Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Alien Assignment in the Classroom-- App Review

There is something about a leg squeeze from an excited 5 year old that solidifies why I chose this profession.  Some of them will never, ever get my name right.  I’ve heard some doozies.  Lamdenhorst…Langhornst…and my personal favorite, Mrs. iPad.  But those little cherubs try, and they melt my heart.

Camden finishing his level!
Kindergarteners, though, can be scary little creatures.  They call it like it is.  They’ll tell you if you have awful hair. They are prone to random expulsion of bodily fluids with little to no warning.  Despite this, any time I see a booking coming from any of our phenomenal kindergarten teachers, I know I’m in for a treat.  This week was no exception.

My tech integration adventures took me to Mrs. Heitritter’s class for an introduction to a new app.  I had been itching to use this app with the kids because it was going to be a very innovative way to help them reach standards they had been working on recently and make them think about their surroundings.  

Alien Assignment is an excellent iOS app developed by the Fred Rogers Center that combines reading and a camera in an effort to search for items with specified attributes (i.e.; something with wheels, something that holds liquid) in an effort to help the aliens fix their broken ship.  Equipped with an iPad, each student was able to travel about the room, in a type of scavenger hunt, collecting images they felt match the criteria being requested.

Upon completion of the round, which is always four photos, the student is told to show a grown up.  It was at this point that Mrs. Heitritter and I could go through their photos and evaluate whether or not each picture met the characteristics needed.  A simple thumbs up or thumbs down on the screen tells the app which pictures students have to retry.  When all four of the photos match what is needed, it’s on to the next round!

Alien Assignment not only builds early reading skills, but it guides children to deeply think about the characteristics of everyday items in a fun and engaging way.  Teachers are easily able to assess problem solving skills and concepts that need work because each student is able to progress at his or her own pace.  It also serves as a great metacognition (thinking about your thinking) tool for students to advance their higher order thinking skills. 

Mrs. Heitritter checking the photos in Alien Assignment
Alien Assignment is free in the app store.  An iOS link is available here.  Ages preschool through 8 would enjoy this app and the parental or teacher interaction it provides.


While I'm here, I also need to give a shameless plug out for a new friend, Leesha.  She is a cosmetologist who also has an impeccable sense of style.  She has stretched her wings into the blogging world.  Check out her adorable outfits.  She's a fun one!  You can find her blog, Captivating Femininity, here.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Up to my Eyeballs...but Still Seeing Clearly


It's been four months since I have really written a post.  Enveloped in those four months has been a wide array of challenges, excitement, beginnings, and controlled chaos.

We had the privilege of earning one of 39 spots in Iowa for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation program.  It was tireless work.  Exhausting amounts of writing and rewriting to submit just what we wanted.  But you know what?  It worked!  It. Worked.

So here I sit while the house is asleep on a Saturday morning (and I totally should be), sipping my coffee in peace, reflecting about where we have been and where we are headed.  We have so much work to do to make this happen.  So much work that some days I can't keep my head straight and completely rely on Siri to gently remind me where I need to be next.

I saw a quote recently that I have repeated over and over. "Coaching is an action, not a title, and actions will result in successes!"  It's so true, and yet its repetition reminds me that my work is never done...thus a winding journey with no end point.

We have a new model of teacher leadership in this school ranging from instructional coaches like myself, to model and mentor teachers who help influence fellow teachers through their experience and skills, as well as traditional career teachers and those just starting out in the field. Dave Vonk (the other Instructional Coach) and I have daily conversations about what we are seeing and what we can do to help improve student learning.  We are in constant contact with teachers about what they need and how we can help.   I'll spare you the nitty gritty, but suffice it to say that we have a good thing going.  Well, we really always did, but this is even better.

Change stinks sometimes.  We can get so used to our little hamster ball where the littlest bump in the road can lead to full on catastrophe.  Teachers everywhere, not just here, are working harder than they ever have before.  It's often a thankless job filled with the daily stresses of wearing so many hats during the day.  It'd be really easy to cash in and go work down the street, where, let's face it, you could probably make more money.  Frankly, however, if it's about the money, you need a wake up call or slap in the face, because, honey, ya ain't gettin' rich doing this.

One of the areas I am most excited about as an Instructional Coach is the team I get to work with.  These are some of the best brains I've ever encountered. PD used to be this attempt at one-size-fits-all training on something that maybe applied to 1/2 of us.  We multitasked, we drew graffiti on our handouts, we tried (and failed) to pay attention.  This was at every school and with every teacher I have ever talked to. We all desperately craved more.  And more is what we've created at Rock Valley.  Together, we have designed professional development that is nothing short of amazing.  It's personalized, focused, and self-selected.

Our PD plan has a name... Rocket University.  Our first Rocket University is a PD buffet, if you will, of sessions delivered by our own staff as well as a couple of wonderful experts from our local Area Education Agency.  Teachers select two of the offered sessions and the third time slot is for work time. Yes, WORK TIME. That tasty morsel of awesome that most teachers are denied during professional development.
Session descriptions for upcoming Rocket University
Sign up for selections came via a Google Form.  This way, session sizes, room selections, and any pertinent handouts can be adequately prepared.  Teachers choose what they want to learn.  Ya hear that?  CHOOSE.  It doesn't happen enough in schools, and there is a wealth of knowledge out there to make this happen in every school.

