Thursday, January 30, 2014

I'm PUBLISHED!!!

I just want to commemorate this momentous occasion in the history of me. I have officially published  my own website, iTechJess.com, and have launched myself full-speed ahead into a new frontier as an independent consultant and staff development provider.  I have arrived!! Woot!

For a couple years now, I have been dipping my toes into the independent and contract workplace, taking tiny jobs that friends of mine recommended me for...just a gig here and there.  Nothing fancy.  And nothing permanent.  I go to work in a job I enjoy, I work with great people, and I feel relatively fulfilled. But all the while, I've been thinking about how much I enjoy the extra challenge of doing business in exotic places, with exotic people (well, exotic is a stretch...usually they are just closer to one of the state borders and say y'all a little differently).  I'm small-time. But no matter, I'm excited :)

So in tribute to my venture, I am giving away free hi-fives to anyone who wants one. I'll be in Austin, TX at the TCEA Convention this week (Feb 3-7) and can meet you anytime to give you your little piece of the celebration.  Warning: I am an enthusiastic hi-fiver. Be prepared.  And if you're going to be down that way as a participant, stop by my sessions (both on Wednesday): Not Secret Code: Add Pics to Forms and Flipping Out: Tools4Flipped Classes and get not only a hi-five, but a chance to score some TechSmith swag as well! (I'm tellin' ya, I am kinda a big deal)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

When Dinosaurs walked the Earth and YouTube didn't exist

I recently read an article that showed YouTube has edged out Facebook as the most used social media website by teens. Honestly, I'm not shocked. Kids nowadays want to know and they want to know NOW. The students I work with feel forced into reading and don't have long attention spans, which is pretty typical of their age group. Enter YouTube: don't read, just type in a few words, click around until the video playing catches your attention. Did it answer your question? No? Okay, check out a related video...oh, yes, that's what you needed to know. This trend used to worry me, but I see the same behavior in grown up humans outside the classroom as well.
Take my roommate, Audrey, for instance.  As it turns out, she thinks so much like a teenager that YouTube is her search engine of choice. Google, who? She knows all about the "cool kids" of the interwebs and could probably quote every Jenna Marbles episode ever produced. In fact, given a free moment without agenda or itinerary, she is attempting to convert me into a YouTube voyeur like her! And it might be working...I woke up from a YouTube Coma the other night....visions of cats and vacuum cleaners still appearing in the dark from the backside of my eyelids. I literally didn't know how long I'd been watching (3+hrs it turns out).
Despite the quirky social ailments spawned from over-indulgence, I really like YouTube. It's an ingenious idea that has quietly morphed into a vital element of our social fabric. In fact, because of it's social importance, YouTube has also become a necessity in the classroom.  Think about it teachers: when was the last time you conceived a unit lesson plan or project that did not rely in SOME way on a YouTube video?  I literally cannot remember, since my years in the classroom are not quite in the double-digits and YouTube has never not been around for me. YouTube videos have essentially been a part of my daily experience since its conception in 2005. 
YouTube consumption is well established in our classrooms. So I love it that one of the new trends in education is to "flip" our classes.  We are harnessing tools like YouTube to extend beyond the walls of our brick-n-mortar classrooms and taking learning to a new level.  Some sites, like Sophia.org or MentorMob EDU, allow teachers to collect videos and other online resources for students to use in lieu of the direct teach element of the traditional learning pathway. I find this immensely valuable. Breaking down the walls of the traditional system one classroom at a time, right? Right.
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of YouTube is that the content is user-generated. It's not simply a one-stop consumption source. It's an outlet for creation as well.  Anyone can become the authority or the teacher. Even our students! Opponents of the online education revolution often argue that nothing can replace the face-to-face teacher/student experience. I agree 100% but who says the faces must be in the same room at the same time? YouTube allows teachers to capture themselves as they'd be in their classroom.  Mess-ups, lame jokes, questions from other students, digressions and all...turn on the webcam and keep going.  I love it (and so do many other educators and students).
I don't know where education will trend next, but I do know this: YouTube in the classroom will be around for a long time. It's not "new" anymore, and this blog post is just a few years too late; however, we still have educators who deny the power of the online video. Let's abandon our fears about technology people. Let's embrace what we know is true today: kids learn this way. We must meet them where they are....even if it makes us a little uncomfortable.

