2015 in Review

I spent three of my five years at University of California, San Diego (UCSD) as a Resident Advisor (RA) for transfer student housing. These were my adult formative years, where I grew as a person, a student, and as a future teacher. In fact, during my third year as an RA I was a graduate student and student teacher, and my final month as an RA overlapped with the first month of my teaching career. I could write a whole blog post about being an RA, but I’ll save that for later. The point is, during the three-day equity and social justice portion of RA training each year, one of the facilitators constantly stopped us for check-ins for “where we were, where we are, and where we’re going.” I now apply that concept to my own personal reflections.

So, here is my “where I was, where I am, and where I’m going” for 2015

Where I was (December 2014)

  • Third year teacher, finished first semester teaching AVID. 
  • Just starting to use Twitter, participated in a few chats. I was barely getting my brain around the idea of connecting with teachers from other states and countries. 
  • I had just started presenting at conference, notably a CUE-Tip at Annual CUE (March 2014) and 2 full sessions at Fall CUE (October 2014). Alicia Johal and I applied to present at more conferences for 2015, and were honored to represent our school and district. 

Where I am (January – December 2015)

Tech Breakfast 
  • I currently teach 3 sections of 7th grade science and 2 sections of 7th grade AVID. On top of, that I am the Blended Learning Specialist (tech coach) at my school, which has become a whole new set of responsibilities. 
  • As a Blended Learning Specialist, I host monthly Tech Breakfasts for parents to learn about our 1:1 iPads and related topics
  • I started a weekly Tech Tuesday lunch (read more here) for the teachers at my school. We meet in my room to eat together and share tech tools and goals. I leave it open-ended, although many times teachers come to me with requests of what they’d like to work on. 
  • I have tried out new methods, strategies, and tools in my class that constantly push my boundaries and comfort zone as a teacher. This includes mock interviews with my AVID kiddos, green screen videos in science, and using Explain Everything for students to demonstrate their knowledge and application of scientific concepts. 
  • We embarked on the EduRoadTrip journey with Justin Birckbichler and Greg Bagby in July! We have released 14 episodes and 5 rest stops so far, and have many more engaging interviews scheduled for 2016. We’d love for you to follow along on iTunes or Stitcher
  • In collaboration with Justin Birckbichler, we began #FlyHighFri in an effort to infuse more purposeful positivity into our schools and work days. Read more of my blog, Justin’s blog, and the FlyHighFri blog
  • Honestly, right now I’m a little over-committed. I am learning how to say “no” to opportunities if they are not the right timing, or if I simply don’t have the brain energy to put in. This has been a difficult process for me, and I am constantly reaffirming my decisions when I decline a request. 

Where I’m going (2016 and beyond)

2016 Resolution
  • I recently got Chromebooks and Spheros from DonorsChoose, and I am excited to spend more time coding with my students next semester. 
  • Now that I’m a little more comfortable blogging, I will attempt to blog every two weeks or so. I’m thankful to the #TribeofBloggers and #YourEdustory for motivation, community, and support. 
  • I’m looking forward to an exciting and top-secret collaboration project with Justin Birckbichler! Make sure you follow us both on Twitter (Me // Justin) for the latest news. 
  • Most of all, my biggest resolution for 2016 is to better balance my personal and professional life, and spend more quality time with my boyfriend, my puppy, my friends and family. This includes intentionally turning off electronics and relaxing! 
What are your resolutions and goals for 2016? Who is going to support you and hold you accountable? 
Classroom Strategies, Technology

Informal Professional Development at Tech Tuesday

This school year, I have a new role at school, I am the Blended Learning Specialist (tech coach) for 1 period. While this been the busiest school year for me, it has also been the most fulfilling. I know that the work I do with technology is impacting every student and teacher in the entire school. Some of the things I’ve done include creating a website, running a Twitter account, attending trainings, holding monthly parent technology trainings, and hosting weekly Tech Tuesdays at lunch.

Tech Tuesdays image – created by Justin Birckbichler

I’m thankful to work with some amazing teachers who are willing to share their knowledge and lesson ideas.

