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!

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...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Because over the last few days, I have drunk any coffee in sight!  
I normally like to kick out a post about once a week.  Not only does it get my itch for writing out of the way, but it also gives me an opportunity to share out some great things that I have discovered or done since the previous post, provide some motivation to myself and others, and make a snarky comment or two, which is always a good time!  However, in the past couple of weeks, things have certainly piled up on me, limiting my time to be able to knock out a new post.  I have learned about many new programs, participated in some professional development, led professional development both at school and at a conference, and worked on some things that can/will have a profound effect on my life and career.  Without boring you too much, here is a synopsis of the previous couple of weeks and what I have on tap in the coming day...

Dean's Interviews:  One of my goals for 2017 was to secure a position as a school administrator.  Over the past month, I have done my research and applied for a handful of positions in my district.  Total, I have applied for seven middle/high school dean positions, and one elementary assistant principal position.  I have received a callback and interview on five of those positions.  Last week, I interviewed for two of the dean's positions, with a third school's interview today (as of this writing on 1/25).  I have been notified that I am a finalist for the two positions in which I interviewed for last week.  This means that I have a second interview at one school tomorrow and another at the second school on Monday, 1/30.  The preparation and interviewing process can be very stressful and time-consuming, but I am confident in my abilities.

Las Vegas Conference featuring Apple Teacher:  I had the opportunity to attend and present at the inaugural EdTechTeam Apple Teacher Conference this past weekend.  Heather Dowd was the opening keynote, focusing on teaching and learning as a "choose your own adventure" style book.  I presented a session on Adobe Spark at the event and learned a great deal on Keynote, Garage Band, and iMovie during other sessions.  I must give Mark Hammons and Snehal Bhakta a ton of credit for putting on a great conference and I look forward to the Apple Teacher conference making its return to Las Vegas and/or attending at another location.
Happy folk enjoying my session on Adobe Spark!

Got to meet Kelly Baker and Lauren Goodner, two #TOSAchat peeps!

Love this quote!
Tech Tuesday & Education Meet-Up: This week, I started up a Tech Tuesday program for the staff of my school.  I have planned four Tuesday sessions on various tech tools, with the hopes of expanding it after this trial four sessions.  This week, I focused on Adobe Spark (you can view my session notes here).  Next week's focus will be website building programs like Wix, Weebly, and the new Google Sites.  I also presented at an Education Meet-Up for teachers new to the district, showing teachers how they can use Google Forms to create rubrics for various class activities.  Over the past few days, I had to prepare the presentations for each of those.

Pear Deck Training: Earlier in the fall, I purchased a site license of Pear Deck for my staff.  Working with my sales rep, I helped other schools in my district to purchase a license as well.  My sales rep, Nick Park, is going to be hosting a training for district employees on Thursday and Friday of this week.  While I am not required to be there, I plan on attending at least one of the sessions to learn some tricks with Pear Deck that I may not know of and to meet my rep that helped get my school and so many others a great deal on a great program.

Las Vegas Summit featuring Google:  This coming weekend, the EdTechTeam will be back with their annual Google Summit.  I have attended the summit each of the last three years, and presented at a couple of them, in addition to presenting at other events that EdTechTeam has hosted.  I will be presenting two sessions at this event, one on screenshots and screencasts, and another roundtable discussion on integrating tech newbies and tech resisters into the mold of innovative digital teaching and learning.  On top of presenting, I will be attending various sessions throughout the two-day event.  
Life does not stop when you get busy.  I still have my family, housework, getting my daughter from school and to her dance classes, cooking meals, getting to the gym (I have consistently been waking up at 4 am to get to the gym by 5 and work out before work), and so much more.  On top of that, CUE-NV is hosting Tech Fest in Minden this weekend (still time to register), and while I am not going, I have been doing a lot of different things to help those that are going to be ready, like creating a schedule, promotional materials, prize certificates, and the like.  I have been lucky to get 5-6 hours of sleep a night as of late, but I wouldn't change any of it!  I like to be busy, and it keeps me out of trouble!

However, on a more serious front, I did receive word that my Google Certified Trainer application was rejected.  Since it is a rolling application now, I can reapply after I look at my materials and revamp some things.  Google did not inform me of why my application was rejected, but I know I can improve my application and get in next time.

I also got a devastating phone call from my best friend, John VanDusen, last Saturday, informing me that his mother passed away unexpectedly.  Throughout my college years and beyond, John's parents were like a second set of parents to me.  It hasn't quite set in, most likely because I live 2000 miles away.

