.  I see a wide variety of interest, skills, and ideas from the other teachers, and that's not a bad thing.

I spent many years as a regular classroom teacher, and technology integration was one of my passions.  However, I realize that teachers do battle on many different fronts. Technology integration is not always at the top of everyone's list. Since it was my passion, I approached every lesson and every unit asking the question, "How can I best use computers or iPads here?" Not everyone asks that question, but that probably means they are asking an equally important question that I'm not thinking about.

However, I think most of us can agree that the world has changed in many ways since we were students.  Technology permeates every aspect of our lives, with most people carrying more computing power in their pockets than what we used to have on a given city block when we were in school. That must change some aspects of how we teach, if for no other reason that we need to prepare our students for the world they are in and will enter as adults.

A good place to start in the tech integration journey is to see where you land on the SAMR model.  After all, knowing where you are is the first step in growth. The SAMR lodel is a quick and easy way to gauge how you utilize educational technology and what you could do with it.

This video is a great explanation of the SAMR steps.

This interactive picture also helps to understand how we can use various tools differently depending on where we are on the SAMR ladder. Hover your mouse over parts of the picture to see lesson ideas.

As you can see in the graphic, there is a line between Augmentation and Modification. Essentially, if you are teaching below the line you are using new teaching tools to teach old-school concepts.  If you are teaching above the line, you are using technology to teach students 21st century skills, things we never considered possible when we were in school.

Today it is possible to push students to create new things using technology.  It used to be that we would study distant lands with textbooks and encyclopedias.  Now we can actually interact and collaborate with students who live in those distant lands.

It doesn't take much online research to see that many teachers who regularly use the Modification and Redefinition rungs on the ladder feel that everyone should hoist themselves above the line. That may or may not resonate as truth for you.

Is it wrong to use today's technology to teach rote skills? Are you using technology tools to focus on personal fact collection or interpersonal idea dispersing?  In order to use the "above the line" rungs well, you need to have rote knowledge and skills. Without knowledge wedged tightly in your brain you cannot access that knowledge to apply it, create with it, and collaborate using it.   

However, with the tools available in our schools today, we can help students do more than memorize facts in isolation.  We can turn fact machines into true idea-creators.  First, we must assess where we are on the ladder as teachers.  Then, we must find ways to take steps (whether they be slow and steady steps or great and massive leaps) up the ladder.  

Vicki Davis (aka "The Cool Cat Teacher") recently put this quote on her Facebook page. "I don't want my students to buy the apps - I want them to make them." Climbing the SAMR ladder opens up a morphing of focus from students consuming media to students creating media As we begin to open up the doors to full uses the educational technology at our fingertips, this can become a reality in many schools across the country and the world. 

I would argue that the SAMR ladder is not something to scaled, like Everest, in an effort to reach the top because it's there.  Every teacher, every school, must weigh many factors when planning lessons, units, and school years. The SAMR model does not necessarily consider philosophy of education, learning objectives, state standards, individual student needs, and availability of technology.  As my wife once pointed out to me, it's not always about the technology. It's about teaching students to learn in the way that is best for them.  With that said, teachers should be mindful of integrating technology in a way that is beneficial for students. 

We can make this happen. Every teacher should assess their spot on the ladder, then strive to take a step higher.  Those of us who find ourselves a step or two above our colleagues shouldn't berate them for being technological slackers.  Instead, let's reach a hand down to help them feel comfortable in the next step of the journey.  Perhaps, you find yourself on one of the bottom rungs and are starting to see some potential for growth in this area. Seek out a colleague or two that can help you or look for online resources, like this one, that can give ideas for teaching 21st century skills.

Then, we can work as a team to help the students grow the way they ought. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Photographic Dictionaries

I love being able to throw out an idea at my middle school students and watching them run with it.  I broke students into pairs (in a massive class of four, that means two groups) and had them create their own photographic dictionary.  I tried this last year and was met with frustration and near mutiny.

