Monday, July 20, 2015

If your not failing, your aren't trying hard enough
I am a bit self-conscious - maybe you are too. I like to put my best foot forward. So I clean my house like a crazy person when someone is coming over. I cringe at the thought of other people seeing the usual disarray of shoes, half-opened mail, used cups, etc. that normally decorate our living space. I don't like to look unprepared or foolish, especially at work. So I spend time pondering new ideas, researching and calculating, turning them over and over and over in my own mind before I put them out in the world. Some might call this analysis paralysis, I call it being thorough. :)

Like most Americans, I buy into the culture of success. We are a culture of winners and over achievers who show off brilliant business plans on Shark Tank and well polished talent on American Idol, The Voice, etc. No one wants to be embarrassed by the "judges" in their life when they point out their lack of preparation or hard work.

I have been inspired recently to be more willing to screw up. In the spring my friends at North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network talked about failure as a good thing. To bring about innovation in education, we have to empower each other to take risks. I nodded my head yes, but thought to myself - that is for other people. I have been seeing this idea all around me ever since.  It really is the IN thing - Forbes article on failure7 TED talks about failure. Apparently if you are not failing, you are just not trying hard enough.

So I am ready to embrace failure. I am going to be brave enough to let go of my old ways and reach for the new opportunities. When I fail, I promise not to beat myself up (too much). I am going to break out of my analysis paralysis and try.

I am challenging myself to put my riskiest ideas out there. The ones with the most potential impact, but also the potential for failure. I am going to set a big stretch goal, so I can celebrate (and learn from) my failures.

My goal for 2015-16 school year - Help students throughout Durham connect to the Internet from home to access academic resources.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ten Stimulating Summer Activities for Teens

Source: Wikipedia
Parents of teens often struggle to get kids off the couch or out from behind the screen during long summer days. When my children were in elementary school it seemed so much easier to keep them active in the summer. Now they aren't so easily persuaded to go to the park, the library, . . . or anywhere that requires getting off their device or out of their pajamas. Here are some suggestions for activities you and your teen can agree on. (Shh! don't tell them the activities might be educational)

1. Go to your local bookstore for snacks
The draw of baked goods and frozen drinks is enough to entice them to get out of the house. Then the magic of the bookstore's marketing will likely convince them to pick up a book.

2. Invite a group of friends over for game night
You might not be able to get your child to play their childhood favorites with you anymore, but games have made a resurgence. There are new games that have a cool factor strong enough to overcome even adolescent angst. Games teach strategy, problem solving and interpersonal skills.
  • Apples to Apples
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Say Anything
  • Pandemic
3. Plan a family vacation or outing
Involve your teen in the planning phase to help ensure buy-in during the trip. Challenge them to find a good deal on a hotel, research a restaurant for dinner, or plan the itinerary for a day.

4. Extend a personal interest or fandom
If your teen has an interest in a sport, hobby or even a popular entertainment figure you might be able to extend that interest into another area. My daughter likes Anime and the local library offered an Anime related craft activity for teens. If your teen hesitates to try something new, offer to pick up a friend to join you. Teens often resist attending events where they don't know anyone.

5. Play an audio book with teen interest in the car
One of my daughters is reluctant to pick out a new print book, but she is 100% engaged when we listen to audio books. I have gotten her hooked on a couple book series this way and listening to the book together is a great shared experience which opens the door to many conversations. 

6. Become a maker
Crafts are cool again! The crayons and pony beads of their childhood may not grab your teen's attention, but try a project with a bit of a challenge and updated interest like these:

7. Connect a book to a movie
Many popular young adult novels have been adapted for the big screen. Use this as an opportunity to get your teen to read the book or another in the series. Watching the movie as a family for the first or second time can be a fun celebration after finishing the book. (Most of the movies are rated PG-13 and may contain some mature content.  So evaluate whether they are appropriate for your child first.)
  • Fault in Our Stars
  • Harry Potter
  • Hunger Games
  • The Lightning Thief
  • Maze Runner
Online Activities
I know parents are rolling their eyes at this section. You are fighting with your teen to try to get them AWAY from their screens day and night, but there are some online activities that are stimulating to young brains. Perhaps you can build some goodwill by suggesting these instead of insisting on powering down.

8. Learn how it's done - coding your own site or game
Even if you don't think your child has an interest in becoming a computer science major, learning some coding skills can be beneficial. They learn logic, problem-solving and an appreciation for how software works. These sites allow teens to practice basic programming skills independently.
9. Connect with the world
Have a teen who never looks up from their phone? Geocaching is a way for them to use their device to interact with the physical world. You might even have the thrill of discovering hidden items. This site can help get you started,

If your teen doesn't want to leave the house, but wants to explore the world this game is fun! Geoguessr selects a site from GoogleMaps and shows you the view. You can rotate 360 degrees, but you can't zoom out. You guess where in the world you are in GoogleMaps and get a score based on how close you were.