I structure Tech Tuesdays to be participant-driven, and flexible based on what teachers want to learn. I have an idea of what we can talk about just in case there are no specific requests. We always start Tech Tuesday by asking if anyone has a tech tool or lesson they want to know more about or would like to share.

Each Tuesday, we meet in my room at lunch. Out of a teaching staff of about 40, we have had 3 to 12 teachers each week, which is an amazing turnout. There is no requirement for teachers to attend, no compensation, and no expectations for what to bring or implement. Teachers bring their lunch and we eat and talk for the 30 minute lunch period. This school year, we have also been joined by our IT professional, a student teacher, and a substitute who is finishing his credential. Our administrators have popped in as well, but they are quite busy at lunch with supervision.

As the Blended Learning Specialist at my school, this is by far my favorite part of my job. I love facilitating learning for my colleagues, but also not feeling the pressure to always be the expert.

If you start Tech Tuesday at your school, I’d love to hear about it!


Gamifying Professional Development with BadgeList

This school year, I embarked on a new part of my career: I am the Blended Learning Specialist at my school. This is just a fancy way of saying I am a tech coach. Part of my responsibility is to provide enriching and targeted professional development to my school’s staff.

I needed to find a way to engage my teachers without being too much of a burden on their time and energy, and also to make sure I am providing professional development that fits the needs of my staff. Last spring, I started researching digital badges and the ideas of gamification, but couldn’t figure out how to implement this into my classroom. I tried out multiple platforms and styles of gamification and digital badges before landing on BadgeList. I first tried out BadgeList at annual CUE conference, and started by earning a few of the conference participation badges. BadgeList is by far the most simple and straightforward platform I found, and they are constantly making improvements.

The premise is simple: design badges with specific criteria (evidence) for earning, invite learners, then encourage users to earn badges. Your learners can submit a variety of types of evidence, including text, image, link, tweet, and code. This allows for flexibility in the methods of submitting evidence, but limits to keep it relatively simple.

Screenshot of the Getting Techy BadgeList learning group

When I am starting a learning group, I always go through the following planning steps.
1. I decide on my purpose and audience. What do I want my learners to learn, and who will join my group?
2. I create a document to keep track of my badges and learning criteria. I include a badge number, the name, the finished image, and the badge description. Here is the template you can use to plan out your learning group. 
3. Finally, I design my badges using Google Draw. Here is a template you can start with! BadgeList also gives you the option to customized badges from templates too.

Many of the teachers at my school have hopped on board with BadgeList, and are excited to try new badges. This motivates our learners to try out new tech tools in bite-sized chunks, one tool at a time. What is great about BadgeList is that we can see who is an expert in a certain tool, and then go to that person for questions or extra help, rather than waiting on an organized training.

I created a BadgeList group for teachers at my school, and due to popular demand on Twitter, I created a duplicate group called Getting Techy that anyone is welcome to join. Feel free to join this, use my ideas, and give BadgeList a try!


Diving into GreenScreen Headfirst with Middle School

Problem: Two of my three science classes are participating in a field trial with the Lawrence Hall of Science (Berkeley, CA), and were a week and a half behind my other science class. I’m out for 2/3 science days next week, and want my kids back on the same lessons for my own sanity (and for the sanity of writing sub plans).

Solution: “Hey kids! We have a week and a half, are you willing to experiment with green screen videos?”

My limited knowledge comes from Mr. Justin Birckbichler, my EduRoadTrip co-host and #FlyHighFri co-creator. He has two blog posts on green screen, his blog and the CUE blog. Both of these posts help me figure out the basics of green screen, and envision an idea for the workflow for the class. We are 1:1 iPads, and I used DoInk ($2.99), but since it’s a paid app I bought it on my iPad only; the App Store is closed down to students, and I can only request free apps to be pushed to their devices. I purchased green fabric at Hobby Lobby (2 cuts, 2.25 yards each). I had a hard time figuring out the workflow, and still didn’t have a clear handle on it until we actually recorded!

I introduced it to my students with a warm-up question, “What makes Magic School Bus magical?” We discussed, and then I told them we were going to try out green screen–they were giddy with excitement. Their anticipation grew even more when I told them I had never done this before, and we were going to learn together.

