Thursday, March 9, 2017

ICE 2017- I came, I saw, I CONNECTED!

ICE 2017

I have so many ideas swirling in my head after an energizing few days at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference (ICE) in St. Charles, IL. Throughout the sessions I presented and attended, I found two common themes. Educators need to create student-centered experiences and offer opportunities to students that will make them successful in today's society. Along with growing my mindset toward student-centered work, I was also able to connect with others and attend sessions that grew me as an instructional coach.

ICE as a Presenter

On Wednesday,  Jordan Garrett and I ran a workshop called "A Creative Approach to Design Thinking." After explaining design thinking and various models, we had the participants dive right in. We had a great group that was eager to create! The room was a buzz of activity using the design thinking process to solve a problem for their partner. The session was a success! We helped attendees take this student-centered process back to their classrooms with a variety of resources and a hands-on experience.

On Friday, I ran a half-day session called "Empowering Students Through Personalized Learning." Attendees were able to jump into the Universal Design for Learning to explore a variety of ways to personalize learning for students while providing varying degrees of student voice and choice. We were able to create SMART goals for ourselves and collaborate with each other through Kagan structures. After exploring personalized structures like challenge based learning, design thinking, and genius hour, the group was able to leave with a variety of ways to personalize learning for students.

ICE as a Learner

I attended some great sessions that left me inspired and thinking about my role. Here are my major takeaways.

  • It was great to watch Kolsten (@ddgaming) and Katrina Keene as a mother-son duo talk about STEM tools. One major takeaway was a way to get girls into STEM with tools that appeal to their interests like Jewel bots. I also learned about Stikbot Studios to accompany the Stikbot app that students love. I ordered them right away and they came in the mail today! Excited to take them into classrooms tomorrow.  
  • I was able to gain wisdom from Joy Kirr a few times throughout the week. She has so many great ideas that she shares with the world. One idea she shared was how she goes gradeless and focuses on feedback. She grades student work through video, so she can give visual and audio feedback. She then links the youtube video right to the grade book instead of a grade.  It truly shows it is about the learning! If you haven't seen her livebinder for Genius Hour, it is a must see. I'm excited for her book to come later this year!     
  • Both keynotes had messages that stuck with me. I keep thinking about how Eric Sheninger talked about his children. They both had great test scores, but were bored to tears at school. We have to treat our students as more than a test score. Joe Sanfelippo reminded the audience the importance of telling your school's authentic story and it is evident that he leads by example. 
  • Adam Welcome, author of Kids Deserve It!, had a great message to prepare kids for 'new' collar jobs. Jobs today require a new set of skills that don't necessarily need a college degree, but we need to help give them the opportunities to gain these skills. That is why skills like coding are so important.  
  • In the coaching roundtable session, run by the Illinois Learning Technology Center, I was able to talk coaching with others from all over the state. One thing that stuck with me was to realize my circle of influence and continue to spread it. Lori Whitman and Tim McIlvain were great sources of knowledge! 

Connecting with others and hearing so many inspiring messages motivated me to work hard to create the best opportunities for students. I am inspired to continue to blog and publish more podcast episodes to share the story of teaching and learning in Berwyn South School District 100!  

Monday, January 16, 2017


A few weeks ago, I joined AJ Juliani's blog challenge. My goal is to write 200 words a day and post two posts a week for the next 30 days. So far I've wrote a little but haven't posted at all. I've noticed my blogging as a whole has gone down over the last several months. I can think of plenty of reasons as to why I haven't, but the truth is it comes down to two things: TIME and FEAR. Between a full time job, a family with two young children, and life itself, time is tight. The second, and the heart of it, is anxiety from fear. Fear that no one cares, fear of failure, fear that I myself may not be impressed with it, fear it won't be "perfect." (I continue to remind myself of the words of Kevin Honeycutt "perfection is the enemy of done.")

As I was thinking about why I haven't met my blogging goal, of course the first excuse I want to make is I just don't have time. This excuse makes me recall a TED talk by Laura Vanderkam called How to Gain Control of Your Free Time. Basically, she says we have time for what we make time for. We make time for what's important to us. Blogging and sharing my story and the story of others is important to me, the problem is I'm not making it a priority. In her talk she states, "Time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it. Every minute [you] spend is your choice." If I really want to blog, I have to make the time for it. 

