Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Growing Cost of Edtech Integrity and Security

5 years ago our school rolled out a BYOD (bring your own device) plan for our middle school. We've muddled, learned and grown through all this and also watched and waited for a better idea to come along. Last year we did something different, our fifth grade students piloted touchscreen chrome books in the classroom that the parents still bought (but they bought through the school). As part of this rollout we placed all these Chromebooks under a monitoring and filtering system that follows them wherever they may go. This monitoring software was chump change compared to some of our budgets but it feels like the chump change costs to do what we want to do just keeps growing. And with it comes an added level of responsibility for our IT department by being the gatekeeper of usage both on and off campus.

In this next school year we are also investing in software that will make it impossible for students to take a quiz or test without doing so in a lockdown browser. We chose to do this for testing security and integrity. This is another little bit of chump change that works with the learning management system (LMS) we have adopted for this year - the LMS itself is a larger bit of chump change. We also spend additional money on a plagiarism/grammar checking software that plugs into the said LMS.

Many of these options are chosen for integrity purposes, some are for ease of use purposes and yet a few cannot even be seen as optional in today's world. One of the hardest parts of being an instructional technologist is that there never seems to be a program that does everything we want it to do for our teachers and students without investing more money in an outside plug in. Then you stand back and you realize your "per seat" cost of using technology continues to grow and you wonder what could stay, what could go? What is next? I do believe in time some of these plug ins will become standard in LMS specs but for now the budget continues to bulge with add-ons.

Add to that the needs of an elementary school which isn't quite ready for the robustness of an expensive LMS but teachers want to utilize technology in collective ways. All of a sudden you have $20-50 dollar expenses in various classes to meet various needs and everyone looking to the IT department to fill those needs.

I do appreciate edtech companies that have the free versions and the pay versions of software because more than once I've said "show me you'll use it and we will look for the money for the paid version." It is interesting to me that many of these companies charge just enough to entice teachers to use their own money for this classroom need. I can't decide if that's the companies being good to the teachers or actually exploitive of the teachers!

At the end of last year our wonderful elementary PTO gave out Amazon gift cards to our teachers to use in the classroom. I'm wondering, has the time come for teachers to receive gift cards so they can decide what tools to buy for their classroom or does that create a smorgasbord of confusion for students? I don't think it would in the elementary setting.

  • How does one best encourage teachers to take risks and try new technology tools without creating undo cost and chaos with a need to support all those things? 
  • Who decides what is necessary and what is not? 
  • Should there be a protocol for edtech tool adoption? 
  • How do you support innovators and first adopters in a school setting?
  • How do you discern if the chump change and the big change your shelling out is truly cost effective in the learning process?
  • How do you make the money spent on educational technology equitable between upper and lower schools? Do you need to?
  • What standards or goals are you supporting through the use of technology in the school?
  • What is it's ultimate purpose and do the pros outweigh the cons? 
  • Where is the tipping point? If I knew .....(kids weren't always multitasking, students weren't cheating on tests, knew how to balance- or whatever you have heard to fill in that blank) THEN I would feel more comfortable with technology. How much money do we invest into the tipping point areas?
  • How do you respond to the next cool and useful tool that hits the market midyear when your budget is flat? 
  • How much cushion should there be in a tech budget?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Putting Yourself OUT THERE Professionally

As I reflect over my school year, I realize I had a lot of disappointments. In fact, a crazy amount of disappointments. As a rule, I don't deal with disappointments or rejection well so I have spent the last few days asking myself "why does this year feel like a success if you truly felt like you had tons of disappointments?"

I think it is because my disappointments weren't in what was happening at school that much and more about putting myself out there to become a better educator and to grow. I also think it was because I put myself out there enough that I also have some crazy awesome things to celebrate as well. As I started typing this blog post I decided to just create this chart to help me put my year in perspective:

A few years back I realized that in order for me to get the feedback I needed to both grow and feel fulfilled in my role I would need to reach outside of my own school system. Not that it isn't a wonderful school system- it is! But I tend to be a futurist and and "what's next" type of thinker about education. That being said, it is not my role to force my dreams on those I work with, so looking for ways to develop and feed that part of myself while incrementally creating opportunities at our school is important to me.

There are some years the professional rejection feels more overwhelming than the things to celebrate but because of my personality, I feel like it's important for me to keep putting myself out there. And let me say that has not always been my personality. There have been more years than not that I was quite happy siloing myself in my classroom with my students and focusing on teaching and the things that happened within the four walls of that classroom. AND I was a good teacher. But after spending time looking at what others were doing by attending conferences and using Twitter to grow professionally, I had a quest to do more and be more for myself, my school system, but ultimately the students and families I serve.

So now I spend time looking for opportunities to get outside my box and challenge my thought processes. I realize that as an instructional technologist I work in a role that opens a mixed bag of emotions from others. It is that fact that has pushed me to have a more global approach to my job so that I can get the support I need and can be a balanced educator in seeing the strengths and potential pitfalls in my realm of influence.

I say all this to challenge others to continue to put yourself out there. After not being chosen for part of the Google Innovator program this year I tweeted "Rejection makes me hungry." It's true. Don't let your rejection define you-dig deeper, apply again, seek other avenues, but never accept the status quo of complacency!  Fail forward and grow! Colonel Sanders, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and J.K. Rowling are just a few people that come to mind when I think of persevering through the struggle of failures. May I ever be someone with that type of growth mindset.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Value of Pausing

What is the function of a pause button? To hit pause means you still want to continue but you need a little breather. When you are watching a movie, maybe you pause for a bathroom break. When you are listening to a podcast, maybe you pause because something more pressing needs your attention at the moment. The point I'm trying to make is that to pause is very different than hitting stop.

In the summer I often take some intentional pauses for my own mental health. It can look very different based on where I am emotionally, spiritually and professionally. Right now I am in the midst of what I would call a "redirect pause." I am being intentional about attending events, reading resources and learning more about the negative impacts technology can have on us but I AM an instructional technologist. While that might not make sense to some people, I think it is very important that I always be aware of latest research that both positively and negatively represents technology and more specifically educational technology.