And, as always, please visit my website www.itechjess.com


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Maybe a circus theme...

...but no circus was it!


The first ever Texas Google Summit has come and gone. What a great day it was for those of us in attendance. Nothing beats the camaraderie of like-minded people and those who are eager to learn alongside you.  I had such a great time!

As one of the organizing members of Techs4Tex Foundation, I spent the weeks leading up to the event in a frenzied whirlwind, working as an instructional technologist by day and a #TXGoo organizer by night (and usually by day as well).  I learned so much from my counterparts: Jessica Johnston (@edtechchic), Kellie Lahey (@gottasectech), Amy Mayer (...that's MAAAYer, not MYer @friEdTechnology), Kim Straus (@edtech2love), Ann DeBolt (@anndebolt), Kristy Vincent (@bigpurplehat) and Pam Cadwalder (@pcadwalder). These ladies are all so talented in so many areas that sometimes I just sat back and absorbed their brilliance just a bit. Our little endeavor to provide a great Google day for teachers has really become the start of something bigger than we expected.

I think, upon reading our participant evaluations, the format for our keynote event was a HUGE success! Picture this: three super cool edtech peeps sitting on stage answering Q&A from the audience regarding all things Google.  Each panelist brought a different angle to the mix: one a purveyor of all things Chromebook, one, an expert on Google Apps for Education, and one, a master of iDevice + Google integration. All highly knowledgeable, all fun to talk with, all eager to share the "gospel" with the world.  It was a great addition to our day's program of events.

If you want to know more about the happenings of the day of the event, I gladly direct you to my dear friend, Jessica Johnston's blog, EdTechChic where she has posted some fabulous pics taken by our very own Matthew Lahey (@m_lahey).  The pics really captured the essence of the day. Also, let me direct you to the #TXGoo tweet feed, which happened to be the #1 trending topic on Twitter that day :)

My take-aways centered not so much around learning new content, but in learning new ways to craft my own professional success. I met quite a few champions of the edtech community, many of whom are super cool. They all exist somehow outside their physical self and people want to be like them. Teachers want to know what they know. I am glad I can say I'm their friend :)

You know, I'm building up my own professional persona, adding new elements to my online presence, and this blog happens to be a part of that.  I strive to do more, post more, say MORE...and all the while be vital part of my chosen profession.  If the Texas Google Summit did little more than help me achieve that small goal, then it was a day truly well-spent.  I look forward to what Techs4Tex Foundation does in the future, including next year's Google Summit on May 17 in Brenham, TX (yep, that's a shameless plug).




Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Help us Google Chromebooks, you're our only hope!

In my school district, Chromebooks have become the new iPad. They're the hottest item with our teachers and our students are learning to rely on the web-based apps for their daily classroom experiences. It's really exciting!  Where we're starting to see the most overwhelming teacher response is on our elementary campuses.  Principals are buying up Chromebooks for their classrooms because of their gift-of-a-price and because they're easily managed by their staff (<---as many of you know, Chromebooks need virtually no maintenance from the user's end), so I had to come up with a face-to-face training that helped our teachers shift from using the traditional PC to a Chromebook, which is sometimes quite a departure.
The biggest obstacle for most teachers, and I suspect it will be for elementary students, is the dual-finger click which replaces the "right click".  Just remember, use your fingertips and not the pads of your digits. That's the way to practice! Check out the training notes I created and shared with teachers after our initial face-to-face meetings last week (see below).

I am so excited about this implementation in my district. Technology is imperfect and no device can be 100% inclusive of our needs: devices with "everything" are generally so cost prohibitive they become useless to us and devices in our price range generally have gaps in the laundry list of functions they need to be able to do. Chromebooks are going to help us transition onward and upward! 





Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Cultivating Innovation on a K-4 Campus

On March 22, 2013 something amazing is going to happen: 600 elementary students are going to take over their school and their teachers aren't going to do ANYTHING about it.  You read that right. That day, Innovation Day, the students at Samuel Houston Elementary are going to "drive the bus" and their teachers are just going to make sure they keep it between the lines.  If you're not familiar with Innovation Day (also known as FedEx Day or Genius Day), you're missing out on one of the newer trends hitting education right now.  The concept that we've killed creativity in our young students has never gotten more coverage than it's receiving today, thanks to state and national debates about standardized testing.

The basic idea is this: ask students what they WANT to learn and then........LET THEM.  Provide them the means to discover all they can discover and ask them to teach us what they learn.  It's a simple, yet powerful model for learning.  At Samuel Houston Elementary, teachers have been prepping themselves for the upcoming Friday.  We have met as grade level teams to discuss, plan, and collaborate about the logistics of our experiment. Here's what we've come up with:
  • All grade levels CAN participate, even Kindergartners.
  • Allowing students to move around the campus freely is vital to their success that day.
  • Each student will prepare a plan and their teachers will conference with them about their proposal.
  • Dividing the students by interest will be easier to coordinate.
  • Teachers will guide students in the planning stages by asking questions but will refrain from leading or giving constructive feedback.
Before we conferenced with teachers, we had some worries. We (the principal, director of staff development, and the campus instructional technologist..me) thought teachers would struggle with the idea of allowing their students to take the reigns for an entire day.  I personally thought I would hear teachers say, "Oh I don't think little Jimmy can do that on his own" or "Well, I don't think THESE kids can do that".  Happily, I can say I was way off the mark.  The teachers on our campus were excited about the prospect of allowing students to design their learning for the day.  They had some great ideas about what to do if a student finishes their project early in the day or if there is a "melt-down" or a need for the little ones to stay with their beloved homeroom teachers. One teacher even gave us what has turned into a campus-wide model (and the inspiration for this blog post) for nudging the students along in their planning phase.  She shared with us during conference how she talked about Innovation Day with her own daughter. Questions comprised the majority of her portion of the conversation:
What are you interested in learning about? 
How much do you know about that?
How do you think you could learn more? 
What can you do to show others about what you know? 
Can you take that a step further? 
How else can you show us what you learn?
Teacher, by nature, are helpful people. Especially elementary teachers.  Stepping back and letting students learn through discovery is going to be tough for them, but I am so encouraged by the attitude and enthusiasm our staff has shown in response to our Innovation Day.  I cannot wait to see what plans our kiddos propose, which topics are being covered, and the final products of the day.  Creativity might be stifled by seemingly endless attempts at standardizing kids, but I don't think it's dead just yet. I think we have the opportunity to exercise our minds with projects like Innovation Day. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out. Prepare to be impressed!

Btw: if you click on the link above re: FedEx Day, read through the comments section and think about what you could call Innovation Day on YOUR campus! There are some great suggestions there :)


Monday, February 11, 2013

Motivating through Professional Development

Last week, I attended a workshop presented by Darren Wilson from Guthrie ISD (@thedarrenwilson). My interest was piqued by the session title: Visionary Staff Development. Invite Your Students! (see his Prezi below for more information)  In Guthrie ISD, students attend the same professional learning sessions their teachers attend and it counts as an instructional day. Genius! These kids are surely learning things from their educators most kids never know exist: Marzano Teaching Strategies, How to use Khan Academy in the Classroom, Building a Professional Learning Network with Twitter All these topics teachers might be learning alongside their students.

How powerful?! Instead of my 8th graders complaining that I was asking them to draw pictures and make sentences with the new vocabulary words we learned, I could have just looked at them and said "Use your Marzano strategies to learn the words from this chapter".  They would have understood the process a little better and probably would have given me such less grief. Man, talk about a #missedopportunity

Something I had to seriously reflect upon was how I deliver PD to teachers in my district.  We have so much need for professional growth, I sometimes am guilty of trying to force all my teachers along for the ride. I forget sometimes that not everyone finds learning instructional tech as exciting as I.  In Darren's preso, he asks some pointed questions: What if professional development was more like a choose your own adventure story? What if professional development was less like a prescription and more like a gift card? He is right. We have to bring them in willingly. We must engage their minds!