This year's batch went much more smoothly.  I decreased the expectations.  I don't consider this "dumbing it down," but realizing I asked too much of them last year.  I also gave them over a week to complete it.  The end result was enthusiasm for work well done.

Students only needed one word/picture per letter. Synonyms and antonyms were no longer required but a definition and sentence were.

I loved the creativity they showed with their sites! Feel free to hop on there and give them some positive feedback.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Should Everything Be Done Digitally?

I stood at the front door, holding it open, welcoming students to a brand new school day.  I noticed one or two middle schoolers carrying cardboard trifold displays.  Then a poster.  Then another trifold.  It's obviously Project Day somewhere in the school.  And my techie brain immediately thought, "There are so many ways that can be done digitally!" I immediately rattled off four or five apps or sites that would present the same information but could promote digital learning, with zero cost, and could be posted online for the world to see.

As one familiar student walked in, "What class is that for?"
The student struggled to carry the trifold in, "Science," and kept huffing it into school.

Argh. I know the science teachers and wonder why they didn't ask me for ideas.

Another familiar student came in with a poster rolled up.  "What is that? What was the project?"
"It's for science. We had to pick a country."
"Countries in science.  This is interesting."

I have no idea what the learning objectives were. I have no idea of the cross-curricular goals of science and geography, but I started to soften toward the physical aspect of the project.

I admittedly will lean toward the tech solution in school every time. It's my job.  It's who I am.  There is value in students doing things digitally.  As a school, we need to push the digital tools to help them learn and work and function in tomorrow's world (and today's too).

But, as I stood there and greeted students, my mind began to wander in the background.  Isn't there also value in using scissors and glue, crayons and markers?  Isn't there value in taking a physical space and making it into something creative, neat, and informative?

I got the name of the teacher, and she is no tech sloucher.  In fact, she is a grandmother who is learning the tech as she goes and eagerly accepts tech input.

And I started to realize that there is value in diversity.  If our teachers only play the "tech" card, they miss out on reaching the kids who learn best with messy fingers.  If our teachers only play the "research and write a report" card, they miss out on reaching the kids who learn best by making a creative masterpiece.  If they only play the "make a poster" card, they miss out on reaching the kids who learn best by taking multiple choice tests... I mean, through writing.

And that leaves me with the question, "Should everything be done digitally?"

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Megan, Production Entrepreneur

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered. 
When I first met Megan, she was a goofy third grader. I was a new teacher at a mid-sized Christian school.  Her mom was our lunch lady, and we got together outside of school regularly with another teacher and her husband. What I remember most about Megan was her love of the Three Stooges.  If asked back in the mid- to late-90s what I thought Megan would do with her life, I would have to peg her as the Fourth Stooge.
As it turns out, Megan must have grown out of that goofy stage, but she’s at least making a  living doing something in film. 
Megan is self-employed as a freelancer in the television industry.  For the most part, she’s working cameras, and she loves it!  I am actually jealous, reading through her list of things she’s done.  Megan has worked on shows for TLC, Discovery Channel, Lifetime, and the Food Network. She has filmed homicide teams solve murders, oil rigs test out new technology, and dancers and choreographers compete for championships.  
She loves being in the middle of the action, getting to live a small part of someone else’s world, and seeing things she would never get to experience otherwise.
All talk of Three Stooges aside, the trajectory of Megan’s career began in high school, when she launched Moo Studios.  She used this small company to create video promos for local businesses, and even created a video for our school (which she claims would be embarrassing to watch now).  After graduating from college, she rebranded as Bug Studios and has flown with it from there.  One of her early projects was an animation for Conan O’Brien!
Megan gives credit to God for opening doors to get her into these positions.  As she works hard to perfect her craft, God continues to place things in her path to increase her career.  She quotes, “God does not do great things exclusively through great people, but through people willing to trust Him in greater ways” (unknown)
As Megan films and works in the TV industry, she wants to continue to travel, including filming internationally.  She has a list of places she would love to visit and work at and hopes these jobs become increasingly dangerous.
When asked how I helped (or hindered her on her journey), Megan answered, “I remember your sixth grade English class was the first time I really understood how to write stories. Writing my first 5-6 paragraph essay was an incredibly intimidating undertaking at the time. You helped us break it down and see it’s structure which demystified the seemingly laborious process of writing. I have since written a 100+ page script that is currently in development to be a feature-length film. But seriously, diagramming sentences made me want to gouge my eyes out and throw them at the chalkboard.”  I feel the need -- RIGHT NOW -- to apologize to any student I forced to diagram a sentence.  I can blame the curriculum, but I should have known better. Please forgive me.  
However, I am encouraged to see that by breaking the writing process down into smaller chunks, I could help a student fall in love with writing and even become published!

