Socialized VS Self-Authoring: Where Is You Mind?

I am sitting here doing my ‘homework’ for a class I am in and I have a few thoughts. We are studying the top stages of Bob Kegan’s Constructive Developmental Theory are “socialized mind” and “self-authoring mind.”

Socialized = external sources shape our meaning-making

Self-authoring = my own internal thoughts shape my meaning-making

I wonder if Facebook and social media are causing us to move backwards or get stuck in the “socialized” level. I think the voices on the outside are given more opportunity to drown out the internal voice.

The question is, are we wrong for being the loud external voice? With this election and other social issues that are happening right now, are our constant posting of opinions and biased information bringing others down? Is this ok?

Shouldn’t we be looking for ways, especially as educators, to bring others to the self-authoring level? Our posts and comments that are constantly trying to sway others to our “side” is hurting others internal voice. You may be at the “self-authoring” level but that does not mean your beliefs are the only ones out there. It is ok to share your opinions and ideas. We all should, as well as encourage our students to, share. But we have to be careful to think that our meaning-making is the only one out there. While influencing others is great, we have to step back and allow others a chance to listen to their internal voice. 

Last week a teacher left a nasty comment on my blog. I thought it funny at first, but then started to get angry the more I thought about it. I was not angry because of what she said, I was angry because she never questioned, just commented and insulted. She thought her way was correct without trying to see why I write like I do. Before correcting, we need to question. Why do you say that? What influenced your thinking? Those are better than just saying “I disagree and you are wrong.” (Or better yet, I shouldn’t be an educator.)

It is a hard balance to balance these two mindsets but it is something we need to be mindful of. We should strive to question and listen not overwhelm and push. The next generation, as well as our peers, need to grow their way, not ours.

Just my thoughts. Of course you are welcome to have your own 😉

Compliance and Grades

Welcome back to school! I love back to school season. All the fun school supplies. I especially love the back to school pictures of everyone’s kids on social media. But lately I’ve been seeing a lot of post on social media about those first day of school letters from teachers to parents and students. Those letters are usually full of procedures, FAQ, standards, etc. I love the “I don’t give homework” ones and I love the ones where you can tell the teachers are excited about the upcoming year. But I’m seeing another trend. A trend of teachers sending home procedures that are linked to grades. Those have really made me pause. Pause and reflect on things I did wrong as a teacher as well as what grades are in general.

Now I’m just going to put this disclaimer out there and get it over with, I know some of you hate grades and think we should all be standards based or whatever. This is not about that so don’t go there. Some teachers don’t get a choice. My focus is on making that choice wisely.

OK now that is out of the way, back to those lovely parent letters and procedures. I’ve seen posts about bathroom passes costing points. If paper is not headed correctly. Turned into the wrong place. Not done in pencil (seriously it’s 2016). Notebooks not in correct order. Tardiness adding up. Class Dojo points added to grade. List goes on and on.

I had my own quirks as a teacher. I took off points after a week late. I gave homework then gave grades for students just finishing it, not on correctness. I stopped giving homework because I realized I was just giving grades for those that had parents at home not for learning.

One post about restroom passes equally bonus points, a teacher replied that she didn’t do this but had 56 students a day and needed them to help organization. I wish I had had 56 students, I had 156, but organization can’t be my focus of the day.

So let’s stop for one minute. Forget all I said above and remember why we have school. What is the point? Why do we have grades? I had a teacher ask me last week why I started using Google Drive. I told her because I felt like my classroom was becoming more of a place for me to work instead of a place for my students to learn so I had to make it more streamlined and less about paperwork.  But that is a huge problem. We are putting so much on teachers that schools are becoming a workplace not a learning place. That stress and burden is then reflected in our grading system.

We have to stop and think, “does this grade reflect learning or does it reflect learning?” If it is about completion, behavior, etc, it’s not about learning. Yes we need order to have a safe place to learn, but what you see as organization is not clear organization for some of your students. Think about students with ADHD. Those that don’t know me, I’m huge advocate for kids with ADHD because there is so much more that goes on in their brains than just paying attention. Now look at that list in the 2nd paragraph. Heading papers – Yeah speed isn’t on their side, your heading just added 10 to 20 minutes of procrastination to their assignment. Restroom – please spend a week on ADHD meds and tell me how your stomach feels after the lunchroom. Notebooks and tardiness – not even going to touch organization and timeliness. Dojo –  just stop. The list goes on and on. Same thing could be said for kids with disabilities. Dyslexia. Autism. ESL.