10. Open an online studio
These tools allow your teen to create a professional looking product with very little experience. Creating with the computer provides experience imagining, designing, and publishing ideas in an electronic format - valuable skills in the digital age.
  • Animoto - create cloud-based videos from your own images, clips and text
  • GoAnimate - create animated videos in a click and drag environment
  • ToonDo - create comic strips and cartoons
It can be hard work engaging teens in "productive" activities. Remember to value their interests and preferences. It is also hard work being a teen and trying to balance your own wants and fears with parental demands. Don't be afraid to push a little, but be flexible where you can and acknowledge their attempts to cooperate. Savor the summer, all too soon we will be back to the rushed schedule of the school year.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities - ISTE & School

 "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness . . ." - Charles Dickens

  This week I feel as if I have had my feet in two different worlds. I have been attending ISTE via Twitter and the Google+ NOT AT ETC community.  I've also been providing instructional technology support to reading remediation camps.
Remediation camp is for students who didn't score high enough on their end of grade tests or their end of year reading assessments. By state law the school district must provide the option for students to attend a camp with reading instruction. Unfortunately on some levels the camp feels like punishment. The lessons are tightly scripted and leave little room for student or teacher creativity. Students are assessed repeatedly during the short camp and then retake a paper and pencil test on the last day.
At ISTE, educators are talking about teacher collaboration, the maker movement and differentiated instruction. In camp, students are completing worksheets and receiving the same instruction regardless of their instructional needs. There was pressure to provide cookie cutter, sage-on-the-stage style instruction. Some of the teachers bucked the system and provided innovative, creative instruction that empowered and engaged students, but we need much more of that!
As Scott McCleod said, "the work of transforming school systems is slow work." I couldn't agree more, Scott. Education is a tale of two cities. We are at once in the age of wisdom and the age of foolishness. We have to keep pushing to get the foolishness out of our schools and implement best practices everywhere!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Designing Personalized Instruction for TEACHERS

I have read articles about personalized learning for teachers from Eudemic, Edsurge, and Edutopia. They tend to focus on Web based PD teachers seek out themselves. While I agree this is a powerful option, I want to offer school based PD that is also personalized. We expect teachers to differentiate in the classroom and I want to model that in the professional development I offer them. How can I design my PD plan to begin creating personalized quality professional development?
  • Design face-to-face large group sessions with multiple options or centers
  • Design half day trainings as Edcamps with teacher presenters and attendee choice
  • Provide optional training after school for teachers to self select
  • Enlist teachers to lead mini sessions and serve as mentors to their colleagues
  • Share general PLN resources via email with the staff as a whole and specialized PLN resources with individual teachers  
Some other educators are thinking about this too:

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Google Wants Chicks

38% of Yahoo's employees are women
~30% of Google's employees are women   

There is a pervasive gender imbalance in the tech industry. When I was studying to be an engineer, guys outnumbered girls at least 3 to 1 in all my classes. Decades later, women are still lagging behind men in pursuing science and engineering (

Less than 1% of girls consider comp. sci. 

The number of females studying computer science has actually dropped since the 1980s. We need to encourage middle school age girls and high school girls to become more involved in computer science. Google is leading the charge with a new campaign, Made With Code. On their Web site they feature young women girls can identify with talking about their career using code.

Show female role models in tech.
Girls and young women want to make a difference in their world. They choose career pursuits that help people. I think if we can help girls see how computer science affects people and makes the world a better place they will consider becoming coders. 

Connect technology to a personal outcome.
Encourage a teenage girl you know to check out "Made With Code".
I'll be showing it to my CyberChicks when school is back in session.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Digital Equity & The Summer Slide
Only 28% of lower-income kids use educational content on mobile devices ( This is in stark contrast to 54% of higher-income kids. I think about these differences particularly during the summer when higher-income kids have the benefit of camps, family vacation trips and visit to the library while lower-income kids typically don't.  According to some research, much of the achievement gap can be explained by the lack of intellectual stimulation and reading practice lower-income kids experience during the summer months (

Now we have yet another way lower-income students are losing ground. The time they spend using media is much less likely to include educational content. Children aged zero to eight spend nearly two hours (1:55) of the day with a screen ( Every day I battle to keep this number from inching up higher in my household. Especially in the summer, when friends are not readily available and hot temperatures outside make a nice walk feel like a steam bath. So I encourage educational content when they are using their screens - Minecraft, writing on GoogleDocs, researching day trips or looking up recipes for cooking projects.

We need to work toward digital equity for all students! The digital divide is still persistent and threatens to push lower-income students farther behind. As I am becoming more aware of this issue I want to work to improve access and use of information technology in my community. One way to do this is raise awareness of free Internet access points. Here is a list for my community.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

BYOD of One (so far)

My school is considering a BYOD program. One parent requested taking part early because her student has trouble keeping up with assignments. (What middle school student doesn't have that problem?) So we have a test group of one individual, but so far it has some promising results and some challenges. The first week of the BYOD experiment the student had to be redirected to use the device for instructional purposes. I haven't heard of a problem since then. The student wanted to be able to print some documents to turn in. So we downloaded an app for our printer, but it still wouldn't connect. Our IT technician determined that the app wasn't designed for an enterprise environment where there were 12 of the same printers on the network. So we abandoned the search for a printing solution and decided to go paperless. So far teachers are reporting that the student emails his assignments and it is working fine.

I hope this is the start of big things for us.

  1. More BYOD - I presented the next steps of the BYOD program to our PTSO Board last night and they were enthusiastic. I will present to our faculty next week. We are waiting for a filtered, open wireless network to start a larger pilot.
  2. Less Paper - We use a ridiculous amount of paper. Perhaps if a few teachers experience carrying assignments home on their laptop, phone or tablet we can have more paperless assignments for all students!