Thursday, September 14, 2017

Priorities

When I began applying for administrative positions last fall, I applied because I thought I was ready to make a difference as an educational leader, impact student learning through careful observation, feedback, and evaluation of teachers, and have positive interactions with students that would give me my fix that I knew I would miss from the classroom.  I knew that administration was going to be long hours, multitasking, and making plans to do great things, only to have them dashed by the everyday grind.  What I did not know is just what kind of a toll it was going to take on me and my family.  

When I started my position as dean of students last spring, I got a taste of what the daily grind of administration can be.  The hours were long, stress was abundant, and deadlines and tasks were demanding.  At the time I chalked it up to being new at the position and that things would get better.  However, when I returned for the new school year at the beginning of August, things were not getting better.  More and more needed to be done on short notice, and this was before students even arrived.  Once students arrived, the daily routine included all of the duties and responsibilities, discipline, teacher observations, and so much more that made the days even more jam packed and long.  

After careful consideration and conversation with those nearest and dearest to me, I made the decision to request a return to the classroom and leave my role as an administrator.  Several factors went into my decision, but ultimately, it boiled down to priorities that were above any job.  

My number one priority is my family: my wife, Mary, and my two children, Elsa and Reed.  The long hours at work and the several hours of work that was brought home on a nearly daily basis were having a severely negative impact on my family life.  There were too many days to count where I would come home and get to see my children for less than an hour before it was time for all of us to go to bed, only to get up and do it all over again.  The last straw came a couple of weeks ago when my five year old, excited to see me after a long day at kindergarten, told me, "You're never home and you never want to do anything!" when I told her that I would rather sit and watch a show on TV with her than play a board game after a 12-13 hour day at the office.  It really hurt to see her walk away and hear those words come out of her mouth.  It was that moment that I realized that something had to change.  

For several months, I have not been shy about my struggles with depression.  When I finally admitted that I needed help from a therapist, I went on several occasions and was making progress.  However, because of the demanding hours, I have not been able to get into a therapist, and there have been several times in the past few months where I really could have used the conversation, but have not been able to.  A change in my role will free up my schedule and give me the opportunity to work on myself more, emotionally and psychologically, and hopefully physically (gym memberships are paid, gym memberships not used for weeks on end at this time).  

When I left the classroom, first as a learning strategist over technology, then as an administrator, I did not leave because I was sick of teaching, quite the contrary.  I've still been able to get my teaching fix through the various conferences and trainings in which I have presented, but it is not the same as working in a classroom with students.  Over the past several weeks especially, I have missed the classroom and the positive interactions with students, getting to know them and their interests, and sharing jokes and great times in the classroom.  My administrative role did not bring me the fulfillment that I had in the classroom and what I had hoped for when I applied for positions.  

It is with a heavy heart that I will bid my school and my position farewell on Friday, September 15 to start a new chapter in the classroom.  For the first 11 years of my career, I taught social studies, mostly United States History.  Starting on Monday, I will be stepping into a physical education position, something that I have never taught and have not given much thought toward since graduating from college 12 years ago.  I am also going to a behavior continuation school, a place where the students are assigned after making severe mistakes in a standard school and are trying to earn their way back.  I am going to strive to be a positive beacon in their life, help them get a little more physically fit, and selfishly, allow myself the opportunity to spend more time with my family.  

On a completely unrelated note, the past few weeks also included the application process of the Pear Deck Certified Coach cohort.  The process included a standard application, a sample Pear Deck lesson, and a Flipgrid response explaining why I would be an awesome Pear Deck Coach.  I was nominated by a Nick Park, one of the amazing employees of Pear Deck, which by itself was quite the honor.  Last Friday, I was informed that I was accepted into the cohort, which will include some training on Pear Deck, the opportunity to present the sweetness that is Pear Deck at a conference, and the ability to interact with the Pear Deck coaching community.  I am humbled and honored to have been accepted.  

I am hoping that with my schedule opening up some over the coming days and weeks, I am hoping to get back to another love of mine, and that is writing this blog.  In the meantime, I appreciate the love and support that so many have shown me through these past few days, weeks, months, and really, my entire life.  

Until next time... 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Goals - Revisited

At the turn of the new year, I went on the record with a few goals that I had for 2017, rather than resolutions.  My goals were to lose some weight, put some work into the beginnings of a book that I want to write, and to obtain a position as an administrator in my district.  As the new school year is set to kick off for me in a few days, I got to thinking about my goals and the progress that I have made over the past eight months.  Because I am very demanding of myself, I will say that I am not satisfied with where I am at, but even in the areas in which I have failed, that means that I am recognizing it and setting up a plan to still achieve my goals.

My first goal that I set back in January was to obtain an administrative position in my district.  At the time, I had applied and interviewed for a handful of positions but had not been offered anything.  As January and early February went on, I applied and interviewed for a few more.  Mid-February brought second interviews for two positions, then the waiting game.  If you have read any of my past posts, you know that I was offered, and accepted, a position as dean of students at a middle school.  My first day was February 24, which is a date I will always remember as my first day in administration because it is also my wife's birthday.  

Another goal that I set was to lose some weight.  I cannot say that my weight has been an issue for me my entire life, but between my family history, playing college football, and my love of food (I can count on one hand things that I will not eat, I am always willing to try something once), and the fact that I am several years removed from that peak "I can eat anything and not gain weight" time of life, my weight has crept up and has started to affect me in various ways.  Sadly, my goal to lose weight this year has not happened.  However, not one to give up on a goal, I am pledging to get up before work to go to the gym (I actually joined a second gym to get to one that is open and on my way to work, making the excuse not to go that much harder to make), make better choices, and politely refuse the doughnuts and other treats that will inevitably end up in the main office or staff lounge.

Lastly, I set a goal to get started on writing a book.  At the time, my thoughts were to write a book that was part personal memoir, part state of education in the world.  My thoughts for the book have shifted a little bit in the last few months, to more of a part memoir, part collection of short stories on teachable moments in my life and how they shaped me as an educator.  Examples of short stories would range from things like some of the most memorable (and sometimes agonizing) experiences during my first year of teaching, to what I learned from the toughest, but most compassionate, coach I ever had during my college days, to rigging a system that would fire Class C bottle rockets from a dock so that they would go underwater, hover, and explode, until a spark sets off a full package and 36 projectiles start flying around (this is a 100% true story of my 13-year-old self that could have killed me, but I definitely learned a solid lesson!).  Unfortunately, I have yet to put "pen to paper" on anything that would resemble a book, outside of my blog posts.  However, there are a few months left to still accomplish this goal.

I refuse to give up on my goals, and neither should you.  You may have setbacks, like I have, in achieving your goals. I wanted to quote one of my favorite Berenstain Bears books, Trouble at School, with "It's never too late to correct a mistake!", but it didn't' seem quite right.  However, this line from Will Smith's character on The Pursuit of Happyness seemed to sum things up very well.