Megan loves physical comedy, an artform she claims is lost in today’s entertainment industry.  One of her life dreams is to bring things around full circle and create animation for Pixar or DreamWorks which would be in the Three Stooges genre of physical comedy.

I have somewhat lost touch with Megan over the years.  While I follow her on social media, I had only a vague idea of what she’s been doing.  I have thoroughly enjoyed catching up with her and hearing about the incredible work she has been doing.

And to think… I once taught someone who can be found on IMDB.

Keep up the good work, Megan!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Jessica, Special Education Teacher

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

I remember Jessica as an incoming fifth grader to our school, the oldest of five kids.  When I had Jess in sixth grade, I could not imagine how her mom handled five kids -- all in elementary school.  

Eventually, my wife (5th grade teacher) and I (6th grade teacher) had all five of those siblings in our classes and even led a few in the junior high youth group we started at our church.  Over time, Jess, KK, and the whole family became our friends more than our students or school parents.

Back in the day, we would take kids out to eat or to our homes for lunch.  Jessica remembers those times and marvels at how we put up with what could be called “childish behavior.” But the paper pickles, poking on the arm, and burnt brownies were part of a respectful banter that continues to this day. In JUMP (our jr hi group) my wife was Jess’s (and later KK’s) small group leader, which continued the relationship.  In high school, Jess volunteered to help my wife in her class for two years, leading Celeste to mentor her further.

Today, we somehow found ourselves with free babysitting and lawn care (when I’m physically unable to do it myself) from the Ungerecht Family. Jess now lives in Indianapolis but makes it a point to come visit us for food and catching up when she is in town.  We even had the joy of visiting Jess a couple years ago so she could show us around town.  

When I had Jess ages ago, I’m not sure I could have looked to 2013 and seen this happen, but I’m glad it has.  I wish I could say that my wife and I have poured ourselves into more of our students...but that would make an astronomical food bill. :)

Jess is in her third year of teaching at a charter high school in Indianapolis, where she focuses on special education and English. She works with numerous academic situations, from students with moderate cognitive disabilities reading at a 3rd grade level all the way to students working on an AP Lit level.  On top of this, she is a special education case manager for 25 students.  What I love is following her on Instagram and Twitter, seeing her interact with her students.  There is always one young man, in particular, who seems to always be in her pics with a big grin on his face.

As a teacher, I admittedly relate best with the top third of the class.  I struggle with communicating with and helping the students who struggle with the information.  I always marvel at those who can naturally enjoy working alongside those with special needs. This is something Jessica has been working toward since her freshman year in high school.  Now that she is in her third year of teaching she is seeing some fruit of her labor.  By collaborating with other passionate colleagues and watching her core student base grow and mature, she is thoroughly happy with what she is doing.

Jess is taking this perspective of a real teacher/student relationship into her classroom, and this benefits her students. She sees that her students are real people that she can build into so they can be inspired for greatness as well.

This past summer, Jess was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which now is taking a lot of her non-school focus.  However, she’s already determined she will beat it and is beginning treatments.

In the future, Jess would love to return to Jamaica, where she once on a missions trip in high school and once on a teaching trip while in college.  Special ed students there are ignored and left to fend for themselves in school, and she would love to start a school especially for them.

