Friday, August 12, 2016

Get Ready for Year Two of #FlyHighFri

Author's Note: This #FlyHighFri blog post is cross-posted on Justin Birckbichler’s and Mari Venturino’s blogs.

Welcome to #FlyHighFri, year 2. In July 2015, we began FlyHighFri as a way to emphasize the positives in our schools and classrooms in an effort to combat negatives we were observing. Read more about our initial set-up on Justin’s blog and Mari’s blog.

We have crafted a mission statement to guide our journey with FlyHighFri:

FlyHighFri is a place for educators to gather to share their successes and positive moments from the week with a supportive community.

It is our hope that this community grows organically together, and spreads throughout schools, both through social media and with face-to-face meetings.

In order to continue the positive momentum with FlyHighFri, we have established some community guidelines:

1. Positivity Rules
Celebrate the great things going on in our classrooms, schools, and districts.
First and foremost, FlyHighFri is about being intentionally positive. Building the habit of finding the positives within your day and week helps all of us persevere through the tough days. We want to celebrate all the wonderful things going on in schools across the world!

2. Share Real Successes
Share great stories from this week, big or small, that made a positive impact.
We make a sincere effort to read the the tweets each week. We love seeing the actual stories from the classrooms and schools. Have a student meet a goal? Great! Share it out. Staff member go above and beyond? Recognize them and share why they are important. Took a risk and it paid off? Tell us about it. Be intentional and specific about your tweets - there is a time and place for encouraging phrases but let's make this community about sharing successes and positive moments.

3. Keep it School-Centered
Focus on students and teachers, and let them be the stars.
No matter your role in education, the learners always come first. There are other avenues on social media to promote products, books, blogs, and the like. Our goal is for FlyHighFri to specifically be about great things happening in our classrooms and schools, not about self-promotion or promotion of a product. Of course, if you’ve written a post or a certain app or product has directly made a positive impact in your school during your week, we want you to share that!

Going Forward

We have high hopes for our FlyHighFri community for the 2016-2017 school year. We’d love to see the positivity message spread throughout schools and districts, but we also don’t want it to be forced. Be the invitation to your colleagues to share their positive moments. Mari often finds her principal at some point on Fridays and asks him, “What’s your FlyHighFri from this week?” It’s an easy 30 second conversation, that often turns into a longer discussion. We both also hold weekly get togethers for our teachers to join and share.

This year, we'll be managing FlyHighFri through the official Twitter page. We'll be quoting tweets that really stand out to us and want to highlight. We're not concerned about it trending on Twitter. If it does, great. If not, that's great, too. We value the individual contributions of each person, and prefer quality over quantity. Share successes with each other and use their ideas in your own schools. Challenge each other to continue growing as educators and positive people.

How can I spread #FlyHighFri?

- Connect with others in the FlyHighFri social media community using #FlyHighFri.
- Create an on-campus teacher group. Buy or make coffee to share with teachers and invite them to join you before school. Meet together for lunch. Consider extending this to your classroom or with parents and families!
- Go asynchronous to share online with a group of teachers through an online tool such as TodaysMeet or Google Hangouts Chat.

We look forward to a school year filled with positivity!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How May We #GAFEhelp You?

How May We GAFEhelp You?

