Monday, December 30, 2013

Josh: Dropbox Product Designer

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

I’d be willing to bet that many of you have never met Josh Puckett, but I’m equally certain that most of you have benefitted from his work the last couple of years.  

Josh spent most of his elementary years living in Wales, where his father was relocated for his job. While there, he excelled in school and enjoyed his school’s up-to-date computer lab. He was raised in a family of engineers, so it was completely normal for him to tear things apart to see how it was put together. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he picked up a book on computer programming and was hooked -- at the age of 9!

I’ve also always been artistic, I loved drawing and coloring and painting, etc., and I realized I could create things on the computer. So from a young age I really took to the mixture of engineering (writing code to make a computer do something) and the arts (how things look, how they feel). From that point on, I spent a lot of time on computers, continuing to learn more about programming and design.

The Puckett Family moved back to the States just in time for Josh to be in my sixth grade class, and I’ll leave my thoughts about our time together till later in the post. Josh spent the rest of his pre-college days in our school.  I loved some of his memories surrounding our computer lab. He said, “perhaps my best memory was sending pop up system chat alerts to every computer in the computer lab and freaking people out.”  He credited his computer teacher his senior year, Mr. Schmid, for recognizing his gifts and giving him time to learn independently on his laptop in class.

Josh tells me that his parents pushed him to learn on his own and spent a lot of time reading and working on computers.  He spent his free time in middle and high school doing freelance computer and graphic design making websites for companies locally and across the globe.

I’m totally self taught, and spent way too much time (or maybe not!) in high school reading and learning about programming and design. A lot of it is just trying to do something, and if you can’t figure it out, trying a different approach until you accomplish your goal.

Upon graduation, Josh went to Moody Bible Institute to study Linguistics and Theology, but he continued his freelance work while there. He contracted work to a number of companies helping them create websites and iPhone apps.

Here is a great time to mention Kayleigh.  Josh is recently married (July 2012) and he couldn’t stop gushing about his bride all through his questionnaire.  It was while he was at Moody that Josh and Kayleigh met. It was love at first sight for him, but it took him two years to wear her down and agree to a date. In case I forget to mention this later in the post, Kayleigh volunteers near their home in the San Francisco area, sings in their church’s praise band, and has a start-up bakery business.  He’s stricken and madly in he should be. I bumped into Josh’s parents not long ago, and his dad was telling me how wonderful Kayleigh is.

Josh made the difficult decision to drop out of college to pursue computer programming fulltime.  His first gig was with Groupon.  While he was there, they went from a couple hundred to over 10,000 employees with billions of dollars in annual revenue. He started as a product designer and eventually headed up all the mobile designing at the company.  If you use the Groupon iPhone app, you can thank Josh for his hard work.  He designed it. Oh, Apple named it one of the top 25 apps of all time.

Josh had turned down at least one job offer from Facebook while living in Chicago, because he didn’t want to move away from Kayleigh.  However, shortly before the wedding, Groupon moved him to the San Francisco area anyhow.  He found a running buddy named Soleio Cuervo, who is perhaps best known for inventing the Like button.  Soleio never stopped prompting Josh to switch to Facebook, till he himself left Facebook to work with Dropbox. At that point, he started to recruit Josh to work at Dropbox with him.

In January 2013, Josh took the plunge and interviewed at Dropbox, where he is now a product designer. He works alongside people who have helped to build some of the incredible sites that we all use and take for granted today.  

I’ve since worked on a lot of Dropbox’s mobile products, and am currently leading the design efforts for a new product in the memories space, but I can’t say much beyond that. Dropbox has been incredibly thus far, and I’ve gotten to work with and learn from many incredible designers and engineers. We have people who helped build Google, Spotify, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and other truly great companies, so the shared experiences and wisdom I’m able to learn from is tremendous.

Josh tells me that he loves working for a company that provides a needed service to its customers.  He also thrives on learning from those around him as opposed to constantly being in the mentor role.

So, next time you share a file with a colleague using Dropbox or pay for a meal using a Groupon coupon, think of Josh and the amazing people that he gets to work with every single day.


