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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What Were You Thinking?

I heard that question a lot growing up at my house.  I don't know how she did it, but my mother raised four pretty mischievous boys all by herself, and it seemed like that question popped up at least a couple of times a week.

In my last blog post, I wrote about how Bob Dillon got me to thinking after his Keynote address at our Fall NETA Conference.  Yes, scary thought I know!

One of Bob's breakout sessions was about "Making Thinking Visible" in our classrooms and this was on my mind because of a school wide initiative called the Adolescent Literacy Project that my school district just instituted this year.   One of the key components of that project is to make thinking visible in our classrooms!  Imagine that.

Needless to say, my mind has been spinning with ideas, thoughts, questions, etc.

Now what if we took that same question, and asked more often to the students in our classrooms?  I know you might already do that with some of the students that misbehave, but what if we asked this question in an educational context?  Would learning become more relevant in our classrooms?

How often do we ask our students the following:

"What were you thinking when...

         You worked through that problem?"

         You created this project?"

         You diagrammed that sentence?"

         You solved that equation?"

         You composed this essay?"

         You wrote this blog post?"

I often wonder why we don't ask more questions like this in our classrooms?  I know I didn't ask these questions enough in my classroom.  Why didn't I let my students learn out loud? Why didn't I give my students more of a voice?

Imagine some of the conversations, discussions and learning that WOULD happen in our classrooms if we simply asked, "What were you thinking?" 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

10 People Better Than You

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Bob Dillon's Keynote address at the Nebraska Fall EdTech Conference in Kearney, Nebraska.   I have been following Bob on Twitter and Instagram for quite awhile, and it seems like I learn a new thing from him everyday.  I enjoyed the opportunity to finally meet him in person and listen to him tell his story.

During Bob's Keynote address he said something that really made me think.  I can't recall it verbatim, but it went something like this,  "I challenge you to think of 10 people that have the same job as you, but do it better than you."


We aren't supposed to think about things like that are we?  Aren't we supposed to be the best in our field?  Yes, I strive for that, but find that there are some amazing tweeps in my network doing awesome things in their school districts.  I am continually learning from awesome educators in my professional learning network!

Bob mentioned that when he does this activity in a workshop, most teachers struggle to get past the first name that they write down.  I thought for a bit and immediately started jotting down names in the Notes app on my phone (I also wondered how a teacher that's not connected would answer this question, but that's a whole new blog post).

Here is what I came up with.  I'm actually cheating and listing twelve people instead of ten.  A simple "thank you" to those on this list.  You continually challenge me to become a better educator.  You continually raise the bar higher and higher.   You drive me to be the best that I can be in my profession.

Devon Schoening
Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano
Josh Allen
Jennifer Scheffer
Jenny Grabiec
Lisa Johnson
Jeremy Macdonald
Holly Clark
Susan Bearden
Clay Reisler
Brent Catlett
Mickie Mueller

Well, can you come up with ten people?  If so, I challenge you to reply with your own blog post!

Let's see what ya got!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Your Kids Are Using Social Media...Are You?

My middle school newsletter article this month...

Chances are, you have some sort of social media account, whether it be Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter.   I read an article the other day that said right now approximately 70% of Americans are using some form of social media.  I imagine that number will only grow as we head into the future.  The world today is a whole lot different from when you and I grew up. There are so many ways to be connected!

It was trying to think of how I was “connected” back in my middle school days at Centura in 1986.  How did I communicate with my friends? How did I interact with others?  Well, I distinctly remember cruising up and down South Locust with my buddies and having those chats with others out our windows.  I remember making “dub tapes” of my favorite songs while listening to the weekly top 40, and then sharing them with my friends.  Now, we simply go to iTunes and purchase what we want.  How about actually calling up your buddies and getting a pick-up game of basketball or football going in the park? Sadly, I don’t see a lot of that anymore as I drive by a park.  Yes, kids still do some of these things, but a lot of their social interactions are taking place on devices.

