Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thanks Zaption for Sponsoring #edcampGB 2015!

If you've ever had an opportunity to experience the great professional development that is edcamp, then you need you also thank the multitude of companies that offer their resources and support to make these events happen.

EdcampGB (Green Bay) 2015 was blessed with many sponsorships. One of the great edtech companies supporting us this year is Zaption!

If you aren't familiar with Zaption, they are an online tool that can take videos to the next level by allowing you to add videos, pictures, drawings, and questions that need a response. The videos can be trimmed, and you can import them from a ton of different websites:

If you want to add any of the additional features I mentioned above somewhere in the video, you can do so by simply clicking and dragging the icons, and pulling them over the video when it is stopped at the point you want it to be.  It will appear on the timeline below the video where it will appear. Certain features, like the response, require an answer before the video will continue:
After you've added all of your wonderful goodies and trimmed your video, you can publish this "tour" for use with the world! One of the publishing options is to share it directly to Google Classroom. Talk about saving time and being efficient!

 You can even embed it on websites. My example is below: (NOTE - the embedding feature was causing my blog to jump, so I took it off)

Zaption is simple to use and provides some great options to take videos to the next level.  If you are interesting in flipping your class, or you just want to get better formative assessment out of videos you have students watch, Zaption is a must use tool!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hold Me To It

It has been a crazy start to the year.  In the midst of all of this, I've developed seven goals I would like to accomplish this year.  All I ask is you help hold me to it.

Here are the goals I've developed. They are a mix of personal and professional goals which aim to improve my school, upgrade the abilities of my colleagues, students, and myself, and improve my well-being:

It is a long year, and it is easy to get dragged down by minutiae That is why, in my mind, it is crucial that I have clear, stated goals. Anything worth accomplishing was never accomplished alone.  I'll need all the help I can get, all the support I can get, and all the accountability I can get. By publicly stating my goals, everyone is aware of what I am working towards.  This puts the kind of pressure on me that I need!

Reaching all of these goals isn't impossible.  They all require slightly different approaches, different timelines, and different levels of support. But, they won't get done if I don't work hard to accomplish them, for my students, my colleague, my school, and myself.

All I ask is that you help hold me to it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Oreos, Late Night Runs, and The Importance of Being Driven

Tonight, in a moment of weakness. I ate an Oreo.  Then another.  In total, I ate 6 Oreos.  Now it may not seem like many, but calorie wise, that is a 420 calorie hit at a time when I should be asleep.  Now, to many people, that may not be a big deal, but let me provide a short backstory.

Nightmare Fuel
Back in January of 2011, while I was student teaching, I suddenly realized, while eating a gigantic bag of Reese's Pieces, that I really needed to stop. I took that moment to weigh myself, and was horrified to see I weighed 242.  Only a few years prior to this, I was in the 180s and 190s and totally happy. So, I made a point to restrict my eating.  I didn't add a whole lot of exercise, but as I was student teaching, I was up and moving most of the day anyways.

By the following Spring, I had managed to get down to 195. I was excited, happy, and ultimately, in a place that I was okay with. However, if you will notice above, there wasn't really any exercise routine in place, and honestly, getting down to that weight was a "victory" and, after accomplishing that, quit focusing on the things that made the diet successful.

Fast forward a few years to late December, 2014.  After eating a big breakfast buffet, my wife and I decided to have Mexican for lunch.  Afterwards, I can remember feeling the same explosive feeling in my stomach like I couldn't possibly hold anymore, and that sensation that I had lost all control over my weight.

So I made a commitment to start anew. However, this time it was different. Later that week, I had dinner with my parents, aunt and uncle, sister, brother and sister in law.  That night, we hatched a plan to do a family "Biggest Loser" competition.  My wife joined in, and soon, we were off to the races.  After a week of no pop, cutbacks to eating, I weighed in for the first time at 223.  

The competitive side to things always kept me focused, and, in the ultimate geeky move, I actually kept a spreadsheet to track where I could end up if I kept on the same calorie in/calorie out schedule.  But, the real turning point came in the form of the weekly challenges we had in our competition.  No pop week (I went two months without any).  Drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day week.  Exercise at least 30 minutes 3 days a week. No fast food.  These were key things, because, while I didn't meet every challenge, they forced me to make LIFESTYLE changes, not just eating changes. 