So our grades are going to reflect two things, compliance or learning. If your grades are reflecting compliance, kids are going to be resentful. They are going to give up because it really doesn’t matter if they study because they can still have a low grades. It also is doing the opposite. It’s allowing students to show up to your class and pass with high grades but not learn what is needed to move to the next course. How many times have you gotten a group of students and they didn’t know the basics from the year before and you wanted to blame that teacher last year. Maybe the kids didn’t learn, they just headed their papers pretty and didn’t use restroom passes to make that 60 to move on.

Be mindful of what your expectations are for your class. Be mindful of your grades. Before you put in that grade book or mark of a paper, ask yourself if you can prove the student learned something here. If not, reevaluate. We want learners not compliant little people. Isn’t that what the entire school reform movement is all about, getting away from teaching students to be robotic factory workers but places for students to learn to be successful at their pace and skill levels?

Shifts, Growing Pains, Gold Medals, and Such

Ever have a time in your life when ideas, conversations, as well as changes were happening all around you? School starts back next week for my district. Through wrapping up all my summer learning and preparing tech changes in my district my head is over-flowing. All of it seems to be orbiting around without a star to pull it all together. It gets overwhelming. It causes mental exhaustion. Today I was having a voxer conversation and the person I was talking to started reflecting on what he was working on today and said something that may have sparked me a star. It totally stopped all the spinning and pulled it all together.

So this whole profound convo, he started talking about how hard it is to get people to move from what they know is not easy, you have to promise them it’s for certain reasons. The conversation went on to talk about how they will find reasons not to and why it is harder but sometimes the answer to why we make changes is because it creates something equal for everyone. And in the end it takes a culture shift.

And that right there sums up every single one of those satellites orbiting around in my mind. None of them colliding but every single one of them connected by the fact that if the change or shift happens we have made something more equal easier for others, and by others, I’m referring to those we are providing service to. Even if that means we have to go through growing pains during that shift.

The Olympics start this week. Gymnastics has always been my favorite event. I took gymnastics when I was younger and was even Jefferson County Schools 1st grade champion back in the day. Big deal, y’all. But here’s the cool thing about gymnastics, it’s a progressive sport. Every year the difficulty gets harder. Remember 1996 team in Atlanta? They were amazing. I remember sitting in a dorm lobby at cheer camp in front of a 24” TV with 100 other girls watching Kerri Strug on the vault. But the deal is, if someone this year did one of those routines in Rio, no one would close to getting a gold. What was once almost impossible is now less than normal.

Education needs progressive. What was gold standard 20 years ago shouldn’t be gold this year. Our world is changing constantly. Education has to keep up. Few weeks ago I went to a viewing of  “Most Likely to Succeed.” I could write for days about that movie but one thing that stuck out to me was what was said about jobs today. They no longer need muscle power and mental power. Sit on that for one minute. We don’t have many jobs done by hand that are not being replaced by machines. We don’t have many jobs that need memorization of facts, we can Google that.  What do our jobs today need? Critical thinkers. Problem solvers. Yet how much of our schools are changing? Are we still training compliant workers or are we encouraging problem solvers? I’ve had 3 convos over last month about discipline and classroom management and I kept getting feedback about more rules or procedures. Each time I wanted to just scream “or just change how you do school!” but I didn’t. I wasn’t in that position. But we can’t still expect kids to sit in desk all day and be compliant but not expect them to act out due to boredom and frustration. We have to engage all learners. We must make that shift to make school equal for all students. We must shift until all students leave with equal opportunities. There are going to be a lot of growing pains but we have to get there.

So while our education needs to be progressive, technology already is. Technology is changing at insane rate (that’s called Moore’s Law which is that processing speed doubles every 18 months). So while technology is changing and we can’t accurately predict trends, there are people (like me) so study these trends. I saw a Time Hop post the other day that was from 8 years ago, I posted on Facebook that Google Forms or Soho forms had the abilities to change my life. If you know me, Google Forms controls my life. That also means I’ve been using Google Docs for 8 years. Sometimes when we need to make a shift in technology, it’s not because it can do the same thing as another, it is because it will make the playing field equal. Yes Word and Docs do similar things, but which one is accessible to most students? Where can teachers post reminders that will reach all students? What is collaborative and able to support progressive education? Sometimes the adults must go through technology growing pains to support students in the future.