This week I had the privilege of leading some professional development sessions for our school system. At the end of a session about formative assessment I was asked two questions by one of the participants who has not been working in a technology-rich classroom but will be teaching with us next year:

  • Do you feel students are easily distracted by technology?
  • What are your biggest concerns about technology in the classroom?
So those 20 fellow educators were stuck there listening to my answers!

My answer to the first question was unequivocally YES. Technology is a disrupter but I firmly believe that the benefits outweigh its frustrations if we are intentionally using technology in a classroom that supports not only engagement but learning. I do believe technology in the classroom means that it becomes harder to teach in a traditional way. Classroom management is important when technology is present and you as a teacher are speaking. It is a natural time for students to drift off task. Teachers have to set expectations and stick with them. 

The second question pricked this part of me that never gets to speak. I mean my job is to hark the benefits of technology and show educators how to use it....what are my biggest concerns? I took a big breath and my answer was, "I worry about the siloing nature of technology. I worry about the way it is impacting conversations. I worry that technology companies have duped us into using their products and we haven't considered the consequences." I then said, "I do think educational technology companies are doing a better job of seeing their responsibility in the way they build their platforms. I also feel we, as educators, are able to discern what works best for us where it all felt like a whirlwind as we started trying things in the classroom." 

Today I attended a session by Dr. Larry Rosen during a Neuroscience & Education Symposium. Tonight I find myself dwelling on the way the different generations look at technology. We looked at research data that compared Baby Boomers, Generation X, Net Generation, iGeneration and Generation C. Tonight I sit here thinking about how to share technology information with the various generations that teach at CCS in a way that helps them to understand the dynamics of Generation C. It feels both overwhelming and exciting. 

And the one thing that could cause a myriad of crazy conversations is the concept of "tech breaks" during the schedule so that students can reconnect with the technology platforms of their choice in order to be less distracted from FOMO (fear of missing out) and constantly trying to check it when the teacher isn't looking. The research was amazing to consider. Thankful for this pause that helps me to see more about pausing. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Why Small School Districts Should be Leading the Way in Innovation

This year I have chosen to focus on the good. My one word for January was "perspective" and I have worked hard to see my surroundings through a positive lens this school year, to celebrate the things that happen in our school that makes us uniquely special and gives me pause to have pride in where I work. I've always been thankful for this school system, they helped me raise my two girls, gave me a sense of belonging, nurtured and challenged me into the educator I am today and continues to push me.

When I am being intentional about my perspective, it magnifies the thoughts and processes that roam inside my head. I've even been told I am overthinking things, which is a bit funny because I see myself more as too decisive and action-oriented these days because I was definitely an over-thinker in the past. Balance, always looking for my balance.

But I digress. The thing I really appreciate the most by realigning my perspective to positivity is the fact that I work for a district that can get things done. Things don't stagnate or suffer from paralysis of analysis. If the right people accept an idea that anyone has, things can get done around here. I think part of this is because we are a smaller district (a pre-K school of 1400 students) and anyone that needs to be part of a decision is within walking distance of each other.  I also think it is because we are a private school and the mandates that some of you have to deal with don't impact us.

If you want a big dose of perspective start hanging out with educators from various districts. One of my most enlightening endeavors monthly is being part of our local #CHAedu #coffeeEDU where a few educators choose to spend an hour discussing education topics of our choice. This was the first place I realized how fortunate I was to be at CCS in terms of getting things done. I heard fellow educators in different districts, in different roles talk about trying to bring great opportunities to their school but not being allowed to or having to fight really hard for it because "it wouldn't be equitable between the different schools in the district." I guess I understand that on one hand but on the other hand if every school had empowered educators wanting to bring special stuff and being able to do so, does it have to be the exact same thing?

That being said, I think every sized district has its on perspectives that make it unique and valuable to education. If you want to make sure a tech rollout goes well, see what a successful large district did and adapt their concept to yours. If you can rollout tech to 20,000 students successfully, you should be modeled.

What I realize is that smaller school districts should be leading the way in innovation. There seems to be less red tape to cut through in order to create change. I would also say that in smaller districts there is more likely the possibility that the key players/decision makers wear multiple hats and the sphere of influence is more encompassing. This allows for informed decisions to be made quicker, with the word informed being the key word. In smaller districts, administrators often have multiple wheelhouses. This can be helpful when dealing with innovative strategies because the moving parts have a greater opportunity of working like a well oiled machine instead of a sticky cog.

A friend of mine who works in public education once said to me, "I think public schools could learn a thing or two from your school. You all have the ability of doing much with little." He was talking about funding, and he was right! When you know the funds are limited, you get creative in the ways you meet needs. I think it is the nature of the small district beast to have an innovative mindset.

I'm going to push this concept even a bit farther...I believe Christian schools have a responsibility to be innovators. We follow the greatest innovator of all- Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish! We should always be looking for ways to meet needs, it is one of the things we are called to do as Christians. We should be modeling for the world what meeting needs looks like, including in the classroom. In my opinion this means we should be looking at our constituency through the monocle of innovation (the place where needs intersect with passion) and individuality.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Student Led Professional Development

I've been at school since 6:45am.  I was anxious about my morning and the lofty goals I had. It's now 10:00am and I am basking in the glory of positive completion! This morning ended a 9 week elective opportunity for students that signed up for the "Lower School Tech Team" elective. This team has worked for 9 weeks to create an Escape Room opportunity for the lower school teachers that taught them about STEAM tools. These 8 students created lesson plans and how to videos and modeled how you can teach using an Escape Room as the lesson.