Somewhere along the way, I started using a pedometer to track my workouts.  As I tinkered with the math on my spreadsheets, I settled on a number of calories burned that would allow me to eat a certain amount but still burn at least a couple pounds a week.  This was really the turning point, because now, the obsessive compulsive person in me could not only track what I was eating through looking at plenty of nutrition labels, but now I could track what I was burning.

And thus, for a bulk of the competition, I was looking to get my pedometer to read "1000 calories burned" every day.  Thankfully, my job allowed me to keep moving and I did a lot of standing, walking, and walking in place around the house, as well as the Wii Fit.  Recently, I even added running to my repertoire and have competed in a couple of races.

So that brings us to now.  This morning, after a pretty up and down summer with A LOT of eating, I weighed in at 184. Tonight, I went outside and ran for about 15 minutes. I couldn't come to grips with the fact that I would just eat those Oreos and go to sleep. I empowered myself to take action.  It might be too obsessive, but that works for me. Deep inside, my biggest fear is waking up one day, and seeing myself back at those heavy weights again.  It drives me to keep thinking about the calories and keep focusing on exercising.

This can be applied to so many things in life. Having a chip on my shoulder about events that have happened in the past is part of what makes me the person and educator I am.  Whether it is helping to educate the next generation, helping teachers, being a good husband, or being healthy, it is crucial to always be thinking about what is driving me. What is the point?  Because if there isn't a point, then we're all working pretty hard for nothing.

As for me, I know what I am working for, and it is that drive that keeps me going.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Having Faith Vs. Being a Skeptic

Cholesterol is bad for you, and then it isn't.

Research says vaccines might cause autism, and then it turns out the doctor was a fraud.

There are countless situations in life like this, where things are generally accepted, and then the next day, someone else comes along and disproves that notion.  While I was out running last night, I really got to thinking about the baskets some of us are putting all of our eggs in.

In teaching, many of us are so convicted in what is best for kids.  Less or no homework. Student centered environments. Technology rich activities. Project based learning.  In some cases, freedom to explore, like Genius Hour. There might not be any research that supports some of these things but we feel it is right and take it on that feeling and faith that doing these things will be better for our kids in the long run. In fact, I tend to agree more with the Sudbury and Montessori models of schooling than the traditional models of our public schools.

But what if Genius Hour becomes the next Pluto? What if someone somewhere researches it and determines that actually, it hurts kids and they are worse off for the future? Would we still be as convicted towards that as before, or would we drop it altogether?

For instance - a lot of articles have come out recently saying that kids' retain more when they handwrite, as oppose to type. Even some teachers back this up, saying their students have done poorly on assessments when they type things like sight words, as opposed to writing them out.  I still believe in doing things electronically, even in the face of that. Is that blind faith of mine hurting students? Should that really be something I continue to support?

It's not like there aren't positives to more classical teaching methods. But, because I don't prescribe to them and don't like them myself, I don't support them.  Yet, in the end, research may end up supporting those as being better for kids than the horses I am backing, like flipped learning or the Maker movement.

I don't have a great answer here, even though I wish I did. I'll continue to be passionate about revolutionizing our schools and classrooms, and being innovative with tools and strategies to make school a place that kids enjoy being for more than lunch, recess, and friends. Even in the face of little to no research that supports these practices, I feel as convicted about doing this as anything in my life.  The question is:  am I putting my faith in the right things?  I may never know...

In the end, what are the things that matter?  Is it about the way we teach, or the fact that we are working hard to provide great learning experiences and opportunities for students? Should it really be of concern which method is "better"? Maybe it should be.  We talk a lot in education about preparing students for the future with little clue as to how to most effectively do that.

So, when it comes to why I put my hopes and energy into the teaching movements and strategies I do, the biggest reason is that I believe they do prepare students better for the future we have no understanding of. My only wish is that someday, somehow, I can see some sort of proof that I'm on the right side.

Truth be told, that will probably never happen. And that's okay. I'd rather put my faith in things that give me reason to believe that life can be great for everyone.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Building an Amazing Race Activity!

A lot of people have been asking me about an activity I have used called "The Amazing Race".  I've used the strategy at two professional learning sessions and an Edcamp, and it has been very successful all three times. Therefore, I'd like to continue spreading the love of what I feel is a worth while activity design for a multitude of uses.

First though - full disclosure - the Amazing Race style of content acquisition/discovery was NOT my idea. I learned about it at the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View in 2014.  However, after creating my own, I have a better handle on the design that could potentially go into creating one of these.

