Thursday, March 27, 2014

A must read: "Digital Leadership" by @NMHS_Principal

Back in July I remember meeting Eric Sheninger for the first time.  I had followed him on Twitter for a while and really looked up to and respected him.  I was attending and speaking at the CAMT (Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teachers) in San Antonio and saw he was also presenting.  I sent out a random tweet (assuming he'd never even see it) telling him I'd love to meet him in person.  Before I knew it we had planned to have lunch together.  That lunch with Eric will stick with me for a while, and here's why: I was still learning the whole ins-and-outs of social media and what it means to connect.  I had connected with quite a few Texas Educators but not too many people outside of my state.  When Eric, someone I greatly admired, took the time to not only meet me, but sit and have a meal with me and to talk genuinely, openly, and honestly, it blew my mind.  Eric will probably never truly realize the impact he made on me that day, but again it proved to me the power that social media can hold.

Then a few months later I was able to chat with Eric again when he came on my podcast series, EduAllStars.  And even better, about a month or so after that Eric released his book "Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times".

First off, I must say, this book is a MUST read for anyone in education.  Yes, it's primarily built for administrators, but reading it as a teacher still got me fired up and gave me plenty of ideas.  I'm even working on purchasing some books for all the admins I know!

Looking through my book I see one highlighted section and quote after another.  Eric really takes the time in this book to explain where education has been, where it is now, why we have to change, the technology necessary, changing the mindsets of others, and giving many examples of schools and districts who are doing just that!

I love the most though the many different explanations and research Eric uses throughout his book.  Especially his Seven Pillars of Digital Leadership:

1.  Communication
2.  Public Relations
3.  Branding
4.  Professional Growth and Development
5.  Student Engagement and Learning
6.  Opportunity
7.  Learning Environments and Spaces.

And Eric isn't one who's just all talk.  His school in New Jersey is also doing great things!  And yes I totally plan on attending the Edscape Conference soon!

Here's some of my favorites from the book:

"Digital Leadership is about establishing a vision and implementing a strategic process that creates a teaching and learning culture that provides students with the essential skill sets: creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, technological proficiency and global awareness."

"There is no more powerful learning strategy than to have students exposed to and tackle problems that have meaning and relevancy"

"Digital Leadership is about inspiring students and teachers to think rather than follow rule books and ace tests"

"A new system of learning that is differentiated and that connects to student passions and strengths must be made a reality"

I truly believe that Eric Sheninger's book "Digital Leadership" is a must read for people in education today!  And plus you can follow conversation about the book, by following the hashtag #digilead on Twitter!

Friday, March 21, 2014

11 Twitter Accounts You're Probably Not Following But Definitely Should

Since joining twitter I've become friends with or started learning from some incredible people.  People like Brad Waid, Drew Minock, Erin Klein, Adam Bellow, Eric Sheninger, Angela Maiers, and soooo many more.  People who have been on for a little bit and grown huge followings.  But I've also become "friends" with and started learning from people who are not only brilliant educators but also passionate ones.  So I wanted to share a few people, with a small following, that I've been learning from recently who you probably aren't following now, but you definitely should be!

Jon Harper (@JonHarper70bd)

I love reading educator blogs.  From Pernille Ripp to Jimmy Casas, but man, I have never read a blog as powerful and moving as the posts that Jon writes!  Jon is incredibly articulate and has some great associations between his family and education.  Not only that, Jon is always sharing great ideas!

Terri Eichholz (@TerriEichholz)

Terri actually found ME! haha.  Since then I've learned so much from her and had to extreme pleasure of meeting her F2F in December.  Terri is always sharing the great ideas about ways to incorporate technology into the classroom.  Not only that, Terri has also become quite the blogger too!!  Smart, articulate, and creative.  What more could you ask for?

Daisy Marino (@daisyray215)

Daisy is another I got to meet in the last couple of months.  I love hearing Daisy talk about how much twitter has transformed her career, because it's so similar to my story.  Daisy is always sharing such inspiring things and doing some really awesome stuff with her students!  I would love to see her in action!