This morning all the lower school teachers had a staggered start to come in and allow the students to show them how to use Dash Cleverbots, Ozobots, Sphero Robotics, Makey Makeys, and Echo Dots in the classroom. Based on feedback from teachers in January, this was an area they felt they needed more training in. The students manned all 5 stations and had the teachers learn more about these tools. As someone that was both nervous about allowing students to lead the PD and hoping that it truly would be seen as beneficial, I truly enjoyed hearing the interactions and the "aha moments" happening as each grade level worked their way through the challenges. Every grade level got through the 5 challenges in less than 20 minutes and my hope is that the teachers will have walked away thinking about potential ways they can use these tools in their own classroom in the future.

The thing that I am most proud of is allowing these students to have the opportunity to be part of authentic learning. The problem put before them was "The teachers want to learn more about tech tools." These kids showed up at 7:30am this morning (even though on Wednesdays their day starts at 9:00am) and enthusiastically taught their teachers what they knew. They supported without "doing it for them." Every one of them left feeling accomplished, needed, and fulfilled in what they participated in this morning. Students want authentic learning and to share their learning more globally. The morning of sharing with the lower school teachers and the website they created for reference allowed them this opportunity. Remember, this was an elective. Think on that for a moment!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Echo Dot Kids Edition- For Education?

I've been fairly pumped about the Echo Dot Kids Edition coming out. My pre-ordered one came in this past week and the 10 minute video at the bottom of this post is me unboxing and digging into its capabilities. I was beyond excited about the safeguards the Echo Dot Kids Edition would offer an educational setting. I immediately asked it questions I would hope it wouldn't answer and my brief synopsis was that it did feel much safer to use with youngsters. I did like the fact that when setting up profiles for children it asked the age of the child but also allowed me to override and set stricter settings if I wanted to do so. I have yet to really dig into all the suggested apps for the kids edition but I believe any parent or educator could find multiple reasons to see this as a benefit to learning. One of the things I like the most about it is that it gives young students access to information and learning without screen time issues.

The thing I was most excited about was using an Echo Dot Kids Edition during center time in our elementary school. The safety net of creating user profiles for kids that didn't allow them to intentionally or unintentionally order things off Amazon with my credit card was a huge plus to me.

I couldn't wait to create my first Amazon Blueprint Skill to quiz students at one table while a teacher was engaged in a small group activity with another set of students. I created my skill about STEAM tool knowledge and immediately asked the Echo Dot Kids Edition to open it. It wouldn't. I tried it on one of my other Echo Dots and there was no problem at all.

So here is the deal according to Amazon, because my Echo Dot Kids Edition is set up for a child named Joe Charger, they cannot access my Blueprint skills because it is seen as a different user (even though it uses the same Amazon account). This was a huge disappointment to me. So much potential that just slid away. I was ready to place them in every classroom if it had worked! I will say that the Amazon Troubleshooting team was a big help and they listened to my wants and said they would pass my concerns along to the Amazon Developers.

I know the goal of the Echo Dot Kids Edition isn't for educational purposes but for parent controls but it is SOOOOOO close to being a product that could be amazing in the educational technology realm. So Amazon developers, if you are ready this...I want to be your guinea pig! Thank you for the tool you've given us so far that makes adults feel a little more piece of mind in regards to voice user interface. I look forward to seeing what the next step might be!

Friday, May 4, 2018

When Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program Visits Your School

This letter went out to our families this week:
Yesterday CCS had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. Twenty different groups of students from Kindergarten to 12th grade were able to use augmented reality tools to enhance the concepts they are currently learning in their classrooms through engagement, visualization, and manipulation. This software is not available to the public as Google is perfecting its product, and we were honored to be selected to experience it and give feedback! 
Augmented reality is best described as the process of layering a computer-generated image over a real-world view (think of SnapChat filters). Our students worked in groups of 2-3 using a Google phone attached to a selfie stick to see 3D manipulative visuals ranging from objects associated with a coral reef, to a hurricane, to Da Vinci's inventions! 
The opportunity to participate in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program provided both teachers and students access to technology-based tools that have the ability to bring abstract concepts to life and give students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom. When students have the ability to look at a bumble bee up close and then enter its body to see how it is formed, that sparks questions and enriches learning!
Google created a safe, non-threatening, fully supported culture for our teachers to be trained to use this technology. Then the teachers were able to introduce this new way to enhance the teaching and learning in their classroom with continued support from Google while they piloted the product. It was an excellent experience for everyone involved!

Julie Davis, our Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation, interviewed with WDEF News 12 this morning and explained CCS's participation in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. Click here to watch the interview. 

Now that you know about our experience, I wanted to share my ed tech takeaways from this experience. If you have the chance to pilot a tech tool at your school, do it. It was hard work to get all our ducks in a row on short notice but how often does this type of opportunity come around? Here is why:

  • Empower the early adopters: The teachers that are interested will sign up and it is a great way to get feedback on a concept without sinking straight into it through a purchase. I believe it's important to slide new ideas in the back door so it is less overwhelming for those that are wary of "the next great thing." Let your early adopters have the opportunity to be challenged first. 
  • Effectiveness of tools: In this case, it became immediately evident to me how a good lesson plan can be created around augmented reality by watching teachers in action during this pilot.
  • Explore cost free: There really isn't much risk by trying out something like this. If the product is worth the hype, you have multiple users clamoring for it. 
I hope to be able to find other opportunities for our teachers to try new concepts in a stress free environment. The beauty of the Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program is that not only was it introduced to the teachers but immediately they were implementing it. I now have 20+ teachers that have experience with augmented reality in the classroom and have that concept in a tool belt for their future. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Alexa Blueprints? The Possibilities for Education are Growing

A few months ago I stood in front of a group of voice user interface programmers and said, "I wish the interface to create a skill for Alexa was easier so that my students and my teachers could quickly create their own skills." Some people said, "It is easy!" and one in particular heard me and we have been talking back and forth ever since about what this platform would look like and what it could do. Roger Kibbe (@rogerkibbe) even sent me a link to a potential input/user interface page for students and it was so intuitive and happy looking! I believe with all my heart he is on to something amazing. 

