WI STEM Summit Recap

This last week I was able to attend the WI STEM Summit in Wisconsin Dells for two days. I was a little unsure of what I would gain from going to a STEM conference at first, but then was reminded that between my knowledge in technology and project based learning, I’d be a good fit at a conference like this.

The first keynote speaker was Murray Banks. Murray spoke of Reenergizing and Refocusing. He discussed GG – also known as group griping. I realized that I do this and many staff do it. It made me realize that I need to remember to adopt a positive attitude all the time. I’m struggling with this this week, but I’m trying to remember the old phrase “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all.”

I enjoyed Murray’s speech and wanted to hear more about what he thought about Inspirational Leadership in his roundtable discussion during the first breakout session. I was with a small group and Murray reminded us that we are in tough positions. I didn’t take away anything amazing from the session. Great conversation, but nothing that was above and beyond what I thought/knew already. Except that I should apparently not wear high heels into the Tech Ed classrooms because you should dress closer to what the people you are talking to wear. I have to wear safety glasses, I am not ready to give up heels yet.

Fast forward to after lunch to a breakout session on the Next Generation Science Standards. I believe that I may have slept with my eyes open. You can always tell when presenters haven’t been in a classroom in a long time, or ever.

Third session of the first day was from Project Lead the Way. I knew a little about PLTW, but was hoping to get more in depth into what they actually do. Not so much. This felt more like a sales pitch than anything else. I did steal some great ideas from what they are doing though: Mom’s Night Out, lots of PR pieces, etc.

The second day of the conference yielded much better sessions for me (or maybe I just got better at picking them….depends on how you want to look at it). Our keynote speaker on day two was Marc Prensky. Marc was a great keynote speaker! His focus was on using technology for more than trivial things. He engaged us with active learning strategies throughout his entire presentation. C’mon….how many keynote speakers know the phrase and actively do it? This was pretty great. My take away from Marc was “If you did the same thing before computers and now it’s just on the computer, it’s trivial and not helping students.” So true.

After the keynote, I went to the first session given by Florentia Spires about STEM schools in an urban setting. If you have the chance to hear her speak, you had better take it. Wow! She was one of the best speakers I’ve been to in awhile. She was very articulate and intelligent in the topic. She used a group active learning strategy of actually engineering a tower during the allotted and how it tied in. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. She sparked many ideas for me.

The next session I attended was with Marc Prensky. A very small, think five people, roundtable discussion about the Yes, Buts… in education. Marc is very knowledgeable and personable. We discussed our 1:1 rollout with Chromebooks and different ideas that we could take back with us. I already have my students working on some of them now!

The last session I headed to was about turning your classroom into a total tech paradise in one year with Krista Moroder. I was very excited to attend this session as I’ve heard Krista speak at other conferences and EdCamps in the area. She started out really strong and I loved the first part of her presentation and then you could tell she got a bit rattled when people left the presentation and lost her oomph to present. When she started walking people through Google Apps and how to create documents, I left. Being a Google Certified Trainer myself, I didn’t feel like that was the best use of my time. Sorry Krista!

All in all, I’d say Day 2 was very intriguing for me and Day 1 was just there. I enjoyed learning about everything and had some wonderful take away ideas that maybe someday I’ll get to implement when I’m coaching staff. One can hope.


Chromebook Queen or Jester?

This past month since the Chromebooks have been rolled out at the high school has been a complete blur. 

We have roughly five to ten students per day with some sort of issue with their Chromebooks that appear at our Help Desk. Sometimes the issue is hardware, sometimes software, sometimes just plain, old user error. I feel as though my team members and I have become the Chromebook Kings and Queens (or maybe the Jesters!). On a daily basis we are resetting passwords for Skyward and Haiku, helping students to schedule their I/E blocks in Skyward, find the correct Haiku site for our domain, and showing students the basics of Google Apps and Chrome Apps and Extensions. 

We have an AMAZING IT director who has been unbelievably supportive and dedicated to this huge undertaking. He spends his short amount of time at the high school during the week with one other IT person and our Help Desk students fixing screens (when will the students stop sitting on their computers?!), flipping back the switch and reloading computers. These are our top hardware issues. Once in a great while we get a funky trackpad or keyboard, but the majority of errors are because of the screens and flipped switches. 