Here are some fun facts about Josh that I couldn’t easily weave into the narrative.
  • One of his life goals is to visit every continent -- only two to go -- and space. Yes, you read that last part correctly.
  • Josh came to us with a British accent and vocabulary. One day he asked to go to the “toilet” and received some snickers from his classmates. I pulled him aside and gave him the American words to use in the future.
  • If he could have dinner with any person in the world -- alive or dead -- he would pick Nikola Tesla.  Bonus points if you can tell me who on earth that is.
  • I’m dying to tell you the habit he had when I had him in 6th grade… but I won’t.  He’ll probably do something nasty my Dropbox account.
  • Josh currently leads a men’s Bible study at his church.
  • He single-handedly destroyed the research phase of our annual Country Report. While living in Europe, his family took advantage of their location and traveled extensively.  This means that Josh had visited many of the countries his classmates were studying.  He immediately became the resident expert for everyone.


This post is long already, but I wanted to accurately document Josh’s incredible story of self-learning and journey into the tech world.  However, it’s about to get longer, because I’ve yet to tell you about our rocky relationship and what I think of it years later looking back on things.

Here is how Josh summed up our time together.

I was definitely not the easiest student to teach :) In fact, I might have set a record in terms of most tallies (our discipline system) earned by a student in a single year in your class. BUT! I am thankful that you persistently tried to help me understand the need to not distract, to pay attention, finish what I start, etc. It would have been easy to just give up and be annoyed, but continued efforts by you, my parents, and many others have definitely not gone unanswered in terms of me growing in ways which I am weak or have opportunities for improvement.

Sadly, it’s true that Josh and I didn’t always see eye to eye on a lot of things -- behavior being one of them. I won’t go into detail or tell stories, because I don’t think that’s appropriate.  I will say -- and Josh will agree -- that he had some growing up to do as a student. But that doesn’t excuse me from missing the boat on how best to educate him.

I think you’ll notice in the story above that Josh is very intelligent, well-read, and has a working knowledge of many subjects -- computer programming, aesthetics, linguistics, travel, and theology, just to name a few.  For a student who can teach himself programming at a young age and was at least a year ahead of his peers in math, I’m sure he was quite bored in school.  No wonder, he schemed ways to amuse himself while I droned on and on.

Had I known then what I know now, I would love to have that year back.  I wish I knew what kind of mind Josh had. I can only imagine what kind of Innovation Project he would have turned out.  

For most of my career I have prided myself in thinking outside the box and being more progressive than my colleagues.  While that has gained me a measure of popularity among my students, I’ve come to realize that all it means is that my box is bigger than most others.
Looking back on my year with Josh, I expected him to fit into my mold when in reality he had already begun to shape his future well before he knew I existed. Instead of learning about his gifts and talents and how to groom them, I just kept trying to shove him into the box I wanted him to fit into.

So, let me challenge teachers out there to take stock of who is really in the room with you.  Maybe you, like me, have a Silicon Valley developer under your tutelage… or someone else who thrives outside of the verbal-linguistic intelligence that dominates our schools. Explore how best to reach these kids so you can help them succeed.

I’m so glad that Josh and I were finally able to connect. I’ve been able to reconcile a relationship that got off on the wrong foot and never quite found common ground. In writing this post, Josh and I have conversed on a number of different topics (one reason this post is so long is because of the vast expanse of comments back and forth, and most of the content didn’t make it here) and it’s been a blessing to reconnect with him and learn from him.  

And, yes, I’m proud to say that I know Josh Puckett and was once his teacher.

Josh couldn't find pictures from sixth grade, but he dug up an old high school picture and an engagement picture. Enjoy! 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Wanna Travel? Why not pick Sao Paulo or Shanghai?

Last week, I gave my middle school technology class a tourism project. I gave them a list of the top ten most populated cities in the world.  Each pair of students could pick one city from the list and had to put together a presentation to make a travel agent proud.

This was a quickie project. We did the same thing last year, and it lasted nearly two weeks.  This one had to be quick so we could jam it in before the end of the semester.  Here are the final products.

Sao Paulo, Brazil:
(Sorry, I'm having trouble getting the embed code on this.)

Shanghai, China:

Ride the Rollercoasters #GeniusHour #edtechex

My middle school Tools for Tech class decided that their 2nd quarter Innovation Project would be a MineCraft version of an amusement park.  They originally decided to recreate Kings Island (a major amusement park north of Cincinnati) but then changed their mind to create their own rides.Somewhere along the line they switched from MineCraft to Tekkit, which they tell me is a version of MineCraft.

Overall, the project seemed to go really well. They spent Fridays huddled around a laptop, planning and getting things done.  They logged on to the project at the same time at home and used Skype to communicate to each other.  A virus attacked their park toward the end and they worked together to fix the problems and recover the rides that were destroyed.

