Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Snap Out of it!

Photo by Krissy Venosdale AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved

I had a moment today that screamed, "Snap out of it!" to me. As I sat, waiting to donate blood at the Red Cross office (about 30 minutes from my home), I grew impatient. I had arrived at 1:40 p.m. for my 1:45 p.m. appointment and grew impatient as the clock ticked on..2:05, I turned and looked at the apologetic young receptionist, and smiled as she looked back at me and then at the clock nervously. I got the sense that she expected me to walk up and complain. She looked relieved as I smiled and turned to watch the tv.

I sighed and continued to watch Bobby Flay and his Muffeletta Throwdown on the cooking show in front of me.

"Chill out," I told myself. It's not like you're going to be late for something else or something more important.

As the clock neared 2:30, 45 minutes after my scheduled time, I wrote a snarky tweet about my wait, wondering why I had even bothered to make an appointment. Just about as soon as I hit send, I regretted it.

 "What is wrong with me?" I asked myself. Is there anything more important than what I was about to do? I could have "real" problems and be the person who needs that blood. A calm came over me as I realized how absolutely fortunate I was to be at that moment in time, healthy enough to share the gift of blood with someone who might need it. And yes, I did go back and delete my snarky tweet.

I changed my sulky attitude and bantered with the woman who took my history and the gentleman who drew my blood, talking with him about his daughter just about to start kindergarten. I spent an extra couple minutes past my recovery time to chat with the older gentleman who made tea for me in the "after donation" waiting area.

Why do I share this story? Perhaps to remind myself, and maybe others, that there are always times to "snap out of it" and realize that our worst moments could be someone else's best ones.

Life is good. There's always something to be grateful for.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Chromebooks in Class? A Practical Peek at the Acer C7 10

I don’t write reviews often, but when I do, there’s a good reason..

As I said, I’m not a big product review writer, though I do like to talk about the practical application of technology in the classroom. So, don’t think this blog is changing..I'm just taking an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity about the Chromebook buzz among educators.

I wanted to look at the question: Is an affordable tool like a $229 Acer C7 10 Chromebook really going to meet the needs of my students and what I do with technology in the classroom? And, mind you, I am not asking if it will meet “all” of my tech needs! Just wondering if it will meet enough requirements to make it a worthwhile investment.

Since I had the opportunity to review the Acer C7 10 Chromebook I thought: Why not? All I have to do is give an honest review and I can keep it? Sure! (On a side note, since I’ll be out of the classroom this year, I am pondering how I will decide who to give it to! I already have a laptop I love for personal use and think it only fair to have it in a classroom.) Got ideas on that note? Please share in the comments!

Here are the nitty gritty specs:
  • Intel® Celeron® 847 1.1GHz 2MB L2 Cache Processor
  • 4GB DDR3 Installed Memory
  • 16GB Solid State (SSD) Hard Drive

What are the pros/cons to this device I type this post on? ( and incidentally, make a lot of typos on as I adjust to the keyboard)

  • Obviously, the cost is a huge factor!  At a $229 price tag, this makes tech in the classroom simply more possible for the average teacher. If your school doesn’t provide you with enough classroom devices, ( or those that actually work!), head on over to, write up a grant proposal for a set of 4-5 Chromebooks and for $1,000-$1,200 you just might have a writing center for your classroom!
  • It’s simple and uncluttered..well, that’s a no-brainer, right? Want students to have few distractions, with google docs/apps and a browser? Well that’s what you’ve got!
  • Quick and easy set-up. Had it going, on the internet in less than 5 minutes. Maybe that’s just standard these days?
  • Fast enough to avoid frustration! I honestly didn’t expect it to be so quick in its processing power.
  • Battery life seems to be great so far, though the specs state a 4 hour battery life. In the classroom, this could be an issue, depending on the use. In my 4th grade classroom last year, we rarely had work times over an hour so charging really wouldn’t be an issue though I wonder how repeated charging impacts the battery life.
  • Lightweight.. at only 3 lbs. it certainly is easy to carry around!

And for the cons, well.. it’s not really fair to compare this device with my favorite laptop is it? Seems to me that would be like comparing a bargain model starter car with a luxury car. The concerns I have are with durability and length of battery life. When I slid my Chromebook out of the box, I thought: this feels like a toy. I wonder how it will hold up to the bumps and bruises it will inevitably suffer  in a classroom?
In the handbook, the battery is said to be able to be charged hundreds of times but will lose its ability to charge in time. Hundreds? That might be less than a school year if they need to be charged more than once a day. That said, I’d have to explore the cost of the batteries. You know how printers are great deals and the ink, well..not so much? That might be part of my consideration though certainly you shouldn’t need a new battery too soon, right?

