Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What a Difference a Year (and a PLN) Makes! - #SLATE2013 in Review

Roughly around a year ago, I was just returning from #SLATE2012. Holy mackerel...I am NOT the same teacher I was back then. Upon arriving at #SLATE2013 this year, I was the most confident, most proud, and easily the most excited about teaching and learning than I have been so far in my short career.  Last time, I arrived very apprehensively, because I really am quite introverted and big crowds aren't my thing. At all. This year I couldn't wait to show up and hang out with a bunch of strangers...

Or, they would have been had it not been for Twitter. How cool to show up in a gathering place with people you have never physically met before, and have them excited to see you? How cool to finally connect with people in longer than 140 characters or in the same physical space? I honestly don't have words to describe the feeling of community and camaraderie when I showed up to the #wiamigos tweetup. I got to meet such amazing administrators and educators such as Jason Bretzmann, John Gunnell, Tom and Leah Whitford, Joe Sanfelippo, Curt Rees and several others.

Well, that was just the first night - I hadn't even been to any sessions yet!

The next day, I attended a short session on gaming and learned about how the GLS at Madison has free curriculum for game design. How cool!  I also learned a bit about cloud servers, so there's that too.

As for concurrents, I attended a session about personalized learning (one of my big passions) and found it to be something that CESA 1 has committed a lot of time and resources, and are trying to network out. They had a lot of research to support what personalized learning can do. They also shared this cool honeycomb graphic about the pillars of personalized learning - see here.

My next session was about technology and media effects on the brain. HOLY COW! Crazy info there. The highlights included:

  • Kids who have a TV in their room have a higher rate of lower grades, higher rate of obesity, 
  • The brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. In essence, we are all visual learners!
  • Screen time (Non-educational) should be limited to 1 hr for kids between 3 and 14 years old.
  • Multi-tasking is a myth. The brain is basically a single core processor. We can switch, but more switching equals less chance for info to move from short to long term memory.
  • Young people read screens in an "F" pattern, so we need to give serious though to redesigning any things we want them to read.
  • Retention of vocab when paired with pictures is very high.

After that, I enjoyed some great time with my team from Denmark, WI and owned trivia at Damon's!

This morning, I attended an awesome session on MinecraftEDU by Rachel and Tom Hartley. They demoed the amazing things students are doing, gave very real explanations for how it would probably work out for us, and showed us how to run the servers on our own. Was very informative and would be helpful in any argument to purchase this for labs in the district.

Before the keynote, there was one more concurrent. I got to present!  I talked about personalized learning, which I have blogged about previously. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, with a multitude of kind comments at the end. The biggest mission I had was to share practical ways all teachers could get started with personalized learning in their own practice. Personalized learning is certainly not easy, but it takes advantage of the technology and can really make a difference in academic and class culture.  My presentation resources can be found here.

Kathy Schrock was the keynote, and it was a whirlwind of tech tools, tips, and examples of how powerful storytelling is for the classroom and the amazing examples of teachers using storytelling in powerful ways.  I must say, I really want to use Audioboo and Tellagami more than ever now!

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. And that is where the hard work begins. We've learned. We've been inspired. Now the task is to bring this back to my district and make an impact for the students in Denmark, WI. However, I know that with my awesome colleagues who were with me and the incredible support I receive from my PLN, we can make a big difference!

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Moment of Weakness

I don't believe, unless a student is in danger, should yelling ever be acceptable.

I don't believe, as a teacher, that my role is to be mean and angry.

However, amongst a seemingly innocent circumstance, I lost it today. I went from a mild-mannered guy, quietly and kindly coaching up students as they worked and joking with them to a maniac bent on making a lot of noise and proving a point through the loudest volume possible.

I don't like feeling out of control, but this was a moment in which I did. I didn't like the surprised and shocked expression on the young woman's face, nor did I like the utter silence that followed.

Mostly, I don't like that somehow my brain felt that I needed to react that way. Sure, I had mentioned several times already to those students to stop the activity they were doing.  Sure the activity was a waste of time, and actually somewhat unsafe. But as a teacher, it is not my place to yell. It doesn't feel right.

And now I wonder - do I apologize? Was this actually the wrong course of action? Would an apology send the message that what they were doing was okay and that I just got upset over nothing?

Now, add this on top of the fact that, for the fourth day this week, I failed to motivate the same student to use their class time wisely, to think bigger, to share and show their passions. I am concerned that I am unable to communicate the value of our time together. That I am incapable of showing the reasons why what we are doing is important. Mostly, I am worried that I will fail to show her that education is the path to a great life and that she needs to strive for more for herself.  The worst part is, this is an A-student who gets her stuff done, but only outside of class... should I just leave her alone? Is any kind of "effort" grade simply punishing her for not doing things on my schedule and rewarding compliance?

Today, I felt weak. I felt like someone who had no idea how to do their job.  Maybe I'll sleep it off. Hopefully Monday will be better.

But I sucked as a teacher.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

My Vision for Personalized Learning

If you've read my blog posts in the past, you read about my experiences "personalizing" my 7th grade computer applications course.  Using screencasts, an LMS, and a road map for students to follow, I established a mastery type course and in turn gave students ultimate control with how they demonstrated their learning.  But was this personalized? I think it was getting there, but I feel like I have so far to go.

So what do I see for personalized learning?

Every student needs a device. Whether it be a tablet, laptop, or phone, every student has a device they can use to create.

Every student needs a plan.  This is where I know I need work.  Every student in my class is still expected to do the same tasks.  Now, I almost always provide students choice in how they show their learning, but they still need to reach a certain quality, or at least that is the assessment point.  However, what one student is capable of, another student may not be.This is where technology could make the greatest impact, and why every student needs a device. Through blending and Google Docs, you could provide quicker feedback to students and have more time to communicate with them. My biggest question here though is how do you as one teacher with 30 students craft an individual plan for each student immediately? There is so much responsiveness here that is needed and it is uncomfortable. Maybe that is the way it should be...

Every student needs to be able to work at their own pace. I struggled with this as well. When I did this last year, I thought it was highly successful. But I also recognize that class was not as engaging or fun as it could have been. Students were engaged, I think, but often grew weary of the repetitiveness the format created.  Ultimately, there must be some way to run asynchronous but also provide group activities and fun engaging whole class discussions. I need to find a way to do this. Perhaps on Twitter I can find someone who is pulling this off.

Every student needs to work towards mastery.  This one has to work in conjunction with students working at their own pace.  Naturally, it will take some students longer with more effort to achieve mastery on certain topics than others.  However, student mastery is so much more important than just completing assignments or tests and then moving on. As I have said before, I'd feel a whole lot better about what a student knows if they mastered 70% of the subjects, rather than achieving 70% on all of the subjects.  The focus needs to be away from grades and on feedback. Technology can make this process a little faster and more organized (through Google Docs/doctopus/Goobric), but ultimately I do believe it takes a lot more time to do correctly than the traditional format.

Every student needs to be empowered to discover and uncover knowledge and every teacher needs to be comfortable guiding students and facilitating learning experiences more often.  Nothing I've stated is easy to accomplish so far, but this may prove to be the most difficult, and one I struggle with often (hmm...I struggle a lot - I have a long ways to go as a teacher!).  Given the proper instruction and training on proper searching and researching skills, the internet can prove to be a much more impressive volume on knowledge than any teacher, regardless of their education. No disrespect is meant to any teacher here, but there is so much knowledge and new knowledge being created every day that it is impossible to know more than the students could find online.  In addition, students can access knowledge from different points of view, and you can also end up with a wider variety of opinions and discussions from students.  Teachers need to be knowledgeable of proper searching, great resources, and also be incredibly encouraging while providing specific feedback.

