Thursday, July 18, 2019

My book is here! "But What if it Wasn't a Sardine Delivery Man?

You Are Loved...

Before I started having children and before I went to school to become an educator, I worked with teenagers at my church. I wasn't much older than they were but I was their counselor, leader, listener, and controlled chaos maker. After countless heart to heart discussions with kids, I realized that down deep many insecurities came from a lack of feeling loved.  Hard parent-child relationships made youth wonder if their parents' love was conditional. Breakups during early dating years made them wonder if they were worthy of being loved. Not finding someone to date made them wonder if they would ever be loved. Insecurities about everything from their looks, their laugh, the car they drove, bad choices they made, to the pimple on their forehead that made them feel as conspicuous as a unicorn make teenagers wonder about their value.

It was during and after those years I started signing letters, creating handouts, making bulletin boards, posting on social media, and saying regularly YOU ARE LOVED. Three simple words that make a world of difference! For me, it is a reminder that no matter how poopy the day is, how much I feel like a failure, how deeply I feel rejected...I am loved by the God of the universe, unconditionally. It's easy for me to share that with others. I live it and feel it daily.  I also feel there is a need for me to share it often as a reminder. Even for students that might not believe in God, to have someone let them know they are loved builds them up for the task at hand, the day ahead, or the disappointing moment.

Each child we teach has something inside them worthy of our love. Relationships matter between us and our students; word choice matters. I would never walk around telling teenagers "I love you" because of the possibility of it being construed as inappropriate. I will say "You are loved" to gird them up to help them with their self-esteem. Our students need more than a person with all the answers, they need someone they can trust daily, they need consistency, they need to know someone believes in them, and they need to know they are loved. Saying "you are loved" with a side hug or fist bump works wonders. "You are loved" has been my mantra for around 25 years, what is yours?

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Process of Self-Publishing Using Kindle Direct Publishing

Lady Lightning Fingers with some students that
actually graduated high school this year
For many years when I was an elementary technology teacher, my alter-ego "Lady Lightning Fingers" would show up to challenge students in their timed typing tests. The kids loved the persona and would look forward to her showing up occasionally. It has been a few years since I've had the opportunity to become this make-shift superhero due to moving out of the classroom and into more of an edtech coaching role. Every year I still go into the elementary classrooms and do lessons on the 9 elements of digital citizenship with concepts based on grade level appropriateness. While this may sound odd, I always make sure I teach about digital citizenship in "unplugged" ways because no matter what age, I focus on the importance of students finding their balance between real life and their online presence.
Two years ago I was in the shower (where most of my great ideas start) and a book series concept came to mind that would support teaching our students about digital citizenship in an unplugged way. I actually got out of the shower without finishing because some great rhymes were "washing over me" (see what I did there?) and the concept of the first book began! In a week I had the rough draft of 3 books created that all supported different aspects of digital citizenship with "Lady Lightning Fingers" as the superhero that makes cameo appearances in them all.
Because this concept was directly tied to the students at my school, I wanted it to run with that idea. I sought out students to create the illustrations but had a hard time finding what I needed. One day I was discussing the concept with a fellow educator at our school and she said "Have you seen Daniel Grissom's Instagram? I think he could do it." At first glance, I immediately knew he could take my ho-hum idea and make it spectacular. Thankfully, he said "yes!"
Over the last few months, Mr. Grissom worked to create amazingly vivid and compelling graphics for what has now become the first book, But What if it Wasn't a Sardine Delivery Man? (The Digital Citizenship Adventures of Lady Lightning Fingers)Most authors would say that he has created splendid artwork to support the writing but I would be remiss if I didn't admit that I think Daniel's characters actually are what makes this book worth it!
From the beginning, it was my desire to self-publish. I felt like this would be a great opportunity for the newly appointed Director of Instructional Technology and INNOVATION to model innovative practices to teachers, students, school families, and beyond. I chose to create every step of this book with the tools that our students have access to all the time. I created high-resolution scans of Mr. Grissom's artwork on our school's multi-functional printer. I imported them into Google Drive. I opened a Google Doc and anywhere I wanted an illustration, I would pull it into Google Draw to add it. As time went on, I got more creative and started realizing I could place text boxes anywhere on the scans and little by little the book started feeling creative and worthy of the being called "a picture book."
Little did I know that Kindle Direct Publishing actually has free tools that would have allowed me to do these same things a bit easier (I ended up downloading the free Kindle Kid's Book Creator software to create the e-book version of But What if it Wasn't a Sardine Delivery Man? (The Digital Citizenship Adventures of Lady Lightning Fingers). I do love knowing that I created the entire book using Google Suite for Education products and that this could be done on our student's Chromebooks as well.
I know that if Mr. Daniel Grissom will take on the concept again for the next book in the series, it will be better. I learned so much in this process! I hope I can now share the "how" with our teachers and students to empower them to be self-published authors as well. My definition of innovation has always been "the intersection of need and passion under an umbrella of creativity." As an educator, I felt I had a need for quality unplugged resources to teach the 9 elements of digital citizenship to our students. I had a passion to see those resources come to fruition; with the help of Daniel Grissom's creativity, we have innovatively created our first published Digital Citizenship resource for our school (and anyone else that might find it's value).
This particular book looks at the importance of students being mindful of digital security and privacy. At the end of the book are possible discussion questions to spark critical thinking on the concept. It is my desire to place a book in each of our k-5th-grade classrooms this year. It is also my desire that my alter-ego, "Lady Lightning Fingers", might be asked to read the book occasionally. If you are interested, you can get your paperback or Kindle version from Amazon.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Digital Technology in the Elementary Music Classroom

