Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sponsorship Offer to Present at ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia

A few months ago, I received an email from a representative of Class Dojo which asked if I would be interested in presenting at ISTE and included a short survey to complete. I immediately responded and was thrilled when a few days later I received an email response. Since I have never presented at a conference as large as ISTE, I had stated that I would be willing to present alone or with a group. Following a few emails with the Class Dojo representative, I was put in contact with a fellow educator in Philadelphia who was also interested in presenting on the topic of parent involvement.

A week later, we met at Starbucks and discussed how we would want to present. My new partner was a school psychologist so we actually played off each other nicely. He will talk about the psychological benefits of positive communication and I will demonstrate how to use different types of technology and websites to make that communication efficient for all involved. After a few hours and many refills, we had a basic idea of what we wanted to present. We emailed back and forth a few more times with both Class Dojo and ISTE before submitting our proposal.

Unfortunately we were not selected to present at ISTE. Just being sponsored does not guarantee a spot within the conference but it was exciting to know that I have begun building up enough of a reputation to even be asked. Class Dojo is still considering a sponsorship for my attendance at ISTE, however it will not be a full sponsorship so I will be looking to find a way to fund the rest of my admission.

If you have not used Class Dojo with your classroom, I recommend checking it out. The website has been around for a few years now but they are still improving all the time. They listen to teacher feedback and make changes based on popular requests. If you teach elementary or middle school, your students might enjoy the personalized monsters they can create. High school teachers? If you think the avatars are too "babyish" for your students, you can import actual photos of your students.

Class Dojo also allows your parents to connect and allows for easy communication. Parents can sign up for accounts which allow them to monitor their students. Many of my parents have loved it. I'll admit that some days I'm more consistent with my points than others, but it really helps with tracking behaviors in the classroom.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Reflections of GTA

Within minutes of receiving my acceptance letter in October, the Austin 2014 cohort of the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) immediately became a close knit family of educators with a common goal. We talked technology, lesson ideas, successes and failures. We talked about school and random topics. By the time my plane landed in Texas, I felt like I already knew my cohort of 52 educators from around the country. I knew their voices from Voxer, their faces from G+ profiles, and their personalities from Hangouts.

After four days in Austin Texas, I feel rejuvenated in my career as an educator. The actual GTA was only a two day program but our group added a few extra activities. Monday night, a large group of future Google Certified Teachers (GCT) went out for dinner at a local restaurant that shared its parking lot with our hotels. This restaurant was selected because of its location, but we had a great time as we all got to finally meet each other face to face. The following morning, many of us met for breakfast before walking over to the Google offices.

The buildings lobby looked like a normal office, but once on the elevator we were transported to the magical world of Google. Tight security required us to always have an escort because without an employee badge, the elevator automatically returns to the first floor. As we walked off the elevators on the fourth floor, we were greeted by our lead learners, a cool title for past GCTs that now act as mentors, and Google staff. A few signatures later, we had our name tags and were touring the conference room that would be our home base for the two days and the attached break room.

I was shocked when the first thing we were told was to put our computers away. Our first lead teacher began by talking to us about what we don't know. He proceeded to show a video tutorial about tying shoes and passed out a ton of shoes to practice. Did you know you can tie your shoelace in one quick motion? Neither did I but it was a great introduction to the way we would be learning and thinking.

From tying shoes we started moving very quickly. The morning was spent using post-it notes to organize our "problems" in the classroom. After moving, categorizing, moving again, and narrowing it down, we each selected one problem to focus on. My personal choice was to think about why students feel disconnected in the classroom. After moving around the room to work with teachers that had similar problems selected, I was working with a group of eight teachers that all wanted to focus on student engagement.

Later, we split into groups based on the color of our name tags and rotated through smaller workshops each with a different theme. In these workshops we discussed different uses of the Google tools for the classroom. I got tons of cool tricks that I didn't know about before and learned about a few Google tools that are useful but lesser known. For example, did you know you can compare the use of keywords in books written to recognize patterns? Star Wars and Computer Science have a pretty cool relationship. These relationships can spark some interesting discussions in class.

Day two continued the smaller workshops but also included some full cohort activities. The Amazing Race was a great competition which I hope to recreate for my students. The basic idea was that you create a scavenger hunt using Google Maps and associate a challenge to complete which each fact. We had a lot of fun, but I did feel bad for waking my friend up for the Hangout challenge. Turns out that he had taken a sick day because he wasn't feeling well.

As the second day wound down, we continued working on our big problem and began to come up with a way to solve that problem within our communities. I choose to try and begin a 20% plan, sometimes referred to as a genius hour, for my students. I'm going to begin by having my students think about passion. They will then take their passions and create a personalized project. My hope is that by encouraging students to pursue topics they choose, they will become more interested in the learning process.