The above is uncomfortable. It may appear at times that we aren't doing anything. That couldn't be further from the truth. I see this as a way to tradeoff time, in a way. Perhaps, as a teacher, you prepare blended lessons ahead of time. You create inquiry and project based learning. You work with the students to craft the unit.  Then you grind each and every day, getting to each student much more than you could in traditional formats.  With this, you may save some time on the day-to-day planning (I'm getting owned by this right now and need to work harder to be a facilitator rather than sage on the stage).  The tradeoff comes on the feedback. Last year, with computer apps, that is where my time went. I spent at least 6 hours a week providing feedback outside of class to my students.  That was time I didn't have to spend on planning, so I was able to give much more specific, beneficial feedback.

And that is my manifesto for personalized learning. As a strong advocate for integrating technology, THIS is the outcome we are looking for. Technology allows students to teach themselves, giving the highly trained teachers more freedom to work one on one.  Students need devices. They need searching skills. They need an environment that is free and supports learning at their own pace. They need to be challenged to go for mastery, not just completion.  And they need to have relationships with us.  That is what makes this all work, what makes it all worth it. Beyond achievement, beyond grades, beyond technology, beyond it all, there lies the relationships. I know it has been said a million times, but this is what gives me the energy and the hope to continue pushing for personalized learning. Because learning becomes personal - to us and to them. It is no longer a product we are trying to churn out. We genuinely become invested into everyone trying to do their best.

Thanks for reading! I truly hope my point came across as clear as I hope it will. More so than technology, I am passionate about making education matter more and mean more to my students. By working harder to incorporate the things I've stated above, I am confident I can make strides towards that end.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Is it the System...or just Psychology?

Picture it. A progressive, 21st century classroom.  Technology is woven into the fabric of all we do, so choices abound both tech and non-tech alike.  Students have freedom of choice, a say in their projects and grading, and a class where they are the focus.  Sounds like the kind of fantasy a progressive, 21st century educator would love to be a part of. So what if this is all just a pipe-dream?

Speaking from a big of angst here - I launched what I thought to be a really fun and interesting project for my Juniors and Seniors. It had every thing - answering a real world question that has value. The opportunity to present to a public audience. Ultimate autonomy in what their final product looked like. Voice in the structure of the project and assessments. It went well, right?

After a lot of grumbling, and a lot of frustration, students did eventually get to work. Some seemed to work really hard on it, others got the most out of their movie collections and Netflix subscriptions.  At the conclusion of the project, students did well, but all but one of the groups created a simple slideshow for their presentations.

Now, I am always willing to admit I could have done a better job designing the project. There is no perfect project and no group of kids that will ever react to anything the same. However, knowing my students, and knowing what they like, and knowing what the trends are, they should have enjoyed the freedom, collaboration, and the chance to tackle something challenging.

But they didn't. At least from what I could see. I got a lot of complaining and a lot of time in class not spent digging deeper, asking more questions, or working on creativity. This brings me to the topic of my blog - is it the system, or just Psychology? Have these students, at the end of the road, been so trained in drill and kill and structure, and so tired of school, that they simply can't bring themselves to enjoy the freedom of Project Based Learning?  Or is it simply a fact of their Psychology - any attempt to fight where 16 to 18 year olds are at will result in a lot of conflict.

What does the research say?  Socrates said that adolescents were "inclined to contradict parents and tyrannize teachers" (  According to the National Institute of Mental Health - the teenage brain doesn't resemble that of an adult until the early 20s.  They also are impact heavily by lack of sleep.  In addition, Children's Trust mentions that students move more towards independence, can compromise, be more autonomous, can set goals more effectively, can self-regulate, and have increased concern for the future.  Based on this short sampling of information, it would seem to me that their psychology would support more creative, independent tasks.

So why do I feel this project was unsuccessful? I am too hard on myself, or expecting too much? Is there something outside of school happening to these students making them unable to really focus?  Could it be that I failed them as a teacher and did not set it up well, make it interesting enough, or scaffold well enough to make it feel important to them? Or is it simply the fact that they are tired of a system that has herded them through like sheep, scolding them and boring them at every turn, and are simply done and want nothing more, no matter how hard I try?

Maybe one day I'll have an answer. For now I'm stumped.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fired up for Education - An #edcampGB Reflection

After attending my second edcamp, I find myself even more in love with the concept and excited to attend the next one!

If you haven't been or heard of edcamps before, they are free professional development opportunities that have no set schedule. The participants actually build the schedule with ideas of things they would like to learn about or lead on.  It is almost magical how things come together, but it almost always turns out awesome. Today was no different!

For the first time, I was involved on the back end, planning and preparing for the event. It was also incredibly exciting for this to be held at Denmark High School, a place I get to work with students and enjoy being. Probably the most amazing part was that one third of the participants were from Denmark School District. Rock on!!

Personally, I felt like this was really a chance for me to really get networking and assert myself.  Naturally, I consider myself introverted and typically shy away from any social situation that could result in awkwardness (aka all of them).  But as an educator, risk-taker, optimist, and someone who really wants what is best for students, I knew this was my opportunity to stand out and show that I have things to share that can help teachers help students.

The two sessions I was lucky enough to lead were on screencasting and Teach Like a Pirate, two things that have probably defined my career to this point, meaning they've made me the teacher I am.  I loved being able to show a group of teachers the magic and ease of making lessons online for students, opening up a world of possibilities for flipped classrooms, differentiation, and online/blended learning.

My favorite session was the #tlap session.  I am still infatuated with this book even though it has been over 6 months since I read it.  Dave Burgess is an amazing man and provides so many good ideas for improving engagement that I have a tough time NOT sharing about it. Thankfully, I had some great folks, such as Ben Brazeau (@braz74) and Ashley Goral (@agoteach), in there to help me out when my memory was a little fuzzy. It was fun being able to challenge everyone with "if your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?" The best part may be that this was one of the most popular sessions of the day. It makes me feel good that so many educators really want to be invigorated and provide the best possible experiences for students. As an added bonus, Dave Burgess replied to our tweets, and gave away some pirate swag to our group!

Edcampgb, I will remember you fondly.  This is an amazing profession and these days show just how awesome us teachers are.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Teach Like a Primary (teacher)

Last year, I read a life changing book - Teach Like a PIRATE by Dave Burgess. If you haven't heard of it yet, it gets at what educators need to do to reach this generation - passion and engagement. So what does that have to do with primary teachers?

I had the fortune of getting to work in an Elementary School this year, teaching keyboarding to 300 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.  The added benefit of this awesome experience is the fact I get to work with and interact with Elementary school teachers. Now, granted, I've only "taught" in two elementary schools in my career, but primary teachers seem to be the most passionate teachers around.

So what do I hear?  Excited and happy voices.  Students saying how much they love their teachers. What do I see?  Students giving hugs, looking to help one another, engaged in the material, HAPPY to be there. Classrooms that are full of FUN.  Now, some of this is definitely developmental (I'll be writing a blog post later on the System vs. Pyschology), but I can't help but wonder if these students are also very engaged because of the educators they have.

I find myself invigorated and infected (for lack of a better term) by those around me.  Even though TLAP helped me realize I could be silly in front of students, being around primary educators further solidified this.  I am even carrying this over when I teach high schoolers in the afternoon.  By all accounts, I believe things to be going very positive there as well.

I believe that many elementary teachers, especially the ones I work with, embody the traits of passions and unconditional love for their students. They aren't afraid to get messy and be crazy.. I look forward to being in a building full of smiles and love. Sure, they are small children and they naturally love their teachers, but perhaps if we kept these teaching styles going, students would enjoy school a little bit more as they got older, and I guarantee the teachers would too!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Google Web Designer - It's About Time!

Now before I start this post, I know what Google's focus was with this program. However, we need to be innovators, and that means using tools in a way they weren't exactly meant to be used.

Yesterday, I saw something about Google Web Designer, so I had to check it out.  Today, I went ahead and downloaded it.  It was fairly simple to use, and allows creators to make graphics and webpages all in one.  Although it certainly isn't a robust editor like Dreamweaver or Fireworks, I believe it can be a suitable fill in for both.