Then this week Amazon came out with its own page. It's called Alexa Blueprints and it works simply and beautifully by using templates to create opportunities for people to create their own Alexa skills. This video is of me using the website for the first time to create a flashcards skill for first graders to learn their shapes based on definitions. That was the first concept that popped into my mind because our students had just done a STEAM time with robots to help them learn their shapes. 
So I created this concept yesterday and had all evening to think through the educational implications of using this in the classroom. Things to think on:
  • I can see this being a great tool for teachers to use to create a center for learning in their classroom but you can only share your skill with those using the same Amazon account so a teacher can't say "look for my skill to help you study for this test at home, etc." Each student would have to make their own skill using their parent's Amazon account...which I can tell you from recent events at our school isn't a wise decision to give out to minors.
  • Falling under the same issue, I would love to have my students create their own skills in class but
    • They can only use an Amazon account under the age of 18 "with involvement of parent or guardian."
    • The risk of letting them have access to my own account to create skills seems too great.
  • I continue to be a little leary of using Alexa in the classroom due to the instant access to information that could be used inappropriately by students by asking innapropriate questions. This week when Alexa Blueprints came out Mark Tucker (@marktucker) reached out to me to let me know it was out there and also to tell me that he thought it would work well with an Alexa Voice Remote. I didn't even know those existed. I must dig deeper at this capability. And FYI here is Mark's Youtube explanation of the new Alexa Blueprints platform.
So there are things that I would love to see:
  • Teacher accounts for Alexa that allow teachers to feel confident with using these devices in the classroom without fear of some student ordering 42 packages of Tide pods on teacher's Amazon account. Could there possibly be Alexa accounts that are not tied to a credit card?
  • Teacher accounts for Alexa that allow the teachers to both create skills that could be shared with all their students so that the teacher could create opportunities for learning outside the classroom for their students using this device.
  • Allow teachers to set up users under their own teacher account so that it could be used in a language arts classroom (for instance) and the students write their own stories using the templates available. 

And I know I have mentioned it before, but as an educator if you ever have the chance to speak outside your educational realm, do it. The connections I made at the Alexa Conference have allowed me to be more tuned into the possibilities of Voice User Interface than I would have ever imagined. Thank you Roger and Mark for keeping me updated on potential new things!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

When In The Midst of Teaching You Know The Learning is Big

Friday I was working with my elective group- 8 students...7 from fourth grade and 1 from fifth grade all wanting to be on the CCS Lower School Tech Team. These 8 kids are awesome. They are smart, witty, creative, and self-motivated. It's an easy group to be with and enjoy.

Friday brought a smile to my face that hasn't gone away (despite the fact I whacked out my back getting out of the floor when working with 2 of them and haven't recovered yet)! You know that moment as a teacher when you are working with a group but you are also listening in and scanning the room to make sure everything is going as planned? It's an innate teacher sense...that ability to know what is going on even when you are fully immersed in the conversation at hand. I had 4 different things going on in the room at one time. One student was creating an instructional video on how to use Ozobots, two young ladies were creating a maze out of cardboard to look like the Titanic, I was introducing two other gentlemen to the Sphero SPRK+ robot, while I overheard three other gentlemen troubleshooting a Makey Makey to turn it into a piano. It was in that moment that I found the smile that I can't let go of. Each group was gleefully working together to create an Ocean-themed Escape Room experience for their teachers using STEM tools. Students were on task, active learning was happening and leaders were emerging.

As a rule, I tend to be a "finish what you started" type teacher. If a student picks something to learn, do, read, etc I encourage them to give it a complete chance. I don't force it, but I strongly suggest it (and this might even look like guilting them but that isn't my intention and I try not to push it that far).

We meet for 45 minutes on Friday afternoon for one quarter. Friday, we all had our plans we had been working on and all of a sudden some kids wanted to switch what they were doing. I let them. I was even surprised at myself. One student even said, "but what about the Scratch thing? Who is going to do that?" My answer was, "We will get to it if we get to it." (If there had been a mirror I probably would have looked into it to see who that was speaking). But here is what I learned from being flexible on Friday...

This is an elective. There is no grade and no sense of WE HAVE TO COMPLETE THIS IN ORDER TO GET THROUGH THE PACING GUIDE. These students chose to be with me. I don't take that lightly. I want them to enjoy this process. In fact, the lone fifth grader really didn't want to be in there after he realized he was the only fifth grader but since he had an injured foot, none of the other electives were really a good fit for him. He stuck with it, and I chose to empower him because of that.  In fact, I just sent an email to him and cc'd his mom because of what happened Friday. I'm even going to leave his name in here for you because I'm just so stinking proud of him:

I want to thank you for sticking it out on the tech team elective. I know you were a bit disappointed because you were the only fifth grader that got that elective but I want you to see what I see because of you...

You are a leader. Friday when you were working with those other fourth grade boys they were listening to you intently and you were teaching them about the Makey Makey. It was an amazing moment for me. I love seeing students teaching other students! Because those fourth grade boys look up to you, they were 100% into learning more about the Makey Makey. I couldn't be everywhere in the room at one time but I tend to listen in to everyone's conversation. At one point I heard you troubleshooting and saying "Oh wait, she said we could use the metal on a pencil." Your hands-on approach to figuring the issue out without a teacher's help is just what I like education to be like. You have an inquisitive nature that will serve you well in life...especially since you have such a teachable spirit. 

Thank you Noah for being you. You have risen to become my "right hand man" in this group and I appreciate that about you. I've sent this to your mom as well because mommas always like to know that other people see how amazing their kids are too!