It’s exciting to see Jess growing and pouring her life into her students.  It’s fun to hear her stories of school antics.  And I can’t wait to see what will happen next.

The first is from graduation with some of her now former students. The second is from one of her trips to Jamaica. My personal favorite is the third picture, from our trip to Indy to visit her. The last two are from her sixth grade year, and I'm realizing how good Weight Watchers was to me.

You can follow Jess on Twitter, but she told me her account is set to private. She has to be highly selective of who she allows to follow her due to her school’s social media regulations.  Still, if you are a special ed teacher, thyroid cancer survivor, or lover of Jamaica or Bad Robot, she’ll probably let you in.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Persuasive Presentations

In my middle school Tools for Tech class, my students created a persuasive presentation. I had a few goals for this project.

  1. Try to persuade not just give information.
  2. Review the first unit of Common Sense Media
  3. Try something other than PowerPoint or Keynote, something new.
  4. Use creative commons pictures, keeping creators' rights in mind.
  5. Speak using notes, not reading off the screen.
I've embedded the students' presentations below.  Enjoy!

I could not embed the fourth presentation for some reason, so I have the link here.

Did I achieve my goals? Yes, but I still want to tweak it for next semester.

  1. I want to focus more on the Common Sense Media topics.  For some reason, I allowed them to talk about something that is meaningful to them.  I guess I was hoping a social issue (like world hunger or human trafficking) would come up.  
  2. Since everyone picked Prezi, I think I may put that on the banned list.  I'm not banning for the sake of banning.  I'm trying to open them up to new things, push them out of their comfort zone.  
How do you teach persuasive presentations?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cloud Photo Sharing?

I need some help.  I am the Facebook Administrator for my school, and I'm constantly bugging people for pictures of events.  Of course, I'm not the only person who would like to have photos.  The webmaster wants pictures for our school site, our athletic director wants pictures for the athletics site, the yearbook queen wants... well,  you know.

What I want is a cloud-based photo storage site that will allow multiple users to upload and download pictures for whatever use we need.  That will keep me from bugging volunteer moms for pictures or constantly asking people to share with me.

I originally thought of Picasa.  We would just need to rig up a gmail address and only share the login info with the people who need it. However, it looks like Picasa is going away soon to be gobbled up by Google+.  Now, I don't think Google+ is a bad thing.  I dabble in it occasionally myself. However, I'm not looking for a place where we can share photos with the world, just within our small community of photo-takers and photo-users in our school.

So, some questions you may be able to help me with...
1.  Can I upload pics to Google+ and NOT share them with the world?
2.  Can I create files or albums within Google+ so I can easily find what I want?
3.  Is there a site out there better than Google+?


Monday, September 9, 2013

KK, Photography and Philanthropy

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered. 

Kristin owns her own photography business here in the Cincinnati area. She focuses mostly on senior and wedding photography, but also does incredible portraits.  In fact, we love KK's work so much, she is our family photographer, taking some awesome pictures of our daughter.  While building her own business, she also works part time for another photographer in the area as a studio manager.  What impresses me most about KK is not her awesome photography skills, but the wonderful volunteer work she has done with those skills.

A few years ago, she partnered with her church to photograph underprivileged single moms and their kids free of charge, desiring to give these families a gift that many of us see as a normal part of life. In addition to this, KK has been taking pictures to help her church, LIFT (a gathering of young adults in Cincinnati designed to spur them into action), and various missions trips she's been on.  Always breaking new ground, Kristin has started attending and planning Pursuit 31 Conferences, dedicated to helping women have successful businesses in the creative arts while cultivating a relationship with God, and now works with Delight, a sister organization of Pursuit dedicated to helping young ladies pursue excellence in creative fields. She is even planning a trip to Ecuador next year to work at an orphanage.

In case you haven't realized it already, Kristin has a heart for people and especially those who are less fortunate than her. This love has been cultivated through a few avenues.  She mentioned a missions trip to Brazil after graduating from high school that opened her eyes to the needs of others but also the need for a bigger and bolder life mission.  Kristin also noted that youth leaders had poured into her life and she wanted to be able to do that through leading small groups at Pursuit and Delight. 