I've been looking for a Fireworks replacement for a while, since it is an expensive program. This program could help fill that void.  You can create 3D animations for the web, using HTML5. In addition, you can see the code as you do it, so if you are a serious web developer, you have ultimate control over your project. By putting the graphics and the web design elements together, you create a powerful all in one package.  Oh, did I mention that like most Google products, it is free?

If you like to design websites, graphics, or just like to play around with something new, I highly recommend this. It can be a fun little toy!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I haven't written a blog post in a while so...oh, well that isn't exactly true.  I've actually been writing a lot lately. As a matter of fact, I have written daily since the school year started!  The reason:  I created Google Sites for both my high school classes, and I type up a recap of each class period at the end of the day for the benefit of those that miss class.

Here are the links to those sites:

It has been invigorating, challenging, and useful to continue doing this.  Not only does it benefit the students that are constantly in and out of my room, but it will also give myself (or someone else) a bit of a blueprint to follow for teaching the class again.  While the blog posts themselves aren't reflective in and of themselves, they do allow me a writing outlet, as well as a chance to gather my thoughts at the end of the day.  It will be interesting to see the narrative by the end of the classes to see how it can be improved for next time!.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Tech Integration - in Action!

What a start to the year! 3 weeks ago, I was ready to begin a new chapter at the middle school.  Then, one of my business ed colleagues left for another district, and suddenly there was an opportunity to teach some high school courses (as well as some elementary). Opportunities like this don't come around very often, where I can change positions but still be part of the same awesome district. I had to jump - and graciously, I was offered the opportunity to teach some high school classes.

At the middle school, most of what I taught were technology classes. I couldn't really model tech integration once since it was difficult to discern the integration from the stuff I was teaching.  At the high school, I get to be seen as more than "the computer guy". I'm not offended when people call me that - I have an affinity towards technology and it is my most marketable asset.  However, I am a Business Educator by training, and wanted to be respected as such.

So, with this opportunity, I can finally put into practice everything I have trained and discussed and mentioned and pondered and contemplated.  Students are using Google Docs seamlessly without my training - I am trying new things and troubleshooting without getting too stressed out when things go wrong.  Technology is making things easier in my classroom - more paperless, more seamless, more student friendly.  Students who bring their own device are even allow to sit wherever they are most comfortable.

This year is going to be amazing. It is incredibly challenging creating everything daily, but I can't say I've ever had more fun in my first three years of teaching.  I know that the 14 hour days are all worth it, because as I learned in Teach Like a PIRATE, every class needs to be an experience. I'm striving to do that.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revelations on Vacation

I can't believe it has already been a month since my last blog post. Although school has taken a backseat to some other things in my life, I have been very busy none the less.  Part of this "busy-ness" was a nine day trip out west to South Dakota with my mother and father in law, my wife, and her brother. I experienced some new things, stretched myself, but also found that I am still struggling with some things I've always had a hard time with.

I would consider myself a cautious person.  I don't usually take too many risks with my safety, and like to keep my feet on the ground, literally. So, I was surprised that I took so easy to this:

Now, I have (as of this writing) never been on an airplane before. The furthest I've been off the ground is probably jumping off a trampoline.  My wife even bought Dramamine as a way to help me cope with this. However, I never had an issue. We went up, floated, came down, and there wasn't a moment I feared falling, got motion sick, or ever was really in a state besides wonderment. It was an amazing experience. Fear of the unknown could have closed me off, but I was determined to believe it would be an awesome experience, and it was.

I also got to ride a horse for the first time.  If you never have, I highly suggest you do. Something cool about horses.  It also gave me a chance to connect with one of my wife's big loves.  Once again, this is something I typically would have been nervous about, but I jumped on and enjoyed the three hour trail ride, even doing well with the trainer's instructions.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Once again, it was all about my outlook. I was determined to have a great time, and I did.

However, I wish I could saw everything went well. It didn't. We had a camper malfunction.  As of right now, it is still sitting at a mechanic's shop in Custer, SD. The initial discussion was needed to stay an extra couple days for it. I got extremely concerned. Would we get back in time? I have to be back! What about our cat? I need to get ready for school! What about my stuff?  Things worked themselves out, no thanks in part to my worrying.  Why couldn't I change my outlook for this to simply enjoy the opportunity to be out there? My worrying couldn't change the outcome.  

I also had some other inner struggles rear up.  They are stupid, and petty, but ultimately things I need to work on and that make me who I am.  I have a grill.  It is a nice travel grill. I have this ritual of cleaning I do after each usage.  Cleaning tools, soap, and lots of paper towels and wipes are the key to this.  We didn't have my cleaning tools, any soap, and a low amount of paper towels and wipes. I tend to get a little OCD when it comes to cleanliness. Believe it or not, this drove my insane. Not being able to clean my grill to perfection ate at me.  This came after I conquered heights in a hot air balloon, and spent three hours on the back of a live animal. 

As with everything in my life, I always look for a way to relate this to students.  I take three things from this.  First, outlook is everything.  If you decide to see the world through rose colored glasses, nothing will get you down.  If you decide to see everything as too hard, too boring, too much, then it will be.  Change your outlook and you'll change how you experience the world.  Secondly, don't be afraid to try new things. It doesn't have to be a ride in a hot air balloon (which is quite expensive, by the way), but it may be trying a new hobby, a new sport, or a new class in a subject you don't know a lot about.  Third, we aren't perfect. We all have struggles. Comparing ourselves to this ideal of perfect will only drive us crazy. We need to understand who we are and what we need to work on.  Then, it simply is a matter of improving ourselves. Not as a comparison to some standard, but as a way to learn and grow from our mistakes.  For me, it is getting over obsessive about certain things. For students, it might be blaming others for problems, a struggle with social skills, or a lack of self-advocacy in class. 

If we all can change our outlook, try new things, and continue to work on making ourselves better people, then we are well on our way to making the world, our world, a better place.  If anything, it will be a much more enjoyable ride!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mid-summer Fun

We've reached and surpassed the middle of summer, but enough has been going on to keep me busy. I've had an opportunity to rekindle my passion for gaming this week, stocking up on enough games to last me at least this year if not longer on the Steam Summer Sale. I got to take a nice vacation with my wife to the Twin Cities. I also got to be a part of Edcamphome, at least for a short time.

School related, I'm beginning to realize that the new year is coming all too soon.  In no particular order, here is the list of things I still need to complete:

  • Two presentations for the annual SITA conference in Green Bay (1 on Web 2.0 presentation tools, 1 on My Big Campus)
  • Finishing designing and planning an Exploring Programming Class for 8th Grade
  • Updating my Careers and Computer Apps classes
  • Planning an Exploring Business and Marketing class for next year
  • Learn some programming and Google Sketchup
I'm really excited for the possibilities this year will bring. Some amazing things could happen if I keep my focus and plan these out well. However, I also have realized how important it is to take some time for myself and enjoy the things I like that don't have to deal with school. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

If I Want to Challenge The Status Quo, it Starts With Me

Open up to last Friday morning. and you'll find me in the midst of enjoying a typical summer break day. Sure, I have plans to do a bit of work, perhaps continue my coding lessons, but mostly it will be a lazy day. I enjoy the fact that days are fairly predictable and that I, despite being in the midst of summer, can hang out on my laptop for most of the day. It is safe to say I like things the way they are. Then, the picture came:

A cute little kitty had been found by my mother in law, and it was strongly hinted that we should drive three hours to take a look at this cat. For some reason, I fought this pretty hard. I didn't want anything to change, especially with a new cat that I knew would bring on increased expenses and some growing pains. I love cats but I was completely happy with the one we had. In fact, I even gave my wife an ultimatum:  either the cat or later a dog, that's it.

Safe to say my mind was trying to convince myself that we wouldn't take the cat, even though I should have known full well it'd be ours. During the drive, I was thinking. Why was I so opposed to this? It really isn't THAT big of a deal. It is a cat - they are so maintenance free they could probably take care of each other if we were gone. So what was my hold up? My world wasn't going to change much but still I fought it. Just the idea that some fraction of my day would be dictated by something other than my own needs was threatening to me.

