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
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
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
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
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
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

Image courtesy of
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
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... 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Wow, 13 Years!

While it hasn't quite hit me just yet, I have completed not only my 13th year in education but last as an employee of the Clark County School District in Las Vegas.  My entire career thus far has been in CCSD, with three high schools, one middle school, one behavioral junior and senior high school, hundreds of colleagues and thousands of students.  I have grown from a fresh from college and brand new to Nevada 23-year-old to a seasoned veteran teacher with so much more to learn and do.  I have completed a Master's in Education, an Educational Specialist in School Leadership, and have embarked on a Master's in Special Education.  I have taught American Government, United States HIstory, US History - Honors, AP US History, Physical Education, and served as a school technology coach and a dean of students.  I coached football, baseball, and volleyball, advised a ski and snowboard club, and chaperoned countless academic and senior trips.  I am very proud of what I have done so far, but it is far from over.  

How does one really narrow this down?  Tough thoughts...
I can also say that none of this would have been possible without some really amazing people that I have had in my life over the past 13 years.  Countless teachers and professors helped steer me to this profession, and many, many of my colleagues and supervisors helped guide and mold me into the educator that I am today.  While I could probably write a book about all of the teachers, professors, coworkers, supervisors, etc. that had an influence on me, I want to take some time to recognize five people that really mean a lot to me.  While my time in CCSD may be over, I hope that our relationships, professional and as friends, continue over the four hundred plus miles between us.  

Alison Levy
When I began my first year teaching back in 2005, Alison was the social studies teacher in the room next to me.  She was also assigned to me as my mentor, to make sure I knew what the procedures of the school were going to be, to check in to make sure I wasn't losing my mind, and to guide me through the hell that the first year of teaching can be.  Alison was more than a mentor; she became one of my best friends and introduced me to her husband, Mike, who is also one of my best friends.  Alison is somebody that shares a love of history with me, so we could always geek out on that.  She also loves to travel, stopping at historical landmarks, and maybe more importantly, the best food venues.  Because of Alison, I became a better teacher, learned more about history, and probably gained more weight than I should have, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.  

Jayme Rawson
Jayme and I first met my first year as well.  As an English teacher, Jayme was nowhere near my classroom, but as somebody that has an unbelievable passion for students and teaching, she was somebody that wanted to make sure that all first-year teachers, not just me, were succeeding.  She also has an eclectic taste in music and knows her random facts and history, things that are right up my alley.  Jayme left to teach at another school after my third year, but we were reunited a couple of years later when we had classrooms next to each other and worked as English and social studies curriculum partners, working with the same group of students in our classes.  We have had lots of happy moments, we've seen each other cry, and we have been there for one another to yell, scream, and curse when we just need a moment to let it out.  My children refer to her as Auntie Jayme, and while we don't see each other nearly as much as we should, we joke that we will probably see each other more now that I am moving because she is in Reno often enough to visit family.  

Tina Statucki
Tina was my supervisor for many years.  When I met her, I was not in a very great place in my life.  I had recently lost my brother and I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue teaching because of some frustrations coming from my previous school.  Tina and I have a very similar view on education: set high expectations and stick to them, because even if your expectations aren't fully met, you will get much better quality results than if the bar is set low.  I always knew that Tina would have my back and if I wanted to try something new, she would be the first to see me, success or fail, and offer her thoughts on how it went and how to improve.  Tina is also the one that really turned me on to educational technology, as she was one of the first to embrace Google Apps for Education, sharing her love for edtech with me and turning me into the monster that I am today with tech.  She has become like an older sister to me, and while I am moving, I know I'll still be able to see her, as she happens to have family in Reno.  