This is a guest blog post by Elizabeth Lawrensen, who serves as the lower school music teacher at Chattanooga Christian School. Elizabeth is a tech-savvy teacher and I knew she would have good tools to share!

Using digital technology in the music classroom can be very rewarding, giving students ownership over their own creativity with the vast array of free music technology that is currently available. In my music classroom, I use both education-specific technology as well as free online software and websites available publicly. Different websites or applications have different benefits as well as disadvantages for the classroom. It is important to know what your goals are as well as what your students' level of proficiency is with the device they are using.

Here's a non-exhaustive list of the digital music technology I use in my classroom, and a perspective on the benefits/disadvantages for elementary school students.

1. Audiotool

Audiotool is a free online DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). It contains various free samples available for use in a library, and can be sample-based, loop based, or can utilize your own tracks. Audiotool is set up like a physical workstation, with software pedals, synths, and drum machines that mimic actual physical hardware. For this reason, Audiotool is a lot of fun to work with, but also can be a challenge to explain to younger students with no previous experience with signal flow works and what different devices achieve in terms of sound modification. When teaching Audiotool, I have usually begun with explaining what samples are, explaining loops, and then teaching one of the basic drum machine modules on the app, called "Machiniste." "Machiniste" is a drum machine with the ability to import samples from the Audiotool sample library, which is sourced and uploaded by other users of the online app. Users can sequence samples on each beat or sub-beat using a grid. The grid allows 16 samples per measure (one per sixteenth note) for multiple instruments.

Usually, I challenge students to choose a kick, snare, and a cymbal or clap first and make a "classic" drum beat before going crazy. I explain how if you want a kick to happen on beats 1, 2, 3, and 4, you need to click squares 1, 5, 9, & 13.

Another great aspect of Audiotool is that you can open public projects that other artists have created and work on their projects directly in the app. This can be a great learning tool to see how other artists have used the workstation to make a certain sound.

Disadvantages of Audiotool include:
A pretty high learning curve for those with no experience in sound production. Samples are not filtered- if students search for inappropriate language, it could come up if someone has uploaded a sample containing that word. Recording original audio needs to happen in a separate module outside of the main app, making Audiotool ideal for sampling and looping.

2. SoundTrap

SoundTrap is another free online DAW. This is much more ideal for original recording, and while it is free, if students are using a school email, their account will be deactivated after a trial period because the educational license is not free. While I enjoyed using this website, for its basic capabilities, I did not find the price of $249/year for 50 students to be an efficient use of my budget as I only used the website for a one-quarter elective.

