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! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Creating a Culture of Belonging for the Tech Loving Student

In the last few years our school has really stepped up our STEM/STEAM game. In this midst of creating opportunities for robotics, circuitry, design thinking competitions and coding, something unique has happened that we weren't expecting...we have empowered a new demographic at our school. Do you remember the iconic 1985 movie The Breakfast Club? Even in the trailer the BRAIN was left out of the introduction. There is always a place for the BEAUTY, JOCK, REBEL, and even the RECLUSE to find their way but it's sometimes not easy for the BRAINS to find their connection in our schools.

What we have found is that technology often is a pull for those personality types. If you remember Anthony Michael Hall's role in the movie, he wanted friendships and a sense of belonging. A day in Saturday school was a highlight for him because he felt he had friends. He found his sense of belonging that morning.

When I look at the demographics of our robotics teams and our lower school electives, I often see students that are on the autism spectrum choosing to also be a part of these programs. Don't hear me paint with a wide brush of generalization here- not all students in these programs are on the spectrum but it does seem to be a niche for many of our students that are there and it's nice that they have a sense of real community.

Last year, when I started my lower school student led tech support team, I noticed that many of the young gentlemen that chose to be a part really didn't have a "fit" elsewhere in our school- they weren't necessarily into athletics or the arts, they were the ones that quickly picked up on how to do things using instructional technology in the classroom and often became my help when teaching a new concept. By empowering these students, by allowing them to earn their "tech support staff" certification, I created a sense of importance for them. Understanding technology came easy for them and by recognizing that in them, we kind of "unleashed the beast!"

All of a sudden these same students were becoming innovators and creators using technology at home. They were joining the robotics team and getting plugged in. By creating this niche in our school we have created a sense of belonging for a new set of students that previously did not have a group to call their own. I am seeing this happen at all levels of our preK-12 school.

It is a standing tradition when an athletic team makes it to state playoffs they get a send-off in our upper school. The entire school fills the hallways and clap and cheer for these athletes as they leave the school to load the buses. But this year, something awesome happened. Our high school robotics team went to the state competition and had the same experience! It was the most beautiful thing I have seen all year as these kids received recognition for their hard work just like the "jocks" did. I believe we are each created with gifts and talents that make us uniquely who we are and image bearers of God. I am thankful that these students have the opportunity to use their gifts and talents for something that inspires them. I am also thankful to work in an area that gives opportunity to empower all students.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Year Two - Elementary Tech Team Plan

Our elementary school creates an opportunity for our fourth and fifth-grade students to take part in Friday afternoon electives where they choose from about 7- 8 choices that teachers lead from their passions. The opportunities have been awesome- woodworking, knitting, makerspace, board games, digital gaming, are just a few. For me, it finally gave me the opportunity to create an elementary tech support team.  Last year our students researched and created step-by-step instructional supports for our teachers regarding the technology they use on a regular basis. The opportunity was awesome and the details of what we did and accomplished can be found here in this post:

This year we are going a different direction. The students will once again create "how to" instructional supports that might be a Google doc or a video but we are making it a bit more fun. Recently, I asked our elementary teachers what they needed the most in terms of technology professional development. The answer was, "we want to have a better understanding of our STEAM tools."

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend a workshop sponsored by Mozilla that allowed the attendees to create an escape room experience that would allow the users to learn more about iOT (internet of things) as they went through the experience. I loved the idea! So I challenged my 7 students in this quarter's tech team to think on this. We will have 10 weeks of 45 minutes on Friday to create our experience. Here is what we defined and how we are going to accomplish it:

Day 1:

  • I gave the students 3 sticky notes each and had students write down 3 STEAM tools they felt they could teach their teachers more about. We then sorted these ideas and came up with a list to work from. 
  • We then used the sticky note idea to write down 3 themes for our rooms. Each student wrote down their ideas and we sorted those. Based on which idea had the most votes, we went with an "ocean" theme.
  • Our next step was to assign groups and have each student start thinking about what their experience will look like with the STEAM tool they were assigned. For instance, they want to dress their Dash and Dot robots up like "pirmaids" (pirate mermaids) and have them go on a treasure hunt. 
Day 2: 

Our new STEAM Project Assistant and Curriculum coordinator will meet with our students and they will teach her skills because she is new to the job. Based on the questions she asks and the things they think she should know, they will start creating a list of basic skills needed for their tool. I'm actually out of town for this week so I created this video to help the students know what they would do for this week: 

Day 3:
Students will start creating their lesson plan for their escape room experience based on their ideas from day 1 and their notes from Day 2.

Day 4: Students will create green screen video productions of "how to" use the tech tools. These videos will be viewed by the teachers before they start their escape room experience for each tool. 