All of this to say, we need schools to shift. Technology and our world outside school is changing rapidly. That means we have to get out of the “way it has always been” mindset and start moving forward as quickly as everything around us. Prepare for growing pains because in the end when we see how equal opportunities for all makes a difference, it will all be worth it. And if you are not ready for change, then move out of the way. Are you ready to grow. 

*I didn’t name who I has this convo with because it was a private convo. But if he reads this and decides he wants credit for brilliance, I’ll edit*

Know When It’s Time To Get Out Of The Rain

Have you ever gotten stuck in the rain? I live in the south and most summer days there is a rain shower around 5:00. Where I live in Alabama we actually get more rain than Seattle. So I rarely leave home without an umbrella or rain jacket. The problem is rain jackets and umbrella don’t ever really keep you dry. Your feet, legs, and face will always be wet no matter what. The only way to stay dry, to stay inside.

I love social media. It’s a huge part of my day. I’m one who sees the benefits and have preached the goodness before hashtag were a thing. Through it I connect with others and have some amazing conversations that challenge my thinking and professional practice. With the mainstream of social media it has become a place to get world and local news real time. No more waiting until 5:00 to hear what is going on with the world. And that keeps us in the know and aware at all times. Last week while in Denver there was an active shooter in the area and I could watch the tweets and knew what was happening and where. This is a huge positive in our society.


But there is something different when it comes to this type of “journalism.” When you watch the 6:00 news the news anchor reads the facts (usually). If there is a house fire on 4th Avenue, they read there is a house fire on 4th Avenue and probably tell you that first responders are on the scene. No opinions up front. If a person on social media posts they may post that same report but with their own post with an opinion. For example they could post the link to the info about the fire with the comment “this is my aunt’s house, pray for her during this time.” That post will probably get shared with sympathy and people offering to help. Those emotions are now tied to the story. But someone could take the same story and say “this house is my neighbor. It is a known meth lab. Hope the dealers are caught.” That post of the same news story would probably spark rants about drug use in a neighborhood and negative comments. Same story but when human opinion comes into play, the reaction of others differs, is shared, and more opinions given.

This past week many dark and terrible stories have broke. The stories reported were not just of someone losing their lives but are posted with opinions in forms of videos, memes, etc. The opinions and lack of facts spark anger beyond just the anger of what has happened because others’ emotions are muddled in. The emotions and opinions start taking on the headlines and the facts and information gets lost.

Remember above when I mentioned getting stuck in a rain shower? When you are out and the first few drops hit we are usually able to grab cover and get inside with just a few drops on us. Those news stories and the emotions with them are like those rain drops. The smart thing to do when it starts, take a few drops in, pay attention, but grab cover before you get drenched. If you get stuck walking home without a rain jacket, those few drops eventually add up and your entire body becomes drenched. When tragedy that is controversial or can have high emotions happen, you need to take cover and get out. Stop standing there and letting it drench you. Because those emotions build and get stronger until they turn into an obsession. Do you need to stand up for what’s right? Heck yes, but we don’t need to add to the situation.

As educators or parents or just humans around children, we need to teach them how to turn it off. Literacy now includes how to find the real information in a sea of opinions. This is a life skill that needs to be taught in every classroom. There also need to be guidance on how to get out of the tragedy in front of them on the screens and get out in their community to take stands and remember there is good still out there.

I didn’t write this to belittle horrific events but I write this to remind us all to step back. Look at facts before opinions. Live life. Take a deep breath. For the sake of sanity. Then later after your emotions are in check, look for ways to make a difference, to have your voice heard. Social media is not the only place. More good will be done in your community telling the stories that are real and happening around you. Understand that hate isn’t the answer. Understand others. And most importantly, empathy. This is the generation we need to be bringing up.

It’s Not About the Tools… Or Is It? #ISTE2016

Over the last few days I’ve been in Denver for the ISTE Conference, along with 15,000 or so other educators. This is a tech conference. Yeah it gets geeky. Every year I go to sessions or walk through the vendor hall and get frustrated at the pitches of next best thing that will change education (and usually cost you a fortune). I get frustrated when I heard proposals from friends that were rejected because they didn’t focus on an app or a website. I even wrote a blog post about it one year after leaving the conference.