Mrs. Davis 

So I guess I am sharing this for 3 reasons:
  1. To suggest that you get out of your own way at times. Who I am as a person and teacher often thinks that one of the most important things to teach is perseverance. Friday, I let that part of me take second place and what I saw caused smiles. You are never too old to learn. Here I am at age 49 and I decided because this was an elective I would be more flexible in the plan. 
  2. When students get to choose their learning, they are engaged. I had a plan and we will still get there but the truth is, allowing my students to adjust and switch made for one of the biggest edu-smiles I've had in a long time. 
  3. Know your students. I have some really strong-willed guys in this group but instead of forcing them into a box to finish this process, I've let them each flourish in a way that they both enjoy and are successful at doing. For one kid, it's allowing him to do his thing by himself. For another, it's letting him become a leader, for two girls it's allowing them to be together, for other students it's pairing them based on their skills. That can't happen if you don't know your students gifts and talents. It often takes a while to see what they are. Once you do, don't stick to your grouping guns just because that's where you started, be willing to help each student shine!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How a Cheapskate Introduces Technology Tools

I'm a visionary without a budget. I have grand schemes and wishes but no funding to have expectations. So what do I do? Improvise!  There are ways you can introduce new concepts and tools cheaply or free. I'm the queen of it lately. So here are my latest concepts:

Augmented Reality: 

  • Google Expedition AR Pioneer Program. Sign up. That's what I did. Now the Google Expedition AR Pioneer Team is planning to come to Chattanooga Christian School the first week in May. What I love about this program is that it isn't Google showing the teachers the tool. You sign up for Google to show the teachers the tool and then teachers sign up for 30 minute slots of bringing their students in for a lesson plan that they are leading using the tool (with Google support on deck). It's ingenious and free.
  • The Merge Cube is 99 cents at Walmart locations. I'm not the first to tell the edtech world this...Leslie Fisher blogged about it several months back and educators everywhere have been loading up buggies of these little goodies, myself included. I actually bought one for every elementary teacher at our school and for 3of the middle school science teachers. This is a cost effective way to allow teachers to try something new, on their own time, and feel like they have been given a gift as well! When I handed them out I felt like Oprah because of all the happy thank yous. (If you are a CCS educator don't read this next line) an instructional technologist I am out $45 bucks and every educator in the building has a chance to see how this  tool might enhance their curriculum. I see that as a cheap win. 
Free Learning:
  • Become a Connected Educator. This is the greatest gift I give my school district. Staying plugged in and aware of new things, how to access them, and how to get training on them in a cheap or free environment. I've had edu-friends come and lead sessions for our teachers to help them grow. I've been a part of #CHAedu #coffeeEDU where once a month, every month during the school year I walk away with some tidbit of information that will be helpful for my school. I look for opportunities for my teachers to attend and I serve on organization committees to give more educators these chances- i.e. Edcamp Gigcity. 
  • Find sponsors. We've got a few families at our school that are passionate about concepts that relate to my field. Tapping into this gives them a sense of investing in something good and me away to get the job done. Just make sure you have permission to do this. You don't want everyone at your school pitching concepts and needs to the same people. Look for grants as well!
I'll be honest, a lack of funding can be weary. I'm there. I tend to fund more things personally than I should but I don't blame anyone for that. Here is what I have learned...even if the teachers I serve don't ever pick up their Merge cube, my giving it to them was a relational gesture that grows future possibilities. Even if our teachers don't take part in the learning opportunities like Google Expedition Pioneer Program Day or Edcamp Gigcity, I am giving them chances to consider seeing education differently. The truth of the matter is not everyone is enticed by the same things. I love to read educational blogs but I literally have a hard time listening to educational podcasts. There are others that are the exact opposite. Baby steps are the key...and just like we do for our elementary students- it's more about experiences than mastery of anything I share. When something clicks with a teacher, I don't have to do much but get out of their way! That's always a cheap answer. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Don't tell me you hate AI...check out Google's "Talk to Books"

Google, with the help of Ray Kurzweil just possibly changed the world of research. Navigate to the new artificial intelligence driven "Talk to Books" website that can be found at:

What I love about it?

  • It's artificial intelligence. It wants you to talk to it like you would talk to a person. Keywords aren't it's thing. It's not how it was developed; guess what, neither were we.  Elementary students definitely struggle with keyword searches. This can change the dynamics of research!
  • It doesn't ask one book what the answer might be, it asks thousands of books. And then it gives you answers written in quotes from the book with most of the needed info RIGHT THERE. Citing just became easier too. Now I'll be honest, often when I click "show in book" I don't have access to the book but this is a FREE search engine that now allows me to know where I need to go to look further.
  • It seems to look for answers creatively. It's looking through all genres of books to come up with the answer to your question. I like that. It challenges my analytical side to embrace my creative side simultaneously and think on subjects in a broader scope. 
What I don't love about it?
  • Did we just cheapen the act of research? How much are we being manipulated by Google right now as to what our research answers are? Is this a monetized site? How do they choose the books that are part of this search engine? All questions I want answered as an educator.
  • It doesn't replace peer-reviewed research sites but I fear some students might think it does. I think this website has the potential to being a game changer when doing research. The key and challenge for us, as educators, is to teach them good digital literacy skills when curating information. This site is a great getting started tool for research purposes but we need to be even more diligent in defining what good research looks like.
  • I'm not seeing parent controls. I did a search that lead me to some pretty descriptive information that every age level shouldn't have access to. 