Day 5: We will upload all videos to last year's tech team website so that there is one place teachers can go for support. 

Day 6: We will continue to create a good escape room experience. Our goal is to offer it for each grade level to work together. 

Day 7: Students will create the experience and try each other's stations out and give feedback.

Day 8: Students will take the feedback from the previous week and finish up their end product.

Day 9: Students will use the time to decorate the room and offer the 30-minute professional development opportunity to any available teachers, admin, and parents.

Day 10: Students will once again use the time to decorate the room and offer the 30-minute professional development opportunity to any available teachers, admin, and parents.

Full STEAM Ahead at CCS

In the spring of 2016 our school was approached by a parent that wanted more STEAM opportunities for his daughters to take place at our school. Oftentimes people think that funding comes easy for private schools but I submit that it does not for individualized curricular projects. The grants aren't available to us and that was where I was as the Technology Coordinator in our lower school. Until this parent shared not only his vision but created funding opportunities, I just dreamed about integrating coding, robotics, circuitry, etc into our curriculum- the funding just wasn't there.

The change happened with the 2016-2017 school year and we were able to create a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) curriculum into our school that supported our integrated units. We were also able to hire a full time STEAM Project Assistant that would learn the nitty gritty of coding, robotics, circuitry, and the design thinking process. This STEAM Project Assistant meets with grade level teachers and works with them to create opportunities for integrated projected based learning as well as stand alone STEAM lesson plans that support weekly learning. The beauty of the way we have done this is that this STEAM Project Assistant creates embedded professional development opportunities for our teachers as well. They are able to learn about coding hand-in-hand with their students. Our goal with our STEAM program is to give our students a variety of experiences to broaden their understanding of potential STEAM jobs for their futures. We have adopted the concept of these lesson plans to not be associated with a "grade." This is our attempt to create a culture that makes students lead with curiosity and not fear failing. Our project based learning opportunities are graded by the teachers but any weekly STEAM lessons that do not impact the PBLs are considered scaffolding for learning.

This change opened the door for our students to have a variety of new experiences and for some of our students there was an immediate "click." We were already a tech-rich lower school with rolling carts of iPads and chrome books in grades preK-4th and a 1:1 environment for our fifth graders but the STEAM program created more opportunities to use the technology beyond the 4 C's of technology integration- curation, consumption, creation, and connection in ways we had not had the ability to do before.
We are programming robots and concepts, making green screen productions and showing our elementary students how to make websites. We were taking our possibilities to a new level like never before. For some of our students, we peaked an interest...we were empowering the "brains."

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

School Designation: Process > End Results

In September of this school year I became aware that the state of Tennessee had a STEM School Designation Process. Being a little over a year into implementing a STEAM curriculum at Chattanooga Christian Lower School, I decided to look at the criteria to discern what my state felt was "best practice" in regards to STEM education. There are 18 sub areas under the headings of Infastructure, Curriculum and Instruction, Professional Development, Achievement, and Community and Post Secondary Partnerships that are critiqued.

As I looked over what was deemed "best practice," I was fairly excited to learn that we were either hitting all of them hard or were in a process of doing so. I met with our STEAM leadership team and we decided to go ahead and apply for the designation based on our self- evaluation. Two weeks ago I received the news that the committee felt we needed to make some growth in 4 of those 18 sub areas. Honestly, I believe that much of the issue is less that we need to make growth and more that I did not do a great job at documentation in those areas. That being said, our STEAM leadership team has already looked at the feedback and we have made a plan to move forward for next year. The hard part is behind us, it's now just being intentional about updating our sub area folders as needed.

That being said, I was more than a little disappointed that we did not receive the designation this year. We had some unexpected circumstances during the time that the Designation Review Team needed more documentation. I wasn't able to give them the information needed but I also know that we did need to do some improvement in the amount of PD opportunities we give our teachers in regards to STEAM. So here is where I am at...

The process of gathering information for the state of Tennessee for the STEM Designated School process has grown our program more than any assigned "you made it!" stamp could ever do. Being mindful about what is being requested and questioning the WHY of what is deemed important has helped me to add more robustness in areas that we currently might have been lacking in.

This process also has opened the door for me to say "This is best practice, we have to give the teachers the scaffolding they need in STEAM if we expect implementation to go well." It gives me documentation to stand on but furthermore it gives me preset goals that are aligned with what the world (or at least my state) thinks is "best practice." For me, it is never going to look just like what the state desires because we are a private Christian School that wants to definitely strive to holistically teach our students...humanities are just as important to us for a well rounded student BUT if we are doing the things deemed best practice in STEM why not share that?