Do you use Google Apps for Education (GAFE)? Are you a connected educator on Twitter? Have you ever had a question about GAFE and so you Tweet it out only for it to get lost in the abyss of Twitter and never get a response? Or if you do get a response, it is completely random and really doesn’t help?
Well, we hope this will be a solution to that dilemma. We would like to introduce to you a new Twitter account, @GAFEhelp.
Eight GAFE using educators connected on Twitter and have teamed up to manage this new handle. Our goal is to be a resource to other GAFE using teachers and help provide a quick answer to any type of GAFE related question you may need help with.
In addition to this new Twitter account, we will be using the hashtag #GAFEhelp to also facilitate communication of any questions that may be out there.
We don’t see ourselves as experts, but just a group knowledgeable teachers wanting to help provide answers to your questions. If we don’t know an answer, we will try to help you research a solution and provide resources to help you get going in the right direction.
So if you need help with Google Apps, just tweet us @GAFEhelp and/or use the hashtag #GAFEhelp. So, How may we GAFEhelp you?
Meet the GAFEhelp Team:
Justin Birckbichler (@Mr_B_Teacher) - 4th grade teacher in Virginia. Teaches with 1:1 Chromebooks. Google for Education Certified Innovator and Trainer.
Ben Cogswell (@cogswell_ben) - TK-6th Educational Technology TOSA in Salinas, CA. Google Educator Level 1 and 2. 1:1 iPads & Dell Venues implementing GAFE in 12 schools with 380+ teachers.
Sean Fahey (@SEANJFAHEY) - 4th grade teacher in Indiana at a Google Apps for Education School. Teaches with 1:1 ChromeBooks.
Ari Flewelling (@EdTechAri) - Staff Development Specialist (Technology Integration and 1:1 Support), Google Certified Trainer & Innovator, CUE Affiliate President
Kelly Martin (@kmartintahoe) - K-8 Educational Technology and Curriculum Coordinator in South Lake Tahoe, California. Google Educator Level 1 and 2. Supports 60+ teachers in a 1:1 chromebook environment in grades 3-12.
Karly Moura (@KarlyMoura) - Instructional Coach & Educational Technology Support Teacher in California. Supports educators in a Google Apps for Education school teaching with chromebooks and ipads.

Mari Venturino (@MsVenturino) - Middle school science and AVID teacher in California. Teaches with 1:1 iPads. Google for Education Certified Trainer & Innovator.

Joe Young (@jyoung1219) - Math & STEAM Instructional Coach in Palo Alto, California. Taught 1st, 2nd, and 5th grades in a GAFE district, 1:1 iPads, 1:1 Chromebooks, and served as a tech lead teacher.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Genius Hour: An Update

"We've managed to screw up the world, but the minds that will fix this are sitting in our classrooms"
- James Sanders

This past year was my second year exploring genius hour. Because I was able to start it from the beginning of the year, I was able to fit two rounds of genius hour into our year. The first round ran much like the set up from year one; students independently researched something they were passionate about and presented their projects to the class.

Mark French visiting and learning about their problems
I learned something new from each of their presentations and began getting ready to implement another round of the same thing. I then had a thought - why do more of the same? Genius hour is about helping students grow into passionate and voracious learners and I wanted to try something different. 

The students were paired up and presented with a challenge: investigate a problem in the world and develop a solution. I asked them to think big - I didn't want problems like "they don't serve ice cream in the cafeteria" or "I don't have a PS4." The rose to the occasion, choosing topics including bullying, littering, world hunger, homelessness, truancy, endangered species, epidemic diseases, and smoking. Not a short order to research and solve, especially for fourth graders. 

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive. Some of these topics could become very controversial, but there wasn't a single time this became an issue. The students honed in on their chosen problems and I saw many shocked faces when they learned something new. To help them provide some structure, I suggested a basic framework: research facts about the problem to consolidate into an easily understood summary, propose a meaningful solution, and provide a step-by-step framework to implement this solution.

Many of them found a number of good and interesting facts, and some found some conflicting facts. Occasionally, we found it was a simple mistake on the students' parts (typing billion instead of million,) but sometimes different websites gave different information. We would discuss how to choose the best information, including providing a range of data.

A presentation on endangered species
One thing I noticed was that their slide design skills sometimes need work. Some students were spot on: good amount of slides, limited words, compelling pictures (some students found the magic of gifs,) and even some text animation. Other presentations were too long or overcrowded with text. This is a skill that adults struggle with (myself included,) but it's such a valuable skill for life. In the future, we'll take more time to discuss what makes good slide design and develop general guidelines to follow, in addition to continued work on public speaking and presenting.