We have a cart of 30 rental Chromebooks for students who have their Chromebooks in for repair, just need a quick charge or left theirs at home to use throughout the day. Unfortunately, the cart has been emptied every day this week. Hopefully we see students not having to check out as many in the upcoming weeks.

We have four extremely helpful Help Desk students who are able to fix the hardware and software issues. It’s pretty amazing to watch what the students can do as when they are given the tools, instruction and trust to just go ahead and fix things. 

There are days when I wonder what in the world we were thinking with this huge undertaking and then there are even more days when I am thankful that we chose to go 1:1 with Chromebooks. The response from the vast majority of students has been amazing. When you have a student crying to you with happiness of how much better this computer has made her life and the lives of her family members, you remember that resetting passwords and fixing screens is all worth while. 

Chromebooks are out!

WOW! I know that I said I’d be really great this year at keeping up with a blog and actually, I do have a reminder set for myself every week to do it. However, we were kind of swamped the past few weeks.

Let me just say first that I am beyond proud of the team I work with and everyone last year who was a part of the planning to roll out 2200 Chromebooks (CB) to all of our high school students. It’s been a LONG, uphill journey to get where we are.

So, our first week of school went off without a hitch. Why? We were just finishing up the final touches of the Chromebook rollout. We were organizing reams of papers to know if students had signed the Technology Agreement form or not. We were not concerned about if the fee was paid, but needed to have that agreement in place. We spent time organizing our LMC to be student traffic friendly. Our plan of calling down students each day by grade and then split by alphabet had been set before we left for the summer last year and we were happy with how it was set up. We were very scared though that we didn’t schedule enough time.

Then, Monday, September 10 came around. I spent my morning having a massive anxiety attack as I ran through all of the horrible things I was sure were going to wrong or that we forgot. Fast forward to 8:00 a.m. (yes, that’s fast forwarding since I wake up at 4:00 a.m.). Everyone was in position at our stations: registration table, Chromebook pick-up, Chromebook unboxing, Chromebook Log-In and check computer cords, etc., and then our final stop of checkout. We had about 10 people, give or take depending on the day and hour, to work the stations and make sure everything was in working order.

We called our first group down. Seniors with the last name starting with A-C. They lined up  outside of the LMC, had their IDs ready, cleaned up after themselves, were polite and excited. They were out in 21 minutes. 21 minutes! About 70 students. AMAZING. Not a single issue. We debated on keeping to our schedule (every 45 minutes a group would be called) or moving faster. We decided to press ahead. We finished the Senior Class around 1:00 p.m.! No issues with computers or students. Everything was wonderful and we were thrilled! The team discussed if we should quit for the day or move ahead with the Juniors. We decided that we might as well keep moving. The first day, we ended up getting through Junior, last names J-L with still no issues.

Day 2: We ended up finishing the Juniors and getting through R of the Sophomore class. We had a few small issues that were easily fixable and just a few that needed to go back to the manufacturer.

Day 3: Today was a big day for us. The media visited us and interviewed staff and students. Steven Butschi from Google was here to help us out as well. The kids found it pretty amazing that so much good press was happening because of the Chromebooks. They also think that Steven is like a rockstar god. We ended up getting through S of the Freshman class.

Day 4: We finished up the Freshman class and any stragglers as well as our alternative high school. All by noon! We ended up with under 50 computers that didn’t had some sort of manufacturer issue. We were very impressed by this.

Most students have had their Chromebooks for about a week now. We have a Help Desk area set up in our LMC for students to come with technical difficulties, password issues, etc. At this point, we have had 15 broken screens and a handful of students that have put themselves on the Dev Channel and thus turned off the Chromebook network we have set up. Not too shabby. We did not require our students to have cases and yes, they take them home at night. I’d say things are looking really good.

This week for the curriculum team has been a lot of troubleshooting and IT work that we aren’t really used to. As we’re already seeing the number of students needing help drop drastically, we are excited to be getting into classrooms to see how the students are utilizing the Chromebooks.