The second part is the anxiety that comes from putting myself out there. Even though I have been blogging for a few years, I still over analyze what I should blog about and how I should organize it. It also never fails that I find an embarrassing typo as soon as I hit publish. This fear and anxiety is what stops me. After reading blog posts on fear from John Spencer, AJ Juliani, and a motivating email from fellow coach Leah O'Donnell, I realize that I'm not alone and when I don't share, I'm not helping anyone. If I take the leap and put it out there, it will motivate someone.  

So, I have decided to make my one word for this year LEAP. Take the plunge, just do it, don't hold back, and DON'T let other's opinions stop me. Every time I question my actions or start to feel fear creep in, I need to remember to take that LEAP and stop holding myself back, not just with blogging, but all my priorities.

In my next post, along with blogging, I'll share some other side projects that I'm taking a LEAP on!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

LAUNCH Wrap Up and Resources

This post is the last post in the #D100BloggerPD book study of LAUNCH. Thank you for joining us on the journey of this book study! If you missed the earlier posts, check out the links on the thinglink. I want to thank all the bloggers that took time to read the book and write posts. Another big thanks to all of our followers! It has been amazing to watch our voice spread through these posts. Continue to share the impact design thinking and LAUNCH is making in your classroom!

Hopefully at this point, you feel ready and inspired to try this cycle of design thinking in your classroom. If you still aren't sure where to start, the authors of LAUNCH offer a plethora of resources to help you!

1. Buy the LAUNCH book
The end of the Launch book provides over 50 pages of support material that answer frequently asked questions, layout lessons, and give a LAUNCH notebook of reproducible. The authors give suggestions on how to align a project to your curriculum, getting stakeholders on board, and assessing the students. Everything you need is in this text!

2. Get the ToolKit
On the Launch website or John Spencer's blog, you can sign up to get the free Design Thinking Tool Kit.  It provides a getting started guide, free challenges with videos and lesson plans, assessment tools, and additional resources.

3. Follow the Authors
John Spencer blog can be found at He creates wonderful sketchy videos and thoughtful posts that are inspiration and motivating. He also has a Creative Classrooms Podcast.  

AJ Juliani's blog can be found at On his site, you can find a course for design thinking to dive even further into it. He also has a beginners guide to design thinking. AJ also provides a webinar and resources on Genius Hour, which is another way to create a student-centered classroom.      

4. Other Design Thinking Resources

A student-centered classroom comes from giving the students choice to follow their passion, while still aligning to the skills in the curriculum that need to be taught. Personalizing instruction for students isn't an expensive out-of-box computer program, it is implementing structures like design thinking, genius hour, challenge-based learning, problem/project based learning and inquiry studies that provide students a structure to follow their passions though authentic learning experiences. If we allow our students the time and space for student-centered activities, it will allow the students to apply the common core skills authentically and create students that can thrive in today's global world.

Thank you for reading and join the conversation in the comments! Continue to follow #D100BloggerPD on twitter to follow the next book study.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

LAUNCH Book Study: Chapter 10- It's Time to LAUNCH

This post is part of the #D100BloggerPD and is written by guest blogger Tyler Haar. If you missed the posts on Chpater 1-9 check out the thinglink to catch up. Tyler is a 5th grade teacher at Hiawatha Elementary school is D100. Followhim on twitter @misterHaar. He is working with his team to implement design thinking in a unit on the spheres of Earth. This summer, he led a summer school course in using design thinking. He is passionate about improving STEM education and is an asset to his students and our district. 
Here are his thoughts on chapter 10 of LAUNCH.

Launch: Chapter 10 Reflection

Chapter 10 of Launch focuses on the final phase of the design thinking process - the launch. Students are encouraged to not just share their work with peers, teachers and parents, they’re told to launch their creation across the globe. Thanks to Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube and other online communities, students can reach their prime audience no matter where they may live. 