After the dust settles on these couple of weeks, I will hopefully be able to get back to a more stable writing schedule and share out some of the great things I have discovered and rediscovered in the past few days and weeks.  Until next time...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Learning by Creating

Try demonstrating how to do this by writing an essay!
A few months ago, I submitted applications to present at various conferences, and now I am only a few days away from those presentations.  I will be presenting at the Las Vegas Conference featuring Apple Teacher on Adobe Spark (there are still tickets available for the conference, join us, it is sure to be a great event!). The following weekend, I will be presenting at the Las Vegas Summit featuring Google on screenshot and screencasting apps and programs.  I am also hosting a roundtable presentation/discussion on how administrators and teacher leaders can help to bring tech newbies and tech resisters into the fold and advance the cause of using technology in education.  This event is already sold out.  This week, I participated in a Twitter chat that focused on the debate of whether schools and teachers need textbooks and arguments for ditching the textbook, and the conversation has continued in the #ConnectedTL Voxer group.  So what do all of these things have in common?  To me, it relates to the fact that the best way to prove that you have learned something is to demonstrate it through creation.  If you learned how to bake a loaf of bread, you don't take a test or answer worksheet questions, you mix the ingredients and bake the loaf of bread (ok, I admit, that is a really simplistic way of putting it; the point is that you create the bread, you don't answer multiple choice questions and get a loaf of bread on your counter ready to be filled with pastrami and swiss).  

As a classroom teacher, did I use the textbook?  Absolutely!  Did I give assignments and assessments that were not of the creation persuasion?  Yep, sure did!  Was the textbook the basis of everything that I did with my students and did I assess their learning at all times by a standard summative assessment?  By no means whatsoever!  My students did plenty of creating in my class, from historical memes to short videos, from planning an historical dinner party to creating news media stories on events in the nation's history.  Yes, there were assignments consisting of vocabulary words, questions, essay topics, and textbook and other source reading.  I would like to think of myself as a "hybrid textbook ditcher" because while I still used the book (there are a time and a place for textbooks, worksheets, etc.), I created a great deal of content and my students created a ton as well.

I don't believe that textbooks are, in my words in the Twitter chat, "the spawn of Satan".  I think that using the textbook as THE curriculum is problematic, however.   Textbooks are and should be on the decline in our digital world.  Online textbooks are cheaper and more readily available.  When I was still in the classroom, if a principal told me that my textbooks would be taken away, I would have been able to survive.  There are tons of resources, free and paid, available to educators.  I love creating my own content and activities.  It takes time and can be frustrating at times, but in the end, it is so much better for students when you can tailor activities for them, rather than relying on a teacher's edition or a workbook that came with the text.

Here is a short list of some of my (current) favorite programs for creating and getting away from the textbook and worksheet.

Adobe Spark:  When I was in the classroom, this program was known as Adobe Voice (for the video side of the program).  In the spring of 2016, Adobe revamped Voice, renaming it Video, and incorporated two other programs, Page and Post, under the Adobe Spark brand.  This is currently my most favorite program.  If I want to make a short video quickly, Video allows me to incorporate text, pictures, short video clips, art, sound, and voiceovers to make a high-quality video.  Each year, I honor men's health during No Shave November; this year, I documented my beard growth and created a video using Adobe Spark Video.  You can see my video here.

Page allows you to make simple, yet beautiful, web graphics.  You can create pages with images, text, captions, "glideshows", and buttons to outside sites.  For my 5-year-old's 5th birthday in November, we went to Disneyland.  I created a simple, quick, but still stunning, Spark Page documenting our trip to Disneyland.  Check out my creation here.

Lastly, Adobe Spark Post helps you create beautiful graphics for social media posts.  Images, text, and themes can help you to make high-quality graphics reminiscent of the graphic cards, memes, motivational quotes, and other images that make their rounds on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social media platforms.  To promote CUE-NV's Tech Fest on January 28th in Minden, NV (about 45 or so south of Reno, register here!), I created this announcement using Post.

Canva: Canva is similar to Adobe Spark Post in its functions, but it has many more templates and editing features.  Some examples of the templates available in Canva include social media posts, cards, posters, magazine covers, and resumes, so it's not just limited to strictly graphics.  I used Canva to design my business cards.  The process was very easy and I was able to save the files as .pdf to upload to Staples' website for my order.  Check out my designs for the front and back of my business card.
Another graphic I created in Canva.  This song lyric really spoke to me earlier this week,
 essentially telling me that you are going to have struggles, but in the end, you'll be fine
if you just push on through.  

Google Slides
:  If you are reading this, I'm sure that you are a user of Google Slides, if not, Microsoft PowerPoint or Keynote.  Slides is not just a program for putting together a set of slides for a presentation.  So many other things can be done with Google Slides!  You can create storyboards, magazines, social media type posts, and so much more by tweaking the standard settings of Google Slides, such as customizing the page setup, setting backgrounds for slides (either individual or by setting a master slide), and using the insert functions on blank slides to make it completely your own for whatever you may want to do.  My buddy Ryan O'Donnell has graciously shared tons of ideas and templates for creative ways to use Google Slides.  Head over to his website,, and click on the Templates button to get inspired!