I'm excited about this website and interested to hear other's thoughts on the potential and pitfalls of something so dynamic in answering our daily questions. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Fornite is all the rage right now in's free, works on many platforms, and can have multiple players for interaction. This is an overview of play according to wikipedia:
"The main gameplay for Fortnite Battle Royale follows the battle royale genre's standard format: up to 100 players airdrop from floating buses onto a consistent map, which includes random distribution of weapons, armor, and other combat support features. The goal is to be the last player (or team, if playing in small squads) alive by killing or avoiding other players. Over time, the game's safe zone (representing the eye of a Storm that is ravaging the world), decreases in size, and players caught outside the zone will take damage, potentially dying. This directs the surviving players into tighter spaces, forcing player encounters. Players can loot defeated enemies for equipment. Random supply drops will occur during a match, providing random weapons and items.
Fortnite Battle Royale's primary distinction from other battle royale games is the building system. Nearly all objects in the environment can be broken down into materials(wood, stone, and metal), which can then be used to build fortifications of limited durability, such as walls, stairs, and ramps. These objects may be used to help traverse the map, protect the player from gunfire, or slow down progression of other players.
The game is free-to-play, supported by microtransactions that allow players to buy "V-Bucks", the game's internal currency. V-Bucks are also shared with the main Fortnite "Save the World" game, which offers players the opportunity to earn V-Bucks by completing missions or daily quests.[1] V-Bucks can then be used to buy cosmetic improvements to the player (heroes, character and weapon skins, and emotes). V-Bucks can also be used to buy Battle Passes which accelerate the rate that a player increases their Tier within the game's "seasons" (each season lasting a few months). By raising their tier, they gain automatic rewards of cosmetic items typically around a theme. Players can still increase tiers without a Battle Pass, albeit at a slower rate.[2]"
With any new, popular game that is sucking our children in, I believe it is wise to think through how you feel about it as a parent and what expectations you want to put in place based on your value system. Here are some key things to consider from my perspective as an educational technologist:
  1. Violence. This game has a teen rating of 13+ for violence. I tend to check Common Sense Media for their reviews of things and on there parents are rating it at 9+. There is consistent matches to defeat other players (it kind of reminds me of a Hunger Games scenario). There is no blood, the adversaries just disappear. One person told me that the game does encourage headshots though because it is an easier kill or elimination. It is very much a critical thinking game so it combines that thought process in the game. Questions for parents to consider-
    • Does this constant "battle" desensitize the concept of killing or death?
    • Is your child ready for this type of play?
    • According to one review there is some creepy imagery, how will your child deal with that?
  2. Consumerism. It is a free game and can be played just fine in free mode but there are some in-game purchase possibilities and the ability to "earn" the V-Bucks needed to buy battle passes to accelerate play or to provide cosmetic improvements to their player (see above). Earning and being offered in-game purchases are tricky. It's a manipulation tactic by the company to pick just the right time to entice you with more to get you hooked. Games like this are striving to keep your child coming back for more. Did you know that addiction to video games is a real thing and a big problem in our country?  Questions for parents to consider and conversations to have with your child-
    • Can your child discern if they are being manipulated or not within the game?
    • Can you child set limits on time of usage well? 
    • Should you and your child set limits on how much time to spend on games like this?
    • Does your child have the ability to be aware of patterns of overuse?     
  3. Educational/positive value. This game really wasn't developed for educational purposes but it    does call for critical thinking, planning skills, collaboration and communication. There is a positive concept of helping humanity survive. I will say some educators that play find no educational value at all because its ability to cause off-task behavior with technology during the school day far outweighs any benefit there might be. 
    • Can you use this game as a catalyst to discuss the importance of the above skills?
    • Do you feel comfortable that your child is mature enough to interact with other players in a positive and safe way?
    • There is no constraints on what kind of language other users might say, should you discuss not turning the sound up or collaborating to use the game?
    • Common Sense Media suggests using this as a catalyst to talk about crisis management. Does your family have an emergency plan?
    • Would the amount of time your child wants to spend on this game allow for a good conversation about unplugging and the value of being intentionally involved in life? 
    • Should you discuss the problems of multitasking in today's world? Can they really get their homework done while playing games, texting etc? 
As a teen, I loved my Atari Pac-man game the most. There were days my sibling and friends all piled into the family den and passed off the controller for hours. I feel a little hypocritical writing this post since I am not a Fortnite gamer myself but it's impact on our students right now can't be denied. What makes this game so appealing is that it is different every time. Different gamers, with different strategies and different locations give this game a sense of newness every time you play. That constant sense of change makes it possible for the "newness" to take a long time to wear off. Technology has the ability to overwhelm us and we know so much more about how technology can influence our endorphins. Some companies prey on this fact and you need to be aware. Take this time to have real discussions as a family about digital gaming and how it can impact your family's goals and dynamics. Also I will share again the fact that educational games are most meaningful and effective if the parent plays with their child. While this is not billed as an educational game, being a part of your child's digital presence shows your willingness to be part of all aspects of their life and everything in their life is open to parenting. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Changing The Way We Educate Incrementally

Change is hard even if the change is exciting. Managing change and introducing new concepts is hard on leaders as well. Finding the balance on when to push and when to coast is a fine science. I like change. I enjoy the process of change. I get bored easily with the status quo. I've found that I enjoy looking at opportunities to do education differently but not for the sake of different- for the sake  of solving an issue. Below are a few ways I've been a part of creating avenues for learning differently. Some went amazingly and some have limped but I believe each concept has had an influence on changing culture in our school and/or creating opportunities for myself to have a voice or challenge.
  • Embedded PD- If you are in an administrative position you know that finding time for professional development is hard. Recently, I had this revelation that our teachers needed more training on the design thinking process in order to support and understand our goals for STEAM education. It became abundantly clear that there just wasn't time to do a day of PD on this topic so I created an experience for all school learning... Designing CCS. Every week I would send an email out to our teachers that would give them information about the different steps of the design thinking process and they would walk their students through this process. They were learning along side their students. Not all my teachers have finished but those that have felt like the process was a good one for them. Next step for me is to decide how to move forward with the teachers that did not go through the process. 
  • Innovation Incubator- Last year our fifth grade students had the chance to be part of a local innovation competition where they "shark tank pitched" their concepts to some faculty at our school and one person's design was submitted to the local competition. This concept spurred me to look deeper at innovation from a crowd-sourcing point of few. Reading the book Edupreneur and meeting a few new people at ACSD Empower18, I am ready to take this concept to a bigger level next year by creating opportunities for teachers to submit a proposal for innovation after going through the design thinking process with their idea. Innovation is best when it is organic and based on need and passion. I'm looking forward to what the small pilot of last year might lead to next year. 