I was curious to see how many of our students at Aurora Middle School are using social media so I constructed a very unscientific survey and had students complete it the first couple weeks of school.  Check out the results at the bottom of this article.  We have a lot (72%) of  students that are utilizing social media in one form or another.  Instagram is the most popular, followed by Facebook and Vine.  These forms of social media are very popular amongst teens right now, not only in Aurora, Nebraska, but all over the world.  I was a bit surprised by the Facebook statistic being so high as kids are starting to migrate from Facebook towards other forms of social media that their parents are NOT using.

My question for you is this….

Are you using these forms of social media?  If not, I would like for you to consider doing so.   Nationally known speaker Kevin Honeycutt once said, “Our kids are growing up on a digital playground and there are no teachers on recess duty!”  We as parents need to monitor and model the correct way to use social media.  
I would highly encourage you to sit down tonight with your child and have them share what social media sites/apps they are currently utilizing.  If you are unfamiliar with any of the sites/apps, have your child explain to you how it works and how they are using them.  Then, I would highly encourage YOU to download those apps, create and account and start using them.  “Friend” your child or follow them on the accounts. Be sure they do the same.  Because we have taught them the importance of online safety during Digital Citizenship, many students have made their accounts “private.”  If their account is private, they will need to allow you to “follow” them.

Together we can do a great job of making our Aurora Huskies even better students in the digital world that they are growing up in!  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to tweet, email, or call me at the school.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Engagement is...

"Student engagement is the product of motivation and active learning.  It is a product rather than a sum because it will not occur if either element is missing." 
 ~Elizabeth F. Barkley

I don't know about you, but I get pretty giddy this time of the year.  I can't wait to get our teachers and students back into our buildings!   At our high school faculty meeting yesterday, Mr. Kittle, our building Principal, challenged us to focus on the word "engagement" in our classrooms this year.  He challenged us to think about student engagement in our classrooms and if what we are doing is truly engaging our students and meeting their needs. I don't have a classroom right now per se, but his challenge got me to thinking about what engagement looks like.    

Engagement is not...



A plethora of drill and practice problems when only a few will suffice

Regurgitation of information

PowerPoint or Keynotes

Doing the same thing everyday

Teacher as the "Sage on the Stage"

Teaching the way you were taught

"Busy Work"

Watching movies

Engagement is all about...






Student Choice


Self directed learning



Active classrooms

Making students think

Opening your mind to new ideas in your classroom

Monday, August 11, 2014

Share Your Passion With Students (Instructions Included)

As educators we all know that one of the greatest benefits to teaching are the relationships that we build with our students.  This year marks my 15th year in education and I truly cherish each and every chance I get to build relationships in my classroom.  Just the other day I received a letter from a former student letting me know how much she enjoyed my class and that she still has a passion for studying History.

It made my day.

That is what teaching is all about.  Each and every day that we walk into our classrooms we have an opportunity to make a difference!  How awesome is that?

In reflecting back over my 15 years in education there is one thing that I don't think I did very well.  I didn't really share what I was passionate about with my students.  Sure, my students knew that I loved to teach and coach.  But what about the other things that I enjoyed to do like gardening, golfing, camping?   Why didn't I share those passions with my students?  Why was I holding that information back?  I know I was always asking my students to be passionate about every single thing they did in their lives, yet I was holding back in sharing what I was passionate about.

This made me think about a day a long time ago...

I remember the day well in 1977.  It was about the middle of my Kindergarten year and  I was at the local supermarket with my mother.  I saw my teacher Mrs. Martin and she was wearing jeans!  I tugged on my mother's shirt and exclaimed, "Mom, Mrs. Martin is wearing jeans!"  Here I thought that my teacher was a superhero (still do) and wore only skirts and slacks.  I only knew Mrs. Martin in "school mode." I was always curious about the "other side" of my teachers. What were they like when they took off their superhero capes?  What did they like doing outside of school?

So here is your challenge.  As you begin this school year, I want you to share your passions with your students.   Here is a way to showcase your passions mixed in with a little technology...enjoy creating!


  • Create a new deck in Haiku Deck
  • Create six slides that describe/list your passions
  • No more than six words on a slide!
  • Share it with your students...often. 

