Monday, September 22, 2014

Teachers as Pollinators

This post corresponds to day #18 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging. Click here to learn more about the challenge!

I've been giving a lot of thought to an analogy that helps to shed light on my teaching philosophy, and I have landed on the following:

Teachers are like pollinators.


We are hard workers.

We deliver information and instruction to our students, and provide them with 
opportunities that help them to grow and flourish.

We cross-pollinate by connecting, sharing and collaborating 
with colleagues with different areas of expertise.

What's your metaphor for teaching?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Challenges in Education

This post corresponds to day #17 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging. Click here to learn more about the challenge!

Teaching is a tough job.
We navigate financial hardship, lack of resources, time crunches, language barriers, lost homework, keeping up with new initiatives, and the need to meet each of our students where s/he is at.  All while simultaneously trying to teach the content and language students are expected to learn this year.

But, if I had to choose the biggest challenge in education today, I'd have to go with the pressure and focus on standardized test scores.  The importance placed on achieving a certain score on a standardized test is enough to cause major stress for the student, family, and teacher.  The part that I see as the biggest challenge is that the standardized tests of today really aren't able to get at some of the overarching skills that will help our students be successful throughout their educational and professional careers: perseverance, problem solving, collaboration, innovation, creativity, critical thinking, self-directed, good communicator, etc...  Additionally, the time spent preparing students to take standardized tests often takes away from other content areas and projects that would continue to develop students' habits of mind.

Have you ever watched Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk entitled "How Schools Kill Creativity"?  In it, Sir Ken talks about the importance of giving kids the chance to be wrong -- yes, to fail -- to make mistakes and to learn how to learn from their mistakes.  The pressure kids face with standardized tests does not exactly set the stage for the mindset that failure is an important part of learning.

There are many challenging issues in education today, but for me this issue stands out.  As Sir Ken Robinson says at the end of his TED talk, "Our task it to educate childrens' whole being so they can face the future...because we may not see the future, but they will, and our job is to help them make something of it."  #philosophicalfoodforthought

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A New Set of Superpowers, Please!

This post corresponds to day #16 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging. Click here to learn more about the challenge!

Today's post is all about superpowers.

It's true, I think teaching is already a pretty awesome superpower... but, if I were able to take on additional superpowers in the classroom, I think I'd go with the ability to instantaneously clone myself, be in multiple places at once, and have superhuman endurance.

If I had these superpowers, I could be in classrooms supporting students and teachers with their tech integration, while also meeting with other teachers to plan and brainstorm new ideas, as well as participating in various Twitter chats throughout the day, meeting with student technology groups, blogging about cool things we're doing, researching new ideas on other educators' blogs, planning future professional development, collaborating with the other tech integrationists in my district and general area, and attending and sharing ideas at various educational conferences worldwide.

I went around and around with my superpower choices to make sure they were the best ones I could come up with.  I talked with some co-workers (one had the idea of a superpower to start and stop time so she'd have a chance to work with every student when they needed help, another had the idea of turning her hands into homework magnets so that kids wouldn't forget to turn it in), and I also did some research online (ever wonder what a list of superpowers and characters who possess them might look like? Check out this Wikipedia entry!).  There are so many awesome superpowers out there!  I mean, c'mon, who wouldn't like to try out a sonic scream, animated hair, or vortex breath every once in a while?

So, how about you?  Which superpower(s) would you choose?  I can't wait to check out the other 30-day challenge participants' posts from today to see what they chose!

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Few Strengths

This post corresponds to day #15 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging. Click here to learn more about the challenge!

It's true when they say that it can be difficult for teachers to talk about our strengths. It's all about the students, after all, right?  We want to encourage them and help them to recognize their strengths so that they gain a deeper understanding of themselves as learners and individuals. But, we have to remember that modeling self-confidence and self-awareness for our students is a great way to help encourage those skills in them as well.

When I reflected on my own strengths as an educator, here were a few I came up with:

1) I'm an innovative thinker.
I like to push the boundaries and explore new ideas. I'm a connected educator and love to collaborate and connect with my PLN to exchange and explore ideas, strategies and resources.  A quick example from last year: After being met with some indifference initially from staff about coding, I decided to start a recess coding group for our 1-6 grade students last year from January - May, and had incredible results!  Lots of students were interested, and lots of staff became interested. This year, we taught coding as a part of our school's back to school summer institute, our 6th graders will code for 6 weeks straight, and I'm hoping to forge ahead with my recess coding group to include kindergarten.

2) Motivator / Cheerleader / Positive Thinker
I love to cheer people on (students, staff, anyone!) and find the positive side of any situation.  I especially love to take on this role when others take risks and need some encouragement. It's awesome to celebrate an accomplishment with someone who has worked hard to get there!

3) Lifelong learner
I'm definitely a lifelong learner. I think this is a strength because when I learn new things, I am excited to try them out at school. I usually team up with a teacher or find a way to integrate the new idea, all while letting students know that they are about to try out a new idea (I'm also not afraid to fail... FAIL = First Attempt in Learning, right?!).  I also love to learn from my students, and I absolutely embrace the idea that everyone is an expert and has expertise to share.