All of this inevitably led me to think about school. As someone who is a big proponent of integrating tech, trying new teaching methods, and generally breaking down the "status quo", I was afraid of a small change in the status quo in my own life. What is the status quo?  According to, status quo is Latin for "state in which", or basically, the way things are right now.

I'm sure there is a time and a place to stick to the status quo, like our friends in "High School Musical" tell us...
But education isn't the place. In an era of increased pressure on standardized testing, that is the last thing we want to become in our classrooms. But how am I supposed to seriously advocate people to mix things up when I'm so uncomfortable when situations change in my own life?  This question really made me look deep inside. If I really want to be a leader, a vanguard, a visionary, I have to walk the talk. A new pet for me could really be like including more tech for certain teachers, or trying project based learning for others. This situation with the kitty made me mindful of just what goes through the mind of someone who doesn't want to change. As advocates of change, it is important we take this needs into consideration as we move forward.

Ultimately, I got over myself. I realized how cute the kitty was when I saw her. It didn't hurt that she loves me to pieces (sometimes literally...dang those tiny claws!). Really, it is a cat. They aren't that much trouble. My goal then is to make sure teachers understand that using tech, despite some growing pains, won't hurt you if done correctly.  These teachers who are reluctant do need time, support, and the benefit of the doubt moving forward. I need my own process to come to terms with this new cat. We need to respect this process for all educators when it comes to pushing new things. Who knows, they might find themselves very attached!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Faith, Family, and Taking Breaks

As my wife would say, I probably spend way too much time on my computer. I'm usually reading some article, working on a project, playing Words with Friends, or reading tweets.  I consider myself adept with technology, and I certainly want to stay that way. Constant engagement and learning are things I enjoy and ways to keep me sharp. However, I understand I need to take a step back at times and do other things.

We had a death in the family this past week. My grandma, who was a constant in my life growing up, left this earth. While hearing all of this and heading back to my hometown for the funeral, I was reminded about my faith. This is an area I have neglected recently, and know I need to spend more time on. I don't like the fact that an event like this reminds me of the truly important things, but we all need reminders every now and again.  It was great to spend time with extended family. The best part of all of this was the disc golfing I was able to do with my three siblings and parents. Since we all live spread across Wisconsin, gatherings with all six of us are few and far between these days, so it certainly was a special moment.

Piggy backing off of that was a planned weekend for my parents to visit. Due to the events of the week, they came on Saturday instead of Friday. No matter, it was still an awesome time. We ate great food (Redddd Robin - Yum!), played a nice round of disc golf, and laughed a lot! Today, we took in a fun Class-A baseball game, and then they were on their way.

During this time, I only checked my phone a few times and never even turned on my computer. Just because my job and my life's calling involve technology doesn't mean that I need to live and breathe that every day. Time needs to be made for faith. Time needs to be made for family. At the end of the day, these are the only things that really matter. This weekend energized me and has me excited to take on the next challenge. My faith and family brought me to where I am today, and I owe everything to those aspects of my life.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My First Go With a Google Hangout On Air

Something crazy happened last week.  I spend a crazy amount of time on twitter, maybe more than a human should. The sheer amount of ideas and information exchanged is unmatched anywhere else, and I hate to miss it. My bookmarks are overflowing.  Anyways, I was just doing my thing, watching twitter. Then, this #notatiste tag showed up. Now, admittedly, I had only recently heard of ISTE, so I wasn't exactly broken up over not being there. Obviously, as someone passionate about technology integration in education, it would be great to go. However, things turned out well.

This #notatiste tag, originally meant to be some kind of pity party, I suppose, turned into a movement. It was a place where educators were coming together, sharing their ideas, and taking their conversations further than the 140 characters twitter allows. No, it wasn't the same as being able to meet up in person, but this event brought us together.

Now, I would consider myself an introvert. I can be very socially awkward and I'm not great at instigating human interaction with people I don't know. But this passionate group of educators inspired me - I wanted to have deeper conversations with them.  So I did something very out of character - I decided to organize a video chat (Google Hangout) with people I've never met before in person. I was elated by the response - we had the maximum amount of participants, as well as a few others who watched the live feed.

Twitter has really changed me as a person and an educator. I know I'll be better, and I want to be better because of the networking I've done there. To communicate with so many people so frequently who are passionate about their students keeps me invigorated. It is like the camp high that won't go away! So, feel free to watch any or all of our conversation about tech integration. I'll continue to work on my moderating skills, I promise!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Dream Deferred

"What Happens to a Dream Deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load?
Or does it explode?"
Langston Hughes "A Dream Deferred"

By now we all know our fate about the Google Teacher Academy. Over 200 brave educators poured their hearts into videos and applications, spending hundreds of hours over the last month to get a shot at one of the best professional development opportunities out there, not to mention the honorable title of "Google Certified Teacher." Only 50 could make it. I was one of the 150 who did not.

This is where Mr. Langston Hughes comes in. I consider myself ambitious. My unabashed goal in my career is to be the best educator that ever lived. Sure, big lofty goal, but why not aim high?  I set my sights on the Google Teacher Academy as a "mini-dream" that would be a great boon early in my career to my over goal. But it did not happen. The dream was, to be completely original and boring, deferred. It has to wait. So what happens to this dream, this ambition to be the best? Because I had a set back, does it stink? Explode? Fester? Feel Heavy?  I think it really could be all of the above. 

It hurts to lose. In my personal life, I lost a lot at baseball, struck out socially in school, and bobbled my way through a lot of job applications. I've failed a lot. But that is what drives me. It is a chip on my shoulder. Not an attitude, but a voice in my head telling me I need to work harder, do more, push ahead. They might be more talented, have more experience, whatever. I can outwork them. I have to. 

So what happens to a dream deferred? Mine burns within, waiting to be quenched the only way it can - by reaching my goals. What about you?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Final Details on the Personalization Experiment.

As the year winds down, my experiment in creating a personalized Computer Applications class came to an end. Almost every student was gracious enough to fill out a reflection/course evaluation at the end, and they provided some excellent feedback!

The Good

Starting with what went well, I like using numbers to back up my case. Here is a summary of the students' thoughts on this course as a preference over other styles:

Rougly 2/3rds of all students preferred learning this way, while almost the other third thought it was okay and could be better. Having complete support would be awesome, and it is those two that didn't enjoy it that will drive me the most. However, getting 14 students to prefer this type of class given the amount of work they ended up doing makes me feel good.

I also made some adjustments to the assessment at the end.  There were 50 required standards, with another 25 "Challenge Standards" that were extra and weren't required. In addition, if students brought up a skill they could show, I would occasionally add "Choice Standards" to the list. Because of a shorter term and end of the year stuff taking up days, I ended up grading based on 47 standards.  Out of 26 students, 17 had A's, with many of those over and above the required amount of standards completed. 5 students had either a D or an F. The average amount of standards completed per student was 43, good enough for an A-.  Compared to a typical term, I had a lot more C's, D's, and F's than I've had in the past. However, I feel very confident that because each student needed to prove mastery of the material and put it on a Google site, what they did they will certainly retain more than in the past.

Needs Improvement

The feedback was generally positive, with a few great comments such as the answer of "not working" to things they liked about the class, and "working" to things they liked the least. However, the comment that will keep me driving to improve this course and make myself better overall was "For you to listen to your students and help them first hand not walk away for them to figure it out by themselves."   That comment really hit me. I do believe this this format gave me more time to interact and help students one on one. I think a lot of the struggles came from students not wanting to watch the instruction tutorials, and instead were relying on what they thought they knew, and on me. I clearly wanted to instill a sense of self-learning and motivation in my students. However, I also need to be more sensitive, and make students feel helped when they need it. This student was clearly not served well by me, and this will serve as a great reminder of how hard I still need to work to be great.


