Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Real World Examples of Re-inventing the Wheel

Source: Pinterest
There is a meme that circulates every once in a while that I love showing to students. I've seen the quote with a variety of backgrounds, but basically it says "If anyone ever tells you your dreams are silly. Remember there's some millionaire walking around who invented the pool noodle." Some quick research however will show you that the pool noodle wasn't the actual invention, but a guy who found a new use for an old product. Steve Hartman saw tons of foam rods for insulation lying around his company and decided to add some color. He marketed it as a pool toy and after some hard work, we all know what a pool noodle is.
Source: Pinterest

Another great story of marketing belongs to a grocery store staple. That's right, carrots. Remember the old days when we had to peel and cut our root vegetables before eating them? In 1989, Mike Yurosek had an idea to reduce waste. It seems that the less-than perfect carrots were being trashed. Yurosek started peeling and cutting those less than perfect carrots and marketing the ready to eat pieces as "baby carrots". He not only cornered the aisle at the grocery store, he also helped reduce waste.

These are just two of the quick antidotes I tell students during entrepreneur lessons. Each story shows how it's not necessarily a brand new idea that will take off, but a combination of having the idea and learning how to market it.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

2019/2020 Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Fellow

It is with great pride that I add another badge to my evergrowing sidebar here on the blog. This past week, I was recognized as a MIE Fellow for 2019/2020. This is very exciting because while I submitted my application last month, I didn't accept to actually receive the honor of leading my fellow MIE Experts. Cohort 9 (PA, VA, WV, and NC) has such amazing educators that I assumed one or two of them would be selected. Each cohort has between two and three fellows to lead the region's MIE Experts. This year, I am joining the two fellows from last year to become a team of three. 

As a MIE Fellow, I have been invited to the US MIE Expert & Showcase School Leader Summit in Redmond, WA this January. If you are unaware, that's the home of Microsoft's headquarters. I can't wait to see what this year as a Fellow brings. I have already reached out to my fellow Fellows to see about organizing some professional developments and events.

Becoming a fellow has also motivated me to organize a potential panel for ISTE 2020. I have also reached out to the MIE Expert and Google for Education Certified Innovators to create a panel called "Best of Both Worlds" which has so far had amazing feedback. I didn't even realize how many of us are involved with both programs.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

TED Masterclass at Google NYC

Such a cute photo opp.
Another visit to a Google office, and another blog post. This time, I journeyed the long route of the New Jersey Turnpike via Megabus to attend a TED Masterclass. This workshop was organized so that those of us participating in the Masterclass were able to get feedback about our ideas and help shape future TED talks. That's right, I'm working on a talk for TED. Don't panic yet though, they're only going to post the best ones on YouTube and only one or two participants will be invited to the main TED stage.

Photobooth fun
When I arrived at Google, there were already a few Innovators waiting in the lobby. We took advantage of the amazing scenery to capture some pictures to begin the day. They even had a photobooth with a corkboard to share your images. The photobooth printed two copies each time so you had one to take home.

Once we settled into our room for the day, we were greeted by the education team for TED. Starting with some ice breakers, even though some of us already knew each other, we meet tons of new people as well. We talked about our inspiration to become teachers and struggles we face in the role.

The entire group.
One teacher discussed how his accent is something he's proud of but that he often worries for his children to be growing up "different" from their peers. They originated from Puerto Rico and moved to NY a few years ago when his children were still very young. Another teacher, also from NY, spoke about how teaching is his second career and he began as a talent agent. Before the me too movement, he was tired of being part of the system and changed careers.

Throughout the day, the discussions were designed to help us create a theme for our own TED talks. We listened to each other, made suggestions, and even helped point out ideas the other person might not have considered. The teacher from Puerto Rico told us a beautiful story about how moving here separated his children from their support system back home because family is very important; they still have their mother and father, but no longer have their grandparents, aunts and uncles nearby.

Google for Education Certified Innovator and TED signs in front of room.
Ready to start, after many reunions.
You might be wondering what theme I've selected to work on fine tuning for my TED talk. Well, it's still in the really early rough stages, but I decided to theme my talk around reluctant learners. My personal connection to this topic is my many failed attempts to get healthy before, finally, in my thirty's I was successful with a plan that helped me get physically healthy. I'm still working on the emotional side.

Just as I needed to be ready to get healthy myself, our students can't be forced into doing something until they're ready. Additionally, the type of encouragement you provide them can make an impact. Want to hear more? I promise to share my TED Talk when it's all finished. For now, I'll leave you with this beautiful picture of the NY skyline from Google's balcony.