Lucas Leavitt
Lucas is somebody that I have looked up to for a long time.  When a young athlete is coming up through the ranks, a common question for them is, "Who do you try to model your game after?"  If I am the young athlete, Lucas is the man I am trying to model my game after.  His passion for education and young people, his knowledge of technology, both pedagogically and technically, and his leadership skills are things that I envy and strive for on a daily basis.  On top of that, his sense of humor is something that legends are made of; I never fail to laugh continuously whenever we get together.  Not sure if I'll be able to convince him road trip it to Reno, being his Runnin' Rebel blood turns redder in the presence of the Wolfpack... 

Ron Kamman
I only got to work with Ron for a short time, but the time that I got with him was unforgettable.  Ron was my supervisor when I was working as a technology coach.  Ron was relatively tech-savvy, but definitely had some areas in which he wasn't as knowledgeable.  The site-based technician and I worked with Ron on a daily basis to give him an idea of the daily ins and outs of the school's network, hardware, software, teacher/student needs, etc.  But Ron was more than somebody that I simply reported to and received direction;  Ron was a great inspiration to me as a leader.  I had completed my degree and district training in school leadership and Ron allowed me to annoy him constantly with questions about his role as an administrator, allowed me to sit in on his conferences with students, showed me the ropes of inputting data into the district system, how to write observation notes and evaluations, and so much more.  When I left that position to become a dean, I was better prepared because of Ron.  That job didn't pan out because of the time commitment, but nobody can do anything but tell you about it.  I know that someday, I may return to administration and will be prepared and ready because of Ron's leadership.  

Of course, I must give credit to my amazing wife, Mary.  She has been by my side for nearly 14 years, with our 10 year anniversary coming up on June 21. She has stood by me through the good and the bad and supported me in countless ways.  I cannot wait to see what the next 10 years bring us and the adventures of her experiences in grad school and beyond.  

There are so many more that I could recognize, but once again, it would fill a book.  For every educator, administrator, support staff, etc. that I have had the privilege and pleasure of working with over the past 13 years, I cannot thank you enough.  I cannot wait to begin my next chapter, knowing that there will be more amazing people to further mold this lump of clay.  

Until next time...  

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Uncertainty & Potential

As I mentioned in my last post, there are a lot of changes on the horizon for me, personally and professionally.  While these changes are things that I knew were possible for several months now, it doesn't take away the fact that now that they are actually happening, there is a lot of excitement and promise, but also a lot of uncertainty and anxiety.

There are a couple of things that are certainly set:  my wife is going to be going to school full time, no job, no income and we know where we are going to live, as we signed a lease on an apartment.  Outside of that, there are a lot of unknowns at this point.  I am still trying to find a job.  I have some prospects, but many of the districts near Reno have just now started posting openings to external candidates, and none of the postings are positions in which I am licensed to teach.  Luckily, the districts near Reno accept applicants that are willing to teach special education while taking classes to obtain a license to teach special education.

To broaden my prospects, I gladly accepted the offer to apply for special education positions.  While I am not licensed to teach special education and while I have never, technically, been a special education teacher, let's face it: if you are in education, you are a special education teacher.  You must work to accommodate your students, regardless if they have an IEP or not.  A special education teacher clearly is going to spend more time in a one-on-one environment with those students that have been identified as special education and they are going to complete the testing and the writing of an IEP, but all teachers must work closely with special education teachers and meet the requirements of the IEP.  At this time, I am ready for the challenge of trying something new and have enrolled in a master's program to complete the licensure requirements.

I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't worried at this point.  School has now ended and I do not know where I will be next fall.  I am confident in my experience and abilities, but not landing a position yet is concerning to me and my mental wellbeing.  Luckily, there are a couple of months still and I have some applications out there, as well as an interview in the coming days.  I will feel a lot better once things have been nailed down. 

This post is a lot shorter than a typically put together, but the ideas I have don't go along with this theme too well.  I will leave those for another post, another day. 

Until next time... 

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Definition of Home

Home sweet home.  Home is where the heart is.  There's no place like home.  A house is not home without family.  There are so many ways to define what is home.  However one wants to put it, I can define it in one word for the last 13 years:  Nevada.