I could go all day about this class and what I learned. Students offered great suggestions for future improvement. Especially important will be two things - 1:  group activities to mix things up, and 2: constant changing and updating of my teaching tutorials and class requirements. After running this class personalized, I can't go back. I know the students that struggled/didn't like the format would have been even more disenfranchised in the previous model. However, this is still very much a work in progress. A more structured approach does need to be implemented for the students that need it. This course will improve. It will get better. Students will benefit greatly from this class model. These things I know to be true. Can't wait to see how version two goes in the fall!

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Beginning is Near!

As the school year wraps up, it is getting very difficult for me to want to let this year go. Yes, having some vacation will be really, really nice. Getting to do a little traveling will be wonderful. The constant stream of assessment opportunities will be absent. The batteries will get a chance to recharge so I can do things better next year.  However, there were so many great things that happened this year that I really want to keep the momentum going!

I was so graciously offered a chance to go to the SLATE conference in Wisconsin Dells in December, and I honestly think that opportunity changed the course of my educational career. To be seen an valued as an important member of our school district who can be seen as a leader in technology really boosted my confidence. I went to summer camp often as a kid, but usually the "camp high" only lasted a week or so. I believe this "conference high" has lasted me the entire year. I got a booster shot with Edcamp Madison in February, which was an excellent time for networking and learning. These experiences are going to allow me to make a greater impact on students than ever before. I believe I'm making a greater impact now!

6th grade students got to learn about how computers actually work for the first time this year (for most of them anyway).A select group of 7th graders experienced personalized and self-paced learning in a Computer Apps class.  8th grade students in my Technology Literacy and Careers class received more opportunity for voice and choice than I've ever really allowed a class. I believe these learning opportunities for my students are only the tip of the iceberg.

Next year will bring many changes. No longer are students required to take my classes in middle school, and for that fact, I'm seeing 80% less students in 7th and 8th grade. I'm competing against some awesome educators in the areas of tech ed, art, agriculture, and band. However, this will only drive me to do better for my students. My classes will create buzz next year. In fact, this schedule change is going to be an opportunity for me condense my Careers curriculum and revamp things into a term. I'm excited for the ideas making their way to paper, including "The Apprentice" style competition I want to create. Students will, for the first, time, also have an opportunity to learn the basics of computer programming at the 8th grade level. I'm hoping to light some sparks in that class.

There are great things happening in education. Many of these obstacles which has been bumming me out suddenly feel like a great opportunity to do better. Next year, in fact, with the huge changes underway, is something like a rebirth. Starting over. Next year isn't that far away. The beginning is near! And man, it will be awesome.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Playing Catch-up - Reflection on Week 5 of the Personalized Learning Environment

What a crazy week!  A lot of stuff going on both in and outside of school. But, I digress back on topic.  We reached the mid-term and there were some shocking revelations.  10 of the 26 students in my Computer Apps class were on track to fail.  Parent contacts were in order, as well as some very difficult conversations with each student involved. So is it working?

For some students, it really did work. One student went from being in the "F" range to the "A" range, in one week! Other students, who were very far behind, greatly increased their output from the previous four weeks. I take some responsibility for not enacting some changes sooner, but at the same time, the students have access to everything they need to succeed, and I have been teaching the skills each day.  I believe that the age group of the students has a lot to do with the difficulty adjusting to the environment. Many of them are used to being dragged along and doing half-baked work just to get by.  That isn't acceptable here - they need to make decisions, create things, and most of all, demonstrate clear learning of skills.  

There is certainly learning occurring that transcends just academic stuff. They are learning how to justify their work, prove their learning, collaborate, schedule, and revise. Some students are thriving.  I have one student who is going to be finished way ahead of schedule, so I will see how will the "Challenge Standards" I have created keep them motivated. 

After grading websites this week, I'll be able to re-evaluate grades and see where students stand.  My hope is that at least half of the ten students I spoke to have made it to passing, and that the other five have made significant gains towards passing. We'll see.  It is easy at this point to doubt the new model, but after visiting Forest Park Middle School in Franklin Wisconsin last Friday, I saw a lot of similarities between what they are doing in their math classes for 8th grade, and what I am doing here. Hopefully I can help the students who are behind make some good choices the rest of the way to get back on track.

Friday, May 3, 2013

PLE Week 4 - What's in a Number?

Here we are, four weeks in to fourth term.  For all intents and purposes, we really only have four weeks left. What an action packed four weeks that will be!  This blog post will focus on the stats. Where should students be at this point? What pace should they be keeping up to? How many students are at pace?

Taking account of missed classes and the first three days of set up, students are left with 37 days of actual class time. With 50 standards necessary to achieve complete mastery, it works out to students needing to master 1.345 standards per day. Weekly, that works out to roughly 7 standards per week. As of this writing, I have no yet looked over their portfolios for this previous week.  This leaves approximately 12 days of classwork.  So how many students made it to 16 standards mastered?

Currently, 11 out of my 26 students are on pace to complete all 50 standards on time. In other words, nearly 50% of my students are on pace for 100%. Another 4 students are within 3 of the target, putting them in the "B" range (if we need to translate into letter grades, which unfortunately, we do). That is where the drop off happens. 2 more students are a little over half the pace, while the rest or below half there. That means 9 students are on pace to master half or less of the standards.

So what does this mean?  Although this format allows for true differentiation, I can see I need to do a better job of keeping those students on task and providing support where they are at. This means I could spend more time counseling with them during class, I could change the seats to move them closer together, and I could require them to attend my "mini-sessions".  I also could, instead of allowing them to choose their own projects, spur them on to complete the standards through pre-made projects. I would hate to do that because the choice and self-pacing are crucial to my philosophy in here. However, I do have a responsibility to put all students in a successful position.

This week, the rubber meets the road. I need to do more than I have done to this point to support those who are lagging, while still giving the necessary attention to the rest of the students. This is going to be quite the challenge, but I'm excited to see what is possible. Until next week!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

PLE Week 3 - Natural Differentiation

After a fun weekend with the in-laws, I realized I never blogged my reflection about how the week went in my Personalized learning class.  I'll be keeping this post short.

First, the biggest thing that happened this week is that, for the first time, I can say that all students finally "got it".  Now, we are 3 weeks in, so they are considerably behind the 8 ball.  However, looking on the flip side - this is a group of students that other teachers typically struggle with.  If I had students who didn't want to work or otherwise were slowing things down, I'd have the entire class behind.  However, because of this model, natural differentiation occurred.

Those that can work on their own can just go with minimal input from me.  Many others in the middle will ask occasional questions, but they work with each other a lot. Then there are the students who need more support or tend to be lacking work ethic in class.  I've been able to really focus my efforts on those students while not sacrificing the rate at which the top learners want to go.  Thankfully, because of social pressure, sudden awareness, or my the occasional check in with me, those that haven't done much yet are finally picking up the pace.

We only have a little over 5 weeks left.  Some students may struggle to reach the 33 standards mastered to pass.  However, they have a clear goal - they know exactly what is expected and exactly what is needed.  The only difference is, they need to do 100% work on 66% of the items, so at least I can say that what they can done they did well. I personally feel like that is a lot better than getting 66% done on 100% of the items.

I know I need to do a better job marketing the resources, and starting up the class. I feel some students still don't realize the power of the tutorials that are available.  Others don't want to use them, so I'm fighting students who are schooled in how school has always been run.  Who would have thought they'd want to hear me drone on?

Looking ahead, I really need to solidify my incentive system.  This is a key component that could really fortify the success of this learning environment going forward.  I also want to do some group activities, but with each student working on something differently, it would have to be something that is completely worth their while.  I'm toying with the idea of using a Challenge Standard as the basis for the class activity, which by the end, all students could hopefully demonstrate mastery. This could then count towards their overall total, and therefore no students' time would be wasted.

As I read the blog back, I realize this was anything but short.  I guess when you are passionate and excited about something, the words don't want to stop.  I hope this continues to go well, that I can continue to improve it from what I've learned, and that I will have strong data that backs up the effectiveness moving forward.