Inservice Week #1

Last week began our new school year. Inservices never seem to be what they should, but then again, what should they be? Should they be speeches from important personnel and then a guy who spoke of Sherpas and climbing Mount Everest? Which, by the way, I’m not entirely sure of what his point was. He lost me and all I could think about was I knew he had sponsors, but he spent an enormous sum of money to climb a mountain. Maybe I just don’t get it. I just thought about all the other things that money could be used for.

The next few days were staff meetings and department meetings. I was able to meet with all but one of my middle school departments in one afternoon. I’m excited to be working with all of them and even more excited that many said they’d love for me to be in their classrooms with them. I had great conversations with several departments at the high school.

For me, I didn’t really feel like I gained enough. Apparently, my departments felt similar. They just want time to work with their colleagues – from what everyone described, they want the “unconference” or “EdCamp” model. I wish I knew that this would fly with my district staff, but I’m afraid to bring it up and then have it be a failure.

What if staff didn’t show up to where they needed to be? What if what they were doing wasn’t for student learning? What if they didn’t hold themselves accountable?

Anyone else have this for their district inservices or teacher professional development? I’d love to know how to start something like this and have it be valuable for staff and students while still holding people accountable for their actions.

Aside from that, in one week we will be handing out our first Chromebooks to students. My fingers are crossed that we won’t have too many hiccups. Keep watching to find out how that week goes!

Restructuring (Also known as…Why My Brain Never Stops!)

In a previous post, I stated that my boss had retired and that we now had a new boss and were also trying to hire our fourth technology integration specialist. After much discussion, and then a bit more discussion, and maybe just a little bit more discussion, the conclusion was made to not hire another technology integration specialist, but to restructure our curriculum department.

I was a bit apprehensive at first, not knowing how colleagues would take this. However, the idea has gone over so well! When we restructured, we ‘assigned’ each one of our curriculum and technology specialists a group of teachers in departments and then administrators to work with. Instead of our curriculum leaders and those of us that were technology leaders being separate, we are all Instructional Coaches now.

The departments that I will be working with are all grades 6-12 Fine Arts and our CTE departments (Business Ed, Tech Ed, and Family and Consumer Ed). I couldn’t be more thrilled! I have an amazing group of staff members that all have such real-world skills and applications to teach the students in the CTE department. Okay, so I might be biased since I was a Business Ed teacher prior to this role. And then, to top it off, I have this unbelievable Fine Arts department to work with. I’m in awe of Fine Arts teachers and what they can do with those students. The fact that they can take a student who has never touched an instrument and then work with them to enhance their skills to truly touch an audience with their music and art.

With the restructured coaching positions, these departments will come to me first and from there if I’m not able to help them, I’ll grab one of my curriculum coach colleagues to help me out. Also with our restructuring, we were able to hire another K-5 Instructional Coach, which is always very exciting to have more help available at the K-5 level.

The overall point of the restructured positions is this: to be more focused and streamlined. Each of the coaches are working with departments they are familiar with and comfortable with. Every staff member now knows exactly who to contact instead of it being a guessing game at times depending on the type of question that was asked. We are more focused and ready to dive into curriculum and assessments with our staff.

Here’s to the upcoming new school year, new changes, and moving forward.


First PD Sessions of the Year

In the Spring, our entire Instructional Support Team sat down and discussed how to handle our Summer Professional Development Sessions – what to offer, who was going to teach them, and what to teach. We created our session topics and formats. We had online learning, in person trainings, and on your own or as a team trainings. We decided to try a new format to broadcast our PD sessions, so we created this Google site and used a Google form for sign-ups.

Now, being that I am a tech geek and have this ridiculously over the top love of workshops and trainings, I would have signed up for everything. However, our staff apparently does not feel the same way. I’ve spent the summer wondering why. Here is the only reason I could come up with:

  • Everyone is burnt out.

Being in Wisconsin, education in and of itself is a bit shaky right now. We, as staff, use every bit of energy to focus ourselves and make sure that we are still doing everything in our power to make our students successful and to keep up with the new policies and decisions at the state and district level. Thus, we are burnt out.

I wish this wasn’t the case. I wish we would have seen more, way more, staff at our inservice sessions. Inservices they get paid to attend. Obviously, we didn’t market well and need to do a way better job next year. That and let’s be honest, this week, the weather has been gorgeous and it’s one of the last weeks before we have to report back.