View from one of the office's balcony.

Friday, August 2, 2019

DonorsChoose.org Is A Teacher's Best Friend

DonorsChoose.org logoIf you're like me, you're always looking for ways to fund exciting new lessons for your students, buy basic supplies for the classroom, or fund your own professional development.

Since 2014, I have raised over $10,000 for a variety of projects using DonorsChoose.org. Some failed to reach the finish line but over all I've had ten projects for my classrooms and five projects for professional development funded.

This back to school season (August 2019), DonorsChoose.org is giving you another reason to stop procrastinating. From August 18th until August 25th, any new teacher that creates an account AND posts their first project will get a $50 donation. I'm personally going to add to that. If you use my ambassador referral link (http://share.donorschoose.org/lThFC) to sign up, I'll give you back your referral credit towards your project.

So how do you get started? Here's the process broken down into seven steps. If you need help, reach out to me via email or Twitter. I'm here to help because when you succeed, your students succeed.
  1. Sign-up and fill in your profile. You'll need to select your school.
    • Donors can search by general location, school, or teacher.
    • All funded projects are required to be shipped to schools for accountability.
  2. Check for promotions.
    • There are constantly promotions being offered by a variety of charitable organizations. Always start here because you never know if there are special words that will help you raise funds faster. 
      • Example: If you're buying a 3D printer for a Makerspace, there might be a promotion for STEM but you're required to select "Applied Science" as your category instead of "General Science" or "Art". Same project but a different classification can make all the difference.
  3. Go Shopping.
    • No seriously, go shopping. Select one of the approved vendors and add items to your cart. When you "check out" it'll bring you back to DonorsChoose.org
    • Try to keep your request under $500 for the first time. There is a $100 minimum so keep that in mind.
    • Need something special that you can't find through a vendor, you can make a special request.
      • If you're planning a trip, guest speaker, etc. you can upload price quotes.
  4. Write your rationale.
    • Be honest. How will the requested items help your students and the classroom. Be sure to check your spelling and grammar. Once it's posted, you can't edit the request.
  5. Promote.
    • Post on social media
    • Include a link in your class newsletter
  6. Watch the funds come in.
    • You may need to continue promoting your project a few times.
    • Remember to thank each donor. You can reply to the "you received a donation" email to make it easy.
  7. Receive your project and make sure to follow-up.
    • This last step is just as important as the rest. After you receive your project, make sure you follow the steps to close it out.
      • Post pictures so they know it reached the students (block student faces or take the back of heads)
      • Send student thank you letters if required (I make it extra credit)
      • Write an impact statement.
If you need help, send me an email or look me up on Twitter. Good luck!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Does SAMR Truly Exist or is it the Still a Theory to Explore?

I am about to write down my views on a buzz term in education. Please remember that this blog post is my personal feelings on the matter and may be different than your own. That's alright. In fact, that's the fun part of education pedagogy. It's always changing/improving. 

Image Source: Wikimedia
The concept of SAMR has been around for a few years now and there are tons of articles, workshops, and conferences focusing on bringing classrooms into the future with modification and redefinition. SAMR is a great way to help hesitant teachers see the benefits of technology in their classrooms. It shows that even small steps can make a huge impact on student learning.

Even the most experienced and mimicked teachers will climb up and down the SAMR ladder to meet different students and goals. Sometimes, substitution is required at the beginning of a new unit and there's nothing wrong with that. Other times, teachers will give the students a vague(ish) task and send them off on their own to collaborate, explore, and determine the best method themselves.

Most teachers start with the S, Substitution. Instead of photocopying worksheets, share them as a Google Doc and let students complete them on a computer. Is this changing the lesson at all? No. Is it changing the delivery? Yes. Therefore, it's substitution at it's simplest form.

One small level up from substitution is A, Augmentation. This is where teachers can start exploring making small changes to their substitutions. A good example of augmentation would be for counting money. Students can copy and paste an infinite number of images of bills and coins to represent values, rather that literally cut and paste photocopied money on paper. This slightly changing the assignment from the original paper version.

When we move to the next level M, Modification, we really start to see changes in the student's learning. Perhaps instead of having students write a research paper, they can create a multi-media presentation including video and music. Modification is where I feel many classrooms are currently located.