Until next time...




Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Summer Refresh & Learn

At this point, it has been summer for several weeks.  For many, summer vacation starts in mid-May, others not until mid-June, and some of you, depending on your position or district, may still be in session.  Whenever you may have started your break (if you are yet to start), summer vacation is a time of resting, relaxing, traveling, and many other things that may not necessarily directly relate to improving yourself professionally.  However, summer is also a great time to become a better educator, with opportunities galore for conferences, engaging online (ex. Twitter chats), and catching up on some reading.  As of this writing, my time is running out, with only about 4 weeks left until it is back to the grindstone on August 1.  

A quick side note: I knew that going into administration would mean reporting back to school earlier than teachers.  My contract is a 10-month contract, whereas teachers work a 9-month contract.  Other administrators work an 11-month contract, and some never get the glorious summer vacation, working a 12-month contract.  To constrict my time off this summer more is the shifting of the calendar for my school district.  In the past, the district always let out for winter break in late December, with two weeks of the first semester to complete upon return after New Years.  My district shifted the calendar to make sure that the semester and grading periods are complete BEFORE going on winter break, thus starting a new semester after the New Year and eliminating that tedious time of getting students back into the routine, only to have semester exams.  To make it even better, now the school year will end prior to Memorial Day at the end of May.  I am definitely in favor of a short summer this year to be done with the year early in the future!

Since I finished my school year on June 14, my summer has been both business and pleasure, but it is definitely leaned more toward the pleasure side.  Immediately after my year ended, I attended a leadership institute offered by my district.  The institute consisted of two parts: the first session was on building school culture, something that I have been reading more about in George Couros' book The Innovative Mindset (more on that later), with the second session on student learning goals.  As a newish administrator, I have a lot of things that will be coming at me this fall that I simply did not have the experience within the few short months at the end of this past year.  My administrative team showed me the ropes on a lot of things and I learned a great deal, but next year I will be expected to jump off of the high dive and swim around the deep end, not just simply float around the shallow end.  The school culture and student learning goals session in the leadership institute not only gave me the opportunity to learn more about what will be expected of me this fall, but it gave me an opportunity to meet other administrators in my district, interact in a professional setting, ask questions of those with more experience, and make connections in which to refer to colleagues in the future.  My biggest takeaway: school culture starts with good intentions, but does not go anywhere without action and buy in.  

I also had the opportunity to provide professional development for administrators in my district, along with some good friends in Lucas Leavitt, Margie Zamora, Heidi Carr, Keith Thomsen, Jody Myers, and got to meet a great dude in Nick de Buyl, who flew from Kansas City to represent Pear Deck.  Together, we presented a variety of technology tools for administrators.  Some tools were presented as ones that would directly affect administrators' daily work grind, whereas others were presented as tools to share with the staff of their school to implement in the classroom.  Over the course of two days, over 100 administrators attended two of the two events, with a lot of positive feedback and hope for future opportunities.  CUE-NV is already excited to plan the next event, but first, the Silver State Technology Conference on September 29-30 (sign up for this event for numerous edtech sessions, two keynote speakers in Ari Flewelling and Ben Cogswell, vendors, lunch, and so much more!  If you'd like to present, submit a proposal!).  

As for the pleasure side of my summer, I have experienced several things that I have never done before.  The best was the trip that my wife and I took to Seattle for our 9th anniversary.  We had never been to Seattle before, my mother flew into Las Vegas to take care of our kids, and we spent 4 days experiencing an amazing city.  It also happened that the Detroit Tigers were there playing the Seattle Mariners, so we took in a couple of games at Safeco Field (the Tigers lost both, they're in freefall mode, tough to watch this year, but Safeco is amazing).  We ate some great seafood, saw some cool sites like the Space Needle and took a harbor cruise, got to see Michael Che perform comedy that was nothing like his Weekend Update sketches on Saturday Night Live, samples some great beers from Elysian Brewing and Pike Brewing, and experienced coffee on a whole new level at several places, especially the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room (didn't go to the original Starbucks in Pike Market, hotel concierge told us to skip that for the roastery).  I made a short video with a few pictures, but there were way too many pictures to choose from, and as I am not much of a picture guy (I am more for experiencing the moment rather than trying to take pictures), my wife has a lot of pictures that I did not have access too, and at the time of this writing, she is in Mexico (more on that in a moment too).  

video

Upon returning from Seattle, my wife and I had a few days to relax before we both went out separate ways... in traveling that is!  Mary is currently in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico working with orphaned kids.  As a speech pathologist, she gets to work with non-verbal and delayed children for 10 days as a volunteer.  Not only does she get to experience the joys of volunteering and serving an amazing cause, but she gets to experience a culture and a country in which she has never experienced before;  I couldn't be more proud of her!  As for me, I packed up the Durango and the camper and hauled our kids to my parents' place in Northern California.  While Mary was flying to Mexico and settling into her hotel in Guadalajara, I drove 650 miles through rural Nevada to Reno, then three more hours to my parents' place near Redding, CA.  Grand total, after stops, it took us about 11 and a half hours.  For the past few days, I have been a single parent, but having a ton of fun with my kids that would be a lot different if my wife was here.  We will be spending a few more days in CA before we head over to Reno for the weekend.  My parents will bring the kids back to CA while I spend one more day in Reno.  My wife will be flying back from Mexico to Las Vegas, spend a day to get her things in order before getting onto another plane to Reno where I will pick her up and reunite her with our kids after being away for 11 days.  The kids will certainly be surprised! 

So what does my summer have left prior to heading back to work?  I am almost done with The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros, which is a great read and a must for anybody looking to improve their teaching and leadership skills.  Once I finish that, I am going to read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess with the goal of taking some of the lessons highlighted by the book and presenting it to the teachers in which I get to work with this fall.  I will also be heading out on a couple of different camping excursions.  One of which will be a couple of nights in Lassen Volcanic National Park, about an hour from my parents' house.  Another will be a few nights near Monterey, which I planned out to coincide with CUE LDI (Leadership Development Institute), a great opportunity to improve my leadership skills and network with so many that I look up to and call friends.  On the way back home, there may be a quick stop in Sequoia National Park, just depends on how fast the family wants to get home.  

Regardless of what lies ahead in the remaining weeks of summer, I can ascertain that it will be relaxing, but with a great deal of learning at the same time.  I look forward to what will pan out and what the coming school year is going to bring.  

Until next time... 





Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Time is Now!

In the description of my blog, I describe it as a place where I will share tips, tricks, rants, and wisecracks about life, education, politics, and everything in between.  Typically, I stick to the educational aspect of that description.  However, there have been a few occasions in which I have strayed from education to address something else that I am passionate about.  This post will be one of the latter.  If you are expecting a post dealing strictly with education, you may stop reading now, but I encourage you to keep going, as I believe that this is something that is of the utmost importance and can have a very strong impact on our lives as professional educators and for our students, colleagues, families, and communities.  