Jeromie Heath (@TeachHeath)

I have just recently connected with Jeromie and I already feel like he's a great friend.  Jeromie inspires me every single time I see his tweets.  You talk about going above and beyond, this man is a prime example of that!  I have begged and begged him to come to Texas, but maybe one day soon I can meet this guy in person, who's inspired me immensely.

Evan Scherr (@EvanScherr)

Evan is an American educator currently in Japan who will soon be relocating to Germany.  This man is brilliant.  He has also become a really close friend of mine over the last couple of months.  He's passionate about technology and also about teaching kids to their fullest potential.  He's a must follow for sure.

Brant Farris (@BrantFarris)

Brant is an instructional technologist in Texas who I met face to face for the first time about a month or so ago.  In my short time connecting with him I have seen just how incredibly smart, but also kind hearted he is.  A wealth of knowledge and hungry to continually learn more!  This man is headed to do some great things!

John Fritzky (@JohnFritzky)

John is an administrator up north who I met while he was still in the classroom!  We started flipping our classes together.  I have learned so much from this man, and as I move into my administrative role, I can't wait to continue to learn from him.  He is incredibly gifted, kind, and a must follow.

Mike (@OneifbylandMike)

Mike is an educator in Florida!  I love following his tweets and he's got a great sense of humor!  This guy is one to watch for sure with the creative things he's doing with his students.

Paul Wagner (@pwagnerlcisd)

Paul is Tech Specialist in Texas.  This man is incredible.  He's so hungry for learning and always sharing great ideas.  Plus he's a guy you can count on to ask a question, and he'll be the one to find you an answer!  I learn stuff from Paul all the time!

Michael Medvinsky (@mwmedvinsky)

Michael is a Music teacher out of Michigan doing incredible things with kids.  Recently I got to meet him and pick his brain.  This man has got it going on and is on the cutting edge!  Love his passion and creativity.

Brad Gustafson (@GustafsonBrad)

Brad is someone I now consider a very good friend.  He's an administrator doing some INCREDIBLE things at his school.  Always positive and always trying to be on the cutting edge.  He is truly one to watch and one to follow immediately!

There are so many more I could recommend!  But recently these 11 people have been inspiring me and I wanted to share them with you!

We Forget What We Don't Always See

I've spent the last few days in New Orleans, Louisiana.  Having never visited this city before I was very excited to check out the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium, the French Quarter, and more!  And those places didn't dissappoint.  It was all beautiful.  But there was also another side to New Orleans that was on constant display.  A heartbreaking side full of pain and poverty.

As I walked the streets with my wife I was constantly brought face to face with people who had lost everything, had health issues, or were just laying out drunk or drugged.  And as I passed by all of these people I kept thinking to myself, "How did we let this happen?  Why aren't I doing anything to help people like this?"

Because you see, what I came to be reminded of was that this is happening all over our country.  In every city across America people are struggling, families are struggling.  And if we're not one of those families on the brink of living on the street, and if we don't live in a community where that is put on display, then we forget.

We forget the pain, we forget the loss, we forget the people behind those eyes.  And when I walked by a mother with two of her young children sitting with her on the street I was also reminded of my students.  How many of my students go home to no food?  Or no electricity?  How many of my students have to take care of siblings because mom or dad doesn't come until later or may not come home at all.

I guess I write this to remind all of us to stop for a moment and really look beyond what we see in our classrooms, or in our homes.  Some of our students or even friends are going through things that some can't even imagine.  Don't forget them.  Don't trivialize their trials, and don't turn a blind eye.

Let us take a moment to see the pain, to feel it in our own hearts, and together let's find a way to make things better.  Together we can change things.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

10 Must Have Google Chrome Extensions

While attending EdCamp Awesome a few weeks ago, I participated in a conversation about Chrome Extensions facilitated by Chris Evans.  Chrome Extensions are little add ons to your Chrome Browser (which if you're not using Chrome yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!!!)  Here are 10 that I learned about and have fallen in love with!

