Thursday, November 1, 2018

Google Slides Extensions & Add-Ons

In the words of Kasey Bell and Matt Miller of The Google Teacher Podcast, Google Slides is the Swiss Army Knife of educational technology tools, a tool that goes way beyond simple presentations.  That being said, there is a bevy of extensions and add-ons that pair with Google Slides to make it work even better for you.  While this is not an exhaustive list by any means, here are a few of my favorites that I use on a regular basis when building presentations, visuals, and activities in Google Slides.  

A sample of what you get with the
Pear Deck for Slides add-on!
If you have ever met me or read previous posts in my blog history, it is not a secret that I am a big fan of Pear Deck.  However, for the uninitiated, Pear Deck is a program that turns ordinary presentations into interactive ones that incorporate live questions and other formative assessments, designed for 100% student engagement.  Pear Deck has teamed up with Google and released a couple of great add-ons and extensions in recent months that make Pear Deck even better!

Pear Deck for Google Slides:  This is an add-on that is accessible via the add-ons menu in Google Slides.  Rather than creating presentations on peardeck.com, Pear Deck is now fully functional with Google Slides.  The add-on includes numerous slide templates for the beginning of class, during class, end of class, and critical thinking.  Want to make your own interactive slides?  The Pear Deck add-on allows for that as well, giving you numerous options, such as multiple choice, text response, and if you have a premium account, Draggable and drawing slides!  And while I am certainly biased as a Pear Deck Certified Coach, I firmly believe that the premium account is 100% worth the results of 100% student engagement.  Download the Pear Deck for Google Slides add-on through Google Slides, and learn more about Pear Deck at www.peardeck.com.

Sometimes, you need a random, unrelated gif in your
presentation.  Thanks, Giphy for being awesome!
Pear Deck Power Up:  If you are like me when building presentations, you love to put in animated gifs to emphasize a concept or bring a little humor to the content.  In the past, if trying to put a gif in a Pear deck presentation, it either would not upload into the presentation or it would freeze and turn into a static image file.  With the Pear Deck Power Up extension for Google Chrome, now you can place your animated gifs into a Pear Deck presentation!  But wait, there's more!  Not only do your gifs work, but animations you have built into Google Slides and any videos that are embedded that you want to autoplay will also work exactly as they are intended to!  To use the extension, you simply add it to Chrome and whenever you present a Pear Deck presentation, the extension will automatically go to work for you!  Get this great extension here!

Screencastify for Google Slides:  If you are into screencasting, you are most likely familiar with Screencastify.  If not, Screencastify is a free extension that you can add to Chrome that allows you to record your screen with voiceovers.  For a yearly fee of about $25, you can get the premium version that allows you to record longer videos, make edits to your screencasts, and a host of other options.  One of the best things about Screencastify is that your videos automatically save to a folder in Google Drive when you are done.  If you aren't using Screencastify yet, go ahead and add it to Chrome here.  Once you have done that, you are ready for the add-on for Slides!

The add-on is the definition of convenience and time-saving!  Once you add it from the add-ons menu in Slides and open it, it brings all of the screencasts that you have created into a side menu.  From there, with a single click, you can add your videos to a Google Slide!  While this is possible without the add-on, it takes a few more clicks to get your videos to your slide.  And who amongst us doesn't want to save time? 

Closed Captioning for Google Slides:  This is a relatively new feature that I have only used in testing trials; I have not used this in class or in a presentation to teachers yet.  However, from what I have seen using the tool thus far is amazing: when you switch a Google Slides file into presentation mode, your options for advancing slides, notes, pointer, and now, closed captioning!  When you turn on closed captioning, Slides will display what you are saying during your presentation on the screen.  Now, this isn't perfect, it makes its fair share of mistake.  It also cannot distinguish between two people talking, and if you have students near your computer microphone that are speaking, it will pick them up as well.  However, for those that may be able to see you and your presentation but not necessarily hear you and for students that are deaf or hard of hearing, this is a great new feature to accommodate your students! 

Look for this icon!
Explore Button:  This isn't an extension or an add-on, but it is something that I rely on almost daily in Google Slides.  In the bottom right corner of Slides, there is a button that looks like a speech bubble with a star in it.  When you click on this button, it opens up all sorts of greatness!  It will show you what your slide will look like in a different slide layout for starters.  Then by using the search function, you can search for articles and websites on your search criteria, images, and even your Google Drive.  With the click of a button, you can add links of the websites, images, and open files in your Drive where you grab items to put in your Slides file. 

Look for this too!
Calendar, Keep, & Tasks:  Again, another feature that isn't an extension or add-on, but a useful tool nonetheless.  Along the right side of the screen when you open Slides will give you small icons that link to Google Calendar, Keep, and Tasks.  Calendar and Tasks, when you click on them, open up your Calendar and your Tasks.  This is useful if you have put reminders or events in your calendar that you may want to put into your presentation.  As for Tasks, it is very similar to Calendar.  There isn't a way to drag anything you have in Calendar or Tasks into Slides, but if you need to see items there, you don't have to open another tab to open Calendar and Tasks.  However, the Keep function is very useful.  In Google Keep, you can save notes, images, links, and so much more.  When clicking on the Keep link in Slides, it opens your Keep notepad up along the right side.  From there, you can drag items directly into Slides without copying and pasting.  This is especially useful for those moments when you are out and about and think of something great to put in a presentation but you are unable to at the moment.  You simply make a note, then drag it into Slides at a later time!