One of our teachers asked, "Why do we want to be a STEM Designated School?" The answer for me is easy, it gives us solid framework that the outside world is already familiar with and that studies show parents want for their students. But as a leader of the STEAM program, it gives me solid goals in the form of a rubric that can help our school navigate the growth of this program. I don't have to spend my time defining what best practice is, I can spend my time creating opportunities for best practice to happen. Watch out next year, Tennessee...we got this.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Giving Up Privacy or NOT in the Digital World

For the last few weeks I've been given opportunities of learning that have made me rethink technology in a number of ways. As an instructional technologist I probably own my responsibility of being vigilant about the tech I put into student hands more than would seem normal. In fact, I might possibly own it in an obsessive way at times but I feel that's part of my responsibility of being a key player and decision maker regarding digital learning at our school.

One of the big things that I've been thinking on is privacy issues. As I've been looking at the abilities of iOT, watching the youtube series from the Common Sense Media "How Tech Has Hooked Kids," and trying to continue to be on the cutting edge of knowing when good tech options are on the horizon some flags have been raised for me personally.

I'm going to be really honest here, I rarely read the Terms and Conditions for apps or websites. I obviously keep in mind the importance of COPPA (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) when creating opportunities for our lower school students. Teachers of elementary and middle school students have to be vigilant in how they introduce technology to kids. And the truth of the matter is, we often have to pass on some really good fits because of COPPA. It's a give and take in the digital arena.

But in the last few days I started asking myself what do I do to protect my own privacy? Honestly, when I hear about an app that I think might sound interesting for educational purposes, or students are trying for social reasons, I tend to immediately download the app, make an account and do some research and development...cue yesterday.

A few weeks ago I downloaded an app called Vero- it's self-touted as a social media app with the tagline "Less social media, more social life. Behave online as you do offline." This app isn't regulated via an algorithm like Facebook or Instagram so it lets the user see their friend's posts in a sequential order. I saw some of my educator friends talking about it on other social media and decided I needed to download it and take a look. The truth is, I didn't immediately make an account- it's been sitting there on my phone waiting. So last night, after two days of talking about privacy issues at an iOT Escape Room Workshop I decided to research the app before creating my own account. So I innocently googled "What do we know about the App Vero?" and imagine my surprise when the first hit was Time Magazine and basically the same title- Vero: What to Know About the New App and its CEO.  It's a worthy read and one that has caused me to start looking deeper at the apps I have downloaded on my phone.

So here is my new internal strife...How deep do we need to be digging to protect ourselves and our families? Or our students? How do we know when we are being manipulated? Obviously the recent manipulation by Russian bots in our own country's election should be a warning to us all. WE all are being manipulated and our privacy is at risk. How do I decide what privacy is worthy to give up for the benefit it gives me? Where is my own self imposed line? What privacy have I naively given up in the past by not looking deeply at digital choices? How do I best protect the students and families I serve in this area?

(Cue ominous music) If you watch tv it appears that the DARKWEB is something out there trying to pull us in but the truth of the matter is, there is only one web and the "light" and "dark" sections of it are becoming increasingly harder to differentiate. I for one, tend to look a bit closer at new gadgets, toys, edtech, and apps before putting my trust in the wrong place. And FYI, I'm not going to create VERO account.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Connecting Computer Science to Today's World

In the globally connected world that we are currently in and the ease at which people from all over the world can be hired in a brief moment to do jobs that in the past could not be outsourced easily, it's time to rethink computer science in our schools.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a STEM district leader and heard concerns about teaching both more and higher level computer science classes in their district. I think it is fair to say that many school systems are looking deeply at the scope and sequence of computer science for our students.

In the state of Tennessee, Computer Science falls under the category of CTE (Career and Technical Training)- this was what was known as vocational education a few years back.  As a former business education certified teacher, I would be considered qualified to teach Computer Science classes because our state does not currently have a computer science endorsement (and I can tell you I do not have the skill set for what that means today). In my opinion, this is a travesty to today's students and the future workforce of our state and country.  In a world where we are tracking students into college ready or CTE we have segmented both the availability of these classes away from students that might truly be interested in this as a college career. STEM jobs are the fastest growing need in our country today but so many states need to step up to create more fluid opportunities for this to happen.

Some school systems have adopted a curriculum called "Project Lead the Way" that embeds coding skills into the science curriculum. This is an attempt to give students both the experience of coding and to create pathways for interested college-bound students to move in that direction. While I believe in embedded and integrated technology, I am somewhat concerned that this process isn't truly creating the path that is rigorous enough for the future.

