Sunday, March 30, 2014

Family Blogging: Autism Awareness

Flickr image credit
In early January, our school kicked off our very first Family Blogging month in an effort to get our families excited about our newly created classroom blogs. Teachers and students posted throughout the month, and learned the art of quality commenting. Student bloggers wrote posts at home and emailed them to their teachers via their Gmail accounts and the topics ranged from writing about yoga, Skype, vocabulary words, and even Minecraft. We also had Andra Goodwin , a parent, post on our school blog during that first month about the learning going on in her daughter's first grade class. During the month of January, our school wrote 66 blog posts and 356 comments, with over half by students. 

Almost three months later, student blogging has taken on a life of its own and the posts keep coming. Something that surprised me, though, was the excitement about blogging that has spread to our families. Last week, two of our first grade parents approached me about the possibility of doing some blogging about autism to coincide with April and Autism Awareness month. We met last week, and they walked into my office with books to share and a plan to share their story and information through a seven blog series on autism! Amazing! I am so excited to have them posting as guest bloggers for our school. Today, I received the first post that is scheduled for April 2nd, World Autism Day. I seriously get chills thinking about the power of writing and sharing and how our little Family Blogging month has turned into a vehicle for sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings for everyone in our school community. 

Please join us in raising autism awareness! Our school will be wearing blue on Wednesday April 2nd in celebration of World Autism Day 2014. 

image credit

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Google Power!

A few weeks ago, I got a call from Danny Silva , Professional Learning Coordinator at CUE. He asked me how I was at giving inspirational keynotes. I answered truthfully that I love inspiration, and that I love to write, but that I’d never given one, although I do present quite a bit. It turned out that Dry Creek School District, where I had taught for three years back in the late ‘90’s was just beginning their journey with Google Apps and 44 Chromebook Carts or “COWS” (Chromebooks on Wheels). As a two year user and lover of Chromebooks, I was excited to share about the power of Google and technology. It may sound silly, but Google has changed my life as an educator, leader, and learner. I said yes and began thinking about how to inspire educators new to Google. And then I started packing for CUE in Palm Springs.

Along with a variety of devices, dongles, and my presentation clicker, I also packed my writer’s notebook. Although I am truly a lover of digital tools, my favorite go-to drafting device is one that always works and requires no power or wifi! I’ve shared before that I have one goal any time I participate in professional learning- I want to be inspired. It’s also the primary goal I have for myself when leading learning-- to inspire. I’m always hoping people leave my sessions wanting to learn more or are excited to try something new. With this in mind, I grabbed a front row seat for Lisa Highfill and Robert Miller’s Friday session “YouTube, Maximizing Innovative Digital Pedagogy to Motivate Learning.”

Lisa’s session blew my mind. I laughed and I cried. I was inspired. At the end of her session, I walked straight to my hotel room, grabbed my notebook and a pen, and walked back down to the pool deck. I sat down and started writing. Three hours later, I stopped. My draft keynote was done.

Something Lisa said during her session stuck with me- she said that the hour of time together during her session would be spent not explaining how to make a YouTube playlist (although her website includes awesome directions for how to do this) but rather the pedagogy- the why and how to use YouTube videos to transform your classroom. Her playlist is organized into categories like “to make you think, to make you move, and to inspire you”. I love this video she shared for starting Mondays off with a smile- and it's a Volkswagen commercial!

I’ve been a longtime lover of technology going back to the days of Print Shop Deluxe and the 15 page birthday banner. Things have really changed since then!

I also frequently used YouTube in my classroom, but had really only used videos that were more content driven, like rainforest animals or weather. I’d never thought about using videos to start our week with laughter, or how powerful the pause button could be. Stop the video. Ask a question. Make them think. Make a connection. Have a conversation.

This is the power of technology.

I followed Lisa’s lead and focused my keynote not on step by step directions around how to use Google’s tools, but about the pedagogy, the art of teaching and learning with technology, to educate students, and promote collaboration and engagement with students, families, and the world. How can we give our classrooms a digital makeover using Google’s tools to do something that we could never do with paper? Here are a few digital makeovers you might consider using Google’s tools!

My goal for the day was to  inspire-- I was inspired by the amazing energy of the teachers in Dry Creek. It was also incredible to co-keynote with Kevin Brookhouser!

Thank you to the thoughtful teacher who handed me this note after I finished. It made my day!

Of course, if you still want step by step directions for how to use Google’s tools, you can always Google it! Google power!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Minecraft Workshop 1: #gettingschooled

Natomas Charter School is amazing. There is a school-wide expectation of innovation that permeates the classrooms, administrator meetings, and conversations from the staff lounge to the board room. Change is the only constant- and I love it. Risk taking and failure are encouraged. I have never experienced anything like is in my 17 years as an educator. And that was before Minecraft.
27 teachers. 27 kids. Awesome!
We blog. We tweet. We Skype. We create and build. Everyone is a learner.

