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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What Change Are You Leaving Behind?

One of the best things about summer for this teacher is the opportunity to walk with my dog more frequently. Our mornings together are quiet, filled with mild adventure, and restrained exploring. It is a great way to begin my day and they are good for his ego. He prances a little bit every time he hears how handsome is by passersby on the riverwalk that is our main route. We see all sorts of things that help make our day more interesting and experience things that would otherwise be hidden if we stayed at home.
Misha, a handsome boy.
Once the school year starts, our morning routine is much different. On my way out, I meet him at the back door and give him his first biscuit while balancing my coffee, then we make our way to the gate where I give him 'second biscuit' in my best hobbit accent and a goodbye pet. Returning 10 to 11 hours later, walks with the good dog pup are unfortunately not at the top of my list.

Recently along the our course, I discovered a scattered assortment of coins, pennies, dimes, quarters and  judging by the length of the trail, probably the result of an ill-advised placement in a cyclist's  pocket. I was planning  on power washing my bike later that day so the find was well-timed. I picked up the silver colored coins and left the pennies where they lie and me and good dog pup were on our way again.

It's not that the pennies were entirely without value, I just didn't value them enough. Kinda silly really, now that I think about not picking them up. Why wouldn't I pick up five pennies when I picked up a nickel? Why did I just walk away from the value in those coins and just leave them behind?

How often do my students walk away from the day's lessons and never deposit the learning in their bank? What skills did we learn as class that have no value to an individual. I'll never really know.

I can hope that what we're learning is valuable and that I give my students choices in how they learn and demonstrate what they master. I can hope that they'll find value in what we do and that they'll pick it up and carry with them always. I hope that my kids will continue their love of learning after they leave our classroom, because of the learning that we did in our classroom.

But hope is not a strategy.

Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Guest Post by Mr. Johnson's Gnome

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Symbaloo EDU. I've added some of the photos that were not shared in that post, as well as some text that was edited out due to space.

Mr. Johnson (@YourKidsTeacher) had a wonderful year with his 6th grade class of 2011-2012. It was his first year teaching 6th grade after teaching 1st graders for awhile.  He tried to think of a way to stay connected to them after they left his elementary classroom and headed off to his district’s middle school. He was also thinking of how he could jump start his relationships with his incoming 5th graders. He knew many of his future students from the the high-fives in the halls and sports that he’d coached, but he wanted to connect with them before the open house in the fall.

The previous summer he had seen some tweets from another teacher who had posted a poll asking which stuffed animal he should take on Summer Break with him that summer. That teacher then pledged to tweet out pictures with the winning animal so his students could see what he was up to. Mr. Johnson was familiar with Flat Stanley and his adventures as well, but wanted to put his own twist on the concept.

Mr Johnson didn’t need his car washed today, so I thought I’d sit down with him and talk about our two year relationship and how we connect to his students.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - You don’t pay me very well, you know I do a lot around here and I…
Mr. Johnson - Settle down Mike Wallace this isn’t 60 minutes. I thought this was supposed to be a ‘friendly’ interview?

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Okay, okay. At least you gave me a nice home and I get to work with kids.
Mr. Johnson - Well yes, except when I keep you in the trunk, but you are great with the kids.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Why did you hire me? 
Mr. Johnson - You were on sale. 

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Really?!

Mr. Johnson - Well actually, I’m a big fan of the CBS’s Amazing Race and I’ve always enjoyed seeing where the Travelocity gnome was going to visit. I was watching the show one evening and I realized I had my answer on how to connect to my future students and keep connected to my newly minted middle schoolers.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - So you stole the idea?
Mr. Johnson - One of the reasons you were so affordable. I prefer co-opted and modified. Those words sound so much better than stealing. Besides you’re not the Travelocity Gnome, he’s your cousin. Though it’s really hard to tell you apart, you’re just different enough to avoid a lawsuit. I hope…