 On September 22, 1981, my mother, after hours of excruciating pain and suffering, gave birth to me (I've never asked her what her labor for me was like, so that may be a stretch, but after watching my wife give birth to our two children, I think I have a pretty good idea).  I was born in the 1980s, so technically I could be referred to as an 80s baby, but I definitely identify more as a 90s kid.  The 1990s is when I completed the bulk of my schooling, grew to my current height of 6'2" by the age of 14, and eventually graduated from high school in 2000.  Some of my biggest influences during this time came from the music of the era.  My mother has always listened to country, my father turned me on to classic rock.  To this day, I still listen to classic rock, much preferring it to most of the "music" of today.  I still appreciate a lot of the older country and what I grew up listening to with my mom (Garth Brooks, John Michael Montgomery, and Alan Jackson are still some of my favorites), but most of what is considered country music today does not appeal to me. By the time I had reached about 5th grade, I began to explore other types of music and really was turned on to harder rock and metal, especially the "Seattle sound", the grunge movement.  

Grunge had everything that I wanted as a preadolescent and teenager: it was loud, it was aggressive, it was something that my mom hated.  Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden kicked out album after album of tunes that I still listen to almost daily (Lithium on SiriusXM plays all of the 90s grunge and alternative, without commercials, and my car radio rarely strays).  Many songs spoke to me musically, others spoke to me lyrically ("You, my friend, I will defend, and if we change, I'll love you anyway."  -No Excuses by Alice in Chains).  Because of my love for the music that I grew up with, you can only imagine the shock when, as driving to work, I learned of the death of Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell's death.  

Chris Cornell's final tweet, just hours before his death
Upon learning of Cornell's death, instantly I was overcome with shock, grief, and disbelief.  How can a man so young, after playing a show before a sold-out crowd at the Fox Theater in Detroit, only hours before tweeting out how excited he was to be back in Detroit for a show, have passed away so suddenly and unexpectedly?  Unfortunately, after a few seconds of letting the news settle in, I had some ideas of what could have happened.  My first thought was a drug overdose.  It wasn't a secret that Chris Cornell had struggled with addiction throughout most of his life.  And sadly, way too many artists, musicians, and others that live their life in the limelight have their lives snuffed out way before their time because of addiction.  My second thought was that it was suicide.  Cornell also struggled with depression, which probably was partially why he had also struggled with drug addiction.  My thoughts were confirmed later in the day when multiple sources had confirmed that medical examiners had indeed ruled his death a suicide.  

I cannot even begin to pretend I know what had happened, why it happened, etc.  What I do know is that too many people struggle with addiction and depression in our world, and there aren't nearly enough resources to help people.  There is also the stigma of addiction and depression.  I recall listening to a recent episode of the Eagle Nation Podcast (the podcast for Team RWB, an amazing veterans' organization that seeks to bring veterans and their communities together through physical and social activity) where the guest on the episode talked about the difference between physical illness/injury and mental illness.  If you broke your arm, there would be no question whatsoever that you would visit a doctor, get your arm set and cast, be prescribed medication to prevent pain and infection, and you would follow up with a doctor to make sure that your arm healed properly.  Mental illness is different; those with mental illness were treated like criminals, housed in horrific prisons, for hundreds of years.  The stigma of mental illness still exists today where people are judged, people are afraid to talk about it, and most won't seek help, hoping they can "deal with it."  

Again, I can't say I know anything about Chris Cornell's circumstances.  Maybe he was seeking help, maybe he wasn't.  Maybe he was sober, fighting his addiction, maybe he had fallen off of the wagon.  As someone that deals with depression (see my previous post, Highs & Lows), I can definitely identify with bouts of sadness, feelings of worthlessness, and other symptoms that are common with depression.  With the help of a therapist and people that I love and care about, I have been doing much better. 

The whole idea of writing this post was to outline how important it is to do these three things:
  • Tell the people that you care about that you care.  Make an effort every day to tell somebody that you appreciate them and that you are glad to have them in your life.  
  • Encourage those people to never be afraid to talk to you if something is bothering them or they are struggling (I struggle sharing my own feelings at times, it's a work in progress).  This is especially important as educators to show our students that we care about them.  
  • Celebrate the accomplishments of those in your life and encourage during times of struggle.  
The time to remove the stigma of addiction and mental illness was a long time ago, but since we cannot jump into a Delorean with Doc and Marty to change things then, the time for change is now!  And while we are at it, we can celebrate the contributions that Chris Cornell made to society through his music and philanthropy.  And I know that for all of us, he took the moment to "say hello to heaven."  Until next time... 

  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Things I've Learned: Admin Edition

I was a classroom teacher for 11 years, then spent six months as a technology coach before I was appointed to my current position as dean of students.  I always knew that administrators had an unforgiving, time-consuming, and demanding schedule.  However, you never really know what a person goes through until you walk in their shoes.  In the two and a half months that I have worked in this job, I have learned so much about what I thought I knew about before.  As I write this, I am enjoying one of the most low-key days that I have had thus far and watching the Detroit Tigers take on the Arizona D-Backs, pondering the things that I have learned and experienced over the past couple of months.  

I'd be a liar if I told you that this
has never been me... 
Every day, I walk into my office and plan out my day.  Usually, that consists of looking at the behavior management and prepping the paperwork on students that need to be addressed for disciplinary reasons, meet with the other two deans, the assistant principal, and the principal to address any pressing concerns, and supervising the common areas of the school as students start trickling in, all while down a bit of coffee, mostly because I enjoy coffee, not because I need it to wake up.  But all plans, even with the best of intentions and preparation, can be blown right out the window as soon as the curveball comes spinning toward the plate.  Parents and/or students will be waiting when you walk into the office, an incident will occur on a bus or on the way to school that will need to be addressed, or you spill your coffee all over your desk (I've only done that once).  Regardless, you have to learn to roll with things and prioritize, especially when you have to start throwing in other responsibilities, such as observing teachers, presiding over committee meetings, and/or shifting responsibilities when your admin team is shorthanded.  

Prior to my appointment, the thing that made me think the most and caused the most anxiety was the thought of having to make numerous phone calls, most of which were going to be of the negative persuasion.  As a person that really does not like talking on the phone, I had to, and still have to at times, psych myself out to make those calls.  I had to learn quickly to have thick skin and to not take things personally when speaking with an upset parent.  While I still dread making calls to certain parents and/or about certain things, I have learned to be a better communicator and not to dwell on those negative calls that are inevitable.  