The two days at GTA went very quick and I was sad when it ended. Speaking with other teachers in my cohort helped me to see that things I thought were problems, really weren't the end of the world. I also saw that every situation has its issues. Some schools have the issue were students don't care about their grades but other schools have the issue where students care too much about their grades. Either way learning is not happening in an authentic way. As I continue to speak with my cohort, I have brought the lessons from GTA back to my school and community. I am looking forward to what the future brings and I am honored to hold the title Google Certified Teacher.

borrowed image sources: +Danny Silva and +Amy Mayer

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How One Email Changed My Life and Teaching (For the Better)

Each day, our school email accounts get filled with tons of "junk" mail. Subject lines such as "Planning Retirement Seminars" and "Teacher Practice Networks Survey - Chance to Win $100" were just two of the fifteen emails I received yesterday. With all this extra stuff, you normally scroll through quickly looking from emails that were specifically for you. Whether you're looking for your principal's name in the sender column or a subject line that makes sense, many emails tend to get passed over.

Two years ago, I received an email from the curriculum office that has changed my life: "Pittcon Science Teacher Workshops." I knew about Pittcon because of a family member so I opened the email. I am forever grateful that I didn't skip over that email because it was the turning point for my career and my classroom. I attended a five hour PD about hands on chemistry lessons that I could do in the classroom without any special equipment. Some of the experiments I already knew, such as self-inflating balloons, but it was so much more. This was the first time I connected with teachers outside of my own school district. I also received a gift certificate to purchase science equipment for the classroom. Free supplies? Just for going to a professional development where I actually learned something? So began a beautiful relationship.

After that day, I started opening every email that came from that particular colleague. I joined her and a group of teachers, referred to as the Math and Science Partnership (MSP), the following summer for a two week Biology program at Drexel University which led to my qualifying for an additional teaching certificate in Biology. Besides the content, I was surrounded by educators of all backgrounds. Some were young and newer to teaching like myself but others were wise with experience. Through discussions during this summer program, I began to gain more confidence in myself and my abilities. The following year at school, I stopped worrying so much about the paperwork (which I still make sure to get in) and more about my students. I stopped following the textbook script word for word and started to actually teach. Wow, what a difference. When I started enjoying it more, my students did as well. I continued to meet with my summer PD group multiple times throughout the year and each time I gained more ideas to bring back to my classroom.

The next turning point came when I received an email from the district's listserv about the Google Education Summit that would be taking place on Temple's campus. I was so excited until I saw the price tag. It felt like someone was reading my thoughts because before that day ended, I received another email from MSP announcing that they had six tickets and it would be first come/first serve. After spending the weekend with a group of Google Education Trainers and Google Certified Teachers, one of my MSP friends said "You should really go for the next level. You have so much knowledge to share." I went home and decided to take the series of exams to become a Google Educator.

Now, months later I received yet another life changing email. This week, I received an email from Google inviting me to attend the upcoming Google Teacher Academy in Austin Texas. This was my second time applying to the program and I was really nervous waiting to see if I'd be accepted. At 7:25pm the email finally arrived. I can't wait to continue this journey when I step onto the plane in December and head to Austin for a few days.

Monday, October 13, 2014

First Week With Our Chromebooks

It took a few days to set up and organize the Chromebooks but I am happy to say that my students have now been using the Chromebooks for a week in class. My students completed the Chromebook Scavenger Hunt and it really helped them to see the potential of Google Drive and the Chromebooks. Between sharing the Chromebooks and common first time confusions, the scavenger hunt took my students about three class periods.

Since I received these Chromebooks through Donors Choose and did not purchase the management licenses, I also had my students adjust a few basic settings such as "Require a password to wake from sleep" and setting their homepage button to our classroom homepage. My students are already having a great time with the Chromebooks and have begun math interventions on Manga High.

I think the best part so far is that students in other classes keep asking my students about their new computers and they are very excited as they tell them about the assignments they're beginning. I look forward to continuing to see these Chromebooks in action and my students are already walking advertisements to the administration. When I walk around the room, I do not see students off task with the Chromebooks.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Chromebooks Have Arrived

I was so excited on Monday when I saw the UPS man walking into the school building with large boxes. While my Donor's Choose project had been fully funded at the beginning of August, the shipping was delayed because of a policy regarding shipping to schools during summer break. When they were ready to ship, it seemed the Chromebooks I ordered were no longer available. I want to say thank you to Donor's Choose's customer support for helping me find replacements from a different vender that still allowed me to purchase twelve Chromebooks for my classroom.