Many of their solutions revolved around raising awareness or money for their problems. The littering group wanted to put up more signs and recycling bins, the smoking group wanted to teach others how to stand up against smoking, the disease groups suggested more research and funding for vaccines, and many groups wanted to raise money to donate to help endangered species, the homeless, or other groups. While none of these ideas could be designated as moonshot solutions, they were mostly realistic and could be brought to fruition by the students (with help from adults.) You can check out their projects in these videos: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Brookhouser sharing about problem solving
Going forward, I want to build upon this idea. I do not want to begin with a round of studying something they are passionate about; I want to jump right into problem solving. After getting a second chance to learn from one of my Google Certified Innovator coaches Kevin Brookhouser at the North Carolina GAFE Summit, I want to shift genius hour into 20time. As he describes it, his students investigate a "wicked problem" for an entire year to understand and overcome it. I want my students' 20time projects to last an entire year (rather than a few weeks) and to solve their "wicked problems." I love the idea of a bad idea factory, which sometimes good ideas can stem from. I also want a concrete item or event to come out of this project, rather than just ideas for change. I want students to feel empowered and to be change agents, even in fourth grade. Kevin's got a great book called The 20Time Project, which I am extremely excited to dive into, and you can check it out here.

Is this too much to expect from fourth graders? Some may say so, but I don't agree. I believe if students are held to high standards, they will rise to meet them. They will obviously need support from parents and me, but I know they can do it. You can expect updates on this project throughout the year and I am extremely excited for what the students create to solve their "wicked problems!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Digging A Hole, Building The Bridge, and Making Changes

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” 
- Erin Morgenstern

Classroom discussions at morning meeting
Storytelling shapes my teaching. I teach metric conversions through telling a story about my cousin Meg (plot twist - her name isn't even Meg) calling my great grandmother, Millie ("Meg, Call Millie"), explain the purpose of an anemometer by regaling my class with my mom's reaction to my various speeding tickets commendations for excellence in high speed driving and, and countless other tales. But each of these are more or less a one-off story. It teaches the concept, we refer to it to help establish retention, and then we move on.

However, there are three parables I constantly refer to, especially during morning meeting, in one on one conversations, or in small group work. They shape the dynamic of the classroom and help bolster the students with senses of support, independence, and resiliency. 

"How Are You Going to Get Yourself Out of the Hole?"

photo credit
This story involves a lot of body movement in it. I pantomime digging a hole. "If you dig down to your ankles, you can easily step out. If you get to your waist, it's a little harder, but it's still doable. You get to your shoulders, well... you'll be climbing. If you get in over your head, hopefully someone is there to help."

The students enjoy seeing me act all of this out. Then I reveal - "Think about this in terms of school. If you choose not to work on something in class, you may need to finish it at home. If you don't do it then, you may have to try to do it during class. It can build up." The metaphor soon turns real. I ask them to apply it to how concepts over time will only get worse if they don't work to become better. Being up to your waist at the end of fourth grade can quickly become over your head at the beginning of fifth if the hole isn't filled in over the summer.

In education nowadays, we have a tendency to not let students fail or experience struggle. Jess Lahey wrote an excellent book about this called The Gift of Failure, which I reviewed in a post last year. We need to let the students struggle and see that things can build up. Give them a shovel and ownership of their hole. They will figure it out.

But make sure they know you will always be there at the top of the hole, reaching down to help them. Kids are not perfect (nor are adults) and they need modeling and guidance. I am always very open and honest with my students when I have dug myself into a hole and how I am working to get out of it. Students will still need to work to get to reach your hand from the side of the hole and to fill in their hole, but they need to know their support system is there to help.

"You Can Only Build a Bridge Halfway"

photo credit
To begin this, I asked the students to think of our classroom as a series of islands. 

Me: "How do you get from one island from another?" 
Class: "You can swim or sail a boat!" 
Me: "True, but you're ruining my metaphor here. You can also build a bridge."

I then go on to say that to build a bridge, each side much build half and meet in the middle or else it will collapse. (To be completely transparent here, I started this story without really knowing if it's true. After a little research, I found out that the arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge was built from both sides. It may be done for the reason I said, but I'm not an engineer!) 

