Saturday, December 30, 2017

Cubicle Life

I did a friend a favor during this Christmas vacation and worked in an office for a few days. It was almost fun to act like an office worker; to work at a desk and feel like just a cog in a wheel.
There was a liberation in being at a desk instead of a classroom. I could go to the bathroom whenever I wanted, and I drank my tea while it was still hot. I ended up missing lunch because I was so occupied with what I was doing, and there were no bells to tell my stomach to start growling. I sat in a cubicle and listened in on phone conversations from the cubicles around me. I talked to adults all day. It was awesome.
I was doing relevant work which was the reason I was there, but I couldn’t help but feel that anyone could have done what I was doing. I was just the “hired hand.” When I’m in front of the classroom though, I feel significant. My job is truly making a difference. I have over thirty little faces looking up at me and my job seems so vital. I may be a cog in a different wheel, but I’m making a difference in lots of lives and I can see it right in front of me.
I did feel a degree of satisfaction living the cubicle life for a few days, but it doesn’t come close to how I feel when my students learn something new because of me.  That temporary life reminded me how important the life I’m already living is.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

One teacher’s approach to Digital Citizenship

In the beginning
When I began teaching digital citizenship in 2010 it was an innocent time. We were only worried about the students believing all websites were real. I directed students to The Dog Island website, where you could pack up your dog in a crate and send him off for a week long romp on a beach. The site was very believable; pictures of the dogs, and even information about how to ship your dog. There’s other sites too; you can learn how to save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus from extinction. They’re cute, but harmless. There are other sites though that drift a little into the lunatic fringe; Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie will prevent aliens from getting access to your brain, thank goodness. This site would start a conversation about questioning resources.
I would tell the story that Alan November wrote extensively about; a student working on a Holocaust report used a website created by a Northwestern University professor. The problem was the professor believed that the Holocaust didn’t happen and the concentration camps were lice disinfestation treatment centers. That was the beginning of the dark side of the internet for me.
A year later I found BrainPop which had a great unit of Digital Etiquette. It was free, so I loved it. It was also great because BrainPop is used by all subject teachers, so any teacher could discover it and use it in their classroom.
Digital Citizenship
In 2012 I noticed my students were behaving irresponsibly online. It wasn’t malicious behavior, it was more not knowing any better, like using simple passwords and leaving them around for other students to see. I found Common Craft videos that explained Digital Citizenship concepts in simple straightforward ways, and they’re awesome. I created a worksheet with items to locate from the videos and my first true Digital Citizenship lesson was born! Since then I’ve gotten fancier. Today my students create a slideshow from what they learn in the videos., but it’s still a solid lesson I use every year.
I kept looking and finding more and more resources. It was nice to see the educational community addressing the issue.
CommonSense came along, and they rolled out Digital Citizenship curriculum and I was in heaven! They review all media for children, so they know their stuff. They’ve broken it down into eight topics and leveled it for grades K-12. There’s lesson plans, games, worksheets, even resources for parents; you can get it all from their site.
I also use Everfi, they have a Digital Citizenship online module that students can complete at their own pace. It’s relevant for today’s student; one piece has the student trying to convince their friend to put down their phone and concentrate on driving. I like assigning it for homework so parents end up sitting down next to their kids and learning a few things too. The quiz at the end of the module is great for assessing them and makes them accountable for the learning. has even done their part! In their coding curriculum, they have included a few key pieces about Digital Footprints. In one lesson, the students stalk a few fake social media sites to see how much information the fake teen has shared. It really models for them what they should and shouldn’t be doing online. It hits home with many of my students.
Google recently released their curriculum, Be Internet Awesome, which approaches the subject from an empowering viewpoint and not a scary everyone-is-out-to-get-you approach. The games are fun, and the students learn as they play. I haven’t mastered the games yet so I still have work to do.
Just last year, I was part of the team that created Digital Citizenship resources for NYC teachers. We made infographics and activity books for teachers and parents to use about the rules to follow when using the internet in school and at home. It made me really think about how best to approach this subject as a student, teacher, and parent.
From all these years teaching Digital Citizenship, my philosophy could be boiled down to this. Students will live online for a lot longer than we will, and they will be creating a digital footprint that could follow them for decades. Trying to keep them off the internet until they're old enough is as dangerous as keeping them in the backseat of a car and then handing them the car keys on their 18th birthday. We need to guide them as they learn to navigate the internet, allowing them to make small mistakes now rather than big ones later. I encourage them to put as much positive stuff out there as possible. They need to create their own digital footprint, or someone else will do it for them. Avoiding the issue is not the answer. Play offense, not defense. They should develop their voice and share it with the world. That’s what I try to instill in my students.
So Digital Citizenship is not a subject that is required yet, but it obviously should be. I’m hoping it’s a subject that any teacher can master, as long as they have the support and training that’s needed. It’s too important of an issue to just hope for the best. We’ve come a long way from just worrying about Aluminum Foil Beanie websites, and we will be constantly trying to keep up. We owe it to our students to prepare them for wherever they will go.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Parent Teacher Conference Night

