Friday, November 13, 2015

Tic Tac Toe?

I've been struggling with teaching my 4th graders about sharing documents using OneDrive. Their worlds were opened this year when we gave them email and OneDrive accounts.  Before then, their documents didn't go any further than a flash drive and a printed paper.

Things are different now. They can create, share, and collaborate online in the cloud, and this isn't an easy concept to teach them.

So, today we played Tic Tac Toe.  Half the students created a board (3x3 table) and shared with the other half class.  They had to play 3 games and tell me who won each game.  And it was a success. Everyone saw collaboration on their screen and got a feel for how the process works.

The best was hearing the collaboration in the air as students were cheering and jeering across the room and helping each other figure out the process. I'd call it a success.

Maybe next week we'll do something serious.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Observation Notes: Summit View Academy

Last week, I had the opportunity to observe at Summit View Academy, the school where my daughter attends.  When my principal announced that we needed to observe in another school in November, it only made sense to me to visit SVA to see how the STEAM conversion is coming along.


I blogged in the spring about their jump to becoming a STEAM academy and how I would love to be part of things going on there. It was a rare treat to get a "behind the scenes" look at the transition and meet with some of the key players.


I spent a couple hours in Mrs. Kidwell's 4th grade class. Mrs. Kidwell is the school's iPad expert.  A few years ago she wrote a grant to receive a cartful of iPads, and today hers is the only class with a collection of iPads.  

I was impressed by a few things in Mrs. Kidwell's room, not the least of which is that iPads were prevalent in every aspect of class.  Students used an app to report their attendance.  They used iPads during "bell ringer time" and as centers during reading group time.  

Mrs. Kidwell's students are also given student project choices.  Once a semester, she passes out STEAM Assignment Choice Boards with 8 project ideas.  During the course of the semester, students are required to do 3 of the projects on the handout.  These projects span various media and content areas, but they all reflect back on student learning and some sort of STEAM focus.


My next stop was the middle school library to see Mrs. Jones teach Digital Literacy, and I was pleasantly surprised to see her teaching a lesson from Common Sense Media that I have taught at my school numerous times. Seeing someone else teach the same lesson showed me a few tips how I can teach that lesson better and I'm looking forward to my next attempt soon.  

Mrs. Jones is tasked with starting up the school's maker space in the library, and you can see the excitement radiate on her face when she talks about it.  The 3D printer is set up, but the rest is still in the planning phases. In addition to planning out equipment and supplies, she also needs to figure out how to use a maker space, library, and digital literacy class in one room. I don't envy her.  Once a month, our local public library comes in to help with a Maker Club after school, which is a great way to get the idea started.

Mrs. Jones also oversees the morning announcements which are live-streamed to each class at the start of the day. I had the joy of watching the announcements in Mrs. Kidwell's room then seeing the room where the magic happens.  (Incidentally, my daughter would be jealous that I was in this room. She runs through the morning announcements often during her play time.)


I also had the chance to spend some time with Mr. Chavez, the district's STEAM Consultant.  

As a parent, when I heard about the STEAM initiative, I thought it would be an instantaneous change.  It turns out that they are planning on a three-year transition, and the biggest hurdle so far has been melding two schools into one.  That brought to mind when our school went from two principals to one, and we really started to think and act like one school. It takes a lot of work and great leadership to pull that off.  Now that the administrative aspects of this transition are wrapping up, the school is starting to focus more on STEAM and how to integrate it into their philosophy. 

This has been an arduous task because PreK-8 STEAM schools simply do not exist.  Mr. Chavez and others are gleaning whatever information they can from whatever source they can find to make the shift.  This includes talking to STEAM high schools and asking parents and other community members for help.  This is where it's been fun for me to share what I know of technology integration and give some tips to help out.  Our school is about two years ahead of them with OneDrive and all the subsequent applications, and I've been able to wow them with Teacher Dashboard

Mr. Chavez's enthusiasm for STEAM is contagious.  One of the best parts of my day was his tour of the school with an eye for STEAM change. He has studied the building and its physical space to see how rooms and courtyards can be better utilized to aide the transition. It's going to be great!


Overall, I love the exchange of ideas happening between schools.  I'm excited to see what's happening at SVA and love being able to share my knowledge with them. I'll be keeping an eye on how things progress over the months and years! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Genius Nuggets Round 1 Wrap Up: Part 2. (Good Stuff)

I recently wrapped up "Genius Nuggets" in my upper elementary computer classes, dedicating a month to students creating projects of their choice and presenting them to their classes.  While the students did good work overall, I did write a reflective blog post talking about things I learned through the process and how to make it better.  Now, I want to turn around and look at the good things that came out of the process. This will be a lot happier.

Good Stuff 1:  Parents learned alongside the kids.  This was not an intended aspect of the project, but it happened. It's the nature of the beast. If kids are doing schoolwork at home, Mom or Dad are watching over what happens... and in this case some learning happened with the adults. My personal favorite was with one young lady who thought she sent me her video. Turns out that she didn't.  Mom had to figure out how to publish it to YouTube to get it to me.  It worked. 

Good Stuff 2: Student passions really came out.  I was impressed with some of the topics that came up, not the trendy fare you may expect from preteens.  Here are some of my favorites:
  • Haitian Earthquake of 2010
  • How the Internet Works
  • Behind the Scenes at the Zoo
  • How to Do a Bunny Hop (I needed clarification on this one. It's a bike move.)
  • How to Fly a Remote Control Plane
  • Learning 10 Words in French
There were a lot of good ideas, but the great thing is that students were motivated because they learned about topics that interested them.

Good Stuff 3:  We got to listen to some excellent presentations and see some good learning.  Here are a handful of the impressive ones.  
As the dust settles on this round of projects, I'm already looking forward to the next set of projects coming up in January. I'm so excited to build on this foundation and see students create some truly incredible projects. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Genius Nuggets Round 1 Wrap Up: Part 1. (Lessons Learned)

I believe in the power of Genius Hour. I have used this teaching model in a couple classes in middle school and tried to start an Innovation Class in our middle and high school that never really got off the ground.  Since all my past outlets for Genius Hour have dried up, I decided to bring "Genius Nuggets" to my upper elementary computer classes.