Photos to Slides:  When doing a little research for this post, I stumbled upon an add-on called Photos to Slides.  It had the Google Photos logo, so I clicked on it to see what it was.  When installing this add-on, it allows users to upload albums from Google Photos into Google Slides, where Slides automatically creates a slide for each photo in the album.  I did a test run with it, and in about 2 minutes, it created a presentation of about 50 slides, one photo per slide!  I can see a running photo gallery by using the publish to the web function in Google Slides, I can see a teacher uploading photos of historical sites, geometric shapes in nature, and so many more possibilities using this add-on!  My experience with it is very short, but I'm definitely going to try this add-on more!

Hopefully, you gained something new about Google Slides out of this post.  Feel free to share other add-ons, extensions, or creative ways that you use Google Slides in your life by a quick comment, a tweet, or an email!

Until next time... sorry, I couldn't resist another relatively unrelated gif (with a hard G)! 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

2018 #FallCUE: Now I Can Sleep!

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Fall CUE Conference in American Canyon, CA.  For those uninitiated, Fall CUE is a smaller version of CUE's Spring Conference hosted every year at the entrance to Napa Wine Country, with hundreds of great presentations, vendors, and hundreds of awesome educhampions (more on this in a bit!).  I had attended this conference previously in 2016 but missed last year's event.  I was very happy to return to the event this year, with much less time spent traveling now that I am only about 3 hours away from Napa.  It took me a week to fully recover and reflect, so here goes!

Get ready world, Joe and I are about to be unleashed!
Anymore, whenever I go to a training or conference, I'm looking more for the networking aspect of the event.  This doesn't mean that I don't go to sessions or put less emphasis on sessions, but I always learn so much from simple interactions with people that I have grown to know and befriend, as well as meeting new people and learning their take on things.  Fall CUE was no different right from the start.  After picking up my conference badge and checking into my Airbnb, I headed to a pre-conference meet-up with other CUE leaders.  It was great to see so many of the people that have inspired me over the years, such as Brian Briggs, Ben Cogswell, Matt Miller, Ryan O'Donnell, Kristina Mattis, Nicole Beardsley, Misty Kluesner, Ann Kozma, and so many more.  It was also a pleasure to meet some others that I have interacted with on social media but never had the chance to meet in real life, like Joe Clark, Jay Sorenson, Adnan Iftekhar, and Burt Lo.  And I am just going to go on the record now and warn the world:  Joe Marquez and I were scheming some things, look out in the next few months for an epic collaboration between the two of us!  And how did this scheming take place?  A digital relationship that turned into a face-to-face relationship about a year ago and now is going to grow an amazing collaboration!

This time around, I went to sessions that I either did not have a solid background or had no background.  Hyperdocs was one of those sessions.  Now, before you judge, it's not that I haven't tried to get on the bandwagon.  I have gone to sessions at no less than four events on hyperdocs.  From that experience, I can give you a great Wikipedia worthy definition of what a hyperdoc is supposed to be, but I never felt that I could truly design one the way that it should be done.  This is not a knock on the presenters of the sessions, this is more of a knock on myself for not trying it out immediately after the session.  So this time, I vowed when I saw an extended two and a half hour session on hyperdocs, this was going to be it!  I am happy to report that I feel that I can finally build and implement hyperdocs in my classroom, and I owe all of that to a tremendous husband and wife presentation team in Eduardo and Ruby Rivera of Palm Springs.  Rather than presenting a session on what it is, handing over some templates and giving the attendees the reigns, they built a session that was a hyperdoc WITHIN a hyperdoc.  The session not only showed how it worked while in a hyperdoc, but it incorporated collaborative activities that grouped attendees.  Since it was a small session, maybe 10-12 people, there was a lot of one-on-one interaction with Eduardo and Ruby as well.  Not only am I better prepared to build hyperdocs, but now I am considering creating a presentation in the future in hyperdoc format! 

My expertise in green-screening was limited to my daughter's kindergarten class last year where her teacher did activities in her class using a green bolt of fabric from Joann's and the Doink app for iPad.  So, I decided to attend a session on green-screening, something that I have been aware of for a long time, but honestly, just did not know where to begin.  I also was convinced to go after meeting the presenter on Friday evening, Ali Deguia-Bumgarner; she told me it was going to be great, and who am I to question that?  Ali did a great job of demonstrating the materials that can be used (a green tablecloth from the dollar store!), a variety of apps besides Doink, and showed a multitude of examples of projects that she has done with her students.  We even did a short video in the session that was reminiscent of an improv show where we shouted out a few things to build a story!  While I still feel that I need to do some tinkering and looking around, I am a lot further along than I was prior to Ali's session!

CUE has changed their membership structure to where now you don't have to pay to be a member if you don't want to; however, for the original membership fee of $40/year, you get access to a variety of perks, such as discounts on events, voting rights for board and policy elections, and as they offered at Fall CUE, discounted books!  There are a ton of books that I have always intended to buy, they were in my Amazon cart, but just never got around to buying them.  My excuse was out the window when books that typically went for $20-30 were on sale for $10!  I couldn't resist picking up Lead Like a Pirate by Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess, Shake Up Learning by Kasey Bell, Make Learning Magical by Tisha Richmond, and Kids Deserve It! by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney.  I also scooped up a copy of The Hyperdoc Handbook by Lisa Highfill, Sarah Landis, and Kelly Hilton (this one was not part of the $10 deal, but now that I feel comfortable with designing, I thought a book from the creators would be a great guide to build great hyperdocs!).  Based simply on my book purchases, I have essentially paid for my CUE membership for the year.  So if you are a CUE member and have not paid for a premium membership yet, I highly recommend that you do!

