Search This Blog

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Making-- it's about developing culture & mindset, not a space

This past week I had the pleasure of joining education and Project Based Learning (PBL) consultant, Michael Gorman (@mjgormans); Institute of Play educator, Jackson Westenskow (@jjwestenskow); and PBS Learning Media (@pbslrnmedia) at ISTE 2016 to talk about building a maker culture in classrooms and schools. And not only do we need to support teachers in shifting the design of their lessons and classrooms, we also need to support students who are so used to finding the one right answer to a problem, or telling teachers what they think we want to hear in order to earn a good grade, that working on open-ended design projects can be extremely stressful.

Although the types of making happening in our various organizations differs (PBL and Genius Hour for Michael, gamification and play for Jackson, and digital making in my own classrooms), there was one major thread that tied all of our experiences and projects together-- our belief in the importance of first developing a maker culture and mindset in our classrooms before jumping into buying fancy maker tools or building makerspaces.

This year’s ISTE event in Denver was inundated with gadgets and gizmos aplenty to help schools deck out the growing number of makerspaces taking over old classrooms and computer labs, but how effective will a shiny new makerspace be in your school if no one walks their class across campus to use it?

Digital making via 3D design
Until teachers fully understand the importance of allowing students to create; to analyze problems and come up with their own solutions; to reflect on their thinking and their work; and how to integrate making and design processes into their standards-aligned lesson design, making will remain the “extra” that only gets done during free time or “choice time”.

So, how do we as teachers, coaches, principals, and district administrators grow a maker culture at our sites and help develop maker mindsets in our teachers and students?

Here are some highlights from our presentation on how to get started:
  • “Making is a mindset, not a space” (@mjgormans)
    • Maker spaces or carts or corners or useless if we do not first develop a maker mindset and way of thinking
  • Teachers need training on how to incorporate play and making into learning
    • Training format should mirror what teachers’ classrooms should look like
    • Want more to see more play in classrooms? Then teachers should be playing in PD!
  • Teachers learning CS hands on!
    Everything is interconnected!
    • Cross-curricular and interdisciplinary instruction is part of the PBL, play, and making culture
  • Coaching and ongoing support is key!
    • “One and done” trainings do not transform classrooms and schools
    • Coaches are so important for providing the ongoing support teachers need while changing their practice
    • Coaches should be in classrooms to help teachers and students feel safe to “fail foward”, knowing there is someone standing by to jump is as needed or just to be a cheerleader during the growing process
  • Making shouldn’t be an “extra”
    • Making and play should be standards-aligned and a regular part of good instruction and student learning

Some of our favorite resources for maker/play/PBL classrooms:
    • Professional development and lesson videos, games, lesson plans, interactives, simulations and more… for free!
    • The “Makers” collection includes videos and lesson plans focused on STEM topics and their relationship to the “real world”
    • Daily news rewritten at various reading levels for students in grades 3-12
    • All of my maker projects are embedded as a part of interdisciplinary instruction, many of which we also connected to current events read about via Newsela
    • An organization dedicated to designing new models of learning and instruction
    • Offers professional development for teachers/schools
    • The Exploratorium is a San Francisco museum providing hands-on learning and experiences in the STEM fields
    • Resources and lessons on tinkering and making to learn
    • Organization dedicated to project-based learning
    • provides free PBL resources, lesson plans, and tools and resources to support teachers in designing their own PBL units
    • Also offers professional development on PBL
  • Raspberry Pi
    • The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to digital making and computer science education
    • These low-cost computers can help educators incorporate more hands-on computer science, coding, making, and problem-solving activities in classrooms
    • In addition to selling devices, the Raspberry Pi website provides access to free learning kits and lesson plans

    Tuesday, June 28, 2016

    Stay Afloat with Google Tools-- Using Google as an instructional coach to communicate, collaborate and stay organized!

    As a new TOSA (teacher on special assignment) this year supporting 9 elementary school sites with math instruction and technology integration, the very first objective on my agenda was to figure out the best way to communicate with such a large group of teachers. Luckily, we're a Google (GAFE) district, so deciding what tools to use was a no-brainer. But how to best utilize those tools was the challenge. Will my teachers read a website or blog? Or would they prefer a newsletter? Or do I just stick to emails, or try a Google+ community or Google Group? And how about scheduling appointments and coaching sessions-- organizing meeting times for a couple hundred teachers is tough.

    My plan? I decided to try a little bit of everything, and, with a little help from my friends on #TOSAchat and #educoach, I built several communication strategies to experiment with. I requested feedback from my teachers on their favorite means of learning, communicating and collaborating, and tweaked my strategy based on their requests. And in the process, I learned a lot about how to leverage Google tools for communicating, collaborating and organizing my work as an instructional coach.