4) Sense of humor
I love to laugh! I like see the lighter side of situations and try to take things in stride.
A quick anecdote: I was in a 2nd grade class last year and some students were taking while to put their iPads back in the cart after an activity. I got closer to see what was taking them so long, and overheard their conversation, "My iPad says hashtag nineteen. What does yours say? What do you think it means?" ... ahh, hilariousness!  One must have a sense of humor in education - too many silly things happen during the course of a day  :)

What are some of your strengths?  Go ahead, toot your own horn!  These are undoubtedly the things that make you a great and memorable teacher!

Specific Feedback + Self-Reflection

This post corresponds to day #14 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

Feedback is an important part of learning. It's helpful to know some information about where you're at in relation to a goal you're working to achieve.

As a technology integration specialist, the ways I give feedback to students often take place during the learning activity at hand. The standards I'm focused on are the ISTE Standards for Students, and I strive to give specific feedback that gets to the process students use to accomplish a task...for example, "The ways you chose to communicate your message are very clear to the audience, " or, "You might want to re-visit your plan for this activity to make sure it successfully leads to a solution."

I also try to use a lot of inquiry-based dialogue with students to encourage self-reflection and to help them make their own decisions on where to go next with their learning, "how do you know this information is correct?" "what else could you do to make sure your message is clear to the audience?" or simply, "what's your next step?".

When I talk with teachers after lessons and they ask for my feedback, I try to employ the same techniques. I give specific feedback from my point of view about the process or aspects of the lesson and how they aligned with the ISTE Standards for Teachers, and I also ask questions that encourage self-reflection.  I have found that teachers are incredibly reflective practitioners, and many times their reflections lead to conversations around successes from this lesson to repeat in future lessons, and new ideas or avenues to explore for next time.

All in all, I try to stay very positive, yet honest, with the feedback I give. I also strive to ask others for feedback on my role in their lessons and activities and I engage in collaborative brainstorms and trouble-shooting sessions regularly.  In my opinion, feedback and self-reflection, in combination with a plan of action for next time, help to ensure that a process, lesson, or activity will continue to improve. If we model this for our students, they are sure to notice and follow suit!

My Favorite Ed Tech Tools

This post corresponds to day #13 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

It's difficult to narrow down or rank my favorite ed tech tools because there are so many good ones out there, however I can say with confidence that my favorites all fall under one category: non-content specific.

All of my go-to ed tech tools are effective to use no matter the subject area, and a few are also device agnostic, meaning they are not limited to usage on a single device, however, since my district is going 1:1 iPads, many of my top picks are iPad apps.

When I think about what's important to me when choosing ed tech tools I'd like to use, my top criterion is that the app allows for the creation of a product to demonstrate understanding.

A year or two ago, a colleague and I came across the Padagogy Wheel by Dr. Alan Carrington, which combines the SAMR model and Bloom's taxonomy with various ed tech / iPad tools that can be used at each level.   Just last week, I saw a new / updated version of the Padagogy Wheel, titled the iPadagogy Wheel by +Relton McBurrows on Google +.  What's cool about it is that is has the added layer of the ISTE technology standards, paired with SAMR and Blooms, and it also includes updated apps.  All of the apps listed on both wheels are non-content specific and make it possible for students to create something to demonstrate their learning.

So, clearly there are lots of great ed tech tools out there to choose from.  And, in the age of app smashing, there's no need to choose only one!

I do have a few favorites; a list that is fluid and never set in stone...
(in no particular order)

  • Google Apps for Education.  
    • Reasoning: They facilitate creation, collaboration and creativity across content areas and devices thru Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drawings, and a variety of other add-ons.  And, they're free!
  • Screencasting Apps, such as ShowMe.
    • Reasoning: They give students the chance to be the experts, and to demonstrate their understanding of a concept by teaching it to an authentic audience.  Plus, they facilitate student self-reflection and self-assessment.
  • Scratch Programming.
    • Reasoning: Scratch (and other student-focused coding sites and apps) embraces student creativity and sharing through its easy-to-use coding platform, complete with a supportive and collaborative community of programmers of all ages.  
  • iMovie.
    • Reasoning: It's a great medium for pulling everything together and sharing out a final, polished project.
  • Other favorites: PicCollage, HaikuDeck, StoreHouse, AdobeVoice, ShadowPuppetsEDU

What are some of your favorite ed tech tools?  What helps you to narrow down your favorites?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Looking Back to Look Forward

This post corresponds to day #12 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

When I envision how my teaching will change over the next five years, a couple of themes come to mind: innovation, integration, and integrity.

In order to really start looking forward, though, I fing myself first looking back on how my teaching has changed over the past five years.

A few highlights from 2009-10:

  • I was just getting excited about Google and started using Google Docs and Forms for the first time with students.
  • I used a PB wiki page to share info and resources with students.
  • I helped students create podcasts as a way to share their learning.
  • I was really big on students creating comics using Makebeliefscomix to summarize, predict, and review what they were reading.
  • We did everything on desktops and laptops.

To summarize, a lot of what I did with technology five years ago was to use it as a way to share resources with students, and to assess their understanding of a concept.  It was pretty teacher-driven.  When I did have students create something using technology, I often had already outlined the project for them and they had strict parameters to fulfill.