What do you get when you combine hundreds of educational technology geeks at a conference with bags of self-created stickers? The #supermuch Sticker Swap during lunch!  We teacher are very serious about our stickers and decorating our devices, I even went as a far as ordering a cover for my laptop because mine was almost full of stickers before the exchange (and my laptop cover is now full too, guess it's time to buy another cover!)  I showed up with my AndersonEdTech blog stickers and The BeerEDU Podcast stickers.  I was blown away to hear from several people, many of whom I had never met, say that they had heard the podcast and that they were enjoying it and were happy to meet one of the faces of the voices.  While our download numbers are good, I never expected that kind of a response; it makes Ben and I have to keep creating great content to meet the expectations of those listening (and we appreciate the love and feedback, keep it coming! 

With the exception of the "I Love Hyperdocs" and Camera sticker in the middle,
this is my laptop before the sticker exchange.

This is the case I bought specifically for the stickers I knew I'd get, and I
have more stickers left over, time for another case!
The happy couple along with their families, and the CUE Championship belt!
The end of the day on Saturday, perhaps one of the coolest things I have ever seen at a conference took place with the #adakat wedding!  Adam Juarez and Kat Goyette met via Twitter, developed a relationship in real life, and were married in a family ceremony the week before Fall CUE.  However, because of the impact CUE and educational technology has had on their lives and their love for one another, it only made sense to have a second ceremony as a session at the end of Saturday's festivities.  Jon Corippo officiated a humorous edtech-laden ceremony, complete with a "How well do you know Adam and Kat?" Quizizz.  Adam and Kat's parents made the trip to Napa for the event, and it was a pleasure to meet Kat's father and see Adam's parents again.  I have met Adam's parents before, and his mother treats me like a son whenever I am around, and it was very nice to see them again.  Luckily, I get to see them again soon, as I will be heading to the Tulare County Tech Rodeo again this January. 

Saturday night was more networking, with a quick trip to Napa Smith Brewing Company for the East Bay CUE BrewCUE.  Laurie Wong told me that since I was at Fall CUE without a large contingent of my own CUE-NV affiliate, I was essentially a man without a country and had to join their affiliate for the weekend; I happily obliged and had a great time before heading to Napa for Adam and Kat's reception at Downtown Joe's.  After further networking and fun in Napa, it was back to American Canyon for several hours of networking at Junction Brewery before sleep and another full day of learning on Sunday!

I used Sunday strictly as a day of networking.  I had some fantastic conversations with some fantastic people, including Jeff Heil, a gentleman I have come to know not through CUE, but through EdTech Team, as he has been one of the lead presenters at several of their events that I have attended over the years.  I also had a great conversation with Crystal Chavez, whom I met at CUE National back in March.  She may have mentioned it to me at the time, but she told me that I was one of the first people that I met at CUE and that I am one of the reasons why she gets involved and goes to events, which was very humbling to me; Adam Juarez was nearby, and in true brotherly fashion, told her not to judge her experience with CUE just off of me (I love you dude, and I expect nothing less from you, the day you stop giving me a hard time is the day that I'm not sure we should be friends anymore!).  Throughout the morning and into lunch, the conversations were great, the exchanges with the belt were even better, and the nerves of presenting began to kick in...

I have presented at dozens of events, but I had never presented at an event as large as Fall CUE.  Part of me kept telling myself, "It's just a session, you've done this session before, you'll be fine."  Another part of me was saying, "This is kind of a big deal, don't screw it up."  I spent the hour before my session making sure that everything was set with my presentation, backed it up in case the Internet failed me, and double checked that I had my Pear Deck stickers and that the links to the free premium subscriptions worked.  My worry was for naught, as not only did nearly 50 eager attendees show up FOR THE LAST SESSION of the conference, but Randall Sampson and April Buege came to learn and support.  I actually felt better after that session than I had after other times I have presented.  I asked attendees to fill out a feedback form and it was overwhelming positive (I need to apply for Google Certified Trainer again, I will certainly be using the feedback from that session!). 

This may have been the official birth of #CUEBald!
Besides the collaboration that was planted between Joe Marquez and me, two more developments occurred during Fall CUE that I look forward to the continuation of the championship belt at the organizational level and the birth of #CUEBald!  Randall Sampson brought the championship belt to the Silver State Technology Conference, and it was a big hit; it was an even bigger hit at Fall CUE!  The belt will be making its appearance at Spring CUE and other affiliate events from now on!  Check out some of the amazing pictures of champions with the belt throughout the weekend here!  As for #CUEBald, this was born out of a group of follically-challenged gentlemen talking throughout the conference about having our own hashtag and t-shirts.  I am happy to report that ideas are being exchanged and there will be t-shirts for the bald brethren in Palm Springs, more details to come! 

Until next time...

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Alternative Education

Image result for warning
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Before I begin, I want to state a few things that are very important to the material in which I am going to present in this post of Anderson Edtech.  First of all, these are my opinions, and my opinions only.   The views presented here are solely those of myself and are not endorsed by any educational organization, person(s), etc. of any current or former employer, educational institution, etc. This is not intended to be a judgment of any particular person, school, organization, etc.  This is strictly my thoughts on my experiences in working in an alternative school in the past school year, my thoughts on what I think the pros and cons of an alternative school are, and my thoughts on why I believe there needs to be substantial change in education as a whole, not just in alternative education.  No person, school organization, etc., other than myself, are identified by their name to protect their identity.     

When I returned to the classroom from administration in September of 2017 (see my previous posts, Priorities, and Changes (For The Better) for more insight), I stepped into a role that was very much different than anything I had experienced before.  First, I was going to be teaching physical education, something that I had always been licensed to teach, but had never done before, and secondly, I was going to be working in an alternative, or behavior, school.  Part of me was very excited for the opportunity to make a difference in students' lives that needed it the most, part of me was scared to death, not know what I was in store.  Over the course of the next 8 months, I learned a lot about myself and about the whole concept of alternative schools, some of which was very upsetting to me.