  • Elementary Electives- One day when talking with our school president I said "wouldn't it be awesome if we could do electives with elementary students?" And so it began. Our 4th, 5th, and related arts teachers offer elective opportunities based on their passions. We have things like archery, basketball, knitting, woodworking, digital gaming, makerspace, campus caretakers, digital music, etc all being offered to 4th and 5th grade students for 45 minutes on Friday afternoons- you know the time...when their brains are mush. Why not offer something that might grow an interest? I love seeing this in action. It's a very simple way to embed something different into the curriculum and see how it goes. It's also a great way to pilot a concept before implementing it on a bigger scale. For many of our teachers, it gave them an opportunity to teach something they love but that just doesn't fit into the curriculum. 

  • Student-Led Tech Teams- Do you want to see student empowerment? Do you want to see a culture of collaboration and aiding others? This was it for me. I've always wanted a student-led tech team but couldn't find the time to do it. Electives allowed me to have a team last year that created how-to videos for commonly asked questions at school regarding technology. The process was an amazing one and the students even got to present at the student showcase during Georgia Education Technology Conference to show their website they created. This year's group is creating an Escape Room concept that will teach the teachers more about the STEAM tools we use at school. Something the teachers said they wanted to be more knowledgable about. Not only did I gain a tech team in this endeavor, I also gained some credibility with some students because I empowered them in the roles that they enjoy. 
  • Pilots- Look for ways to incrementally try new concepts, pedagogies and learning styles in an contained way. I love trying new things but I also know from experience that they often don't go the way you expect out of the gate. Our middle school blended learning math pilot has been a great sense of excitement for me as I have seen our school move away from the traditional sense of teaching middle school math to a more individualized approach. It's been messy, lessons have been learned and mindsets have been changed but I can't imagine taking on something of this magnitude across the board in year one. Pilots allow for a sense of experimentation in a safety net. Change doesn't have to come roaring in like a lion. Change can be that constant nagging that says "Hey, look at me. I'm different and parts of me are really good. What else can you do with what you learned from this change?"
  • Outside Your School Walls- There have been times that I've been frustrated with a lack of change within my own school. Sometimes I just need to be able to voice my educational thoughts. My good edu-friend Greg Bagby calls me an educational rebel. I honestly wear that title with pride. I don't think it's wrong to consider some parts of education as antiquated and to want more for our students. Because of this, I have often found my empowerment outside of my own school. I blog my thoughts on a regular basis for all to see. I've gotten involved with the organization of yearly Edcamp Gig City. I've created the monthly coffeeEDU meet up for Chattanooga area educations based on the hashtag #CHAedu and I've started speaking at educational workshops and conferences as well. Sometimes changing education is being a voice whether anyone is listening or not. Sometimes it just means being able for me to say my visionary ideas in a safe environment. 
Change isn't easy. Seeing your self as a change agent can be both empowering and scary. You won't be everyone's cup of tea. Creating safe avenues for change that don't seem so demanding or oppressive can change culture slowly but significantly. Sometimes I see the change most often in our students ability to feel safe to be creative. Sometimes I see the change through conversations with teachers opening up to new ideas. Sometimes I see the change in me, when I realize my change ideas aren't always good and find a way to balance. Changing incrementally by introducing concepts in a safety net makes sense to me. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Navigating Social Media as a Parent

E-parenting is not an easy task. In March of 2017 android users had the opportunity to choose from
2.8 million apps,  with the Apple app store coming in at a close second by offering  2.2 million apps to users ( 

How on earth can a parent manage what is out there and what is safe for their children? Recently 
I became aware of an article that warns parents of dangers associated with the apps and 
Amino. The concepts of each of these apps seem like a fun way to connect but with all things, 
deviant behavior can happen on these type of sites/apps. Spend a few minutes digging into these apps 
and you can find a plethora of things you wouldn't want your child to see or take part of...and for that
matter- yourself. We live in a world where the access to technology is virtually ubiquitous. This means 
that access to information, images, and relationships that can be both uplifting and demoralizing is 
at our fingertips as well. 

For adults, our frontal lobs are developed. There is an overriding belief that we have the ability to use 
self-control to make wise choices in where we navigate to consume information, personalities we 
choose to interact with, and images we choose to see. I believe we see proof in this world that it isn't 
as easy to balance as some think. For our children, curiosity is their strong-suit, not self-control and we, 
as adults, need to help them find their balance and develop their self-control. 

Recently I attended an e-parenting workshop at a local school here in Chattanooga and the speaker 
shared a great social media rating guide:

This can be found at . I found the ranking of green, yellow, and red apps 
very helpful. The green apps are made by companies that are working to look at for underage users. 
If, heaven forbid, you had an issue on an app with your child that caused alarm these companies 
are willing to work with parents to get to the issue resolved. The yellow apps may or may not be 
willing to do the same thing. And the red apps will not be helpful and serve as potential safety 
concerns for your children. 

As you can see, the Amino Apps aren't even listed on here because that is the nature of the beast-ever 
changing and ever popular. If you still are only watching your child's Facebook usage, you are being
duped into thinking you are a vigilant parent! Did you know that many of today's young users have an
Instagram account AND a Finsta account? It might be using the app Finsta or it might be another 
Instagram account that they think isn't easily traced back to them. The truth of the matter is, teens 
want a virtual place they can be themselves but they know about the long reaching impact of their
digital footprint. A Finsta account or fake Insta gives them this sense of anonymity to share their "real
side" with the world. Want to know if your child has one? See who they are following on their 
Instagram account or look at the bio in their Instagram and see if it says something about where 
you can find their Finsta (or connect via snapchat, etc). 