@MrJohnsonsGnome - So how did you let your student know that I had joined Room 216?
Mr. Johnson - I wrote a short introduction letter, a slightly different one for the 5th and 6th graders. I gave them an idea of what you would be up to …. You can see this year’s version on my class’ website. https://sites.google.com/site/yourkidsteachersite/my-forms 

@MrJohnsonsGnome - A newsletter is all well and good, but kids these days don’t read printed stuff, how else did you reach out them?
Mr. Johnson - With my right arm.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - You are so difficult some times.
Mr. Johnson - Just kidding. I helped you create a Twitter account (@MrJohnsonsGnome) and your own Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/MrJohnsonsGnome) Most of my parents and kids have at least one of these platforms. I promoted you on my class’ Facebook and website.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - You’re so techie!
Mr. Johnson - Sometimes. I thought using social media would be a great way to accomplish a few of my goals.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - How?
Mr. Johnson - Well, modeling responsible use of social media for one, ease of use for two, and easy access for those that chose to follow along for the adventure. 

@MrJohnsonsGnome - I am a very good example of how to use social media appropriately. 
Mr. Johnson - Yes, yes you are.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - I really like your “Grandma Rule” - “If you wouldn’t show it or say it to your grandma, don't post-it, type-it, or snap it.” I like to help you with digital citizenship examples.
Mr. Johnson - Yeah, that’s one of my best sayings.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - I’m also concerned with how your students represent themselves online, so I try and help when I can.
Mr. Johnson - Yep, even a gnome selfie in a bathroom mirror is creepy.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - But really, how exciting can your summers be? It seems like all you do is complain about mowing the lawn.
Mr. Johnson - Well, the purpose of having you along and sharing is to try and show that I’m a ‘real person’ and that I have some things in common with my students. Lawn work included.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Plus, I can be a little more sarcastic and ironic that you can be in the classroom.
Mr. Johnson - Exactly! You are pretty sarcastic, but also pretty funny. You mock me a lot, but that’s okay, I do put you in the trunk after all.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Would you say I’m a good road companion?
Mr. Johnson - Absolutely! Especially when you don’t eat all the road snacks before the state line.

@MrJohnsonsGnome -I especially liked that Devil’s thingy!
Mr. Johnson - Devils Tower in Wyoming? 

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Yeah, that was awesome!
Mr. Johnson - We also tackled Yellowstone National Park.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Do you really take me everywhere?
Mr. Johnson - I try to. I take you to my PD sessions, both ones that I present and attend. I always meet interesting people and I like to introduce you to them. People are overwhelmingly positive. You are universally liked and you help me break the ice.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Well I am from Norway, I know more than a little about ice.
Mr. Johnson - And facial hair. 

@MrJohnsonsGnome - What has been the reaction from students and parents? 
Mr. Johnson - Very positive! The kids think it’s a little crazy, some think it’s weird, but you make everyone smile. Mrs. Johnson puts up with you, but my 16 yr-old is fairly mortified when you make an appearance. If I had a $1 for every time he has said, “really” when I’m taking your picture, I could have paid you more. 

@MrJohnsonsGnome - About my pay, I…
Mr. Johnson - Later little buddy, later.
@MrJohnsonsGnome - I’m one of kind ya know.
Mr. Johnson - You could make the case, but there are other classroom mascots out there. There’s @GusDiscussMath from @MrP_Tchr ’s class and the @EdCampCrane & @ProfLilyLemur just to name a few. You are the only one I know who makes a pointy hat look good though.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - That’s true. Have I helped you reach your goals for student engagement?
Mr. Johnson - I think so. It’s nice when I hear a parent or a student ask what you’re up to or comment on something crazy that you have said or done. You’re easy going, albeit a little cranky sometimes, but taking you with me has been an easy thing to continue. You’ve been a good addition to Room 216.

@MrJohnsonsGnome - A new summer is almost here follow me on Twitter (@MrJohnsonsGnome) and ‘like’ my very own Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/MrJohnsonsGnome). 