Friday, April 19, 2013

PLE Week 2 - Always learning

After another exciting week, I can say I've learned a lot more about how I want to run this class.  As the previous blog post had stated, I had just begun an adventure in personalized learning with a 7th grade Computer Applications course.  It could be completed entirely online with no intervention from me, or with a strong amount of one on one student work.  Essentially, this class format is a way to "shrink" the class size into manageable portions.  Since I believe I am once again using too many words to describe this, I should go on with the recap!

Biggest improvements this week:  My Big Campus Bundle, Mini-sessions.
1.  The My Big Campus Bundle.  This is something I have been looking to create for a while, and finally completed it in time for Friday.  If you haven't used My Big Campus before, it is an online Learning Management System for schools.  If you have used Edmodo, I find them very similar.  A bundle is a place that you can group a bunch of materials and text in one single location, easily organized and assembled.  Perhaps the greatest asset of a bundle is the ability to share it easily across the board.

So why was this bundle so important?  It allowed me to match up the resources I had available with the 50 - required standards that I want students to meet.  This serves two major purposes.  First - the students who are working mostly are their own have a much more streamlined process, instead of looking through folders and watching several videos trying to find the resources that match what they want to do. I understand that trial and error is a very real world skill when learning something, but I do have to understand they are in 7th grade and haven't experienced a class among the likes of this ever.  Secondly, I envision our Computer Apps class being completely integrated across the curriculum at some point. I would hope this means I'd be involved in team teaching, but if not, there is a computer apps "crash course" that students can take to get the knowledge.

2.  Mini-sessions.  With some advice from others, and some personal musings, I started doing mini-sessions this week.  Instead of planning full on instructional sessions like I have done in the past, I offer a short 5 minute mini session each day on some of the standards.  I will go through 1-50 over the next couple of weeks, leaving the last couple of weeks for student requested mini-sessions.  Basically, I just announce I will be doing a mini session, and on what.  Then, the students who are interested simply come on back to my station and I teach a small group.

Needs improvement:  Students lagging, lack of tech to support the framework.
1.  Students lagging is becoming a slight issue.  Thankfully, at this point, it appears that each student is finally grasping the concept after two weeks and are settling in to complete standards.  However, most started with the standards they already knew, and are struggling with the new ones.  They don't like the idea of having to watch a tutorial - they want it spoon fed.  Once again, it is such a departure from business as usual for a middle schooler, so it is understandable.  However, these are good students who are struggling with that.  Those that typically lag behind I believe are having a more difficult time in this setting.  Based on the openness, some students aren't utilizing their time as well as they should be. I know I need to be more forceful and interject assignments for them just to put them in a position to be successful.

2. Lack of tech is a surprising issue. I have a computer lab. We have unfiltered access to the tools on the computer we need.  However, a big component of this class was to make screencasts. I did not anticipate the amount of students who wanted to voice over their screencasts. My simple expectation is they could just use it as a show me. The above and beyond students want to make it awesome. However, I have access to only a three or four working microphones out of a class of 26. Even if all students wanted to go this route, they couldn't, because of what I lack. I do want to continue this format in the future, and possibly expand to other courses that I teach.  Therefore, I know I need to make an investment in this area.

Overall, I am really happy with the progress.  This weekend will be a busy one, as I need to grade 40 research papers, in addition to checking through the student online portfolios to update my master spreadsheet.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to drop them in the comments!  Thank you for reading!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

First Week in a Personalized Learning Environment.

Whew!  Made it to the weekend, and finally getting an opportunity to put my thoughts together on just what transpired this week in my classroom.

If you read my previous blog post, I wrote about my re-branding of 7th Grade Computer Applications into a more personalized learning environment, using a slew of tutorials and a hefty amount of student choice in the process.  The only real requirement is that they master at least 50 different skills I have identified, and they need to provide evidence of this on a Google Site they created for an eportfolio.  If you can to check it out, all of the portfolios can be found here at this Symbaloo page: (EDIT:  Sites aren't set to be shared outside of our domain currently.  Will repost when they are available!)

So how did the week go?  Well, we spent the first three days mainly setting things up.  I needed to make sure they understood the class concept, knew how to do screencasts and screenshots, and were able to set up their eportfolios.  The most awesome thing happened during this - students asked a lot of great questions. It was not my intention to be vague. If anything, I thought I was being as clear as possible. But in my efforts for clarity, I had somehow activated their inquiry, and had an unbelievable discussion where the students questioned guided the entire conversation, and really led to a better understanding of just exactly what I wanted them to accomplish this term.

Thursday and Friday...hectic.  The only word that can really describe the experience.  Running around the classroom, attending to the needs of 26 different students working on potentially different products in 26 different ways.  Technical issues, students off task, and a student who missed the last two days of class and was several words past lost.  Needless to say, hectic is a good word to sum it all up.  We set up a system where, if students were stuck with a question and I was involved with another, they would write the question on the board under the "need to know" heading.

After the first week, some students have knocked out several standards, well others have, well, "misused" their time.  My goal is to keep encouraging them along the way and hopefully they'll come along for the ride before it is too late.   The assessment side of this will also be quite crazy as it relates to these standards.  My focus is mastery.  You either can do it or you can't.  So I need to regularly be perusing all 26 of these portfolios and be giving feedback on which standards I don't think they mastered yet.  I expect some gnashing of teeth when this occurs, but ultimately its a free redo with no recourse in the way of lost points. What a deal!

This is quite an undertaking I am finding, but I believe it is the way we need to go.  Now, schools that typically do this have a computer program to guide the students.  For this, the students have my materials, resources, instruction, support, and assessment.  If I were to do this with all my classes, I might go crazy. However, seeing the students getting into the material, excited to share and try new things, for a class like computer applications that can get very repetitive is awesome.  I am happy I took the plunge and the risk to make this happen.  Will they retain the material better? I would normally say I hope say, but according to the very famous cone of learning by Edgar Dale, students remember 90% of what they teach. And right now, that is what they are all doing.  Look back next week for more reflection on this!  Any feedback or comments would be greatly appreciated!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Blending 7th Grade Computer Applications

In my second year of teaching, I have felt a lot more comfortable making changes to courses and taking risks.  Not to leave the year without doing something really crazy, I've decided to do a complete redesign of my 7th Grade Computer Applications class, just in time for 4th term.  So what are some of the changes in store?

Generally, the content won't be changing much.  Students will still be learning the same types of skills relating to Microsoft Office, using a computer, Google Drive, and other online applications.  The biggest change will deal with how the students receive the content and demonstrate mastery.

The main focus will be on mastery.  I pulled out 50 "standards" that I would want students to demonstrate mastery in.  Students would then need to discover resources (many of which I provide in our My Big Campus page) to learn the content, and then decide how they will demonstrate the mastery.  They can do projects that connect to other classes, the school, their personal passions, or the community. Otherwise, they can use screenshots and/or screencasts to demonstrate their mastery.  We will develop a rubric as a class that determines just what mastery looks like.

My goal will be to schedule "conferences" with students once a week to see where they are at with their projects, provide assistance, and discuss their work skills (soft skills) as they relate to their work thus far.  These conferences will be part of the overall culture of the class, and a routine which I hope allows students equal time with me.  I haven't ruled out doing mini-seminars for material that students really struggle with.

For those students that are gifted, or the real go-getters, there are 25 additional standards I looked at that I thought would be important for students to achieve, but go above what I've typically had students do in my class.

Personalized learning is something I feel very strongly about.  I've struggled when I have students that need a lot of support alongside students who are ready for me.  My hope is that this new format will be a great way to differentiate learning among all students.  I truly believe that a student is better off being a master at 80% of the content, then achieving 80% on all the content.  Stay tuned for more updates and reflections about my bold move to truly blended, somewhat flipped, personalized, and standards-based learning.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Reflecting on Marzano - Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition

In continuing with my series of blog posts related to Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works, this post will be about Chapter 5, Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition.  Specifically, I am going to compare what I read in this chapter to Gamification.  The two main areas I will focus on are providing specific, task specific praise for reaching standards and symbolic recognition and its power.