However, we still did have a decent turn out of staff. Staff that made me smile and laugh for two days straight at their sheer excitement of learning new things and constant ‘aha’ moments. You all made me remember that this is EXACTLY why I took this job.

We have held sessions on Google Mail/Calendar, Google Docs/Presentations, Google Forms/Spreadsheets, Flipping the Classroom, Presentation Software, and Chrome Browser/Chromebooks. We have sessions running yet this week and next week on Advanced Haiku usage, Basic and Advanced SMART board training and iPad Basics and iPads in the Classroom.

The things staff thought were cool and that made me smile:

  • Creating a hyperlink to a set of text or an image instead of the huge long URL.
  • That Google Docs save automatically.
  • Being able to edit a Google Doc with someone else at the exact same time in two different locations.
  • Using a Google Form to collect student responses on an assessment
  • Staff who are tech bashful creating a Haiku class site, uploading and adding information, inserting a Google Form formative assessment and starting to use screencasting software with the hopes of flipping their classroom by the end of this school year.
  • Embedding Google Forms and other Web Tools into the LiveBinders set up for a class.
  • Staff creating screencasts to explain their programs or to start to flip their classrooms.
  • How to edit tables and make them pretty (adding background colors and being able to change the alignments) in a Google Doc
  • That there is way more to life than Powerpoint!

Spending time training the staff that wanted to be there and who seemed to learn so much (I have to send out the exit form yet, but will report the results) was rejuvenating. Knowing that these teachers spent hours thinking of new and creative ways to use technology in their classrooms and to save themselves time was extremely rewarding.

So far: PD = Success!

My Favorite Math Web Sites

As I stated in my last post, I have delved into the land of Common Core Math Curriculum. I have spent roughly one hundred hours sifting through countless web sites, interactive games, manipulations, lesson plans, etc. that would meet the needs to teachers to help them address each standard of the Common Core Math Curriculum for grades Kindergarten thru Eighth Grade.

For years, I’ve been telling my colleagues, family, and friends that “I am not a math person.” Boy, was I wrong. I have 100% fallen in love with the math curriculum. Everything I see now, I try to figure out how I could turn it into a math lesson. So much that my four year old son has to tell me to “Stop teaching mom.”

I’m hoping that this upcoming year that maybe I’ll have the chance to team teach with a math teacher, but we’ll see how things shake out as our district is adding and moving around positions.

The websites listed below are the favorites that I have found.

Dan Meyer’s 101 Questions

I just want you to know that I have no idea who Dan Meyer actually is. However, I am fascinated with this man. His website 101 Questions looks like this.

The site has videos and images that ask you to answer “What’s the first question that comes to your mind?” I was hard pressed to come up with a question that didn’t involved math somehow. This site would be a wonderful start to class or an exit ticket. It’s a great way to get students to think about math in life and not just for a worksheet.

Dan Meyer also has a wonderful blog that you can follow. His TED talk was inspirational!

Real World Math –

The Real World Math site has phenomenal resources! The projects and lessons that you will find on the site are actual real world problems that students may encounter in their life. The site also boasts many videos and tutorials on how to use the technology they mention.

Sum Dog –

Sum Dog happens to be one of my all-time favorite sites. Hands down. With Sum Dog, you can create an account for your class and your school. Students can work through math lessons, compete in challenges or competitions that you set individually or as teams. They can compete against students from just your school or worldwide. The best part? You can set the exact standards or facts that each student needs to work on! 100% differentiation is possible. For $2/student, you can get in-depth reports. I’ve always just used the free version and monitored a lot. There are ten different levels ranging from Level 1 (ordering numbers, etc.) to Level 10 (working with equations and expressions). Great site for Grades 1-8.

Sheppard Software

I found Sheppard Software when I was working with a math intervention group a few years ago. For whatever reason, this site has stuck by my side and only gained more love from me. The simplicity of the site is perfect. The topics range in the categories in the image below. There are several  games under each topic and each topic is narrowed down even more. The algebra and geometry games always made my students really stop and think.

Honorable Mentions:

There you have it – my favorite math sites so far. As I continue to dig, I’m sure I will find many more as well and will continue to share. #mathchat on Twitter always has an abundance of wonderful resources for you to peruse as well.