In the future, KK would love to be able to broaden that mission by creating photo documentaries highlighting people on the front lines of helping the less fortunate -- whether it be orphans, human trafficking, battered women, or the starving. I can't wait to see what's to come!

I'm finding that many of my former students have trouble remembering much of elementary school, which bursts my bubble a bit.  However, I am finding it interesting what students DO remember about me. I feel the need to just quote Kristin outright on this one. "I have no idea if you remember this, but there was one time you yelled at my class. Like super angry yelled. I don't remember why – we did something (or a lot of little somethings, more likely – ha!) – and you were upset. But what I remember about it is that you came back and apologized to us as a class. That's the first time I think I'd ever seen a teacher do that... own up to making a mistake and just say 'I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that.' It's stuck with me." I'm glad I did something to make mistake right and that it made an impact in someone's life.

I'm very excited that my family gets to stay in contact with Kristin.  She is one of my daughter's favorite babysitters, her photographer, and was our dogsitter before we had to put our dog down recently.  She still comes to visit on occasion and I love catching up.  The best days are ahead for KK and I'm looking forward to where she goes from here. 

Feel free to follow KK on Twitter or Instagram.

I've asked students to share picture of us back in the day and something more current. You'll see some goodies here, including International day, Salute to Sixth Grade, a picture of when we visited KK's sister in Indianapolis, and some promo shots for her business.  Enjoy!

Oh, and I thought I would add a great shot from my daughter's most recent photo shoot.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pioneer or Settler?

Are you a pioneer or a settler?  An odd question?  Not at all.  Hang with me.

I heard another great message at church, and it applied so well to technology integration.  (If you want to watch the message, you can do so here.) In case you're wondering, I'm not trying to convert you. I just wanted to integrate something I heard into the ed tech conversation. 

Chuck, one of our pastors, talked about how any major changes take both pioneers and settlers.  The message started with a stirring video of Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream" speech. From there he talked about the great men and women who were part of the Civil Rights Movement.  I think most of us would agree that Dr. King was a pioneer of the movement. One man I did not know about was Whitney Young, Jr.  Mr. Young was not on the front lines of the movement. Instead he was leading the National Urban League and influencing presidents and other politicians along the way. Mr. Young was a settler.  He was quoted as saying that, "Someone has to work within the system to change it." 

Pioneers bring vision. Settlers bring infrastructure.

Chuck mentioned a few other examples, but one of them was the land runs of the 1800s. People would line up on the border of a new territory and at the appointed time would go and stake their claim.  In 1893 100,000 people lined up with the goal of gaining free land in Oklahoma.  Pioneers who ran out to stake their claim certainly got the best land.  However, those who survived had settlers follow behind with wagons full of supplies.  The settlers provided infrastructure. Those without settlers to support them lost their homestead within 12 months. On the other hand, some settlers didn't team up with a pioneer and missed out on the best land. Teamwork was a necessary aspect of a successful land run.

In order to be a successful agent of change, you need a team with pioneers and settlers.

My wife poked me in the ribs and leaned in to say that she thought of my friend Mike and me. Good point.  Mike and I worked at camp together ages ago.  I was the pioneer. I dreamed up all sorts of crazy ideas with no real plan how to make them work.  Mike was the organizer.  He determined the ones that would fly and the ones that would sink. He then organized the plans and got the machine rolling.  Of course, I was there to add enthusiasm for my great and awesome plan.

Do you have a team like this?

At my school, I am the ed tech pioneer. I read the blogs and the tweets. I find new and exciting things to try at the school. I try the great ideas out in my classes or filter them out to my colleagues. The rest of the IT team are the settlers.  They They understand the networking.  They know what will work or how to make my crazy ideas work.  I push. They add stability. We grow.