Students are often in alternative school settings for behavioral reasons, such as fighting, possession of drugs or weapons, or other major or habitual offenses.  Many times, these students are also behind academically because of a learning disability, lack of family/community supports, and/or general apathy.  Students in these settings are expected to meet very rigorous demands in regards to behavior and academics, yet many of the things that would make improving oneself behaviorally or academically are taken away.  For instance, in many alternative settings, students do not have access to any sort of technology unless it is under strict supervision from the teacher in a computer lab, something that teachers are not going to have access to every day.  That being the case, teachers have to resort to "old school" teaching methods of stand and deliver and sit and get, worksheets, and textbook reading and questions.  Students that are already disengaged become even more disengaged and often times fall further behind and turn to disrupting their peers.

Many students in the alternative setting have language skills that are comparable to, what my Grandma used to say, "sailors on shore leave".   The use of inappropriate language was something that I became numb to, as inappropriate words were spoken by most students constantly, and regardless of redirection, it continued.  However, how does one address it?  Reprimand and have more language directed at you?  Write a student up and have them miss class and cause resentment later on?  The best that I could do is to politely redirect, model appropriate language and interactions, and do my best to not let it get to me.  However, if the language became degrading to another person or resulted in bullying, I had to report it and did report it.

However, while it was frustrating to witness the apathy, the inappropriate language, and the nearly daily occurrences of near violence between students, there were some great things that I was able to experience.  First of all, myself and my colleagues were the only people of positive influence in many of our students' lives.  While one student is too many, too many of our students came from single-parent homes, were the children of drug addicts, gang members, or had parents in prison.  To be able to have positive interactions with students from these types of backgrounds made me know that I was making a difference.  Sure, one moment a student may be putting me down with some creative use of a series of four-letter words, but there were many more moments of positive interactions.  The biggest key is that regardless of how negative of a situation there could be, positivity would lessen the tension of the situation and pay dividends later.

People have asked me how I could have worked in such a setting.  My response was always the same:  80% of my students were in the alternative setting because of mistakes that they made, mistakes that my colleagues and I stressed would not define who they were as long as they worked to learn from their mistakes.  The other 20% were there because of similar mistakes, but it was taking a little bit more time to learn from the mistakes and they had other issues, such as issues with adult figures, that prevented them from being more successful.  I pointed out that in my previous schools, I had similar numbers: 80% of students were very easy to work with, while the other 20% were tougher nuts to crack.  The biggest difference between the alternative setting and the standard setting?  Class sizes in the alternative setting were about a quarter the size of the standard school setting.

I am now working in a more traditional school setting.  I don't have students cursing left and right and cursing me out at times when I redirect their behavior.  However, I am teaching a couple of nights of adult education American Government.  Students enrolled in my classes are there for various reasons, but ultimately, there to get the credits that they need to graduate and get their high school diploma.  I am also working in an alternative program that is held after school, designed for students that have been removed from a traditional setting for behavioral and academic issues.  Do I have all of the answers to solving the issues of my previous school, adult education, and the alternative program that I am now working in?  Absolutely, most certainly, not!  However, by continuing to be a positive light in students' lives, working to redirect, not reprimand, and putting in the work to assist each student to be successful, I think that I am winning!

Until next time...

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Why of the Busy Season

The first few weeks of a new school year are always busy, for the obvious reasons.  If you are new to a school, that amount of busy increases significantly, as you are learning new procedures, policies, faces and names, and so much more about your school and, in my case, a new district.  Then if you are like me, the busy becomes even more because the beginning of the year is also conference season, where it seems that there is a workshop, training, convention, or conference almost every weekend, especially educational technology-themed events.  A quick Google search of educational professional development events will bring up events from the EdTech Team, CUE and CUE affiliates, and other organizations, and these are just the ones holding events in the Pacific region.  MACUL, the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning, an organization similar to CUE that is very active in Nevada and California in providing professional development in educational technology, has also had or will have numerous events of over the weeks.  

Because I have a passion for learning and providing professional development for and with my PLN, I have been busy on most weekends with conferences.  Just in the month of September and into October, I attended and presented at the CapCUE Tech Fest in Roseville, CA, helped coordinate the CUE-NV Silver State Technology Conference, and will be attending and presenting at the FallCUE Conference in American Canyon, CA.  Further down the road, my school in Carson City will be hosting an EdTech Team Google for Education Summit in December, another event in which I will attend and present at.  

So with a full-time teaching position, one in which I am brand new to, having never taught special education prior to this year, a spouse that is attending grad school full-time, two children that are in new schools, teaching a couple of nights of adult education and technology skills for teachers to earn some extra money while my wife cannot work, and everything else that comes with life, why do I spend my weekends attending and presenting at conferences?  

  1. Because of my passion for education and educational technology.  
  2. Because of my desire to stay up to date with the latest and greatest in educational technology and, more importantly, the pedagogy behind the use of educational technology. 
  3. Because I want to inspire others to become better educators and improve their teaching skills.  
  4. Because I enjoy keeping myself busy and challenging myself.  
  5. Because I enjoy the professional and personal relationships that I have built with so many people from all over the nation and world as a result of my interactions with educators on social media and IRL (in real life).  
In addition to the list of whys above, another thing that I truly enjoy is seeing the faces of people that experience that "ah ha" moment.  Often times, the ones that I enjoy the most are teachers that aren't technologically savvy, that have either been afraid to try things with technology or have refused to embrace new things for whatever reason.  I know that once a teacher experiences that moment of discovery for the first time, they have turned a corner that is going to benefit themselves and their students, and ultimately, that's why we are all in the game together.