I spoke of our PD plan at ISTE in Atlanta this summer, as well as on edWeb.net and Education Talk Radio. Here is a link if you'd like to listen to or watch more about the planning that was involved.

The sun is now just coming up, and I hear little feet running around and probably sneaking Little Debbie's from the pantry.  I challenge you this week to bring ideas to your administrators to take charge of your learning.  You shouldn't have to do all of your "real" learning on your own.  I'm passing the PD transformation torch to you.  Run with it.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Like a Kid in a Tech Candy Store....it's ISTE Time!

I've been running my proverbial butt off (don't I wish this was literal) trying to get ready to leave my home for 5 days.  With three kids, a dog, and a wide assortment of summer commitments, this gets to be a real challenge.  Thanks to multiple sets of grandparents, awesome neighbors, and my terrific friend, Teresa, everyone will be kept safe, sound, and happy....well as happy as a 17, 12, and 7 year old ever can be when they are being left behind while Mom and Dad head to Atlanta.

It's ISTE '14, people, and I'm stoked.  It's like an amusement park for people like me.  I dive into a crowd of 50,000+ people who have interests similar to mine, get to meet people with whom I've only ever conversed online, and get to soak in the plethora of tools, sites, tricks, and tips that make my world go 'round.

Summer time, for me, is a time to relax and renew, but also a time to reflect on this past year and set new goals for the next.  Like preparing for a marathon, it takes months of training and pushing yourself past your previous limits to be able to do something new and extraordinary.  Along the way, you may stumble, but you'll also get gloriously refreshing splashes of encouragement from friends, colleagues, Twitter peeps, and others along the way.  The time to build your PLN is now!

So, here's what I'm encouraging you to do.  Whether you are an old hat at this or brand new, I encourage you to follow #ISTE2014 on Twitter.  The fun has already begun, but formal conference material will begin to show up on Friday, June 27. If you don't get the whole hashtag hoopla (trust me, it was weird to all of us at one time), watch this short clip.  There are a number of reasons for following a conference on Twitter.  First, you're guaranteed to find GREAT content.  Second, it's free and you can sit and eat Cheetos and Coke while networking.  Third, you will meet people that will make you better. In order to do this though, I do recommend a couple of sites that can assist you in your Twitter conferencing.  There are several out there, but in the interest of time and the desire not to overwhelm, here are my favorites.

1.  Tweetdeck- This gem allows you to see multiple feeds at one time.  So, you can see your regular feed in one column, #ISTE2014 in another column, your direct messages in another, and so on. Hootsuite is another option for this.  Available via the web or as an app/download, it's a great way to access a lot of content in a neat and tidy package.

Once you've downloaded the app, you sign in with your Twitter account credentials. Voila!

2. Tweetchat- If this was a human (and I wasn't married), I'd fly this site to Vegas and marry it! I always did chats the "regular" way, with my feed just simultaneously mucking up the chat and making it hard to follow. I'd constantly be toggling back and forth to my feed to try to do too much at one time. This site cuts through the chaos. Simply, it has you sign in using your Twitter credentials and enter in the hashtag you want to follow or participate in.  When I am closely following a chat or a particular part of a conference I'm interested in, this is my go-to site.  The ability to focus is so much easier.  And when it comes to fast-paced chats and conferences, I like easier.
Step by step directions on the site walk you through exactly what you need!

ISTE2014 officially begins on Saturday morning.  Through Tuesday, expect to find some of this year's greatest ways to use technology to its fullest.  Hop on a little each day and make sure you have your Draggo or other social bookmarking tool fired up!  Look me up on Twitter @rlangenhorst. I'll be posting all sorts of fun along the way!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Holy Moses... It's May?!!?

I'm gonna get all weird and cliche and say,  "Where on earth did the time go?"  Seriously.  Was that Superman-like blur that whizzed past me just this entire school year?

I am my mother.

I used to snicker, scoff, and full-on eye roll at my mom who would always make comments alluding to the quick passage of time.  She was old.  You know...40-something old.   Now I've joined those ranks and am here to say that I just can't wrap my head around the fact that yet another school year is heading toward the record books.

credit: cpsobsessed.com
We have a couple of weeks left with an amazing group of seniors.  These seniors were once my sixth graders.  They're still supposed to be 12 (enter my mother's voice again).  The rest of the bunch will leave the halls another week or so later.  There is still so much left to do.

Teachers are beginning to wrap their heads around what their year-end evaluations will look like.  Will it be a video?  A speech? A paper? An electronic bulletin board collection of learned material?  Being a 1:1 school has afforded us many options for evaluation and on-going formative assessments.  Our teachers are becoming more and more progressive with the ways in which they determine that material is learned.  I work with some pretty awesome people.

