Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Power of Connecting through Student Blogs

I am a people person.  I love to share, connect and collaborate on a daily (even hourly) basis - I find it energizing, inspiring and validating...and it helps me to learn and grow, both as a professional and as a person.  I am constantly amazed by the awesome things my colleagues are doing, and am grateful to have a PLN that is made up of people from various areas of expertise.

I was in a training about a month ago where the presenter mentioned a survey he had given to the leaders of various companies.  The survey asked about the top skills companies look for in new employees.  Any guesses about the responses?  The top answers given were... the ability to collaborate, and good communication skills.  These are skills we need to model, develop, and encourage in our students across content areas.

At the beginning of the school year, all of the staff members at my school are asked to share a hope and dream for the school year.  My hope centered around giving students opportunities to share their learning in meaningful ways (check out my video below to hear it first-hand).

When students share their learning with others, I find that they take ownership over what they know - and what they still don't know.  They are reflective and thoughtful about what to share and how to communicate it.  They collaborate on building a better understanding of the concept before, during, and after sharing.

Enter 6th grade math class.  A 6th grade teacher, +Mary R Moran, and I began co-teaching math last year, and together decided to be very intentional about teaching the academic language associated with the math concepts we were teaching, as we had many English learners in our class (I was the ELL teacher), as well as other students who seemed to have gaps in their understanding of basic math concepts.  We wanted to provide our students with an authentic audience for practicing the vocabulary they were learning, and we wanted to find a way to archive and share all that each student was doing.  So, we had each student create a math blog.  Students posted math reflections and work samples on their blogs, and then commented on one another's blog posts to ask questions, share information or make connections with what they read.  It was a great experience.  The students took pride in what they posted to their own blogs, and really enjoyed commenting on each others' blogs.  In addition, they had meaningful, authentic opportunities to share and practice their developing math vocabulary and understanding of mathematical concepts, and we could see their confidence in themselves and their math abilities grow as the year went on.

When this year began, Mary and I knew we definitely wanted the students to create math blogs.  But this year, we wanted to take connecting to the next level.  We started searching for other classes that were doing math blogs in an effort to encourage students to connect beyond the walls of the classroom.  On Twitter, I came across an awesome site called - a site by @MathletePearce where student math bloggers can connect and share their math learning.
Image from

The students are so excited to connect with other students from around the world on!  They've already started exploring and leaving comments on the other students' math blogs.  (We discussed the blogging golden rule:  You have to give comments to get comments.)  They also discovered their blogs' stats and audience tracking feature and are really excited to see that people from around the world are checking out their math learning -- talk about an authentic audience!

The power of connecting has been very evident already this year with this group of 6th grade math students.  They work hard to master 6th grade math concepts, they reflect on their learning, including strengths and challenges, they archive and share their learning on math blogs, and they deepen their understanding and increase their confidence by connecting and collaborating with students around the world through blogging.

How do students in your school connect and share their learning?  
Leave a comment below!

Would you like to connect with our math bloggers?  
Check them out here:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Balance is Key

It's hard to believe it's almost November -- the first few months of school have flown by, and at times, I feel like I've hit a stride in my new position as a technology integration specialist.  At the same time, there are definitely days when I feel I am still just beginning to figure out my new role.

As I transition and adapt to my new job, I am learning and realizing more about myself than I had realized I would - for example, I have always been an idea person.  I love to brainstorm and collaborate on new ideas and I love to be a part of putting the ideas into practice.  The flip side of this is that I'm not fond of missing out on opportunities to collaborate, and I don't like to say no.  It only took a week straight of not having time to eat lunch for me to realize I need to carve out time to eat each day...or it might not happen (lunch and prep are great times to meet and collaborate with classroom teachers!).  Did I mention I'm an extrovert?!

So, I'm striving to find balance.

A balance between time to collaborate and time to work, create, and complete tasks on my own.  A balance between saying yes and saying no -- or, maybe, I can't at that time.

Balance between learning and reflecting;
           gathering new ideas and implementing;
                                          big ideas and the details.

The hardest area for me to find balance has been in setting limits with work after hours to honor the time I want to dedicate to my home life  (I love to cook, but haven't been able to during the week for a while....and there's been a mounting pile of laundry staring me down for the past several days...).  I am striving to find balance.

How do you find balance?  How to you maintain it?  Is there an app for that?

Thanks for sharing your ideas and comments below!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Failing in Public

Tonight during a livesession conversation on "Using Connectivism" as a part of #ooe13, another participant, +Greg McVerry @jgmac1106, talked about publishing blog posts and then editing and revising them continuously after publishing.  He mentioned that blogging sometimes acts as his life's rough draft, which I think holds a lot of truth for many bloggers out there. As he was sharing this, I reflected on my own blogging practices and realized that, more often than not, I take too long to filter through, edit, and revise my ideas before publishing them. The end result is often that I reach my historical "one blog post per month" limit.

I am determined to change this practice. I'm shifting my blogging mindset so that my blog writing  better reflects my thinking as it evolves.  This means getting comfortable with the idea of "failing in public" and "failing out loud".  I'm not always going to be on the right track or know the right answer, but I'll definitely be doing a lot of thinking along the way.  Our #ooe13 chat spent quite a bit of time discussing the value of taking risks through blogging and Tweeting to share and question our thinking, and to co-construct an understanding of a topic with our PLNs.  Far too often, failure is seen as a negative thing instead of a chance to create meaning through developing understanding.  


