Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Not staying in your lane.

My students, like every adolescent, have their phones in their hands all day. They are in constant contact with their friends, and don't miss an opportunity to take pictures of themselves or their lunch. To the adults around them they may seem very tech-savvy, but the adults should know better. The kids certainly know how to use Instagram and Snapchat, but they don’t know how to insert a picture into a Word document without screwing up the whole page. They stay in their lane.
I thought I would someday be out of a job because the kids would just naturally learn everything before they got to me, but it’s still not happening. They get to sixth grade still not even knowing how to double space a paragraph or create a simple chart. These aren’t highbrow skills; these are tasks that they will need to know how to do. They will need to present their knowledge in ways to efficiently communicate their thoughts, and it’s my job to show them the best possible way.
What I teach rounds out their technology knowledge, heck, its most of their technology knowledge. My job is to take them out of their safe lane and teach them how to drive in all the lanes, even the fast ones. They will work at jobs that haven’t been invented yet, so I need to teach them skills for those jobs. I owe them my best efforts, and I need to teach skills that are creative and effective.
I take my responsibilities seriously and I’m honored to have this task.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

How do you stay motivated?

I am better off when I'm self-motivated. I don't need to tell other people about my goals, I hold myself accountable. But the minute I tell someone else about a plan, I will crawl over broken glass to fulfill my plan. I can disappoint myself, but I'd rather die than disappoint someone else.
I also love earning gold stars. I keep track when I go to the gym, so I can look at the calendar and see all the days I've kept my promise to myself.
It's taken me quite a few decades to realize that about myself, so I shouldn't waste that insight. I choose how serious I am about a goal. If I'm hopeful but not completely confident, it's best to keep it to myself. If I'm sure I will complete the goal, then I can shout it from the rooftops.
All of this goes back to my classroom, (doesn't it always?)
I want my students to be self-motivated. I want them to complete work for me, but I really want them to learn because they want to gain the knowledge. The best way I can get this to happen is to engage them in relevant, enjoyable tasks. I can show my enthusiasm for my subject, and demonstrate how the skills I’m teaching the class will benefit them.
I’m asking my students to reflect in their blogs on the lessons they’ve completed. I ask them to go home and teach the people there what they’ve learned today. I still need to do more. I need to light fires that they will themselves keep burning.
I take this as my challenge, and since I’ve made this goal public I am required to achieve it. Because I won’t stop until I do.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Here's my latest infographic


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Fresh Start

I've moved to a new middle school this year. I tell my sixth-grade students that I'm just like them; I have no idea where the bathrooms are either. It's a fresh start for me, so I need to step back and really reflect. 
With technology constantly changing, I always need to look at my curriculum and decide if what I'm teaching is still relevant for today's students. Some lessons I've taught for years, like how to format paragraphs and create tabs, but most lessons should change every year. I didn't know what coding was three years ago, and now it's a vital part of my curriculum. 
With my fresh start in a new school, I think it's time to turn all of my lessons upside down. It will be a lot of work, but I believe I need to work from a growth mindset and focus on what's just out of my reach. If nothing else, I'm modeling for my students what it's like to be constantly learning.
I will make my share of mistakes, but I think it's time for some real growth. 
Stand back, this should get ugly.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I created an Infographic about something we should think about


Saturday, August 6, 2016

4 Steps to make your profile pic look really professional

When I first added logos to my profile picture, I just simply did it in Preview on a mac. It was effortless. Once people saw my profile sporting my nifty badges to show off my accomplishments, everyone wanted to know how to do this and I wanted to help. Here how it’s done through Paint. Yes, lowly little Paint.
Step 1:  Open your photo in the program.

Step 2: Open your logo in another window and “Select All” and then choose “Copy.”

Step 3: Go back to your photo and “Paste” the logo. Keep it selected or it becomes stuck in the photo. Resize it, move it, whatever you need. 

Keep the other images small, you don’t want to turn into a scrapbook page.
Step 4:  After you’re happy with everything, save the file. Voila, you’re branded! Here’s what my finished profile picture looks like on Twitter.