While most of our students are literate in the language of social media and technology, I have found that many still gravitate toward traditional formats of publication (posters, powerpoint presentations and speeches). Over the summer, I taught a leadership program for students entering fifth grade. The students completed a design thinking project focused on activism. Groups picked a cause and designed an awareness campaign to reach a targeted audience. The students chose a wide range of causes, from LGBTQ rights to fitness to clean water. When it came time to launch their campaigns, most groups wanted to create posters or signs to hang in the hallways of Heritage Middle School. While this was an appropriate means of communication for the Litterbusters - a group that planned a Pokemon Go/garbage pickup event at Proksa Park - it wasn’t the optimal form of communication for all groups. One group was focused on saving rainforest wildlife. At first, this group also wanted to create posters for the hallways. After receiving some feedback, the group finally realized their target audience didn’t roam the hallways of Heritage, they lived on a different continent. Eventually, they settled on the idea of creating a YouTube channel to reach a global audience. Even our technology-obsessed students need a push into a 21st-century mindset from time to time. Giving the students the opportunity to share their work to a broad, global audience is so empowering. It’s an opportunity we can not pass up. 


The authors spend a lot of time in this chapter detailing the idea of teaching marketing to students. As even the authors admit, marketing can have a negative connotation and it takes some time to accept connecting marketing with education. The authors lay out seven reasons why kids should learn marketing:

1. Marketing is a vital life skill.
2. Children need an ethical foundation in marketing.
3. Students learn about rejection. 
4. Students develop courage.
5. Students grow in their creative confidence. 
6. Students become critical consumers of information.
7. Students become more empathetic. 

As a fifth grade teacher, reasons 4, 5 and 7 stand out to me as the most age-appropriate benefits of marketing education. Fifth graders need the courage to take pride in their work and share it with the world. They also need to develop the confidence to take risks with their creativity. Failure is okay, just try something else in the next attempt! They also need to understand their audience and tailor their product to meet the audience’s wants and needs. Thinking back to our summer school design thinking projects, I am proud of the progress the students made in all three of these regards. The students were genuinely proud to share their work with peers, parents and teachers during our end of the program showcase. One group decided to write a song to raise awareness for their cause of homelessness. It took a ton of creative confidence! At first, the group members were nervous to film themselves singing, but eventually they mustered up the confidence to record themselves and share it with their classmates.

The launch phase of the design thinking process can be an incredibly powerful experience for our students (and the teachers too!). When I was a student, I took pride in putting my best school work on the refrigerator. Today, our students’ best work can end up on a computer or iPhone screen on the other side of the globe! Our students deserve the chance to share their hard work and dedication with the world. 

Look for the final post of the #D100BloggerPD study of the LAUNCH book tomorrow by Jenny Lehotsky on Teaching and Learning Redefined. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

#D100BloggerPD LAUNCH Book Study

What is #D100BloggerPD?

Welcome to the first post of the LAUNCH book study with the #D100BloggerPD crew! #D100BloggerPD is a group of bloggers from Berwyn South School District in Berwyn, IL. For a little over a year, a growing group of district teachers have been reflecting on books by blogging about each chapter. To view all the posts, follow #D100BloggerPD on twitter. For this book study, we have a great group of nine educators that will reflect on each chapter of LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking To Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. Follow each blog post to dive into the book. Each blog is listed in the schedule below and I will update the links on the Thinglink as posts go live. We will review two chapters each week for the next month. Get your own copy of Launch here. Join the conversation in the comment section of the blog posts. Use #D100BloggerPD and #LAUCHBook to join us on twitter.

LAUNCH- Ch. 1 We Need Creative Classrooms

I first read this book on an airplane on my way to Canada this summer. It was so motivating, I couldn't wait to get back to work to implement the LAUNCH cycle of design thinking to get students to solve authentic problems. Spencer and Juliani laid out their points in an excellent way and I found myself devouring this book! 