You can start by clicking HERE to go to the Google Chrome Web "Store".

1.  TechSmith Snagit 

I absolutely love TechSmith and their products.  Snagit has been a favorite of mine the more I play with it.  The great thing about adding the TechSmith Snagit Extension (and also the app) is that I can now take a screen shot of any page that I'm on and it will automatically put it into my Google Drive!

2.  Sound Gecko

Sound Gecko is a great add on to have if you're busy!  Whenever you're reading an article and don't have time to finish it you can use the SoundGecko extension and it will take the entire article and create a recording of it so that you can LISTEN to the article whenever you want!  Great for catching up on blog posts while on a long road trip!

3.  Send From Gmail

Have you ever been on a website, and when you click a link to contact someone it starts to open up Outlook or Mail or whatever that computer's default mail system is?  Well when you have the Send From Gmail extension installed it will always pull up your Gmail account when clicking on those links!

4.  TLDR

TLDR stands for "Too Long Didn't Read".  It's designed for those really great articles and blogs that we are too long that we just don't have time to read all of it.  TLDR will take those articles/blogs and summarize it for you!  Awesome, right?

5.  Boomerang for Gmail

I hate when I get an email, and it has a due date for something that is over a week or two away.  Why? Because I forget to respond on time!  Well Boomerang for Gmail solves that issue!  With Boomerang I can tell it to "resend" the email to me at the date I choose so that I have a gentle little fresh reminder to answer or respond!

6.  ShortenMe

I love URL shoretners (,, This extension is awesome!  With the click of a button this extension will shorten the URL for whatever site I'm on, but will also at the same time create a QR code for the newly shortened link!  LOVE IT!

7.  Google +1 Button

I use Google+.  Not as much as some, but I think it's still a great tool I'm learning about.  What I haven't done a great job of is sharing things with Google+ as often as I do with Facebook or Twitter.  Now it's super easy.  With this extension installed all I have to do is click on the G +1 button and it automatically shares it with my circles!

8.  Hangouts

I'm all about making my life easier!  Now with the Hangouts extension I can start a google hangout from any webpage!  I don't have to go find the Google Hangouts page.  This extension will also notify me if I'm being invited to hangout!

9.  Extensity

Once you start to add extensions they can be a little overwhelming.  Well that's where Extensity comes into play!  Extensity will organize all your extensions and easily allow you to enable or disable them!

10.  Pin It Button

Many of you are probably Pinterest users.  Now with the Pin It Button you can easily pin sites to your pinterest account!  Talk about a time saver and easy way to organize.

There are so many other great extensions such as Google Voice, Evernote Web Clipper, Incredible Start Page, Hola, and Awesome Screenshot!  I try to make my life as easy as possible!

Got some other favorites??  Please share them below in the comments!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Math Fair 2014

We'll it's official, we just completed our Second Annual Math Fair!  I couldn't be more proud.  Many of you who have been following me for a while know that I did a Math Fair with my students last year.  It has truly been the highlight of my career.

For those of you who don't know the story, I'm very passionate about just getting kids to love learning by bringing in their passions and what they love to do.  Last year I had the idea of a Math Fair.  First thing I did was send this letter home.  I gave the students a little over a month to work on their projects.  This is the ONLY project we do that is completed alone and completely at home.

The kids were first tasked with picking a topic.  Any topic they wanted to.  They choose things such as Skittles, softball, cooking queso, karate, dance, mechanic, Minecraft, and even The Walking Dead.  The possibilities were limitless.  They had two weeks to submit their topic to me, but there was a catch.  Once someone submitted a topic, that topic was gone and if you wanted that you had to choose something else!  That way we end up with a lot of variety at the fair.

After they submitted their topic they could start working on their project at home.  They were told they had to have at least 3 visuals and 6 ways math was involved with their topic.  The term "visuals could be interpreted however they wanted.  Whether that was making a poster, bringing items, making items, whatever!  The point of this project was to have fun, share your passions, and show how math is everywhere.  The only boundaries were the ones you set for yourself!