Remember back to college, praise was something we did discuss briefly.  I do remember hearing that when praising a student, you want to avoid two things.  First, you don't want to just say good job.  Tell the student specifically what they did well on.  I try and carry this with me every day.  Sometimes, I struggle with this.  However, I do believe I am always making a concerted effort.  Secondly, you want to avoid praising for basic completion or participation.  I believe that teacher's expectations need to be high for our students to reach them, so rewarding and praising them for every little thing they do with contribute to a higher need to extrinsic motivation, not the intrinsic motivation we are trying to foster.

So where does gamification come in for the above paragraph?  Games provide students with specific feedback for completing standards.  You gained a level!  Yippee, you get 5 stamina, 3 intelligence, and 20 gold!  Oh, you lost.  Hmmm, maybe I should try a different spell next time to break down the weakness of the enemy, and use a defense potion earlier in the fight.  Regardless of whether that seems Greek to you, the main point is that video games always let you know where you stand, so you can focus on what to improve, and measure where you are getting stronger.

This leads well into my second point - symbolic recognition.  I have found students seem fairly content with being "The PowerPoint Master", or the winner of the "Tout Scavenger Hunt".  They enjoyed the task without needing a physical reward.  In fact, my sixth graders who were declared "The PowerPoint Masters" were so excited that they wanted to share their skills with the group.

Video games provide similar experiences.  I play an online game.  My character is a Halfling Druid.  Besides being a pretty amazing (and unfortunately accurate) character portrayal, I get to role play that online.  I find it gives me a lot of freedom, and actually, breaks down barriers that I would normally encounter.  When I gain a certain amount of levels, I get certain titles.  In fact, and I'm sure those of you who aren't into gaming will find me slightly unbalanced, you can work certain trade skills, like baking, in the game.  By increasing your skill by making hundreds of thousands of virtual recipes, you earn new titles and trophies.  To be completely honest, I've felt more accomplished earning those virtual rewards than some rewards in real life, because of the effort I put in.

So, to wrap up from that wild tangent, I believe that gamifying our classes could open students up the way I have experienced in my personal life.  Younger students, especially, will likely revel at the opportunity to be an Elvish Magician.  As they complete assignments and demonstrate mastery, they can gain levels, giving them special powers and new titles.  Michael Matera (@mrmatera) is an excellent resource for this type of environment.  I myself haven't gamified my classes yet, but I've seen the power in what others do and the passion in their voices as they talk about it.  When done correctly, reinforcing student effort and providing recognition to students in way that they appreciate and understand, as well as ways that foster intrinsic motivation and lifelong learning are key.  Gamification may just be one great avenue to achieving that.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Technology in Education?

I would consider myself an optimist.  I am always looking for the silver lining in any situation, and try to go with the flow with most of the events of my life.  I also have a passion (and apparently an adeptness) towards technology. So it should come as no surprise, then, that I really think that technology should have more involvement in education.  Not only that, but I believe technology has the capability of making a stronger impact on students.

So why?  Education in America has been trucking along for over a hundred years, most of that time without technology.  Students spend too much time in front of TVs, gaming systems, and computers as it is, and we want to push this more?  And, if you are a master teacher, you can help kids achieve greatness by your ability alone.  These are some of the statements you may hear, and I believe these to be completely incorrect.

First of all, as the venerable will tell us, technology simply means:  "The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, esp. in industry."  Nothing about iPads, computers, laptops, BYOD, cell phones, or anything we typically associate with technology.  Technology is what we get when we learn new things and apply them.  It was probably very earth shattering when, instead of needing a vial and a feather quill, students could bring both of these in one device - the pen.  Math teachers, whether they love or hate them, have to admit that the invention of the calculator has allowed them expand their curriculum due to its capabilities and easy portability.  Spiral notebooks, the overhead projectors, blackboards, whiteboards, and globes are all pieces of technology that I highly doubt you will see lacking in schools.  So when a teacher says we don't need technology, I'll say you've been using it, albeit old technology, your entire career.  And if you look around - in industry, in homes, in stores, around the world - technology is advancing pretty darn fast.

Secondly - students spend too much time in front of screens, so they need a break.  Why do you think kids do that?  My opinion (and I'll gladly accept criticism) would be that they are engaged and enjoy it, so that is why they do it.  Students who play sports seem to be fine without the screen time - because they are doing something they enjoy.  So at school, we need to utilize this power of engagement for an educational purpose.  Simply plopping a kid in front of a computer and hoping they'll become geniuses isn't what I mean - it should be intentional - however I find it hard to believe we can help students achieve at levels we wish they would without utilizing the power of new technology.

This last point, and possibly the one that may be most out there - is that master teachers who are excellent educators don't need to use technology.  They've done it their way for a long time, and will continue doing so because it has worked.  First of all, reread my point about technology above.  Disregarding that, how do you know?  I'll admit that I don't know that a heavier use of technology is working, but you could say this for anything in education because the return on investment is so far down the road.  However, I can say this for sure - are we as a society moving towards more technology or less?  More pencils and paper and textbooks or tablets and real time collaboration online and ebooks or wikipedia?  So, as an education system, if we are to prepare students for their futures, and subsequently, the future of our world, we owe it to them to give them access and opportunity to utilize the power of these tools in a way that encourages learning.  Open their eyes to the world that is out there, and give them the skills to operate and critical think of how to use the newer technologies.  It is time that education in America decides it wants to be progressive instead of pretending that we are.  Our kids deserve that much.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Getting to Know: Windows Task Manager

We've all been there.  Computer is sluggish.  System keeps freezing.  Programs aren't responding.  We spend precious minutes and hours waiting for our systems to fulfill our requests, especially on older machines.  I love PCs, but I am no stranger to my computer betraying me and using more system resources than I believe it should.  Understanding what your computer is capable of handling, and monitoring those resources is crucial to maximizing what your old PC can do.  Windows has a built in feature called the task manager that can help us with that!  (Note:  There are numerous third party applications that also monitor system resources as well).

Many have probably use this by pressing CTRL + ALT + Delete on their keyboards.  This brings up this screen (on Vista, anyway):

You would want to click on the Start Task Manager, and viola, you will see this Window.

The first tab shows the open applications.  I find this really doesn't tell the whole story.  You can see on the bottom how much of your CPU is being used, and then how much physical memory is being used.  Mine is at 83% - getting up there.  We can get a better look at how are resources are being used through the "Processes" tab.

As we can see - Google Chrome is eating up quite the memory there.  If I had more RAM (Random Access Memory), we might be okay.  But with an older machine with only 2 gigabytes of RAM, you truly feel the effects of memory intensive programs. However, I've been noticing recently that the longer Chrome stays open, the more memory it tends to eat, especially my Facebook/Tweetdeck/Google Drive windows.  So I simply close down the highest memory processes, which will crash the open tabs, but should leave chrome running.  I can just reload the tabs and my computer runs a lot more smoothly.
As always, be sure to research before you close any processes that might be important to running the system.

Understanding and using the Windows Task Manager can help you get the most out of your PC experience, especially when things aren't running quite right.  It definitely helps give the feeling of "control" over your computer, when often times it feels like it has a mind of its own!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reflecting on Marzano - Summarizing and Note Taking Strategies.

In continuing with our discussion about Marzano's best practices for teaching, we read through the chapter on summarizing and note-taking.  I find summarizing and note-taking to go hand and hand, and will definitely strive to use some of the strategies that I've read when I have students partake in these activities.  The big question is:  where is the intersection of summarizing and note-taking with Educational Technology?

I often have students do independent research online, and then summarize their information before creating a presentation.  So how can educational technology transform summarizing and note taking in ways that couldn't have happened without it?  Tools such as Inspiration (mind-mapping/graphic organizer) allow for the webbing style of note-taking.  However, this is simply at the substitution level.  The same could be said for using Word or Google Docs.