SoundTrap is free for non-educational users and makes it easy to record directly into the web application with your built-in computer microphone. It is also easy to set up midi through your computer keyboard or an external device.

SoundTrap can also use samples but is not as sample oriented as Audiotool. When choosing between the two, I prefer Audiotool due to it being consistently free for students to try and use.

3. Noteflight

Noteflight is a free online software for musical notation. It can be a tool students use to practice basic notation and learning how to translate ideas into sheet music for others to play. I sued this software at a limited level with fourth-grade record students. The students appreciated being able to hear their own compositions played by the computer player on various software instruments. At the end of our short song-writing unit, I used Noteflight to print a mini-book of student composition for each class.

4. Odogy

I used this website to "test"/"play a game" on recorder during the second half of fourth-grade music. After students know most of their notes, they will be able to choose basic songs and be able to play along with the computer on known songs. I input students' names, then they can choose the song they would like to play. Songs can be modified for tempo, etc. The fingerings for recorder are displayed on the left while students play the song chosen. The notes light up as students play into the computer microphone. For each note played correctly, the note will show a fire symbol. Notes not played correctly will turn red.

This "Game" became a competition of sorts this year in music class. Students would be motivated to beat the top score on certain songs or see if they could get 100% correct. This is a great way to encourage both solo playing and to build confidence in recorder playing in the form of a game.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Global Collaborator: Unpacking ISTE Standard for Students #7

Global Collaborator: Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally. (ISTE Student Standard #7)

This standard is my hill to die on. If a student graduates from our school and doesn't know how to collaborate well with the world, then we have failed to equip that student for their future. The universe gets smaller every day. When I graduated from college (the first time), there was no internet access to the masses. I was pretty much competing with people within a 50-mile radius in the city I wanted to work in. There were some people willing to relocate but the bottom line was that 85% of the people that were after the same job I was would have been considered my geographical neighbor. Today, someone might need graphics work done and artists from all over the world can bid on that job. Due to video conferencing, smartphones, and wifi, the professional world has become more fluid in who we work with and also whom we compete with. The walls have fallen down and most jobs today require you to communicate with someone not in your community and maybe not even in your hemisphere on a regular basis. In the last year, I have worked strategically discussing the use of voice speakers in the classroom with people from California, North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, Israel, and the United Kingdom.

So how do we prepare students for that world if the walls are still up in our districts and we can't reach out globally because of a lack of technology?

  • Penpals. Remember snail mail? That's what I am talking about! Culturally connect your students to another school through snail mail. Depending on the age of your students, you can have them write individual letters or write a letter as a class. Ask each other questions relevant to learning. Challenge each other with quizzes or questions. It could be something that happens all year long. 
  • If you are a teacher that has a computer with a webcam or you are willing to use your own phone, participate in a mystery skype opportunity. Do your legwork first. Communicate with the other educator and decide what your learning goals would be for your mystery Skype. Is it purely geographical or do you want your students to glean certain information from your connection? 
  • Seek a local that isn't a local. We live in a transient world. Your school and students could benefit from the connections you have to other cultures. Sometimes those not like yourself seem intimidating or scary. Knock down the biased boundaries that exist and ask someone to come in and collaborate with your students about their culture.
  • Get involved. My edufriend Jennifer Williams serves on the board of Global Goals Educator Task force. This task force works together with the UN to teach Sustainable Development Goals that would affect every teacher, student, and the world. Look for opportunities to talk about global needs and perspectives. TEACH SDGs is one option but there are plenty of other ways to help students to see outside the silos of their lives.

Check out the previous blog posts from the "Unpacking ISTE Standards for Students Techknowledge Gee" here:

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Creative Communicator: Unpacking ISTE Standard for Students #6

Creative Communicator: Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. (ISTE Standard for Students)

So this may seem like a hard standard to pull off in a non-techie classroom but bear with me. This one is important! Some of the other standards are much more technical and forward thinking but the basic skill of communication is one that so many people face with emotional struggle. Adults often choose the wrong platform or format to share our grievances or we don't take advantage of the potential audiences we have for the worthy things we want to share. Or worse yet, we don't have the verbalization skills to share the great work that is being done. In this case, I'm talking about adults but it definitely transfers over to our students seven-fold!