Hand drawn ISTE logo

But if you know me, you know that when I see that I’m wrong I’ll be the first to admit it. You see a big part of learning during ISTE for me is from conversations with my brilliant friends who are also my mentors. During a late night convo with Dean Shareski and Brent Catlett about 1:1 and getting teachers and leaders to use technology, Dean said something that really stuck with me (not surprising, he’s had more influence on me than anyone else in this field). He said that, it has to be about the technology, we can’t just ignore what is there. And he’s right. Sometimes schools and districts get so caught up in changing the pedagogy and how we teach that we forget to show the what and how when it comes to technology.

Yes, we have got to change schools and what is happening in the classrooms. It can no longer be “sit and get,” students need to be creating, discovering the world beyond 4 walls of a classroom, and taking charge of their learning, I think everyone is getting this, but this cannot be at the level kids deserve without technology. We put so much time and money focusing on PBL and curriculum design but how much of that professional development includes new technology that can open doors for our students? Are instructional technology specialist in your district being tapped for this PD or is their PD always focused on “how to use” type training? I so often see the only time technology is used for PBL is to research and/or make a Google Slide to show what they know. If we are taking how we teach our students to another level, then we need to take how they use technology to that level as well.

Are you using robots to teach measurement, angles, and coding? Oh wait, most importantly, problem solving? Do your art students have an online digital portfolio? How often do your students collaborate online in a safe place? When you are teaching about a landform or country, do you just show pictures or videos or do you allow students to “visit” via Google Cardboard and now available Google Expeditions? Where in the country or world is that class that your class collaborates with located? How deep are your once a week digital citizenship conversations with students? Do you allow students to use Desmos for free when they can’t afford a graphing calculator? Did your students bubble in answers to show reading comprehension or did sock puppets give you a recap?

The technology is there, so much of it becoming so affordable and available. Everything I mentioned above is something your classroom or school can afford. It kind of is about those tools because without them your students loose that empowerment and can do those skills. Should the tools be your main focus? Should you plan your lessons around that cool new app? No way but you can’t use that as an excuse to not use it. Your students deserve better.

Middle School is Weird

I’m back. Or so I hope. I have been struggling with writing here. I have ideas but not the energy or time. Now school is out and summer is here, I will be finding that time.

Over the last few months I have been in a few situations that have all lead to conversations about Middle School students and what makes them different. Here in the US, middle school is some how the “forgotten” group in our education system. Even education prep mostly focuses on elementary or secondary (which is usually high school focused). But you see, middle school is this own special, weird, time that does not fit with either of those. I worry that this is the time we are losing the students because the education system does not support this group and I feel like those teachers get less support.

My only explanation for this, middle schoolers are weird. They are not just starting out, babies. They are not getting ready to move on to the rest of their lives. They are just the “Jan Brady” of education. The issue is, if we lose them now, we may not get them back.

A few months ago, I spoke at Bright Bytes Institute about Middle School and STEM. Here are just a few of those thoughts that I talked about that day.

Middle Schoolers are Awkard. Think back on your yearbook picture from middle school. Told you, awkward. They are not used to these new bodies they are getting. They fall because their feet grew before the rest of them, their clothes fit weird, the boys are usually shorter than the girls, they have braces… The list goes on and on. So try to remember that when you are dealing with them on a personal basis. This awkwardness leads to insecurity, the insecurity leads to being defensive, defensiveness leads to drama, drama leads to no one listing to anything you say in your classroom. There is a lot of drama, no one wants to learn in the midst of it. So be prepared.

Early Middle School is before stereotypes are ingrained in their mind. Middle schoolers have not yet developed stereotypes for “roles” in life. What I mean by that, they are not completely sold that computers are for nerds, choir is for girls, basketball is for certain races, etc. They are still open to exploring. This is the best time to give students a chance to discover what they love to do. Get girls hooked into a STEM class. Get athletic boys in a music class. Many middle schools have “exploratory” for electives where students rotate through a variety of electives throughout the year. Other schools have “club day” or “genius hour” to provide students with time to discover their talents and passions. While this happens at many grade levels, it can have most impact on middle school students.