Wherever my Chromebook lands, whichever students get to use it, I will definitely get their report back a few months down the road. Why not combine a product review/opinion assignment into a great learning opportunity? Stay tuned for the update!

Full disclosure: provided me with this product for review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are strictly my own. Feel free to shop their entire line of Chromebooks and laptops online.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Giving Students Voice and Choice with ProConIt

I've just discovered this tool for voting called ProConit and wonder what you think on 2 levels.

First, do you think students should have input into where they sit and/or who they sit with? If you have an opinion, feel free to vote and try out this tool ProConit!

Second, though I haven't read the TOS in detail, and am not sure if this would work with younger students, but it could definitely be a useful tool for high school/college students, or even preservice teachers. In fact, parents could even vote if there was an issue requiring their opinion.

As I said, I'm just learning how this tool works, so in case you can't vote in the embedded widget below, feel free to visit the link and vote!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Out of the Comfort Zone

Often when I run, ( and the running isn't that often ;-) ) I think about how I am not a natural runner, how I run because it pushes me out of my comfort zone, towards a feeling of accomplishment when I do something that a) I don't really enjoy b) I'm not that good at c) I feel a bit awkward with.
So why on Earth, would I run? Precisely for those reasons.

I run because it's another good way to exercise, along with Zumba, bootcamp, and cardio kickboxing. I run because when I do it reminds me of my students and how we often put them out of their comfort zones. This isn't a bad thing; in fact, I think it's critical to raise the bar, but so important to look at how we do it. 

Do we ask students to perform tasks at a pace that sometimes doesn't work for them, before they might be ready, before they've "warmed up?"  Do we compare them to the "sprinters" and the "distance runners" when actually they're just beginning to learn to run? Heck, some are just at the "learn to walk" phase, never mind running. 

The point is, we know that we're supposed to differentiate, but sometimes we only do that for the extreme cases, the kids who have IEPs, the kids who have the labels I despise so much but realize are necessary to get support services.

 Do we give the student who simply needs more wait time that pause before we move on and let another student answer? Do we make that wait time part of our classroom culture?

Do we allow enough talking time before we expect kids to sit down and actually produce writing?

I ask these questions because as I run, I play games with myself to increase my motivation, as well as my stamina. I give myself permission to walk if I need to. I set goals to run to that next yellow sign, black truck, house with the pink flowers. I scaffold myself and try to listen to what I need. Honestly, I absolutely hate the first 2 miles and though intellectually I know it will get better, I need to trick myself to keep going so I can get to that place when it gets easier. 

Maybe students are similar in their need for such tricks?

The joy of mastering a goal is even greater when we know it was a tough one to achieve. Why not help our students discover their own strategies to persevere when the going gets tough? 

Reflection is a practice I strive to include more often so that my students make such discoveries. I am curious, as I write this post, how you ensure that your students make these connections about what helps them achieve their goals, soaring or crawling through the tough stuff!

Please share so we can all learn from each other. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Don't Crash and Burn!

It's summertime and though it might seem strange to talk about burnout, it's a great time to evaluate and take some preventive measures. During high stress times in the school year: report cards, parent teacher conferences, pink slip time, and those long months with not a single holiday or snow day in sight, the last thing you want to be doing is fighting burnout!

I find that when the pace slows down a bit, I reflect even more than usual, and it is then that I see signs that I am growing weary. When the adrenaline leaves the body, (well, it doesn't actually totally leave, right, but you get my point), I am left exhausted each June, wondering how long it will take, or if I can even totally recover and be ready for a new school year. Sometimes I even ponder a new profession. Seriously!

Here are a few ideas to keep steady and prevent the crash!

  • Validate the exhaustion and take a break! Read the books you haven't had time for, turn off the computer and play with your kids, do whatever it takes to signal to yourself: it's break time!
Spending time with family, especially little cuties like my great nephew Oliver, renews me! 