It's interesting to reflect on my teaching five years ago because although it doesn't seem like that long ago, a lot has changed in that short amount of time...both in technology, as well as in my philosophy about teaching.

So, why do I think innovation, integration, and integrity will be the themes of my teaching over the next five years?

Technology is always changing, so my teaching must continue to evolve and change in innovative ways, too!  When I think of innovation, I not only think about being an innovative teacher with technology, but also in the way I approach teaching.  I want to give students more and more opportunities to innovate and create as they are learning, so continuing to incorporate increasing amounts of student choice into my teaching is something I see in my near future.

Technology will be seen more and more as a vehicle for learning, and will be seamlessly integrated into teaching and learning.  I have already seen increased integration through the shorter introductions I've had to give this year to learning with iPads.  Whereas an iPad intro lesson may have taken 30-45 minutes with first graders last year, this year it took 15!  With shorter time spent on teaching about the tool, we are able to spend more time using the tool as a vehicle for learning.  I think about kids I know who are able to navigate a smart phone at age 2.  The integration of technology and learning is already commonplace for them, and will continue to be more so over the next few years.  As I see it, the task at hand for teachers is to continue to thoughtfully integrate technology as a way to push learning forward and make learning more student-centered.

No matter how much technology changes, certain tenants of good teaching will always remain constant:  the importance of building relationships with students, providing scaffolding and support to give all students access to content and language, the effect of authentic contexts and audiences on learning, the impact of student choice and relevancy of content to a student's life in boosting engagement, and the importance of maintaining strong communication between home and school.  Continuing to maintain the integrity of these best practices will be just as important five years from now (if not more so!) than it is today.

These are my predictions for my teaching five years from now.... Where do you see your teaching in five years?  How will it be similar to or different from your teaching now?

Friday, September 12, 2014

The best part of the school day

This post corresponds to day #11 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

If I had to pick my favorite time of the school day, I think my favorite [predictable] part is my morning bus duty.  I love seeing kids right when they get off the buses, greeting them, and sharing some enthusiasm about what a great day it's sure to be.  Their days are just beginning and they are ready for anything.  I think that giving kids a positive interaction in the morning helps put a positive spin on their day.  I remember in high school, our school principal used to say everyday on the announcements, "Make it a great day...or not, the choice is yours."   I like to tell kids "Let's make it a great day!" when I see them in the morning.

There are, of course, several other times during the day that are pretty awesome - and usually they're less predictable. Another blogger, +Amanda Meyer, describes "learning zen" in her latest blog post, and I have to agree that the moments in which students are really in the learning zone are definitely also some of my favorites. There's so much energy and buzz -- it's contagious!  I also love my time spent collaborating with teachers who are in the zone, maybe we'd call it the "teaching zen"?  They are passionate about the content,  can't wait to share it with students, and are excited to see where students go with the new information.

A few other favorite [mostly unpredictable] moments:

  • the moments right after a student figures out how to do or solve something (on their own)
  • the moment when a student finishes a project and proudly shares with their peers
  • the moments when a student goes out of his/her comfort zone to help another student
  • the moments when students teach me something about technology
  • the moments when I stand around with 6th graders and we speak only in #hashtags for 5 minutes
  • the moments when we give kids control of their learning, and they go way beyond our expectations
It's so hard to narrow it down to a favorite moment or part of the school day.  What would you say is your favorite part of the school day?  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

All About Me

This post corresponds to day #10 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

Five random facts about me:

  • I'm an ideas person and I love projects.  One of my latest projects was turning a $10 garage sale bookshelf into a gem:

  • My favorite sport is volleyball. Some of my favorite memories from my mid 20s include playing on a volleyball team with my dad and my sister.
  • I love to laugh!  I find that having a sense of humor about life makes so many things more enjoyable :)
  • I love to learn. Wait, there's a new MOOC on coding?  I'm in...  Oooh, watching countless YouTube videos on different sewing techniques?  Done...  Did you say there's a new Twitter chat for teachers?  Just tell me when and where...  Learning new things is energizing for me. It renews my passion and excitement for teaching, and so I am always striving to learn, collaborate, and share!
  • I teach adult ELL classes two evenings a week, and love it.  The students are incredible, the other teachers I work with are great, and teaching adults is really fun!  

Four things on my bucket list:
  • Going on a sea kayaking trip around Baja California, Mexico.  
    This picture is from a kayaking trip my husband and I took on Lake Superior.
  • Design, code, and publish an app.  
  • Travel to all 7 continents (they let tourists travel to Antarctica, right?!).
  • Enter a piece of artwork into the MN State Fair (photo? sewing project? something!).

Three things I hope for this year:
  • More opportunities for students and teachers to learn and try coding.
  • We (my school) will continue to innovate and integrate through our STEM content, coming up with new, exciting, and authentic learning opportunities for students.
  • Finding more of a balance between work and home.

Two things that made me laugh or cry as an educator:
  • Laugh: hanging out with kindergartners on their first day of school.  And I quote, "I'm 5 years old," "I lost a tooth," "She rides my bus," "My shoes have lights on them," "My dog's name is Scruffy," "My favorite animal is a cheetah," "I'm hungry now,"....... all in the span of 2 minutes.  All I could do was laugh!  Their excitement and curiosity are inspiring, and I'm looking forward to my next visit to kindergarten.
  • Cry: seeing how sad some kids are on the last day of school.  We always line up to wave goodbye to all of the buses on the last day, and I always feel a bit choked up thinking about the kids who would rather stay in school all year.  