Today I got schooled. And it was EXACTLY what I signed up for.

Along with 26 other teachers, we had our first Minecraft workshop. Every teacher had an individual mentor. My mentor was Serena, a brilliant 7th grader. She had her work cut out for her. Although I previously attended Diane Main's Minecraft workshop at Fall CUE, I pretty much only remembered how to dig. Joe Wood and Joe Cook led the workshop, taking us through Minecraft world with the hope that we would learn how to walk, run, climb, build, and hide. 
Raining on my Minecraft world
Everyone learned something new. All were successful, and yet not all survived. Here's my top ten list from Minecraft day 1.
Can't see anything? It's dark in my world and I have no torches!
1. I can walk, jump, climb and back up. I can also dig and chop down trees. 
2. When it's dark, you need a torch. If you don't have one, you just have to wait until morning. Or, if you are lucky, someone will give you one!
3. Pigs and cows run away from you. You have to chase them!
4. The + thingy is very important! It tells you where to place wood and dirt when you build something.
5. You can chat! Which means if you need something, you can ask for help and just maybe, if you are lucky, someone will send you some coal to light your way!
6. It's hard for kids to teach us. I could see Serena wanting to grab my mouse, but she didn't! It was hard for her to explain to me what to do... she was so patient!
7. Teaching 52 people at once is hard. And getting the attention of a totally engaged crowd is even harder- especially if they are facing their computer and away from the teacher. It reminds me to consider our classroom configuration and how it works with collaborative learning and tech.
8. In Minecraft, friends can save you! 
9.  I need to buy a mouse! Two years with a trackpad. Minecraft needs a mouse. So much easier.
10. I died at the hands of a creeper! No worries... I will still return for the next class!

I have so much to learn and am so lucky to have my own mentor leading the way!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

This I Believe: Life Lessons and Sports Movies

I believe in movies. Some people say that everything you need to know is learned in kindergarten, but I disagree. Life’s most important lessons are found in sports movies.

I have run a marathon, but I am not an athlete. I love sports, but I do not need to win. I can just see my daughter cringing when I say that. As the wife of a coach and the mom of a former collegiate softball player, sports have always been important to our family. And as an educator, I have often been struck by the parallels between teaching, learning, and coaching.

Do your best.
Be a team player.
Be passionate.
Never, ever give up.

What’s my favorite sports movie of all time? Major League-- and it’s no award winner. But I remember so many quotes from that movie and I love rooting for the Indians to win it all. As movies go, it’s kind of silly, but I love,  love the scene where Charlie Sheen heads out to the mound. Watch the crowd. It gives me the chills. They are all in. Passionate. They believe.

Remember the Titans.
My favorite quote and one I remember the most? Attitude reflects leadership. When I think about the attitude of my students about school and learning, I believe that they were a mirror for me. The days I didn’t bring my best, I didn’t get their best. Every day, as a leader, I want to model the attitude that I’m hoping for with my team, whether it’s students in a classroom or teachers in my school. I want our students and teachers to be curious, willing to try and fail, and to be inspired. That’s what I’m hoping to bring every day. Am I always successful? No. But every single day I have that goal.

Who do you play for?
I love learning. As often as I can, and as much as I can afford, I try to learn something new, whether it’s on Twitter, by reading a book, or attending a conference. In my first year as a principal, I sometimes get funny looks and even questions from teachers about this. “You’re here? You don’t have a classroom. Wow.” I get this a lot, or something like it. People are often surprised, but I need to be there. How can I lead learning in my school if I’m not a learner myself? I sometimes hear teachers say, “I can’t do that, I teach kindergarten” or something similar, but really, good teaching is good teaching. It’s our job as learners to make the connection to our life, to make the learning relevant. Today, I attended the Area 3 Writing Project Super Saturday session for 3rd-6th grade teachers about using conversation to improve student writing, and we started This I Believe writing. I’m already excited to see what our third grade team does with the idea, and we’re thinking of sharing this idea with our teachers next year. I couldn’t wait to get home and write this post! Who do I play for? I play for #teamlearning!

Never, ever give up.
Life is hard. There are mountains of obstacles blocking the path to success, but we can’t get discouraged. Every day, we may fail. We need to be willing to take risks, to have courage, to believe that the impossible can be achieved. This is the thing that gets me going every morning and keeps me awake at night, inspired by the possibilities if we just believe that anything is possible. We may fail, but we cannot lose.

I believe in movies. Some people say that everything you need to know is learned in kindergarten, but I disagree. Life’s most important lessons are found in sports movies. Wild thing, you make my heart sing!

Do you have a favorite quote or life lesson from a movie? I'd love to hear from you!