We agreed that their presentation would take me on a tour of their amusement park and put me on the rides.  I also asked them to share it with me in a way that I can share it with you.  If you have 10 minutes or so, click the video below and enjoy the rides.

I think this was a great project for a few reasons.
1. They did something they are interested in. MineCraft and amusement parks? What teenager these days doesn't love these?
2. They created. That's the point of this project to give them room and time to create something really cool.
3. They worked together.  Face-to-face interaction, working online, and talking on Skype.  They had to learn to cooperate and deal with different work ethics and schedules.

Yes, I'm proud of this one.  Nicely done, guys!

Lydia: Pageantry and Hope

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

I’ll be honest.  My knowledge of beauty pageants mostly comes from Miss Congeniality, which I’m fairly certain is not an accurate portrayal of what goes on in the pageant world. I had friends growing up who loved to watch the Miss America Pageant, and I just couldn’t understand why.  However, I began to take notice when Lydia started competing in local pageants and did quite well.

I remember Lydia as a sweet and friendly girl who generally could achieve anything she put her mind to. Born in Georgia, she moved to Kentucky just in time to have my wife as her 5th grade teacher. (Lydia confessed to me in her questionnaire that “Mrs. D.” is still her favorite teacher ever… Makes me feel wonderful. At least I married well.) She carried with her a Southern belle character and a fierce love of the South (and a general lack of fondness for our winters). While Lydia was in my class, my wife and I had the privilege of attending one of Lydia’s dance recitals.  

Lydia’s talents of dance, singing, acting, and academics have opened up many doors for her.  Dancing from the age of 3 and getting serious about pageants when she was 12, she became very involved in the high school she attended: symphonic band, speech team, colorguard, National Honor Society, French club, and a slew of other extra-curriculars… oh, and five AP classes.  It’s a wonder she had time for pageants.  

Speaking of pageants, I was always under the impression that there was really only one pageant organization: the one that leads to Miss Kentucky, then Miss America, then Miss Universe (or whatever her title may be).  It turns out that I’m quite mistaken. Listen to the titles Lydia has held since she turned 14: Miss Kentucky American Coed Junior Teen 2009, National American Miss Kentucky Junior Teen 2010, Miss Heart of the Parks Outstanding Teen 2010, Miss Commonwealth’s Outstanding Teen 2011, and Miss Southern Madison’s Outstanding Teen 2012, and Distinguished Young Woman of Kenton County 2013.  (Disclaimer: I didn’t name various competitions she won within some of the pageants she competed in...not enough pixel space.)

In Lydia’s questionnaire, she repeatedly deflected credit from herself, realizing that her talents, her support system, and her work ethic come from other sources.

I do not take full credit for any of I said before it is because of my support system. My mom and dad have helped me do everything possible! I wouldn’t have been able to do it if it wasn’t for them. But above anything else, if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ saving my life and leading me in the direction He has intended for me I would not have done any of this. He gets all of the glory and honor for every single accomplishment I have attained. It really is Him...I am simply the vessel.

Lydia just wrapped up her freshman year at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky, where -- surprise! -- she is very busy with extracurricular activities, including the dance team.  She is working on a double major (communications and psychology) and doing quite well academically.  Of course, she continues to sing, dance, play the piano, and compete in pageants.  She is currently developing a program called Generation H.O.P.E. -- Helping our Peers Excel in which high school students mentor and tutor elementary students, not just focusing on academics but relationships, self-confidence, self-motivation, and personal success.

Like most college freshmen, Lydia isn’t exactly sure what her career path will look like, though she is wants to be involved in something revolving around personal relationships. Speaking of relationships, she is very much interested in falling in love with her Prince Charming and having a family of her own (3 kids, if you’re wondering) and living what she calls a "magical reality."

Due to her age, there are only six years left in her pageantry career.  (See! I’m fairly certain that Sandra Bullock was over the maximum age limit!) She has begun competing in preliminary rounds of the Miss Kentucky organization and would love to one day win that pageant and go on to win the Miss America crown. She sees this as her opportunity to build her platform of mentoring and hopefully make that successful in the entire state of Kentucky.