The idea of the Amazing Race activity is to get participants owning the learning and exploring in a collaborative and competitive environment.  You might think it is similar to a webquest - I find it to be a vast improvement.  In my set up, the challenges are all points on a map. Students are giving a link to the first challenge, and upon finishing, fill out a form to receive the link to their next challenge.  The following goes into more detail on the planning and thought process side of things.

Step One:  Use Google MyMaps.
I don't know what it is about Maps, but something about them is just incredibly engaging. You could technically do an activity like this without it, but I'm not sure it would hold the same appeal.  My Maps gives you a lot of flexibility in putting clues in different places on a map.  This would be very natural for social studies and geography classes to utilize this tool, but I could see any class use this as a way to revamp the way content is acquired.

Step Two:  Start a planning document.
This is a necessity.  If you are going to have students or participants going to multiple places and filling out multiple forms (as I have), then you are going to have to keep yourself organized. I highly suggest creating a Google Doc with the links for each step.  Click here for an example.

Step Three:  Determine what you want to have students/participants do
An Amazing Race style activity fits perfectly in the flipped classroom. While it isn't the most time friendly of flipped classroom methods, it certainly can be one of the most engaging.  In the above example planning doc, the goal was to have teams of people who haven't really worked together collaborate, and eventually gain some comfort with MyMaps.  I have also done it where participants learn a bunch of different skills. The competitive nature of the "race" helps all participants take it seriously and give it their all. Here is the planning document for an Amazing Race session I ran where participants gained experience with Google Classroom, Kaizena, Flubaroo, and Plickers.

Step Four:  Think about time
In both cases I ran this, I had an hour, in which I also wanted to have some time for reflection.  Both times, it was about the right amount of time. I wish I could offer some guideline in figuring out how long these could take, but ultimately, it depends on the audience and what you'll have them do.  The best piece of advice I can give is to make sure your challenges are chunked in small pieces so participants, at least at the beginning, can feel success and, depending on how quickly they move through the race, get key information and learning regardless of how far they make it.

Step Five:  Consider tutorials
In order to better help the variety of participants I had in a technology training session, I incorporated visual directions on each challenge that essentially walked the participant through exactly what they should do. While there are some cases where you might not want to do that level of detail (for instance, if this is some kind of assessment review), I found it to help sell participants on the face that I wasn't direct instructing them on how to do some of the tech skills.

Step Six: Test it out
Have a friend or colleague go through your Amazing Race and ensure that all the links work correctly and that the directions make sense.

Step Seven:  Unleash and Have Fun!
I guarantee that the day(s) that you run this activity in your class will be intense and enjoyable for everyone.  Designed correctly, and you'll be giving students an opportunity to really experience the "4 C's" in a more authentic way as well as providing a memorable experience that will not only allow them to take more ownership over the learning, but can be differentiated because of the flexibility within the directions.

If you are interested in doing an activity like this but want a little more help, you can reach out to me at, +Josh Gauthier on Google Plus, or @mrgfactoftheday on Twitter. Truly, I believe this could be an "amazing" experience for your class. Looking forward to hearing about how you'll use it!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Whole New Classroom - #techeducator Episode 81 Podcast Recap

The #techeducator podcast returned after a week away enjoying the Super Bowl, and was it ever an action packed show!  Google Classroom was the topic, and not only did we have some great demos, but we also had incredible guests, including Google Guru Alice Keeler and Classroom Product Manager Jen Holland.  Featuring some insight into the design of Classroom, as well as solid advice on ways to utilize Classroom, this show is sure to get you fired up to give Classroom a try. Click here to see the show!

Next week, #techeducator dives into the world of iBooks.  Join us at 7pmEST/6pmCST for another great episode of the podcast!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Educational Impact of Twitter - #Techeducator Podcast Episode 80 Recap

This past Sunday, the #techeducator podcast had on special guest Susan Bearden (@s_bearden) to talk all about how educators can leverage Twitter. With a balanced panel of seasoned Twitter users, a lot of tips and advice were shared to help teachers who may be new, a veteran to Twitter, or somewhere in the middle. For those interested in learning more about how to use Twitter, please check out the podcast here as well as Susan's "Tweech Me App" here:

Next Sunday, the #techeducator podcast rests while we all enjoy the Super Bowl.  We will resume on Sunday, February 8th at 7pm/6CST with a conversation all about Google Classroom. Rumor has it, superstar educator Alice Keeler will join us, as well as Classroom project manager Jen Holland! Hope to "see" you there!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Safely Searching with Google - #Techeducator Podcast Episode 79 Recap

This past Sunday, the TechEducator podcast was all about ways that you can use Google for better research.  Throughout the show, we talked about simple things like using search operators to find better results, or searching with an image.  Other topics demoed included Google Scholar and the Google a Day game.  Essentially, the idea behind the show is that students are using Google, so why fight it? Let's educate them to get the most out of it!