One thing I wish people knew about me:
  • I think I come up with my best ideas when walking.  Want to brainstorm?  Let's walk and talk!  (I think it has something about increased amounts of oxygen and a change of scenery...?) 

A Post About the Small Things

This post corresponds to day #9 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

Small accomplishments make a difference...
even if few people know that they were actually accomplishments.

When was the last time you reflected on small accomplishments that you've achieved recently in your teaching?

This blog post inspired me to celebrate a few small things from this fall:
  1. Recently, a few teachers have told me that they appreciate the way I manage tech trouble-shooting because I'm approachable, I validate the things they've tried, and I break the steps down so they're easy to understand.  I work with a talented group of teachers, and I try to be very intentional and collaborative about the way I approach trouble-shooting. I guess it all goes back to my belief that failure is really just a first attempt in learning, as in sometimes tech fails us, and sometimes we fail at tech, but there's always something to learn from the situation.  I want teachers to become more and more confident and comfortable integrating various forms of technology into their classrooms, and I think getting staff involved with their own trouble-shooting is a step in the right direction.  So glad they're appreciating the effort I'm making in that area!
  2. I held drop-in Techie Tuesday sessions twice a month all year last year at my school and encouraged any staff member who was interested to attend.  I had a good number of teachers stop by, but had very few ESPs (paraprofessionals) - in fact, I think my tech ESP may have been the only one to attend.  This year, I have had two ESPs already ask me when the first Techie Tuesday will be held because they'd really like to come.  Woohoo!  Now I'd like to get their input on what they'd like to learn about...
  3. Every year, we do staff hopes and dreams and post them in our school.  It is an awesome thing for families and students to see right when they walk in the building because it demonstrates our excitement and vision for the school year.  One of my goals was to make our hopes and dreams as paperless as possible.  This fall, we digitized our hopes and dreams using the PicCollage and ShadowPuppetEDU iPad apps.  The videos turned out great!  Instead of posting our hopes and dreams in paper form this year, we are going to display them on a monitor that's located in the front hallway of our school.  Looking forward to going paperless with our hopes and dreams - hope we can continue the trend next year!
  4. A 6th grade student's parents introduced themselves to me at our open house and told me that their son's best memory from 5th grade was being on my student tech (Students Working to Advance Technology) team.  It was awesome!!

What are some small accomplishments you've achieved so far this fall?  

This year, I'd like to be intentional about continuing to reflect upon and celebrate my small accomplishments - it helps keep things in perspective! 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What does your desk say about you?

This post corresponds to day #8 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

Here's a thought-provoking question: What does what you have in/on your desk say about you?

Well, here's a peak at my desk--

Top of my desk: I just got rid of my desktop, so have a lot more space now! Perfect for the collection of stuff that tends to accumulate there - a laptop charger, QR codes, past issues of Tech & Learning, and of course, my coffee mug!  Truth be told, when I'm in my office, I usually sit at a table instead of at my desk - it makes it easier to collaborate and spread stuff out.  I decided to give my desktop up because I found that I was using my iPad and laptop way more than my desktop (it started collecting dust).  I like to be mobile and able to work wherever I am, and a desktop just doesn't fit that work style.

Inside my desk drawers, I have tech supplies and devices - stuff that I pull out when needed - card readers, iPad keyboard, digital camera. My other tech devices (my iPad, phone, and my laptop) are often with me wherever I am. My other drawer has a few paper files - most of which I've taken a picture of and uploaded to my Evernote or Google Drive, depending on if they're notes (Evernote) or resources for students/staff (Drive).  I think the contents of these drawers also show that I like to be mobile, and that the devices I use everyday are pretty good at doing what I need them to do.

When I thought about it, maybe what's not on/in my desk says more about me than what's there.  No desktop, few paper files, etc.

So.... what does your desk say about you?

Monday, September 8, 2014

On Mentors and Inspiration

This post corresponds to days #6 & 7 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

Mentors are awesome people.

They help, support, and guide you when you need it.  They share connections, ideas, and experiences.  They challenge you to think about things differently than you have before.   They give you space to discover things on your own.  They join you in celebrating successes and reflecting on failures. They believe in what you can do!

Five years ago when I first started at my school, I was a pretty new teacher and had lots of ideas I wanted to try out - many of them involving technology, as I had just taken a Master's course on using technology with English learners.  I was excited to find out that I was issued a staff laptop, and was thrilled that one of my first staff development experiences at my new school was a hands-on session about the value of Twitter for educators.  Through conversation, support, and inspiration from the school's technology integration specialist, +Laurie Toll, I began to explore new uses for technology with my students: blogs, Google Docs, learning management systems, wikis, podcasting, etc... Laurie was an awesome mentor (and still is!) because she listened to my ideas, offered a few of her own, helped me access the tools and resources I needed, and supported me as I put my ideas into practice.  Then, we'd have great discussions about how things went and what the next steps could be.  My passion and excitement for educational technology grew in my three years as an ESL teacher at my school, and I am so appreciative of the guidance and support that Laurie, along with several other teachers, provided me along the way.  I seek to be a mentor and support for others as well, as I know what a difference it can make!