We dedicated a month of computer classes (one hour a week) to what we called Innovation Projects in class. This month wrapped up last week with presentations, and now is my time to reflect on the process while it's still fresh in my mind.  

Since I firmly believe that self-evaluation needs to look at the good and bad, for this first post I want to focus on the things I did wrong.  Don't worry.  I'll post the happy thoughts at a later time.  And I'm going to be critical of myself -- not the kids.  They did great.  

Problem 1: My fourth graders weren't ready for this.  Fourth grade is a big tech year at MVCA.  This is the year we give them their own school email.  This is a process that can't be sped up too quickly.  We need to talk about email etiquette, how to send, forward, reply, and simple things like what to put on the subject line of an email.  How do you explain CC to someone who has never seen a carbon copy?  I also introduce them to OneDrive in the early weeks of fourth grade.  They are normally well-versed in Office products by the end of third grade, but cloud-based computing adds a whole new dimension. It takes time to learn these skills.

I can't stress enough that if I expect students to use a tool to communicate with me, they need to know how to use that tool.

Lesson Learned:  Don't start fourth grade on Innovation Projects in October. Let them learn the tools first!

Problem 2: I had a lot of emails to sort through. I used email and OneDrive quite a bit for this project. Proposals, weekly updates, and presentation shares were all done via these tools. With 62 students working on this simultaneously, I was constantly sifting through my inbox for the latest update or scrap of information.  This was not the most efficient use of my time.

Lesson Learned:Take advantage of OneNote Class Notebook or Teacher Dashboard.  These speed up the grading process with less clicks along the way.  Dashboard is relatively new and I wasn't prepared to use it a month ago.  OneNote would require a lot of work to get students ready for use.  However, both would speed things up for us.

Problem 3: Innovation connotes a creation of some sort.  Most of the students turned this into an oral report with PowerPoint.  This was not at all my intent.  Yes, students learned about topics they were interested in.  Yes, I still think the project was a success.  No, I'm not happy with the "use PowerPoint (ie my comfort zone) to report something I've learned" aspect of the project.

To be fair, there isn't time or space to create (and store) things in our computer lab. Parents don't want to pay a lot of money for supplies.  What I want may not be what we get, and I need to be OK with that.  However, I need to do more to promote expanding horizons rather than allowing students to sink back into their comfort zones.   (I am not anti-PowerPoint and have rediscovered my love for Office products. I just want Innovation/Genius time to be opportunities to grow into new things.)

Lesson Learned: Ban PowerPoint. Push videos, web sites, and other presentation tools like Prezi, Haiku Deck, and Educreations.

Thanks for listening to my thoughts.  I'll be working on the positive sides of the project and share some of the best presentations with you.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How a Text Message Helped Keep Me Sane!

I was on my way to lunch duty, when my phone buzzed in my pocket.  I pulled it out and saw a text from my daughter's school.  Nothing out of the ordinary, till I opened the text.

"We received a bomb threat by phone about 30 minutes ago..." 

These are not words you expect to read.  You know evil is out there, and you know other schools have been targets in the past.  You just don't expect it to hit this close to home.

For the next two hours, I went about my normal duties, but with my phone in my hand, ready to hear the next piece of news. We got a total of four messages from scary start till successful finish.  All the while, I felt like the school was sharing the information they could share and I could sanely go about my day.

Remind made this all possible. At the beginning of the school year we were invited to join the schools' Remind contact list and have been getting school announcements via text since the start of school.  However, the administration utilized Remind expertly yesterday, sending out messages in real time so parents knew what they felt we needed to know.

I've known about Remind for a while, but never saw much use for it till the aftermath of the bomb threat. That made me think of uses we could have in our school.

  • Parents want to know what's happening during an actual calamity event. Our own children are rarely far from our minds -- especially when we know there is danger.  Remind could put parents' minds at rest and help them know the school and staff are on the job.  (Seriously, somehow I was relaxed with each text message.)
  • Sometimes teachers need to know information that students don't need to know.  If we had a teacher contact list, that information could be relayed to teachers and keep the kids outside the loop.  
At this point, I've told our administration about Remind, and we'll see what happens.  But I'm so glad that Remind was on my family's side yesterday!


On the non-techie side of the story, all is well.  
  • There was no bomb.  In fact, her school was one of about a half dozen that got similar calls all around the Cincinnati Area about the same time.  The FBI is looking into it. 
  • My daughter's teacher rocks!  She made the decision to not tell the kids what was happening and instead told them it was a drill.  No stress for the kids, even though they were displaced for two hours.  
  • Big applause for a couple of middle school students who joined the first graders the whole time and played games with them to keep their minds off the very long "drill." 
  • The district provided the students (1500 of them) with bag lunches.  This excited my little first grader, which amazes me. She missed stromboli! 
Don't know what Remind is?  Remind is an app that allows educators to text an entire group at a time.  This is one-way communication, so replies are not possible.  It can be used as a means of making announcements (Sign up for parent/teacher conferences) or other reminders.  If you haven't heard of Remind before, check it out. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Getting It Done in 6th Grade

It's Week 2 of our Innovation Projects, and my sixth graders are hard at work. We're learning about sharks, Australia, braids, Legos, Pokemon, and more.  Here are some pictures I snapped with my iPad.

Two weeks till their presentations!  I can't wait!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Innovation in Elementary School

It all starts tomorrow!

Let's back up a bit.  Last spring, I was given the green light to proceed with Innovation Classes in our middle and high school. I was pumped. I wrote blog posts. I nailed down syllabi and course schedules.  I was ready to roll.