In the overall world of educational technology, though, I think I'm more of a settler. There are others who are doing more, pushing more, and pioneering more than I am. I am merely looking at what they are doing and gleaning from them. I help add infrastructure and stability to the great pioneering work that's being done.

Let me ask you again.  Are you a pioneer or a settler? Knowing your role in the growth process is a key element of effective change. Embrace that role and join a team that complements your strengths and weaknesses.

Who is on your team? Who is bringing new ideas to your school? Who is helping to keep things stable and organized? 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Orry, West Point Cadet

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered. 

It's a rare thing to say you once taught a West Point Cadet, but I'm honestly not very surprised that Orry is studying at one of the top universities in the land. I have known Orry and his family for over a decade, since his older sister Rachel was in my wife's 5th grade class.  Excellence in studies and behavior have been honed in these two from an early age.

Orry is a Plebe, just starting his freshman year at West Point, having completed basic training over the summer.  Having never studied at a military academy, I had no idea what the coursework would be like. Tactical training? History of war? When to use a gun and when to use a tank? Orry tells me that he is currently studying courses that would be found at a civilian university.  However, on top of his studies he has numerous military duties to complete.

It's no secret that being accepted to West Point is extremely difficult, and I think I would rest on my laurels at that point if I succeeded.  However, Orry has other goals.  He wants to travel and become an army officer (I think he's well on the way to that), but he also plans to learn New Testament Greek one day.  Wouldn't it be great if he published The Madden Version of the Bible?

As a teacher, I feel that it's my job to partner with parents to help raise their kids. Orry's family was one that I truly felt I was in sync with.  As I attempted to instill organization and hard work into my students, I always felt like Orry was one step ahead of the class -- a tribute to his parents.  As I asked Orry to reflect on his sixth grade experience, he mentioned that as an elementary student he was scared to death to make a mistake.  Somehow I was able to help him realize that it's OK to make a mistake, which helped him come out of his shell.

Ironically, he also remembered Sentence Boot Camp.  I remember this very well.  As an English teacher, I was frustrated that the students were not learning (nor taking seriously) all the intricacies of different types of sentences.  (Looking back, I realize that this is extremely boring and I don't blame them for not working terribly hard.)  I got out of my normal character of the laid back and humorous teacher and strapped on my best drill sergeant persona.  I worked them hard, doing all sorts of sentence exercises, striving to make them excellent sentence writers.  It wasn't fun for them, but they came out better writers on the other end of that week.

I'm proud to have been a small part of Orry's growth as a student and individual. I'm even more proud to say that I played an active role in the history of a West Point Cadet.

Do well in school, Orry!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The End of Computer Labs?

When I go to my middle school Tools for Technology course the last period of today, I will greet my four students who will eagerly begin their Innovation Projects. Yes, you read that right.  FOUR students in an elective class that I think is really cool and lots of fun.
Last night was Back to School Night for our middle school and high school.  As parents walked around the school visiting with teachers, I had visits from parents of a high school study hall student, four kids I had in elementary school, and a family of high school students I've never had.  I did have one mom of a technology student who tried to catch me but missed me. (I had to get home to relieve the sitter!)  
This past summer, we partnered with a local university to offer a middle school summer camp where students would learn how to build an iOS app.  While the content of the app was not going to be particularly fun (tracking earthquakes, not slinging birds across a screen), it was still a pretty cool and innovative idea. Not many 13 year old children are building their own iOS apps. But... we had to cancel because of lack of interest.  We needed a minimum of 10 students sign up; we had one.
Last school year, we realized that we had no technology offerings for our high school students. After some pondering, wild crazy ideas, and research, we landed on GenYES.  This is a curriculum designed to train students to help teachers integrate technology into the classroom.  Not only do teachers start to learn about technology integration, it helps students learn some software and apps they might not be exposed to, gives them a glimpse of the teaching profession, and helps them acquire some responsibility and maturity. We cancelled it; no one signed up.

What's up with the lack of interest in technology courses? (Please don't say it's me!)