This week, I met with a class who is using iMovie to do a wrap up of material for a Current Events course. The design of this course is amazing, and it is yet another example of why I want to return to school as a kid again (minus the awkwardness that came from having had stick-thin legs and size 11 feet).

While iMovie is just one option for our Mac 1:1 environment, many video creation tools like Wideo, Masher, or Powtoon are terrific, free alternatives to retell and collect learned material. What's even better?  Allowing student choice in the medium for which they create.  There's no better way to get authentic work than to strike the interest chord.

So, as you get ready to wrap up your own year, give some thought to a new way to assess learning.

Scratch the 14 page multiple-choice-a-palooza (They really kinda suck for judging REAL learning). Instead, try a video or other digital representation of their learning.  Couple it with a clear rubric of your expectations.  Here is one of my favorite sites for ready-made and editable rubrics for any project.  I triple dog dare ya.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Get Out of Those Comfy Slippers and Put on Your Dancin' Shoes!

Yep.  Pretty much sums it up.  The hours of planning and instruction mark the slow frazzled decline of the once well put together teacher into something that looks like the dog's disheveled chew toy.  An old pair of comfy sweats, this metamorphosis is actually a sign of good use.

We have another 1 1/2 months of school, and the kids (and teachers) are definitely seeing signs of the upcoming summer months.  The weather is improving.  The last of the school year activities are in full swing.  The seniors are counting down their days and are suffering a full-blown case of Senioritis. We've all been there.  It's the time of year where it'd be really easy to slide into a proverbial pair of house slippers and kick back. We know the kids, and they know us.  We've got the routine down as a group, and the kids know the expectations.  However, in knowing and understanding comes the time for a little preventative medicine...  It's time to chuck those slippers to the side and put on the dancing shoes!  Make your classroom a place kids want to go.  

Keeping kids fully engaged from bell to bell is not easy.  Sometimes, it's downright hard.  But--it's important.  Especially now.  Downtime means boredom, lack of learning, and a time for discipline issues to rear their ugly heads. Edutopia has a superb list here of tips for keeping kids at the top of their game, even at this stage of the year.  

I'm a huge proponent of bell-ringers (or whatever you happen to call them).  Not only are these short bursts of learning a great way to get the mind active and acclimated to the day's lesson, they can serve as activities for early finishers as well.  There should never, in my outspoken opinion, be time where students are wondering what they could or should be doing.  Ever. Attached here is an entire Pinterest board by Jennie Anne Davis FULL of superb activities for such engagement.  Additionally, here is a list by Kristin Bowers more suited for upper level students.

What thrills me even more are the techie twists for activating student thinking.  Start your day with a QR code scavenger hunt tied to a review of the previous day's learning.  Use this site from Classtools.net to quickly make your own.   Use Padlet to make a mock Twitter feed of an event. Make a fictitious SMS exchange between Shakespearean characters (or whomever you're studying).  It can really make the mundane exciting, and it's our job to ensure learning.  Make the most of these last weeks of school.  Bask in the moments of organized excellence and enjoy the dance. (And remember, you can't dance decently in slippers).  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hauling Out My Inner Robert Frost...

It's April, and other than the fact that I want to kick Mother Nature in the shins for this latest dose of excessive snowfall, Spring is here and so is National Poetry Month!  There are many resources for helping kids understand that poetry is not all just sappy, soupy, sing-songy rhymes.  We are doing a great deal across the grades at Rock Valley Community School to ensure that kids have exposure to a wide variety of poets and poetry types, while getting the chance to pen some of their own.  I am including a few of my favorite resources for you.  So, just in case your inner Robert Frost is in hiding and you need a little ummph, there is no excuse not to give it a go with these tools!

The first is a plethora of awesomeness from ReadWriteThink.  I love this site for so many things, and I often relied on the ideas and interactive products to enhance my plans when I was a middle school language arts teacher.  What they offer for Poetry Month is nothing short of amazing.  There's something for everyone!  I especially like the Theme Poem Generator.  By selecting a theme, the generator guides kids through the process by questioning them about characteristics of the theme.  It really is poetry writing for anyone!

In addition, there are several interactives that can help you make everything from a cinquain to a diamante poem.  Visually appealing and soundly put together, the technology incorporated into these activities really does help the teacher reach the standard (and you know how I am always harping about that!) I'm always impressed with the way ReadWriteThink incorporates full lesson plans with these tools, so even the newbie teacher can fully implement it the way it was intended.

                                                                        Also within the link, you will find access to the Word Mover application.  This allows you to either start from scratch or import your own collection of writing (the "I Have a Dream" speech, for instance) and use the words from it to generate some unique poetry.  Also an iOS app, you can use this tool on classroom iPads, as well.

Scholastic also has some great ideas you can find here.  Scholastic does a terrific job providing many resources for all teachers and age groups.  I love the "Writing with Writers" section at the top where authors such as Maya Angelou and Jack Prelutsky provide inspiration and a glimpse into their world through videos, webcasts, and activities.  That's a pretty sweet deal, and it's worth checking out! Then, at the bottom, a host of poetry printables by grade level.