I know we have already discussed digital citizenship in a prior blog post in this series but I believe communication is one of the most critical parts of being a good steward in the world of technology. I also believe that in today's society, we are losing our ability to have face to face conversations that are hard. (I'm preaching to myself here.) I hate conflict and would much rather broach a hard subject via email and then follow up face to face. Technology can make us lazy communicators and sadly it can also give us courage that we shouldn't always take advantage of.  

My husband makes fun of my girls and me because we will read a text and say, "Oh, she's mad!" He will then say, "How do you know? Did she tell you she was mad?" and my answer might be "Because she wrote in ALL CAPS" or "I can just tell." or "She used the angry face emoji." It drives him crazy. Communicating through technology often loses the nuances that face to face communication brings. That being said, to say we should strive to equip our students to be creative communicators is a vital skill for their future. There is not a single job I can think of in today's mainstream society that doesn't require the ability to communicate with others. So cheer up non-techie friends, even though you might not have the technology to support this, you will be aiding your students' ability to function in a face to face world even better if you make this standard a priority. 

  • So what does a low tech or unplugged version of "creative communicator" look like? This year, one of our Bible teachers challenged his students to create memes after they finished the unit of the life of St. Paul. He told them to think of it like creating an Instagram post, but since social media is closed to students at our school, they created their posts using a slide deck. Their captions were full of written nuances that they gleaned from their studying. How brilliant was this lesson? He took a platform that students use every day and assessed their learning based on a current fad in society- memes. I love this idea! Did it have to be done on a slide deck? No. They could have done it with markers and papers just as easily. Or what if they had taken an actual photo and put the words right on top of it. Guys, that would be no different than app-smashing on an iPad (combining one or more platforms to create an original work).
  • Remember oral reports? Hands sweaty, waiting for your name to be called so you can do your at least 3-minute speech on some topic. Sometimes you have a posterboard sitting next to you as a visual when you talk, sometimes you don't. Next time this opportunity arises in your classroom, stretch your students a bit. Tell them they have 3 minutes to be creative communicators instead of 3 minutes to give a book report. See what happens! Encourage them to build models, have visuals, and think about their intended audience. Open the door to increased connectivity and creativity. Give them a bigger audience than just you and their classmates. Ask in other classes, parents, or any visitor that would make the moment more special. Spend time beforehand teaching them skills of voice control, inflection, eye contact, and body language. You might not be teaching them digital skills but you sure will be teaching them the importance of being a creative communicator. Talk to them about what subject matters might benefit most from certain types of visuals. One day when they have the opportunity to use technology to enhance their already amazing communication skills, think about what they might do! Last week I had the honor of attending the Chattanooga Fab Institute and the keynote speaker for the first day was Shinjini Das, CEO and founder of Das Media Group (see her story here). Her charisma and ability to engage with the crowd is unique for a 27-year-old engineer. She has the face to face communication skills that don't necessarily fit with the stereotypical STEM field. She's a unicorn in her industry and we need to develop more unicorns in the STEM field. There is value in growing students that can not only DO but also SAY!
  • Own it! Yeah, you the teacher. Your students may not have access to social media but you do. Find out your school district's stance on sharing student information/faces online and make sure you follow those guidelines. Then start using social media to show students when and how it can be a good platform for communication. Create a class blog and share the things happening in your classroom. Contact the author of a book with questions your students have curated while they read the author's book and send them to the author. Have your students create "how to" videos to relate to your curriculum and add to them yourself. Create a website using Google Sites templates and add poetry, photos, or well-written work. Seem like too much work? You don't have to retype everything they have turned in, take a photo and upload it! It is true, it does become a bit of extra work for you as a whole but you are modeling for your students how to be a creative communicator and adding value to the hard work they do in your classroom by showcasing to a broader audience. You are also showing your students how to add value to the digital world they live in. So much of digital citizenship focuses on a list of dangers and safeguards to be aware of but as a citizen, we also want to bring value to that world. Sharing learning and creating pathways for others to learn from our students does just that. 
  • Be a trailblazer. Show students the value of communicating with new tools. Adopt the concept of using voice speakers in the classroom or for communicating with students and families. Create communication means meeting needs in effective ways. Why not choose the fastest growing platform since the iPhone to show students what it means to stay on the edge of learning? 
More ideas for no tech, low tech, and high tech teaching of this standard:

