Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kicking Off Innovative Thinking with BreakoutEDU

Our school district is entering our sixth year in our 1:1 Apple device program. That means the students in 5th-grade were in Kindergarten during our first year in the program. They entered the public school system with a smartboard in their classrooms and a device in their hands. 

One of these 5th-grade teachers, Lori Horne, wanted to use Breakout EDU to help build community at the beginning of the school year. After looking over a few, we both just loved the "Totally Radical 80s Time Travel Adventure," mostly for our own nostalgic reasons. Who wouldn't want a reason to dust off the overhead projector and dig the floppy disks out of that storage closet!        

Cassette tapes, overhead projector, and Oregon Trail clues for 80s Breakout EDU

The purpose was to build community with the activity, but as her class embarked on the Breakout EDU adventure, it did more than just build community. The premise was Carmen San Diego snuck into the classroom over lunch, stole the iPads and replaced them with 80s technology. Now the class of "gumshoes" has to use the clues to solve the mystery and save their iPads! Students discovered how to use an overhead, had to figure out the name of floppy disks, and explored music on cassette tapes. It was like watching scientists discover a new species as they studied each object with wonder. As we had fun watching them discover what once was considered innovative, this also set the stage for a conversation about past, present, and future technology to get the students thinking.   

Student discovering an overhead projector, and even trying to insert a disk into it!

The activity was a great opportunity to show the students the technology that was innovative early in our teaching careers. The conversation after the activity held the real power. The students were able to reflect on the growth of technology in the last 30+ years. As they look at the technology they have today, some may think that this is the best it can be, others will think, there has to be a better way. These are the innovators of the future. The students sitting in front of us are the generation that will take it even further. To do this, coding, engineering, and computer science are essential skills to keep our society moving forward. Students need to have the mindset to solve problems that we don't even know are problems yet.

In Lori's class, she is setting the stage for the year and creating innovative thinkers. In her class, these students will experience design thinking, coding, and STEM activities design to get them to analyze the world around them. I am grateful we have the resources to supply them with these activities and teachers that have the capacity to do so.   

It makes me wonder about schools where this type of retro technology is still the norm. Cassette players with books on tape, overhead projectors, and TVs on carts. Is this the environment that is going to prepare the next generation of innovators?       

We left the students with the thought that the iPad in their hand today is the worst technology that they will have available to them. George Couros shared this idea as he spoke at iEngage Berwyn in 2016. Technology is only going to get better. It is up to them to solve problems that we didn't know were problems and get them thinking about the world around them so they can make it better. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Start Right Now - Know the Way

Welcome to the second post of the #D100BloggerPD book study of Start. Right. Now. Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. Over the next few weeks, bloggers from Berwyn South School District 100 will reflect on chapters of the book. This is leading up to our iEngage Berwyn Edtech Conference, where Jimmy Casas will be one of the fantastic keynote speakers. If you missed it, check out the first post for chapter one on the fabulous Kristen Richey's blog Reading and Owl the Above. Let's get started!


I had to laugh as I read Kristen's reflection on chapter one because I had already written a very similar paragraph about the enthusiasm of the authors. I agree that immediately as I read this, I can't help but envision Jeff and Jimmy speaking with enthusiasm on these topics since I have had the pleasure of seeing them speak. In the hour I have seen, they were very motivating and that comes through in the words of this book. I also envision many of the administrators in my district embodying many of these principles.

The second chapter is appropriately titled "Know The Way" and revolves around the immense focus and knowledge strong leaders possess. Great leaders, not only admin but teacher leaders too, are truly special people that share certain qualities. The authors explain that they know that excellence is a blend of the art and science of teaching.

This chapter explains that leaders bud from people that "know their stuff" and are masters of their craft and that is evident to others. This is out of a commitment to ongoing learning. They start with the "Why?" and steer the ship in the direction of "Where?" keeping what's best for students in their focus. Not only do excellent leaders know their stuff, but they know themselves. They know when to ask for feedback, when to make adjustments, and how they are perceived, but they know they don't know it all.  They have a confidence without being cocky and build up others as they build themselves. They clearly communicate their non-negotiables and know when to say no, if a task doesn't align with their focus.

Another interesting point that struck me was the fact that we have the same amount of time. It is a common complaint amongst educators that there is never enough time, but how we effectively use it is another key to excellence.

As I read, one thing is obvious. Great leadership takes time to cultivate and patience to develop. It takes commitment and hard work for the long hall to plan for success.

Above all, excellent leaders, truly care and believe in the work they are doing down to their core. It is hard. It is exhausting. It is worth it. I found these messages inspiring, positive and motivating.

At the end of each chapter, there is a section that highlights 4 teachers and 4 leaders modeling these principles and 4 resources to explore. I have had the pleasure of learning in person from Kirk Humphreys and Maureen Miller and they are great examples to illustrate various qualities in this chapter.

Reading this makes me reflect on my father-in-law, Bill Lehotsky, Sr. Bill was the assistant principal of Riverside Brookfield High School. He passed 9 years ago and retired 14 years ago. He was retired by the time I came into the family, however, his love for education was still evident and his legacy still lives strong in the RB community. I can't go far without someone recognizing my last name and associating it with him. In the last few weeks alone, two people have referenced Bill's impact on them. Why? It is because Bill knew his stuff, he knew himself, and most importantly he knew the people and put them first. He was an excellent educator that still affects the lives of those he touched and that is clear in conversations with students he had over 40 years ago that still talk about him today. THAT is an excellent leader.