If you’re interested in following a guy who wears socks with his sandals, Mr Johnson is a nice 6th Grade teacher from Northern Indiana and tweets from @YourKidsTeacher. He also blogs at http://www.yourkidsteacher.com 

Mr. Johnson - Don’t forget launching this summer http://www.erasemeanness.org based on my #EraseMeanness lesson that has been shared and adopted by classrooms all over the world. http://bit.ly/1iaWsGl I hope to have it rolling by the time school starts back up. 

Thanks for taking time out of your day to talk to me. It’s nice that we had some extra time together. Now how about some lunch?

@MrJohnsonsGnome - Herring?!
Mr. Johnson - My cats love it when you have herring, sure.

Thanks for Reading

Friday, July 11, 2014

My Hardware Picks from ISTE 2014

I'm still trying to not sound like a tourist who came back from a European vacation and now speaks with an accent, but I want to share some more things that I discovered in Atlanta. I recently wrote a post about the wonderful personal connections that will help my kids and I learn, so here are some hardware products that hold the same promise.

The Padcaster (on Twitter)
This seemingly simple iPad frame is at the top of my must-have list for the Fall. The ingeniously designed and well thought out features turn both the iPad and iPad Mini into a mobile film studio. Josh Apter (I believe the inventor) showed me some of the features on the exhibit floor the day before his Ignite Session in the Ed Tech Start-up Pavilion.

The Padcaster is rugged. So much so, that I am even planning on letting the kids use my personal iPad to tackle their digital storytelling projects this year. The aluminum frame and thick rubber insert has a great solid feel and has multiple threaded holes that will accommodate several accessories, such as mics, lights, additional lenses, and mono/tripods. The ability to improve the lens, wide-angle/telephoto is terrific and made possible through an included step down ring. The accessory holes allow for flexibility to match the personal preferences of the photographer. Films can be shot, edited and published all while the iPad is installed. From the Padcaster's website "The Padcaster® Kit – NOW IN STOCK! Includes: Padcaster®, Lenscaster, instructions, 72mm-58mm step-down ring, two 1/4-20 screws, two 3/8-16 screws, one custom camera mount screw and one cold shoe adapter.", sells for $149. While the mini version is just $99." When paired with the FilMiC Pro app and a movie editing program like iMovie or Pinnacle, your students will have everything they need to make great looking digital stories in their classroom.

Top of my list.

Equil Smartpen

A real pen that writes on real paper while it produces digital images and drawings. Read that again. The elegant and simple little device has tremendous potential for student use in our classroom. Using bluetooth and compatible Sketch and Note Apps (Android and iOs), the Equil Smartpen draws on real paper and captures the image digitally. The image can then be cut, pasted, scalable, shared, etc.
The Equil Smartpen (I was a teenage hand model)

The tool will allow students to create, annotate,  and edit their notes/illustrations and enhance them. There is a natural collaboration element that the tool facilitates. I see students using the Equil Smartpen in Science, Math, ELA, and probably every other subject. Intuitve, easy to use, and packaged very nicely. Visit their site to see it in action. The Equil Smartpen normally sells for $149, but is on sale for 25% until July 31st. Visit this link for the special ISTE pricing.


I'm picky, but I need a versatile, sturdy, and relatively inexpensive iPad stand solution for my classroom. It has to portable, can be used in different locations, and allows for multiple positions. I've been looking for a while and I think I've found my solution. I stumbled into the snake clamp booth when I was looking for my iPad that I apparently had left laying in booth two rows over as I was filling out some raffle forms. (I found it BTW) Their stuff was extremely rugged and well constructed. The bases and clamps were especially impressive. The thing that I like about Snakeclamp is the multiple options and the ability to customize a solution for your needs. I can choose a base, neck, and clamps to get just what I need. The additional benefit is that I can choose one combination and use some of those pieces and combine it with other accessories to satisfy another need. I won't have to make sacrifices or buy a stand that doesn't match exactly what I want.

Snake clamp has lots of options for mounts, clamps, arms, and relative affordability to boot. Just what I wanted. A great solution for my class.