    Sunday, June 19, 2016

    Reflecting on my year as an educator by the numbers

    Inspired by my #PLN friend, Ryan O'Donnell (@creativeedtech), I spent last week looking back at my year in terms of numbers. I did not, by any means, take the time to quantify every single aspect of my 2015-16 year in education, but I did decide to look at major aspects of my job and see just how much I was able to accomplish this school year.

    This was my 1st year as a teacher on special assignment for my district (or ToSA), and not only was it a new role for me, but it was also a new position in the district (elementary math/tech integration coach). I started the year uncertain of what to expect, and even my bosses couldn't quite define what it was that I would be doing, since it was all new to them as well. Sure, there were a couple of very specific job duties assigned to me from the start, but for the most part, everything was up in the air-- an exciting/scary position to be in! I like working a creative and self-directed environment, but how would I know if the direction that I was taking the position was the right one without a clear road map of where I was supposed to go?

    After quite a few ups, and just as many downs, over the course of the school year, I ended the year unsure of how I had done. About a week before school officially let out, my boss called me in for my year-end review, and when he asked me about my successes and challenges, I couldn't quite pinpoint the successes. The challenges-- well, those I had no trouble speaking to. But naming my successes from the year were a struggle-- had I met any of my goals? Did I really have a grasp on what my goals even were? And then he asked the dreaded "what's your elevator speech" question... and even though I had spent several sessions with our "coach for the coaches", Al Gonzales, trying to figure this out, I still wasn't happy with the current version.

    However, after analyzing my year by the numbers, I felt much more successful in the work I had done in my first year as an instructional coach. Maybe it's the math coach in me that needed this quantified look at the year in order to really understand what type of impact I had in my district... In any case, looking at the numbers reminded me that the small successes are just as important as the system-changing, large-scale ones. My "coach for the coaches" had me pegged early in the year-- he told me that I was hyper-focused on making big change, on revolutionizing the face of education, and that that was a good thing, but that I shouldn't lose sight of the small impacts, either. Losing sight of the small successes leaves you frustrated. It's important to also celebrate the baby steps taken.

    Looking at my numbers for this year helped me to focus on those smaller successes, that are ultimately leading toward greater change. My favorite achievement-- working with 106 unique educators this year-- many more than I had realized! And no, not all of those sessions resulted in dramatic changes. But even getting face time with that many teachers in my first year as a ToSA means that teachers do want to change the way we're doing things, and just that desire to change means that we are, at least, on our way. And that is a much larger success this year than I could have imagined.

    Sunday, June 12, 2016

    Spruce up your website or blogs using embed codes

    A nice way to add some extras to your website or blog is by embedding additional elements using embed codes. With embed codes, you can spruce up your website with everything from videos and Tweets to pdfs and interactive widgets from 3rd party sites!

    "But what if my website builder already has an insert button for some of these things? Why should I bother with the embed code?"

    Well, knowing a little bit of code gives you a little bit more control over the elements in your website. For example, if I had used the "insert video" option to insert the videos below, Blogger automatically sizes my video frame for me. But if I know a little bit of HTML, I can edit the the size of my video using HTML code to do so!

    So go ahead, play around with the HTML a little bit! You don't have to be an expert in order to tweak a few things and make your website or blog look just the way you like!

    (Want to learn just enough HTML to be dangerous? Take a few lessons on KhanAcademy or Codecademy!)

    Embed a Video from YouTube

    • Find the video that you want to embed
    • Click on the share button beneath the video
    • Click on "embed" and copy the embed code
    • In HTML editing mode on your website or blog, paste the embed code where you want the video to show up
    • Adjust the size of the video frame as needed
    • Go back into compose mode, save and preview your site

    My embedded video from YouTube:

    Embed Tweets

    • Copy the embed code from the Tweet via
    • In HTML editing mode on your website or blog, paste the embed code where you want the Tweet to show up
    • Go back into compose mode, save and preview your site

    My embedded Tweet:

    Embed PDFs 

    I use Google Sites, which does not have it's own widget for previewing pdfs on a website. Thus, using HTML is imperative if you want to embed a pdf on your website.
    • Make sure the .pdf file is saved in your Google Drive or elsewhere on the web and is shared publicly on the web
    • Copy the http:// address or share link for the .pdf
    • Return to HTML editing mode on your website or blog, click where you want to post a preview of the .pdf file and type the code below in blue
    • Insert the .pdf's web link or share link in quotes where it says share link
    • If using a share link from Google Drive, delete the end of the share link up to the last forward backslash; type "preview" after the backslash
    <iframe src="share link/preview or web link" width = "480" height = "640"></iframe>
    • Preview your website and you should see your .pdf file posted in an iframe on your site/blog

