Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The New Normal: Hopefully not for too long

This past month has been crazy. From schools closing to stay at home orders, the world has changed overnight. Hopefully these changes are working and we'll be able to get back to normal soon, but will it be normal?

Tweet from Shonda Rhimes
Teachers are being forced right now to basically become first year teachers again. With little to no experience, they are being thrown into a new environment and expecting to thrive. Parents and community members are starting to notice how hard teachers are working and that it's not just "teaching" that goes into the classroom.

This month, I have been hosting webinars on different ed tech products and concepts. I have also been holding daily virtual office hours to support teachers from across the state and region. I may not be in the classroom anymore, but I know the struggles going on.

I hope that I've been helpful to the teachers that have been attending the webinars and those that come into office hours have been asking great questions. I've even geared some of next week's webinars based off the repetitive questions I've been getting in office hours.

Good luck to all educators out there. We will get through this, and we will be stronger for it. So will our students. Stay safe and wash your hands.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The World Is Not Ending... (How Fast a Month Can Change Everything)

Last month I wrote about how great 2020 was so far. Fast forward a month into the future and the world is going crazy. A fast spreading virus is scaring everyone into reacting. Large events around the world are being postponed or canceled. Education Exchange (E2) which I was suppose to attend in Australia was postponed. Then SXSW canceled this year's event. Even Harvard is moving all classes online and students were given less than a week to vacate the campus.

Schools across the globe are currently working on contingency plans if they need to close the buildings. Four local districts closed for a week after a local pediatric doctor tested positive meaning he may have infected his patients (yikes).

As someone that works in the educational technology industry, you may think that I've been waiting for this type of moment, but far from it. Cyber/distance learning has its place, but it's not a replacement for the physical classroom. I think the social aspect of education is just as, if not more important, than the content itself. Teaching students to collaborate and work together can have some of the greatest results in a classroom.

I am working with schools to train their staff on remote learning options, but the pedagogy cannot be taught or learned overnight. Teachers at cyber schools have spent a lot of time training for their specialty and working remotely with students. Additionally, this crisis is further illustrating the inequality of education. Not all students have access to devices and internet at home. So how are schools going to reach these students?

Leonard Nimoy as Spock giving the Vulcan greeting.
Image Source: Buzzfeed
I am not a doctor and I'm not going to pretend to know how truly widespread this virus is or how long it will take for our medical experts to contain it. It's better to overreact than under-react but I hope that we are all overreacting and things will get back to normal soon.

At least us geeks around the world are finally "cool" because we're giving the Vulcan greeting instead of shaking hands.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

2020 Has Been An Amazing Year (and It's Only February)

Wow. What a year so far.

I attend the Microsoft Underground Summit and had an amazing time learning with other MIEExperts. While attending the summit, I was selected for the USA delegation to Education Exchange (E2) in Sydney Australia for March. My airfare confirmation just arrived today, so it feels even more real than when I heard my name called.

I won the election for Regional Director of Southeast PAECT. Again, another thing that started before the new year but actually happened in 2020. I will be taking over for Rachel following PETE&C at the end of the month.

American Cancer Society Team DetermiNATION logo.
Running for a cure
Third, I decided to take my fitness goals to the next level. As part of my motivation to get/stay healthy, I have registered for the 2020 NYC Marathon on November 1, 2020. Since this will be my first full marathon (26.1 miles/42.195 km), I have partnered with the American Cancer Society. With a minimum fundraising goal which goes towards cancer research, they will help me train safely and smartly. They will also provide me with nutritional advice for that peak performance. If you'd like to donate to the cause and help me reach my goal, please head directly to my personal fundraising page to donate.
"The American Cancer Society DetermiNation program will help you achieve your personal race goals and change the course of cancer forever. With access to professional training, an unparalleled community of support, and inspiration every step of the way, the American Cancer Society will help you finish your upcoming race and together we can achieve a world free from the pain and suffering of cancer." (Quote from Team Determination Homepage)
Even small donations will help reach and hopefully surpass the fundraising goal of $3,400.

Up next for me is PETE&C in February and Education Exchange in March. After that, I have some "down time" before the next conference at the end of April, followed by Broad Street Run in May. Wow. I'm keeping busy, in a good way.