So how can I improve note taking and summarizing for research?  First, I can take cues from this chapter and use some of the strategies that were outlined, such as the Problem/Solution frame (where students decipher the problem, then find possible solutions, determining the best one) or the Argumentation Frame (where students find the evidence for a claim, determine the claim statement, find examples that support it, and then also make concessions about the topic).  I believe utilizing these two strategies will get at higher level thinking skills such as analyzing and synthesizing, which lends perfectly to the next step up, which is creating a presentation.

With this being said, are there ways that educational technology can allow for significant task redesign for note taking and summarizing?  I think so.  Although I mentioned Google Docs as a substitution level technology, the fact is that the collaboration aspect of it, where students could be taking notes and editing notes together, could be more of an augmentation level technology.  Students could also use Tagxedo or Wordle to create Word Clouds of their summary/notes to pull out the main points, something that couldn't be done before technology.  Therefore, those would be getting more into the modification/redefinition area of the SAMR model.

Note taking and summarizing are hugely important tasks.  As adults, we do this every day, almost constantly.  Therefore, it is important that our students get as much practice and support in this realm as possible.  I believe that, personally, including more project based learning will allow me to work on more of these skills with students.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Getting to Know: Windows Shortcuts

First of all, I am an avid PC user.  I have experimented a little with Linux, but essentially my experience is in the Windows environment, so this post is focused on that.  Mac OS has their own set of keyboard shortcuts.  If you are interested, you can find a link to some of them here.

There are two different types of shortcuts - keyboard shortcuts, and the shortcut menu.  The shortcut menu is what you see when you right click with your mouse.  I am trying to get a new phrase started called WIDRC.  It means "When in Doubt, Right Click".  The meaning behind this, especially at a student level, is that many of the common features you might be looking for could be found there, so if you are lost, try right clicking and you may just find it.  When I right click this window, this is what I see:
This gives me some common options, as well as browser specific options.  I have an Evernote app, so that is where that comes in.  Different tools can add to functionality. Try it out on different areas to see what options are available.  Always be willing to play around.

The other types of shortcuts are keyboard shortcuts.  They involve a certain key combinations that can save time.  I'll list a couple of the useful ones, as well as my favorites.  Many of these involve highlighting text first.

Ctrl + X = cut
Ctrl + C = copy
Ctrl + V = paste
Windows Logo = opens start menu
Windows Logo + D = displays desktop
Alt + tab = cycles through open windows
F1 = Usually help in most programs
Home = moves insertion point to the beginning of the line 
End = moves insertion point to the end of a line

These are some of the shortcuts I use a lot of the time.  They save me time, and it some cases, allow me to do things that wouldn't work otherwise (copying and pasting in Google Docs, for example).

I hope those tips are helpful to you.  As always, comments are welcome and appreciated.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Reflecting on Marzano - Utilizing Similarities and Differences

This post is going to take a slightly different route than previous posts.  I am currently involved in a Professional Learning Community (PLC) that I joined through connections on Twitter.  This PLC is focused on the text "Classroom Instruction That Works" by Robert Marzano.  Our main purpose is to evaluate and investigate the best practices introduced in this book through the lens of 21st Century Learning and Educational Technology.

As part of our work on this chapter (and on future chapters), our lead facilitator Chris Miller led us out to a Pinterest board.  For the first time, I signed up for a Pinterest account and am intrigued by the possibilities of resource sharing through this website.

The chapter we are working on this week focused on using Similarities and Differences as an instructional strategy. The chapter began with a great story about a stomach tumor.  Based on the stomach tumor situation, very few people were able to determine a solution.  However, when presented with a story about a general trying to storm a fortress, most were able to figure out a solution.  This shows the power in being able to determine similarities and differences and find abstract relationships between things.  This is what allows us to use all of our experiences in life to become better people, teachers, professionals, students, and so on!

When it comes to Educational Technology, I find the use of Similarities and Differences to be something I need to use more of.  For instance, when using Microsoft Office products, I can have students classify the different applications according to their uses.  Or, I can have students compare Office to the Google Docs suite. This would be a great strategy for students to deepen their understanding of these applications, determine the best tools to use, and be able to strengthen their transferable skills.  In addition, when teaching specific skills in the different applications and tools, I can, as well as students, create metaphors and analogies.  One I use often for Excel is that cells are the smallest living thing that make up an organism, while cells in Excel are the smallest things that make up a spreadsheet.

I am definitely excited to see where this study takes me.  I recall reading this book in college, but the words are having a greater impact on me now that I am actually teaching and it is all more than just theory.  I look forward to posting my thoughts and reflections on this blog moving forward.  Hopefully the strategies I discuss and thoughts I put forward can help anybody who reads to improve their practice!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Officially a Google Qualified Individual!

After some inspiration from EdCamp Madison, I decided to work towards becoming a Google Certified Trainer.  As a teacher who has been using Google Apps for Education for a couple years now, I thought this would be a worthy goal to shoot for.  It can never hurt to legitimize what I do in the classroom, as well as the ways I help out other teachers.

So if you are a teacher trainer, I highly suggest doing this.  At the very least, through the process I went through, I learned A LOT about Google Apps that I never knew before.  Want a blog like feature on a Google Site?  Go for it.  Forgot to attach a document to an email in Gmail?  It will warn you before sending it if you mentioned you were sending an attachment.  These are just a couple of many things I learned.

So how do you get to become a Google Qualified Individual?  You need to take 6 exams, each totally 60 questions, that you must take in 90 minutes each.  The topics are Google Apps For Education - Admin tools, Docs, Sites, Mail, Calendar, and Other Tools.  You need to answer 80% of the questions correctly.  That is it.  Upon completion, you will receive a certificate that certifies you as a Qualified Individual, and it lasts for 12 months.  If you wish to pursue becoming a Certified Trainer, you would do that during this time.

Some of my tips for being successful -
  1. Study - Google provides awesome study materials for this test, broken up into each section that will be required.  When you head out to the test prep area, found here, you will go through each section found on the left.  Even if you don't plan on pursuing this certification, the information found here is invaluable!
  2. Plan and make a goal - I set a goal for myself to complete these tests this past weekend.  I knew that unless I planned to do them, I would just push it off.  That was something I didn't feel I could afford to do.  Clear out some time and go for it!
  3. Have two computers - When taking the actual exam, I had two computers available.  One was solely responsible for running the test, while the other was for double checking my answers.  Using the CTRL+F shortcut for find was hugely helpful during this part.  However, there is no way I could have navigated the guides as quickly if I hadn't read through the materials before hand.
  4. Relax and go do it! - What are you waiting for?  Google Apps for Education is free of charge to all school districts and provides a powerful suite of collaboration and communication tools for students and faculty alike.  Even if you don't have it, the certification itself (and eventual Certified Trainer title, after completing an application) will be a good professional marketing badge for you to demonstrate your ability to utilize educational technology in the classroom to bolster student learning!
Have you taken the test already?  What were some things that helped you pass it?  Feel free to post a comment or send me a tweet @mrgfactoftheday.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Getting to Know: Google Chrome

Chances are, you are using Google Chrome right now.  If you aren't, do yourself a favor, go to this link, and download it.  Your life will never be the same.

Seriously, though, Google Chrome, since arriving on the scene in 2008, has been the best browser available. While the other two major browsers have come close, Chrome just "works" with today's internet.  In fact, PCWorld has recently rated them as the top browser in their comparison testing.

When you open up Chrome, please make it your default browser - it will likely ask you for that right away.  Best decision you'll ever make.  When you first open it, you'll be greeted with Google as your home page.  Because of the awesome omnibox, you really don't need Google as your home page - the address bar IS a Google search..

Head over to what I call the tri-bar - that thing right up there with the three lines.

Then head to the settings

Inside settings, you can see where to change the home page and the start up pages.  Add in your favorite website addresses in here (probably best to have them open and copy and paste the addresses) and your Google Chrome is all set!

Future posts will focus on more advanced features of Chrome, but these are the most important features to get started.