And it got cancelled.  As it turns out, most of the students didn't understand what the course was about so they opted for another elective, or dove into the next AP course, or whatever. We'll try again next year...

For this year, I decided to bring innovation to the younger students.  I am rolling out what I like to call "Genius Nuggets" to my upper elementary classes.  Students will be given three classes to research and create the project of their choice to present to their class on the fourth week.

I got the ball rolling last week with an introduction to the entire process.  Students have been emailing me all week with project ideas and I've been zipping back replies.  Tomorrow, my sixth grade comes to class ready to work.  Friday, we add on the fourth and fifth grades.  I'm excited!

Here are some of the projects students will be working on this fall.

  • A PowerPoint about Nicaragua.
  • A web site about taekwondo. 
  • A PowerPoint of little known science facts.
  • A video about playing golf.
  • A PowerPoint about the Australian biome.
  • A PowerPoint about Star Wars.
  • A PowerPoint showing new stop motion skills.
  • A web site about Legos.
  • A PowerPoint about Gabby Douglas.
  • A PowerPoint about the Haitian earthquake of 2010.

Yes, this is very PowerPoint heavy, but I can't blame the students for sticking with something familiar.  For our next round later in the year, I'll work on pushing them to a different medium.  I'm just happy to see students studying. learning, and building things that interest them.

Stay tuned.  I'll be updating frequently. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

STEAM Academy

When I got home from work the other night, there was a letter on the dining room table waiting for me. It was from my daughter's school district superintendent.  After I got over the "oh no, what did she do now?" feeling that sunk into my gut, curiosity got the best of me.

My daughter goes to Summit View Elementary which is in the same building as a Summit View Middle School.  Same building, similar names, different schools.  However, the letter first said that they would actually dissolve the barrier and make it one Summit View Academy, preschool through 8th grade. (That thrilled me to no end, since she wasn't slated to go to that middle school originally.) 

However, the bigger news was that SVA will completely shift to a STEAM-based curriculum. Wow!  It was amazing the thoughts that dumped into my brain and swirled around in those first few moments. 
  • How cool is that?
  • My daughter is an avid reader. I'm so glad she'll get a technology and science emphasis.
  • My daughter is an avid reader. I really hope they don't ignore the language arts.
  • Maybe they are hiring?  Wait... I have a job. I signed my contract.  I love my job.  But, I would love to have a piece of that.
  • What a paradigm shift for those teachers.  Those first couple years will be rough sailing!
  • Do they need a Genius Hour teacher?  They could have Genius Hour as a special like computer, PE, art, etc.  Just saying.
In the end, I sent this tweet to her principal and superintendent.  

It will be interesting to see how things go from here, but I'm excited to see the prospects.  (Oh, and maybe my wife can get a teaching job there.)

I'll be sure to keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What's Next?

If you spend any time with a preschooler, you know that questions abound.  Those little ones are inquisitive machines! As reported by Warren Berger in A More Beautiful Question, a child will ask about 40,000 questions between ages two and five. But, what's more staggering is that by middle school, those same kids will stop asking questions altogether.

I am convinced that the education system is a major player in this crazy decline of inquiry.  After all, we have a body of information to pass along to these kids, and we don't have time for them to dawdle with their own personal quest for learning.

One of my college professors used to us that she would ask her girls every day after school, "What questions did you ask?"  The answer usually came back, "Mom, the teacher asks the questions, not us."  Is this how things continue to be in education?

I was talking to a 5th grade girl yesterday, and she told me about something they heard on the radio on the way to school.  "Children love to learn more than adults."  Her 2nd grade sister piped up, "I love to learn!"  Sadly, my 5th grade friend didn't share that sentiment.  I quickly followed that up with, "No, you love to learn.  You just don't love to learn the things we're teaching."  After a moment of thought she agreed and told me she would love to learn about drawing.


You probably heard that my Innovation Classes have been cancelled for 2015-16 due to lack of students.  (If not, you can read about it here.) I realized this past week that I've been going at this Innovation/Genius Hour stuff from the wrong direction. Sure, it would be nice to kick off a brand new high school class full of bright inquisitive minds, and I'll still attempt to do that in 2016-17.  However, I realized I have a golden opportunity to catch them while they're young.

As mentioned above, school culture is very much a top-down flow of questions and answers. "I ask the questions, and you give me the answers I want to hear."  You can't just change that culture with a snappy course description that might not even be read.  You can try to change that culture by talking to the students, but that didn't work for me either.  However, I am in a unique position to make some of those changes beneath the radar.

I spent yesterday rewriting my overall elementary computer plans for the year. Grades 4-6 will have two or three month-long Genius Hour projects sprinkled into the year.  This will give them a taste of what will come in middle school. So when my 6th graders get their course descriptions in the spring, I'll be there to pounce on the Innovation Class for them.

My not-very-well-cloaked goal is to hook them young, to re-energize their slowly dying inquisitive mindset, and to slowly change the school culture from the elementary up.

We're not done yet!


Incredibly astute readers are probably asking some more questions:

  • You said you were going to hook them young. Why start the Genius Hour in 4th grade? Why not start in kindergarten or preschool? 
  • You are teaching middle school and high school courses. I saw that you're teaching Media Production. Why can't you sneak some Genius Hour into those?
  • What on earth does Genius Hour look like in a specials class?
Thanks for asking.  Let's take them one by one. 
  • Upper elementary is my comfort zone.From my research of Genius Hour in primary grades, the younger you go, the more structure you need in the projects. I'm going to need to get used to Genius Hour with upper elementary before I get into it with the little ones. If I don't have my sanity, I have nothing at all.
  • I'm co-teaching the Media Production classes, and I'm not the lead teacher.  We're still in the process of taking general ideas and writing the course details right now.  I'd like to create some student-choice video projects in there, but nothing has been decided yet. 
  • These projects will be more like Genius Nuggets rather than Genius Hour.  The intended schedule is below. The goal is to whet the appetite and help students see that their passions matter.
  • PreWeek - The week before we actually start, I will give a 5-10 minute talk about the project and send an email to parents about the project.
  • Week 1 - Project selections and begin research.
  • Weeks 2 and 3 - Research, building, creating, and updates with me.
  • Week 4 - Presentations to class.

I'm looking forward to seeing good things come next year, even if they weren't exactly what I originally intended.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Well...Maybe Not

It would seem that starting a new course requires some main ingredients.

  • Admin approval - check
  • Teacher planning - check
  • Students - ummmmm... About that.
I found out a couple weeks ago that I didn't have enough students signed up to support my new Innovation Classes.  So, last week, I turned into a traveling salesman, going from class to class promoting my new courses.  The students nodded their heads, they had looks of interest on their faces, and they didn't sign up.  It's not like students weren't interested.  I had a number of students tell me they want to take the class, but it conflicts on the schedule with something else -- like AP Physics -- and they couldn't fit it into the schedule. 

I just came from a meeting with the principal and we're going to table Innovation and hope to bring it back for 2016-17.  Ouch! 

To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement, but at least I have a lot of legwork out of the way.  I'll just start promoting earlier next year.  Now that students know about it and what the class is about, I think I'll have an easier time getting that all-important final ingredient of the recipe. 

Now, there are two other updates for next year that may interest some people. 
  1. I will be co-teaching a couple sections of media production. In this course, we will be teaching students about video and sound production from planning to final product. 
  2. I will spend an hour a week in preschool as an aide and probably doing some techie wizardry. 

I'm sure there will be updates on both fronts throughout the next year.  And hopefully we'll be talking about the revival of Innovation in 12 months.  Stay tuned...

Thank You, Mrs. Degler

I was sitting in class, taking part in the discussion, when the stench hit me.  All of a sudden, the room went from normal to nasty, and I had serious concerns that I forgot my deodorant that day. The whole body odor thing was still new to me, and I took it very seriously. I nonchalantly stuck my nose in my shirt to smell my pits but the smell wasn't coming from me.

Unbeknownst to me, Mrs. Degler had a Tupperware container of diced onions in the back of class.  While circling the room she stealthily opened the container and let the smell waft past her students, internally chuckling at our reactions.  I am certain there was an educational objective to this exercise, but I'm not sure what it was.  (That was more than 30 years ago!)

This was, however, my earliest memory of learning by experiencing in school.

Fifth grade in my school was a big deal, because it was the last year of elementary.  To be in fifth grade meant you were the top of the heap, the big kid, and I got to be a safety! (You know... the nerdy kid with the day-glo orange belt and shoulder strap who kept kids in order coming and leaving the school.)  But, those of us who got to have Mrs. Degler as our fifth grade teacher were in a special kind of heaven.  She was young, fun, funny, and brought onions to her science class!

Looking back on things, I firmly believe that Mrs. Degler's influence in my life is a large reason why I became an elementary teacher.

Mrs. Degler's influence didn't end when I left fifth grade though. I was very fortunate to learn the craft of teaching from Mrs. Degler as her student teacher.  I learned about organization, meaningful student praise, and the use of humor in the classroom.  She also gave me freedom in to explore "out of the box" teaching strategies, but what else would you expect from a teacher who spread onion smells through the room?

It's hard to believe it's been 21 school years since my second round of learning in Mrs. Degler's room. My career has taken me to three schools in three states, far from my little hometown in suburban Philadelphia. And, let's not fool ourselves.  It's no coincidence that a large majority of my career was spent in upper elementary grades.  The first 18+ years of my career spanned fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, and I'm convinced Mrs. Degler had a hand in that. Now, in my current capacity, I have the chance to influence students of all ages and help teachers of grades PreK-12.  And I have always tried my best to be unconventional, helping students learn by experiencing.

I don't know if Mrs. Degler will ever read this, but if she does, she needs to know that by crossing paths with me twice I have had the chance to pour myself into over 1000 students and help numerous teachers along the way.

Thanks, Mrs. Degler!  Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

NOTE: I'm frantically trying to find Mrs. Degler on social media, but I did find her in the picture in this article - center, with the pink shirt.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Interesting and innovative.  If nothing else, those two words can describe what3words.

If you are reading this, you probably live in an industrialized country with an established addressing system.  Maybe you have street names and a patterned number system along those streets.  Or, if not, you have a system that is culturally recognizable, which is just as good.

What if you don't live in such a society?  Would it be necessary to have a quick and easy address system so you know where you live and where other things are located?

What if someone came up with a completely new way to label locations all over the globe?  Would it be something we could use and adapt to?  Maybe...maybe not.  My jury is still out.  However, I'm intrigued enough to bring it to your attention and create an assignment for my upper elementary students.  (And, I'm still trying to figure out how to turn it into a puzzle cache on

Let's try it out.  Go to what3words>Explore Map and enter this phrase..."verbs.debuts.pounding." You just landed on top of my office. Hope you like the place. It's your turn.  Find your classroom/office/hideout and post the three word phrase in the comments section.

I love the innovation and want to promote the out of the box thinking, so I created an assignment for my 5th and 6th graders to explore the site a bit.  Catch it here.  

I'd love to know what you think of what3words and how it can be used in education and around the world. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Servathon 15

400 servants.
25 non-profits.
1 amazing school showing love to 1 great city.

Every year, my school takes a break from academics for one day to show the love of Christ to Cincinnati.  Every student from every grade (PreK-12) takes part in some sort of service project either in our neighborhood or around the city.  

This year's theme was "Do Something" which is very fitting for a Christian school.  We spend so much time filling their heads with knowledge but sometimes we need to give them an avenue to do something with it.  The Christian life isn't always about gaining new Bible knowledge but also applying it to life around us. 

For the third year running, my job was to drive around and take pictures and video for our social media outlets.  Unlike previous years, I traveled by myself for the day, which gave me the chance to move at  a quicker pace.  I was able to stop at 11 locations, from a lush green park 3 minutes from our school in the suburbs to the streets of Over the Rhine, and I was deeply moved by all that I saw.

  • Our second graders gathered at a local park to clean things up -- weeding, picking up sticks, and cleaning the playground -- showing love to our local community.
  • We had high school students making lunch for the Ronald McDonald House. After taking my pictures, I couldn't help but stand in the atrium and take it all in.  A lot of good work happens there.
  • Our students stood on the sidewalk in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in Cincinnati and made burgers and dogs to hand out for anyone walking by.
  • I couldn't find parking at another location, but was able to pull up alongside two (legally) parked cars and take one picture.  Two high school students were shoveling dirt into a wheel barrow for a peace garden next to a church in Over the Rhine. 
  • A group of students were cleaning and painting an art studio dedicated to giving special needs adults the chance to be true artists.  It wasn't just cleaning and painting. The interaction between our students and the artists was amazing to watch!
  • Fifth graders sorted and folded clothes at a ministry designed to bring relief to disaster victims around the world -- and were having a fun time doing it.
  • High school students cleaned and sorted products at a ministry aimed to give furniture to people who are getting their first apartment after being on the streets.
It was a day to be proud of my school and proud of these students who willingly helped their neighbors, their city, and the least of these around the world.  

There are too many pictures to share here, but you can certainly look at our photo album on Facebook or the hashtag #serv15 on Twitter and Instagram if you want to see more.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Book Review: Mindset

Title: Mindset
Author: Carol Dweck

Imagine a world where telling a child he is smart is a bad thing.  On the surface, that may one of the dumbest things you've ever heard.  Seriously, everyone likes a little pat on the back.  It makes us work harder, right?  Consider this study done by Carol Dweck...

As it turns out, when I praise a child on his or her ability it creates what Dweck calls a fixed mindset. For instance, if I call you smart, it tells you that "smart" is something that you have or don't have. If a child has me thinking she's smart she wouldn't want to ruin that by doing something hard and messing up.  It's better to stick with easy stuff and continue to prove her intelligence. If she's stupid...she's stupid.  No need to do anything really hard and making it obvious.  So, maybe praising the talent isn't the way to go. 

If I praise your efforts I pass along the notion that talent is something to be achieved.  You gain success through hard work, creativity, and tenacity.  This emphasizes the process which will hopefully create a growth mindset -- finding joy in the journey as opposed to the final product. 

We are all imperfect humans, so we all have work to do before we "arrive."  Mindset helps us as parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors to help the students under our care gain that growth mindset.  Well, let's be honest. It also helps us as humans to adopt a growth mindset for ourselves.  

After all, my mindset will dictate how I treat myself AND how I treat the members of my family, the students in my classes, and every person I come into contact with.  If I approach my relationships from a fixed mindset, I could very well instill a fixed mindset into those people. 

You probably already know this is a book that comes highly recommended by a number of people.  I finally decided to dig into it because of my Innovation Classes for next year. I have a feeling that I'll need to convince some students that there is joy in the journey and growth comes through hard work.  I'm glad I finally tackled it.

Oh, and I almost subtitled this blog post like this, "Please don't tell my daughter she's smart."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book Review: Artificial Maturity

Title: Artificial Maturity
Author: Tim Elmore (web site)

You probably don't need a book to tell you that students today are different than they were ten or twenty years ago.  In many ways, they seem to be advanced beyond their years, but in other ways they seem to be years behind where we were as teenagers.  This is what Tim Elmore calls artificial maturity, the illusion of being mature.  Blame it on the increasing use of technology, Sherman tank parents, or any other factor, but the reality is that adulthood is being delayed while adolescence lasts deep into the 20s. 

Elmore is not completely discounting Generation iY and the younger set called Homelanders but wants to raise a generation of leaders.  He sees many great qualities in them to be honed.

Artificial Maturity is written to parents, teachers, youth leaders, and coaches who want to see the young people in their lives flourish and grow.  Elmore takes a lot of time talking about how to mentor students to not just give them the autonomy they desire but to train them for the responsibility they aren't thrilled to have.

This is a great read for any leader of teenagers or children to help them become the adults they were meant to be. Because after all, do we really want parents to come to job interviews with their college graduates?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Innovation Web Site

As you probably know by now, I'm crazy excited to teach my new Innovation Classes next year.  I created a website to help guide students through it.  Think of it as an extended syllabus.  Think of it as an additional way to share what we're doing with other innovation teachers.  Check it out, and please give me your feedback.

NOTE: It's admittedly heavy on text and pictures and videos are non-existent.  That will change as class goes on and I can make changes.

MVCA Innovations

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Stop Animation 2015

I'm proud of my upper elementary students!  I kinda just threw the idea of stop animation at them right before Spring Break and gave them a chance to see what they could make.  Students were given the option of sending me their video, so what you see here is just a sampling of what they created.  Keep in mind that most of these kids are stop motion rookies. Thanks for watching!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Innovation: You Need a Mantra

With mere hours left before Spring Break, I hopped on YouTube.  I meant to go to Don Wettrick's school's innovation channel, but I landed on this great video instead.

I'm fairly certain that Guy Kawaski wasn't thinking of Genius Hour and Innovation Class when he gave this talk, but so much of it was directly applicable to what I plan to do with my new classes next year.

One idea I'm messing around with is creating a mantra.  Not a 50 word mission statement, but a 2-4 word mantra.  How can I sum up what we are doing with this class in a couple words?


  • Create New Things Now
  • Show Your Genius
  • Think Outside the Box
  • Flip the Script
I'm still messing around with ideas, but I'm getting to be comfortable with putting my thoughts out there before they're perfected.

Of course, this could be a good exercise for the students as well.  Once they create a personal mantra, they can put a voice on their passion. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Now Announcing: Two Innovation Courses for 2015-16

Inspired by Don Wettrick's book Pure Genius and my J-Term Innovation Class, I sent a new course proposal to my principal that I wasn't sure would actually fly.  It's not that my principal is afraid to try new things, it's just that I pitch new ideas to her frequently. It is my job. I really didn't think this one would get past the proposal stage.