Thanks everyone for your continued support.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Microsoft Underground Summit

Sign with right arrow stating "Bill Speidel's Underground Tour: The Underground Tour Founded 1965"
Seattle was built on top of
the "original" Seattle.
I'm currently sitting in the Seattle Airport after a jam packed week in the rainy city. To be fair, it didn't rain the entire time... One day we had snow ;)

This week I attended Microsoft's Underground Summit for Microsoft Innovative Education Experts (MIEEs). As a 2019/2020 Fellow, I went up a day early to have a day of bonding with the other Fellows and to help setup the summit. We spent the morning touring the Microsoft Campus and got to see the famous treehouse, education offices, and other really cool locations. In the afternoon, we brainstormed an event for the MIEEs, toured a local showcase school, and then took a tour of Seattle. During the tour, a few of us figured out why it was called the Underground Summit.

Picture of Stacey Mulcahy and a screen describing the Microsoft Garage as a place where Microsoft employees can hack, make, and experiment.
The Garage's director, Stacey Mulcahy.
The next morning, we greeted the rest of the MIEEs as they came in to start the day.  The day began with an amazing keynote from the Vice President of Education at Microsoft, Anthony Salcito. If you ever get a chance to hear this guy speak, he's not afraid to say what's on his mind. He spoke about his dislike of buzzwords that prevent education from moving forward, along with his hope for the future of educational technology and education in general. He also head an impromptu q&a because we had some extra time. After the keynote, we split up. Half the group had sessions and the other half did tours of the campus. During our tour, we got to see some more exciting locations including The Garage. The garage turned out to be a full office building where innovation and experimentation is encouraged for all employees. After lunch, the groups switched. We went to sessions on growing one's own brand, Minecraft in the Classroom, and Flipgrid/Skype in the classroom. Then some software teams came and gave us a preview of some really cool stuff.

Stuffed koala and a postcard that says See You in Sydney
Education Exchange Koala.
When they were finished, the most nervewrecking/exciting part of the day took place. Each year, Microsoft hosts a global conference of educators in a different country. The United States sends a delegation each year and I had applied for 2020 in Australia. To be fair, instead of having to make the hard decision of who will go, any educator that completes a series of tasks and creates a Sway "Passport to E2" is entered in a random drawing. As they started to draw names, my heart rate spiked. When the fifth name called was mine, I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe that I will be going to Australia in March. The night ended with dinner and a meet and greet with different Microsoft for Education partners.

The next day, the Fellows organized a competition where teams had an hour to create an innovative classroom idea and make a two minute "pitch" on Flipgrid. The Fellows walked around to each group offering suggestions and ideas while also secretly (or not so secretly) judging the ideas. We then passed off ten finalists to the real judges, the Flipgrid team. While we moved on to the next activity, ten mini-sessions referred to as MIEbooms, the judges made their decision. We had another great keynote from Brian Aspinall who made great points about the direction of education. If we treat technology as a special (elective) class, it's not being used effectively to prepare students for the future. He also reminded us that today's technology is the worst technology students will use, as it continues to advance through their lives.

Coffee flight with three pots of coffee and paired chocolate truffles.
Starbucks Reserve Coffee Flight
Although the conference ended around lunch time, a few of us hung around and continued to explore the Microsoft Visitor Center. Here, we saw a small exhibit of the history and future of Microsoft. We saw some amazing demonstrations of AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (virtual reality). While after lunch, some people left to catch flights, a few of us expanded our stay in Seattle by one extra night. We went as a group to the Space Needle. The next morning, we meetup at Pike Place before splitting up to do different touristy things. Considering I only had a little less than twenty-four hours to do the tourist thing while also getting some sleep, I was able to see a huge part of Seattle. I went to a museum, explored the city, and meet-up with the amazing Tara Linney who currently lives in Seattle. We talked about different Ed Tech trends while sharing a flight of coffee at the Starbucks Reserve.