As teachers, it's humbling and inspiring to think about the impact we have on our students.  Interestingly enough, I don't think we often pause to think about the equally inspiring impact we can have on our colleagues!  When I think about the amazing people I work with every day, and the educators I connect with through my PLN, I know I am a better teacher because of the things I've learned (and continue to learn) from them.   

Another blogger, +Tracey Kracht, wrote about a great idea for recognizing people who inspire her and make her think - in her latest blog post, she said that she is going to start using Twitter's #ff or #FridayFollow as a way to identify those who inspire her.  I love the idea and I'm going to do that, too!  This school year, I'm going to use #ff to recognize people who inspire me and help push me forward with their ideas, actions, and impact.   Interested in doing the same?  Join in this Friday - share the Twitter names of a few educators who inspire you, along with the hashtag #ff, and we'll follow, share, and learn together!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Teaching Space

This post corresponds to day # 5 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

As a technology integration specialist at a STEM elementary school, my teaching space is flexible, and it goes wherever I go.  I love to collaborate, and I spend pretty much all of my days in other teachers' classrooms.  But I also love to embrace teachable moments (I love being a learner through them as well), and so am completely comfortable with the idea that any place could become a teaching/learning space. 

Here are two photos that represent my teaching space.  The top one shows our school's engineering lab, which is a shared space where I facilitate many lessons when not in teachers' classrooms.  The bottom photo shows one of our school courtyards.  This photo represents the flexibility of my teaching space - I'm often on location with students as they're learning to help guide and support their use of technology to document, research, share, or collaborate around their growing understanding of a concept.

If I could write a wish list of things I'd like to include in my teaching space, I think my top (philosophical) request would be inquisitive students who are willing to be risk takers in their learning. Speaking more tangibly, I'd also love an Apple TV or Chromecast for the engineering lab, along with some posters about inquiry, the importance of failure in learning, and our school's maker manifesto (currently a work in progress).  I'd also love to have another monitor in the e-lab to showcase students' digital work and maybe even to facilitate collaborative conversations within small groups of students (to display screens, etc), or with outside experts (G Hangouts), or even other students around the world. While I'm at it, I'd also like all students to have access to an iPad or Chromebook whenever they need one or the other...

How about you? What's on your wish list for your classroom or teaching space?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Few Things I Love About Teaching

This post corresponds to day # 4 of the +TeachThought 30-day blogging challenge, focused on reflective teaching through blogging.  Interested in joining the challenge?  It's not too late! 

Some people always knew they wanted to be a teacher...but that really wasn't me...


You see, my mom was a teacher and is now a school counselor, and my dad is in IT, and I distinctly remember telling them both at some point in my childhood, "I never want to do what you do for a living".  I was convinced I wanted to find my own way and explore my own options.

After majoring in global studies and Spanish, I worked in the business world for a few years.  But, it just wasn't very fulfilling for, I began volunteering with kids in my spare time, and before long, I realized that I was happiest when I was with the kids.  So, I decided to go back to school to get my teaching license and got a job as a paraprofessional in a school.  Once I completed my teaching license, I got a job as an ELL teacher.  This is now my sixth year of teaching, and my second year as a technology integration specialist at a STEM elementary school, and I love what I do!

Looking back, it's pretty funny to think that I told my parents that I never wanted to be a teacher or work in IT, since now I do a job that integrates both fields...I guess the joke's on me!


So, what do I love the most about teaching?

Three things...

  • I love the energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and passion that form an inextricable part of teaching and learning.  They're contagious, and they pass back and forth between teachers and students as new learning occurs and interests are ignited.  
  • I'm a lifelong learner myself, and I love to be surrounded by and a part of continuous learning.
  • Most of all, I love to step back and see what kids can create when given the chance. I'm constantly amazed, inspired, and energized by all of the awesome things kids can do.  
    • For example, today a student of mine showed me that he created an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge animation on Scratch. It was awesome.

What do you love the most about teaching?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reflective Teaching through Blogging

What better way to jump start the school year than participating in TeachThought's Reflective Teaching: 30-day blogging challenge for teachers?  The +TeachThought challenge is focused around reflection and connecting with other educators through blogging, and prompts are provided for each day.

The challenge encourages teachers to blog everyday in September, but since I'm just jumping in now I'll reflect on the first three prompts in today's post.