They have been playing school for 6 years.  For six years they have gone from pre-school where they learned through play, to 5th grade where they are learning from texts, worksheets, and being assessed on tests. Not always, but in general. Moving to middle school gives them that opportunity to start over. They are in a new environment, new teachers, new classmates, so start new. This is a great place to break that learned schooling and give students chances to learn in new ways. Don’t use middle school as a place to prepare for lectures in high school. Use this time to REMIND students how to learn naturally.

They smell bad. If you ever walk into a you know that distinct smell. Shudder. Only thing worse than the smell, is that smell on taco salad day in 100F August after PE. But I’m not here to make fun, the smell, is their body going through puberty. When they go through this, yes hormones change. But those hormonal changes cause changes in their brains as well. These are some of the effects:

They lose a lot of short term memory. They really did forget about your test, their homework, etc. It is crazy that they forget. Also, it would drive me crazy that teachers would require the students to carry these planners to prevent that. The problem, they never remembered to bring the planner to class, if they did, they forgot to get it out and put the HW in there, and if they actually did all of those things, they would lose them in the locker. I’ve known teachers to give grades based on this. Is that punishing students for something they can’t help? My solution, use Google Calendar or Google Classroom. One thing they never forget, their phones. Really, just stop with the homework. They are not going to do it.

They are unorganized. They just are at that age. Open one locker, you will probably find at least 4 coats, 2 pairs of shoes, and enough socks for the entire football team. So please stop with notebooks with 5 tabs or all subjects in one. They don’t put things in the right tabs. They take the paper out and then just shove it in when the bell rings, etc. Just use a spiral notebook where they one a page at a time. And whatever you do, stop giving notebook checks for grades. STOP.

Lastly, a product of going through these hormonal changes, increase in oxytocin. Oxytocin has been called the “hug hormone.” In adults, it is released after, um, trying to keep this PG, “loving.” Maybe you get that. So this hormone causes our brain to need relationships. That is why people declare being in love after “loving.” In middle schoolers, it causes them to need relationships. Children this age will put relationships with others over academic success. So what can we do about this? If they need social interaction and need to be with others, then this is why group work at this age is more than just learning to collaborate. It is how they function. It fulfills that need. If you don’t, they will just talk and form those relationships while you are trying to have class, so have this need work for you.

So these are just a few things when thinking about middle school students. I could go one for pages and pages on why they are so unique. But who wants to read that?! If you are a middle school teacher, work with middle school teachers, or involved in making decisions about curriculum in middle schools, please keep their uniqueness in mind.

Lastly, can you solve this? I always wonder, was I this weird before I started teaching middle school and they rubbed off on me or do I teach middle school because I get the weird. I think all middle school teachers can relate to that question. More soon everyone and enjoy the start of summer!

There Are No Underdogs

I’m going to write this and it is not going to be easy. And if he was still alive he’d be so angry at me for writing it, but he left me here on earth with just memories so he gets no say. That “he” is Dean Taylor. He died Saturday morning in a car wreck. And he was my friend. My one of my best friends. He was also a dad that loved his son so much and a businessman always looking for investments. Dean was a school board member in my district, the board president at one time, which is why not many knew of our friendship, politics are blah. But it is funny, we became friends because he was always trying to learn more about education and always had questions, but in the end he taught me so much more.

You see, he was so proud to be a board member. Think of that one person that you know that puts their all into their job, that was him. He told me a few times that he went to a ribbon cutting one day and went to bed that night a politician. But more times than that he would say that he was there to make a difference. He was a dad and wanted for his son what every parent wants, but he had the position to make sure it happened not only for his son but for everyone’s sons and daughters. All 37,000 sons and daughters, as he would say. He would tell stories of how he was not supposed to be as successful as he was (he was a pretty successful businessman and never took it for granted) and he wanted every kid in the district to know that if he could do it, they could too. I would get so mad at him for putting himself down and he’d get mad at me for making that comment and say it isn’t about him. He was in the Air Force and would tell me stories from war and end by saying that God didn’t let him die because he was supposed to be there to fight for kids like him. Every single war story ended with that. He believed and he lived to complete that mission.