After my students left for the day, I opened the boxes and got to work setting them up. As luck would have it, we found an old laptop cart in the basement of our building that wasn't being used. The built in surge protector was broken, but the lock's latch was still secure. With the assistance of a wonderful parent volunteer, I had the cart cleaned and ready to house our new class set of computers. I only took out one computer the first day and I'm glad I did. I immediately noticed that the Chromebook was much smaller in person than it appeared online and even when I'd seen it attached to displays in stores.

To add an extra layer of protection to the old laptop cart, I ran out to Ikea and purchased cardboard magazine holders. Turned sideways, it actually makes a great organization system for the cart. The pre-cut holes in the boxes made cord management easy, and the cardboard gave some cushioning against the metal shelves. When I made the labels for each computer, I decided to be more creative. Along with my name and the computer's number, I gave each computer an individualized quotation about education and/or learning for the front. On the back, I just put the number to make it easier to spot when in the cart. The cart was originally designed for sixteen computers so I was able to put new surge protectors in the first slot of each shelf.

I am looking forward to this coming Monday when my students will receive their new GAFE accounts and complete the Chromebook Scavenger Hunt which I modified from an original idea posted by Rick Lapi from the Wilson School District in Pennsylvania. This will be their first experience with Chromebooks and I know that they are excited to be piloting the program for our building. They are also one of the first groups of middle school students in our district to be using Chromebooks because GAFE is slowly be rolled out for our district and I needed to be patient and wait. Currently all add-ons are disabled by the district and there is no estimated date when they will begin reviewing requests for add-ons.

The long term goal of this year with Chromebooks is that my students will write their own proposal together by the end of the year to convince our administration to begin replacing outdated Macbooks with less expensive Chromebooks. As a huge fan of Google, I hope that my enthusiasm will be contagious within our building staff. I will also be using my Chromebooks for a few PDs during the year so the staff can also experience the difference.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

No... I'm the Math and Science Teacher

It's that time of the year when we return to school and prepare our classrooms for the upcoming year. This year, my school has a lot of new staff. The main office has a completely new staff, including a new principal, and only 60% of our teachers are returning. This led to a very interesting conversation and reflection on my part today.

Our district appointed IT guy was stopping by the building and I went in to help him inventory some "new" computers which were donated by the local college. While in the office waiting for him, I helped our new secretary reset passwords and get some wires better organized so that people wouldn't trip. This led to the conversation where I was mistaken for the building's computer teacher. As I explained to her that I was the middle school S.T.E.M. teacher but that I used the computers regularly in my classroom I realized that perhaps we are all computer teachers.

The more I was thinking about this conversation, the more I realized that we are all computer teachers. Math teachers have been using more digital resources such as Khan Academy, while science teachers are flocking to sites like the University of Colorado's PhET: Interactive Simulations. English teachers have long been teaching responsible research online, while reading teachers enjoy finding new online news sources for relative reading material. Perhaps my quick "I'm not the computer teacher" was incorrect. We're all computer teachers. Even if you expect your students to already know basic computer functions when they enter your room, you will always need to help them learn something new. Maybe they don't know how to take an image from the Internet and format it within their document. Perhaps they can't remember how to add a footnote when citing a source.

Teaching digital citizenship is the responsibility of all teachers. Technology is surrounding our students on a daily basis and we must guide them to use it efficiently.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Thank You Donor's Choose and Staples

Earlier this year, I finally decided to give Donor's Choose a try. I had heard good things about it from other people but I knew that what my classroom needed wasn't as simple as a few books. In June, I put up my first project for two Chromebooks. I didn't want to ask for too much and I felt two was already an expensive endeavor at over $400. A few of my friends made donations after I posted the link on social media, but the final donation of over 50% of the cost came from a single non-profit located here in Philadelphia.

After seeing the support I received from both my friends and complete strangers, I decided to be a little braver and request more in my next project. So I posted a project for an additional ten Chromebooks. Yes, it was over $2,000 but I also knew they give you four months to raise the funds and I was hoping that again my social media followers would help my students.

This morning, I woke up to an amazing shock. I honestly thought I was still sleeping because after I turned my alarm off I checked my email on the phone. I cannot truly put into words my appreciation to Staples for fully funding my project. That's right, Staples. The office supply store where I spend more money each year than I care to think about on school supplies just funded my second Donor's Choose project completely. Now in September, my students will have 12 Chromebooks in the classroom. Sure, that's not enough for a 1:1 ratio, but it will be 2:1 give or take a few extra students.

I knew that Staples was promoting Donor's Choose this Back to School season, but never in a million years did I expect them to fully fund my project. If anything, I expected maybe a few dollars towards the end. Thank you Staples, Donor's Choose, and Kati Perry (it's her name promoting #MakeRoarHappen) for helping my students get the technology they need in the classroom.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chromebooks and the Common Core Symposium, New Jersey

It's interesting when you finally put faces to the names you've seen online for a while. Last week, I presented at the Chromebook and Common Core Symposium. Since I first began participating in communities online about using Google in the classroom, I have crossed paths with some people many times. This week I was finally able to meet many of them in person.