I have parents coming into my classroom today asking how their child is doing in my class. They only have a 95, how can they get a higher grade?
This happens over and over again. I wonder why they're here. I don't think it's to make themselves feel better about how great their child is doing in school. I also don't think that they are very worried about the 95 not being a 98. I believe it's to show their child that they are fully invested in their education.
Parents who show up to Parent Teacher Night are sending a message to their child that education is important and I'm here to support that. I'm here to help you get to where you can be. I'm taking time out of my schedule to look at what you're doing every day for six and a half hours.
So it's not about the 95. It's about taking an afternoon off from work and waiting in line to talk to a teacher for seven minutes because that's how important this is.
So thank you parents, for being here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Here's one for the principals

What social media is allowed in your school?

Teachers sitting in a classroom on a Saturday

I recently taught a Digital Citizenship class for NYC teachers using Common Sense Media and I was truly amazed. These people spent their day off to come into the city and sit in a classroom all day, just to learn how to better serve their students. We spent the day getting better, in some ways by me, but mostly from what everyone brought to the table. Everyone shared something: a resource, a classroom hack, or answers to a question. Everyone was so generous. I came away from the day with a wonderful feeling. Teachers are awesome. 
I don’t know of other professions where everyone shares their best practices. You don’t see salespeople sharing their sales pitches, you don’t see plumbers posting how they fixed a radiator. Teachers are one of the few professions where people are so proud of their work they want to share it so that other teachers can benefit from it too. And that’s not all they do. They bring work home, they steal supplies from home and bring them to school, and they spend their own money to equip their classroom. You’ve heard all the stories, most of you have done one, if not all those things.I just want to stop and say, thank you teachers. I’m proud to be a colleague of yours. You might not be told it very often, but you’re awesome.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

It's not just about the doughnuts.

My good friend Lisa Nielsen wrote about this on her blog, so I turned it into a pictograph. Did she miss anything?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

My tech lesson when the internet is down

You have a great lesson planned for today, and the internet is down. Your supervisor is lurking in the doorway, you can just smell the observation coming. What do you do?
You teach your kids how to create hyperlinks with just PowerPoint or Google Slides!
Here’s my plan.
Begin the lesson with having the students create the first slide, a “Table of Contents” sort of slide. Mine looks like this.
Here's the basic slideshow to start with. 
This can be a template that you send them 
or make them create it themselves.

Instruct them to then create the rest of the slides, adding information about themselves. I like this lesson towards the beginning of the year so I can get to know my students quicker.
Choose the correct slide to link each bullet point.

I model how they then highlight the text “Where I was Born” and choose Insert-Hyperlink. They link it to the slide titled “Where I was Born.” I model another one, but most kids get it and finish the rest of the links themselves.

This is great, but it only links them out to the slide, not back to the homepage. So to complete the project I have them create a Home link button on one of the slides, insert the hyperlink to the TOC page, and then copy and paste it to the rest of the slides.
Insert-Autoshape to create the Home Button.

This explains how hyperlinks work, and how a website can be built, all without the internet.
It works well for me, and I hope it helps you out too.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I'm a certified bilingual nerd