    Embed GIFs 

    When you open a .gif on, the first share option is "embed". To embed a .gif on your site/blog...
    • Copy the embed code
    • In HTML editing mode on your website or blog, paste the embed code in the place that you want the gif to appear on your site
    • Adjust the size as desired by changing the values in parentheses after "width=" or "height=" 
    • You can also adjust your gif's code to include a frame by changing the frame value from "0" to a number (the frame below is a value of 5 pixels)
    • Preview your site and you should see your gif!

      Embed interactive widgets from 3rd part sites

      This is one of my favorite uses for embed codes! Sites like Thinglink, Versal, Blendspace, and others allow you to use embed codes to actually embed an interactive lesson onto a webpage or blog.

      • Follow the same steps used for embedding Tweets or GIFs, using the embed code provided for the lesson that you want to share (usually found under the "share" option for that lesson or interactive)
      • Adjust the height, width, and border of your iframe as desired
      • Check the scrolling option in your code (want viewers to be able to scroll through the lesson... make sure scrolling=yes
      • Save and preview your site. You'll end up with an embedded lesson in an iframe, like the one I've shared below!

      Sunday, June 5, 2016

      30 Demo Lessons in 30 Days: Week 4... wrapping it all up!

      Last week was my last major week of demo lessons in TK-2 grade classrooms in my district. And Friday I had the opportunity to share some of my learning with primary teachers in another district as part of a CUE Rockstar Black Label event. It was a whirlwind kind of week!

      Day 1:

      Kindergarteners & Explain Everything
      For the first time this year, I had a chance to try out an Explain Everything lesson with a Kindergarten class. We had quite a bit of fun! As in similar lessons, students were prompted to show a number in as many different ways as they could-- each method on its own slide-- in an effort to model both a tech tool and the use of open-ended and low floor/high ceiling math tasks. Several students got pretty creative-- creating pictures out of their number models and using the ever fun light saber to demonstrate their thinking. Both teacher and students enjoyed the task thoroughly!

      3-Act Math in Grade 1
      This was one of the most nerve-wracking lessons I taught all month! While reading The Classroom Chef (by John Stevens and Matt Vaudrey) I was introduced to Graham Fletchy's 3-Act Lessons for the elementary math classroom. Already familiar with Dan Meyer's 3-Act lesson model, I hadn't seen Fletchy's elementary versions until reading the account of teacher, Jamie Duncan, using one of his lessons in her 1st grade classroom.

      I immediately decided that I needed to try one of these inquiry-based math lessons in one of our 1st Cookie Monster task that Duncan had used with her students, choosing, however, to make my own version of the video intro, utilizing a Cookie Monster stuffed animal and some Stop Motion technology.
      grade classes. Luckily, I already had two 1-hour blocks scheduled in a 1st grade room this week--serendipity! I decided to use the same

      I was a little nervous going in, since I'd never taught a 3-Act before AND I was incorporating new tech along with a new way of doing math, but I have to say the lesson went pretty well overall. I've never seen 1st graders so engaged in math! The room was noisy and exciting and the majority of students were more than enthusiastic to help me solve the mystery of the missing cookies. Students used critical thinking skills to analyze the problem and determine next steps, used a variety of problem solving strategies instilled in them by their teacher to solve for a missing addend, and practiced writing and talking about math. And although there is certainly room for improvement the next time I deliver this lesson, I was thoroughly thrilled at the way this first attempt turned out.

      Stop Motion & iMovie in 4th grade
      I continued my support in 4th grade during this week by dropping in to work with students while they completed their Stop Motion videos. I also did a mini-lesson on how to drop a Stop Motion video into iMovie for further editing. The students were super creative, and had a blast... and I did, too!

      Day 2:

      A break from teaching kids to teach parents about supporting math at home over the summer
      Early this year, the middle school math TOSA and I hosted several CCSS Math trainings for parents in our district. One site asked me to do monthly follow ups that turned into a cross between math classes and strategies for supporting students at home. During our final session of the year, we talked about ways to continue math growth over the summer using resources like Khan Academy,, and

      3-Act Math, day 2
      Looking back, I shouldn't have extended this lesson out over two class periods. It went too long. Part of it was trying to introduce students to both a new type of lesson and a tech tool at the same time. The other part was me not being confident in the lesson and how to wrap it up. In reflecting with the classroom teacher, there was more good than bad in this lesson. Students were able to demonstrate how many skills they really had, they were engaged, they were excited about a math task and solving a problem. In the end, we both noticed they had trouble with explaining their thinking and I realized that I needed to provide more support there... sentence stems for speaking, maybe a math frame and vocabulary supports... and the classroom teacher's suggestion of posting the images of the full cookie box and empty box on a poster for students to better access is definitely one that I'll use next time.