What you might not know from this presentation is just how SMALL Guthrie school district is. It's TINY. I think Darren said there were something like 92 people in the entire school! I can't imagine working in such a small school setting, and I am certainly aware of what he called "scaling-up" issues...but I was so inspired by their model. I can't wait to incorporate some of Darren's direction in my larger district.

Go to Darren's website to learn more: www.darrenwilson.net  or follow him on Twitter (@thedarrenwilson) and ask him questions yourself. This school district is making it work with what they've got...and I am excited to follow them on their journey.  We can all take a page from their book and make good things happen!

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Journey to Tech Town

Every year, thousands of techie educators gather at the TCEA Convention in Austin, TX. This year's prevailing theme was "Fusion" and the stage was set to show educators how to blend their tech toys into the non-tech environment (think classrooms).  Some of the sessions were good, some were not so good. It's hard to decipher which you will end up with and the truth of the matter is: when choosing sessions to attend, it's really the luck of the draw.

If you're not able to go because TCEA charges an arm and a leg, and your district just didn't have the money, I feel for you. It's so nice to spend a few days with other professionals who are focused on honing their professional tools. I can understand why a district wouldn't have money to send a large group, but it's such a shame more teachers cannot attend.
TCEA 2013 Keynote Address

Some highlights:

  • Edubloggercon-Super nerds...ASSEMBLE!! The all-day gathering of techno-geeks is a breeding ground for great ideas. In fact, meeting up in an informal "want to know" session turned out to be the best experience I had at this year's TCEA convention. We met in an open area equipped with sound system, two projectors and several tables & arm chairs.  So many of us showed, we had to sit on the stair case and around the room on the floor.
    The format is simple: go around the room with a microphone and ask people what they WANT to know. Topics are organized, a leader emerges from the crowd and offers to teach the session, and an unconference is born. Want to know more about using Twitter for PD? Carrie Ross (@MsRossEnglish) volunteered and rocked out an impromptu session. Want to find out how others are using their iPads with elementary kids? Jon Samuelson (@iPadSammy) inspired the masses with a great little mini-workshop.  How can your school bridge the great divide between Gmail and other (lesser) providers? Ask Amy Mayer (@friEdTechnology) to give you a run-down.

    Seriously, Edubloggercon was amazing. Quite possibly the most valuable experience I was able to have all week.
  • #TxEd tweetup-this gathering of like-minded individuals was a playground for all Tweeps like myself.  Sharing handles, sharing resources and eating ice cream all spell having FUN! I think I gained more than 20 new followers simply from tweeting at this event.  What a breath of fresh air it was being able to connect with other professionals like us.
  • The Austin Convention Center-it's beautiful, it's convenient, and it's saturated with plugs for our little energy-deficient devices. Plus, either ACC or TCEA provided extremely well-placed water jugs, free for you and me. It was lovely.
Some not so bright moments:
  • Google Academy-This year, we paid extra and stood in line for the highly sought after Google Academy. We were told it was a must-do for progressive instructional technologists. What we didn't know is that the sessions were going to be very, very basic.  We also didn't know some of the presenters would not be gifted Googlers.  I sat in on a session where the presenter used IE to demo some "secrets" of Google Docs. Except they didn't all work because he was in IE. Go figure. Also, the Academy's keynote speaker and organizing professional both used Microsoft Power Point when addressing the whole group.....can anyone tell me what's wrong with that picture? Maybe there was an overarching reason they didn't go Google, but we'll never know and we're all left with the same question: WTH?
  • The War of the Wireless Networks-I had high hopes for the network this year. There were WAPS stationed all over the ballroom, in the session rooms, and throughout the center; however, having drawn from past experiences, many people brought their own hotspots. All the Mi-Fi devices kept creating black-holes through which our connection went and never returned. It was so frustrating...especially during Edubloggercon.  Nothing is more amazing than losing connection in the middle of a cool session.
I would say, regardless of any minor negative experiences I may have had this week at TCEA, every teacher should have the opportunity to attend. Not just the technology apps or instructional technology professional...I mean the English teacher, the Texas History teacher, the Math Models instructor. Using technology is no longer the responsibility of one designated teacher, it is now EVERYONE'S charge to bring useful, effective tech use into our classrooms. What better way to learn the good stuff than where the best people are?