  • Just as school resumes, don't get sucked into the hysteria of, "There aren't enough hours to get my room perfect!" Involve your students in designing and setting up the room. Of course, this depends on the age of the students and the culture of your school, but if the overriding principle is that your students "own the learning," then they should be partners in owning the space of the classroom. It's not the best view of the open walls ready for student work, but the only thing written on the board is the first day's agenda!
Bulletin boards and white boards are waiting for studentsd

  • Get peer support set up in advance! I have a huge network of wonderful educators on Twitter and a couple of live, local friends who can be there to listen to my struggles and vice versa. That said, take the conversation off the public feed when you've had a rough day! The last thing you need is stress over who saw your "ticked off" tweet. 
These lovely ladies join me in a regular monthly hangout where we share our joys and frustrations. (missing from the pic are Ann Ottmar and Celina Brennan who couldn't be at #iste13 with us :-( ) 

  • Keep a digital notebook to remind you.. of the times you've made a difference. With Evernote and other tools, it's easy to keep those pictures student draw for you, and annotate them with a little extra info so years later you will remember the details. In Evernote, I place a photo of that child with their note/drawing. 

  • And.. you knew this was coming:  Get active by doing exercise you love!  Find ways to continue the exercise into the school year. I found a great group of new friends when I joined a studio last summer. I schedule the classes in advance and put them on my calendar. These classes are then non negotiable: Zumba or cardio kickboxing at 5:30 means that I go on my way home, no questions asked! If I have to stop by Starbucks for an hour of refreshment and work time, then I arrive even more ready for my sweat. There is nothing better to combat stress than exercise. It doesn't have to be all or nothing either: just a 30 minute walk is enough to make a difference! 

My Zumba friends playing a joke on April 1st dressing up like our instructor, Deb.

  • Put a little awe or even aww in your life! Pictures of cute baby animals have a positive impact on cognitive performance. Research here.   Beautiful pictures of nature have a calming effect on me and help me remember times of inspiration and renewal as shown below.  
Nope, not a baby animal but pretty darned cute! 

Alright, I'm sure there are lots of other "burnout busters," but I'd love to hear from you! How you do keep  yourself renewed?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Foster the "Do" : 5 Tips for Empowering Learners

Insights arrive when we surround ourselves in nature! 

My husband is a huge provocateur of my a good way of course. This morning, during our beautiful hike, we talked all things design, learning, usability, and psychology and somehow arrived at the conclusion that with kids and learning, it's all about fostering action that will lead them to success in adulthood.

 Yes, we must facilitate critical thinking and expose students to all- important principles, but the bottom line is this: the world is waiting for the action, for the manifestation of all of the learning they do while in and out of school. As educators we must get our students to not only "do" but to also believe that they are capable of acting upon and solving big problems!

So how do we ensure that we are fostering the "do" in our students?

Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind, especially as I  think about designing a do- oriented learning environment:

  • Make relationship a priority: It only takes a minute at the door with eye contact and a hello to establish that a student's presence in class is important. Of course there are students who are uncomfortable with this routine and some might say there are cultural factors to keep in mind. I am not dismissing these ideas, simply reinforcing that we can start off our time with students with rituals that show them how much they matter.  If they have a way they prefer to greet us, like a fist bump, why not try it out?

  • Ensure trust in the classroom by fostering a climate where mistakes are celebrated and enjoyed. In my class last year we made spoofs out of our grammar and spelling errors, inspired by the posters of, Let's eat, grandma! 

  • Listen...carefully.. to the messages, both through body language and verbally, that our students reveal in the classroom. If students are giving the indications that they are frustrated, don't rescue, but affirm that great accomplishments require a lot of sweat and moments of challenge. In my classroom, students could signal to me that they needed a brief walk outside to cool off and readjust. 

  • Reflect regularly, both individually and in groups on what is working in the classroom. By this I mean that students need to have regular reflection time, and educators/administrators do as well. I found that using tools like Haiku Deck fostered incredible reflections from my students. As my students reflected using a visual medium they seemed to build appreciation for their hard work!  
Here is a student's Haiku Deck reflection after she presented her portfolio of learning to our school community!

  • Build appreciation for others by celebrating hard work! Why not have rituals for spontaneous group celebrations like a quick play of a musical theme song or a group chant when a member of class has overcome an obstacle or worked hard for success? 
I could go on and on with ideas, but I am most curious about how you "foster the do" and empower your students. Please share! 