Lydia looks back fondly on her sixth grade year.  I love it when former students tell me, “I loved sixth grade! It was the best year of school… but I have no idea what we learned!” That tells me that the learning sunk in, but we also enjoyed being together.  Works for me.  She did remember studying A Father’s Promise, a book about a young Jewish boy who survives the Holocaust in Poland by living in the woods. It was during that unit that she learned about the evils of the Holocaust and her eyes were opened to the fact that there is some significant evil out there. More importantly, she saw that even in the darkest of times there is always hope to lean on.

I never realized what this was going to lay out for my life. This simple idea of hope being present in our lowest moments, it has really shaped my heart. I’ve lived a very good life and I have never gone without any necessity, but I know that people have. I know that there are people my own age who struggle with their lives in various ways each and every day and sometimes they forget about the hope. I try to look past current circumstances, situations, perceptions, and expectations that others feel is all they can amount to and see what their ultimate potential entails: I look for hope. I want otherse to see the hope in life, and I want others to know that there is more to them than what they can see. I love people. It is what life is about. I never want to see them treated unfairly or to be hurt in such an inhumane manner as the Holocaust. Reading that novel was the first time I can remember getting a glimpse of the horrors of the world...and it is the first time I felt compelled to fight them and bring  in the light and joy life has to offer.

She also talked about sixth grade being her last year as an elementary student and being sad that life would cease to be fun...till she realized that getting older continues to be a blast.  However, the end of sixth grade marked the end of a chapter in her life, a life that seems to be quite successful.

I have this sneaking suspicion that one day I'll wind up watching that Miss America Pageant with my wife, and when Miss Kentucky walks across the stage we'll be cheering, not for pride in the bluegrass, but for pride in one special young lady that we had the joy of teaching. And maybe this young lady of hope will become a role model for my little girl. Now that would be cool!

I love this blog series. I love connecting with these "kids" and getting to know them anew. I love to see the divergent directions their lives go.  And I love the pictures. Enjoy these pics of Lydia then and now.  (And, yes, I do look GREAT in a kilt!)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The 11 Game...

My freshman health class is taking their final exam right now -- creating a T-shirt design about various phobias, not exactly my idea -- and I'm just sitting here watching them.  It's the perfect time to sit and crank out a blog entry.  The great news is that Mandy Gamble tagged me in her blog entry, and now I have something to write about.

I'm calling this The 11 Game.  I get to tell you 11 facts about myself, answer 11 questions, and tag 11 people to do the same thing.  Here goes nothing...

11 Facts:
  1. I was born in Philadelphia, PA.
  2. My first sports love was basketball.
  3. I learned to love reading in my Children's Lit class in college.  The book? The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
  4. This Saturday, my wife and I celebrate 17 years of marriage, with dinner at Maggiano's and hopefully an IMAX movie.
  5. I'm an adoptive daddy. My daughter was born in South Korea.
  6. This is my 4th blog of my life. I blogged about our first adoption attempt (which ended when the birth mother decided hours after birth to keep the baby), our adoption journey with our daughter, a current family blog, and this professional blog.  Interested in the others? Let me know.
  7. I have taught in private schools my entire career; this is my 3rd school in 3 states. (20 years total)
  8. I live in Kentucky and teach in Ohio.
  9. I bleed green -- Philadelphia Eagle green.  If you are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots, I seriously wonder if you have a character flaw.
  10. I have a number of responsibilities in my school, but I mainly have my fingers in all sorts of educational technology.
  11. I am recovering from a rare neurological disorder that I hope you never get to experience in your life -- even if you are a fan of the Cowboys or Patriots. 
11 Questions
1. What's your favorite book character?  Why?

This is a hard question. I love to read and have many books that I love.  To narrow it down on the spot like this.... I gotta land on Samwise Gamgee.  I love his loyalty and inner strength.

2. If you could have a super power, what would it be?

Flying. Definitely. I have actually had dreams where I could flap my arms and fly. 

3. What's your favorite 'get to know someone new" question?

Honestly? Nothing. I am not one to start a conversation. I would much rather sit next someone in awkward silence than start the conversation.

4. Would you ever consider a job that required an out of country relocation?

Yes, but I probably wouldn't take it. I've considered working in Seoul so we could live in my daughter's birth culture.

5. What did you think you'd be as an adult when you were 8?

A professional athlete of some strain.  At 8? Probably with the Phillies or the Sixers.

6. Now, what's your dream job?

I have it. I would tweak it a bit and raise the pay considerably, but I love what I do.