I do also feel the need to include this site for printable poetry resources for a wide variety of subject areas.  While I am not too big into killing copious numbers of trees, there is something to be said for the printables that are offered here.  Many schools do not have a 1:1 environment or enough devices to go around.  Do not let that deter you from poetry instruction!  As part of the Common Core, that's not an option. Check out what these sites have to offer.  Add something new to your poetry repertoire. Your students and your own inner Robert Frost are waiting.  Take the road less traveled.  It will make all the difference.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Queso Dip at 8:30 am and Other Things You'd Better Snag Immediately!

Those of you who have had the privilege to enter a school district's teacher's lounge know exactly what I'm talking about.  The special delivery....a pan of brownies, pink or blue cupcakes for an upcoming babe, or if I've particularly hit the jackpot...Velveeta queso dip and chips. The beacon reaches the far depths of the universe like some sort of pinging submarine, as people come out of the woodwork immediately.  The adage "you snooze, you lose" is especially true in the teacher's lounge.  So, there I was, snagging up my small portion of cheesy heaven....at 8:30 in the morning.

The same is true of treasures that appear on Twitter.  There are so many changes to the technology world. New app lists, new top 10 lists of what's hot in ed tech, and the list goes on.  Some nights my Twitter feed is so abuzz with things to save, I know that if I don't get my hands on it, it's gone into the Twitter abyss never to be located again.  I can't "favorite" or bookmark fast enough. (See this post from earlier this year about my favorite bookmarking site.)  This week, I found two really excellent tools that were new to me.  Ones you really should explore.

The first is one called Scrawlar.  I am incredibly impressed with the possibilities it offers.  It's a sharable whiteboard and word processor all wrapped up into one.  It can be found online and it works equally well on mobile devices (no Flash chaos!).  To top it off, it meets my ever so strict (but ever so rare) guideline of not requiring student accounts to get set up and started.  The Scrawlar blog lists a host of academic purposes for this site.  It's a little like Educreations and a little like Google Docs...all neatly wrapped in a unique package. For free.

The next site I encourage you to check out is a little sweetheart with BIG potential to be a great support to any elementary math classroom.  It's called Front Row.  The new teacher I mentor is truly phenomenal, and I would be remiss not to share that I likely learn just as much from her as she does from me.  This find was hers, and it's a doozy.  Not only can you quite easily enter your students into the room and custom tailor math supplemental activities based on the CCSS, but you can easily generate reports, or print out individual or whole group sheets for those days when the computer or internet just won't cooperate well for everyone.  This really doesn't cover the half of it.  This (Rock) Valley girl thinks this is totally awesome, totally free, and totally worth checking out!

Grab hold of these two sites for your digital backpack.  If I'm going to stick my neck out and promote something, it has to have serious promise in the technology integration world and deliver.  Deliver like that divine hot queso dip...even at 8:30 in the morning. A tech integrationist breakfast of champions. Dig in.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Let's Dance--March Madness Activities for Students

There is nothing that kids like better than a teacher and school who embrace their interests.  It's March Madness, people, and that means basketball.  Lots and lots of basketball.  I will try to hide the feelings of chagrin resulting after Duke's loss today.  Crud.  Bracket broken.  There goes my billion.

While it's too late for my Blue Devils (I still harbor some bitterness. Where the heck is Mercer anyway?!?), it isn't too late to dig into the fun that comes with the crazed season of tournament time. There are still a great plenty vying for their chance at divine hoopster glory.

The one thing about basketball is that it holds a variety of options for learning extensions.  Trajectory, probability, addition, mapping, writing, researching....you name it!  There are so many resources out there to help you design your lessons in a way that will not only interest them, but most importantly, meet your standards!  Here are a few that I love...

This one from Fabulousclassroom is recently updated to include 2014 resources, ideas, and
webquests.  Good ones!  If you're looking for ready-made quests that get kids digging into the 'net (pun intended), this is the place. Excellent stuff designed for middle and high school, primarily, but any of these can be tweaked to fit your classroom's needs.

This link from Education World offers quite a few resources and ideas for ways to use the tourney for educational purposes.  There is a wide variety of age levels addressed here, and I very much appreciate the sweet list of "additional resources" at the bottom.

This resource from Math Pages, is terrific for gleaning ideas for math extensions. There are plenty of ideas for tapping into your math standards.  This is meant for high school math students and showcases the use of such web tools as Google Earth and Glogster, among others, for showcasing knowledge and findings.

Here is an awesome Pinterest page by Krista Schmidt that has a TON of super ideas for classrooms, down to the coordinating bulletin board.  It's a Pinterest-a-palooza of basketball.

Finally, this Quia Class Page has some excellent ideas and links for creating your own class challenges. While this one is made for a particular 6th grade class, it offers some top-notch ways to really involve all of your students in the whole tournament.  And the links at the bottom?? More ideas spinning through my head than I can count! Seriously.  Take a peek.