Collaborating on scripts outside

The premise of their project was to form groups of 3 and create a 2-3 minute video where they creatively explain a chemical reaction. Then, their first task was to collaborate on a script on Google Docs. We spent the rest of the block period (105 minutes) outside writing scripts on the grass and on benches.

The next block we were on a field trip (yay!) and students finished their script on Friday (30 minutes). On Monday, I projected the workflow (see below), and students worked either inside or outside in their groups for 105 minutes. I had two groups record on Monday, which was a huge success because we learned how to use the DoInk app together!

On Wednesday, I had 8 groups that needed to record, so I assigned them each a “call time” for 10 minutes of recording time and sent everyone else to practice outside. For this first time using green screen, I limited my students to one background to keep things simple. In the future, I’ll allow them to record with multiple scenes.

Recording our green screen videos

My two groups that already recorded had also edited outside of class. I asked these 6 girls to manage the recording process using my iPad. Something amazing happened: they took over the entire recording process, including downloading the image from Google Drive, using the app, directing the recordings, managing props, uploading the video, and alerting the next group it was their time. I was amazed that they took on this leadership without being asked! And, it freed me up to check in with other groups and not stress about getting everything done.

Once students recorded, they downloaded their video from Google Drive and edited on iMovie. I will have my students turn in their finished videos on Friday. I know I not giving them enough time to edit to create amazing finished products, but we simply do not have time since I’ll be out on Monday and Thursday next week. In the future, I’ll build in some more editing time at the end.

In all, this project took 2 blocks and 2 Fridays, approximately 250 minutes. 
Our whole class was excited about this project, and we can’t wait to do it again next semester! 


Strengths-Based Education

Strengths Lanyard

A year ago, my school decided that it would be a great idea to have all teachers, and eventually all students, trained in the Tom Rath StrengthFinders assessment. At first, I was hesitant. We did StrengthFinders as part of RA training in college, and I just didn’t connect with my strengths. Looking back, it might have been because we had an absurd amount of WOO on our staff, and as an introvert, I felt highly overpowered and frustrated by them (this brings up a great point, it is important to make sure a staff is balanced based on strengths or whatever other personal assessment tool is used). Slowly, I warmed up to the idea, and signed up for the 2-day workshop. 

Strengths Road Map

Let me say, I was blown away. Adrian Ruiz was our trainer, and he was an excellent guide and facilitator as we unpacked our strengths, and discussed how they can be beneficial to (balconies) or hinder our work (basements). Adrian is from an organization called the Youth Development Network, based in Sacramento, CA, which does primarily youth trainings around strengths education. We were so lucky to have Adrian work with us, and I hope we can get him back down to San Diego for additional trainings. 

On top of a great training, I also got to know many of my colleagues better, and I’m finding I’m having more intentional conversations with these people, beyond the usual “hey how are you!” we call down the hall. In fact, this focus on strengths and making meaningful connections inspired me to start FlyHighFri, which has turned into a hashtag on Twitter and newly a blog in conjunction with Justin Birckbichler.

Since the training last March, I have been thinking about how to better implement strengths into my classroom. We did a school-wide Strengths Day in August, and it was both empowering and refreshing to spend an entire day talking about strength. There were different activities for each period: for example, all students made their strength lanyard in period 1 (pictured top right), and their strengths road-map in period 3 (pictured top left). During 4th period, we took a school picture that spelled out #MVAstrong (right). I was so impressed at the cooperation from all students and staff to make this happen! The buzz in the air during and after the photo was electrifying, and felt amazing to be a teacher at Mar Vista Academy.

Since our Strengths Day, I honestly haven’t been doing enough with strengths in my classroom. I bring it up occasionally, and I am constantly reminded when I see my lanyard hanging off my whiteboard or the small section of upper cabinet I decorated with the brief explanations of each strength. My AVID class is the perfect place to have ongoing strengths discussions, and I have been doing my students a disservice by not bringing it up often enough. Perhaps I’ll do at least one short activity each week, even if it’s just a warm-up. It’s times like this that I wish I taught elementary, so I could have students’ desks or pencil boxes labeled with their name and their strengths. Or I need some augmented reality (Google Glass?) where their strengths hover over their heads. Lately I’ve buried in work and strengths were getting pushed to the back burner. I’m officially bringing it up on the priority list to make sure all strengths are supported and encouraged in my classroom.