1.  My Goals for the School Year

This summer, a colleague asked me about my goals for the 2014-15 school year, and although I didn't have a very polished answer at the time, her question provoked some good conversation, and I've narrowed my goals for this year down to the following three:

  • I will encourage, support, and integrate app-smashing while working with my staff and students.  
    • Reasoning: app-smashing allows for student choice in how they show what they know.  It also gives students a chance to show their creativity, and to think outside the box.  
  • I will continue to integrate coding and computer science education into my work with students, and into projects and lessons in various grade levels and content areas.
    • Reasoning: after spending the summer teaching coding to kids, and doing a fair amount of coding myself, I'm even more convinced of its value for students.  The skills developed through learning to code, such as collaboration, persistence, and problem-solving, apply across subject areas and grade levels.
  • I will model the maker mentality for my students by being a maker myself; sharing my failures, successes, and milestones of learning, and by celebrating the process over the product.
    • Reasoning: our school was awarded a grant to create a makerspace this year.  Our makerspace will be an undefined makerspace, as it's not confined to a physical space in our school.  Instead, we can bring it to any place through the materials we use or simply through our mentalities and the language we use with students.  I think that's powerful... and, I just really love making things (this week, I wore a shirt and a skirt that I made, and I can't wait to make more!)...  
2.  New Technology for this Year

This year, I am excited to try out Chromebooks with students.  I was recently awarded a grant to purchase Chromebooks to use for coding with 6th graders, and I can't wait to get started!  Chromebooks are so cost-effective, powerful, and easy-to-use... I think they will be popular with students and staff alike.  I bought myself a Chromebook this summer (an Acer c720p), and I absolutely love it.  I rarely use anything else!  A big bonus from an integration standpoint is that Chromebooks are compatible with Flash, which is perfect for coding on Scratch, and I've heard that they can also connect to Arduino and Makey Makey kits.  I also love that they run (virtually) everything through the cloud - no need to download, print, or save to a shared drive.  I'm still deciding which Chromebook model to purchase for school.  I'll be sure to post updates as the year unfolds.

3.  An Observable Area to Improve Upon

I recently went through the first round of ENVoY training, and I'm excited about the power of non-verbals in teaching and learning.  I've already enjoyed trying out some of the non-verbal classroom management strategies, such as above pause whisper, which is a technique to bring a group back together.  I tried it with students and also with staff, and was impressed by how well it worked.   The clearer and more intentional I am about my non-verbal messages to my audience, the clearer and easier to understand my message will be to them (hopefully). 

I'm looking forward to blogging about reflective teaching this month!  I'd love to connect and hear about your thoughts and experiences.  Feel free to leave a comment below, or connect with me on twitter @wilsandrea.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Screencasting and English Learners

I just want to put this out there:  I [finally] finished my masters!!  I graduated in May, after turning in my 120-page Masters' thesis (that'll leave a mark).

Here's how I looked after my graduation ceremony:

My masters is an M.A. in English as a Second Language, and my thesis was a case study of 6 3rd grade English learners.  In my research, I was interested in finding out if screencasting seemed to help develop the fluency and complexity of English learners' math language.  As it turned out, it did (especially for those students with developing levels of English proficiency)!

Check out these slides for a quick summary of my research and findings:

So what does this mean for the classroom?
  1. Offer screencasting, and the instructional scaffolds that support it, as an option in students' learning opportunities
  2. Provide a structure for academic language development and an authentic context for all students to practice it
  3. Include opportunities in your students' learning for self-assessment and reflection, as both are important to the development of language and content knowledge
  4. Engage students in peer-teaching opportunities - they're low-risk experiences for learners, provide authentic audiences for content and language practice, and they give students a chance to reflect on their understanding of the content.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Inspiring Girls to Code [for Good]

"Now that I've started programming, I never want to stop!" --Quote from one of the 6th grade girls I mentored as a part of the Technovation Challenge

I mentioned in a previous post that I mentored a team of 6th grade girls this year as a part of the global Technovation Challenge.  It was an awesome experience, both for me as a coach/mentor, as well as for the girls who participated, because it gave them an opportunity to create and program an app that helped address an issue or problem in their community.  My team, the #WVRCodeGirls, created a homework planner app, called Plan4U.EDU, to help middle schoolers stay more organized.  They were programming with a purpose in mind.  I liked to tell them they were coding for good.

At the end of the Technovation Challenge, many teams in MN celebrated by attending an event called Appapalooza.  Appapalooza gave all of the MN Technovtation teams a chance to pitch their apps, show a demo of their app, and describe the issue it addressed.  It was so powerful to see and hear from the teams of teenage girls about the issues they feel are important, and the apps they created to help their peers and the community address and prevent these issues.

I'm definitely planning to mentor/coach another Technovation team next year.  Interested?  Check out TechnovationMN's website for more info:

Our team at Appapalooza - photo: Satori Photography

Another excellent opportunity to inspire girls in programming is KatieCoderDojo, free 2-hour coding sessions for girls in Scratch and App Inventor at St. Catherine University.  It's so inspiring to see what the girls create!  And, no previous coding experience is necessary, so it provides a great intro to coding for girls.  I really enjoy being a part of the mentor team for these events!

The next KatieCoderDojo is August 12th at St. Catherine University - interested in signing up a girl you know?  Here's the link to the Eventbrite.

So, how do we get more girls interested in coding?
Here are my thoughts...
  • give girls opportunities to try out coding
  • give them a purpose for coding
  • connect them with other female coders; mentors and peers
  • encourage them to stick with it
  • give them resources to explore and let them know of opportunities, like TechnovationMN, KatieCoderDojo, and Google's Made with Code

My colleague, +Karla Juetten recently sent me an article entitled, How not to attract women to coding: Make tech pink by Kristen V. Brown.  It makes some great points about the gender gap in computer science, and why 'making tech pink' is not a successful way to get more females interested.