Dig in and have some fun.  Don't fight the naturally competitive nature of kids.  Embrace it and mold it in a healthy way.  Use it to your advantage and by all means, have some FUN!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

We Need to Toss the Chalk, Kids

Being a Technology Integrationist is a joy.  I truly love the variety of what I get to do each day. In very few jobs do you get to "play" on the newest forms of technology, figure out techno-puzzles, and help out such a wide variety of students and teachers.  I do, however, have a part of my job that is less than stellar, but necessary.  I am a computer ninja.

Part of staying on top of proper use involves monitoring what is going on with student computers.  We use LAN School as a way to monitor student computer screens and content on the computers.  We also use iBoss and Fortigate content filters to help us ward off any threats or access to inappropriate sites. The best laid plans still result in our IT guy and I digitally slicing our way through some computers detecting improper downloads and non-academic use that could be potentially harmful.  I spent over 1/2 day yesterday dealing with this.  I did have a few other things to be doing.  Now my family will feel the brunt, because I'll be doing that work this weekend.  Kids are kids, and I get that, but I'm frustrated.

There is not a 1:1 or tech-infused school that does not deal with this.  Everyone has their own way of dealing with the issues, but I really feel that opening up this conversation would be to the betterment of all involved.  What has me chapped, more than anything, is that kids are playing the victim in all of this. Hence the above-mentioned photo.  What they don't realize is that we aren't out to limit their every move.  We aren't there to make their lives miserable.  We, are, however, allowing them the use of a school (and thus taxpayer) owned machine for their educational benefit.  Period.  Shutting off your wi-fi to avoid detection is a blatant breaking of rules.  Downloading web-based games to your machine, same thing.  So just quit already.  We are here to make sure you learn, not become a better gamer or have better rankings on your Fantasy League.  If you used as much ingenuity on your schoolwork as you do on seeking ways around the system, who knows what you'd accomplish.

It isn't "us" against "you".  Toss the chalk, kids.  It's time.

So, there.  I'm off my soapbox.

I'd love comments about what you and your district are doing to help get this message out to kids.  Do you have things that are working well?  Things that are epically failing and in need of overhaul?  Share! Comment.  We ninjas need to stick together....

Friday, March 7, 2014

My Week was W.R.A.D.!

WOW---it's been one of those weeks.  End of the quarter rush for teachers entering grades, the typical third quarter slump, and a winter that is like the hairball the cat can't quite cough up (which is why I don't have a cat). The highlight of my week, though, was World Read Aloud Day (#WRAD14). March 5th marked this day of celebrating the joys of reading aloud. We read anything...a story, a poem, the announcements...  Kids needed to see that reading and presenting aloud was something worth sharing.  Oral reading fluency is a gift well-practiced.  A treasure born through generations of storytelling.

A host of activities took place throughout the school.  Some I participated in; some were done by the classroom teachers themselves.  It was great to see teachers willing to do something they hadn't done before.  Mr. Swanson's third grade class conducted student interviews, recorded on iPad, for sharing and grading later.  Students really had to work hard to speak and read clearly.  Great practice!

Mrs. Schmidt, the boisterous, gutsy, MS Resource teacher who never lets a good challenge go unaccepted, read poetry to our middle schoolers during their lunch periods.  While utterly confused and astonished by the fact that a teacher was reading to them in a slightly bizarre locale, they quickly realized that it was pretty cool.  The second group even clapped afterward.  That's middle school code for "thanks, Teach!"

I ended the day in 5th grade with one of my daring teacher souls who isn't afraid to let me come in with my wild ideas while showing complete faith in me (or she fakes it REALLY well).  A few weeks ago, I connected with a fellow Iowa teacher on Twitter.  We were both in search of classrooms with which to interact for #WRAD14.  Her 5th graders from Sioux Central in Sioux Rapids were a fantastic group of kids who were just as eager to share some read alouds.  They shared about their favorite books through posters and short booktalks and excerpts, while Mrs. Den Hartog's kids shared treasured poems about topics from bad student excuses to boogers, read during their recently wrapped up unit.  I giggled, as this is the stuff that lights up a fifth grader.  Completely disgusts most adults, mind you, but enamores the young. Everybody had smiles and laughter on both sides of the Skype screen throughout our 30 minutes together.  All through reading aloud.  Simple pleasure.

Our captive Sioux Central audience via Skype
Reading a revolting (but funny) poem aloud
Truth be told, it needs to warm up outside.  Like now.  I'm likely to need a straight jacket should another snowflake fall.  A padded room should the temp drop below zero again.  My vitamin D deficiency has reached DEFCON 5.  At least I have #WRAD weeks like this to carry me through 'til Spring.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Career Week + Technology= A Whole Lotta Inspiration!