I recently earned my Google Level 2 Certification, and it felt great, but I'm just as proud earning my Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Badge for this year too. I like to say that I'm bilingual: I speak Google and Office. Both prove I met certain requirements, but they proved it in different ways.
You can earn your Google Certification anytime you want, just pay the $25 and you have three hours to complete the test.
The MIE Badge is only awarded once a year so you have a long time to complete the tasks, but if you miss the deadline you’re out of luck. I submitted my application 15 minutes before the midnight deadline, cause I’m organized and efficient. I knew about the deadline for MONTHS, yet there I am cramming like it’s a final for a class. I’ll never change.
The Google Test is a bunch of multiple choice questions and a pile of specific tasks you need to complete. Get enough correct, and you’re in. Don’t assume this test is easy-it’s not. You may be great at some Google products, but you need to know enough about ALL of them to pass. Google does provide all sorts of study materials and sample questions to prepare for the test, so if you do your homework you can pass it. I didn’t pass Level 2 the first time, you can read about my humiliation here.
Microsoft has a bunch of courses that you can take, just complete a certain amount of them. You watch videos, or complete interactive tasks, and there’s usually a short quiz at the end. The quiz will tell you whether you got the questions right or wrong as you go, and you can retake the quizzes if you don’t pass the first time. There’s over 100 different courses and badges you can earn along the way. The final piece for their certification is to create a two-minute video or Sway on how this process has influenced you and how you will implement what you’ve learned in your classroom.
Both methods of assessment were effective in their own way. I proved I can do specific tasks and had specific knowledge of Google products, but Microsoft just wanted to make sure I knew about all the things that were available to me and how I can be a better 21st century teacher for my students. I only really had to prove what I knew by creating a Sway, which are very cool things, by the way.
The Google test gives you the results within seconds, the longest few seconds of your life.
The Microsoft results were released a month after the deadline.
The Google Badge email shows up a day later, the Microsoft Badge shows up with the congratulations email.
The Google Certification is a personal thing, you earn it for your own gratification.  
The Microsoft Badge is a global event. If you are connected to Microsoft in any of the many social media ways you can be, you will see that people in India, Germany and Mexico got their badges the same day you did. It made this planet feel a lot smaller seeing proud teachers from all around the world showing off the same badge as you.
So, I have my nerd cred from both Google and Microsoft. I learned a lot from both processes, and I am a much better teacher for it. It’s vital that teachers remain students, it’s the only way we learn.

My brain has too many tabs open.

There's a lot of tabs open in my head because there's no such thing as downtime anymore.
No one sits and stares into space anymore, there's always some way to distract yourself with your phone: the endless emails, your Facebook feed, or your candy crush level.
Thoughts float through my brain like clouds in the sky but they don't stick around. I'll want to act on a thought, and open a tab to start, but it just stays open and then gets added on to the never ending “To Do” list. Before you know it, your browser window has 20 tabs open, nothing got done, and the bell just rang.
I have gotten a chance this summer to just sit and enjoy the moment; that's what summer is for. It’s almost impossible to be productive sitting in a beach chair, I challenge you to try. I need to be like this all year though, I need to take time and just stare into space and live in a thought for a few minutes.
One of the dilemmas I pondered was this; do I act on my thoughts as I have them, or finish one task completely before I start the next? I ran the risk of not remembering the ground-breaking thought later, but I do complete actual tasks. I’ve tried the former method, but it led to the endless number of tabs. I realized, as I stared into space this summer, is that if I try to act on all my thoughts, I just have more. I don’t run out of ideas, my hamster brain just keeps spinning on its wheel, churning out one goofy thought after another.
So that’s one of my goals as we embark on a new school year. Finish tasks and complete projects before I start new ones. And sit in a beach chair more often.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The painful sting of failure

So, I took the Google Certified Level 2 Exam last year and failed it by 4 points. That stung.
I was embarrassed, I pouted, and felt sorry for myself. (Yes, my life is a living hell.)
But after a few hours, I got over myself and realized that this is a real learning experience. I thought about what failing feels like to my students. Do they feel the way I do when they fail?
The difference between their tests and mine was that I got another chance at the exam. You know I was prepared for it this time. The first exam showed me what skills I did poorly on, so naturally I will always remember those even more than the ones that came easily to me.
Shouldn't my students get another shot at tests in my class? Wouldn't they do much better the second time around? Retaking a test made a big difference in my learning, I think my students deserve that same opportunity. I’m going to allow more retaking of certain tests in my classroom. Mostly, I’m going to work on creating assessments that check for understanding without the pass/fail stigma attached to them.
Fast forward to this year. I took the test again. I was anxious; how embarrassing would it be if I failed again? I faced my fears, I studied harder this time, and with the help and support of my NYCDOE colleagues, I passed.
I learned so much, and not just from Google.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wrapping up another year

