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.