So what do you do as a parent? Are you hands on to the point that your child isn't allowed any access 
to the chosen mode of communication in their world? Are you hands off and you have no idea what
they are doing and frankly don't care? Or are you trying to walk the line between enough and too 

Here are a few resources that might help you in this navigation:

-Either be in control of what apps your child downloads on their devices or get notifications 
when your child your child downloads a new app. Use websites like or to make app decisions on what you think is best for your own
-Follow your kids on social media. Look at their history. Have conversations that are meaningful
about positive and negative internet presence.
- Know that even the most innocent of concepts can be corrupted. Don't assume your child is
looking at sick skateboarding tricks all day long on Youtube. If you don't let them have free
- Consider something like Disney Circle ( or Our Pact (
- Be the parent. Don't be afraid to say no. Your child does not have to have access to ALL the social
media apps. And remember that frontal lobe thing I was talking about, many apps say a person has
to be 13 years old. Follow that, but also consider that 13 might be too young as well.
-Use the stepping stone method. When learning to drive, you have to be a certain age, you have to prove yourself worthy of being a lone driver, and if you fail miserably your license can be revoked.
Make a family plan for what that looks like regarding internet usage with your family. A family
contract isn't a bad idea.
-Research. Many apps of choice for teens are based out of foreign countries. Your rights as an
American citizen are null and void when you hit that "yes I agree with these rules" button. Keep that
in mind.

Lastly, don't allow the scariness of the internet to win. The awesomeness that today's world has in
connecting globally has never been available before. Empower your children to be good digital
citizens like you empower them to be good citizens. Show them examples of the power of social media for good and bad. Create opportunities for your children to showcase the positive. Model
the good and trend the positive!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


I had the marvelous opportunity of attending the ASCD Empower18 Conference in Boston, Massachusetts this week. It was my first time to attend an ASCD conference and I found it to be the bougie of large educational conferences. With keynotes like Jill Biden, Manny Scott, and
Col. Colin Powell- the level of importance placed on the attendee feels superb.Walking around and see the the expertise level of those sharing in the breakout sessions was amazing and made it very hard to choose where to attend! I brought back a ton of good stuff and it was nice to get out of my edtech conference silo as well. What I enjoyed the most about this conference is that it didn't just focus on best practice, the students, and change but there were lots of sessions that focused on you as an educator. One day I had a really neat conversation with a "teacher of the year" from Montana that was suffering from burnout and said she was ready to go back empowered. That's huge and I have been there. It was good to see that focus being fleshed out in a really stressful profession.

So here are my key takeaways from ASCD #Empower18:

  •  My role changes at my school next year, I will be the Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation. One of the immediate realizations I had during the first conversation at my school about the role of Innovation is that it felt soft. I worried about that because to me the innovation side of the job is what I am most excited about. I've been praying about how to best move forward with that part of my role and BOOM! my first session was with Dave Faulkner, "Unleashing Teacher-Led Innovation in Schools: Practical Tools That Have Real Impact." I walked out of the room inspired and with his book co-written by Aaron Tait called Edupreneur: Unleashing Teacher-Led Innovation In Schools. Get ready to dream CCS, I've got a plan once I have some funding! 
  • I really enjoyed hearing Jill Biden speak. Did you know that even as Second Lady of the USA she continued to be an English professor at a community college full time? She said, "Being a teacher is not what I do, it's who I am." That resonated deeply with me as I try to balance between my different roles in life. I am thankful for her modeling of staying true to her calling while wearing many hats. She empowered me as a woman. 
  • My next session was TECH-DOK: An In-Depth Look At Technology Through the Depth of Knowledge Lens. I walked away with this wonderful graphic below. If you know me, you know I'm not a big fan of the SAMR model. This has the potential to help teachers think deeper: 
  • I also had the opportunity to think about myself a bit by attending a session for potential writers. I am hoping sitting in this session will spur me on to keep writing my book idea. I will say that I have already come back home and started fleshing out potential opportunities in regards to this.
  • When I realized Heidi Hayes Jacobs was speaking in a breakout session I had to attend! She spoke at Covenant College a couple of years back and the conversations that were spurred from that brief conference led to good changes and framework for our school. This time she spoke with Marie Alcock on the topic of "A New Job Description: The Capacities of a Contemporary Teacher and Professional Learner." I found the conversation fascinating as we looked at how the role and definition of a teacher has shifted out from under the profession as years have gone by. No wonder the change is hard for so many teachers, the expectations have changed before their eyes and it wasn't what many of them signed up for! My favorite quote of the day that lays a framework for the ever changing landscape of education was by Marie Alcock, "70 years ago less than 20% of students went on to higher ed, today 60-70% go on. We've moved from a system of sorting students to being responsible to teach all students and meet their needs. The role of the teacher has shifted." In every decade we can see how that has changed. Perhaps it is time to admit this, ruminate on it, give teachers some moaning minutes and then empower them to adapt and adopt. What does this look like is my question moving forward. 
  • The segway from the above session to "Accelerating the Curve for Young School Leaders" by 2016 ASCD Emerging Leaders: Kyle Hamstra, Kerry Gallagher, Natalie Franzi, and Amy MacCrindle was an easy one as I had already been focused on how do I support teachers better.
    These young leaders shared good stuff in how to move into leadership as well as how do leaders support upcoming leaders? I loved the format of their session with give and take, embedded movement and time for feedback that might have actually been an introduction to a new tech tool for some of the attendees (Flipgrid).
  • As always, it's not a good session if I don't walk away with things to immediately look at that have the potential for implementation. My "I need to look deeper at" list includes:
  1. Open-Up Resources (FREE)
  2. Stay in contact with South Carolina educator, Donna Teuber @dteuber as I grow into my new role next year.
  3. Geographic Information Systems for Schools - includes GeoInquiries and resources for multiple subject areas (FREE) 
  4. Look deeper at Go Guardian Teacher Training so that our teachers can use this tool in effective ways in their classroom.
I am still kind of shocked that I was chosen to present a poster session at ASCD Empower18 but I will say the connections I made through that experience would have made the trip worth it all on their own. AND, I always love the opportunity to share about the great things happening with technology at our school!