To me, R, Redefinition is the great white whale. Is it there? Yes. Will it happen eventually? Yes. Are we there yet? No. Every time I see someone give an example of redefinition, I think to myself that it sound almost identical to modification. A simple example of this where people might say "but we couldn't do that before" is 3D printing. Sure, students couldn't load a computer generated model and print it before but they could still make 3D models using tools such as cardboard and duct tape.

Image Source: IMG Flip Meme Generator
To clarify, I'm not saying that SAMR is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think it's a great concept and a simple way to demonstrate the path technology is taking our classrooms. I'm just saying parts of it are still being explored and redefined. As technology improves, as teachers collaborate, redefinition continues to move farther out. It's that goal that keeps getting pushed slightly farther away.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Go for Launch

Me in my flight suit
This summer, I lived out my childhood fantasy of attending Space Camp. While most people think of Space Camp as a prize for childhood game shows, they also host a series of Space Academy for Educator programs every summer.

Saturn V on Display
Space Camp is everything I imagined and more. Hosted in Huntsville, Alabama at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. If the camp program wasn't amazing, the museums were. Tucked away in Alabama are some of the most historical NASA items I've ever seen. Some of the amazing artifacts on display included the Apollo 16 capsule, the Mobile Quarantine Facility (Airstream trailer) from Apollo 11, a Saturn V rocket, and more.

Throughout the week, we had a combination of lectures, engineering challenges, and time to speak with other teachers about best practices for the classrooms. I highly recommend looking into the program for any teachers looking for an out of the world experience. I funded my tuition through DonorsChoose.org but I also know that there are other scholarship programs available. Honeywell sends hundreds of teachers each year to specialty sponsored weeks.
Homer H. Hickam Jr. Launch Pad
My favorite lecture of the week was meeting one of my childhood idols, Homer Hickam. His memoir, Rocket Boys, became the movie October Sky. That's right, I met the man who inspired my love of model rocketry and got to launch a model rocket from the official Homer Hickam launch pad. When I asked him what advice he'd give to students that are interested in rocketry, he said he'd give the same advice his mother gave him when he expressed his interest in rocket science, "Don't blow yourself up."
Posing with Homer Hickam
While many of us have done egg drops with students over the years, Space Camp showed me another amazing egg-stranut experiment to complete with students: creating a heat shield. I think one of the most interesting aspects of each engineering challenge we completed was that they didn't ignore the cost of supplies. For each project we were given a fictional budget and supply cost list. Part of the scoring rubric included project cost and success of protecting the egg. I love the cross curriculum involvement here because it opens up projects to more classrooms and subject areas.

Helicopter Crash Simulator and Zip-line
The final aspect of Space Academy was the physical challenges. From team building activities at Area 51 to simulated crashes at the lake, we experienced it all. I even served as mission control for a mission to Mars. I found the entire week to be non-stop excitement and learning and had a great time.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Mass School Shootings: When Will They End?

Time Magazine
May 3, 1999
The world I grew up in was very different. I grew up with sever weather drills, not active shooter drills. Then, in April 1999 the world changed. Two high school students walked into their school and opened fire. To an eighth grader none of this made sense. I think it was even harder for our parents because most of them dealt with a fear of nuclear warfare, not home-grown dangers. Columbine was an anomaly. This type of thing didn't happen and it definitely wasn't normal.

Our school didn't change overnight; students came in the next day and while everyone was talking about the "news" in the hallway, classes continued as always. A week later a letter went home stating that due to an increase in scoliosis, backpacks would no longer be allowed in the school. No one even questioned the timing of this letter however the next year when we were suddenly allowed clear or mesh bags confusion set in. The letter turned out to be a way to ban bags where weapons could be hidden without scaring the community. The school board was beginning to take precautions to prevent the same thing from happening in our neighborhood.

Since Columbine, school shootings have increased at an alarming rate. Now, almost twenty years later school shootings are sadly a common occurrence. I currently work in a school building that was designed to be active shooter ready. The windows are bullet resistant and the doors are designed to let people out but not in without a key. Active shooter drills teach students how to search out the safest hiding place in the event of a shooting. Teachers are trained to help keep those students calm while we are honestly just as scared.

So what can we do? There is more than one issue at play and honestly I think we need to look at this from all sides. The two major issues that come to light every time a tragedy happens are gun control and mental health. I don't want to get political on this blog post so I won't write my opinion on the two topics but I do think they need to be discussed by the politicians. We can't just continue to ignore them and hope the violence ends.

I'm proud of the students in Parkland and across the nation for not just hiding but turning this tragedy into a catalyst for change. I support their efforts no matter what the end result becomes.