You can stop reading now and go play with it. You too can turn your profile picture into a mini resume. A picture can say a thousand words and a branded one can help you make sure they’re the right ones for your image.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

It's June! Time for something new!

I like June, but not for the usual reasons. Yes, the school year is winding down, and the kids are getting “antsy,” but I see it as an opportunity to think outside the box.
I can try all the things I wanted to during the year with a little less pressure on them to succeed.
Keeping them engaged is the focus in these last few weeks, so the resource I try has to get their attention, and get it fast. We can have a little more fun, and celebrate all that we've accomplished this year. Students need to be reminded of how far they've come, and take pride in their efforts.
I even open the "Welcome to Technology" presentation I show in September, and we review what we've learned and what we came up short on. It's a way for me to reflect, and to model for the students what it means to try and not always succeed. It's also an opportunity for the students to tell me what they think about what I taught them.
June is not just counting down the days, but making the last few days with your students count.

Friday, May 6, 2016

It's not always about the Open Bar

Tali Horowitz invited a bunch of DOE nerds as her guests to the Common Sense Media Awards Dinner. The awards were for everyone who works hard to provide a safe environment for children to use technology. It was a lovely evening; we hobnobbed with big donors, caught up with friends, and had a nice evening out. What really inspired me was the message of the evening. We are playing defense for the small people who are defenseless against the giant we know as the Internet.
Marie Belle Vargas was the educator of the year. Working in the South Bronx, her students are among the most disadvantaged in our city. She comes early to school and stays late to give them internet access to complete their work. She provides support to parents to help them in all things online. She works tirelessly for her school and it was humbling to learn how much she truly personifies a dedicated teacher. She's an advocate for her children, her parents and her school. I am proud to call her a colleague. She turned around and instead of taking the accolades, thanked Tali for all the support and encouragement she provides the DOE teachers on a day-to-day basis. I'm proud to know both these women.
I came away from the night with a full belly, and a full heart. I work with amazing people and we are trying to do good. That's a great place to be. Thanks for having us, Common Sense.
Me and Educational Creator Award Winner Bill Nye discuss quantum physics.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Crushed It! How to Host a Twitter Chat

I was asked by Tali Horowitz of Common Sense Media to co-moderate a Twitter chat, but I had never done that before. I’ve been on Twitter for about a year and a half and have participated in other chats, so I thought “Why not?” It turned out to be a lot of fun; if you ever have the opportunity, please do so. Since I want everyone to experience this nerd-thrill, I’ve documented how I approached this project. After it was all over, the stats say we were viewed over a million times. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that but while I work on that, here’s my tips and tricks for hosting a Killer Twitter Chat.

Before I go into what I did, you should really read Lisa Neilsen’s take on this subject. Since I’m the President of her fan club, I feel it’s my duty to recognize her genius before I chime in. If you’re too lazy to click this link (really?) I’m going to repeat a lot of what she wrote.

Before the Chat
  • Promote the chat, then promote it again. The success of your chat depends on how many people are contributing. We all have busy lives; make it worth their while.
  • Tag your tribe in the tweets so they start dialogues. That’s what they’re there for.
  • Choose a theme that is specific to the audience, but easy for people to engage in the discussion.
  • Create a document that has the questions you plan on asking and share that document on Twitter beforehand. It gives people a heads up on what you will discuss. Choose open-ended questions, but not too elaborate. Remember they only have 140 characters to respond.
  • Create the graphics that will be used. I created graphics for each question, and I made some random graphics with quotes that were relevant to our discussion. Lisa says that’s how we raised the bar for Twitter Chats throughout the world. (I might be exaggerating there.)
  • A long hashtag for your chat will limit everyone’s responses. Keep it short and easy to type. I made mine a keyboard shortcut just to be more efficient while I was responding.

During the Chat
  • Don’t type in too much shorthand. It could be hard to understand you and deciphering the message will take too much time if the tweets are flying fast and furious.
  • Alert participants that the next question is coming, so they can wrap up the previous discussions.
  • Tweet the questions with a graphic too. Using graphics is huge. Twitter is mostly words, so a visual will really stand out. The great thing about visuals is that you can tag up to 10 people in the graphic. Tagging people in the graphics doesn’t take up your 140 characters, and you can really engage the participants in this way.
  • Drop the random graphics in sporadically as the conversations get deeper. I designed them to have a consistent look, but still be different from the actual questions.
  • Add comments to participant’s tweets to start multiple conversations going.
  • “Like” other people’s tweets, and retweet the significant thoughts, it makes you sound smart.