Presenting at the conference was a great experience for me because it was the first time I presented since becoming an authorized Google Education Trainer. I was really nervous going in because I knew that one of the sponsors was the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA). When you see the words "principals" and "supervisors" you know that you are going to have many administrators in your session. This turned out to be true. My session was directly after lunch so people were sitting in the room early. I was speaking with a few participants in the front room while others will coming in. The first three people I spoke with were two principals and their superintendent. Way to make me more nervous before I even start.

Eventually I began and once I got started, it went well. I made myself nervous over nothing because presenting to this room full of administrators was no different for me than when I present to a room full of teachers within my own school.

Things I learned by presenting:

  • You can't assume that people at a conference have background knowledge.
    • Many of the people at this conference were new to Google in general. I had made a wrong assumption that people already knew how to do things and that I was just presenting ways to use those apps efficiently.
  • Don't have a script, be prepared to change.
    • This is something that is repetitive for most presentations. As I began presenting, I realized that certain ideas should have been presented in a different order. I began with discussing Google Contacts, however I should have begun with Google Drive because I kept mentioning forms and spreadsheets throughout other topics.
  • One hour goes really fast when you're enthusiastic about the material.
    • When I created my topic and presentation, I had timed everything out in my head. I was going to spend about ten minutes on each of five main ideas. Once I arrived and actually started answering questions and involving my audience, I found myself running out of time.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Presenting at Conferences

I was invited to speak at my second conference since I was accepted as a Google Education Trainer. It really got me thinking, is the certification getting me the recognition and acceptance? Or am I just becoming more confident to apply for conferences because of the certification.

It's true that I have applied for both conferences that I will be speaking at this summer. It's also true that I wouldn't have applied without being an authorized Google Education Trainer. So perhaps it's the later. The recognition from Google has helped with my confidence compared to just my colleagues telling me to apply. For the past three years, I have been helping my colleagues with technology though the school. I have also been given the opportunity to work with teachers from other buildings as part of the Math and Science Partnership. It was the Math and Science Partnership that invited me to my first Google Summit. Here is where I first heard the terms "Google Education Trainer" and "Google Certified Teacher" along with the requirements for acceptance.

I immediately went and took the five exams required to become a Google Educator. I breezed through all five in a day and continued on with preparing to apply for both programs. My application for Google Education Trainer was simple enough. I updated my resume, completed a case study, and then made a two minute screenshot video demonstration. The application for the Google Teacher Academy included essays and a video. Unfortunately I wasn't accepted into GTA on my first try. It's alright though because some of the GCTs I've met said it took multiple application periods before they were invited. GTA only accepts 50 teachers per session, and that's internationally. It was an upsetting setback but I won't give up. As Babe Ruth, once said "you can't let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game." No one likes rejection and I just need to take the opportunity to improve and try again.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Really Official

Last night I was granted access to the Google Education Trainer community and resources. The first resource I took advantage of was the above badge. This image represents the hard work it took to become an authorized Google Education Trainer. It's also a promise to myself and others. This badge is a promise that I will work with educators to be successful when using Google in the classroom. We won't just "Google" the answer, we'll use Google to explore the problems and discover the answers.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Official Google Education Trainer

Last week I saw on the application website that I was accepted as a Google Education Trainer. As other applicants were receiving their emails, mine never came. Finally I decided to contact someone to see what happened. They re-sent the email but I had a laugh at what was written. "Can you check your spam?" I just applied to become an authorized trainer of Google and applied with a gmail address. I would hope that someone qualified to train others to use Google would know to check the spam folder. This reminded me about when you call tech support because something isn't working and the first thing they ask is "Did you check that it's plugged in?" I think we are all guilty of assuming people forget the obvious.

As a new trainers, I need to remember this. Just because it seems obvious to me, it might not seem obvious to everyone. Part of being a trainer is to find where my students are beginning and help bring them to a higher level. This means that if I'm working with educators that don't know computers I might start with just logging into Google. If the teachers I am training are already comfortable with using Google Drive, I might show them add-ons and extensions to simplify their work and help their students grow.

Representing Google means that they have faith in my abilities to spread the strategies and technology to help students learn in and out of the classroom. I hope that I always remember this introduction to the program.

Monday, June 2, 2014


For years I have been blogging on Making Cents of It about saving money and entertainment. Recently, at an EdCamp event, someone asked me why I didn't blog about my experiences teaching. This page of my portfolio will consist of posts related to teaching.

I will not be updating this page on a daily basis. Instead, I will update as I reflect on my classroom and professional experiences.