This week marked our school's Career Week, where students in all grade levels in our elementary were exposed to a wide variety of career choices and knowledge as to how the education they are receiving today leads to such a career.  Walking down the halls, I saw an ATF agent walking into an elementary room in full gear--yes, even carrying the bullet shield--to explain to children what the job entails.  I saw a local firefighter let children try on his gear to get a feel for what that's like.  I heard the owner of a local recycling and metal plant give his suggestions for how to properly recycle and describe what he creates with recycled metal.  I have such pride in the people of our community.  These people all willing to take time out of their hectic schedules to share what they do every day with our young students.

This would have been enough.  Truly.  Our community, while small in population at around 3,000 residents, is bursting at the seams with the economic growth and international businesses that line its streets.  We have some phenomenal things taking place in Northwest Iowa.  Not only that, but many of us who grew up here, return here.  I've been elsewhere, in great districts, big cities, you name it.  Like Dorothy said..."There's no place like home."  But--with technology, our "home" just became a little bigger...

Dr. David Brommer on a GH with our kids
By making use of Google Hangouts and Skype, we can expose our kids to experts. You can access people across the far reaches of the country, or even world.  So, this year, we stepped up Career Week by utilizing our technology.  A computer and a Smartboard are now a window to another place and more information. In a fifth grade classroom, for example, 4-5th grade students were privy to some pretty sweet information from Dr. David Brommer, who is a Professor of Geography at the University of North Alabama.  His storm chasing escapades were enough to drop the jaws of some very interested students.  Students learned directly from one of the best....not in a textbook...not through second-hand retelling...it was the REAL DEAL.

I encourage you to use Skype or Google Hangout to get your classes engaged in real-time learning from experts.  Teachers aren't supposed to be the "sage on the stage" anymore.  Those days are (or should be) obsolete.  We are facilitators.  We teach them to fish.  Fish for information, not just feed them.  They'll learn these skills from you and develop them on their own.  It's inspiring.  Walk down your own main street.  Find your local experts.  Get them into schools to share what they know.  And for the rest....get out the computer....  Use your Six Degrees of Separation to find that you actually have many more resources than you ever dreamed possible. It's time to connect and be inspired!  After all, every career began with a teacher.

Ultimate Dodgeball--Teachers against Teachers while the kids cheered us on! A great way to cap off Career Week 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Build It and They Will Come....

Forgive my semi-pathetic Field of Dreams reference, but this has been a great week toward the advancement of our school in the technology arena.  First, we received word that our school's building project for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) wing and other much needed additions and renovations was approved.  Rocket Manufacturing will soon be born as a student-run manufacturing plant that will give kids the skills needed to see products from vision through completion. We have terrific teachers with so much know-how who will really get to let their expertise shine as they share their incredible depth of knowledge with our students in new ways.  As a school who uses the Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) model for ensuring that our lessons have real-world application, I can't think of any better way than this to get our kids thinking about life beyond the classroom. Win #1.

The next highlight of my week was the start of the new graduate class I'm leading in our building for our teachers.  I have to admit, as I watched the number of participants grow, I was more than a little nervous about making sure I was going to be able to meet the needs of every learner.  But-then I did a V-8 smack to the forehead and gave myself the proverbial kick in the pants and thought...how is this any different than any teacher in any classroom, ya dummy?? Suck it up and differentiate!

Providing usable, classroom-based PD is incredibly important in any school.  Teachers can go off to any summer course and collect credits like Mario coins.  Big whoop.  Professional development and "credit" really only matter when they can be utilized within the classroom immediately and effectively.  Too many times teachers (myself included) have been the victim of the "Oh great, what was that strategy/idea/web tool we learned again?" fiasco as we try to recollect something 2 months after we learned it.  While it can work (especially if you're a bookmarking god or goddess), it just isn't ideal.

SAMR meets BLOOM'S. Credit to Kathy Schrock.
So, the focus of my class is seamless technology integration.  Anyone can throw a device in a room and call it integration.  But, it doesn't make it good, and it sure isn't seamless.  Understanding the varying levels of technology integration is critical for teachers.  In this way, we decided to follow the SAMR model by Dr. Ruben Puentedura for its beautiful simplicity, common sense approach, and ties to our already-implemented Bloom's Taxonomy use within the district.  With a firm grasp on the levels of technology integration, more purposeful use of tools and apps can be achieved.

Wednesday marked the beginning of the class.  I had over 20 participants, but I was ready!  Within this class I have the very tech-shy all the way to very tech-savvy and every level in between.  It was terrific covered in awesome sauce! (Yep-I'm 40 and just used awesome sauce....Deal with it.) We were Tweeting, website-making, Google Doc'ing machines!  And this was day 1.  Those who were more experienced popped up to help those who needed a little guidance.  I saw smiles.  I heard positive comments and excitement.  I had thank you texts and emails when I got home.  These are things professional development dreams are made of.... (Is there a professional development dream category??? If not, there is now!)  Teachers left ready to dig into their PLN Twitter accounts, work on their Weebly homework, and begin thinking of ways in which they are already implementing technology in each of the SAMR levels. And because I'm right there, every day, there doesn't have to be any fear of not knowing.  I'm a booking away.