After the Chat
  • Catch up on conversations you missed; just because the hour is over doesn’t mean you have to stop the discussion. I’ve had discussions go on for days.
  • Follow the people that contributed, it’s the least you can do.
  • Thank the contributors, and let them know when the next chat will be.

I loved being the moderator. It was an hour-long adrenaline rush for a geek like me. I tell regular people about it, and they give me a half smile and nod, trying to act like they care. It doesn’t matter to me though. I care, and it matters to my nerd tribe. Connecting with fellow educators online in real time to make all of us better at what we do is something unheard of 10 years ago. We sometimes take for granted how cool technology is, and what we can do with it. This is the world wide web at it’s best, and not only can we take advantage of that, we can model it for our students. They’re the people we do this all for.

If you'd like to see the actual Twitter Chat, head over here #NYCSchoolsTechChat

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Club Girl

My book club has been together since 1998. We were all moms with little kids at home, and once a month on a Monday night was a big deal to get out and talk to adults for a few hours. The challenge was to stay awake for the meeting. Now we discuss how those same kids are doing in college, but we still have a hard time staying awake.
Late last year, Harper Collins had a contest to become a sponsored book club for a year and I entered our book club. I had completely forgotten about it until I got an email telling me we won. We get to pick a book from a bunch of choices every month and they send us the free copies. Once this year, an author will Skype or call into our meeting to discuss their book! We got our first shipment of books today, and I am thrilled. They have sent us a copy of a book that hasn't been released yet, it's our job to start a word of mouth campaign for these books which seems like an honor. Mostly we are relieved to not have to figure out what we should read every month, the pressure is off to find a great book because it's already been done for us.
We have been through a lot together: a bunch of babies, a handful of divorces, a few re-marriages and our first grand-baby. We even survived Hurricane Sandy, when many of us had to relocate for months while our houses were repaired. What is wonderful about our book club is that for a few hours every month we have a glass of wine, maybe some cheesecake, and discuss how a book has touched our lives. These are the things that make for a lovely life. Thank you to my friends and to the authors who enrich our lives. We are forever grateful.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Running into a really old friend.

I graduated from the School of Visual Arts a long time ago with a degree in Fine Arts. It sounds impressive, but my brothers tell everyone I went to Crayon College. I loved the experience, and it has enriched my life. It set me on a path that took many turns for me to wind up where I am now; a computer teacher. It took a lot of turns.
One assignment I remember from school was to go the the Metropolitan Museum of Art and study a specific statue called Marble statue of a kouros (youth). You would walk right past it, as it is not very distinguishable from the thousands of other pieces of art in the same room. It is life-sized, but not very detailed. It's simple and straightforward. I had to write 10 pages on it. I just wrote two sentences about it and that's all you really need to know about it, so you can imagine how much elaboration had to go into 10 pages. That was the exercise; to really look and study it extensively. I sat in front of it for hours and then wrote about it for even more. I felt I really knew him. I handed in my paper and forgot about him.
I've been to the museum over the years, but I completely forgot about the statue until I bumped into him recently. (I didn't actually bump into him, you get into a lot of trouble for stuff like that.) I was shocked. He hasn't aged a day, and I've aged over 30 years since I last saw him. I stood there looking at him from the eyes of a grown woman, remembered the young lady who first studied him. Time really felt solid to me in that moment. I could sense the breadth of my life, and how insignificant my 30 years feels to a statue that's thousands of years old.
I thought about what was ahead of me back then; and all I've lived since. How I am just a blip on his timeline. Centuries will pass, and he will still be there. Nations will rise and crumble, and he will still be there. 
Art is powerful; it speaks to us in many ways. Mostly though, it reminds us to look outside ourselves. To see the small part we play, and to play it well.
It was good to catch up with him.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Reflection is not just for mirrors anymore.