7. How long does it take you to get to work?

30 minutes. It's odd. I've tried it about 6 different ways (including getting lost and finding myself in downtown Cincinnati) and it's always a half hour.

8. What was your proudest moment thus far?

Generally, it's being a daddy. My daughter has overcome so much in her short life, and I love it when she does something cool. 
9. What's your favorite thing to cook?

Waffles. I found a great recipe on Just add cinnamon and apples, and you'll have a masterpiece.  I also make some mean salsa. (Sorry, no link.)

10. Android or iOS?


11. What's the last thing you said out loud?
"Are you on Twitter right now? Goooooood."

11 Other Bloggers.
This is awkward. As a blog reader, it's easy to read things anonymously. I'm am fairly certain I will name people here who have no idea who I am or that I'm following them.  So, thanks for contributing to my learning and growth.  If you are tagged below you are supposed to do the same thing on your blog that I'm doing here. Answer the same 11 questions I answered here and be sure to tag me.  Or not... (insert awkwardness here)
  1. William Chamberlain
  2. Craig Badura
  3. Jayme Linton
  4. Jennie Magiera
  5. Carrie Both
  6. Leah LaCrosse
  7. Kate Peila
  8. Jamey Boelhower
  9. Josh Burns
  10. Andrew Jewell
  11. Allie Holland
@wmchamberlain @mrbadura @jaymelinton @MsMagiera @mrsbothk @llacrosse @KatePeila @jdog90 @jburno @andrewjewell @allielholland 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Accelerated Math

We are quickly coming to the end of a 30-day trial version of Accelerated Math, which we will be implementing throughout our school from second through twelfth grades.  I was tagged to step into an 8th grade pre-algebra class as a co-teacher to help pilot the program and immerse myself in it.  This post is my attempt to tell you about the program along with its pros and cons.

What is Accelerated Math?
AM can be run as a stand-alone math curriculum or a supplement to your normal curriculum.  It actually is three pieces that can be run simultaneously or separately.
  • STAR Math Test: The goal of the STAR is to assess what students can and can't do.  The test itself takes 20-40 minutes and adjusts the difficulty of a question based on how the previous question was answered.  In the end, it gives data to the teacher about each student's math abilities.  You can see a scaled score, percentile rank, and objectives that need to be retaught from previous years. Tests can be administered as often as you please, and it is good to test periodically to track student growth.
  • MathFacts in a Flash: This is pretty much what you might expect. Students have 2 minutes to complete 40 virtual math flashcards. If you pass the level within 2 minutes, you move up.  If you fail it, you get to practice over and over till you can pass the test. There is nothing flashy about this, except the name, but it helps students automatize their facts. Let's face it. No one wants to take time to learn their multiplication tables, and most kids never really learn them.  This gives students 71 different levels of math facts to work through (start with adding 0 and 1 and end with a review of +, -, x, /, and squares with everything you can imagine in between). The more math facts you memorize and can quickly recall, the better your overall math computation will be.
  • Accelerated Math Live: Students do practice assignments online with objectives previously determined by the teacher. These objectives should be selected by two criteria: the objective being taught in the regular curriculum for the day and the results of the STAR test. As students do well on an objective (5/6 correct) they have the opportunity to test on that objective.  Should they pass the test (3/4) it is mastered and will slowly rear its head again over the course of the next week or so till the program is convinced it's really mastered, then will go away forever.  There is also a help section where students can get help (a glossary, example problem, Khan video, and a list of other students to ask for help) should they get lost. 
There's more to it than that, but I'm hoping that at least gives you an idea of the program.