Watch the video below to see how to take your Haiku Deck, export it,  then upload it into a Google Presentation that will continuously loop.  Stand out in the hallway on the first day of school, greet your students and have your Passion Project playing as you students are entering your classroom.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Creating & App Smashing with App Dice

I have to give all the credit for this awesome idea to Ryan Read.  Ryan is an Integration Specialist in Illinois and boy does he have some great ideas! I ran across his #appdice idea while perusing my Twitter stream last Spring and was immediately intrigued.

It's a simple way to get students to creating in your classroom and #appsmashing.  I wanted to create a set of my own geared towards using the iPad to create, so I  created two types of die for my set (and other sets I created and gave out to our teachers). One die has six "creation" apps, while the second die has six "showcase" apps.

For the creation apps I used Popplet Lite, Pic Collage, Doodlebuddy, Trading Cards, Skitch and Word Clouds.

For the showcase apps I used ShowMe, Educreations, Tellagami, Thinglink, 30Hands, and iMovie.

Have your students roll the "creation" app, then the "showcase" app.  Have your students create something with those two apps based on what you are learning/studying/analyzing/reading.  Have them hand in their products via Google Drive, Showbie or eBackpack. Better yet, have them publish what they created using their KidBlog accounts.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

10 Activities to do on an iPad instead of a Worksheet

I always have teachers wanting to know how they can better utilize the iPad in their classrooms. I know that it's very easy when first receiving an iPad to take a worksheet that you have done for several years, and convert it to glass. But glass can be boring too, so I created this Breakfast Club session to give my teachers some ideas on ways to better utilize this powerful tool in their classrooms.
So the "activities" that I started coming up with started turning into all sorts of ideas and app suggestions.  I shared all of the ideas with the teachers that attended, but found myself particularly enjoying the conversations that we were having about some of the activities that are taking place in the classrooms at Aurora Public Schools.
Our teachers are doing great things with the iPads in their classrooms and it was great to have teachers share and learn from each other!  Here are some of the activities, ideas and apps that we talked about on how to better utilize the iPad in the classroom.

  • Create
  • Present
    • What if we allowed our students to demonstrate their understanding by NOT taking a written test? 
    • Haiku Deck, Prezi, ThingLink, PicCollage, Keynote, Presentain, Deck, Tellagami, Zoobe
    • Place word limits on slides
  • Collaborate
    • Get connected, it will revolutionize your classroom!
    • Teachers all over the world are wanting to participate in collaborative projects. 
    • Social MediaApp Suggestions-->Twitter, Hootsuite, Pinterest, Google +, Instagram
    • Monster Project, Mystery Skypes
    • Classroom Collaboration-->Google Drive, Padlet, Titan Pad
  • Code
  • Explain
    • Similar to presenting, but on a higher level
    • Download Explain Everything immediately.  This is one of the best (if not the best) app that you will have on your iPad. (All students 6-12 will have this year)
    • App Suggestions-->Educreations, ShowMe, Skitch, Adobe Voice, QR Codes (linked to or 30 Hands product)
  • App Smash
    • Combining multiple apps to create one product.  (prior blog post)
    • App smashing comes naturally to students.  Quit giving recipes (this is what I want it to look like) in your classroom and encourage app smashing! 
  • Discover
    • As human beings we are naturally curious.  Do you allow time to discover in your classroom? 
    • Allow time for students to discover the "why" using the iPad, by searching for more information about something you are teaching/learning.
    • Teach students how to better search on the internet using Google Operators
  • Explore
    • Discover and Explore are tied together
    • Are you teaching your content in a manner so that it creates a curious environment? 
    • Allow your students to explore using Google Earth, Google Maps, Social Media
  • Assess
    • Quit making trips to the copy machine and use the iPad instead!
      • Socrative
      • eBackpack quiz feature
      • Edmodo quiz feature
      • Google Forms
      • Class Dojo
      • Kahoot
      • Zondle
  • Communicate
    • Create a Twitter hashtag for your classroom or school (#aurorahuskies, #ahsbio, #ahs109)
    • Create a class Facebook page
    • Create a class Instagram account (hashtag as well)
    • Start blogging and sharing the awesome events that are taking place in your classroom!
    • Create and share an Animoto  
    • Use Remind to inform and educate parents.