The moral here is that education needs to be a two way street (or bridge.) Many teachers do a fantastic job of teaching students in an engaging, interactive, and differentiated way, but the students need to have the same level of effort in their desire to learn and work ethic. We need to be equal partners in education or it will all fall apart. Students need to be taught what this means to have strong work ethic and building a bridge. Mini lessons on character and resiliency are a must and we need to be models for this with our students, colleagues, and parents. Furthermore, students should build bridges with each other, whether it be in academics or social skills. It needs to be an equal partnership. What would a classroom community of interconnected islands look like for you?

"We Don't Make Excuses, We Make Changes"

My keynote - note the title
The final story is perhaps the most important one to me. Not only is this our classroom motto, this is my mantra for life. (Even to the extent that I titled my keynote based on this phrase.) After my second year of teaching, I was full of excuses and complaints. I was highly negative and blamed others. I realized this was a waste of time. What could I change to make it better?

This is a message that I feel my students (and many adults) can benefit from. What changes can you make to improve a situation? In the classroom, I constantly challenged my students with this. Rather than saying what another student had done, what could they have done differently?

Role playing, modeling, and concrete examples in read alouds help to reinforce this concept. I often share examples from my own life, especially the time I put off getting my car inspected because "I didn't have time" but then had to get it out of impound for more time and money. Obviously, some situations and circumstances didn't fit this mantra perfectly, but often times I could help the students take ownership of their life and learning by reminding them of our class motto.

All of the stories figured largely into my classroom. Not a single day went by where we didn't mention digging a hole, building a bridge, or making changes. We ended our morning meeting every day by repeating our class motto (video below). Students are our partners in education and need to be held accountable. They are literally our future and need to learn how to be a good person, in addition to all the academic content we're mandated to teach. We need to support them in this character building process, and by living these virtues and mantras, my students became capable, dynamic, and independent young citizens.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Year 3 In Review

"Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action." 
-Peter Drucker

I have been out of school for about two weeks now, and have been dragging my feet on writing this post. I have been reflecting on what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, and how to best format my thoughts. I decided to structure it similarly to my end of 2015 blog post - sharing successes, challenges, updating on my resolutions, and sharing new goals for next year.

1. What went well?

First and foremost, my students greatly surpassed my academic expectations for them. Each student showed at least a years worth of growth in reading, and much more in math. I am not one to harp on data, but in comparing their end of year tests in third grade versus fourth grade, I saw drastic improvement in nearly all students.

Reciprocal teaching in math
Furthermore, my students showed a greater maturity and developed strong growth mindsets. While growth mindset seems to be one of the latest education buzzwords, I saw my students achieve and excel while demonstrating growth mindset principles. One of my students struggled severely in math in the beginning of the year. He couldn't seem to grasp the concept of regrouping/borrowing/exchanging/whatever the correct term is in subtraction. I worked with him with physical manipulatives, with numbers, computer programs, peer tutoring, and everything else imaginable, but what made the difference was him. He recognized a weakness, wanted to get better, worked at it, and ended up teaching other students how to do it. Another time, my students were working on a Breakout EDU box and one kid stopped the whole class to remind everyone to use their growth mindsets and not give up. I had it on Periscope, but Katch decided to shut down so I can't link the video here. 

We spent a lot of time in class developing the soft skills and other skills needed for life. We had three parables I constantly came back to: "Making Changes, Building a Bridge, and Digging a Hole." I'll explore these parables more in my next post, but they had a definitive impact on my students.

Controlled chaos on a STEAM challenge
I tried a whole lot of new things in class, including student led learning, flipped classroom, Breakout EDU, coding, higher integration of STEAM/Makerspaces, HyperDocs (introduced to me by the wonderful Karly Moura,) and 1:1 Chromebooks. All of these were successful (to varying degrees) and I will use elements of each in my next school year.

