Saturday, March 31, 2018

Coding Fun!

Over spring break, I discovered a new educational website which totally has me hooked, and I wanted to share!
// Disclaimer: I am a total nerd!

The backstory: 

I have an incredibly talented brother & sister who have been working on developing apps for both Apple & Android products. When I am at home with them, I always see them working and am intrigued, but my music education degree didn't exactly teach me enough to follow along with what they are doing. Naturally...I asked them if I could start to learn some coding basics (did I mention that my brother also teaches high school computer science?)!

I've worked on some high-level pseudo-coding with them in that past (basically figuring out the logic) and done some block-based coding, but what I really didn't have is any background writing actual code in text. I've been through some different tutorials, but they are so spoon-fed, I get frustrated with them and forget everything I've learned after a week.

In short, I wanted something that would:
1) Actually get me writing code, and
2) Gave me a bit of a challenge, so I could LEARN and not just regurgitate the information.
After talking with my brother, we decided it would be easier for me to learn just one language at first, and since I have an Android phone and a PC, it seemed logical for me to learn Java (Android) rather than Swift (iOS).


Here's what I love:

1. This site doesn't look fancy, but it has both challenges and help articles/videos right there.

2. After you write some code and submit, it runs a series of tests, and tells you which ones pass/fail. This is very helpful for tracking down your errors!

3. For the most part, this site doesn't give you the answers! Some example problems provide answers, and sometimes hints are provided, but mostly, you have to figure it out yourself.

4. The challenges go in a logical order, so you are not asked to do ten new things at once, but they throw in new twists each time, so you are not just repeating the same thing over and over.

5. You can create an account to save your progress, and even link it to a teacher's account (or a brother's account...just saying...) so that they can see your progress as well.

6. This site is built for both Java & Python. I am learning Java, but you could use it for Python as well.

7. It's working! I'm getting more comfortable with writing with proper syntax, I'm completing some challenges, and I'm getting stuck and researching to work through my issues. All of this means I am learning!

App development, here I come...

//Just kidding. I'm just getting started. But it's a step in the right direction!

Are any of you interested in learning Java?
How do these types of learning opportunities impact our students?
How might we make use of them to model our own learning or to challenge our students?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Classroom Visits: Lessons Learned

This week, I've had the opportunity to visit the classrooms of two amazing teachers, which has left me reflecting on my own practice. The classes were totally different - elementary literacy and middle school math - but there were some common traits. Here are three quick takeaways from my visits.

Side note: I love getting out in other classrooms now, and it makes me wish I could have done this more when I was teaching kids everyday - it is so inspirational and pushes me to grow!

1. Be intentional

One trait that both of these teachers shared is that they were intentional in the way they planned and used their lesson time. It was evident that they had put a lot of thought into what they were going to do that day and that they had prepared all of the materials ahead of time. Equally as important, they were intentional in the time that the students were there, checking in with them, explaining and clarifying, and not letting a minute go to waste!

2. Don't aim for perfection, aim for growth

Another thing that impressed me about these teachers was their growth mindset. They were willing to try new things and didn't get discouraged when everything didn't go perfectly the first time. They were reflective and looking for ways to improve and grow, but fear did not hold them back from trying something new.

3. Collaborate

Both of these teachers are excellent collaborators, and it was clear that they had not developed their classrooms in isolation. They were open, looking for new ideas, and happy to share what they are using. They are much more concerned about student learning (everywhere, not just in their classroom) than they are about their own ego!

Do you ever get to observe others? What sticks out to you when you go into other classrooms?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Teachers, Take Care of Yourselves

I had planned on writing about other things, but after receiving some tough news this week, suddenly this message seemed more important.

Teachers, take care of yourselves.

All around us, life happens. Family issues, relationship issues, health issues, societal issues, accidents and tragedies, etc. Some of it inevitably affects us. It affects our kids, too.

The problem is that we, as teachers, are really good at paying attention to and taking care of others. That's part of what drew us to this profession! But we are not always as good at taking care of ourselves.

Some of the best advice I have been given
came from a principal, days after a major event happened at my school that affected students and teachers alike. She said, "Don't be surprised if it comes back around and you really struggle with this in a couple of months. Right now, your focus is on helping the students deal with it, and you are not spending as much time on yourself...that's how teachers are wired. At some point, after the intensity has passed with students, you might find yourself coming back around and really dealing with it yourself." She was so right. And her words helped me not feel crazy when, two months later, all of the emotions came back strongly, with no apparent trigger.

