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.

Hiding Behind a Screen: The Reality of Cyber Bullying

Did you know that there are people that actually have nothing better to do with their time and insult others on the internet? We are trying to teach our students about cyber bullying and how to prevent it, but the reality is we can't prevent it. Sometimes the cyber bullies are strangers that you've never met.

Screenshot of Wheel of Fortune
November 2, 2017
For example, I was recently a contestant on a national game show. Admit it, you've seen it by now. The show is not live and I had filmed back in August before the school year began. On November 2nd, I gathered my friends at the local Chili's (thanks for hooking my school with 15% back). We had a great party and even had the local news out to cover the fundraiser (sadly, it didn't air).

After the episode aired, my phone started going berserk with congratulatory posts on social media and text messages.

The problem is, while I won a good amount of money and was surrounded by family and friends, my brain decided to focus on the negative. I couldn't believe that people I never met before were saying such mean things about me and my fellow contestants. Here are just a few of my "favorite" Tweets from the night of my episode. I blurred out the names to protect the bullies, but this is what my mind focused on instead of the positives of winning.





First of all, anyone that knows me will admit I am a naturally loud person. That's just me in general and is helpful when I need students to hear me from the other side of the room. However, at Wheel of Fortune the contestant coordinators spend the morning pepping you up. "Loud" and "Louder" are heard may times during the practice rounds. It's their way of helping to encourage the excitement and reduce the nervous whispers. They remind you that when solving a puzzle, you need to read it loud, slow, and pronounce each word carefully.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I wasn't enjoying my victory because of these complete strangers. I was allowing them to consume my thoughts, and why? This is what we are constantly teaching our students about but for some reason, the fact that it was strangers made it worse.

So how can we help our students deal with cyber bullying? Perhaps we should just be real with them. Students often look at teachers through rose colored glasses, not as actual human beings. We need to relate to students so that when we offer antidote stories and advice they understand where it's coming from. We can also teach students to think before they post. We are all guilty of it; posting in the heat of the moment and then looking back "why'd I post that?" Perhaps show students how to save in draft mode, wait a few minutes (or until the next day), and then re-read before posting.

I'm sure there are tons of things we can do to help the victims, accidental bullies, and actual bullies. The first step is opening the dialogue.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Digital Divide

Screenshot of Google search results.
What is a digital native? I've been thinking about this recently as I prepare for the new school year. We're constantly hearing people talking about how our students are digital natives but have we ever stopped to think about what this truly means? A quick Google search reveals that a digital native is someone who is "familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age." Is that the whole definition though? Based on the definition of a digital native, all of our students should be familiar with computers and the Internet. However, this is not true.

While doing some reading on the topic, I found an interesting blog post by Geek Law Blog where he discusses a guest lecture at a law school. That's not the part of his post that interested me. I liked when he talked about his family:
"My wife thinks my sons are geniuses. One piece of evidence she submits in their favor is how well they use an iPad. I agree with her that the fact that my 1.5 year old can use an iPad is a testament to genius. But not his. For me, it is a testament to the genius of the designers at Apple who created a device so intuitive that 1.5 year old can use it. The kid touches a picture, it moves. Congratulations to him!"
Mary Jackson (NASA) one of the
first computer programmers.
Image Source: History.com
To better think about this concept, think back to the computers we grew up with. Remember DOS? How many of you reading this blog post are even older and remember what came before DOS? I don't, and I'm not going to pretend to understand the early computers but I did see Hidden Figures so I know that at one point computers were giant machines that read punch cards of sorts.



A dictionary entry on Techopedia does a much better job of explaining the concept of a digital native for teachers. The entry states that while children today are more likely to be familiar with the terminology of the digital world, it does not mean they will intuitively understand the processes and concepts. This is where teachers come in to play. We must guide our students.

I'm going to play a little devil's advocate for a moment and try to explain the importance of Computer Science by talking about a different subject that our students are required to learn in school. Biology.

From a young age, our students have interacted with living and non-living things. They understand there is a difference between plants and animals. They know that the fish they won at the carnival died and that mom flushed it down the toilet so it could go back to it's family in the ocean (alright, not really but you get the point). So why do we still teach Biology in school? Our students live and breathe Biology every day of their lives. They see it everywhere. Therefore they shouldn't need to learn about it, they already know it.

That is how we should feel about computer science. Yes, our students are growing up surrounded by it but that doesn't mean they have a true understanding of the concepts.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Google's Geo Teacher Institute 2017

The Google bikes are everywhere to get
Googlers from one building to another.
It finally happened. I made it to the Googleplex. This past week, I had the opportunity to join about 100 educators in Mountain View, CA with the Google Earth team. Here we learned about new and exciting ways to use Google's geography tools in the classroom. This annual conference has teachers from around the world hoping to attend.

The nice thing about this event, unlike other "space-limited" conferences, GTI tries to include educators of all skill levels. This allowed for a more diverse group of people. While I learned tons of new tricks, I also was able to listen to what other teachers are trying to learn. Often, as a digital native (Am I a digital native? I'm not positive from an anthropological stand point) I forget that not everything is as simple as it seems to me. Listening to the other attendees helped me grow my understanding of why some teachers are scared to try new things in the classroom.
Googlers taking time out of their
busy day to talk with us.

Another exciting piece of the conference was to talk directly with Googlers. We had a Q&A session with a group of Googlers where they answered most of our questions and also gave us suggestions of ways to motivate our students.

I think Goosechase was one of my favorite new resources. It's a virtual scavenger hunt that a teacher can setup for students. This can be used for a number of things but I like the idea of a field trip scavenger hunt. If you take your students to a museum, arrange a set of challenges so students have to actually look through the museum. They must then post a picture (check museum rules first on photography) to the app to receive credit. You can also use the app for homework in a similar fashion.

Group Selfie
I also really liked the idea of a group selfie. After our group shot we were all told to take a selfie at the same time as the main camera. The selfies are being synced with the group picture to create an interactive display. I can't wait to see the final project.

Some of the other tools we looked at:

  • My Maps
  • Classic Google Earth
  • New Google Earth
  • Street View
  • Time-lapse
  • 360 Cameras
  • KML (language specific to Google Maps)
  • Microblogging