It was a great week in Seattle/Redmond and I'm excited to return home with new ideas to help the teachers I work with. I can't wait for the next journey, Australia.
Picture of me while playing the VR demo.
I felt cooler than I look.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Article Commentary: Engineering the Future

While doing some research on STEM Labs and Makerspaces, I found an interesting article that was published recently. The article brought up a lot of major points, but I also feel like its lacking explanations and glosses over some important issues.

"When my daughters and their peers enter the workforce in 10 years, the global economy will be even more competitive, automated and technology-driven than it is today.

Image Source:
The global economy is definitely changing on a daily basis. We all know that jobs tomorrow haven't even been invented today. This is why we need to prepare our students for the real world and not for standardized tests. This is one of the reasons I am such a supporter of the Maker Movement (although I hate calling it that). When we give our students real world problems, or let them decide the problem to solve, they will learn skills that can't be taught through a textbook.

In terms of new jobs, I've seen job titles such as "Innovation Director" and "Chief Learning Officer" among those of educators that have left the classroom and taken on a coaching role. Even these simple changes of mindset can have an impact.

"Schools can't keep pace with how quickly technology is changing."
No ones fault specifically, but a product of the process. When schools learn of new technology, they must first research that technology and make sure it will have a positive impact on the students. If a school was to just buy every shiny new toy, the budget would be gone before Labor Day. The problem however is that some of the decision makers will spend so much time learning about a new technology that by the time they purchase it for the school, it's outdated. This leads to the "we already bought it, so you'd better use it" mentality that forces teachers to get creative.

"Content knowledge skills are relatively easy to learn, standardize and assess. This means they're also easy to automate."
Image Source: Make a Meme
This may be true but there's more to it. Content knowledge creates a foundation that students need but is being skipped over in may classrooms. When I was teaching middle school math, I had students that couldn't multiply double digits without a calculator. When I spent time helping them with these basic skills, I was told be an administrator that the students have calculators and I needed to move past it so they could be ready for standardized testing.

I understand the importance of standardized testing. In Pennsylvania, my ranking as a teacher was impacted on the scores of my students, but I still saw the importance of basic skills. Yes, we all have calculators on our phones, but quick math shouldn't require one. Additionally, when students rely so much on technology they aren't able to recognize extremely wrong answers.

Cited Source:
Chklovski, Tara. “Prioritizing STEM and Coding Won't Fill One of the Biggest Gaps in Education.” Quartz, Quartz, 25 Nov. 2019,

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ed Tech Chef

Have you ever watched a cooking show? They're full of creativity, quick thinking, and sometimes a little messy. It is with that in mind that I created EdTech Chef as a professional development activity as part of my E2 application. I am please to share this with you and can't wait to use it during an upcoming workshop that I will be running.

Source: azquotes
The premise of this three hour workshop is that teachers will be given their secret ingredient (topic) and then work in groups to create a 3-course meal consisting of a hook, main lesson, and closer.

A vocabulary list has been created to associate the school setting with a kitchen. If you want to have even more fun with your staff, have them wear paper chef hats during the activity.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

NY Google Energizer 2019

All the Google for Education Certified
Innovators that attended the NY Energizer.
I love attending events hosted by Google because I know it'll be non-stop inspiration from the moment I walk in until the moment I leave. The first piece of inspiration I got during the graduation ceremony was a reminder that someday is not on the calendar. Stop saying "I'll do it someday, do it today." This was followed by the newest cohort of Innovators sharing their ideas and goals. So many amazing ideas were shared and I can't wait to see this group of Innovators bring their projects to life over the next year.

A GTAATX reunion.
Saturday morning, I returned to Google's office for the Energizer. After an amazing icebreaker game and "speed dating", we sat down as a group to listen to some Googlers talk about upcoming updates to G Suite (sorry, I signed a NDA) and then we broke into smaller groups.

I went to a session on podcasting and learned some interesting things about getting started and best practices. I also hosted a session on crowd-sourcing your classroom where I shared resources for finding funds. I'm sure you all know my favorite is, but I also shared other websites and companies.

After some more full group activities, we moved the festivities over to a local arcade where we had dinner and fun. While I may not be any good at modern games such as Fortnite and Overwatch, I am still the queen of Tetris. The vintage games at the place had so much nostalgia and I was sad when the evening was over.

The original eSports... Tetris.