2. What challenges did I face?

While student led learning was my main goal for the year, I think I went at it too hard too fast. Hindsight being 20:20, I should have scaffolded it more. I added more scaffolding around the midpoint of the school year, and next year I need to start with more scaffolding and then pull back. I do not think my students suffered from this though. It forced them to learn new skills (that they need) at a rapid pace. Sometimes, you've got to run before you can walk.

A reluctant reader reads Kid President at Morning Meeting
My timing/pacing was off this year. We started earlier than ever before, and our semester break was before Christmas and our end of year tests were in early May, as compared to last year when the semester ended in January and our end of year tests were in early June. It was definitely a transition, and I will need to be cognizant of that in the future. I was still able to teach all of the material, but I felt rushed at times and did not get much time at the end of the school year to do some of the activities that I've done in the past (like Reader's Cafe.)

All in all, the year was different and challenging at times, but I feel it was extremely successful. 

3. Updates on resolutions

I had developed four resolutions for 2016 and this section will serve to update progress on them. 

The proposal
  • I will continue to hold my students to high expectations: I would say this has been achieved and will continue to be a focal point of my teaching. Students need to know they are going to be held to high standards and they will meet them.
  • I will develop better systems for testing/grading and time management: I developed better systems for testing and grading. When a student finished their test, they brought it up to be and I graded on the spot. I gave them a second chance or gave some brief remediation. This system seemed to work better for the students and for me. It also allowed me to follow up with more focused remediation later. My time management has gotten better, but I still need to work to carve out chunks of time to work and time to relax. 
  • I will continue to develop professionally and look for new opportunities: I have left my position in Warren County and will be starting as a fourth grade teacher in Stafford County for the next year. I am extremely excited for this new opportunity and can't wait to see what it brings. Additionally, I co-created Breakout EDU Digital with Mari Venturino in March and that has been a wonderful opportunity. Attending the Google for Education Innovator Academy in late February left me with many takeaways (check them out here and here.)
  • I will take more time for my personal life: I realized this was the biggest goal I needed to work on. In February, I proposed to my girlfriend, and now she is my fiance. We are buying a house closer to my new school this summer and I have enjoyed taking more time to spend with her and create more memories. When Mark French came to visit me in March, he shared that sometimes you've got to unplug and make a commitment to spend time. With this, I learned how to say no to other things and have had to cut things out of my "online life" to make room for enjoying what is real.
4. So what's next?

While I will miss my old fourth grade team, other colleagues, and seeing my old students, I am extremely excited for my new career adventure. I have met with my new team and they seem incredibly supportive and easy going (plus, there is another guy on the team!) This new school should be a great fit for me.

I want to get into standards-based grading (which my new team does a version of) and a more integrated/cross curricular teaching method. I think this is the best way to truly assess the students' understanding and maximize instructional time. I want to still continue doing elements of the above things from the successes paragraph, with more scaffolding in student led and revamping some elements of flipped classroom. 

Room 22 Family 2015-2016
Above all things, I want to refocus. Over the past year since I joined Twitter, I have been dabbling into many things and doing a good job with them. I don't want to do a good job of many things, I want to do a great job of a few things. I will be focusing on teaching, my personal life, EduRoadTrip, Breakout EDU Digital, and #FlyHighFri. (After some thoughts, I have lessened my involvement with various Twitter chats and completely dropped #Teach20s.) Sharing these responsibilities with the awesome team of Mari and Greg Bagby will also help in the time commitments. I would also like to continue to carve out time for reading (both personal and professional) and writing. 

Last year, I closed this blog entry with a snippet from a student's end-of-year survey, and I feel this is a good way to end it again:

"It was the best year of my life. I made new friends and I had some drama. Mr.B is the best teacher ever and I learned a lot from him. Also if you focus you have know Idea what you can do. When you make class fun, students learn more and are much more happy to go to school."

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Breakout EDU Digital

Author's Note: This post has been cross posted on Ditch the Textbook blog and Mari Venturino's blog.