The week of the Math Fair we practiced for about a day and a half in class. The kids needed time to run through their presentations with me.  They're 5th graders.  They don't know how to present.  So we talked about inflection, voice control, audio, looking at your audience, all kinds of things!  And their peers gave positive and constructive feedback as well.  It's a great learning process for the kids.

Then we had the Math Fair Thursday evening from 6pm-7pm in our Cafeteria (and on our bus ramp for those who brought "larger" visuals haha).  This evening fair was mandatory.  It was part of their grade.  I feel it's important to have things like this, that kids were notified of over a month in advance, that they have to attend.  Out of my 72 current students, only 3 did not show up (and we had over 200 adults attend this year again!)  For my area, and how rural we are, those were GREAT numbers!

This year we even broadcast our entire Math Fair live via Ustream (big thanks to my wife, Liz) and it's all available for you to see HERE.  I loved using Ustream because not only did it allow us to share our Math Fair with the world, but now it's a recording to share with all the parents and family members who weren't able to attend!

I can't ever express how much it touches my heart to be a part of the Math Fair.  These kids get so proud to talk and show you what they love.  There were so many smiles, quite a few nerves, and tons of laughter.  But most of all my kids had FUN!  They love coming to school, they love learning, and they work hard.

I've heard the comments before of "oh you can tell who's parents helped them" and so on and so on.  Here's my response before that even comes up here.  Did some parents help their children?  Yes.  Can you tell who did and who didn't?  Yes.  But what I love about kids, is when voting on their favorite projects, most of the winners were NOT the ones who you could tell parents helped them.  And even more importantly, I didn't care if the parents did most of it, because I can promise you the kid was involved the whole way because it was a topic they loved anyway.  Plus, the kids had to have a 1-4 minute memorized presentation of their topic, and a parent can't do that for them!

How hard is it to put a Math Fair together?  Not hard at all.  And the rewards are so worth it.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Here's Your Chance to Join @ClassroomChamps and Connect with Top Athletes

A little over a year ago, my students and I were introduced to a little program called Classroom Champions.  Through Skype in the Classroom we got the opportunity to talk with Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler and learn about goal setting.

What is Classroom Champions?  They state on their website that "Classroom Champions connects top performing athletes with students in high-need schools. We use video lessons and live video chat to motivate students to recognize their potential, set goals and dream big, while educating them in the practical use of communications technology."  But it's so much more than that!  

Classroom Champions is completely FREE!  You can even access all the materials online now from their website.  But every spring they open up applications to become a Classroom Champions teacher. 

What's the difference?
   Last year I was able to utilize the videos from the Classroom Champions website.  Then in the Spring of 2013 I was notified that I was selected as one of the 33 classrooms in the United States to be a Classroom Champions class.  That means that we get a personalized video every month from our athlete.  We also got a personal Google Hangout with our athlete, as well as the opportunity to watch him compete live in Sochi.  Finally, since we were a Classroom Champions class we got to submit a video for a Classroom Champions contest and won the opportunity to have our athlete come visit us in PERSON! 

Paralympian Joshua Sweeney is our athlete this year.  He plays on the US Men's Sled Hockey Team and will compete in the Sochi Paralympic games in just under two weeks!

I can't express enough the value of this organization.  My students, many of which who will never leave the state of Texas, have been able to connect with and learn from a professional athlete.  We've learned about perseverance, goal setting, fair play, community, and so much more.

My students have learned character education qualities in a manner that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.  They've been able to be inspired and gain an opportunity that is unmatched.

Steve Mesler co-founded Classroom Champions with his sister Leigh.  You can watch an interview we did with him on EduAllStars HERE.

Why do I write this today? Because RIGHT NOW is the time to apply to be a Classroom Champions Teacher for next year!!

Whether you decide to apply to be a Classroom Champions teacher or not, I hope that you check out their site and consider utilizing their free tools.  This is an organization that I fully support and stand behind and believe in their mission. (You can also check out what other teachers are saying HERE)

Classroom Champions Website

Classroom Champions Facebook
Classroom Champions Twitter