On top of providing professional development for my colleagues, attending conferences to better my skills, I am also (semi)regularly recording The BeerEDU Podcast with my friend, Ben Dickson.  If you haven't heard it yet, please check us out on your favorite podcast platform.  Our show is loosely based on the conversations that you have with your colleagues at the bar after a long week of school.  We bill it as "the podcast for educators that love to learn and share ideas with fellow educators over beers" but if you don't like beer, or don't drink at all, that is alright!  We only ask that you love education, good company, and podcasts!  We do have stickers, and in the next few days, magnets with our podcast logo, so track us down in person or send us a message at beeredupodcast@gmail.com, Twitter at @BeerEDUpod, or on Facebook at beeredupodcast and we can get you a sticker and magnet!

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Podcast on a Budget

Unless you have been taking a lot of naps over the past few years, you know that one of the greatest forms of professional development and entertainment available to educators is the tried and true podcast.  As I wrote in a recent post called PD in Your Ears: The BeerEDU Podcast, I highlighted some of my favorite shows and introduced the world to the podcasting venture that my good friend, Ben Dickson, and I commenced over the summer. 

Quick side note: The BeerEDU Podcast is officially live wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pocketcasts, Spotify, and many, many more!  As of this writing, we have three episodes, plus a little intro episode that we recorded in June to introduce it.  Check us out, subscribe, and give us some feedback!  You can also find us on Twitter (@BeerEDUpod), Facebook (beeredupodcast), email (beeredupodcast@gmail.com), and use the hashtag #BeerEDUpod.  And, we also have stickers!  If you see Ben or me, ask for one! 

Many are under the impression that in order to produce a high-quality podcast, you need to have some high-quality, ridiculous expensive microphones with a mixing board and a complicated recording program.  That is not the case at all!  There are numerous low-cost options for recording programs, microphones, and publication tools so you can get started podcasting immediately.  I want to highlight what Ben and I use for recording The BeerEDU Podcast. 

Computer:  We don't have anything extravagant for a computer that we use when we podcast.  In fact, depending on the recording session, sometimes we have used my Dell Inspiron laptop, something that I bought at Costco for less than $500, sometimes we use my Asus Chromebook.  So long as the device we are using is connected to the Internet and can access the recording and publishing tools, we are able to produce a quality recording with a standard machine.  The bottom line: you just need a regular computer to get started!

Blue Microphones Snowball iCE
The tripod and 360° design of the
microphone make this portable
and able to pick up sound from
anywhere!
Microphone: Most laptops, Chromebooks, etc. come with a built-in microphone.  While it works fairly well in most circumstances, the built-in mic may not pick up everything that you want to record, especially if you are recording with another person.  That is why we use an external USB microphone when we record.  There are a lot of great microphones out there, but we use the Blue Snowball iCE because it can pick up our voices well, even when we are sitting across a table from one another, and it filters out a lot of other noise that could lower the quality of your recording.  According to the Snowball's manufacturer, this microphone is Skype certified, ensuring that your recordings will be clear regardless of where you are using it.  Blue does manufacture some microphones that are a little less expensive, and some that are very expensive, professional models.  And because it is plug and play, you don't have to install any drivers or software, you just plug it into your computer and start recording.  For less than $50, you cannot go wrong with this mic.  Find one on bluedesigns.com or Amazon (which, as of this writing, had this model on sale for $39.99!). 

Image result for soundtrap logo
Soundtrap is a "freemium" service, but you can certainly create
quality recordings using the free version.  We even created our
theme music using the loops and instruments in the free version!
Recording Program:  Again, just like computers and microphones, you have tons of options to choose from when picking out what program that you use to record and edit your podcast.  Ben and I use Soundtrap to record The BeerEDU Podcast.  Soundtrap is a program that I was introduced to a couple of years ago that was described to me by a Soundtrap representative as "the result of Google Docs and Garage Band (Mac, iOS) having a baby."  In Soundtrap, you have options for recording voices, creating tracks from thousands of loops and instruments, and collaboration with others, even when they aren't in the same room.  When we record, we create a voice track in Soundtrap and record.  If need be, we cut and edit out things that we don't want in the recording, then we add sound effects (for The BeerEDU Podcast, it's the sound of a can of beer opening), our beginning and ending bumpers, and I record a quick intro to the podcast to place at the beginning.  After piecing it all together (which we now do on the fly, now that we have intros, bumpers, and sound effects already created), we download the episode as a .mp3 file and prepare it for upload to the podcast platform. 

Image result for anchor.fm logoPublishing Your Podcast: Once you are ready, you can publish your work!  And what good would a podcast be if you Anchor!  Anchor has it's own abilities to record, add sound effects, etc., but Ben and I use Soundtrap because it is more robust and has more features to edit our final product.  You can use Anchor on the web or by downloading it to your phone, iPad, or tablet.  After we record in Soundtrap, we download the file and upload it into Anchor, prepare a description for the show, and publish.  You have the option of posting only in Anchor, or it will publish to all platforms that Anchor works with, which as of this writing, is eight more platforms in addition to Anchor. 
kept it to yourself?  In the past, getting your podcast published on platforms like Apple was a very cumbersome endeavor, so cumbersome that I know of some podcasters that created a free Google website and put links to their audio files or they uploaded the file to YouTube to create an audio-only file there.  However, now it is much easier with

Odds & Ends:  There are a few other things that you may want to keep in mind if you want to pursue a podcast. You may want to include episode show notes, which Ben and I include in the description when we upload via a link to a Google Doc.  Our episode planning guide essentially becomes our show notes.  You also may want to create a logo for your show, something that we created using Bitmojis and Google Drawings.  To promote your show, make sure you take advantage of social media! While you don't have to create accounts for your show, it gives your show a little bit more ability to promote.  And if you really want to get serious, you may even create a website, listing previous episodes and show notes, something Ben and I haven't gotten around to just yet. 