I have also learned to never make plans to do anything on a weeknight and most Fridays.  Because the hours are not set, the time in which I leave varies greatly.  I have left as early as 4 PM, but I have also stayed as late as almost 10 PM.  Days that are jam-packed with incidents can turn into long days of making phone calls, inputting notes into behavior management, writing emails to set up observations or meetings, meeting as an admin team, and so much more.  Then there are the days where there is an event on campus, such as clubs and sports or school plays.  You can plan to leave by a certain time, but there is no such thing as certainty.  As a teacher, I could almost always leave at a time that allowed me to pick up the kids, go to the gym, etc.  I am a lucky guy to have such an understanding, flexible, and loving wife because otherwise, she would have left me by now.  Even weekends are sometimes filled with school-related events or work to do.  

As unforgiving, time-consuming, and demanding the job has been, I wouldn't trade it for the world; I am thoroughly enjoying my position and look forward to waking up each day to get to "work."  I think back to the administrators in which I have worked with in the past and have gained a greater appreciation for the work that they did.  I appreciate the amazing admin team that I get to work with on a daily basis.  And on a more personal level, the busy lifestyle has helped my depression issues that I addressed in a previous post tremendously; my episodes of shutting down have been minimal, and I credit it to staying busy and keeping my mind off of things that would sometimes cause my bouts of depression.  

Because of how busy I have been, my time to write, tweet, participate in Twitter chats, Voxer chats, etc. has been compromised.  As I am adjusting, I am hoping to carve out more time to be more than a social media lurker and to write more regularly, like the once a week that I was doing for quite a while.  Some very exciting things are coming down the pike, and I can't wait to share my experiences and learning in future posts.  

Until next time... 



Sunday, April 2, 2017

Tools for School Administrators

My love for learning about educational technology tools did not end when I was appointed to my dean position in February.  While the time to read blogs, sift through my Twitter feed and participate in Twitter chats, chime in on Voxer, and meet with colleagues on an individual basis has certainly been compromised, it doesn't mean that I haven't been a lurker.  My morning commute is 15-20 minutes, depending on traffic lights, which is a great time to listen to podcasts and catch up on Voxer.  I can still pop onto Twitter here and there and see some great things.  And while I don't get the chance to go into incredible detail, it's always nice to chat with a teacher while on supervision duty or have them pop into my office to answer a couple of quick questions about various tech tools.  Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how I can apply my expertise of tech tools to the school administrator position.  While the list I came up with is not exhaustive, these tools are ones that can definitely make the everyday tasks of administrators easier, and make communication with teachers easier and more effective.  

Most administrators are responsible for observing and evaluating the effectiveness of classroom teachers.  I can remember sitting in classes in junior high and high school and seeing administrators in my classroom, clipboard in hand, scrawling notes down over the course of a few minutes, then leaving, I presume, to eventually review the handwritten notes with my teacher and write an evaluation.  That was 20+ years ago, but some administrators are still doing the same thing.  Other administrators have moved forward by using a word processing document or a .pdf file to write their notes on a laptop or tablet.  Regardless, the teacher in which the administrator is evaluating has to wait before they can see what the administrator saw during their observation.  This is where a Google Doc or Google Sheet can come into play.  The administrator makes their observation notes in the Doc or Sheet and shares the file directly to the teacher as a "view only" file.  As soon as the observation is completed, the teacher can see the notes that the administrator made during the session.  

In Nevada, teachers are evaluated based on the Nevada Educator Performance Framework, or NEPF.   Teachers are evaluated based on a series of instructional and professional standards.  I created a Google Sheet that includes all of the standards and indicators, along with several columns labeled "date".  I make a copy of the file and rename it "Teacher's Name - Observation Notes" and share it with the teacher.  During an observation, I write my evidence statements in the row with the standard and indicator under the date in which I am observing.  I have provided an example of the instructional standards here, as well as a sample for the professional standards; if you are a Nevada administrator, feel free to make a copy and use it! 

Communication between administrators and teachers, families and the community is key.  Often times, the easiest way to communicate with groups is via email, but those emails often get lost in the shuffle.  An easy way to make those emails stand out more is to make them more visual.  For example, if you are emailing your staff to announce that there will be a staff meeting, you can use several different visual tools to create an email that will more likely stick in your recipients' heads and get your point across more effectively.   Some great tools to use to make those visuals, which can include video (!!!) are Adobe Spark, Canva, and a meme generator of your choice (a quick search online will turn up several meme generators).  

A sample meme you could send to your staff! 
Some schools send home a newsletter to update families and community on happenings around the school.  Why not make it more fun by making it a video or a podcast?  There are lots of tools that are simple to use to help administrators get their message out in a more interactive fashion.  Adobe Spark has a video function that allows users to make quick videos, with tons of features to make the videos look and sound great.  Want to make a quick and easy podcast?  Soundtrap is essentially Garageband for the web, so it's accessible on any device and allows the user to create sound clips and record voices and sounds, allowing users to record simple podcasts.  Whether you create a video or a podcast, the traditional newsletter can be improved and reach your audience more easily.   

As I continue to settle into my role as an administrator, I am going to figure out other ways to incorporate amazing tech tools into the position.  When that happens, I will share my thoughts on how administrators can make their life easier and be more effective to the schools, families, and communities in which they serve.  Until next time... 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Crazy That Is #CUE17

The past few weeks have been absolute insanity with the new job.  I am learning a ton, basically via trial by fire.  However, I am thoroughly enjoying my new role as a dean of students, and middle school kids are a lot of fun.  The craziness continued in a different fashion through the CUE Conference in Palm Springs.  Three days of keynotes, sessions, meeting new people and seeing friends are a great way to spend a weekend! 

The insanity started off on the wrong foot on Wednesday night.  Before I could leave town, I had a function at school that required me to stick around for a little while before I could hit the road.  The drive from Las Vegas to Palm Springs is only about 4 hours, so I wasn't too worried about the drive getting me to the hotel late (that's what 5 Hour Energy is for!).  The problem was arriving at my hotel to find out that they had canceled my reservation without telling me!  I had booked my room at the Motel 6 in Palm Springs several months ago, using a credit card that in the time since had expired.  The front desk attendant informed me that they had tried to run my card a few hours prior and it had declined (naturally, it had expired), so they released my room and did not have any left.  No phone call, no email notification, nothing to tune me into the problem.  I was too dumbfounded to be angry at the time.  The chances of a room at nearly midnight in Palm Springs the week of CUE and a major tennis tournament were slim to none.  Luckily, my good friend and CUE-NV partner in crime, Heidi Carr, was awake when I called her to vent my frustrations and offered the extra bed in her room for the next few nights.  All was good, but Motel 6 will be getting a stern telephone call from me after this weekend.