I will spare the details, but I made the move to Las Vegas in 2005 after graduating from college.  My girlfriend (now wife) and I were done with school and looking for jobs, jobs that just weren't available in Michigan at the time, and since we both grew up there, we were looking to try something new.  So we loaded up everything we owned (except my mountain bike, that didn't fit in the truck, so a buddy got a nice parting gift from me) and drove 2000 miles to start our post-college lives.  We had no idea if we would like it, how long we would be here (we thought it may only be a couple of years before we moved on to other things), etc.

Fast forward 13 years and many things have changed.  We are both a little bit older, closer to 40 than 30, we have two amazing kids that are "Battle Born", we are accustomed to the dry heat (humidity is BRUTAL now) and the lack of a winter, and we have made some fantastic friends that are like family to us, which made the thought of leaving Las Vegas (not the Nicholas Cage movie) utterly impossible.

Over the course of the past few years, my wife has been trying to get into graduate school to earn her master's in speech pathology.  SLP grad programs are very competitive and much to her frustration, she has been rejected by several schools.  However, my wife is a trooper and while she has been frustrated, she hasn't quit in her attempt to get into school.  This past fall, she began the familiar process of completing applications, gathering letters or recommendations, and writing essays on why she would be a great graduate student.  This time, she chose to apply to three schools:  the University of Nevada, Reno, Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI, and Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI.

After all of the work she put into the application process for each school, it was then time for the "hurry up and wait" game.  Each school had their deadlines to submit, then a tentative date in which applicants would be notified.  Of course, those dates are tentative; each school extended their deadlines for applications, pushing the notification dates back.  I assured my wife that all that it meant was that a lower number of people applied, but she was dreading that it meant she was going to be rejected again.

In mid-February, she got an invite to go to Grand Rapids to interview for one of the openings at GVSU.  The interviews took place on her birthday, which threw a wrench into our plans to go to a Golden Knights game, but this was a much better gift.  A few days later, she was notified that she had been accepted to Grand Valley's program and had until April 15 to accept or decline.

Meanwhile, there were two other schools that had yet to make their decisions.  She hadn't heard much from Western Michigan, so they became an afterthought.  However, UNR was still deciding and we were hoping that she would be accepted to give us options in the decision-making process.  Until that decision was made, I began the process of looking for jobs in Michigan and Northern Nevada.

By the time spring break rolled around the last week of March, UNR still had not made their decisions.  At this point, it was looking like a move to Michigan was on the horizon.  My wife and I started looking at housing, I applied for several jobs, and friends of ours that we went to high school and college that live in the Grand Rapids area began helping us and getting excited that we may be moving back to Michigan.  However, on April 3, the Tuesday after spring break ended, the email that my wife was hoping to get came through.

On that Tuesday, I received an email from Washoe County School District informing me that my application had been accepted and that they wanted to schedule an interview and to contact them.  I called my wife to tell her about it and asked if I should schedule it.  In the course of the conversation, I got the answer when she got an email from UNR to notify her that she had been accepted to their program.  Since the deadlines to accept were closing in fast, a serious conversation had to happen to decide where the Anderson family would be heading for the next couple of years.

After careful consideration of many factors, my wife and I decided that the best fit for her program and our family's move would be to Reno, Nevada.  As of this writing, I have some leads on some jobs, we have signed a lease for an apartment (which is going to be an adjustment, going from a house back to an apartment), and with the help of my friend Ben Dickson, we have found a great school for our kids to attend next fall.  While I couldn't be prouder of my wife and the opportunity ahead of her, it is going to be bittersweet pulling up our roots and settling somewhere else.  The next few months will be crazy but come July, we will be settling down in Reno, ready to start the next chapter of our lives. 

Until next time...