Now, maybe you don't want to podcast yourself, but you would love to get your students into podcasting.  Because most of the items above are free and your school most likely has access to a few external microphones, you don't need to do much of anything to get your students started!  You may want to avoid publishing to Anchor and instead publish to a class website or cloud folder, depending on your school's acceptable use.  Your best bet is to speak with your supervisor and/or principal to figure out exactly how your students can start creating and reflecting using podcasts. 

So, what are you waiting for?  Get out there and create something great!  And don't forget to share and promote your material! 

Until next time...

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... 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

PD in Your Ears: The BeerEDU Podcast

Just a few of the podcasts that I listen to on
a regular basis, with more added all the time!
If you are an educator, you are always looking for ways to improve your craft.  While formal professional development, such as taking graduate courses or attending paid workshops and conferences, are great, they are not always practical or affordable.  So what does one do to improve?  You find other informal professional development, such as blog posts (like this one, or at least I hope you learn something from this blog), social media, and podcasts.  While I learn a great deal from all of these plus more, I especially like listening to podcasts, as they are something that I can learn from without being actively engaged; I can listen while in my car, while cleaning the house, and sometimes I even listen while on the treadmill or elliptical at the gym.  

Most of my subscriptions are educational in nature.  Many of the educational shows are hosted by people that I have come to know personally and I consider friends, such as TOSAs Talking Tech with Tom Covington and Michael Jephcott, Check This Out with Brian Briggs and Ryan O'Donnell, Edtech Confessions with Ann Kozma, Cynthia Nixon and Kelly Martin, and Teaching Tales with Brent Coley.  Then there is the STEM Teacher Podcast with my friend of nearly 20 years, John VanDusen. However, some of my subscriptions are purely for my own personal enjoyment and interests, such as The Hockey News, the Detroit Tigers, Taggart & Torrens (a comedy/Canadian pop culture podcast hosted by Jeremy Taggart, the former drummer of Our Lady Peace, and Jonathan Torrens, acclaimed actor well known in Canada for shows like Jonovision, Street Cents and Trailer Park Boys), and Drinking Socially (a podcast about the history of beer styles, trends in the beer industry, and where to find up and coming beers).  To listen to these shows, I use an app called Pocket Casts, a podcast catcher that not only allows you to subscribe, change the playing speed of episodes, and trim silence but also allows users to share specific parts of an episode!  

A few years ago, I met a gentleman by the name of Ben Dickson, currently an assistant principal in Reno, NV (when I make my move to Reno in a few weeks, my kids will be going to his school!).  He and I have been talking for years about collaborating on some sort of project to share our expertise, most likely a podcast, but never really was able to nail down something or commit the time to it.  That changed a few months ago when I came up with an idea to combine two of Ben and I's favorite things:  education and beer.  The idea blossomed into The BeerEDU Podcast: The podcast for educators that love to learn and share ideas with fellow educators over beers! Essentially, the concept of the podcast is to model the conversations that educators have with one another at the pub on a Friday afternoon while unwinding after a long week.

As of this writing, Ben and I have recorded and published our first episode, outlining who we are, the podcast's format, and what we expect it to become when we begin recording regular episodes. We are hoping to post 2-3 episodes a month starting in August 2018, and because there are so many great people with a wealth of knowledge that needs to be shared with the world, we will be looking for guests in which to have a great conversation over a fine beer or any other beverage for those that are not beer drinkers. On top of that, you may learn a thing or two about beer lingo!

The BeerEDU Podcast is available on all podcast platforms, including Anchor, Apple (awaiting approval as of this writing, but will be available soon), Google, Stitcher, Spotify, Radio Public, Breaker, and Pocket Casts. You can follow Ben and The BeerEDU Podcast on Twitter and use the hashtag #BeerEDUPod. Since we are new to the podcast game, Ben and I appreciate any suggestions, compliments, and critiques, so feel free to let us know! We look forward to this journey, learning from one another and our guests to become better educators, and discovering some great beers along the way!

Until next time...


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Five Chrome Extensions You Must Have!

Image result for bowser super mario 3
In the multiple times I typed "browser", I typed "Bowser" first.  Have no fear,
Mario will defeat Bowser and show you how to improve your Chrome
experience! Image courtesy of
https://www.mariowiki.com/File:SMB3_Bowser_Battle.png
One of my favorite things about the Google Chrome browser is the ability to add extensions to improve productivity while surfing the web or putting together lessons, activities, etc.  These little programs range from ad blockers and shortcuts to websites, to URL shorteners and memory savers, and so much more.  If there is something that you think should be easier to do within the Chrome browser, odds are, the Chrome Web Store probably has something to address your wants and needs.  

Over the course of several years of using Google Chrome, I have amassed quite the collection of Chrome extensions.  Some of these extensions are ones that I absolutely use every day, such as AdBlock Plus, Pin Tab, and Reopen Closed Tab.  There are also extensions that I don't use very often, so I turn them off most of the time to save on memory and prevent the browser from bogging down, such as Cite This For Me and Google Tone.  To control my extensions, I use an extension (I know, right?) called Extensity to easily toggle extensions on and off.  

While I could drone on and on about all of the Chrome extensions I have connected to my account, there isn't time and it's really not necessary.  However, the following are five Chrome extensions that I think are a must-have for your everyday productivity.  