To start chapter one, the authors jump right into the 'why' and set the stage for implementing design thinking into every classroom. As they covered most of the excuses as to why creativity does not get emphasized in the classroom, they point out access to technology is no longer the problem. The divide is created when students are consumers instead of creators. Instead of spending time consuming content, students need to be creating and sharing their own creative content and ideas. This same overall message is also seen in George Couros book Innovators Mindset. For students to be innovative problem solvers in today's society, not just the future, but now, we need to give them the skills to be creative thinkers. The world has already given them the technology tools, teachers need to facilitate the experiences. 

I think everyone would agree with the quote above and it is not that profound, however, does your classroom show that creativity is for everyone?  Creative projects aren't meant for the gifted or the students that get done early. Students have different talents and the creative process can amplify talents that otherwise would have been hidden. We have to believe that everyone can be creative and be ready to pick them up when they fail and build success from those failures. When students take risks with their ideas and understand that failure is part of the process, their success will be that much sweeter.

As a former science teacher, I am a sucker for systems and processes. To reach student's creative potential, Spencer and  Juliani suggest design thinking as the process and the LAUNCH cycle as the framework. If students are able to understand and manipulate the steps of this cycle, they can use it to find and implement creative solutions to any problem.

Every day we deal with constraints in the way of achieving our goals. Those constraints can cause us to give up, or push us to creative solutions. Whether it is time or resources that are an issue, the book points out there is more power in having constraints and it fosters the creative process. Dollar Store STEM has easy to implement challenges that can give students practice working within constraints.

I am working with an awesome 5th-grade team at Hiawatha school to implement design thinking through the LAUNCH cycle. As part of the process, I put together a series of Ted-Ed lessons. The first lesson uses Spencer's video called "The LAUNCH Cycle," to describe the LAUNCH cycle to students. The "Dig Deeper" section pulls in other resources on design thinking. The second lesson is called "This Could Fail," so we can discuss failure with the students. The lesson is based on John Spencer's video and in the dig deeper section the students will explore a few other videos including "Audri's Rube Goldberg Mouse Trap." The goal is to get students to anticipate failure and move forward as we begin this creative process. Lesson 3 and 4 will happen when students are ready to navigate ideas. "Think Inside the Box" is the third lesson that will show students the power of creative constraints. The fourth lesson, called "A Different Approach to Brainstorming," will help teachers and students have a structure to come up with solution ideas.

This wooden plaque hangs above my desk as a reminder to create, produce, and accomplish my ideas. I have a lot of wonderful conversations with colleagues, but those ideas do not always come to light. This sign is a reminder for me to continue to launch. I love that Spencer and Juliani emphasize the point that the final step is to launch our creative ideas. They state how this is the scariest, but most rewarding part and is often overlooked.

Creative power is already in your classroom. Join us for the rest of the book study to talk about how you can use LAUNCH to unleash creativity in any class. Have you tried it? Did you read the chapter? Let's chat about it in the comment section below.

Thank you for joining #D100BloggerPD for the reflection of Chapter 1 of LAUNCH.  Annie Forest (@MrsForest) will be covering Chapter 2 on her blog, on Wednesday, November 23. Check it out and follow along with the rest of the book study using #D100BloggerPD on twitter.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hack 2 of Hacking the Common Core- #D100BloggerPD

Welcome back to the #D100BloggerPD! #D100BloggerPD is a group of bloggers from Berwyn South School District 100 that read and blog about various education books! I'm here to give you a run down of Hack #2 in "Hacking the Common Core" by Michael Fisher. If you missed the first post, check out Kristen Richey's post on Reading and Owl of the Above. Hack #1 really takes the edge off of Common Core anxiety.

Hack #2 Close in on Close Reading

I think we are all guilty of overgeneralizing the Common Core at one point or another, I'll admit that I have. The first Common Core literacy anchor standard states:

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

In Hack 2, author Michael Fisher explains that close reading has been misinterpreted. He points out the first two words in the standard, "read closely," have been taken too literally and lead to teachers having students close read everything, rather than focusing on the key points in the rest of the standard. Much of this interpretation is driven by commercial products that push close reading. It is not meant to be a skill and kill strategy. "Close reading is an analysis of text rather than a specific skill with a prescribed formula," explain Fisher. 
Fisher isn't saying to stop analysis of text, although he does say "...just stop whatever it is your doing that you call close reading."  The problem lies in the prescribed formula that gets used repeatedly because we have been told that's how the students will meet the standard.  