Oh, but wait, there's more!  I can't leave you without sharing this famous Yoda scene. Whenever I think about the idea of try vs. do, it comes to mind! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Connected Educator Fatigue: It's Okay to Take a Break

CC BY 2.0 greatnews
I'm the first one to vouch for the importance of being a connected educator. I love conferences where I get to meet my Twitter /online author and teacher friends up close and personal. I also take time to comment on blogs, share, and try to write when the self-discipline strikes me ;-)  Let's just say I have lots of ideas, half-written posts, and an enormous storehouse of writer's block excuses that get in the way of me hitting that "publish" button.

Sometimes, though, I feel signs that I am needing a break from it all, a time to refresh, take care of me and my face to face loved ones who share the ups and downs of everyday life with me live and up close.  

Here are the tell-tale signs that I need to take a step back:  

  1. When I read someone advocating for "sharing what is going on in the classroom," I feel a surge of panic and anxiety, with pangs of guilt because I haven't blogged lately. I do believe that I should share, but I don't think it should have such a profound way of inducing guilt. 
  2. When I see a friend tweet of a promotion, an opportunity, I feel envious or jealous instead of joy for them. 
  3. If I get an email or message from a friend, asking me to update a bio or participate in a hangout and I feel like running away.. far far away! 
  4. When I feel like the world just wants way too much from me and I just can't do it all. 
  5. When I feel a sense of panic after not replying to someone's email that same day! 

Below is a Haiku Deck I created to express the idea that it's okay to think before saying yes. It's called, "Beautiful No", a term shared by my wise mindfulness teacher, Dr. Amy Saltzman. I think that if I learn to choose more wisely the things I say yes to,  I will have fewer examples like those posted above.

How do you know it's time to take a break? I'd love to hear how you manage being a connected educator! 

Why I Choose to Speak Up..on the Difficult Issues in Education

Image used with permission from Bam Radio Network. 

You may or may not know that I am an occasional guest and a big fan of BAM Radio Network with the wonderful Rae Pica.  I've been a commentator on shows with not too controversial, yet still important topics like, "How to make it on a teacher's salary," "How to get kids energized and paying attention," and others that I can easily babble on about. If you've met me in person, you absolutely know that this former shy girl loves to talk when she has an idea!

But this time, the email invitation from Rae tugged at me..hard. She was asking me to talk about teachers cheating and other actions they resort to in a profession torn apart in the media on a daily basis. Honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted to get involved. What if others in the conversation or those not even willing to participate, judged me or turned against me?  As much as I wanted to say no, I couldn't do it, my inner voice was screaming, "Yes, you need to do it."

I invite you to listen to the short segment and think about where you would fall in the discussion.

Here are my thoughts, written just after the recording:

It’s 6:30 a.m. and I am on a call for a radio show to talk about controversial topics in education, and how we can participate in a meaningful dialogue. Rae, the most gracious and excellent host, reads a quote that I sent to her and BAM!, she’s asking me to elaborate.

Wwwwait.. I struggle..did she just say Joan or John, one of the other guests. Clearly my summer brain has taken over and I need just a sip more coffee. I should recognize my own words, right?
I fumble my way through answering Rae’s questions, listening as I note that the other guests sound much more articulate, awake, and spot on with their concerns and additions to the topic. I blame it on Pacific Time. 

I think John is  right about creating a narrative, Vicki is absolutely correct that we all speak from our vastly diverse experiences, Marilyn mentions being looked down upon for being a charter school teacher, and we all discuss the fear of reprimand or even losing our jobs as a factor in speaking out on the important topics in education. And this, right here, is one of my biggest reasons for speaking up: we cannot live in fear when we choose to speak and act with conviction about what is right. 

John mentions that we will need a lot of empathy in this process of moving forward.. I wholeheartedly agree, though during the conversation  I can't seem to put a sentence together! 

This makes me think that we almost need a rule book or a mission statement/agreement stating that we all understand: something to the effect that we are all wholeheartedly in the field of education to promote equity, reach all children where they are, push them to the highest levels they can achieve, etc. Something like an oath for teachers; doctors take one, right? Aren't we important in our students' physical, mental, emotional health? 

As educators and as human beings, we will have different opinions on teaching practices and pedagogy and even on how schools should work. But I hope, no, I do believe, that deep inside all of us is a passionate advocate for the children we serve. We can't advocate in silence. And we can't join together as a profession if we stay silent. Change comes from being brave enough to speak up and act. 

Whether you agree with my point of view or not, I'd love to continue this discussion, and I thank Rae for the opportunity to be among such passionate educators.