I teach sixth grade, so I will be saying goodbye to my students in about a week. I'll see them in the hallways, but it won't be the same. They'll never be in my classroom again. That's weird to think about right now, when all I do is see them.
It has me wondering; did I serve them as best I could? Did I impart all the wisdom I could into their little brains? Did I ignite a spark, or reaffirm a defeatist attitude?
I have to be honest, there are some kids I won't miss. You know the kids I'm talking about; the ones that needed us the most. They were a challenge every day. I hope I served them as best I could.
Some kids were lovely, and I enjoyed having them in my classroom. But so many more kids that were somewhere in between. I didn't get to know them very well. They were the middle of the road; never being a problem but never really shining either. They did their work, they seemed to be happy and I gave them their grades. Since they weren't on my radar in some way, did I serve them as best I could? Did they get all they were able to from my class without me making a conscious decision to focus on them as individuals?
I wish I could talk to a student of mine from ten years ago and ask them questions. First, do you remember me or anything I taught you? Then, did what you learned from me come in handy in HS and beyond? Was I effective in teaching you things I thought you should know? I'd like to think I did.
No matter what I do now, it won't change the fact that another year is gone. I hope I made a difference.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

This Year's #NYCSchoolsTech Summit

I have mentioned the #NYCSchoolsTech Summit to certain people and they ask me if they should go. I say "of course" and launch into a 20 minute lecture that makes them sorry they asked. To spare you the 20 minutes, I'm going to explain it to you here.

We #NYCSchoolsTech teachers are already pretty connected through our Facebook groups, Google+ groups, and Twitter, but on July 26th, we get to see everyone in 3D and have conversations with the faces behind the minds we’ve come to know so well.

We laugh and we learn. Mostly we laugh. No one else gets our nerd jokes quite like we do.

It also has the feeling of a county fair. Everyone brings their best to show off what they do well. It's not a prize pig, but it's an interesting way to use iPads in their classroom. It's not the biggest pumpkin, but it's how to engage ESL students with coding games. Seeing what everyone else is doing is inspiring and creates fan clubs for hardworking everyday people.

It's the easiest way to find out what products you will be asking for and hopefully using next year. Salespeople are just trying to make your life easier, stop by a booth and let them try. You even get some cool swag for your troubles. Totebag, anyone?

It's a powerful approach to touch base with, discover, or create your tribe. What better way to find your people than the person sitting next to you in a session learning right alongside you? They're right where you are, and that's who you want around you.

Never been to a Summit? Don’t worry. There’s the #NYCSchoolsTech Summit Newbie meetup that will help get you started. Been around a while and love the #NYCSchoolsTech group on Facebook? Meet your friends in the group during the afternoon meetup.  What to learn how to Get Going with Google or just meet up with Google Educators? There are sessions for that.  Want to learn something cool like how to use your OneNote Notebook for lesson plans? You can come to my session.  

I love everyone who comes to the Summit because these are the people who have decided to spend a precious summer day becoming a better teacher. Those are the people to be around.
For all these reasons and more is why I'll be at the Summit, and you should too.

So what are you waiting for? Register to attend at
Here's my storify from last year's Summit to get you ramped up.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

So I accidentally blew up on Twitter last week.

National Teacher Day was May 9th, and I wanted to recognize that in a small way. I had a graphic that I created for a previous Twitter Chat, so I opened it back up, changed the top, and posted it with two small sentences and hash tagged it with #NationalTeachersDay. I tagged my usual tribe in the graphic so they would re-tweet it for me; they’re awesome like that. After that, I went about my day.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of alerts of how many people liked or re-tweeted it. Throughout the day, the numbers climbed. Some were from accounts just looking for exposure, but most of them were teachers from around the country. The tweet took on a life of its own. By the end of the day, the tweet had over 350 likes and over 200 re-tweets. It felt good to know that I warmed a bunch of hearts that day, but it was also proved the power of a single voice and the influence it can have quickly and globally. I know people are worried about what they see from our commander-in-chief on Twitter these days, but you can’t deny the power of one person’s voice. Just make sure you use yours for good.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What I've learned from tiny little dictators

These North Korean officers are standing there proudly and why shouldn't they? They're wearing enough bling on their uniforms to set off metal detectors.
If you notice along the side of my blog, I've got some micro-credentials: Google, Microsoft, CommonSense, etc. I'm proud of the work I've done to earn them and to display the badges on my blog. I realize that my students should get the same opportunities. Technology class grades are usually not a big deal on report cards, so I have to make them a big deal in my room.
I have some graphic design experience, so I created some badges for my students. When they finished certain modules online, or mastered a unit of work, I've created a badge for it. Google Classroom makes it easy to email just those students I select, and I send them a congratulations email with the badge linked to it. I tell them to post their badge to their blog, and it gets the rest of the class racing to see how fast they can get one too.