I was very excited about the Lumos all in one classroom solution for managing multiple devices, while providing a sound solution for all. While it was slightly disappointing that Lumos didn't have a working model at the show, the unit has some great features that would make device management a non-issue in the classroom. The unit can be hard wired into your schools network and becomes an access point for your classroom. Remotely controlled by by either Android or iOs devices switching between connected devices should be easier that my current cord-swapping dance, and would save trim and minimize disruptions while instructing.

While those two main features aren't new to me, the Lumos has some additional functionality that creates a "I gotta have that" feeling.

The unit:
  • Will mirror or stream video content from any device, Android or iOS, tablet or computer, wirelessly.
  • Sends high-definition audio to up to four ceiling mounted speakers.
  • Has cross platform compatibility, and will work with PC, Mac, Android, or iOs devices. Which is an especially nice feature for teachers who piece together their own technology solutions to serve their students and haven't been married to a single platform.
All of these great features in a single hub doesn't come cheap, but Lumos has made it easy to set up a crowd funding campaign to help teachers fully or partially fund their purchases. Find out more at their site.

My next post will be on websites, digital tools, and apps that I discovered at this years ISTE Conference. Find ISTE's list of Best in Show here from Tech and Learning.

Thanks for reading. (and sorry for all the mixed formatting going on in this post, Blogger was not cooperating very well)

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsteacher

Sunday, July 6, 2014

It Wasn't the Schwag. (It was the handshakes that mattered at ISTE)

I don't want to sound like one of those American tourists who travel to Europe and come back with an accent complaining about the taste of their coffee, but the ISTE 2014 Conference in Atlanta was mind blowing! If you weren't able to attend, and spent part of your summer watching the #ISTE2014 trend worldwide as attendees share the amazing things that they were learning and discovering, I know how you feel. I've spent too many summers sitting at home with my sad little #notatISTE hashtag trying to convince myself that I was learning just as well as those people in New Orleans, or San Antonio, or San Diego, etc.

After all, I'm the one in charge of my professional development and fair pretty well, thank you very much. I follow some pretty amazing educators on Twitter and other social media and the things they share help both my kids and I learn.

This year I was fortunate to have my district contribute some money towards my trip with an amount that covered registration and three nights of my four night stay. So off I went, on a shoestring budget, with two goals. One, I wanted to meet some of the people I have connected with on Twitter face to face and discover some great new people to add to my timeline. Two, I was going to gather as much information and resources to bring back for my school and classroom as I could.

Sessions, showrooms, and schwag
I, like most first time attendees, was a little overwhelmed and sometimes confused by all of the learning opportunities at the conference. Confused, because there is a fairly steep learning curve in understanding what events are free, ticketed, or require extra fees. Navigating all of the offerings and trying to figure out what you could squeeze in took up a good chunk of time. Fortunately (I guess) there was quite a bit of standing in line and/or waiting for a session or talk to begin so that I could plan my next step.

A couple of sessions stood out, Ken Shelton's session on Digital Storytelling was very especially valuable. I learned things from him that I will use with my students for years to come.

Alan November's session on the first five days of school for introducing technology to your new students was entertaining, engaging, and practical. This particular session was my plan C when my other two choices fell through that morning. The next time I have an opportunity to hear him, he'll be at the top of my list.

Another memorable hour was the Listen and Learn Panel on Genius Hour or 20% time best practices with Angela Maiers, Don Wettrick, Erin Klein, Karen Liremann, Sylvia Martinez, and moderator Vicki Davis. What a great group of educators to learn from.

photo @ErinKlein (L-R Vicki Davis, Don Wettrick, Angela Maiers, Erin Klein, Karen Liremann, Sylvia Martinez, Hugh McDonald)

The Expo floor and the hundreds of exhibitors held almost unlimited learning opportunities. And pens. There was a lot of free ink being given out as exhibitors and vendors attempted to gain your interest in their product or service. Lots of flyers, lots of free stuff (schwag), and lots of items to evaluate post conference. My strategy was to gather the resource or contact and move on. Sometimes that strategy worked, but sometimes I was held captive in the adept care of an experienced salesman and found it difficult to break away tactfully. Conference floor tip: tell them that you're not in charge of a budget or a 'decider'. The conversation will end a little quicker.

