Thursday, September 6, 2018

Edtech Baby Steps

I'm not 100% sure where I saw it, or when I saw it, for the first time, but there's a great quote out there somewhere, and I paraphrase, "Anybody that is an expert at something was once a beginner."  Now, before I go any further, I don't feel that I am an expert at anything.  I am very good at some things, but to be an expert at anything takes a lot of commitment, knowledge, and time.  And besides, I like to think that if I am not an expert at something, that means that I can continue to learn more about a particular subject.  

I am very passionate about education, which you have figured out if you have ever read my blog, read any of my tweets, or while only an episode in, listened to my podcast, The BeerEDU Podcast, that I host with my friend, Ben Dickson.  I am not an expert in educational technology, leadership, or instructional design, regardless of my college degrees, certificates of completion from various trainings and conferences, or endorsements from technology companies like Google and Pear Deck.  But between my passion for what I do and the knowledge that I do have, I believe that I that I have a lot to give to my students and my colleagues.  

I was most certainly one of those beginners that the quote recognizes.  In fact, when I think back to my first years as a teacher, I wish I could track down those several hundred students and apologize to them for the most likely horrific job that I did as their teacher.  However, over time, with experience, education, and sheer determination to try things, fail, and try again, I became better and built my passion and knowledge of many aspects of education.  I have had the honor of presenting to hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers over the course of the last several years and taught thousands of students.  Whenever I get feedback from a teacher or a thank you from a student, it really humbles me and makes me realize I made the right decision with my career choice.  

Fast forward to my new position as a special education teacher.  While I clearly have a lot to learn, so far, I feel very confident in my abilities and I am truly enjoying the job.  One of the greatest perks, but also challenges, is working in classrooms that aren't technically mine.  As a co-teacher, I assist a general education teacher, somebody that I had never met until a month ago, somebody that has their own expectations and teaching style, and since I am very passionate about and tend to focus a lot on educational technology in this blog, their own abilities in integrating technology.  

In conversations with my partner, we talked a lot about how we would work together, sharing our experiences working in a co-teaching model.  We agreed that it would be great if we could build a teaching relationship where we both could bounce off of one another and bounce ideas for lessons off of each other and try things.  My partner admitted that they were not very tech savvy, but that if I wanted to try some things, they would be willing to learn more about it; their enthusiasm is very admirable!  

So far, I have been able to present some lessons to our students that incorporate some things that my partner has said that they had never heard of, let alone used in class.  In the first couple of weeks, I used Quizizz to conduct a preassessment of students, then used the same assessment several times to show students their growth and learning (thanks Jon Corippo for that idea from Eduprotocols!).  I used Pear Deck to present some concepts on the Renaissance, building formative assessments into the presentation to gauge student learning as we went along, then shared student responses to them through the Takeaways function.  I also introduced students to Flipgrid, giving them a fun sample activity to introduce them to the app before using it for an activity at a later time.  

While I am excited to share my passion and knowledge of technology and help my teaching partner learn some new things, I also know that I cannot overwhelm them with too much, too fast.  That can backfire very quickly and scare them away from trying new things.  I am certainly up to the challenge and am absolutely excited for this school year, and whether you're starting a new adventure or starting a new year doing what you have done for decades, I hope you are excited for 2018-2019 as well!  

Until next time... 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Joy of Writing, Settling In, and Becoming a Senator

I pride myself in writing as often as I can.  I like to write this blog, trying to get a post out once every 1-2 weeks.  I like to get onto Twitter and participate in chats on a regular basis.  I also kind of enjoy writing my assignments for my graduate program (I would rather write than have to complete a 100 questions multiple choice exam).  So it has pained me that I have not been able to do much writing over the past month and a half.  However, the changes in my life that I had outlined in previous posts like The Definition of Home, Uncertainty & Potential, Wow, 13 Years!, and The Pieces Falling in Place certainly had a lot to do with my absence from the keyboard.  That being said, I'd like to take some time to bring you up to speed!

The most glaringly obvious thing that happened was the move from Las Vegas to Reno.  Since my wife decided on the University of Nevada-Reno to further her studies back in the spring, we had slowly started to pack away things, get rid of some stuff, and figure out what we would need to put into storage, since we decided to downsize our home for the couple of years that she would be in school.  We also had some visitors come to town to see us before we moved, including one of the greatest surprises that my wife has ever concocted for me.  