But here was the thing, while he was always about the “underdog,” he never once treated anyone as the underdog. He knew every single maintenance worker by name. Was actually became close friends with many of them. He would bring them water in the summer. He would mention them when telling me a story and act like I was weird because I did not know them.  He would compliment custodians on how clean their school was. He ate in a school lunchroom at least once a week, usually more, and would not only sit with the kids but compliment the staff on the great food. He went from unknown new school board member to in the press every week because when we had cut backs and the majority of secretaries in our district were going to lose their jobs, he fought until the cuts were rescinded.

He had this amazing ability to make whoever he was meeting feel like what they were saying was the most important. He was in the schools, all 56. He’d ask me everyday, “what school did you visit today?” And then “Did you talk to ___?” I’d answer then ask him the same. He was in the schools as much as me but had the gift of meeting so many more people when there. Those people were important to him. He let them know how important they were.

Dean coding robots with students at HMS.

Dean coding robots with students at HMS.

He made students feel the same way. I was looking through pictures today and saw the one above and could hear him asking the kids to explain how it works. A friend told me yesterday he was supposed to be at her school next week to talked to a group of boys that were always in trouble. He worried about those students more than any. He worried that too often we focused on the kids that were gifted or already college bound and left the rest behind. He would talk often about how he never had teachers that believed in him when in school. We always had that in common. One teacher even wrote in his yearbook about how he would not succeed. It crushed him, but mostly gave him the push to become the man he was. But he would say that he never wanted a student to feel that ever again. He wanted kids to have someone to believe in them. He wanted them to know that college was not always for everyone and that was ok. He was telling a class the other day that each of them could be anything they wanted, and he truly believed it.

He was always on a mission to help someone. He would do the kindest things but usually did them secretly. He would call me and ask what type of tech would a certain school needs because “rumor” was that a teacher was about to get it anonymously. That was him.

He was a huge supporter of STEM in schools. He knew that it would reach students that textbooks didn’t. We would talk STEM all day. He loved LEGOs. Like always had a LEGO minifigure in his pocket. He had 100s. So makerspaces were a natural draw for him. He loved it all from coding (he was the biggest supporter in my district for Hour of Code) to 3D printers. He was always trying to figure out how to get more in our schools and if you asked him why, he would talk about the importance of it and how it would reach all students. All students. That was important to him.

He’d be the first to admit when he was wrong. He would tell me over and over that if I ever blamed others, then I was still at fault. He told me all the time that I had to find my issues first then I could blame others, but by then I knew it was my fault. Oh he’d make me so mad making me face my demons. But then he’d congratulate me when I would figure it out. I don’t like the thought of this cheerleader being gone.

In his honor I am going to remember the underdogs. Who are not really underdogs, because he was proof that anyone can do anything. He was proof that drive and self confidence is all you need. He had both. And maybe fake glasses that made you look smarter.

Goodbye my friend. You told me that we were separated at birth and I was the crazy twin. I will miss my twin. Though I only got to know you for a little over a year, you left your mark on me and I will forever remember to continue your legacy and treat the custodian like the CEO to be the voice for students that don’t have one. Also, I hope God had a closet full of shoes for you. Oh and yes I wrote this on my Macbook just for you.

This was his favorite quote. Said it all the time in his best southern politician voice.

This was his favorite quote. Said it all the time in his best southern politician voice.

Are We There Yet?

I hate car trips. OK so I really hate. I love going places. I love vacations, quick trips, even business type trips. I even love hotels. People make fun of me often because I’m always moving from place to place.

It’s journey that drives me crazy. If I fly, something dumb will happen. Never fails. I can cause the entire Eastern seaboard to become stranded. The alternative, car trips. This weekend we decided, last minute, to go to Busch Gardens Tampa and Legoland in Orlando. The parks were a blast and the kids got time with their cousins, even though they see them few times a week. But I hate 9 hours each way in a car. I feel stuck. I feel confined. I read, or like now, write, but still not satisfying. While I’m in the car I want to scream. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I think since I’m in passenger seat, I need a drink at lunch. Don’t judge, I get edgy. And I usually don’t give in to that.

So why do I end up still taking the trips? Because tomorrow, I’ll forget the grueling part. I’ll just remember destination. Last weekend I went to beach and Mardi Gras in Mobile, 4.5 hour trip. On the way down there and back I swore off car trips. Yet 4 days later I agreed to a 9 hour drive to Florida. You forget the hard part and think of the satisfying part of the trip.