Image result for onetab logo
Image courtesy of www.one-tab.com
OneTab:  We all get into that situation where we have numerous tabs open in the browser.  Sometimes you're not even viewing a certain tab, but it's still open for when you need to see it, such as your email.  OneTab helps you to organize tabs and cut down on memory Chrome uses to run when so many tabs are open.  When clicking on the OneTab extension, it collapses all open tabs into a single tab with a list of URLs.  You can reopen tabs from the list one at a time, or you can restore all tabs with a single click.  OneTab allows you to name a set of websites and lock them so they open in a single tab every time you open Chrome.  You can also export a list of websites as the extension creates a unique URL of your list so it can be shared, perfect for sending students a list of websites for viewing during a lesson.  

I have two sets of websites saved in OneTab that I use on a regular basis.  One set that I titled Most Used is links to my email, Google Drive, Google Keep, and Google Calendar.  Another set of tabs that I have saved links to my master's coursework, with my school email, school Google Drive, and student portal.  I also have the options to create other lists when I need them.  

Image result for sir links a lot logo
Image courtesy of chrome.google.com
Sir Links-A-Lot:  One of the reasons why Google Drive and each of the Google productivity apps are so great is because you have the ability to share files with others.  Sometimes, you want to give people a copy of a file and give them editing rights, but you don't want them to edit your copy, so you use the file's URL to change it from "edit" to copy", forcing recipients to make a copy of it when they click on the link, which also takes out the "File - Make a Copy" step.  Sir Links-A-Lot makes this process quicker and easier but allowing you to simply click on the extension and create the force copy link.  However, Sir Links-A-Lots does more!  It allows users to not only create a force copy link, but also a preview link so recipients can see the document, a template link, and a .pdf link.  Once you have selected which of the four options you want to use, it allows you to copy the link to the clipboard, shorten the URL and copy it, and open the item in a new tab.  

Image result for anyonecanview logo
Image courtesy of www.alicekeeler.com
One thing that it does not do is change your shared settings.  You must still open up the setting and change them so people can access the force copy, template, etc.  The easiest way to that is to change the setting within the Docs, Slides, Sheets, or Drawings file to "anyone with the link can view."  If that is too much work for you, there is a Chrome extension called Alice Keeler's AnyoneCanView that will change the settings of a file in one click to anyone with the link can view (I guess this makes it six extensions you must have... bonus freebie for you!).

Image result for wakelet logo
Image courtesy of www.wakelet.com
Wakelet:  Wakelet is the program that I never knew I needed.  Wakelet allows users to curate content from the web into stories that are easier to organize and share.  After creating a Wakelet account, install the Wakelet extension and anytime you find something online that you think is worth saving and/or sharing, click on the extension and save it into a new collection or "wake".  You can save images, articles, and my favorite, tweets and Facebook posts.  Want others to contribute to a collection?  You can do that too!  I have already started to curate some great blog posts in a wake that I called Pro Dev.   You can see what I have thus far at http://wke.lt/w/s/6XTp9.

Image courtesy of chrome.google.com
Microsoft Office Online:  I have been using G Suite for Education apps for several years now.  For the most part, I don't open Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, etc. unless I absolutely have to, and even then, because Google allows you to download Docs into Word format, Sheets into Excel format, Slides into PowerPoint format, and any file into a .pdf, I haven't had much use for Office tools in the past few years.  There are a handful of things that Office tools can do that Google can't.  For example, tables are much easier to work within a Word document than a Docs file, and PowerPoint is more robust in a few ways than Slides, but it's not enough to stop me from using Google.

I recently started a master's program where I am required to submit my work in Office files and the student portal isn't 100% compatible with Chrome OS on my Chromebook, which I use about 75% of the time over my PC.  I wanted a way to be able to still use my Chromebook and work with Office files.  Microsoft offers the ability to use Office and OneDrive online and it syncs with the hard drive on my PC, saving any work that I do in Office and OneDrive online.  As nice as this is, there are a lot of steps and clicks to get to a file or open a new file when I want to get to work.  The Microsoft Office Online Chrome extension eliminates the multiple clicks and allows you to create a new Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. right from the extension.  You can also open OneDrive with a single click and a list of recent files will also appear from the extension.  If you have a file on your computer that isn't in OneDrive, you can upload it into Office online and open it in the browser with a click from the extension as well.  Don't have Microsoft Office installed on your computer?  Don't worry, you don't need to have Office installed since it all works within the Chrome browser.

Image courtesy of chrome.google.com
Save to Keep:  In my opinion, one of the most underutilized and underrated Google applications is Google Keep.  I wrote a post about Google Keep a few months back, touting the abilities and potential of this great tool.  While Keep is great for making lists, saving images, bookmarking websites, and so much more, it can be even better using the Save to Keep Chrome extension.  By clicking on the extension or right clicking on a website, you can not only save the link, but you can add notes about the page without having to navigate to a new tab, opening Keep, creating a note, copying the link, so on and so forth.  With one click, you can do it all!

Found an image that you want to hold onto?  Right-click on the image, click on the Google Keep extension option from the list and select Save Image.  From there, you can write notes, mark up the image, etc. within Keep.  Use the Keep notepad options in Google Docs, Slides, and Drawings to directly import notes and images that you save using the extension, saving you clicks, time, and based on my previous post, your sanity!

Like I stated previously, I could go on and on about various extensions that I use regularly.  I am always on the lookout for new ones as well.  What are some of your favorite Chrome extensions?  Share your thoughts on how they make your professional and personal life easier!  And if you happen to be at ISTE18 in Chicago, for the record, I am really jealous of you and I look forward to seeing the learning that is happening on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.  Oh, and the pictures of the amazing food of the Midwest that I miss so much sometimes!

Until next time... 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Pieces Falling in Place

Going through the process of finding a job is nervewracking.  The last time that I went through the process of a move and a job hunt was when I graduated from college in 2005.  And while I remember that process being stressful, it wasn't as if I was unemployed at the time.  Was I employed doing something that I wanted to do for a long time or for the rest of my life?  By no means, but I was working fulltime at Applebee's and substitute teaching, and for where I was living at the time in Marquette, Michigan, I was actually making decent money.  However, decent money, if you are not content with what you're doing, doesn't mean much.  

A few months back, my wife, Mary, was accepted to grad school and after talking about it, we decided that we would move to Reno so she could pursue her master's in speech-language pathology.  Her program will be a little under two years, but she will not be working so she can concentrate on school, so it was imperative that I find a job.  The problem was, nothing was available for me in my licensed areas, so I had to be willing to either drive to other districts outside of Reno or find a position in special education while working on the requirements for licensure.  

The idea of teaching special education was intriguing to me.  I have always enjoyed working with students in a one-on-one setting or small group, something that a special education teacher gets to do on a regular basis.  Special education teachers also get to experiment with new ideas that could potentially reach students that may struggle in a traditional classroom setting.  But it wasn't just the intrigue of trying something new, I HAD to get a job, so I enrolled in a program through Western Governors University to take the credits necessary for licensure in special education.  

I had seen the commercials and knew a little about WGU, but the extent of what I knew was that it was a nonprofit school that was online.  I looked into their education programs and applied after learning that they had a special education degree, their tuition was very reasonable, and it was completely online (I already have two online degrees, I love the ability to work on my own time and I am self-motivated to get things done).  At first, I was interested in just taking the required classes for licensure, but when I learned more about WGU, it made sense to pursue the Masters in Special Education.  

Low tuition, all online, competency-based?
WGU is very unique in how they charge tuition and fees and how you move through your degree program.  WGU assigns classes to six-month terms, rather than semesters that are typically around four months long.  You could take the minimum number of classes during the term or you can take as many as you can and the tuition is the same.  My degree program is 31 credits and I am hoping to complete 18-20 of the credits during this first term.  How can you do that, you may be asking?  WGU is also unique in that you complete the classes on your schedule and because it is competency-based, with a pass/fail grade assigned (something that I have really become more interested in and passionate about lately, you will see a post on competency-based learning soon!), you can take the final exams when you are ready, not on a specific day at the end of the class.  For example, I just completed my first class in about 15 days.  I completed some of the activities with the class and realized that I knew most of what it was covering, so I requested to complete the final exam and writing prompt, passing both and finishing up the class.  I have now started my second class and hope to have it done by the end of June, finishing the first six credits of my program in a month.  

So, it's great that I got into a degree program and that WGU is a great fit for me, but how is the job hunt going?  I applied to a few positions in Reno, one in Carson City, and one in Lyon County.  Each of the positions was special education, with the exception of Lyon County, which was a technology coaching position that covered the 18 schools of the county (this one was my number one, even though it would have required driving up to 180 miles roundtrip on some days).  My anxiety began to build when I wasn't getting any responses back from the Reno schools and a notification that the position in Lyon County had been filled.  However, I did get a call from Carson City requesting if I would like to interview, which I gladly accepted.  

Conveniently, Carson City wanted to interview me after school had ended for me in Las Vegas and my family and I had planned to go to my parents' place near Redding, CA.  It was easy to pull into Reno for a night and go out to Carson for the interview and take care of some other things in Reno, like getting the kids registered for school.  So I prepped a sample lesson, cut my hair and put on a tie and headed out to interview at Carson High School.  

I don't get nervous for interviews.  My philosophy is to be confident, be honest, and the rest will take care of itself.  The panel for my interview asked me some very tough questions on some things that, frankly, I didn't know a lot about because I haven't worked as a special education teacher before.  However, I was very honest and stated that while I wasn't licensed in special education, I had been cleared by the district to complete the requirements if I was hired.  I answered questions to the best of my knowledge and experience and relied heavily on my classroom management, teacher-student relationship philosophy, and educational technology skills.  In my sample lesson, I demonstrated how Pear Deck can be a game changer in a classroom, especially with special education students because it provides a safe platform in which all students can participate, regardless of learning styles, fears, etc.  I left the interview and made the 25-30 minute drive back to Reno confident that I did well, but still preparing to apply for other jobs.  

As I got off the freeway when I got back into Reno, the phone rang, displaying a 775 number on the screen in the car.  For the non-Nevada folk out there, 775 is the area code that covers the entire state with the exception of Clark County, which is mainly 702 or 725.  Maybe I was being presumptuous, but I assumed that it may be Carson High School or the Carson City School District, or maybe a school in Reno.  I answered to hear the voice of the assistant principal that I had spoken with just 45 minutes before, asking if I would be interested in joining the team at Carson High School as the newest special education teacher! Like I have previously said, I felt confident that I did well in the interview, but I was floored that I received a call and offer so quickly.  I gladly accepted and told her how excited I was to become a Carson Senator!  

Over the next few weeks, I will be busy beyond belief, completing as much of my degree program as I can, traveling to Carson City for my new hire orientation, packing my belongings, and making the move to Reno.  My kids will be back to school, or in the case of my youngest, going to school for the first in pre-K, on August 6 and I will be completing new hire training the same week before reporting to my new school the following week and starting with students on August 20.  While I like to think I wasn't worried about getting a job, I do know that now that I have a job and everything is starting to come together for the move, a large weight has been lifted off of me and I can prepare for the next chapter.  And as for my wife, she has her class schedule for her own grad program and she is preparing for the next step of her profession and passion.  I couldn't be prouder of her and get to celebrate our 10th anniversary on June 21st!  

Enjoy your "time off", learn something new, watch some amazing soccer during the World Cup, and do something that you love!  

Until next time...