What do you do when your best friend comes into town and
totally surprises you?  You take him to get authentic
Mexican food that he can't get back home! 
On a stormy Monday night in July, Mary and I took the kids out to dinner with some friends, then grabbed Dairy Queen on the way home, running into what was first a horrific wind/dust storm before the sky opened up and dumped a ton of rain, knocking out power to traffic lights on our drive home.  I went to bed around midnight, only to be woken up around 1:30 to what I thought was the doorbell ringing.  In my grogginess, I assumed I was dreaming and rolled back over to go back to sleep (not that I would have gotten up to answer it anyway, you never know what that could have turned into).  A moment or two later, Mary came back and told me that she needed help at the front door.  I was furious/concerned that she answered the door that I thought I dreamt, so I was prepared for the worse.  As I rounded the corner, I saw the door propped open by an arm, so I called out, asking what they wanted.  The person outside on the porch poked their head into the doorway and said, "What's up sugar?"  It was my best friend, John, and his son, all the way from Michigan!  Mary and John and schemed for a month to surprise me.  Granted, he was supposed to be in many hours earlier, but the storms had delayed his flights and they had to divert to another airport to get fuel before continuing on to Las Vegas.  I also had a good friend from high school come to town with his wife to visit just days before moving.  Between friends coming to town and meeting up with several friends in Las Vegas before the move, there were plenty of emotional goodbyes in the days leading up to picking up the truck.  

Image may contain: cloud, sky, outdoor and nature
As we worked out way north on US-95 from Las Vegas to
Reno, Mary took this beautiful shot of our moving truck
and the storm clouds
The move was most certainly bittersweet.  We had some good friends show up early on a morning that was already approaching 100 with high humidity, a rarity in Las Vegas, to load up our moving truck.  By the time everything was packed up around 11 AM, it was over 110, with thunderstorms off in the distance, bringing in more humidity, something that I grew up with, but certainly do not miss when it is hot.  Now, the tricky part:  driving a 26-foot moving truck while towing a car behind.  While I have towed our camper behind a vehicle before, I had never driven anything as long as the moving truck while towing.  To top it off, we had decided to drive about 3 and a half hours north of Las Vegas to Tonopah, and we were leaving in the middle of the afternoon rush hour.  Luckily, I only had to worry about a short stretch of freeway where it was really busy before the road opened up and traffic thinned out.  A quick stop for gas, a Moon Pie and a Red Bull, and we were on our way (and for the record, that was the first time I had ever had a Moon Pie)!

Walker Lake, between Hawthorne and Schurz,
is beautiful, but that beauty was diminished by
smoke, and well, let's face it: the woman on the
right is hands down more beautiful!
One of the best nights of sleep that I have had in a long time came that night.  After days upon days of packing, then loading a moving truck, sleep had not exactly been a priority.  We got to our hotel around 7, checked into our room, then headed for the restaurant in the hotel.  By 8:30, we were back in our room, and after a quick check in on Facetime with the kids, I was asleep by 9:00, knowing we had another 4 hours to drive the next morning, plus the unloading of the truck into our apartment and the storage unit.

A quick breakfast, a couple of cups of coffee, a fill of water bottles, and a quick search of Google Play Music, and we were on our way from Tonopah to Reno.  The drive wasn't much different than the dozens of other times we had driven US-95, snaking our way across Nevada past small towns and ghost towns like Coaldale Junction, Mina, Luning, Hawthorne, Schurz, Yerington, and Silver Springs.  The biggest difference on this day was the smoky haze clouding the mountains around us and the horizon.  Fires like the Ferguson Fire near Yosemite National Park, the Mendocino Complex Fires west of the northern reaches of the Central Valley, and the Carr Fire near Redding, CA had blown smoke over the Sierras and had settled into the valleys of Nevada (the night of our arrival, another fire erupted near Pyramid Lake, just north of Reno, spewing more smoke into the air).  As of this writing nearly a month after the move, many of those fires are still burning and others have ignited since, with thousands of people losing their homes and several losing their lives.

After getting everything unpacked and set up in the new apartment, putting our extras into a storage unit (we did, after all, move from a 3 bedroom house into a much smaller apartment), then getting the kids from my parents, it was time to start focusing on the whole reason for the move in the first place: getting Mary set up for graduate school and starting my new job.  On top of that, both kids needed to settle into their new schools.  The course of the next couple of weeks included a lot of school shopping, textbook purchases (which even with buying used and rentals from Amazon, I realized that I am in the wrong business, I need to sell college textbooks!  Wait, no I don't, I want to be part of the revolution that sees college textbooks go by the wayside!), learning new streets and finding killer burger and Mexican places, and lots and lots of new hire meetings and trainings and learning the ropes of a position I have only been an observer to for my entire career (and I am still a deer in the headlights regarding many aspects of becoming a special education teacher, but luckily, I work with some amazing people that have been nothing but awesome in my transition).

Moving to a new school is always going to be tough, but my new digs have been nothing but welcoming!  My new colleagues that I have met, from the school's support staff, teachers, and administration, up to the district superintendent, have been absolutely amazing!  Working in a small town at the only high school also has its perks as well, a place where most everyone knows most everyone else and buys into the school and the community.    I am really looking forward to what this school year has in store for me and my family. 

Until next time...