So, what should we be doing? First, Fisher suggests taking a close look at the entire standard. 

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. 

The standard is really asking students to determine what the text says, make inferences, and cite evidence to support conclusions. Once you have interpreted all parts of the standard, next he suggests taking a look at your curriculum to make any adaptations. As he lays out the blueprint to implement this hack, one important component is "ensuring students frequently show their thinking." Give them the space and time to make connections with text and media to make their thinking visible. Allow them a voice to express their learning. Push them to show how language can deepen the interaction between characters to develop the plot. Bottom line, students need a variety of experiences to interact with text in meaningful ways, not an overprescribed scripted structure.

Some of you may be left in shock after this post. Hopefully, after reading this you will find yourself spending some time with your colleagues and exploring the standards as well what you are doing with your curriculum to ensure the understanding and the instruction align.

Catch the rest of the hacks coming up soon. Kayla Kaczmarek is up next with Hack #3 and it can be found on her website on October 6th. Follow #D100BloggerPD on twitter and the image below has the rest of the crew that is "Hacking the Common Core" with Michael Fisher! I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Power of Classroom Visits

Time is always tight for educators, but collaboration doesn't have to be time set aside for an official meeting. It can be as simple as popping into a colleague's room, observing, and having a conversation. As I have seen more and more educators welcome others into their classroom, it has opened up conversations and spread great ideas. But how do you get this culture to happen?

A couple different ways have spread across my district and social media that would help teachers welcome classroom visitors.

1. Site Visits
A few years ago when our district went 1:1 Macbooks, we started to host site visits from outside districts to come see what we are doing with our program.  We received the Apple Distinguished Program honor for the work we are doing to transform learning using technology and it helped turn attention to our schools. When we first started, people asked why we would spend our time opening our doors? Why not! We have amazing things going on in our classrooms that are worth talking about. When you know visitors will be in and out of your classroom, teachers have a chance to showcase their teaching and look to always enhance their practices. Staff and students take pride and ownership in what they are doing. At the end of the visit, we invite administrators and teachers to debrief with us. This process is very reflective and allows us to keep coming back to why we do this.

We have learned so much from the visitors. Simple comments about programs used or another perspective on how to implement something could spark a great idea to make us even better. Wonderful educators like George Couros, John Antonetti, Saba Quidwai, and Carl Hooker have been able to tour many of our schools and share their expertise on ways we can improve even more.

Site Visitors interacting with students. 

Site visitors viewing students projects. 

2. Pineapple Chart

The idea from Jennifer Gonzalez, author of Hacking Learning and blogger at Cult of Pedagogy, has begun to spread across the district. She explains the charts very well in her blog post. The pineapple is a symbol for welcome. This chart allows teachers to post things going on in their classroom to welcome others to come see their lesson. At Hiawatha Elementary School and Freedom Middle School, you can find a Pineapple chart in their common area. Hiawatha Literacy coach, Leah O'Donnell wrote a blog post about how they use the chart as Hiawatha. Teachers can even put a pineapple on the outside of their door as a symbol for others to come into their class.

New pineapple chart at Freedom Middle School by Amy Gorzkowski.

Pineapple chart in use at Hiawatha by Leah O'Donnell.

3. #ObserveMe
Robert Kaplinsky has a call to action for teachers that is catching on. In his blog post, he challenges teachers to post a sign on their door inviting teachers to observe with explicit points of feedback they would like to receive. To further collaborate outside the school and spread the idea, he asks teachers to post on social media using #observeme. The point here is the feedback portion to help the teacher grow. Visitors will walk away with a new idea as well, so it's a win for both teachers. This idea is new to our district, but I have seen teachers with a sign that invites you.      

Sign on Angela Gonzales door that creates a welcomes others. 

Most teachers are humble and many are risk takers that are confident enough in their abilities to allow others to come in and give them support. Observing another teacher's classroom is a benefit for both educators involved. Try one or all of these ways and see what amazing things come from it! If you have done any of these I would love to hear your experience!