      The teacher also suggested doing the inquiry lesson day 1 and teaching the tech tool on day 2 the next time that I'm trying to test two new things at once-- loved that idea and will stick with it!

      Seesaw in Kindergarten
      I jumped straight into a no tech classroom next to demo Seesaw and some of its features for demonstration of knowledge, creating opportunities for an authentic audience, and creating a portfolio of student work. Best part of this lesson-- when a Kindergartener with almost no English recorded himself speaking in English and the other students in the class running over to congratulate him-- "Axel, look, I can hear you!" Heart melted!

      Day 3: 

      Googly math in 2nd grade
      This lesson was especially fun for me-- I'd been dying to do some more Google work in math. I asked the site tech coach to join us since we had a very small window of time in which to work. We helped the students log into their Chromebooks, then get logged in to a demo Google Classroom where they found two math assignments built in Google Drawings. The first task I built was an open-ended shapes sort-- students had to decide how to sort a set of shapes into a Venn Diagram. The second task was based on a Eureka Math lesson in which students use 2-dimensional shapes to compose other shapes. I put the shapes into the document and students had to drag and rotate shapes in order to compose new shapes that meet the characteristics noted. Students had a good time with the task and did really well with their first digital math task. I was fairly happy with the task as well and with just a few adjustments, I'll be ready to share out to our teachers!

      Day 4:

      Scratch Jr. in Kindergarten
      This has, by far, been one of my favorite apps to play with this year! I did another Scratch Jr. demo in Kindergarten, asking students to create shapes stories. They picked up on the app quickly, and the teacher loved seeing what tech integration for creation looks like in Kindergarten. Having just finished her Leading Edge Certification, this teacher was feeling inspired, but still unsure what a 21st century Kindergarten task might look like. Now, she had a better idea and was excited to use Scratch Jr. again in the near future.

      Googly math in 1st grade
      Another Google task-- yes! First, I helped the students log in to their Chromebooks (over the course of this journey, I was surprised at how many teachers didn't realize that students could log in and save their accounts on their Chromebooks... so many were having students go in as guests and having students log in to Google through the web browser). Both teacher
      and students were thrilled to discover that there was an easier way!

      Then, I had students use a shortened URL code to open a force copy of a Shapes Book that I created in Google Slides, resizing the slides to look more like a book and using tasks from our Eureka Math 1st grade curriculum to have students practice their geometry skills. I wouldn't change anything about this lesson-- the students, having only basic tech skills, were able to manage the technical part just fine (and help each other) and everyone had a great time doing math in a different way.

      My future goal-- to try a collaborative slides task again sooner than later! It may not have gone well week 2 in the other 1st grade class, but I know it's possible and I'm ready to try again after several successful independent Googly Math tasks this week!

      Day 5: 

      CUE Rockstar Black Label event 
      (using what I learned in TK-2 to teach teachers!)
      Friday was like my culminating task after 4 weeks of learning. I had the pleasure of taking part in a #CUERockstar Black Label event at Castro Valley Union School District. My session-- The Tech Integration Station (tech integration in TK-3 math classrooms). Participating in CUE Rockstar events, whether as faculty or attendee, is always life changing. No matter the level of participation, I always learn so much-- from faculty, from other attendees, from admin, from students, from myself. I love the culture of learning from each other (rather than the typical conference culture of learning from the sage on the stage)!

      In my session, I shared some of my favorite apps, favorite learning resources, and favorite TK-3 experiences. We explored resources including Which One Doesn't Belong and 3-Act Math tasks, and we played with apps like Seesaw and Scratch, brainstorming ways in which these tools could change the way we teach math in our primary classrooms. The feedback was definitely positive and teachers said they were excited to see ways in which they could integrate more technology, inquiry and creativity into their classrooms.

      And an extra perk-- I had a chance to learn more about Snapchat and how to integrate it into my role as a TOSA from the amazing Bill Selak!

      Although there are some changes that I want to make to my TK-3 tech session (I'd like to include formative assessment tools in the next presentation like this, and more guided practice...), I'd say that overall, based on feedback, teachers left my session feeling more inspired to try some new things and use more technology with their elementary students. Success!