So, you  might say I was a bit surprised when I got an email last week asking for course descriptions for middle and high school technology courses.  And, yes, I was given permission to go outside the box this time around.

After writing my dream scenarios, we had to bring it back down to earth a bit.  She wanted to see some more structure, and I had to write up syllabi to go with the courses.  What we ended up with might not be Genius Hour in its purest form, but I'm happy with the results for the first year.

This is going to put me completely out of my comfort zone.  For one, I am an elementary teacher with some middle school experience. I am not a high school teacher, but I'll be guiding high school students through some rigorous learning experiences.  I also realize that I'll be asked to do a lot of personal interactions with students (I'm so much better with digital interaction) and will have to have passable knowledge on many topics.  So, you might say that I'm on my own Genius Hour experience.

Overall, I'm thrilled to have this chance to bring innovation to our school and give students the chance to show off what they can do.

Right now, I have the bare skeleton of what the courses will look like, but I will post more as I develop them down the road.

Feel free to borrow from the following documents and ask me if you have questions.
Class Descriptions
Middle School Innovation Class Schedule
Middle School Innovation Class Syllabus
High School Innovation Class Syllabus

Friday, February 27, 2015

Is this what Tolkien was thinking?

My daughter came home from school yesterday with a book fair ad. We excitedly started looking at all the books and trying to decide which one we should buy. As a kindergartner, her choices are limited, and it will take some parental guidance to bring the right one home. As I was looking through the options I saw little icons at the bottom of each description telling me the Lexile level and if there was an Accelerated Reader or Reading Counts quiz on the book.  That immediately became my focus.  "Is there a RC quiz? Great! We'll look at it." or  "No quiz? What?!? Forget that!"

Fortunately that conversation happened silently in my head not out loud in front of my daughter.

When Tolkien sat down to write The Hobbit, I'm fairly certain he wasn't aiming for a certain Lexile score.  "I think I can hit 900. I'm pretty sure of it."  When it came out as a 1000, did he jump for joy and fist-bump CS Lewis? Or did Lewis have a pity party when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came out as a mere 940. Of course not.

Authors write books to tell a story, not as a way for students to take tests.

I write this knowing full well the irony of my post.  I am the AR Guy at my school. I do see the value in checking comprehension of a story, and these tests are a good measure to do that. After all, comprehension is the main building block to higher level thinking. If a student doesn't understand the basics of the story, how can we use that story to compare and contrast with other stories, characters, and plots?

The danger comes when we focus solely on the comprehension test. That's where my daddy role got in the way of my professional knowledge. Knowing that my daughter is into taking these Reading Counts tests at her school, that became my main focus when looking for a book.

Tonight, I think I'll look for the actual content of each book to see what she will enjoy and forget about the stupid test.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why I'm Starting An Ohio #GeniusHour Group

Two weeks ago at this time I was nervously anticipating presenting Genius Hour at Ohio Ed Tech Conference in Columbus.  To be honest, I was surprised I was selected to present this session. Surely, I wasn't the most experienced Genius Hour teacher in all of Ohio.  Certainly someone else knew more than I did, but I gave it the old college try. 

That session showed me three things.  One, there is a lot of interest in Genius Hour in Ohio.  About fifty us sat through the prime lunch hour to talk about this hot topic in education.  Two, not many of us are using Genius Hour. Only five us had actually used Genius Hour.  While this didn't represent ALL the Genius Hour teachers in Ohio, it did show me that the idea had yet to take root in actual practice. Three, the enthusiasm for Genius Hour is overflowing.  Before, during, and after the session I had some great conversations about starting the process right.  There are people who want to dive in but have questions, lots of questions.

So, I started a little Edmodo group of Ohio teachers who want to use Genius Hour.  Why? I wanted to create a safe place for teachers to collaborate, celebrate, and commiserate as they take the plunge.  Here are the rules so far...
  • It's for Ohio teachers.  (I'll explain more later.)
  • It's for any teacher of any grade level in any content area.
  • It's for newbies and grizzled veterans.
  • It's a place to discuss what's happening or ask questions about what to do next.
  • It's not just for people who attended OETC.
My session was billed as round table session.  Generally, round table assumes conversation, conversation among people who have experience and knowledge.  What really happened was I talked for 95% of the time.  I want to change that for next year.  I want to bring my own panel discussion to OETC16, and the best way to do that is to have a group of Ohio teachers who already have a report and community together.

If this interests you, please contact me.  I'd be happy to add you to the group. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reflections on #OETC15

For two days, I wandered the halls of the Columbus Convention Center, listening to other educators talk about how they are using technology in their worlds at the Ohio Ed Tech Conference. As I picked up tidbits about programs, apps, and practices in classrooms and schools across Ohio, I heard one resounding theme emitting from the speakers.
Students can demonstrate learning in so many ways! Give them a chance! 
I made that cry in my Genius Hour presentation, but I was surprised how often I heard it from other speakers.

I sat in on an OETCx panel discussion, where the main topic of conversation was how to change school culture. Let me tell's hard.  Our default mode is to teach the way we were taught. With increasing emphasis on Common Core standards and high-stakes standardized testing, it's continually easier to drift to the lecture, lecture, lecture model.  School culture may be hard to change, but it's necessary to change it.

Teachers at Bay Village Schools decided to teach Scratch to their fourth graders, collaborating with a local university.Those students went crazy using Scratch as a learning tool. And it's more (much more!) than making a cute cat move across as screen.  Students are using code to teach about math, prepositions, and lots more.  I got to thinking that what we have here are students who are learning -- really learning -- the required standards in core classes but using a non-traditional way to demonstrate their learning. That learning is shared on Scratch and their local Scratch site, so they are creating for a larger audience than just the teacher. Awesome! (You can see their presentation here.)