What I don't like about AM? 
  • Accelerated Math is a small step up the SAMR Ladder. It's a step up, which is a good thing, but not by much.  I'd put it in the A category, and I'd love to push our teachers to teach above the line, not just under it. There is a lot of tech capital going into AM (time, money, training, teacher frustration) that I would prefer utilizing in other areas. 
  • It's way too easy to sit behind a desk at my computer and merely assign objectives and generate tests while expecting my students to come running to me with any questions.  I know -- and you do too -- that a math teacher really needs to be proactive to be effective.  Yes, students should wrestle with math problems, but teachers need to teach, not just sit behind a desk.  (Yes, I feel like a hypocrite right now.) 
  • It lends itself too easily for ability-grouping.  The students already know the division between the smart ones and the not-so-smart ones. There is no need for me to accentuate that.
What I do like about AM?
  • Accelerated Math can help a student go back and pick up missing skills OR move ahead of the class. It is incredibly personalized, so everyone is learning at a level and pace that he or she is comfortable with...and done correctly, you don't have to do ability-grouping. 
  • Students take control of their own learning. They have numerous tools to pick it up and run with it. I attended a seminar with an experienced high school math teacher. He had one girl who started in 10th grade at a remedial level and graduated after completing AP Calculus.  If someone wants to learn, they can learn and learn well. 
  • The wonderful tasks of assigning and grading are done by the computer. That leaves the teacher to analyze and diagnose student work. Instead of plowing through papers with red ink flying, a teacher can actually look at what a student does and help him or her through any potholes in the road.
  • It's Common Core aligned.  The creators are taking great pains to make sure that all objectives and questions fit with the Common Core objectives. If fact, it's still a work in progress as they are currently shifting the high school curriculum over to Common Core.  If, by chance, you're not a fan of Common Core or you aren't bound to it, you can still shift back to the old curriculum objectives. 
  • I love the MathFacts section. I've spent a lot of time watching kids think through simple math facts that should be as easy to them as breathing. Keep those facts automatized and more complex math will get easier.
My principal made the decision to purchase the program, and we will begin it in earnest in January. In our pre-algebra class, we will put a hybrid curriculum into effect.  It will go something like this:
  • Monday: Teach a lesson out of the book. Assign a few problems from the book to practice. Assign AM practice based on that objective.
  • Tuesday: Assign AM practice based on Monday's lesson, plus three objectives based on individual student needs.
  • Wednesday: Teach a lesson out of the book. Assign a few problems from the book to practice. Assign AM practice based on that objective.
  • Thursday: Assign AM practice based on Wednesday's lesson, plus three objectives based on individual student needs.
  • Friday: Test on all 8 objectives for the week.
I'm looking forward to seeing where we go from here.  I'm still hoping for a day when we can move our school to using Educreations and math blogs as a normal part of their workflow. Maybe Accelerated Math can help us take that next step towards not just doing math but being able to explain what we do.

Please let me know if you have questions or comments or thoughts.  I'd love to connect with other AM users or know what you're thinking about this program.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What's the Future of Productivity Software?

If you've been watching me on Twitter the last couple of days, you know I'm asking a lot of questions about the use of Microsoft Office Suite in K12 schools, colleges, and the workplace.  I wrote this blog post to let you know what exactly is going through my mind.

It started a couple days ago, when my principal emailed me about Office proficiency in our school.  I'll spare you the entire story, but it boils down to this.  Her husband (who works for a major corporation you have heard of) and two kids (both in college locally) all use Office products exclusively for their workflow.  Excel, PowerPoint, and Word are what their bosses/professors expect them to use. If we are truly trying to prepare our students for the world after high school, shouldn't we be teaching students to be proficient in Office products?

It's a fair question that made me step back and think about what and why I teach in my computer classes.

There is a groundswell of Google product love among the tech savvy K12 educators on Twitter, and for good reason.  While my school sadly made the decision to stay with Microsoft, I love the cloud storage and collaboration of Google Drive.  I envy those of you who get to work with Google workflow.  But, does this prepare your students for future success in college and career?

As I  pondered these questions, I came to realize that if you know Office, you can easily transition to Drive. Likewise, if you know Drive, you can easily transition to Office.  I have very little experience with Apple's productivity apps, but I imagine the same would ring true.  Sure, there would be a learning curve, but it would be small. Right?

This whole thing really boils down to two questions:

  1. If I dedicate my computer classes to productivity software (forget the software's name for now) what important things are my students missing?
  2. How much of this proficiency load needs to be carried by the regular classroom teachers? 
As we grapple with these thoughts in the upcoming weeks and months, I'd love your input. Please comment below or tweet me or email me.  

Now, on to these surveys I've been tweeting about...

I wondered if Office is really the gold standard of productivity software outside of K12 education.  So, I created these super-short surveys to see what software is being used in colleges and businesses. I would love it if you would send these surveys out to your friends, family, and followers so I can get a good sample size. Let's see what is truly happening out there!

Just follow the links to see the surveys and/or results.
College survey and results
Workforce survey and results

Thank you!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Aaron, Leading Others in Song

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

Walk into Crossroads Church in Florence, KY, any given weekend and you’ll see a multi-talented young man leading the singing up there on the stage. Depending on the music set and the other musicians playing that week, you’ll see him singing, playing drums, keyboard, guitar, or anything really.  In fact, there was one week he played an espresso machine.