With teaching people I know, and who know me, a certain level of understanding is already in place. I know their equipment, their level of expertise, their classroom, their students.  It's PD perfection!  No where can you get more applicable PD than from within your own district.  I really challenge you to seek out ways to offer PD from those teachers who have something to share. Everyone's an expert at SOMETHING.  Find a way through your local Area Education Agency or college to offer some credit to your teachers in-house.  It's time to tap into that wealth of knowledge and start presenting PD that matters.  Build that PD....and they will come.

Win #2.

Friday, February 14, 2014

When I Was That Age, I Was Eating Dirt...

I can't count the number of times people have commented about kids being more savvy on devices than adults.  It's true.  They pick up things extraordinarily quick, have little fear of trying new things, and realize that, if something goes wrong, said device will not spontaneously combust.  I see kids in doctors' offices showing parents how to maneuver their iPhones.  I hear kids telling their parents, "Just give it to me, I'll fix it" in too many venues to recollect.  I smile.  Why? Because I have harnessed the power of "The Kid" and used it to my advantage in our school environment.   

If you are a 1:1 school, or even have a decent amount of technology in school, then you too must harness the power of "The Kid".  They are mini geniuses waiting to learn more, and it is our duty to provide that learning.  Our school initiated the T.E.A.C.H. Team (Technology Experts and Computer Helpers) in the months prior to roll out of our school computers nearly two years ago.  We knew that there would be questions and needs beyond what our IT department could handle alone.  What better way to do this than by utilizing those who either already know or who aren't afraid to find out!

Addison gives some illustration tips to a young student
For this process, kids in grades 7-12 could apply via a Google Form application.  Within this form, questions were asked about technical interest, know-how, and ability/willingness to learn and assist others.  We had an overwhelming number apply.  Pages and pages of applicants in our small district.  However, we weeded it down to the top 35 people for year one.  (In year two, we felt a smaller number of 25 was better as the scariness of a new device has subsided for most.)

Paola guiding a student on his project
Our T.E.A.C.H. Team has a beautiful wooden desk in our library with which to operate (thanks to our handy janitor, Mike, who just happens to be a great woodworker).  They are given needed tools, batteries for handheld devices like our Smart Responders, an iPad for scheduling, and the constantly needed sanitizing wipes.

 Daily, using a Google Calendar, kids are signed up to fill slots at the desk.  This calendar is made available on our school webpage, so anyone can check at any time to see if someone is "manning" the desk.  In my office full of windows which overlooks the Help Desk, I see people flock when they know help has arrived.  It's the bomb!   And, because I'm close by (if they can catch me actually IN my office), I can provide any additional assistance for those especially pesky troubles or any needed passwords.  For the truly horrifying fix-its, we send the devices off to our IT guy for an intervention or a kick in the digital pants.

A snapshot of our Help Desk Calendar
In addition to computer help, the T.E.A.C.H. team has assisted in in-service trainings, including helping me teach 90+ Foster Grandparents how to run iPads.  This was the coolest event ever!  Each kid took a table of people, and I watched as life roles were reversed.  Instead of the grandparents providing the caring advice and instructions of life, tweens and teens were patiently showing the geriatrics how to man-handle an iPad.  Three different Foster Grandparents (at least ones that came and found me later) went out and bought either an iPad or iPhone right after the event.  EPIC!

Logan working with a table of Foster Grandparents
Every once in a while, T.E.A.C.H Team members will even accompany me to classes to work with kids if their schedule allows and the activity warrants it.  Just today, Paola and Addison joined me in first grade as we worked to finish up our digital All About Me stories for our e-Pals.  It was perfect, and their interaction and guidance with the little kids is incredible.

I'm a bit of a territorial mother bear with these kids.  We are becoming a bit of a family.  They are each tremendously talented, gifted, caring kids who just impress me daily with their willingness to give of their time for the betterment of our school and technology use.  And, if you're 1:1, may I suggest getting your own group of brag-worthy kids to show 'em how it's done.

I never dreamed of having the tools today's kids have access to.  The ability to repair and troubleshoot technology and multimedia tools was not even a flicker in my mind.  We 80's kids were too busy Aquanetting our hair or tight-rolling our jeans as we danced around to Debbie Gibson and Bon Jovi.... Oh wait..Bon Jovi...he's still around.  Well, some good things never die...  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Reach Out and Smack (with) Someone!

Depending on your level of Twitterese, you may have heard rumblings about Technology Smackdowns.  Perhaps you have been lucky enough to attend a recent technology conference that has instituted such an activity.   If so, you're lucky enough to come in contact with one of the richest ways to learn new tools by those in the trenches.  The concept is sheer genius.

You see, anyone with a computer and some time can locate a website that one could use in a classroom. It doesn't take much.  However, finding a tech tool that can be skillfully used to foster student learning and content knowledge does.  As a teacher, I want to hear about what other teachers are doing with tools.  I want to glean ideas from them.  Learn about the triumphs and disasters that happened along the way.  Then, and only then, is it worth sharing.  That's where a Smackdown comes in.

Using our Macs and an Apple TV, we broadcast our screens for all to see.