Check out the previous blog posts from the "Unpacking ISTE Standards for Students Techknowledge Gee" here:

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Computational Thinker: Unpacking ISTE Student Standard #5

Help your students think like a robot? What is the value in that? Sequential, computational thinking allows students to understand the reasons computers do the things they do. Learning how to think computationally allows users to get the most of their tools. In a tech-rich environment, this looks like teaching students coding, or introducing them to spreadsheet functions to analyze data, or using 3D printers to create models for learning different components in order to answer a bigger problem.

But what does a non-tech classroom look like that teaches computational thinking? I mean, the word "computer" is in the goal?! Believe it or not, it can be done with something as inexpensive as paper, markers, and Solo cups. So let's discuss this unplugged party! One of the goals of computational thinking is to help students think about complex problems in smaller increments.

  • Start with explaining binary code by having students draw their name with each letter's code being represented with a different color. Or, create a necklace using straw pieces that spell out something using the binary code ASCII alphabet. This begins the process of understanding that computers talk to each other based on a certain "code."
  • You don't have to have computers or bots to teach coding. Put different colored dots or Solo cups on the ground and ask your students to get from point A to point B, C, etc by mapping it out. Working in pairs or small groups is great for this endeavor! But how does that relate to your high school English class or your Spanish 2 class? How often do you give your students an assignment and they jump important parts of the process, or miss key moments that foreshadow something that changes the whole direction of the book? When you are teaching directions and common words in a foreign language, what if the students actually mapped it up in the language and learned to code at the same time? 
Does teaching this standard seem like a stretch to you? I hear teachers say all the time, "I love the things I find on Pinterest and see teachers doing on Twitter but I can't figure out how to do the 'fun stuff' and still teach my curriculum too. How are they doing that?" The answer is CREATIVITY. I've seen kids code Dash and Dot robots to a certain location in the classroom, open up an envelope and find the next spelling word to add to their piece of paper. Turn the mundane into a mini-lesson. You don't have to have a robot to do that, use the unplugged version mentioned above!

Are you students studying something in your classroom that happened in Germany? Have students create a "code" with one block equalling X many miles to get from your classroom to the location. Then as a class, go to and have students look at a newspaper during that time period in that area versus your area and then make deductions on the differences of the cultures through the lens of what you are currently discussing in class. Coding is a great way to start the process of setting the plot, setting, and theme.

So some of you have plowed through the above ideas and thought "Yeah, but why add that level of extra work to my lesson plans?" I get it, I struggled with that as well and then I saw the engagement that happened when a teacher didn't just say "Today we are going to read ______, it takes place in ________ in the 20th century." But do it not only for engagement but also because you see the value of those ISTE Standards for Students as a way of making sure your students are prepared for the road ahead of them. Even if your classroom doesn't have ready access to technology or you don't know the first thing about coding a computer.

In 1999 the U.S.Department of Labor said 65% of today's grade-school children will end up in jobs that have not been invented yet. ( Folks, that was 20 years ago! We have to help students think computationally. It isn't about an iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or wearable technology. As Tom Murray said at FETC 2017, "The technology our students are using today is the worst technology they will ever use." We have to prepare them for that unknown to the best of our abilities. We are living in a world of accelerated change!

I personally am greatly intrigued by the idea of enhancing the classroom setting by using voice speakers such as Echo Dots and Google Assistants. I find myself longing for the knowledge of how to code for these devices to better equip classrooms with personalized Alexa Skills and Google Actions. In a very real way, I am seeing how focusing on ISTE Student Standard #5 would have benefited me as a student for my future.
No Tech Low Tech High Tech