More than a decade ago, I wrote my Master's thesis on technology integration.  One thread in my research was from a group of teachers who felt that computer labs should be a thing of the past. Instead, all those computers should be evenly distributed throughout the classrooms to facilitate better integration. The thinking was that computers skills should not be taught in isolation but integrated within content areas. After all, we don't have a pencil and paper lab, why should we have computer labs? 

While this is a novel idea, it has never reached a school where I taught.  Computer labs and computer classes are tried and true mainstays of modern education.  As a regular classroom teacher, I always appreciated computer class, because the computer teacher tried to support what I was doing in the classroom and coordinate lessons to fit my curriculum. Now as a K-8 computer teacher, this is my livelihood, and I would really appreciate keeping computer labs around.

When I wrote my thesis, the idea of 1:1 technology programs were revolutionary.  The state of Maine was in the process of rolling out a 1:1 program to every middle school student.  Apple was experimenting with desktop computers.  ACOT gave each student and teacher in the program a desktop to use in school and one to use at home. However, back at the turn of the century, this type of technology infusion was rare and unachievable for most schools. Today, students of all ages are using iPads, Chromebooks, and other devices in regular classrooms, many of them in 1:1 or BYOD situations. What visionaries pushed for 10+ years ago is a reality in many schools today.

Now the questions remain... Do we really need technology courses? Are computer labs still necessary?


I spent eighteen and a half years as a regular classroom teacher, slogging away on the front line planning lessons, grading papers, communicating with parents, disciplining kids, going to meetings, keeping rooms clean, and doing all the stuff teachers do.  Technology integration was my passion and I still felt like I never did it justice.  For teachers who are not as passionate about technology or not as skilled, this is a massive mountain to climb.  In fact, many do not bother trying.

A computer teacher can come alongside a regular teacher and help in a couple of ways.  First, every student needs to learn technology skills.  I recently realized that a number of our kindergartners had no idea what "click" means and many of my elementary kids needed a lesson in "right click."  I also am working with all students from grades 1-6 to learn how to save to a flash drive using folders to keep it all organized.  Regular classroom teachers don't have time for all this.  Second, I am in a position to ask teachers how I can help them.  Helping them with projects, I can push their students in different directions technologically that a regular classroom teacher may not have thought of.  When I was hired at my current school, I got in on my love for technology integration.  The truth is that most of my really great ideas were really derived and implemented by our computer teacher who worked along with me.  Third, as students gain confidence they start pushing the technology envelope.  Their pioneering causes teachers to learn on the fly and allow them to try new things.

However, I'm starting to see that our middle school and high school models may need to change to be effective.  Students need to see relevance to their lives in order to pursue something.  While I see great value in some of the things we've offered here, students don't.  And they show it by not coming.

By middle school, most students have arrived at a skill level similar (or even beyond) mine.  Here are some areas of focus I think we need to be relevant to our teenage students.
  1. Different devices.  Different apps. Different platforms. Different browsers. Do we use Microsoft, Apple, Google, or a combination?  What student has what device? Which apps do pretty much the same thing?  It's a confusing world, and more and more a lot has to do with personal preference more than anything else.  Wouldn't it be cool to have a lab where students could experiment with different hardware, browsers, programs, and apps?
  2. By high school, technology learning should be more divergent toward students' proposed career path or personal interests.  This may not be feasible in a small school like mine, but students will be more likely to take an elective if it is seen as a step on the path toward what they are going to do in real life.  Photography, web design, and networking are all great options.  These, of course, will need to be taught by highly specialized teachers.
  3. Coding. I don't need to say more.  Just watch the video at
  4. STEM or STEAM? The more I think about the future of technology in schools, the more I think this concept is the best program moving forward.  Teaching across the curriculum will help students learn the interconnects between science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. This is no small change.  It will take expert training and most likely will require team teaching, but this will take computer use out of the theoretical and  relate it to a number of different content areas.
It will be interesting to see the path our school and other schools like our take from here.

What kind of technology courses does your school or district offer at the middle school and high school levels?