For the most part, I went to a ton of great sessions over the course of the three days.  As a newly appointed administrator, I wanted/needed to get to more administrator-geared sessions, but at the same time, I still wanted to get to some sessions that focused on teaching still.  One such session that I wanted to get to was one on hyperdocs.  I have tried to go to hyperdocs sessions in the past at various functions, but the sessions have not been very good, or in one case, I had to leave in the middle of the session and missed just about everything.  The fifth time was the charm; I got some great ideas and examples on hyperdocs that I am able to use and share.  My friend Heidi Carr and I put together a document of resources from the various sessions that we went to during our time, you can view and peruse what we saw here.

It was pure coincidence that I wore a Rush shirt '
on a day that I met a Canadian legend, I promise!
I also got to see the man, the myth, and the legend George Couros, author of The Innovator's Mindset, keynote day two of the event.  George's keynote hit a lot of the items that he covers in his book, shared his story of growing up in Canada to Greek immigrants, and how what you do makes you what you are.  I also got the chance to meet him after the keynote and speak with him for a brief moment.  However, the highlight was when he came to the CUE Karaoke session on Friday night and I got to talk to him for more of an extended period of time.  Our conversation was more about hockey than it was education, and at one point he even told me that I sounded like I knew more about Canada than he did (I grew up a couple of hours from the border, had CBC in my channel lineup for many years, and pay close attention to hockey, so I do have a bit of knowledge on Canadian culture, history, etc.).  I mentioned to him that I would love to have him come to Las Vegas to do an event with CUE-NV, so I am REALLY hoping that CUE-NV can pull that off!

Hans took this amazing photo of me scurrying up some boulders
as the sun came up!  
One of the greatest highlights of the weekend that was not related to the conference itself was getting to hang out with great people, some of whom I had met before, others I was meeting for the first time.  On Friday morning of the conference, a group of about 25 people met to hike up one of the mountains near the convention center.  Hans Tullman, a great dude that works out of Bakersfield, CA, led the organization and execution of #CUEHike17.  We hiked a total of about 2 miles roundtrip and climbed an elevation of over 600 feet over the course of the hike.  Before it was even finished, we started talking about the hike at CUE in 2018.


By Saturday morning, the brain drain (the good kind) had definitely set in.  I enjoyed a nice breakfast at a place called Pinnochio's (check it out if you're ever in Palm Springs) and went to the convention center to see some of the student projects that were on display and attend one last session.  After the session, I decided that I would hit the road rather than going to the closing keynote (from what I have heard, that was a bad choice; the final keynote was quite amazing, or so I'm told).  I knew the drive home was going to be tedious from the lack of sleep, the pile of messages that piled up on Voxer, the podcasts that updated, and the sheer amount of new things that I learned.  After catching up on Voxer and listening to a podcast, I decided to listen to a couple albums that I hadn't listened to in a while, Stonesour's House of Gold & Bones Part 1 and Audio Secrecy (with the song Zzyzx Road by Stonesour thrown in for good measure) and take in the scenery of the beautiful Mojave Preserve.  A good choice, because the view area between Amboy (on historic Route 66) and Kelso Depot was a great stop off to stretch the legs and snap a few photos.  Had I not been so excited to get home to see my family and it wasn't 90 degrees, I may have gone for a bit of a hike!  Just up the road are the Kelso Dunes; I didn't stop for photos there, but that's another stop I need to do in the near future!

This pano turned out very nicely, showing the amazing rock formations in the middle of the desert. 




I was really tired at this point, don't judge the
look on my face, I really was enjoying the view!

I look forward to the next CUE event, whether that be a Rock Star, Fall CUE, or if I can't go to another until next springs CUE National in Palm Springs.  In the meantime, I hope to share everything that I learned and learn from others that were there as well and apply it to my role as a dean of students.  Until next time...




Saturday, March 4, 2017

Highs & Lows

Life is full of highs, but there are plenty of low points that each person must also deal with throughout their time on this planet.  In the past few days and weeks, I have addressed some pretty amazing highs, but I have also coped with some horrific lows as well.  As excited as I am to reveal a tremendous new chapter in my life, I also feel that it important to address something that carries enough weight that it could potentially save somebody's life.

This is, by far, the hardest thing that I have ever written.  It is also, quite possibly, one of the most honest and revealing things that I have ever written or said.  In writing this, I am not looking for sympathy.  I am hoping that by revealing my personal struggles, I can help others to realize that it is alright to admit that they are struggling and to seek help in those struggles.  If one person reads this and does something to make a positive difference in their life or in the life of others, then I have accomplished what I am setting out to do.  

If you have ever read my blog or met me in person, I exude an appearance of someone that is happy, positive, and looking to make a difference in others' lives.  For the most part, this is an accurate description.  However, there is a darker side of me that I don't let out very often, even to those that are closest to me.  Some things have happened in the past few days that have made me finally realize that I can no longer continue to bottle up my struggles and try to deal with them and hope that I can resolve them on my own. 

I struggle with depression.  Most of the time, I am positive and happy, but I have moments on many days, or even for days at a time, where I do not feel right and I have nothing in the form of reasoning behind why I feel that way.  Triggers for these feelings vary, from times I think about my brother (more on that momentarily) to watching something sad or horrific on the news.  Sometimes, the feelings aren't triggered at all; they just happen.  In the past few days, I realized that I can't continue to go on this way and that I need to seek some help.  

I don't think that this is something that I have always dealt with.  Throughout my life, there have been things that have triggered depression that would happen to anyone.  Breaking up with a girlfriend, getting into a fight with a friend or loved one, losing a loved one, and so many other things have contributed to times of natural depression.  My earliest memory of continuous, unexplained bouts of depression came about around the time my brother passed away in 2010.  Cody had been enlisted in the Army since the fall of 2004, surviving 15 months in Iraq from 2006-2007, then 12 months in Afghanistan in 2008-2009, returning from his tour in December 2009.  During his tour in Afghanistan, he survived an IED attack that left him about 60% deaf in his right ear.   On January 14, 2010, Cody did not report for his morning duty and was found dead in his apartment.  After an autopsy, it was determined that my brother had contracted pneumonia and while sleeping, his lungs filled up with fluid, causing him to stop breathing and eventually succumb to the lack of oxygen.  After his death, I went into a spiral of drinking and eating that was certainly not healthy.  At its worst, I was consuming several beers and whiskey on a near nightly basis.  I was also gaining weight like I never had before.  After about 9 months, I decided it was time for a change.  

I had realized that I had to do something about my weight, so I started attending Weight Watchers meetings.  My leader there not only helped me to start thinking about my food intake and the triggers that cause me to eat, but he also saved me from having to start attending other meetings.  I dramatically cut back on my food intake and drinking nearly ceased.  It eventually led to losing over 60 pounds. However, in the years since, I have gained the weight back, much of which I had attributed to terrible excuses.  I had started to feel better, but I was still having moments here and there of depression, something that I had chalked up to dealing with my brother's death.  