At Chattanooga Christian School we happen to have a faculty member, Cathy Smith, with a robust programming background. But the truth of the matter is, most schools aren't this fortunate and therefore they can't afford to hire the level of knowledge base needed on a school budget. When speaking to my STEM friend I could see how she was trying to bridge the issues that she sees in computer science and our state. You see, someone with high level computer science skills can walk into IT opportunities all over the country that would allow them to double or triple what they can make in any school system. How do we tap into this? Adjunct faculty? CCS is blessed by Cathy Smith. We are one of only a handful of school's that even offers any AP Computer Science classes. According to, "Tennessee had only 625 computer science graduates in 2015; only 18% were female. Only 934 exams were taken in AP Computer Science by high school students in Tennessee in 2017." Folks, nationally only 10 percent of schools teach AP Computer Science classes. I'm thankful we are one of them...but these statistics have to change. 

I am thankful to work in a school system that has a remarkable faculty that understands the math scaffolding needed to develop an understanding of programming. This is an area that causes struggles for many school systems in that the required logic, math, and scientific scaffolding isn't happening for most of the students that are on a CTE track and the lack of wiggle room in elective choices creates some disconnect for college bound students being able to choose this CTE track option.

It's time for state education systems to re-evaluate Computer Science in the realms of availability, quality instructors, and how it integrates into the educational climate as a whole. Just because a student has "done HTML" or "coded in Scratch" does not mean that they have a skill set that will help them critically create something of worth in the future.  It's time for us all to get intentional about computer science and it's scope and sequence starting in pre-K. I am a firm believer that even the youngest child has the ability to start thinking in the sequential manner needed to be future coders. Edtech companies are on board trying to create stepping stone opportunities for this to happen through such things as drag and drop block coding, and kid friendly robotics like Wonder Workshop's Dash and Dot. These resources are what make intentional computer science options available for students and there are ways to embed these skills into our daily curriculum. We are doing just that in our elementary school, in an introductory level.

Research shows that by age 12 most students have a mindset for or against all things STEM and what they want to do with their future. It is imperative that we start creating those experiences and opportunities in intentional ways for our future workforce.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

THE HOW: Tricks for Digital Testing

On a regular basis I am asked by teachers, "but what about cheating and digital testing?" It does happen but it also happens without your testing being digital. I remember being in 9th grade Spanish class and writing the answers my vocabulary quiz on the edge of a piece of notebook paper, strategically placing that paper inside my Spanish book so I could still see the answers and placing said book under my neighbors desk so I could see it while I took the test. I'm not proud of this, but I did it. We all did it and we never got caught...let's leave the philosophical and ethical issues for another blog and agree that cheating happens. In today's constantly connected world it can be anything from a student taking a photo of a paper test and sending it to their friends to hacking a teachers account to get access to the test and answers prior to the test. Educational technology companies know this is an issue and they have created solutions to give educators a little more piece of mind. Currently as our teachers are creating their courses in the learning management system Canvas, they have access to the following ways to trick the tricksters:
  • Question Groups- By creating Question Banks in Canvas you can very easily assign different quizzes to different students by allowing the system to choose questions out of the bank. Basically you are telling the Question Group how many questions you want on the quiz and it will randomly select questions from your bank. Question groups also allow you to randomize question order as well. FYI, you can also manually create Question Groups to utilize this as well.
  • Access codes- You can make it so no one can access the quiz until you give them the access code/password to do so. 
  • Shuffle answers and show one question at a time - When setting up your quiz click on the options that shuffles the answers for wandering eyes that can see a mark but not necessarily see the wording in a classroom setting. Also by only seeing one test question at a time helps. Think of it like a hand covering the last question as the quiz taker moves along the test. Easy access is eliminated.
  • Time limits- Set time limits so students can't access it for too long of a time so that they can do "research" in the midst of a quiz. This is especially important if you are having students take quizzes when they are not in your presence. 
  • Filter IP Addresses- Make the quiz available only when students are on our school wifi. If you use the magnifying glass next in the box labeled "Filter IP Addresses" you can see what our school's is and add it to your quiz. This way no one can access the quiz off campus when you are not able to proctor it. 
  • Don't release the student's grade until all students are done taking the quiz. You can do this by choosing "mute assignment" in the grade book.
  • You can see the start and stop times for quizzes. Check it occasionally. If you see someone flying through the material, ask yourself why. 
TEACHER CHALLENGE QUESTION: If you are unsure if a student has cheated or not, ask yourself how you can change your classroom structure to have more formative feedback so you would feel more certain about a student's knowledge base before they take an assessment? As teachers, our goal is for students to learn our curriculum, use formative assessment to create a pathway that gives you feedback to make that happen.