Aaron started his music career normally enough. Like most kids, it all began in fifth grade.  At the time he was in my wife’s class, and he gravitated to the drums. Something must have clicked because by the end of 6th grade, he was playing a full drum set -- and sounding pretty good, too. I don’t know how many elementary band concerts you’ve been to, but the percussion section is normally full of kids playing one instrument at a time trying hard to be on beat.  To have a sixth grader playing a set is rare.  

At my previous school, sixth grade was the last year of elementary school and we celebrated with a graduation program of sorts.  We routinely had kids sing solos as part of the choral singing, but it was rare to highlight their instrumental prowess. In fact, it’s so rare that only one student in my memory played an instrument during the annual Salute to Sixth Grade program -- Aaron Hunt and his drums.

Music quickly became a passion for Aaron, and he started learning new instruments.  It wasn’t long before he was playing professionally.  Seabird is a local band that has hit the national stage, and Aaron was their drummer for the early years.  Not long after he left Seabird, he popped up with Belle Histoire, another local band, working alongside the extremely vocally-talented Jane Smith (another former student).  Just as their popularity was hitting stride, Aaron dropped out of that band too.  He then tried something that sounded a bit odd to me, but it worked.  He turned his living room into a recording studio and started recording other artists.

Aaron believes that this musical journey has prepared him for his current calling -- church leadership. He felt a strong calling to lead worship in a local church, and it wasn’t long before he met the worship leader at Crossroads (a multi-campus church in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky) who offered to work with him.  Aaron is learning through this mentorship and is leading worship at Crossroads’ Florence, KY, campus.

And, in an odd twist of fate, Aaron is now my worship pastor, and I get to hear him sing and play on a weekly basis.

My wife and I had an interesting relationship with the Hunt Family.  While I had Aaron’s older sister Rachel in sixth grade, he was in my wife’s fifth grade class. Rachel -- who was never in Celeste’s fifth grade class -- always said that my wife was her favorite teacher. The summer after that year, we took Rachel and Aaron to Kings Island for a day.  I’m not sure how that came about, but we loved it.  I taught a lesson where I compared a story’s plot progression to a roller coaster, and I told stories from that day for years to come.

Aaron also wanted me to tell you that he was the only sixth grader to ever tackle me.  We were playing freeze tag during recess one day.  Aaron took a flying leap at me (and I’m not sure why) and next thing I knew we were both sprawled on the ground.

I would like to be able to tell you that I taught Aaron everything he knows about music (or at least something about music) but that’s just not going to be true.  I appreciate good music but am really bad at making good music.  However, I am glad that he found drudged up some sort of positive influence I had in his life. (And, no, it wasn’t my superior knowledge of compound sentences.)

You were always very encouraging to me. I am thankful that our friendship wasn't just in the classroom. You made an effort to reach out to me. You obviously cared that I succeeded in school, but ultimately I think you really cared that I succeeded in life.

I mentioned in a previous post that I conceived this blog series while in church.  While listening to a message series about building into people, I couldn’t help but to see the evidence right in front of my eyes.  Up on stage, leading us in music,was someone who I had the honor and privilege of building into, and it’s so cool to see him now building into others.

Aaron is engaged to be married next month, so it’s no surprise that his long-term plans involve settling down and becoming a family man.  He’d love to buy some farmland and set up a recording studio in a barn.  And I selfishly hope that he stays at Crossroads for a long time too.

You can find some of Aaron’s music at, where you can download some tunes and enjoy his songs if you want..  

I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Christian teaching at a Christian school, but I also don’t make a big deal about my faith on this blog, either.  My goal of spreading educational technology love can be applied to anyone of any (or no) faith.  However, Aaron’s church position kinda lends itself to some preaching.  If you’ve read to this point, then, you probably won’t mind Aaron’s final words to resonate in your heart and life.

I truly believe that God has good things for us. We just have to receive them and be obedient to His commands. That doesn't mean everything will be easy, in fact it will probably be really hard. I think it's most important to surround yourself with people that will encourage and challenge you to be the person God has designed you to be.
"This is my command--be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

Finally, it’s picture time!  Aaron couldn’t dig up 6th grade pictures with me, but he did provide me with some good ones from yesteryear and modern day.  Enjoy!