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Sense of Community

In 2015, the rumor mill around Las Vegas and the National Hockey League started to buzz.  Bill Foley, a billionaire businessman, was interested in bringing an NHL franchise to Las Vegas.  Over the course of several months, Foley worked with a dedicated team to convince Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL that hockey in the desert would work if given the chance.  On June 22, 2016, his hard work putting together a season ticket drive and paying a $500 million expansion fee came to reality when the NHL granted Las Vegas it's first professional sports franchise (Las Vegas has had plenty of minor league teams, but never a major level team).

I grew up a Detroit Red Wings fan, and while I will always love them,
I am a Golden Knight now! Image courtesy of
From that moment, the city began to buzz.  Once the team was officially called the Vegas Golden Knights and logos were unveiled, merchandise began to fly off the shelves in the form of t-shirts, car decals, magnets, and sweaters (jerseys for the layman hockey fan).  The expansion draft built a team from scratch, and the players came to Las Vegas to find a home, not just a quick vacation during the offseason.  Everything was set for an exciting beginning for a brand new franchise in September 2017, with training camp and preseason games at T-Mobile Arena.  Then the unthinkable, the horrific, the gut-wrenching, the saddening happened: 1 October.

Image result for golden knights vegas strong
T-shirt logo featuring the Las Vegas Strip,
the Knights shoulder patch logo, and Vegas
Strong, two words that united a city and a
team during tragedy Image courtesy
1 October is a moment for Las Vegans and many beyond that will always remember.  Various events throughout history have had the same effect.  If one was alive for these events, they can most likely remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned of or witnessed an event like this.  Events like Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of JFK and MLK, the Challenger explosion, September 11 all come to mind.  For those that live in Las Vegas, 1 October is very similar.  I'll never forget waking up for work shortly after 5:30 am, making a cup of coffee and turning on the news to see the events that had happened hours earlier after I had gone to bed.  I'll never forget calling into work to make sure that my friends were alright and to do whatever what was needed of me to help.  I'll never forget the 8-hour wait in a hotel conference room to donate blood and the dozens of others that had done the same.  

The Golden Knights home opener was a few days later on Tuesday, October 10, against the Arizona Coyotes.  Anticipation for the day was already strong because of the sheer excitement of having a professional team.  An afterthought to 1 October, but the Knights had also won their first two regular-season games over the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes.  Because the Knights had already done so much to weave into the community, everybody was wondering how they would address the events and aftermath of 1 October.  From the introduction of each player accompanied by a first responder, to the 58 seconds of silence to honor the 58 that lost their lives on 1 October, to Derek Engelland's powerful pregame speech to the world prior to the puck drop, the Golden Knights couldn't have done a better job of honoring the departed, the first responders, the city, and helping to bring a community closer in the wake of tragedy.  You have to see it to fully understand the significance.

As the Golden Knights have embarked on their unbelievable first season (NOBODY predicted this!), they have taken this city by storm.  Everywhere you go, you see people wearing Knights gear, cars are adorned with decals and stickers, bars and restaurants all over the city have viewing parties for every game, and my personal favorite, a hearty "Go Knights Go" and a fist bump or high five whenever you see a fellow fan.

Clayton Stoner, a Golden Knights defenseman,
assisting at the training for PE teachers
So if you are still reading and have read previous posts, you're probably wondering, "How does this apply to the usual topic of education?"  The Vegas Golden Knights have done a fantastic job of getting involved with the community, especially with the schools of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Henderson.  In order to grow the game of hockey in Southern Nevada, the Golden Knights partnered with several businesses and the Clark County School District to donate street hockey equipment to middle schools and provide opportunities at learn to skate and learn to play hockey programs at the city's three public skating rinks (5 sheets of ice total).  As a PE teacher, I was invited to participate in the donation program by simply attending a training hosted by the Knights public relations team.  In return for my time, my students are going to receive brand new sticks, nets, balls, and other hockey equipment.  In addition, students will also get Hockey 101 handbooks to explain the rules and play of hockey, coupled with lesson plans provided to me to help introduce hockey to my students.