In a typical Tech Smackdown, those attending have two minutes (or some other pre-determined amount of time) to share a web tool AND how it was used.  Questions can be asked.  Ideas can and should be shared, as should basic guidance for the operation of the site.  This is not a sit-and-get type of session. These are full participatory sessions where, if you go, you share. And go, you shall.

Stacey, one of our middle school teachers, sharing about ThingLink.
So why am I sharing this with you? Because it's time that Tech Smackdowns make their way into more and more schools.  I am fortunate to have principals in my buildings who are focused and prepared to provide their educators with the very best means of teaching and learning.

Tech Smackdowns (also known as Tech-Know-How's) are infused as part of our in-services .  Even though I am a technology coach, I am not the beat-all, end-all source of all things technology.  We all experiment, learn, try, fail, try again, succeed and teach. We all do.  So why not share!?  With our Macs, we have the ability to easily AirPlay our content to the screen.  We do this, in many rooms, with an Apple TV.  Ninety-nine dollars of awesome, in my opinion.  Yes, there are other ways to mirror.  I just don't like them as well as the Apple TV when you compare cost and functionality.

As Heather presents, others look on to learn about Popplet.

Each teacher has two minutes to share.  Everyone is required to participate.  (And, really, if you teach in a 1:1 school with as many resources, tools, and technology as we do and don't have anything to share, that'd be kinda pathetic.) To keep things neat and tidy, teachers fill out a Google Spreadsheet as to what he/she is presenting to avoid repeats.  This Spreadsheet is then something that one can refer back to when trying to remember what it was that so-and-so shared!  Then, with each subsequent Smackdown, new columns are created. With as many new tools and strategies as there are, there really shouldn't be a need for repeats.  The image below is a partial screenshot of some of this year's Smackdown topics.

So, for the love of Pete, reach out and Smack (with) someone.  Even if it is two of you seeking to learn more.  Do it.  If it's a grade level or department who wants to add to their repertoire.  Do it.  And, maybe--just maybe--if you're lucky, you'll have administrators who see the value in this as a whole staff inservice activity.  Trust me.  It's worth it.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

In the Most Unexpected of Places

Two and a half years ago, we told the teachers that we'd be going 1:1.  At the time, I was a middle school teacher who did some technology training for staff throughout the year and served on the Technology Team in charge of helping to decipher the path we would take.

I will still remember the look on a few of the faces.  Shock.  Worry.  Fight-or-flight and the instinct to run for the hills. Some had concern about their content area and how they could possibly make a computer a functional part of reaching their standards.  One of those areas was in Family and Consumer Science.

You see, we have a remarkable teacher in FCS, but one who was admittedly a technophobe.  She teaches very hands-on, incredible lessons and always has.  She teaches the kind of classes that make me want to go back and take them all over again.  But--a transformation was taking place because of 1:1, and she felt lost.

This is where I came in.  As a technology integrationist, I must take the worry, stress, and some of the searching/planning out of teachers' hands to make the integration successful.  It's what I do.  It's what I love.  Lynette and I met for a several hours over the course of those first few months to get her acclimated with her new device.  She quickly started to see the possibilities for technology integration in her classes.

Jump forward two years.  Lynette is a tech integration goddess!  What she is doing with her Life Skills and Child Development classes is nothing short of incredible.  Now, when she shows a movie as part of her plan, there is a TodaysMeet backchannel conversation going on simultaneously.  She's posting higher order thinking questions in real-time.  These transcripts can be viewed again or printed for grading purposes.

In Life Skills, kids used to do a giant, cumbersome 3-ring binder of pages and pages of information they worked diligently on in class.  Now, this binder has gone fully digital.  Kids are able to upload any work through Google Docs and Moodle (our online course platform for the district), add any web page and their own projects.  What used to be a very large pain in the keester is now a digital portfolio that will stay with the student beyond graduation.

Lynette, currently, has kids doing a collage of their life and where they see themselves in the future.  Through her new curriculum by Take Charge Today, she was provided a rubric for which to grade work.  The pre 1:1 teacher may have done a paper collage (which still has its place sometimes, don't get me wrong), but now these students are using Mural.ly, which offers a way to connect to Evernote and Google Docs (both mandatory accounts our students have), while also being able to add websites, images, and a host of personalization options.

 This takes a project from very topical in mental depth to something that truly digs into the higher order thinking skills needed for today's learner.  They have to search, examine, analyze, synthesize, and create a masterpiece, of sorts, that best sums up where they want to be.  Having the internet at their fingertips changes the game.  Big time.

I could go on and one with what she's doing.  It's remarkable! She's using her iPhone to scan documents.  She's tweeting. She's texting me when she needs help.  She's troubleshooting and succeeding!  The lesson here?  Even the most afraid, even the people with the least experience with technology can ROCK integration.  With guidance, a support system of people willing to help, and time, technology integration can be incredible...even in the most unexpected of places.

follow Lynette on Twitter @ldoliesl 

Lynette with a Life Skills class beginning their collage project on Mural.ly