So, girls, be confident, dare to dream, and let's get coding...for good!

Monday, February 24, 2014

WVR Code Project

In an effort to bring regular, hands-on opportunities for coding and programming to the students at my school, I started a recess coding and programming group that I'm calling the WVR Code Project.  We meet once every two weeks (I wish it were more, but it's a start!), and 12 students each from grades 1-6 are able to participate.  The students usually rotate at each grade level to allow a variety of kids the opportunity to try out coding and programming.

I built a website to act as a "home base" for our WVR Code Project.  Check it out at (Keep in mind that it's still a work in progress!).

Many of the younger students have loved programming with the Kodable app, and have really started to get the hang of the vocabulary and different commands.  They love unlocking new levels and new fuzzes!  We are working on coaching one another through challenges without giving away the solution - we have a strict "no spoiler alert!" motto!

With the 4th-6th graders, I am encouraging the students to set up user groups for the various different platforms and programming languages they are exploring.  Our largest group so far is the Scratch group, but we also have students who are learning JavaScript through Khan Academy and CodeAcademy, and others who are programming with apps like Kodable and Hopscotch.  In addition to reinforcing the "no spoiler alert!" motto with this group, we are also working on reflecting on successes and new learning after every session.

I am getting super interested in coding and programming myself, and have been mentoring every month through some awesome organizations that meet locally - CoderDojoTC and TechnovationMN every month.  These organizations provide free coding and programming session for kids (and at some events, just girls) on the weekends.  I leave these weekend sessions feeling energized and inspired by the incredible ideas and talents these kids demonstrate!

Through my experiences mentoring with TechnovationMN, I learned about the Technovation Challenge -  "a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring girls in technology and entrepreneurship. In the program, middle school girls work in teams to develop mobile apps, conduct market research, write business plans, and create a “pitch” for funding. Each team works with both a classroom teacher at their school and a female mentor/role model from the technology industry. The challenge culminates in a competition where teams compete for funding to take market their app. The goal of the program is to inspire girls to see themselves not just as users of technology, but as inventors, designers, builders and entrepreneurs. Technovation has reached over 1,000 girls across the country, and hopes to reach 2,000 girls this year as they expand globally."

I decided to start a Technovation team at my school and am so excited to get started this week! I'll be coaching and mentoring and team of four 6th grade girls. We decided to call ourselves the #WVRCodeGirls. Our first task is to learn the basics of App Inventor, which I've been learning and exploring through my mentoring opportunities.  I can't wait to see our team's ideas take off!

I'm honestly loving geeking out with coding and programming. My next adventures include teaching myself Ruby, and joining a programming learning circle to collaborate with other Ruby users and try out what I'm learning...we'll see how I do!  In the mean time, I am also really enjoying participating in #kidscancode Twitter chat, which happens every Tuesday at 7pm, Central time. Join us, if you can!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#mnedchat live via Twitter and HOA

Last night, we tried something new as a part of our normal, Twitter-based #mnedchat.  We wanted to draw on the idea that everyone is an expert and has expertise to share, and at the same time, add a new dimension to our chat.  So, we decided to host a Hangout on Air with a panel of local educators who were interested in / passionate about this week's topic: creative learning spaces.  The Twitter side of #mnedchat continued to serve as a space for conversation, sharing, and questioning, and in addition, also had the added layer of acting as a backchannel for the HOA.

A group of us worked together to come up with the chat's questions, put together a doc for inspiring resources on creative learning spaces, and collaborated on a vision for how the HOA and Twitter conversations would come together to make sure as many #mnedchat participants' voices as possible could be heard.

It was such an energizing event to be a part of!  Here are a few of my reflections after the fact...
  • It was so fun to see, hear, and be a part of the interaction between the Twitter chat and the HOA. Shout outs/mentions, retweets, questions, answers, and conversations happened across both mediums, and made for an in-depth discussion of ideas around creative learning spaces.   
  • I was glad the HOA panel was comprised of local educators who were passionate about the topic. I think it would have changed the tone if we would have featured a world-renowned expert instead.  I liked that it felt casual and that the panelists were regular #mnedchat participants with ideas to share.  I hope that this feeling 
  • Next time, I would like to strike more of a balance between the HOA and the Twitter chat.  I was moderator of the HOA this time, and so found myself focusing a lot on the discussion there.  Next time, I would like to be better about tweeting out the ideas that really resonated with me during the chat so that I could have a quick reference of those ideas later.
  • Another aspect I would do differently next time would be to pay better attention to the Q&A feature through HOA.  After the chat ended, I realized that there were three questions in our Q&A that I never brought up during the hangout.  The Q&A is such a cool feature, and it was exciting that people were using it to ask questions!  Next time, I will have that feature up within my hangout screen so I can more closely monitor it.
I'd like to give shout out to the group of amazing people who helped plan and facilitate #mnedchat last night: +Nicholas Christensen,  +Caleb Lee , +Kimberly Hurd Horst , +Brian Boothe , +Shaelynn Farnsworth .  A huge thank you, also, to all who participated in #mnedchat last night - thanks for all of the great ideas and conversation!  I feel so fortunate to have such an awesome PLN.