This is Corey, you'll see him at Knights games 
as part of the pep squad dressed as a Knight,
the mustache abides!
I cannot thank the Vegas Golden Knights enough for what they have done for our city and the programs that they are putting together to help the students of Southern Nevada.  And in another stroke of pure class by the organization that deserves thanks, the team honored the victims of 1 October even further prior to their final regular season home game by retiring the number 58 and hoisting a banner with not just the number 58, but the names of each victim.  I also cannot emphasize enough the importance of community with schools.  A school that does not have relationships with the families, businesses, etc. surrounding them is not going to be nearly as successful as they could be.  Building those relationships will only guide students toward success long after graduation.

If you are reading this blog, you are most likely an educator like me.  I hope that you work in a community that has strong ties between the schools and all stakeholders.  Continue to work each day doing what is best for kids and build those community relationships that will pay dividends for the future of our students.

Until next time...

Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Man & His Thoughts on Route 66: A #CUE18 Reflection

A painted reminder of what road you are on, painted
at intervals throughout the stretch of Route 66 near Goffs, CA
The road stretched before me looked like any other road in the Mojave Desert:  a ribbon of faded blacktop through a landscape of mesquite, Joshua trees, boulders, and sand with small rocky cliffs and mountains jutting out on either side of the road.  However, there was nothing ordinary about this road and the reason behind the drive.  This road was Route 66, the iconic federal highway that stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles, bringing thousands of migrants not so affectionately referred to as "Okies" to California during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression.  John Steinbeck referenced this road as the Joad family worked their way west looking for a better life in The Grapes of Wrath (my favorite book of all time, for the record).  

Through many towns in America where Route 66 ran its course, you can see the diners, souvenir shops and antique stores that try to pull you in with their Route 66 nostalgia, but not on this stretch of road near Goffs, CA.  According to Wikipedia, Goffs is "a nearly empty one-time railroad town at the route's high point in the Mojave Desert."  This section of Route 66, save for the Union Pacific railway that runs alongside of it, most likely looks almost exactly as it did over 80 years ago when the road was at its heyday and 25 years before President Eisenhower signed the Highway Act of 1956, authorizing the building of the modern interstate highway system, with I-40 eventually bypassing much of Route 66 through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  In fact, according to the same Wikipedia article, this section of Route 66 was bypassed by a newer section between Needles and Essex, CA after 1931.  

Some of the beautiful views of the road and the train passing by.
I was on my way to Palm Springs for the 2018 CUE National Conference.  There had been word that some of the roads through the Mojave Preserve may have been washed out and detoured due to recent rains, so I decided to take an alternate route that added about 40 miles to the trek to avoid any potential road issues.  Little did I know that my route would take me along a 25 mile stretch of Route 66.  After driving for a couple of hours, I decided to stop along the side of the road to stretch my legs a bit and ended up spending about 20 minutes taking in the views and appreciating the historical significance of the road.  I took a few pictures and recorded a short video during my stop, only seeing two cars pass by, then a train when I got back in the car to continue the journey.  The silence was something that I don't get to hear much these days living in the concrete jungle of Las Vegas.  The air smelled so fresh and clean, with no exhaust, smoke, or anything else that you normally get from the city air.  It was peaceful, yet invigorating at the same time. 