Kent Schools has created a girl coders club that meets one evening a week. These eight young ladies are learning some key skills that can directly lead them to STEM jobs, and we all know about the huge gender gap in all things STEM.

My friend Jon talked about writing iBooks with his students. He recognized that his students hated to write, but when presented with the idea of publishing books online, they stepped up their writing, editing, and collaboration skills! Now 43 books, 30,000 downloads, and one global project later Jon has found a way to ignite a love of learning and writing while demonstrating that to a very large audience. When he first got into the iBook game, his principal asked him if he could come up with some standards he was hitting. Jon highlighted 75 standards they covered writing one book in two weeks. Score! (Jon's presentation can be found here.) (Commercial Break: Jon is looking for teachers to join him in #twima2. Interested? Click the link.)

The theme ran through keynotes and special sessions. I don't have time to hit all the points, but Yong Zhao said it well that schools should be a personalized educational ecosystem.  It got to the point that I sent out this tweet.
Vicki Davis packed her session with tons of great quotes, but two ideas stuck out to me.  Students should create things that are meaningful TO THEM. If a student writes for just you, it is a waste of their time and your time. The audience should be so much bigger.

I mentioned in my Genius Hour session that the average preschooler asks about 100 questions a day, and the average middle schooler has stopped asking questions? (source) Why is that? We, the educational system, have told them that sitting quietly, listening to our questions and answers, and giving that information back on a test are all more important than exploration, mentoring, and global audience.

By the end of OETC, I felt like we were all saying the same thing but coming at it from different angles - coding, books, geniuses, and other examples I didn't get to. I felt like we were a group of 3000 people all saying the same thing.

  1. Students can learn and demonstrate learning in non-traditional ways. The don't all have to be techie though.
  2. Students need to take ownership of their learning. Student choice helps bring that to the table.
  3. Their audience should be much more broad than the teacher. The World Is My Audience.

Now... How do we get our friends and colleagues on this train with us? 

Vicki Davis had an interesting saying. "Innovate like a turtle." While I would love to see my entire school using these great teaching tools and others NOW, I realized that it's more important to look to the slow innovations around me.  I have a colleague who has said, "My blackboard doesn't break on me." In other words, she had no intent of diving into ed tech because what she has always done is working well for her.  I'm happy to say that for Grandparents' Day she had her students create and show Educreations videos.  Next week her class will participate in our first Mystery Skype session.  Baby steps. Innovation like a turtle.

I love OETC.  I love seeing the great new tools that are out there. I love meeting with like-minded educators and coming home with new contacts. I also love to see it applied in my school, and I'm hoping I can bring some of this edtech love to my colleagues and see more innovation around me.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

#GeniusHour at #OETC15

Yesterday, I had the joy (read that as "extreme terror") of presenting Genius Hour at a round table discussion at the Ohio Ed Tech Conference in Columbus, Ohio.  When I put in a proposal for this in the fall, I really didn't think I'd get it. Surely there are more knowledgeable and experienced Genius Hour teachers in Ohio than I am.  Well, surprise! I got it.  I was even more surprised to see that out of 50 us in the room, only about 5 of us had ever attempted Genius Hour.

It was a blast to share my thoughts, research, and experiences with these fine educators as well as chat with them after the session and connect with them via social media as the conference goes on.

In case you missed it or would like to refresh your memory, here you go...

My slide show can be found here.
I also referenced a Google Doc with detailed notes, which you can find here.

Finally, you probably shouldn't tell your students to...

Oh, and sorry my daughter's pediatrician called in the middle of the session. All is well.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Blend That Learning!

I spend roughly six hours a week sitting in math classes, supporting regular teachers with Accelerated Math sessions. During that time, I generally sit in the back of the room and mind my own business while the students work. If they hit a technical issue, I can (sometimes) fix it. If they need a test generated or objectives added, I can do that.  This frees up the teacher to answer math questions that inevitably come up.  In fact, I've been known to help (or confuse?) students with their math questions as well. 

Our school has been using Accelerated Math for a bit more than a year, and I've been impressed with the transformation I've seen in that time.

Accelerated Math time used to be just that. Students with iPads, focused on AM.  The only throwback to traditional math classes would be students showing their work in a math notebook. If you were to walk into the room, you would see all faces looking down at mobile screens and would have a hard time guessing what subject students were working on....but you'd be impressed that they were working on iPads.

In recent weeks, I've noticed an incredible shift in how learning is done in these AM classes.

Second grade teacher, Mrs. Tissot actively scours the data generated by AM and traditional math assignments. She obviously puts in a ton of work outside of class, because she knows exactly which student needs more work with each objective. During AM time yesterday, she pulled individual students to sit on the floor with her to do measuring activities. It took only a couple minutes with each student, but they learned the desired skill and got right back to their iPads.

I also work with Mrs. Young who uses AM as a center.  When I am in her class, she normally has 4 or 5 students working on AM.  The rest of her class is working on other assignments and cycle over to the AM table. She uses that time to work with individual students on skills that they need extra practice on.  

In third grade, Mrs. Bartholomew's students have found themselves comparing fractions on MathFacts in a Flash.  Comparing fractions? In third grade? That's not a problem for Mrs. B. She dug around in her closet, found some fraction manipulatives, and told her students to practice with the fraction pieces before testing the skill. Yesterday, I watched as one little girl helped her friend figure out how to use the new tool.  Technology, manipulatives, and collaboration? Score one for Mrs. B!

Mrs. Plikerd teaches 6th grade math in a class with a very wide range of abilities. Most days I saunter into a glorious "organized chaos."  Some students are working on AM. Some are working in their books. Some are being taught a formal lesson. All students are engaged in math, but it's a fluid collaboration of teachers, students, and groups navigating math together.  And it works! Students are growing and learning some intense math skills, way above what I would consider within the ability level of a sixth grader. 