Seriously that quote is from Drake the rapper. You know, the dancing in a box guy. I researched it, and it's from a graduation commencement speech.

Seriously that quote is from Drake the rapper. You know, the dancing in a box guy. I researched it, and it’s from a graduation commencement speech.

Lately I’ve been talking with my PLN and so many of us are in frustrating situations professionally and some even personally. Myself included. But conversations, ah ha moments, and seeing things fall into places are making those frustrations and the long journeys starting to become a fading memory. Hopefully the destination is worth the journey, it usually is.

So those of you who are in the same place as me, stuck in a long car ride, we eventually will make it to where we want to go. And it makes getting there so much better. We learn so much as we go. You know all the quotes about learning being the journey not the destination, right? Yeah it is!! But know through those learning struggles, the outcome is worth every moment. And then it will be time to find a new road and start a new adventure! It too will be full of struggles and boring white dotted lines but worth it in the end. You’ll forget about the struggles that have now shaped who you are and remember the success.

Teaching Engineering is Not Scary!

I spend a lot of time talking to teachers about STEM and PBL. When we go through that process, I can usually almost predict what they will grasp onto and what they will shy away from. Teachers usually get really excited about the project part, the hands on math and science part. On the flip side they usually hate the idea of the “engineering” process. Mostly because it sounds scary. Engineers have a stereotype, one that STEM ambassadors like me are always trying to get rid of. To get them to understand the process and the ease of it, I usually have them do projects that involve it. But when they go back into the classroom I always worry if they have their kids prototyping or asking questions. For months I have been looking for materials that will help them not only get over the fear of “engineering process” but something they can go back to when planning lessons and units. I haven’t found much that would be helpful or not overwhelming.

During this search I was contacted by BloomBoard. They asked if I would be interested in a blogging campaign they are doing, I decided to check out their site. I loved it. BloomBoard is a place where educators can learn, share, and discuss the best teaching ideas to solve everyday classroom challenges and improve their practice. They have these Collections that teachers have curated based on different topics. I am joining over 20 other bloggers throughout the month of February, sharing Collections of learning resources on their blog and writing about how that Collection powers their practice. The Collections will either be ones the bloggers have curated themselves around a topic of interest or expertise, or just a favorite of theirs from the new BloomBoard.

The content at BloomBoard is high quality and easy to search through. I like that I can search my topic, and the topics are beyond just “math.” Topics that are part of today’s education world, for example: Educating the Whole Child, Critical Thinking, and Increasing Engagement. Good stuff, right? You can even earn “micro-credentials” that some districts would even count for PD credit.

So back to “engineering process.” As I was searching the site, I immediately looked up “STEM” and “PBL” as a topic. I came across this Engineering Can Be Easy collection. The resources are fantastic. The links in there have “Teaching NGSS Engineering Design Through Media” from PBS, Teach Engineering, which is a favorite site of mine, that has lessons for days, and others that are geared to elementary classrooms and even teachers. Putting these resources into one place, and having resources that are actually helpful, is wonderful and I am excited to share. I also loved how it was not overwhelming and it was easy for me to pick and choose what I wanted to look at.

Engineering Can Be Easy

If you are looking for STEM ideas, I recommend starting with this collection, then browse around the site! Also, check out the  BloomBoard Blog every Monday in February for the week’s schedule of bloggers and follow along daily on BloomBoard’s Facebook and Twitter.

The next blogger is the series is Ariana Morrow atTeachers42morrow. She is a a special education teacher in Texas.  She has taught students with learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, autism and other cognitive disabilities at both the elementary and middle school levels, delivered through co-teach, self-contained, redirect and alternative learning environment (also called specialized support) settings and models.

Every year that she has taught, she has been rated “Exceeds Standards” by the Texas Professional Development Appraisal System.  She  was a featured teacher in the Online Training Module for the Low Incidence Statewide Network, being honored with the opportunity to share successful classroom systems with other teachers in the state of Texas who work with students with low incidents disabilities.  She teaches adult education classes on lesson planning, behavior management, year-long pacing calendars, scheduling, curriculum accommodations, data collection, time management and organization for special education classrooms.  I’m currently creating a Down Syndrome 101 webinar for the Statewide Low Inccidents Disabilities Network, and she is updating and expanding the Monthly Instructional Guides for Region 3.