A short video clip of my stop along Route 66

Eventually, I made it to Palm Springs to start what would be a whirlwind of nearly four days of learning, networking, sharing, laughing and reconnecting.  I went into the conference with several goals: 

  • Attend sessions on topics that I was unfamiliar with, such as hyperdocs, sketchnoting, Microsoft Office365, and coding:  goal met, except for the coding sessions, I didn't end up making it to one
  • Meet the authors of Ditch That Textbook and Ditch That Homework, Matt Miller & Alice Keeler:  goal met, great conversation with both and personalized signings of my copies of the books
  • Reconnect with countless people that I have come to know over the years to talk shop, share a few laughs, and after hours, have a beverage or two:  goal met many times over! 
  • "Interview" a few people to include their reflections in the blog along with mine:  goal not met, but I accomplished an alternative to this that I will address momentarily
Based on the numerous sessions I attended, conversations that I had, and new things that I tried over the course of the four days in Palm Springs, this is what I concluded:

  • Sketchnoting is not as ridiculous as I had thought prior and had mentioned in my CUE18 Preview post.  One of my biggest complaints about sketchnoting before was how all of the notes that I saw people posting looked super professional and as if they had spent hours creating it, which is not realistic.  I had a conversation with the presenters about my concerns beforehand and told them that I wanted to have an open mind but I was going to need to be convinced because of this.  They both agreed that there was no wrong way to sketchnote and to do what I feel comfortable with.  I am more open to it, but for now, I am still more comfortable taking standard notes.  
  • I finally feel comfortable in my ability to construct a hyperdoc.  I had attended sessions before on hyperdocs, but unfortunately, most of the presentations did not go into the process much, only provided some templates and did not go into the pedagogy behind using them.  When you go to one of the sources, one of the creators, Lisa Highfill, you know you're going to get great information, and Ms. Highfill did not disappoint.  
  • Microsoft Sway and OneNote are tools that I wish I had in my life sooner!  I had used similar tools in the past, such as Adobe Spark Page as an alternative to Sway.  While I had at least heard of OneNote and was familiar with some basics of it, I had never heard of Sway and was blown away by its capabilities.  On top of that, I got to test it out during an "Iron Chef" style activity during the Microsoft session.  The Iron Chef activity was designed by Jon Corippo, the Executive Director of CUE, Inc.  I was lucky enough to have lunch with Jon and he told me more about the activity and instructed me to contact him at a later time to get full details so I can have the activity at my disposal! 
  • If you can't go to a session, find somebody to talk to because it will most likely be even better than a session.  I don't want to take anything away from the amazing presenters and the hard work that they put it, but sometimes, a great conversation with a like-minded educator, or a debate with a not so like-minded educator, can go so much further than sitting in a session, taking notes, and trying out a new tool.  
  • There are so many teachers trying to make a difference in our world.  I don't know any exact figures, but I would venture to guess that there were over 7,000 that attended CUE.  On top of that, you had many of them that presented sessions or tips, or one of my favorites of the conference, the Leroy's Big Idea finalists that submitted proposals for money to fund stunning projects to better their classrooms and outcomes for their students.  I am proud to call one of the finalists, Rebekah Remkiewicz, a friend and while her proposal did not win, she still had a great project and was awarded $1000 to further her idea.  
Something that happened very spontaneously and organically over the course of the past few days was the seeds of a podcast.  Ben Dickson and I, an amazing educator and friend from Reno, have been talking for quite a while about starting a podcast, but haven't gotten anything off the ground just yet.  A couple of weeks ago, I pitched an idea to him about starting one where we start episodes riffing about what kind of beers we are drinking, then get into an education topic, possibly with a guest.  It dawned on me that I could get some practice podcasting by recording some segments with people asking them about who they are, where they are from, what they do, their favorite moments of the conference, and what they were drinking, as I decided to record the segments at social functions after the conference was done for the day.  You can listen to the reflections at the following links or by following me on the Anchor app.  

The drive home is always tough after four days of learning, connecting, some beers, and a lack of sleep.  However, it also grants the ability to listen to some podcasts and music and reflect.  For those that were unable to make it to CUE, I highly recommend that you make it there someday, it's an experience that you'll never forget.  For those that I was lucky enough to see and interact with over the course of the conference, I cannot thank you enough for making me a better educator and person and all of the great things that you are doing for your students, schools, districts, and communities.  I look forward to seeing you and learning again in the near future.  And it wouldn't have been a complete trip if I didn't stop on Route 66 one more time on the ride home to take in the sound of silence and record one more short video:

Until next time... 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

#CUE18 Preview

Once again, it is that time, time for my favorite professional development opportunity of the year, the one and only Spring CUE National Conference in Palm Springs!  This year will be third time attending the event and I couldn't be more excited for the next week to be over with so I can get there! 