If you missed the event, feel free to check it out whenever you'd like:

Check out a summary of Tweets from #mnedchat via +Kimberly Hurd Horst 

Also, please feel free to add to our collaborative resource list on creative learning spaces:

We also created a Padlet for people to post ideas on how to transform a 'traditional' classroom space into a creative and innovative learning environment.  Check it out (and add your own ideas) here:

Thanks again for tuning in, everyone!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Taking Coding and Programming to the Next Level

The way I see it, it all starts with curiosity and a challenge.  How do I move this from one spot to another?  How many steps will it take me to move it?

That's all it takes for many of us to get hooked - on a game, an activity, or a real-life task -- our brains go to work trying to plan out the most efficient course of action.  And when that doesn't work, we reflect, redesign, and re-try.

Many students, classes, and grade levels in my school participated in the Hour of Code in December, 2013....and an hour was only the beginning for most!  Students and staff alike had a blast helping out Angry Bird on, designing a holiday card with Scratch, and solving all kinds of coding puzzles on Tynker.

Some students had already tried out Scratch, others had done block-based programming in our 6th grade Robotics unit using LEGO Mindstorms NXT Video Trainer, but most of the 1st through 6th graders who tried programming through the Hour of Code had never done it before.  And, they definitely didn't want to stop after an hour or a week.

Beyond the students' and teachers' enthusiasm for coding and programming, I saw some pretty awesome results during the Hour of Code at our school.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • students reflected on and persevered through failure to reach a goal
  • students collaborated with one another to discuss ideas, challenges, and questions
  • older students acted as coding and programming mentors to younger students to help them talk through ideas...without giving away the answers 

So, I'd like to take coding and programming to the next level in our school.  I am organizing a recess coding and programming group, and am working with teachers to incorporate coding and programming into lessons, units, and as options for student choice.  I am also working to connect with other educators who are expanding beyond the Hour of Code in their school through Twitter and Google +.

 A few informational / inspirational resources on taking coding and programming beyond the Hour of Code:

I came across an article on 3 ways to continue coding after the Hour of Code that discussed some great options, including the tons of resources and activities available through; a coding app through Edmodo called LearnStreet, and ideas for offering PD that focuses on the value of coding across curriculum.

Here's a great article by Kevin Hodgson on learning coding in writing class - he makes great points about the importance of understanding how technology works and actively gaining the skills that can help to bridge the gap between technology consumers to technology creators.  I also love the parallel he draws between coding and composition (I'm a language geek at heart, after all) -- great points for incorporating coding and programming into language arts, among other subject areas.

Lastly, I recently read a blog post by Rae Fearing about how her 5th graders used the Hopscotch app to create a game and share it with their 1st grade buddies - pretty awesome!  I'd love to try this out with my recess coding and programming group.

What are your favorite resources for coding and programming with students?

How are you continuing beyond the Hour of Code?

I'd love to hear your ideas - feel free to leave a comment below!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Blogging in the new year

Hey 2014, let's get blogging... A new year, a fresh perspective, a renewed vision.

The past couple of years, as an ELL teacher, I had a pretty clear sense of my blogging focus: ed tech tools and resources that enhanced English language teaching and learning.  It was a specific topic, and I found my blogging rhythm (fairly) quickly.  This year, in my new position as a technology integration specialist, it's been harder for me to focus in on one specific theme for my blog....and as a result, I haven't quite established my blogging routine...yet.

Over winter break, I had a chance to do some reflecting on my blog and the direction I'd like to take it in the new year.   I realized that there are basically three kinds of ed tech blog posts that I love to read, talk about, and write:

  • content curation, reflection, and response
  • successes and/or failures with an app, tool, or resource
  • content generation, brainstorming, creative expression

So, I've decided to use those three categories as guides to help me focus my blogging in 2014.

And what better time to start...than the present.

One of my favorite techie tools out there is a free graphic design website called Canva.  Although this site was not designed specifically for educators, I have loved using it to help me design and publish graphics for presentations, posters, websites, my blog, logos, and even my family holiday card.  I love graphic design, and have been on the look-out for an easy-to-use, free graphics resource.  It is currently in Beta and in order to use it, you sign up for an invite - I got mine in a day or two.

Canva currently provides templates for 11 different design platforms / sizes:
  • Business card
  • Invitation
  • Poster
  • Photo collage
  • Card 
  • Social media
  • Facebook cover image
  • Blog graphic
  • Presentation
  • Document
  • Christmas card
Once you choose a design type, you have over 1,000,000 images to choose from to build your design.  Most are free - those that aren't free cost $1.00.

You can customize your design by changing the color, text, size, layout, combination, and alignment of the different images.

You can share your design directly to Twitter and Facebook, you can email a link to it, or you can download it to your computer to print or share.

You can give your friends instant access to Canva once you sign up - sharing really is caring when you find an awesome resource.

At this point, the only con I've discovered while using Canva is that it doesn't yet have an EDU version to make sure the graphics are filtered for student use.  Even so, I love it as a tool for my own teaching and graphic design, and highly recommend that you give Canva a try!

What are your blogging resolutions for 2014?  

How do you structure and focus your blog?  

Have you tried out Canva or another, similar tool?  

I'd love to hear from you - please share your comments below!