Learning something new should be it's own reward, but sometimes it's nice to show off a little.
We're all still looking for little gold stars.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Learning in the Airport

I knew I was going to be stuck in an airport for a few hours, and I was actually looking forward to it. I brought books, my iPod, and a bunch of work to do. I tend to bring this stuff with me everywhere I go, hoping I will get something done but I rarely do.
With only my carry-on beside me, I was able to plow through a pile of things on my to-do list. I let my mind wander, and I had complete thoughts without distractions. It was magical. Why doesn't this happen more often, I wonder?
The difference at the airport is the environment. There were really no distractions. After I took in the bored faces around me, I was able to settle in and get work done. I didn't stop to get some laundry done, or turn on the TV. I was off the grid and it was wonderful.
I know with so much technology at my fingertips I can work anywhere. The problem is, with so much technology at my fingertips to distract me, I don't. My relationship with my phone is unhealthy, and that's something I will deal with in the future. But for now, I'm wondering the next time I need to get something done, I should drop off the grid and go hide somewhere. If that doesn't work, I'll go buy a plane ticket.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Parent Teacher Conference is a learning experience for me

While staying late sitting in my classroom until its dark is not the way I want to spend a day, I do find Parent Teacher Conference Night a way for me to be a better teacher.
I love seeing the family dynamic. Kids can be so funny; they behave one way in the classroom and act completely different around their parents. Seeing how much the parent loves their child is also a reminder that the kid in my class is actually someone's child. They're young and out in the world without their parent next to them, and that is sometimes a scary thing. After I met with one father, I watched him tousle his son's head, say "Let's go, handsome" and my heart just melted. They're not just my students, they're someone's pride and joy. I need to keep that in mind more often.
Some of my students are the family translator. Many of my students have parents that don't speak English, and they translate for them. These kids are taking on an adult job in some ways, being the go-between for their parents and the outside world. There's even students who have an active role in the child care for their little brothers and sisters. They seem so grown up sometimes, when they’re not. I need to keep that in mind too.
I learn a lot about my students, but I also learn about me. I find out ways I could support my students better; what I'm doing or not doing in my classroom to help the learning. It's helpful to listen to the students from their point of view and the discussions they have at home about my class. I can always use some suggestions for improvement.
What is really great is when the parents thank me for the job I'm doing, and tell me how much my students love my class. I know it’s not about me; I teach technology and kids love it anyway, so I can’t take all the credit. It is nice to hear though that my students look forward to my class. Those are the times that make the late nights worth it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Second First Year

I've mentioned the gym before on this blog, and how I go often. It's one of the things that I do that I'm most proud. I'm proud that I went that first year and lost all that weight (40 pounds) but actually, since I recently hit the two year anniversary, I'm more proud of myself now.
Sticking with something when you see results is one thing, but sticking with something that doesn’t show big results is another. I go to the gym now because I feel better than when I don’t. I'm not losing the weight I once did, but I'm keeping if off. The gym is now a part of my regular schedule. I never had to remind myself to eat or sleep, and now I don't have to remind myself to go workout. I just go without thinking about it.
I'm trying to remind my students that when they first learn something, it can be life changing, like learning how to write. It came with its own reward. But learning how to write well, and the mechanics of writing, isn't as glamorous but still very important. It's what you do the second year that really shows your character.
There are only two qualities that can guarantee success in anything you do: commitment and perseverance. That's what I know and desperately want my students to understand.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How Blogger gives every student a voice.

I use Google Classroom in my technology lab almost all day, everyday. It's a great tool. I've personalized each class with a portrait of the kids. Here's some of my little knuckleheads.
I also use many other Google tools. After the students get their school gmail account, we go over how to create documents in drive and how to share them. The students then set up their blog in Blogger. That takes at least one class period since we have to set up each URL address individually so it works correctly.

Once they have a Blog address, I paste into a google sheet I've set up in the "About" tab in classroom site. Every student can access this spreadsheet, not just me. (I did lock the sheet, so they don't accidentally delete anyone).
This part is where real communication occurs. They're not just writing for me; their whole class is the audience now. Now their posts get a comment from me and from their peers. To make sure everyone gets comments, I ask each student to comment on the person listed above and below them on the roster. The next blog post might get commented on by the names two spots above and below. Eventually, everyone has read and commented on each blog. 
This method has worked really well for me. It's my way of helping my students develop their voice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What am I going to work on this year.

I've got a lot of these skills covered, but certainly not all of them. I'm assuming we all could improve our skills. This post resonated with me, so I made it pretty to post it near my desk. When I glance at it, it reminds me of what I am working towards. For all the resources, go back to the original post in The Educational Technology and Mobile Learning website.