Taking a page out of Jon Corippo and Susan Stewart's book (check out their list of great tools here), I want to compile a list of great resources that teachers use.  Please take a moment to complete the form below and add the amazing tools that you use with your students, staff, families, and community.

I will share the results of the form in a later post.  I cannot wait to see what everybody has to share! Until next time... 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Why Make Resolutions When You Can Make Goals?

If you consistently do not hold yourself to a resolution or
a set of resolutions, why continue to do so? 
Another year down, another new year is upon us.  With that comes a slew of New Year's resolutions, little things (or big things) that people say they are going to do in the new year.  However, when looking back at the end of a year, how many people can say they have actually accomplished what they set out to do with their resolutions 12 months prior?  I am just as guilty as everybody else when I used to set resolutions each year.  In 2010, I set a resolution to run a marathon.  I started a training program on January 1st and worked at it for about a week and a half.  On January 14, my brother passed away unexpectedly.  Rather than using a training program to ease my pain, I turned to food and alcohol.  Nine months later, I snapped out of it, scaling back on alcohol significantly and joining Weight Watchers to get my eating and weight under control.  I never have gone back to attempting a full marathon, but I do have a few half marathons under my belt now.  Since then, I haven't made any New Year's resolutions.

Set yourself up to score!
I'm not sure where I saw it, but in the days leading up to New Year's Day, I saw something that really struck a chord with me regarding resolutions.  Essentially, what I saw pointed out that resolutions are mostly empty words.  If you don't meet the resolution, there isn't anything to hold you accountable.  However, by changing it from a New Year's resolution to a New Year's goal, now you have something that can hold up more easily.  With a goal, you will take steps to meet that goal.  If you don't meet your goal in the time in which you planned, you can modify your goal or modify the steps needed to meet it.  A resolution usually ends up as abandoned with a simple, "Meh?!?!".  Why set yourself up for failure with simple words when you can set a goal, identify the steps needed to achieve that goal, and execute the plan? 

I have narrowed down three goals that I have for the coming months and year.  It would be unfair to call them New Year's goals, as I have been working at them for a few weeks already.  However, they are goals for 2017, so I'm going to count them.  

Goal #1: Lose 50 lbs by the end of the year
After my brother died and I went on a 9-month binge of eating, drinking, and depression, I eventually lost 65 pounds on the Weight Watchers program.  I made it down to a weight that I hadn't seen prior to my first season playing football in college.  However, in the past few years of having children, taking on my responsibilities in my life, and sheer love of food and the occasional beers, I have gained a great deal of that weight back and I am not necessarily happy with myself.  Around Thanksgiving, I returned to Weight Watchers and began to get my eating habits back in order again.  My goal is to get back to about 230 lbs by the end of 2017.  What is it going to take?  Tracking my food intake, exercising (I need to get back into running again, I haven't done much since my knee tendonitis of the early part of 2016), and attending a weekly Weight Watchers meeting.  If I am diligent with those steps, my goal should be knocked out!

Goal #2: Gain a position in administration as a dean or elementary assistant principal
In 2014, I graduated with an educational specialist degree in school administration.  Nearly three years later, I am actively pursuing positions in administration in my district.  It isn't because I don't like my current position; I absolutely love my job as a learning strategist and technology coordinator. However, I feel that I have a lot to offer as an educational leader and can make a great impact on student learning, teacher professional development, and family and community engagement.  What I have done to achieve this goal?  I put together a portfolio consisting of my resume, evaluations, letters of interest, letters of recommendations, and achievements such as my Google Certified Educator certificates.  I have applied for four positions in the past few weeks (an elementary assistant principal opening, a middle school dean opening, and two high school dean positions).  I have spent time with one of my school's assistant principals going through mock interviews.  For two of the positions, I was contacted for interviews over the winter break.  I am now playing the waiting game to hear back on those positions.  If I don't get one of them, I will continue to research open positions and conduct myself to the best of my ability in an interview.  

Goal #3: Turn my (relatively) weekly blog into the beginnings of a book
If you are reading this, you have figured out (probably) that I enjoy writing.  I am pretty consistent in getting a blog post out on a regular basis.  I feel that my blog allows me to share things that I have learned, ease stress, and connect with people in ways that I wouldn't be able to otherwise.  The more I have thought about my love of writing, the more I have thought about writing a book.  I am by no means close to starting, let alone finishing, a book at the present time.  However, I would like to get a start on a book and have some of it written by the end of 2017.  At this point, I want it to be a memoir of how I got into education, where I am now, where I want to be, and how I want to make an impact on students, teachers, families, communities, and education as a whole.  I'm not necessarily looking to write a New York Times bestseller, but if one person reads it and is inspired, then any work I put into it will be completely worth it! 

Here's to an amazing 2017!  Set goals, follow up, achieve, share, and celebrate!  You can do it and you won't be disappointed! 

Until next time...