My Breakout EDU set up
Breakout EDU is an immersive learning platform developed by James Sanders and Mark Hammons. After visiting an escape room (a room where you are locked in and have to solve clues and riddles to escape) with a group of students, James and Mark noted how engaged the students were while working on the escape. Realizing most educators can’t lock students in a room (for obvious legal and ethical reasons), the two decided to flip the concept - take a wooden box, add a hasp and a few locks, and provide clues. Let the students’ natural curiosity and excitement do the rest. By the end, students will have (hopefully) found and figured out all of the clues, enabling them to unlock all the locks and complete the game before time runs out.

We (Justin & Mari) have run multiple Breakout EDU games with our students, and love seeing how engaged and motivated our students are, even those who less likely to participate in class. We realized how much fun these games were, while also being educational. We wanted to replicate them using only digital tools. With Google Forms and data validation, we were able to recreate the locked box and hasp. In our games, all clues are linked directly within a Google Site, and take some serious detective work to solve.

The original beta tester - my little sister
This project started small, and we expected to share the games around, then move on with other things. When we sent out the initial invitation to Beta test our games on March 25, 2016, we were blown away with over 200 responses in less than 36 hours. After the initial Beta test and feedback, we released our games and website out to a wider audience on Facebook and Twitter.

In mid-April, James Sanders reached out to us and asked if we’d like to officially become Breakout EDU Digital, and take on We responded with an immediate “yes!” and began integrating our content into the Breakout EDU website.

We’ve certainly learned a lot since we first launched our games. One lesson we've learned is that we constantly need to be flexible in our teaching. As part of our games we have a feedback form that allows us to hear directly from the people who are playing our games. We act on all feedback that we feel improves the games, which is something an effective teacher should always do as you gauge student reaction in class.

My students playing "Overthrow the Co-Dictators"
Resiliency and growth mindset has been another huge focal point of this project. We purposely make the games challenging and rather in-depth. Sometimes people contact us asking for answers or hints, and we encourage them to explore the games alongside their students, to show that teachers don’t always hold all the knowledge. This may make some teachers uncomfortable, but the connections your class forms as you decode the games together will pay off in dividends.

You can definitely tie your instructional content into a Breakout EDU, whether the box version or the digital type. For our digital game “Alcatraz Night Escape,” we included a number of facts and information about the history of Alcatraz necessary to unlock the Form. Other users who have created their own have also tied their content into their digital breakouts. Imagine how much more engaging this is than reading it from a textbook!

So how can you develop your own Breakout EDU Digital games? We’ve tried to streamline the process by having a “Build Your Own” button on the website. These are a series of screencast tutorials that model different elements of our games. The most important element is the Google Form that acts as the box. Under advanced settings on “short answer” (in the new Forms) or “text” (in the old Forms,) you must turn on “data validation.” From there, type in the desired response and add something like “Still locked” or “Keep trying” in the help text. If you don’t, it will give the answer to the students. There are plenty more tutorials available for you to watch, and we’re always on the lookout for new ideas!

Breakout EDU Digital LIVE 
One of the critical elements of the original Breakout EDU is the collaboration and communication between the classmates. With Breakout EDU Digital, there might not always been that inherent need for collaboration since each device is its own box. We have presented at a GAFE Summit (Mari live, and Justin on Google Hangouts) where we had participants play a short demo game. The session started out with everyone on their own devices, and the naturally paired up and then formed larger groups to work together to solve the breakout. Additionally, we recently hosted a Breakout EDU Digital LIVE event with eighteen adults working together to solve a brand new game. These events proved that the collaboration factor definitely takes it to the next level.

We predict an exciting future for Breakout EDU Digital. We recently launched a Digital Sandbox, where community members can submit their own games for others to play and provide feedback. Additionally, we are both building their own individual games and collaborating on games, and are on pace to release one game per week for the foreseeable future. We always love feedback and suggestions on new directions and how to improve our games.