Where were you last year? Where are you now? Where do you want to be in a year?
Three questions that can stop you in your tracks.

In September, I present to the students my goals for the year. I look at them periodically throughout the year to see if I'm on track. More times than not, I'm nowhere near them. The rosy glow of September is deceiving; so my original plans don't take into consideration the set backs along the way. While it's a humbling exercise, it's one I feel most important in my role as an educator. I model for my students my successes and failures, and the most important part: my persistence. I'm going to keep working at this. I'm going to try again. They need to see failures and how to handle them. Failures are not life-long failures, just places to get it better right now. It's where real growth can happen. While it's hard to be honest with yourself, it's vital. Besides, if you're not honest with yourself, who else will be?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

4 Apps that helped me lose 40 pounds.

On the one year anniversary of joining the gym, I wanted to celebrate my accomplishment and take a look back at the journey so far. I realize my phone has been the most important tool to my success.
Full disclosure: it wasn't just the apps that helped me lose weight, there was some sweat involved. (Actually lots of sweat. There's no pill to make this happen; if there was Oprah would have invented it. She had to lose weight the hard way and so do we.)
The following four apps did help me follow a plan and achieve my goals. Like everything worth doing, it's what you put in that determines what you get out. So here's my list.
  1. MyFitness Pal-Where my journey started. I just started recording what I ate, and that's a rude awakening. Once you're aware of what you're eating, you stop eating like an idiot. That would be the name of my diet book, "Stop Eating Like an Idiot and Go to the Gym." Actually, that would be the whole book, because that's all it is. Seriously. So I began with just a few simple changes, and the first few pounds started coming off. It's deceiving at first because they're the pounds that are the easiest to lose, the stubborn ones hang on.
  2. Fitbit-I did get a Fitbit, so I guess that isn't a free app, but there are ones that do it for free, like StepLog and Stepwise. I instantly became conscious of how much I was moving throughout the day, and while it didn't provoke me to run a marathon, it did goad me into taking the stairs more often. Some more pounds left the building. Here's where outside support and motivation came in. I noticed all the people around me wearing Fitbits, so I friended them and now I can compare my steps to theirs. If your friends are too active, buy some of your lazy friends a Fitbit. You need to be better than someone. All's fair in love and weight loss.
  3. Fitlist-I finally got serious when I joined the gym, but nothing happened. Turns out, anyone can JOIN a gym, the secret is you have to GO to the gym. A lot. Laura the trainer walked me around and showed me what to do and how to do it. That made all the difference in the world. I would have never gone near those scary machines unless she showed me what to do. Here's where the real pounds left town. Fitlist is where I recorded what I did each day, and I can look on the calendar and see how often I went to the gym. This accountability is what I need; you may need some other type of motivation. In a good week I'm there 6 times, a bad week is 3. 
    July was a good month for me.
    It's amazing what having off every day will do for your exercise schedule.
    I guess I really got into vacation mode in August, because I clearly was phoning it in.
  4. LFConnect-This app syncs with the treadmills and other machines at the gym to record the amount of calories I burned off. For me, I need to get credit somewhere for the work or it doesn't count. This app did it for me. I just take a picture of the QR code on the screen after I'm done, and it enters all the information on my phone! I can set a goal of burning 2000 calories in a week, and the app will let me know how close I am to my goal. Little goals and big ones are important to the process, so here's just another way to reward myself with a gold star. I clearly am very needy, but I know that and work with it.
I'm not saying that these are the only apps to use, but these are the apps that worked best for me. Some people need a support team, some need schedules. It really doesn't matter, just find what works best for you and use it.
This is the first year I can remember where I haven't had "lose weight" on my resolution list. I feel better, people tell me I look good, and I got to buy all new clothes that fit. While I'm sorry it took me so long to get here, I'm very happy now and I don't ever plan on going back.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