I have never been somebody to talk about my issues.  I am not good about communicating emotions and I also don't like the idea of thrusting emotions and issues on others, not even those that are closest to me, including my wife.  It is a fault for sure.  As much it pains me to admit and will be a shock, I have contemplated taking my life at times.  I have not attempted to, ultimately because I care for my family and friends enough to the point that I couldn't bear to think how it may affect them.  There isn't any excuse for why I have let things build up.  There isn't any excuse for things that I have done or said, or sometimes worse, things that I have not done or said.  I am taking full responsibility for my words and actions and I am seeking professional help.  This week, I went to a therapist and discuss with her many different things that can get to the bottom of why I feel the way that I do at times and to get better.

Now that I have gotten that off of my chest, on to the good news!  Over the past several weeks, I have applied for several administrative positions at schools throughout my district.  Most of them were at high schools, but a couple was at middle schools, and one was an elementary position.  On Wednesday, February 22, I learned that I had been appointed to a new school, where I would serve as one of the deans of students.  I had about 36 hours between learning of my appointment and starting my new position, so it was a hectic 36 hours.  I am very grateful for the past few months at my previous school and I look forward to the new opportunity.  Since my appointment, I have jumped off of the board into the deep end of a pool of lava, learned a ton, met some great people, and I am starting to get to know middle school kids for the first time in my career.

Because the new position will be very demanding, my frequency of posting may suffer for a bit.  Once I get into a routine, I will be sure to continue to share my learning and experiences.

Until next time, please share my story, not to sympathize, but to help somebody come to the realization that it is okay to seek help if you need it.  Thank you.  


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My First Podcast

If you are like me, your daily listening on your drive, during a workout, or relaxing after a long day includes music and/or podcasts.  A few months ago, I wrote a post about some of my favorite podcasts.  While I still listen to those podcasts, I have added many other fine podcasts to my listening rotation (I may be due for another post on my favorites, that will come at a later time!).  In the past few months, I have also started looking into podcasting myself, learning from some of the greats in the podcasting world, fine educators like Tom Covington, Michael Jephcott, Brian Briggs, and Ryan O'Donnell, all of whom host some great podcasts (TOSAs Talking Tech with Tom & Mike, Check This Out with Brian & Ryan, and Ryan's new venture, Talking Social Studies).  While I have not yet got off the ground with my own podcast, I was approached by two teachers at my school about producing a podcast for them.  Without further ado, I present to you... the Ridge Life Podcast!



The idea behind the Ridge Life Podcast is to provide a fun outlet for things that are happening around my school.  In this inaugural episode, the hosts, Jamie and Jimmy, placed boxes in random locations around campus for students to place questions they had for them.  They randomly drew questions and answered them in one segment.  Another segment featured the advisor for the school's Varsity Quiz team that recently won the county championship.  Lastly, Jamie, Jimmy, and I participated in a hot sauce challenge (tune in to find out the winner!).  I also provided the introduction and outro for the episode.  As a participant, I was much more involved in this episode than I had planned and intend to in the future, but for now, I am very proud of the work that these teachers put into the planning and execution of this first episode.  We are going to start recording the next episode later this week.  


Advertisement of the first episode of the Ridge Life Podcast

The planning for a podcast of my own is in the infant stages.  I have spoken with a friend of mine in Las Vegas, as well as two friends in Reno, on collaborating on a monthly podcast on education in Nevada.  I have a nice podcasting microphone, I'm getting good with using Soundtrap, now the four of us need to figure out what the scope of the podcast will be and figure out times to record. Because Ridge Life is the first podcast that I have ever produced and the first podcast that either of the hosts has ever recorded, any feedback that you may have is greatly appreciated.  Please feel free to comment on the video link, tweet me (@AndersonEdTech) or the Ridge Life Podcast (@RidgeLifePdcast), using the hashtag #RidgeLifePodcast, send me an email, or send a message via carrier pigeon.  You can also contact me through my website, www.andersonedtech.net.  Thank you, and until next time... keep living... the Ridge Life!

Please visit my website, you can find contact
  information on the "Contact" page. 


Friday, February 10, 2017

Are You Connected?

I wasn't always a connected teacher.  Early in my career, I did not have access to technology in my classroom like I have had in the past few years.  If you really want to dive into, while 2005 doesn't sound that long ago, the world of educational technology has come a long way since then.  We are talking about days before smartphones, iPads and other tablets, Chromebooks, and a lot of the great apps and programs that we all like to use today.  In fact, I remember having an overhead projector in my classroom with binders of transparencies that were provided by textbook (textbooks! See below for my explanation) companies, given to me by other teachers, or ones that I had made.  Whiteboard markers and cleaner were a hot commodity.  If I could get all of my classes together from the first couple years of my teaching career, I would apologize to them for how terrible of a teacher that I probably was at the time (I have come across some of those kids in recent years, they are pushing 30 now, and some of them have thanked me for being a good teacher, so at least I made a difference in a few lives).  Since then, as my skills and technology have advanced, I like to think that I am a much better teacher.  

Disclaimer: I am not 100% anti-textbook.  I believe that they can still serve a SMALL purpose.  If you are doing your job as an educator, you should be able to build lessons centered around things that are not from a textbook.  Reading is an important task, and using a textbook for small readings is fine, but working with a book with the goal of covering the entire thing is unrealistic and out of date.  My AP US History students were expected to read from their text, in addition to other items, but my other classes were assigned a book as a supplement.  If I was to start my own school, I would save hundreds of thousands of dollars by not purchasing books and instead use that money to purchase devices and train my staff on those devices and how to build lessons that are innovative from sources other than a textbook.  

My first dive into really becoming technologically savvy came in about 2010.  I had just moved to a new school where more technology was available to teachers and students were expected to graduate with technology, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.  Coupled with the technology was an emphasis on project-based learning.  I had to adjust to those expectations as a teacher to be better for my students.  To help in integrating more, with parental permission, I had students set up Gmail accounts that I could use to push out assignments and activities, send general announcements, and have students collaborate digitally.  Just as I was getting used to the system, my school was selected as a pilot to roll out Google Apps for Education, which gave each student an account.  The rollout was cumbersome at first, but eventually, I became the tech savvy person that I am today, simply by toying around with the Google tools and other things that I discovered along the way.  I love telling people that I am self-taught when they ask me where I got my technology degree from; I got it from the University of Me.  

However, one thing that I could not settle on was the best way to demonstrate my skills through the Internet and communicate with my student digitally.  My first foray into a website was a Weebly site that I had a for a few weeks several years ago.  I did not love it and felt that the time I was putting into it was not worth it.  Then I used a website that was provided by my school district where I could put some basic information and push out assignments, but it too was not something of which I was a big fan.  My next venture was using Google Calendar.  I created a Calendar for each of my classes and shared it with my students.  I was able to post assignments, announcements, and other items to it, but it still required students to email or print any work.  It worked, it was better than my previous sites, but it still wasn't quite what I wanted.  So going into the fall of 2014, I was in limbo again.  