I’d love any suggestions you all have to better integrate strengths into my classroom, send them my way!

I’ll leave you with this goofy video of staff musical chairs. Obviously, physical strength is not one of my strengths.

School assembly, staff musical chairs. 


The Power of PLN, Twitter, and Hashtags

I wake up every morning so grateful for my PLN. When I envisioned becoming a teacher, I never thought it would mean I would be connected with teachers from all over the country and world. In fact, I didn’t think teaching would cross paths with social media, especially Twitter. I created my personal Twitter account back in summer 2008 (No, I’m not sharing my handle…it’s private anyway!) and used it strictly for my random thoughts, what I was currently doing, and to briefly talk to my friends. After a few years, it wasn’t as versatile for social use, and I dwindled my use.
And, don’t get me started on my rant on hashtags. #hashtagsarenotparentheticalremarks. The end. Game over.  

But really, from the beginning of my Twitter use, I saw the purpose of hashtags to aggregate data and Tweets. I rarely used them, but was conscious of their purpose. During my break from the Twitter world, I was vehemently against using hashtags, except for their intended purpose. I still cringe when people write things on Facebook and use hashtags for parenthetical remarks. Come on people, just say what you want to say. 
When I started attending education conferences, my eyes were opened to the wider world beyond my classroom. So many teachers were on Twitter and connecting, I realized I needed to be a part of this. And, finally, hashtags were being used in a useful way! I jumped right in and started networking. As with any new technology (or language for that matter), I went through the silent phase. I watched other people tweet, and was too scared to say much of anything in reply. I got jittery posting a tweet, since it’s really not like me to put myself and my thoughts out in the open. Then, I started interjecting a few ideas here and there, adding to conversations, asking questions, and sharing my own experiences. From there, it all became an exciting and non-stop adventure! 
Rosy and I had dessert together via GHO!

Over the past year and a half, I have become a highly connected educator. There are members of my PLN (Justin Birckbichler and Rosy Burke!) that have become some of my closest friends, even though we haven’t met face to face. It is amazing to wake up each day and have meaningful conversations with teachers who enjoy teaching, and want to push me to be a better teacher. 

If I weren’t a connected educator, I wonder how long it would take me to burn out and become one of those negative and boring teachers? 


Happy Fly High Friday!

Happy #FlyHighFri everyone!

The idea for Fly High Friday started last summer, mainly out of my own selfish desire to have at least one lunch per week where no kids could come hang out in my room. I really do love my students, but sometimes I need time to be an adult and a “human being” as I like to say. I brought up this idea with Nicole Link, a teacher at my school, and convinced her to cohost with me. Luckily, she tends to say yes to my crazy ideas! I also brought up the idea to Justin Birckbichler, who came up with the name and decided to start a group at his school. 

I see so much negativity from some teachers, and even the best of us like to sit around and complain sometimes. The purpose of Fly High Friday is to create an open and inviting space where everyone can share the great things that happened to them each week, and we celebrate each person’s successes. 

I’m thankful for all the great teachers who joined us over the last 9 weeks of school. I look forward to Friday lunches even more, knowing I will be around great people who are excited about their jobs and eager to spread positivity. We are slowly spreading the word around school, and inviting other teachers to join us for lunch. Personally, I have found this group refreshing and encouraging, and it has helped me get through the busiest start to a semester. 

Interestingly, I recently finished The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon & Ken Blanchard. The ideas of the book directly parallel Fly High Friday, and we are seeing that positive reinforces positive. As we build up the positive energy (and if you haven’t read The Energy Bus, I’m not talking about hippy positivity, but true positive mindset energy), it will spread from person to person and soon will overtake our school. 

We have loved FlyHighFri so much that we are encouraging teachers from all over the world to start their own group. My group meets at lunch, and Justin’s meets before school. Can’t find time to meet in person? Use a back-channeling resource such as TodaysMeet to share together. And of course, add a #FlyHighFri column to your TweetDeck! 

For more, visit www.flyhighfri.com.