When I got home, I sorted my full bag into four piles, freebies (pens/pencils/buttons, etc), web tools/services/apps, potential grant items (stuff I can't afford on my own), and contacts . Almost literally, tons of flyers and publications for products and services that I will spend the remainder of the summer exploring. Definitely enough stuff to share for a a few blog posts.

Coolest Brand Giveaway: Sam Houston State University's, tin badge (and a backpack carabiner) How cool is that?
Most Unique Giveaway: The Hero Booth (Plascotrac) had one of the designers (Nikki Alvarez) from their marketing team creating personalized, hand-drawn, and colored drawings based on what educator's would do with the 98 days they would gain with the adoption of their school-wide behavior management and student referral program. My classroom mascot, @MrJohnsonsGnome would go to Easter Island. (They were also handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that totally hit the spot) 

Nikki Alvarez
Best Conference Pen: The Booksource's aluminum pen had a stylus, a pen, AND a flashlight. Score!
Best Whatever these are, because they're fun:
Best Brand Mascots: Wandooplanet.com's Cute little forest animals. LOVE 'em!

Coolest New Product: The Padcaster A sturdy frame for iPad that has mounts for mice, lights, lenses, mono/tri-pods, etc to turn your iPad (mini or full size) into a mobile production studio. Created by Josh Apter who has really thought up a great solution for managing iPad accessories to create great films or videos. Well thought out, easy to use, highly functional, affordable. What else could you want?

Most Prized Giveaway: My "Dot Club" membership token, given to me by frequent Room 216 partner, Peter Reynolds after we had a chance to talk face to face after his great support of our classroom for the past couple of years. He was at the conference for the right reasons. Genuinely nice and inspiring. Learn more about his inspiring books and "Dot Day" here.

I felt a little bit like a stalker as I walked around the halls of the Georgia World Congress Center and tried to match my PLN's profile pics with the faces of the people who were hurriedly walking by. This strategy was somewhat effective, but also a little dangerous, as I almost walked right into Michelle Baldwin in the frenetic Engage and Connect Sessions on Day 1. Michelle's a great online colleague who is as nice in person as she is online. Genuine, honest, innovative.

As the conference went on, I found that meeting your virtual colleagues was easy and was a great chance to say thanks to all of those people who have helped my kids learn, contribute to my professional development, and improve my thinking. Got a chance to meet Meghan Wyman, Dave Guymon, and Marialice Curran among many others.

Some of my Alabama 'tweeps', Carol McLaughlin and Amanda Dykes

Some of my Michigan 'tweeps, Nicholas Provenzano and Erin Klein

Even the so-called 'Rock-Stars' were approachable and welcoming. Introducing myself to a couple of these folks, I was surprised by their warm welcome. Hugs, bro-hugs, and "oh-hey! so nice to meet you", made me feel that I may have contributed to their learning as well. They're not 'rock-stars' or brands, they're educators, and like me are trying to do their best for their students and peers. I think John Spencer (Author of Wendall the World's Worst Wizard and writer) said it best.

I met all sorts of great educators that I hadn't discovered yet! I met great innovators! I met great writers! I even had terrific conversations with people who were doing great things with their students, standing in line! Even the lines, at times Disney-esque, were productive.
New friends made while waiting for the 1st Ignite session.

John Spencer @edrethink and @wendallwizard 
Tom Whitby, @TomWhitby
Angela Maiers, @AngelaMaiers
I met people from all over the world facing the same challenges I face and talked about strategies to overcome them. I met a puppet!

The best part of my time at ISTE 2014 were the face to face connections, the chance to say thank you, shake their hand, and an opportunity to get to know my online colleagues a little better. Best. Part.

N'importe qui veulent emprunter un stylo? (Anyone want to borrow a pen?)

Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher