Friday, December 29, 2017

Reflection 2017 & Goals 2018

Goodbye, 2017!
As 2017 comes to a close, I have been reflecting on what 2017 was and what I want 2018 to be.  I wrote a post on January 2, 2017, that outlined three goals, not resolutions, that I wanted to meet by the end of the year.  If I am going to be honest, I did not do a good job of achieving my goals, for various reasons.  However, excuses aside and not accepted, I vow to achieve new goals for 2018 and make myself more accountable in attaining them. 

One of my goals was to lose 50 pounds during 2017.  I had vowed to attend weekly Weight Watchers meetings and begin to exercise more often.  I did not achieve this goal; in fact, I actually gained weight.  The biggest reason for my failure was that I set too lofty of a goal.  I set an end goal, without steps for progress throughout the year.  I also set myself up for failure by stating that I would attend my weekly meeting on Saturday mornings, a day where it is easy to skip the meeting because of work obligations (such as presenting at professional development, something that I did a lot of in 2017), wanting the extra sleep after a long, hard week, or using the excuse that there was too much hockey, baseball, and football on early on Saturday morning.

This year, it's going to be different!  I still am going to set a goal of losing 50 pounds by the end of 2018.  However, this time, I have made some significant changes to my goal.  To start, after quitting my Weight Watchers meetings early on in 2017, I have already signed up to go back to them, this time on Wednesday evenings.  It's a lot harder to skip a Wednesday night meeting or make up some excuse to "just go another time this week".  I decided to go back prior to the Christmas holiday so I could start getting into healthier habits sooner and to minimize the damage during the holidays.  After my first week, I lost 4.4 pounds, which included Christmas!  That weight loss is not sustainable every week, but in order to get to my 50 pounds in 2018 goal, I want to lose five pounds per month until the goal is achieved.  Technically, if I am able to do that for every month, I will lose 60 pounds or more next year, but they may be months where I don't meet the five-pound goal.  For now, I intend to lose the weight without going crazy at the gym, but as I begin to lose and feel better, I will start to incorporate more activity into my routine (I started to lift with my students at school, but with the time off, I haven't been lifting).

The Duffer Brother, creators, writers, directors, and producers of the hit
Netflix series Stranger Things have stated in several interviews how they
have written episodes of the series using Google Docs.

Image courtesy of
I also had set a goal of starting to write a book.  While I did not get the start on my book as I intended to, I did start to think of some ideas on what I want to go into the book and the format of how I want to write it.  Essentially, my book is going to be a memoir of my life and experiences and a tribute to those that I have shaped my life as a man, husband, father, educator, and coach.  When I think about writing a book, I think about the great authors before that toiled over a typewriter, pecking out their pages before binding them up and sending them off to a publisher.  When I think about how I am going to write it, I'm going to take a page out of the Duffer Brothers' book (see what I did there?  Expect a lot of puns and corny jokes in any book I eventually write!) and complete it using Google Docs!

My third goal that I had set for 2017 was to obtain a position as a dean or assistant principal.  This was a goal that I had achieved... sort of.  I will spare the details of everything, but in late February, I was appointed as a dean at a middle school and finished out the last 3 months of the school year.  About a month and a half into the new school year, I realized that becoming an administrator at this juncture of my career was not the right choice and I requested to return back to the classroom, becoming a physical education teacher for the first time in my career.  Hindsight is most definitely 20/20, but would I change the decision that I made if I could?  I don't think so.  I gained some valuable experience working as an administrator and learned to appreciate my profession even more than I had before.  The timing just wasn't right but someday, I'll give it another shot.

For more information on the above, please see my previous posts titled Priorities and Changes (For The Better)

So, besides weight loss and getting that start on my book, what else do I have planned to meet this year?  I have two other goals, one of which is practically already met, and another that I cannot 100% reveal just yet.

I had a conversation with my wife one afternoon about the dozens of presentations I have made to educators over the past few years.  I told her, much to her surprise, that of all of those presentations, none of them have been outside of the Las Vegas Valley.  That being said, I told her that I wanted to expand my horizons a bit and start presenting in locales outside of my home city.  As of today, I am lined up to present at the Tulare County Tech Rodeo in Visalia, CA on January 13, where I will be presenting Google Keep and Pear Deck, and the Inland Area CUE Tech Fair in Perris, CA on January 20 where I will be presenting the same.  The following weekend, I will be presenting each at the EdTech Team Google Summit in Las Vegas, an event that I will be presenting at for the fourth year in a row.  I also applied for the San Gabriel Valley Google Summit in Duarte, CA on February 10-11, but I have yet to hear about that event.  I want to apply to present at Fall CUE 2018, but my next goal may be a hindrance to that.

Unfortunately, at this time, I cannot go into great detail regarding my next goal.  There are many factors that will play into that goal that, at this time, are relatively confidential.  I may be able to speak about it as early as next week, but as a superstitious (to an extent) person, I don't want to jinx anything by saying something.  What I can say is that if the pieces fall into place, it will be a significant change to what I am doing now and an advancement in my career.

Here's to what was hopefully a prosperous 2017 and to an even more prosperous and successful 2018!  Until next time...

Friday, December 22, 2017

Our Civic Duty

As Americans, we are granted numerous rights and privileges based on the Constitution.  The Founding Fathers made sure that these rights were protected when drafting the Constitution because of the numerous violations and denials of rights by the British government during their colonial rule.  It took a war with the British to preserve those rights and the Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that our government couldn't/wouldn't do the same (and we were able to mend our relationship with the British, I like to compare it to a family quarrel, you still love each other but you have your differences and sometimes you have to move away in order to preserve that relationship).

Some of the rights and privileges granted by the Constitution are often times referred to as "civic duties."  What comes to my mind when I hear this are things like voting and jury duty.  Voting is a right that too few exercise on Election Day and much more are not informed voters when heading to the polls, which can be just as dangerous as not voting (I vow to not make this political, you can read into the previous line however you wish).  Jury duty, on the other hand, is something that many people have never done, and most people dread the thought of having to report for jury duty.  Recently, I had the opportunity to serve on a jury and the experience was something that I definitely learned a lot from.

I had my preconceived notions about jury duty and the court system, in general, going into duty; after all, I did teach social studies for a long time and watch a lot of Law & Order: SVU.  I knew that Hollywood embellished court proceedings, but how, I wasn't 100% sure.  I had been selected for jury duty twice before:  once in college, but I got out of it because I lived almost 5 hours from home, and once about 7-8 years ago, but I reported to the courthouse and was released a few hours later when they already had enough jurors.  One of the biggest questions I had was, "How do you get selected for a jury?"

I reported early on a Monday morning, checked in, and was instructed to listen for my "juror number" on my badge.  Hundreds of other people were there as well, most of them complaining about having to be there and how they were missing work, had to be somewhere else, etc.  After sitting for a couple of hours, my number was called and I was told, along with about 60 other people, that we would be going to a courtroom to being the jury selection process.  At this point, this is farther than I had ever made it in potentially serving on a jury.

The next step in the process of jury selection was questions and answers from the judge, the prosecution, and the defense.  The judge had a specific set of questions to ask, things like how long we had lived in Clark County, what we did for work, highest level of education, whether or not we could be impartial to testimony and evidence, and whether we would give more or less credence to testimony from officers simply because they were an officer.  The attorneys from both sides went into greater detail in their questions, often times based on answers that were given to questions from the judge.  One of the defense attorneys asked me if I wanted to be there and to not be afraid to say no, but I stated that I was intrigued by the process as a former social studies teacher and was interested in taking a real-life experience back to my students.

The process ended up taking nearly two full days.  Fourteen of us were selected to sit on the jury to hear a case involving armed robbery and illegal use of credit and debit cards and sworn in by the courts' clerk.  We heard the opening statements from the State of Nevada and the defense regarding the case and the first witness was called prior to our release from the first day.  At each break and when the case rested for the day, we were given strict instructions not to speak about the trial, not to do any research on the case or any of the parties, and to avoid any news or websites that may address the case.  We were instructed not to even tell our spouses.

Over the course of nearly two weeks, we heard from 25 witnesses, ranging from victims in the case to arresting officers, to expert witnesses in DNA, fingerprints, the "dumping of phone records", and many more.  Over 200 exhibits were introduced as evidence as well.  It was interesting to see how the prosecution and defense both approached witnesses, evidence, and questioning.  If you didn't know any better, you would have thought the two sides were on the same team; it is not like on TV where the prosecution and defense seem to be at each others' throats.

After closing statements, we were given instructions on jury deliberation and sent to a room where we would be "locked up" until we came out with a decision.  Because the trial ended late in the day, we did not begin to deliberate immediately.  We were asked to select a foreperson for the jury before we left; to my surprise, three of my peers on the jury stated that I should be the foreperson, which I found to be quite the honor.

When we reconvened the next morning over a breakfast of eggs and bacon provided by the court, we began the, what we thought was going to be, long process of picking through the evidence and our notes.  However, it didn't turn out to be nearly as long as we expected.  The State had put together a very solid case against the defendants and the evidence was very strong against them.  After only about 4 hours of deliberation, we summoned the bailiff and told him that we had a verdict.  We returned to the courtroom where the judge asked me if we had reached a verdict.  I turned it over to the bailiff and after the judge read it, the courts' clerk read to the defendants that we had found them guilty of all 25 counts in which they had been accused.  At this point, the judge thanked us for our service but stated that there were additional charges that could not be presented during the trial and that our services were needed further.  He assured us that it would be brief and that we would return to hear the charges and make our decision after lunch, which the court provided.

After lunch, we returned to the courtroom to hear that the additional charges involved illegal possession/ownership of firearms.  Because of the potential toxicity of those charges, they could not present them to us during the trial, hence why we had to spend about 10 minutes hearing the State's arguments; the defense declined to make a statement.  We returned back to the jury deliberation room and emerged less than 10 minutes later with verdicts of guilty on those two additional charges.

Once we were finished, the judge joined us in the deliberation room for a debrief and question and answer session.  He shared his thoughts on the trial, thanked us for our service and answered some of our questions about the process and the trial.  One of the burning questions that we all had was, "Why didn't these guys take a plea deal?"  The judge told us that he was surprised that the trial went through because the case against them was so solid, but that the State had offered a deal to both defendants.  The deal hinged on both taking it.  One of the defendants wanted the deal, but the other defendant counteroffered.  Apparently, this went on, back and forth, between the one defendant and the State.  Finally, the State offered one final deal that the defendant refused, so the case went trial.  The judge also invited us to come see other trials in progress and to come visit to see how the court works behind the scenes; I may take the court up on that offer!

When I am selected for jury duty again, I will be excited to serve again.  It was an amazing experience!  I knew the courts did not work like you see on TV, and it was cool to see the differences.  The experience also makes you be very objective and impartial in your analysis.  I have always felt that I am objective and impartial, but sometimes, even the more impartial can look at something or hear something and make their mind up.  And I think this is something that can be applied to my career as an educator, helping me to better understand my students and colleagues situations.

In closing, whatever you celebrate, or don't celebrate, during this time of year, I wish for the best to you.   2017 is coming to a close, as is the first semester for many of us, and I look forward to further success in the coming year and semester.

Until next time...

Monday, December 4, 2017

Apples for Teachers? How About a Pear (Deck)?

This past Tuesday, I got an email from Risa Fadenrecht, the director of the Pear Deck Certified Coaches program.  In her message, she gave me some feedback on a Pear Deck presentation that I had submitted as part of the Certified Coaches cohort in which I was accepted a few weeks prior.  She also slipped in there, "Don't tell anybody because the official announcement will come later in the week, but you are officially accepted as a Pear Deck Certified Coach!"  The next day, I got the official announcement of my acceptance.  It came after a few weeks of online discussions with educators from all over the United States an Canada, "testing" my knowledge and skills of the ins and outs of Pear Deck, and building a presentation that exhibited the features of Pear Deck and demonstrated an engaging experience of students. The acceptance was a recognition of not just my knowledge and skills in using Pear Deck, but more for my love of the program and sharing its awesomeness with other people.

So, you haven't heard of Pear Deck, have a little knowledge, or maybe you want to build on what you know already?  If you fit one of there criteria, please continue to read on.  If not, no hard feelings, but I hope that you continue to read anyway!

At first glance, Pear Deck is a presentation tool that is similar to PowerPoint or Google Slides.  However, to describe Pear Deck as simply a presentation tool is doing it a great injustice.  Pear Deck is also a student engagement tool through its ability to embed images, video, questions, websites, and works really well with some of your favorite educational tools, like Google apps, Flipgrid, Kahoot!, Edpuzzle, and so many more.  Instead of simply projecting a presentation on a screen in front of your class, students become actively engaged in the lesson when they have the presentation on their own device, and you have the choice of controlling the presentation yourself or by opening it up in student-paced mode. 

As educators, we all strive to see where our students are through various forms of formative assessment.  However, even the best-intentioned teachers can get bogged down sifting through exit tickets, spreadsheet data from a Google Form of Kahoot!, etc.  Pear Deck helps through its live formative assessment tools.  Want to see how the class feels about a concept after spending a few minutes on it?  Use the quick "thumbs up/thumbs down" slide.  Feel more like a multiple choice slide?  How about a short answer, or even a long answer?  Maybe you are a math teacher and want students to give you a number answer.  Or how about getting to those students that tend to be more artistic by using a drawing slide?  All of this is possible with the question slides in Pear Deck!

Some (most) of the time, a slide with a few words isn't enough.  Pump up your slides using images, either by using Pear Deck's search tool or embed your own.  Found a great YouTube video?  Embed it, play it, let the discussion fly!  Have an outside website that putting in a link to doesn't do justice?  Have that website pop up right on students' screens!  Need students to contribute to a classroom activity as a whole?  Embed a Google Doc with editing rights or have students record a response using Flipgrid!  The possibilities are endless!

All subject areas and grade levels have specific vocabulary that needs to be mastered in order to be successful.  Get your students involved by using the Flashcard Factory! Assign students to groups and task them with creating the definitions.  The Flashcard Factory gives students the opportunity to not only create definitions and sentences using their terms, but they can add illustrations to the cards as well!  Best of all, sets of flashcards can be exported to Quizlet to give students the opportunity to review and compete with themselves and their peers. 

Pear Deck is limited in its design template, with a white background as the only choice.  Love what you are reading about Pear Deck, but want the choice in designing the template?  Fear not!  Pear Deck allows you to create a presentation in Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, or .pdf and upload it to Pear Deck!  From there, incorporate question slides, embed videos and websites, and take your presentation to the next level while keeping your eye-catching design!  Even better, the Pear Deck add-on for Google Slides allows you to create a Pear Deck presentation directly in Google Slides (at this time, it does not have the same full functionality of creating a presentation in Pear Deck, but a recent update to the add-on added more options for question slides)! 

Prior to the Pear Deck Certified Coaching cohort, I already had extensive knowledge of Pear Deck, its features, its uses, etc.  Since the Slides add-on and Flashcard Factory are relatively new, there was some work that went into learning more about each of those tools.  However, one of the best parts of the cohort was lessons in Pear Deck's "Peardagogy".  During the cohort, we learned about what makes a slide deck go from "meh", to good, to great.  One thing that I realized was that I was certainly guilty in the past of making some of my slides "too busy" with words, images, etc.  I realized that it is okay to break down one slide into five slides if need be, spending less time on each individual slide, but still covering what needs to be addressed and keeping my audience better engaged.  I can guarantee that future presentions by yours truly may be "longer", but they will be more visually pleasing and more engaging as a result. 

I cannot say enough good about Pear Deck.  In the edtech world, free is always good, but sometimes there are those tools that are well worth the price of admission, and Pear Deck definitely fits the bill.  At $99 a year for the premium features, you can create visually appealing, engaging, and fun presentations and FORMATIVE ASSESSMENTS.  If you have any questions about Pear Deck, please do not hesitate to contact me, I am always happy to "plug the Pear"!

Until next time...