While I was in school, my car was hit and left to whimper quietly to itself until I came out that afternoon to see him tilting strangely to one side. I was parked on a corner and someone didn't take the turn slowly enough on an icy road so they sent my car up onto the sidewalk instead.
I have insurance so the only inconvenience was some time, a deductible, and getting used to driving the rental car for a few weeks. I'm lucky: I wasn't in the car, no one got hurt, and my brother works in the auto industry so he helped me with the specifics.
What bothers me is someone did some real damage and just drove away. How do they do that? Do they worry about karma? Are they not worried about "what goes around comes around?" Maybe they were a new driver and panicked? Maybe they were rushing to a job they would lose if they were late? Maybe someone needed help and the situation was desperate. I'll never know. What I do know is someone got away with it and I ended up paying.
I also wonder what I would have done. If no one was around, would I have driven away? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't, but in the momentary panic after a car accident, who knows? I just know someone is out there driving around with no repercussions from their actions, and that stinks.
Go get 'em, karma.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Lean in

I  go to lots of PD days and learn new stuff all the time, but there are only so many bandwagons I can jump on.
When I'm sitting in a presentation, I'm all in. I buy whatever they're selling. It's only when I walk out and start thinking about the real world scenarios where I will use this. I often come up short somehow. I don't have the time, the support, the resources. I quit before I even begin.
What I've changed about my attitude is I've taken Sheryl Sandberg's approach and now I just "Lean In" which is the title of her book. While I'm all gung-ho about the new resource/website/program, I don't assume it will change my life. I dip my toe in and try it a little. I see how that works for a while and then try more. I'm not investing too much time or energy before I see some actual results. If there isn't enough positive results, I feel no guilt in walking away. I tried, but it just didn't cut it.
The key is to give it a fair shot. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, so a decent attempt at implementing the new resource is necessary. The difference is I no longer spend hours wasting time on something that seems like a solution when it only adds to the problem.
I like the "lean in" approach so much I didn't even finish her book; I took what I could from her book and left the rest. How's that for following instructions?

Monday, January 11, 2016

What's a PLN?

A PLN is a Personal Learning Network. It sounds very cool and it's an idea that is gaining ground. Because of all the social media sites that are available to teachers, you can find anyone that is a mentor or inspiration for you and what you do.
Since I'm the only technology teacher in my building, I don't get to talk to other tech teachers about the challenges I face in my school. It helps to talk to other teachers who face the same challenges.
So how did I build my PLN? Like anything I attempt, I started small and grew it slowly.
I started checking into websites that were a vital resource to my classroom.
I started going to professional development opportunities and connecting with the people running and attending them. From all that, I started to build my network.
At one PD, we went around the room introducing ourselves. I was the only one without a Twitter handle. I felt naked. They spent the next 20 minutes convincing me to join Twitter, which I thought was silly, but I find now is a constant inspiration. I follow teachers that are doing amazing things in the classroom and they inspire me. They also let me know what is the latest and best resource for me to try.
The website connected to common sense media, called Graphite, is where teachers can post reviews for a variety of educational resources. It's not the manufacturer talking, its the teacher who actually uses it. Their opinions are invaluable.
Lisa Nielsen works for the NYCDOE Tech Department and has literally taken over my Facebook feed with all the material she shares. She doesn't seem to sleep, since she posts all hours of the day and night. I worry about her sometimes.
I follow the blogs of influential educators, like Tom Whitby and Alice Keeler. Starr Stackstein is a twitter and blog guru. I could name more, but you should find the people that speak to you. Reading their posts will feel like sitting in on a lecture from an amazing professor.
Do yourself a favor, and find your tribe. You shouldn't go it alone.


EdCampNYC was a great event this past weekend. I woke up on Saturday wondering why I signed up for this, but after the day was over, I was glad I did. I feel like a phone that's been fully recharged. 
I catch up with friends and colleagues, I meet new friends and colleagues, and I learn from both. EdCamps attendees are the type of people that want to be the best at what they do so they therefore inspire each other along the way. They are good as some aspect of the job, and want to share their best practices with others. They could also have a real issue with something and just want to talk to other people about it. Either way, they are there to improve themselves or others.
I sat in on two sessions and I led one, so I ended up learning more than what I taught. It reminded me that the world is bigger than just my classroom, and that other teachers have the same struggles as I do, which helps.

The classroom can be a lonely place for a teacher; EdCamps are the faculty rooms that we can sit in all day. And that’s a really good thing.