So, while I would never tell teachers not to focus on students (not like we could, anyway), I just want to remind us to take care of ourselves, too. As a friend asked me in the middle of my tough week, "What are you doing for YOU today?" Take a moment. Treat yourself. Go for a walk. Take a nap. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Give yourself grace. And realize that YOU are worth taking care of, too.

We don't know what tomorrow will bring, but we can all spread love to the world.
Give that love to others, but don't forget about YOU.
Teachers, take care of yourselves.

Saturday, March 10, 2018


What kind of leader do I want to be?

This week, I have had plenty of opportunities to consider what it means to lead. From a sermon at church to attending interviews for our next superintendent, this question has been on strongly on my mind. As I pondered it, some quotes came to mind:

"Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." ~1 Peter 5:2-3, NIV Bible
Whether or not you agree with the spiritual background of this verse, it is written to leaders of a church, and has some great points to make about leadership in general. Do not lead simply out of a sense of obligation - but out of joy! Don't lead just because of what you can gain, but because of how you can benefit those around you. And do not parade your authority, but model and lead by example. This is what I strive for.

"A servant leader works tirelessly to develop his or her people and is focused on what they can do for others." ~Cheryl Williamson
Similarly, this quote speaks of sacrificing yourself (your time, your energy, your needs) and focusing on the people around you, then widening the circle. Danger: We can't ignore our own needs completely, but if that is the only thing we are focusing on, we are not being good leaders.

"The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office." ~Dwight D. Eisenhower
This connects back to my #oneword2018 of integrity, and really focuses on character. If I can trust my leaders, if I believe they will always strive to do the right thing, I am more likely to follow them. If I have reason to question their integrity, I will always follow with caution. I want to be a leader who is trustworthy.

We are all leaders, in some form or another. As students, teachers, administrators, or support staff, we have influence over many others every day. So the question returns:

What kind of leader do YOU want to be?

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Days in Schools are the Best Days

As an ed tech specialist, I truly feel that the days I spend in schools are the best days. There's just nothing like the energy of a school building!

But what do I do in schools?

That's a great question. It looks very different based on my purpose for visiting, and sometimes, what I have planned and what ends up happening are two completely different things! Here are some examples of what I do:

Classroom Observations
Since I'm not directly teaching students anymore, I really appreciate the time I can just sit in classrooms and watch what is going on. It helps keep me connected to the day-to-day life of teachers and students and informs my ideas for the future.

Trying something new in your classroom is intimidating! Sometimes, it helps to plan with another person to talk it through and think of all of the angles. I really enjoy planning with teachers and seeing the ways they are thoughtfully encouraging their students to grow.

In the same way, there are times when it just helps to have another adult in the classroom! I love the days when I am co-teaching, whether that looks like switching off in whole-class instruction, splitting the class up into small groups, or allowing students independent "work time" while both teachers wander and conference with groups.

Planning Meetings
Aside from lesson planning, sometimes there are other planning meetings that need to occur. Meeting with technology committees/teams, working on both the logistics of the tools and the vision of instruction in the building, and/or planning with administrators are all part of my job in schools.

Professional Development
Over the course of the year, I have been a part of many staff meetings where I have either facilitated or been an observer in different types of professional development. Because I am not actually working with the kids most days, the most "bang for our buck" comes when teachers feel more comfortable and confident with technology and instructional practices!

Parent Meetings
As technology takes over our world, parents are interested in finding out both how this impacts the school and how it can impact their parenting. There is definitely an element of community outreach at the school level that is present in my job.

Informal Conversations
This is one of my favorite things to do in schools, yet it can't be measured. Often, you can get a good feel for the culture of a building just by being there. I love chatting with teachers in the copy room, saying hi to kids in the lunchroom, or seeing how the day is going in the office. Many times, this will lead to questions or requests that I can help with - those things that are not burning enough to actually call IT, but that could really help make others' lives better! I'm not talking about fixing broken technology (my department deals more with instruction than hardware), but things like, "Is there any way to do THIS?" or, "I was trying to figure out how to do THAT..."

Fellow coaches/TOSAs/district leaders...what do YOU do in schools?

Teachers...what do you WISH we would do in schools?

I'm always looking for new ideas to collaborate - feel free to chime in below!