In the past, I haven't been able to make it down to Palm Springs until late on Wednesday or Thursday night.  Last year was the infamous get to the hotel and "I'm sorry we don't have a reservation for you, sorry about that, good luck finding a room tonight" incident when the hotel that I had booked kicked my reservation and I didn't learn of it until midnight.  This year, I made sure that I took Wednesday off from work as well so I could take my time getting there and attend some sessions on Wednesday afternoon and evening.  I am really looking forward to a great project-based learning session with Bucks Institute, led by Rich Dixon (also a bonus that Rich has become a friend over the years and I'm looking forward to seeing him).  After that, the opening keynote is Matt Miller of Ditch That Textbook fame, which is going to be phenomenal! 
Over the course of the past few days, I have taken a look at the schedule for the event, planning it out meticulously with the goal of maximizing learning. When choosing sessions, I made sure to pick sessions that address topics in which I have little to no experience.  Some of the sessions that I chose include Microsoft Office 365 (my district is a Google district, but it doesn't hurt to become more versed in another platform), coding, hyperdocs, and sketchnoting.  

Quick disclaimer:  I am will be ruffling some feathers with this one, but please continue reading.  At a glance, in my personal opinion and preferences, I think sketchnoting is ridiculous.  Too many of the sketchnotes that I have seen are not something that somebody would probably be doing while sitting in a session and scurrying to get information down, they are much more professional looking than that.  However, I do know that some people are more visual learners and sketching it is effective for them.  I am trying to attend a session or two on sketchnoting in order to learn more about it, learn how I can implement it with visual learners, and maybe, just maybe, change my perspective on it. 

Another great aspect of attending an event like CUE is seeing the people that you have become friends with over the years.  Many of them are presenting sessions, so I get to see them in action.  The hallways and vendor hall between sessions is always a great time to say hello to people and catch up.  Then there are the after hours of the event where you get to let loose a little, share what you have learned over the day, and talk shop with some like-minded folk.  Then there is the shenanigans of things like CUE Karaoke where hundreds of people get to hang out and get ridiculous for a couple of hours on the Friday night.  Back before kids, I was a karaoke fiend, I may have to get up and knock out a song or two this year (I need a female voice for Love Shack by the B-52s, in anybody is interested...). 

Of course I will be posting a blog about my experiences at CUE in the days after getting home.  However, this year, I am going to do it a little differently.  Rather than just focusing on my experience, I am going to include some other voices as well in some informal "interviews" with some other attendees.  I may even spread them out over the course of a few blog posts. 

For now, I am going to enjoy the weekend and get through Monday and Tuesday at work before I hit the road for the 4+ hour drive to Palm Springs and four days of intense learning, sharing, and fun! 

Until next time... 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How Young is Too Young for Technology?

This past weekend, I got a text message from my mother that I was a little surprised by.  The message asked if my 6-year-old daughter, Elsa, knew how to text.  My immediate response was, "I think so."  While I have never seen my daughter text anybody, I was certain that she knew how.  I gave my phone to her, telling her that her Mimi wanted to talk to her by text.  Over the course of the next 15 minutes, I watched in utter awe as my "little girl" got to talk to her Mimi in a way that she never had before.

Look at that sweet little girl, who's not so
little anymore... 
I'm going to take a moment to brag about Elsa here.  My little girl is absolutely brilliant.  She was speaking full sentences at a year and a half.  She knew her ABCs, reciting them and recognizing them before she was 3.  Now, she is identifying 5th-grade sight words and reading chapter books that are considered 4th-grade level AS A KINDERGARTNER.  On top of that, her math skills are excellent, she has taken an interest in science, and she does a decent job with her coding board game that she got for Christmas.