Failing has been on my mind a lot lately... I recently pinned a poster on Pinterest that said FAIL: first attempt at learning. I'm going to put it up in my office to help remind myself of the value of failure (I'll bet it might lead to some good conversations, too).  As a teacher at a STEM school, we teach our students that failure is a very necessary part of the engineering and design process.  Why shy away from failure as teachers?  Or from sharing our experiences with failure?  After all, the reflection that happens after failure often leads to great learning!

I am excited to embrace failure in public by using my blog as a sounding board instead of a final product. I'd love to hear your take on the idea of failing in public-- feel free to post a comment below!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Goals for #OOE13


Here's a little bit about me:

My name is Andrea Wilson Vazquez, and I am a Technology Integration Specialist at a STEM elementary school.  This is my first year in my position as a TIS, however this is my 4th year at my school.  Prior to this year, I was an ELL teacher for about 5 years.  I still work as an ELL teacher two nights per week in an adult basic education program.  My passions include learning, researching, collaborating, ed tech, traveling, and kayaking.  I have participated in one other MOOC: Mapping with Google in June, 2013 - I loved the experience and couldn't wait to find another MOOC to participate in.
I love to learn and am always on the look out for new learning opportunities, especially around educational technology and collaboration with other educators.  So, you can imagine my excitement when I came across #OOE13 - Open Online Experience, 2013 - a year-long open, online course focused on technology integration in education.  Each month, we are going to discuss, connect and collaborate on a different ed tech topic.

Blogging is a part of the coursework in #OOE13 because it provides a space for reflecting on ideas and experiences, and serves as a platform for connecting with other educators who may have similar ideas and experiences.  Although I am not a first time blogger, I am hoping that my involvement in this course helps me to become more consistent with blogging to increase my web presence with my new blog.

As a part of our synchronous session last week, we watched a cool video called Success in a MOOC:

In this video, Dave Cormier discusses 5 key steps to successful participation in a MOOC:

The purpose of this blog post is to declare my goals for myself through this course:
  • I want to become a more consistent blogger.  Instead of posting 1x/month, I want to increase my blogging to 2x/month (or more!).
  • I am excited to connect with other educators involved in technology integration, and hope to grow my PLN through this course.  One way I plan to do that is by participating in synchronous sessions, through Twitter, and by commenting on other #OOE13 participants' blog posts.
  • I would like to share my learning with my staff and others through PD, smackdowns (like this one), and presenting at ed tech conferences.

How about you?  
Have you ever participated in a MOOC?  
Any advice for others who are just starting out in a year-long MOOC?  
Post your comments below.  

State of mind for the new school year

Starting a new job this year has given me a great opportunity to really think through my state of mind for the new school year.  By state of mind, I mean mentality, self talk, mindset, the way we mentally prepare ourselves to handle what comes our way.
After being an ELL teacher for five years, this is my first year as a technology integration specialist, and I decided to go into the year with an open mind (I know for a fact there are many ways to reach a desired outcome), humility (I know I’ll have a lot to learn on the job), and a ‘no fear’ state of mind (Take a risk -- go big, or go home, right?).

I have found that the three mentalities are really interrelated – Starting with being open to hearing about new ideas, then on to being ready to take a risk to try them out, and ending with being humble, yet reflective when/if they don’t work out as planned…or if they work out better than planned!   

I’ve already had several opportunities to try out my new state of mind.  One such opportunity involved collaborating with our school’s library media specialist on talking with the 6th graders about our responsible use policy and what it means to be good digital citizens.  The LMS and I openly discussed our ideas and came up with a project that gave our students a chance to create a public service announcement to share our responsible use policy with other students and staff at our school (using Google Slides or Glogster).  We were both open to each other’s ideas, and were excited to take a risk and put our ideas into practice with the 6th grade classes.  After teaching the first section of 6th grade, we had a few minutes to talk through how things went, and we realized there just wasn’t enough time to teach both Google Slides and Glogster, so we decided to focus on Google Slides for the other sections.  (This required some humility on my part, because I had really hoped to use Glogster.)  The next sections went well, although we still wished we had had more time with each class.  We met together after teaching all of the sections to reflect and revise our plan for next time.  It was a great experience, and was made even better by the fact that both of us were open minded, took risks and were humble and reflective about the experience.
This experience also got me thinking about our students’ state of mind.  What is their mentality when they come to school?  What do they tell themselves when they encounter a problem or new situation?  

After reading Mindset by Dweck and Habits of Mind Across theCurriculum by Costa and Kallick, I think state of mind and the skills that enable us to possess various states of mind are things we need to explicitly teach our students.  Students need to know that hard work, a growth mindset, persistence, inquiry, collaboration, and a sense of humor (among others) are critical skills to develop for school and beyond.  These skills are especially useful when students and teachers are working with technology – sometimes technology works well and sometimes it doesn’t work at all (can we add patience to the state-of-mind list?).

As the school year unfolds, I will continue to focus on being open-mind, humble, and a risk-taker in my new position.  I will also model and discuss these skills, as well as other habits of mind, with my students, with the hope that they will begin to adopt and adapt these skills into their own state of mind for this school year.
How about you?  What is your state of mind for this school year?  What are you focusing on?  How do you teach these skills to your students?  Post your ideas in the comments below, or contact me on Twitter @wilsandrea.