In middle school, Mrs. Gibbs took the idea of math review to a new level.  She posted a Super Bowl bulletin board, and broke the students into two teams.  Intricate rules have grown, but the concept uses class notes, book work, and AM as ways of gaining yards, scoring touchdowns, and even extra points with bonus questions.  Students are telling her how exhausted they are from answering as many questions as quickly and accurately as possible. 

As I waltz around the school, I'm seeing how we're getting this blended learning thing down. It's not necessarily the tech you use, but how you use the tech to teach your students in a way they can learn. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Book Review: Authentic Learning in the Digital Age

Title: Authentic Learning in the Digital Age
Author: Larissa Pahomov

"Good schools are about people honestly and intentionally working together very purposefully."

What if your entire school was built surrounding an inquiry-based learning model?  What would that look like? What policies would you adopt? What core values would drive learning?  Would you foster a school-wide culture of learning and growing through inquiry or would it happen piecemeal on a class-by-class basis? How would you leverage experts in your city and around the world to help teach and mentor your students?

If reading these questions gets your creative juices flowing...or asking how on earth you could convince your administration to let you get started... you need to read this book.

Science Leadership Academy is a public high school in Philadelphia that opened in 2006.  The goal was to build a school with the intent of being inquiry-driven and project-based.  They partnered with Franklin Institute and put in a ton of work before the school year started to speak a common language and have common goals.

Maybe one day you can add a trip to SLA to your next Philly vacation, but this book pulls back the curtain to show you what makes this school tick. Even if your school will never completely immerse itself in inquiry-driven learning there are still some great ideas here for your personal practice to guide students in your project-based curriculum. In fact, I found this book invaluable in my Genius Hour studies this winter.

Incidentally, all this talk about the Franklin Institute brings up such happy memories of one of the greatest places on earth to go on a field trip while growing up in suburban Philadelphia.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

This morning I had the privilege of observing an 8th grade English class working on Never heard of it?  Me neither before last week.  Our middle and high school teachers are trying out the free version to see if we want to purchase it.

Teachers set up their class and can track their students in any one of a number of grammar skills.

  • Find the noun in the sentence.
  • Your or you're? Its or it's? 
  • What verb tense is this?
You know... all the normal grammar stuff we were taught as students and have had to teach to those bleary-eyed children.  (Isn't it great to use a sentence fragment in a blog post about grammar?) 

The great thing about noredink is these students weren't moaning and groaning. They weren't fighting the urge to take a nap.  They weren't disengaged.  Every single one of them was working on their grammar skills.  I've taught most of these students over the years, and I've seen them zone out during those "exciting" moments.

What's the trick? I saw a few things working in our favor here.
  • Every student was engaged on his or her screen. There is no hiding because you have to do it.
  • Students could choose their topics.  (This is not always the case, as the teacher can assign a specific skill if desired.)
  • The sentences were bizarre.  "Princess Leia and her friends shopped at the outdoor mall." "Legolas helped Saruman up the stairs." "Jill could not find the beach house." 
Teachers have the ability to track student data and to create assignments within the program.  

I have taught grammar for most of my adult life. I've used a few different curricula and methods, but it always boils down to something that isn't all that interesting to most kids.  Like one student said to me years ago, "Why do we have to learn English? We already speak it."  (My response? "So you don't sound like you're from Kentucky.")  Here is a program that can insert some fun into the mundane. 

Is this a winner? I have no idea at this time, but I'm excited to see if it really is.  Stay tuned!

Innovation Museum

In preparation for next week's round table discussion about Genius Hour, I have curated some of our best Innovation Projects into this museum. Wander through the links and leave comments for the students.

rage .jpg
The Time Warp
(A Stop Animation Video
(An Original Video Game)

(A Knife Flipping Site)
Java Innovation Project
(Daniel teaches himself Java)

“With You”
(A Song Written and Performed by a Student)
Maxx and the Robot
(Maxx shows off his Lego robot)
American Sign Language
(A Site About ASL)
Connor’s Wall Art
(A Graffiti Web Site)
Ride the Roller Coaster
(A Collaborative Amusement Park Using Tekkit)
Maxx and the Saw/Gun
(Maxx takes his Lego skills in a different direction)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Day

A day in the life of a TechLead:

  • Email the Bengals to try to connect with a childhood friend who is now on the coaching staff. Seriously. Hoping to reconnect and maybe he can become a friend of the academy.
  • Morning door duty (while blog reading). 
  • Email RenLearn to approve AR and AM purchases for next year.
  • Engage in a 45 minute discussion with our Director of IT and Marketing about use of Facebook and Twitter for the school.
  • Monitor third graders working on Accelerated Math. (I helped kids figure out division/multiplication facts and reading an analog clock.)
  • Work on my Genius Hour presentation for OETC.
  • Monitor second graders working on Accelerated Math. (Don't think I helped much since the teacher was running her store at the same time.)
  • Continue social media conversation via email while watching second graders with AM.
  • Have an email conversation with principal about OneDrive, OneNote, and other Office products. How do we continue to implement these tools in our school? (Oh! Look! She just sent an email to everyone and offered my help uploading files to OneDrive! Nice!)
  • All the while, posted one Facebook message and two tweets for the school. 
  • Recess and lunch duty for 3rd-5th grades.
  • Eat my lunch at my desk. 
  • Let's not forget having a running email conversation with my wife. 
  • Figure out what I'm teaching tomorrow from Common Sense Media
  • Just tweeted this one...
  • #golions discussion, including a lion backdrop for future press release photos. 
  • Looks like we'll be using in 4th grade tomorrow. 
  • Time to post CastleMania pics to Facebook and Twitter.
  • Back to working on my presentation. 
  • Monitor 6th graders on Accelerated Math. (Helped with volume, algebra with adding fractions, and dividing two mixed numbers with one negative)
  • Afternoon hall duty.

It's been interesting to track my activities and conversations throughout the day. One thing I love about my job is my flexibility but also the diversity.  

What do you do during your day?