And with that, I am off to build my confidence, learn more about my craft and build relationships.

Check out the posts for chapter three from two strong, proud leaders Sue Butler (iShift) and Jordan Garrett (iLearn) on April 4th.  Join the conversation in the comments below or on twitter at #D100BloggerPD and #StartRightNow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Earning a Learning Permit for Social Media

I was having a conversation over twitter with a colleague the other day about the limits of social media use for students under 13 years old. The mindset is often that since they can't have an account, they can't do anything with social media.  Students absorb so much from seeing something done, but social media can be invisible to a child when it's on a device and often it is deliberately kept away from them.

From a very young age, children are exposed to the role of driving a car. By the time they get their license, a large majority of children have been riding in a car for over 16 years. At 3 years old, my daughter understood the meaning of the red, yellow, and green stoplight and likes to remind me from the backseat. We need to find ways to expose students to social media before they are able to create their own accounts, just like they are exposed to driving before they get their license.

Listening to Jennifer Casa-Todd speak on George Couros's podcast, I was reminded of the importance of showing students the right path in social media and allowing it to set the tone for a positive extension of themselves. At 15, her daughter was in a job interview for a part time job and was asked what could be learned about her from social media. We don't want that answer to be negative or nothing at all. Geroge and Jennifer have both been inspirations to create digital leaders. Jennifer has a new book coming out soon called "Digital Leadia" and I'm excited to check it out soon.

So, how do we prepare students for social media before they can get their own account?

1. Post as a class account. Students under the age of 13 can use a google form to share tweet ideas with the teacher, then the teacher can tweet them out. Annie Forest used twitter in her sixth grade math classroom after being inspired by Alice Keeler to use a google form to allow students to send her tweets to add to the class account. Check out her blog post about it.

2. Show students the class twitter account. This step may seem obvious, but can be easily over looked. The connection needs to be made between information they are giving the teacher to post and how it is impacting others. Pull up the feed daily and explore what other classrooms are doing on twitter regularly.

3. Have online discussions in a student friendly platform. Using the discussion platform in class learning management system or google classroom is a safe place for students to practice sharing ideas with others online. They can see how their words can reach an audience. It gives them a feel for online interactions and a new platform to share their thinking.

4. Get started with blogs. Blogging is a thoughtful way to get students to start to build their online presence while experiencing sharing to a global audience. The key here is sharing. Share out student blogs on your class social media page to actually give the students the audience they are looking for. Encourage them to share their blogs with others.

5. Teach and model what to do when you come across inappropriate comments on social media. Is this someone you know? Would it make the situation better or worse to respond? Would sending a private message to the person be appropriate? When is it time to tell an adult? Explore these situations with students to help them problem solve issues that they may come across with social media.

So, let students be the backseat drivers of social media before they get their 'license.'

Monday, March 27, 2017

Try it! You just might like it.

Innovative ideas often get written off out of fear. Fear of doing it wrong, failing, or that it won't impact student learning. Or maybe because it is an idea that seems old or been done, or the examples you saw didn't seem that impactful. It is easy to write off an idea that you have never tried.

Just like getting children to eat a new food, try it and you might like it. I have had a few conversations recently about different innovative practices in the classroom.  I am in two book studies right now and we are using sketchnoting as a tool. Drawing for me is uncomfortable. It is a skill I have plenty of room for growth. I learned about sketchnoting last year and thought that looks amazing, for people that can do it. The more I learned about it from watching others like Leah O'Donnell, the more I wanted to try it, so I pushed myself to start "sketching" at conferences. I put it in quotes because it was more writing scribbling than sketching.     

My First Sketchnote

Fast forward to this year and I have 36 sketches in my Paper 53 app from conferences and books. Now, I get it. I see the power of how ideas can be synthesized and I often look back at my sketchnotes to refresh my mind on the topic. In the past, I would rarely go back to my notes or highlights in a book. The quality of my drawing isn't the point. I often find myself thinking deeper about the content and visualizing it to deepen my learning. It is improving my thinking and that's powerful. 

My Lastest Sketchnote

We were recently having a meeting on a book we are reading with the coaches across the district. Many were hesitant and felt vulnerable to sketchnote, as I had felt last year. I got a few compliments on my sketch and had to laugh because I didn't realize how I had grown as a sketchnoter. I reminded a colleague that we ask students to do things every day that are uncomfortable for them. There is a lot of power in the strategy, encouraging her to try it. Well, this morning she copied me on an email to her entire building sharing her sketchnote and offering to help them implement it in the classroom after seeing its power.  This shows the immense power of our ideas, how they can spread, and the importance of trying a practice for ourselves.  

Now this example was about sketchnoting, but that is just one example of something that we can't see the power until we try it. Think about something that you may have written off that keeps creeping back into your mind. Give it a shot. You may just find the power within it to redefine learning for you or your students.  You don't have to be better than the person next to you, just be better than before.     

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.