I went to a training on the Canvas LMS.  This was more like what I was looking for!  However, in my time toying with it, I found it to be something that would be very complicated for my students and I would spend more time training them on the program than I would be teaching my curriculum.  But a couple of weeks before school was to start, my dilemma was solved when Google introduced Google Classroom.  Looking back at it now, it was very "feature deficient" at the time, but it did everything that I wanted it to do.  From that moment on, I was about 95% paperless until last year, when I was able to go fully paperless.  I had also built a Google site, but I didn't put a great deal of work into it because Classroom provided everything my site would have.  I recently created a tutorial on starting with Google Classroom and some of the basic and intermediate functions of the program.  You can see the video above.  

The badge/logo that I created for my "brand" and website.
Now that I am out of the classroom, I felt that it was time to build a site again, a place where I could share that things that I am passionate about, the presentations that I have delivered, and of course, this blog.  After some comparison shopping between Wix, Weebly, and the new Google Sites, I settled on building a site through Weebly.  I even went out and bought a domain from Go Daddy and produced a graphic to promote my "brand".  After a couple of days work (really, only a few hours over that time, Weebly is very user-friendly), I had a functional site that looked good.  However, as happy as I was, I still felt that something was missing, even though I couldn't figure out what it could be.  My answer came after listening to an episode of the Google Teacher Tribe podcast.  So much of what I have to share is in my Google Drive, is Google related, and my blog is through Google's Blogger platform.  Why not build a site through the new Google Sites?  Sure, there are a few things that Weebly could do that Sites wouldn't, but Sites would allow me to embed my Drive files, the site itself would be saved in my Drive, and I could still use my domain.  Rebuilding my site would not be too tedious; I had started to build a sample site when the new Sites came out.  Essentially, I was able to transfer the info from my Weebly site over to the Google site.  The finished product can be seen at www.andersonedtech.net.  

The new website provides many different things.  Obviously, this blog is featured and you'll be able to access my posts from the site.  I also have included some screencasts and videos that I have made, including the Google Classroom video I embedded earlier in this post.  I have linked some presentations that I have given at workshops and conferences; feel free to bookmark them and use them with your colleagues.  There is also a little bit about my background story and a contact page.  While I am not expecting to become the next educelebrity, I hope that what I share here and on my site will help somebody in some way.  Please take a moment to have a look at my site; your feedback on how I can make it better is 100% welcome! 

In closing, I am still waiting on word on the administrative positions that I interviewed for in the past few weeks.  I am very excited to think about what the future has in store for me, but if it doesn't happen right now, I really enjoy that position that I have now.  So for now, it's the "hurry up and wait" game.  Until next time... 




Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Buffering: A Recap of the Weekend Google Summit

Over this past weekend of January 28-29, I attended the EdTechTeam's Las Vegas Google Summit. This was the third consecutive year that I have attended the summit, and overall, the sixth EdTechTeam event.  Every time I attend one of these events, I am amazed at the number of people that take time out of their weekend to learn and grow, the knowledge of the presenters sharing the great tools that they use in their classrooms, and at this point, seeing people that I consider friends, even though they live sometimes thousands of miles away and the only time we see one another is during one of these events.   Not only was I able to attend and learn about some fabulous edtech tools, but I was able to share my expertise in two separate presentations.  It has taken me a couple of days to decompress, but here are some of my favorite moments and new discoveries from this past weekend.  

Me when I realized that my presentation was in danger!
The summits always start with a rousing keynote, and this was no different. Donnie Piercey got everybody fired up and motivated by emphasizing how teachers should have fun with the students and classes.  My first session after the keynote was focused on hyperdocs.  The instructor provided some fine examples of hyperdocs, but unfortunately, I was not able to stay for the entire session.  Partway through, I realized that my new Chromebook has a micro-HDMI input, not the HDMI input that my old Chromebook had.  Since I was presenting not long after the session, I had to find an adapter for my VGA to HDMI dongle.  A quick run to Best Buy down the street from the school got me my adapter and crisis was averted.  I was able to save the presentation materials so I can go back to look at them and start playing around with hyperdocs more.  

I am very active with my blog, but I am always looking for more ideas on how to help teachers incorporate blogging into their classes with their students.  The presenter for the blogging session was Charity Helman, a wonderful teacher from Calgary, AB.  She showed some great examples of students' blogs from her classroom and shared ideas on how teachers could incorporate blogging further.  There was also time for teachers that did not have a blog to set one up to dive into with their classes on Monday.  Charity also shared her blog, one that she said she hopes to contribute to more often.  

If I only inspired one kid in my career, it's
moments like this that make it worth it!
My first presentation of the summit was on screenshot and screencasting programs.  My session was quite packed with lots of eager educators with plenty of questions and insights on how they use screenshots and screencasts.  However, my absolute favorite moment of the entire weekend came just before I was about to get my session started.  As I was greeting people and assisting them with logging into my presentation on Pear Deck, one woman that had sat down looked very familiar, so I asked her if we had met before.  Her response was along the lines of "Yes, I can definitely say we have".  It turns out that this woman, Tiffany Orton, was a student of mine 9 years ago and had me for US Government.  She is now married so the last name threw me off, but as soon as she told me who she was, I remembered her.  In my defense, I had her in the 2007-2008 school year, so it had been a long time since I had seen her.  I was excited to see a former student, now a teacher, coming to learn from me once again.  On top of that, she sent me a very nice direct message on Twitter, thanking me for the session and everything that I had done to inspire her many years before.  And speaking of Twitter, she needs more educational followers; take a moment to follow Tiffany and share your expertise with her!  

My second favorite part of the weekend came learning about Soundtrap.  The presenter, Meredith Allen, described the product as "the result of Garage Band and Google Docs having a child".  Garage Band is an amazing music and recording program, but it is limited to Apple products.  You don't have that issue with Soundtrap, as it is available across all platforms as a web-based program.  You can also download apps for Android and iOS.  Once you have created your account, you can share a song or a recording for editing purposes with others, much like you would a Google Doc, Slides, Sheets, or other.  I received an email in the days leading up to the summit that explained what Soundtrap was and that they would be at the summit as a vendor and presenter.  I created an account and toyed around with it a bit before Saturday, but I was definitely looking forward to the presentation.  I enjoyed the presentation and the potential for the program with students so much that I went to the same presentation again on Sunday to make sure that I didn't miss anything and to play around with it as well.  During the sessions, in the course of about 10 minutes, I was able to create a sample jingle for a podcast, which you check out here.  To top it off, I won a 6-month account for me and up to 50 students, which normally would cost $250/year!  I will be using the program to record and produce a podcast that a couple of teachers at my school are planning.  Stay tuned for the Ridge Life Podcast!