Like I mentioned, I had never seen Elsa text before.  I had a good feeling that she would be able to, she can handle an iPad better than many adults that I have met, and coupled with her reading skills, I figured it wouldn't be hard for her to fire off a few texts to my mother.  Outside of asking me how to spell a couple of the things she was trying to say (when asked what she had been doing all day, my daughter wanted to reply, "just lounging around"), she did a very good job, even throwing in a couple of emojis, something that I don't even do.  Then Elsa asked me if I could help her make a Bitmoji.  I decided that I would, but I would set it up on one of my email addresses, so after a few minutes of hammering out the details, my little girl now has her own Bitmoji to share with the world!  I'm not sure how often she will use it when texting with family, as using the Bitmoji on the Apple keyboard tends to be more difficult than using standard emojis.
My 6-year-old's Bitmoji! And she has great taste in an outfit!

So over the course of the past couple of days, it got me thinking:  is there an age where it is too young to get kids going on technology?  In my opinion, the short answer is absolutely not.  This is the world that our kids live in, why not get them going on things as early as possible to better prepare them.  However, this does not come without its downfalls, some of which I can attest to from experience.

Then there is this handsome devil...
Kids in my children's generation are practically born with a device in their hands.  My daughter has been doing different things on an iPad for several years, as is my nearly 3-year-old son.  In fact, my son, Reed, is convinced at times that all screens are touchscreen and can be swiped so you can see him trying to swipe the television.  Another great one is when he takes the Amazon Fire remote and tries to tell it to turn on Peppa Pig or Hulk (his absolute favorite Marvel hero right now).  He also can operate an iPad, watching videos on YouTube Kids and playing some simple games.  He, like his sister, has also learned his ABCs very quickly, can identify the letters, spell his name, and other things that I couldn't imagine a 2-year-old being able to do.

However, while this is great and I am glad that my children are becoming technologically enthusiastic and literate, I also don't want them to become dependant on such devices.  My wife and I very rarely allow them to use devices while we are in public.  They do not get an iPad while we are grocery shopping or sitting at a restaurant.  The only exception is if we are at a restaurant with a group of people trying to watch a Golden Knights game and we are sitting for a long period of time.  Then, and only then, will be let the kids watch some videos on YouTube or play games, for the sake of keeping their busy little selves occupied contently for a bit instead of asking young children to behave for several hours on end.  Even though we limit their screen time, they still exhibit signs at times of screen addiction.  Both kids will get upset and sometimes throw fits if they are told that they cannot have their devices or if they are taken away after a set amount of time.

While discussing this post's idea with a professional colleague, she and I were on the same wavelength.  However, she also pointed out that there can be too much mindless use of technology that a child can be too young for.  Examples that she provided were video viewing/consuming versus creation, communicating versus "mindless button pushing" (the adult equivalent: an hour an a half of Facebook).  She stated that she is 100% behind getting young ones on board with tech, but to remember the difference between active screentime and passive screen time. 

The bottom line is this: It is important that we teach kids about using technology at early ages, there is no "too young" for tech.  But there is more to teaching tech than just putting a device in their hands.  Digital citizenship is more important than showing them how to navigate the device.  Modeling solid digital citizenship and outlining the consequences of actions on the Internet is core to teaching digital citizenship.  Once a foundation is set and the device is in a kid's hands, reiterating good digital citizenship, as well as showing kids how to use technology for learning, will set kids out on the right path to a bright future.

Are you stuck on some ideas on how to teach young students using technology?  I highly recommend checking out #gafe4littles and #k2cantoo on Twitter, as well as Christine Pinto and Susan Stewart, two great educators at the heart of those hashtags.  Don't be afraid of getting the young ones going, in fact, embrace it!

Until next time...