Next week, the podcast returns to its regularly scheduled time of 7EST/6CST. We'll have a special guest, Susan Bearden, as well delve into the big world of building a PLN with Twitter!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Getting Back to the Classroom

I've asked myself this question a thousand times this year - if you love the classroom so much, than why did you move to a tech integrator role?

The answer is never as simple as the question as makes it, as a variety of factors led to that. But, most important, I felt that given my strengths and passions, that role was the best for me to help the most kids. After half a year of doing this, I can honestly say that was the correct decision.

Even though many days are filled with a lot of behind the scenes stuff, such as configuring Infinite Campus settings, solving weird issues like Tech Support-lite, or creating tutorials, I cherish the moments when I get to be in a classroom with kids.  A lot of what I do will impact kids eventually, as teachers learn to be more innovative with technology, they can offer students a better learning experience.  That is a win for everybody. But interacting with the students and running a classroom is what it's all about!

So today, as I wrapped up my 4th class teaching about computer science and genetics to 7th graders, I left with such a great feeling. I don't think it was the best lesson I've ever taught. I certainly presented more than I like to, and didn't give the students nearly enough time to be hands on or reflect on what it is they learned. Ultimately, however, I had an opportunity to utilize some new learning (crafting learning targets) while getting the students excited about a topic they rarely receive exposure to.

And that is really why I left today feeling great. This was a short lesson, 40 minutes.  We didn't have much time to get in-depth on anything. But the win wasn't whether or not they learned a lot then, the win is the excitement and interest the students had in the topic. I gave them an example of how scientists worked with programmers to create a game called Fold-It which allowed users from anywhere to fold proteins in an effort to solve the mystery of their true shape.  I couldn't explain how it worked, but in one particular instance, gamers playing this game solved a problem in 3 weeks that scientists were perplexed by for decades. To see students' eyes light up to think of how gaming can actually make a difference in the world was just so cool.  I know that not every student is going to go home and totally embrace this, but the feeling was that some will. Some will take my tiny lesson and run with it.

I have a few more in-class lessons lined up in the near future, and am really looking to step up my lobbying efforts. Being in contact with students directly is what helps keep me sharp, and understanding what the students need and what they are interested in.  In addition, the freedom of being a tech integrator provides me the opportunity to get into a wide variety of classes in a wide variety of subjects, far expanding my skills and abilities beyond what I gained as a Business Education teacher. My goal remains to provide students the best, most enjoyable education possible, and my hope is that every time I enter a classroom, both the teacher and the students are excited for what is about to happen.

Sure, some of my colleagues are still shocked when I tell them I'm not really tech support, or that I'd help them plan a lesson and teach with them.  Slowly but surely, the integration part of my job that I am so passionate about is beginning to have a bigger role. I'll never get away from the doldrums of administrative tasks, or the teacher to teacher training that is so crucial. After all, if I really am successful at my job, I'd make myself obsolete because the teachers wouldn't need me!  Ultimately, though, I'm in it for the kids and will do whatever I can to make our school a great place for them. For me, getting back to the classroom is one of the best ways I can serve both the students and the teachers.

Here's hoping for a lot more of that in the second semester!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Authentic Student Writing with KidBlog! - #TechEducator Podcast Episode #78 Recap

The TechEducator Podcast was back in action with their first episode of 2015 this past Sunday! The focus:  Kidblog.Org - how to get started and make the best use of it.  As luck would have it, Kidblog (@KidblogOrg on Twitter) is currently on the tail end of a major revamp, and their website is looking beautiful.  The podcast went through everything from setting up your first class to writing a post to sidebar widgets.  It truly was a great show highlighting an awesome tool for authentic student writing.

Check out Episode 78, and don't forget to catch the TechEducator Podcast every Sunday night at 7EST/6CST! Next week we discuss safe searching and researching skills with Google.