My presentation on Sunday morning was on a topic and in a format that I had never done before.  I organized my presentation as a roundtable discussion amongst teacher leaders and administrators on how to bring tech-newbies and tech-resisters into the fold at our schools and districts.  I created a document that allowed for attendees to add ideas of things that has worked for them and things that could potentially work.  It was a shame that the session was only an hour; we had to cut off in the middle of a great conversation.  There are a lot of great things going on in schools throughout my district and in the districts that were represented by attendees.  You can check out some of their ideas on the shared document from the session.

I've proved that I know the tools, my
video needs to better demonstrate it!
The last session that I attended was on the various Google certification program.  While the session was geared more for people that were interested in becoming Level 1 certified, I was interested in learning more about the Trainer, Innovator, and Administrator program, as I already have my Level 1 & 2 certifications.  I had applied for the Google Certified Trainer program, but learned last week that I had been rejected (which very closely relates to Charity's closing keynote speech on failure).  From information provided by Michelle Armstrong, I have a good idea of what I need to do to tweak my trainer video and be accepted.  I also have a good idea of something that I would like to do for the Google Certified Innovator program, but there is going to be a great deal of groundwork to do before I submit an application.  The session ended before information on the Google Certified Administrator program could be shared, but I have looked at some of the modules and have an idea of what is needed.  If you are interested in any of the Google certification programs, take a look at the Google for Education Training Center.

The closing for the event was a keynote from Charity Helman (her first, I believe!) on failure.  She highlighted how throughout her life, she has endured what most people would refer to as failures, only to rise to where she is today as a wife, a mother, an educator, Google Certified Educator Level 1 & 2, Google Certified Trainer, and a presenter for EdTechTeam Summits.  She emphasized that if you allow a failure to dictate, then you will indeed be a failure.  But if you can analyze the failure, learn from it, and make changes, you too can do amazing things.

It was so great to learn from great people, see good friends that I don't get to see often enough and make plans to see each other again.  I am going to apologize now if I miss a name, but some of those great people are Jeff Heil, Emily Fitzpatrick, Joanne Schmutz, Craig Statucki, Tina Statucki, Snehal Bhakta, Lucas Leavitt, Nick Park, Dennis Jarrell, Donnie, Michelle, Charity, Pear Deck, Soundtrap, and the EdTechTeam.  I look forward to the next time we meet!

Until next time...


Saturday, January 28, 2017

The More You Know

You, me, we all do, and always will!
As an educator and as a human being, I am always looking to learn new things.  Whether it is learning how to shoot a better slapshot (this is a never-ending endeavor), tie a funky knot in my tie, or a new program or piece of technology, my quest for knowledge and trying new things is something I strive for on a daily basis.  One of the things that are very tough for many people is to admit when they don't know about something.  Sometimes it's because they are trying to fit in with the crowd around them.  Sometimes it's because they do know a little something about a particular topic or skill, but they purposefully or inadvertently inflate their knowledge and experience.  Sometimes, people just flat out lie about their particular skills to gain a competitive advantage.  Regardless, it has happened to us all, but if you can admit to yourself and others that you do not know much, or anything, about a subject, skill, etc., the better off you will be to learn more.  

In the past few days, I have come across several things that I knew nothing about or had very limited experience with in the past.  Many of these came about when teachers requested help in said skill.  When I started my position in August 2016, from the very beginning, I informed people that I was not an expert on all things techy and that there may be times that I would learn from them and/or learn with them.  So when I was approached regarding pivot tables, spreadsheet queries, and submitting images and files as responses in a Google Form, I was doing as much learning as the teacher who requested my help.  There are also several new apps and programs that I have learned about in the past few days.  Some came from attending a conference, some from listening to a podcast, come just by luck while doing a search for something else.  Regardless of where I found out about these new tech tools, I am excited to share them!

Understatement... 
The pivot table is an amazing way to pull spreadsheet data and sort into new ways.  The teacher that requested the help was looking to create a rubric for a choral festival that he is helping to judge.  He would be one of 6 judges evaluating over 400 students from throughout the State of Nevada in several different areas of critique during their singing auditions.  Using the rubric, each judge would input the students' names, region, school, scores, and other items.  The pivot table would allow him to pull scores for each student, each judge, each region, each school, so on and so forth.  In the past, he had to compile everything from handwritten rubrics and it was a process that took hours.  Now, in mere minutes, he will have all of the information he needs, sorted neatly, and disseminated quickly.  I did not have any experience with pivot tables prior to this, and while I am still not an expert, I was amazed at the potential using pivot tables.

Spreadsheet queries are a bit more complicated.  I still do not fully understand them in all honesty.  They can do a lot of the same functions that a pivot table can do, but they can take it a step further by requesting only specific data from a spreadsheet.  It involves a query function that can get very long and very complicated.  The function pulls data from the data set and organizes neat and clean.  One of the ROTC teachers at my school created a rubric to assess cadets attendance, dress, grooming, and other items in their evaluation.  The query that he created then pulls students by class, date, whether they were present, and overall scores.  He set up the parameters in the function of what exactly he wanted to have pulled.  He was having trouble with the function showing an error that we were eventually able to figure out.  However, this is something that I am definitely going to need to do my research on further.

The greatest surprise of the past couple of weeks was the discovery of the response with file option in Google Forms.  I understand that has been around for a bit now, but sometimes you miss things.  Obviously, I missed this one!  Forms give you several different types of questions to choose from, like long text, multiple choice, and dropdown menu.  Forms now give an option of inserting a file for a response!  You can upload images, Google Drive files, audio, video, and pdf files.  When the form is submitted, it creates a Drive link to the file in the response sheet, while also creating a new folder in your Drive that is named after the question.  There is one kicker: the form can only be shared with others within your domain to use this option.  I discovered this tool by accident when our student council advisor was looking for a way to have students send proof that they had attended a school event when she was not there to verify.  Her students are going to complete the form and upload a picture of themselves at the event (ex. basketball game).

Some of the other tools that I have discovered in the past few days include Sock Puppets and Chatterpix, two iOS apps.  Sock Puppets is a digital storytelling app that allows users to create sock puppet shows and record their voice to tell a story.  Chatterpix takes a picture, allows you to draw a line over the mouth of the character in the image, record your voice, and make the picture talk.  My 5-year-old daughter and I had a lot of fun with both of the apps!  I also discovered Soundtrap, a web-based music and podcasting service that is similar to Apple's Garage Band.  It is compatible across all devices and the free version is very robust.  It also has a collaboration piece where users can video conference on the site to create songs together! The paid version allows unlimited songs and more choices in instruments and whatnot, but there are tons of options in the free version as well.

This weekend, I am attending and presenting at the Las Vegas Google Summit.  I will be providing a post on some of the great things that I learn there.

Until next time...