Which Turn Gets My Teachers to SAMR?

New year. I’ve missed my blog. I haven’t been making time to blog. I have a few reasons. But no matter my reasons, I know better. I preach over and over how important reflection is for learning and improving practice. Because I’m no longer in the classroom and my practice now includes adults and adult learning, I have fear my reflection will put my job at risk. A job I love and have worked hard for. But lately I feel stalled and I’m smart enough to know that lack of reflection is part of the reason. So I’m making a commitment to blog more this year. First one starting now.

As I said, I’m stalled. I feel like I’m going in circles. One year when I was in middle school my family went camping through Florida. We got stuck in Tampa. Actually we were outside Tampa in Pinellas County. I know that because they put the county name on everything. Being lost is my panic. Knowing that we were passing the same thing over and over and not driving so having no control drove me insane. I remember asking my mom why my dad wouldn’t just turn off the highway to any road. She told me it was because there were so many options he didn’t know which road would take him to St. Pete. Eventually my dad shared the map with my mom and I, we found our location and where we needed to go. After an hour of being lost, we found the way and in 10 minutes we were on St. Pete Beach. 

I’m in that circle. I don’t really know what will take me to the destination. I have ideas but I’m not sure which risk or idea will take me in the right direction.

The highway I’m stuck on is SAMR. SAMR is the level at which teachers integrate technology. Here’s a diagram that explains SAMR.


The goal with SAMR is to get to the M and R. We want teachers not to just use technology as a substitution to lessons that are already doing but to change how they teach and use the tech to do so. I know that for tech to have maximum impact and for student learning to be most meaningful we need to have students creating, innovating, etc.

How am I, someone not in the classroom, stuck when it comes to SAMR? I’m stuck with the PD I do. I feel like I’m stuck teaching how to use the tech, the basics. Mostly Google Apps for Edu. I love Google and I know the importance of getting teacher buy in to get student use. My job title is “Instructional Technology Coach” and I feel that is my job, coaching teachers to use tech in instruction. But I’m at a place I’m stuck teaching the “how to” not the ways to use in instruction.

When lost and looking at map, you have to find where are located at the moment, then figure out what turns and detours are causing you to keep circling. So I sat down and made a list/diagram of what keeps getting me lost. You know, those roadblocks, excuses, issues, etc, that stand between you and the destination. I could list them all out, but who wants to read a list of complaints? So I put them on this map: (click on the pins if you want to read my roadblocks)

These are my reasons. They may be called excuses or whining but I needed to figure out what highways I’m circling, those are them. Now I can find them on the map I need to look for streets to turn on to go in a different direction. I have some ideas.

  • The easiest may be to stop asking principals to come to their school, but to schedule the school and PD. Makes it hard to get buy in or know exactly what they need but I’m desperate.
  • Make it so when I schedule a PD the school must schedule at least 2 follow up sessions. Schools that did this last year had high tech usage and I had good relationships with teachers there.
  • Start just showing up at schools and stop by classrooms during planning periods and ask what I can do to help. Ask teachers to share with me what they are teaching. As a former teacher, I’m worried that there may be push back did being that guy that is interrupting their planning time without notice.
  • And this is the hardest. I’m not sure if it would work. But I’m wondering if I could create a tech school type program. Create online and face to face courses that teachers can work their way through in cohorts within their school or feeder pattern. As teachers complete levels, they can get badges or incentives. I’m not sure how great the incentives would be. I wondered about sponsors for that but then we have strict laws about teachers getting things from vendors and companies. The main incentive would be the teachers would become experts in their schools. They would also get PD credit for the courses.
  • Or in the similar mindset have a series of challenges with apps and sites then have the teachers complete and post their challenges. Then we’d have a database of sort of lesson ideas for those apps/sites. We could have a prize for those finishing all the challenges and badges.

These are some of the roads I’m looking at. I’d love to hear what you have done and what did and didn’t work. Also I would hear feedback on the ideas above. Help me find the right direction. Hopefully just writing these will get my wheels turning. I’ve missed y’all. I’ve missed writing. I’m going to be brave and take the risk of being back online. Have a great start to 2016!

For more information on SAMR, check out Kathy Schrock’s Guide to SAMR and Blooms.