So what are you waiting for? Go visit and to learn more about how you can use it in your classroom. The students will be engaged, will collaborate, will develop interpersonal skills, will have fun, and will even learning something along the way!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Innovation Across the Nation (Part 2 - Professional Reflection)

"A key ingredient in innovation is the ability to challenge authority and break rules."
- Vivek Wadhwa

Over the past 6 days, I have been fortunate enough to travel to California to attend the Google for Education Certified Innovator Academy at the Googleplex in Mountain View. This has been a life-changing experience, and to fully do it justice, I need to split the experience into two parts. This is my professional reflection and you'll find my personal reflection here.

While all of the sightseeing and memory making was incredible, the real reason I was in California was to attend the aforementioned Google for Education Certified Innovation Academy. To get you up to speed, I applied for the Innovator program in January. The process involved designing an ideal classroom, proposing a problem and innovative solution, a video, and other tasks (you can read more about the process in this NVDaily article.) After being accepted into the Academy with 33 other extraordinary people (who you can meet on this episode of the EduRoadTrip,) we began connecting and soon enough, the time was here. Our flights landed, hotels checked into, Ubers ordered, we were ready to come together and innovate. 

In a word: WOW. It was an incredible learning experience. I recorded a rambling reflection the day after the Academy which I think so shows how much I have rolling around in my head. We learned about moonshot thinking, mindfulness, happiness, qualities of an effective team and management, how to motivate others without overwhelming them, and a whole laundry list of other topics. The speakers were inspiring and motivating. It was an invigorating breath of fresh air with every new person who took the podium.

Team Black Eyed P.E.A.C.E.
Part of the expectations as Innovators is to design and implement an Innovation Project. This Project focuses on a meaningful problem in education and how we plan to solve it in a meaningful way. A large amount of time was dedicated to working on our Innovation Projects. My initial vision for my Innovation Project was an expansion of the Home-School Connection Nights to aid families in helping their children with math. Right now, the HSCNs are working on a varied basis. I really believe in the power of a family partnership and think that can make the difference in education. After discussing with my team, The Black Eyed P.E.A.C.E., and coach Jay Atwood I had an epiphany.

Perhaps my greatest passion in education is student empowerment. We discussed if the two could be combined and loved the idea. Within the next month, I plan to prototype this in my own classroom. The students will teach their parents (a twist on the Student-Led Conferences from the fall) and I will act as a facilitator. I'll be getting a Theta or Swivl to record these experiences to share them with other interested parties. I also want to implement some sort of gamification and more fun into these evenings.

UPDATE: My project has changed to Breakout EDU Digital, which you can read more about here. I did implement a prototype of my initial plan, which you can check out via KidsDiscover.  

All the Innovators
I am really excited to see how it goes. As the Academy showed me, there may be a need for iterations (minor course corrections) and pivots (large changes.) It's sometimes hard to let go of our ideas because they are so near and dear to us, but change needs to occur to maximize impact. Part of the Academy included opening up our idea for feedback from everyone, and now I have even more to consider as I continue developing my prototype. There is even a possibility that the project may be scrapped and revamped entirely as I grow and expand my horizons.

Beyond the Academy, EdCampSV also got the wheels turning in my mind. This was one conference where I am not walking away with a ton of instructional ideas, but with more ideas and lessons to ponder. In the “Things That Suck” session, we had some great debates about homework, testing, professional development, and mayonaise. I was able to defend my position on each, while also respecting the thoughts of others. These kinds of conversations are what push education further ahead and we need to be having them more.

This trip also helped me to think critically about my own self, especially in my interactions with other teachers. I am incredibly energetic and talk a mile a minute, especially when it comes to discussing technology integration. I often get frustrated when others don’t seem to innately understand seemingly easy tasks or are resistant to learning something new. However, traveling halfway across the country put it in perspective. The roads here in San Franscico are very overwhelming to me. Even riding in a car caused me anxiety. Now I can see what others may be feeling when I am getting super excited about technology integration. Just like I was out of my element, so are they. I need to remember this when helping others and help them overcome it, just like I did with embracing the traffic.

This resonates with what one of the speakers said about fear. We can resist fear and get hurt , let it run our lives, or we can “dance with it.” Change is coming and it needs to happen.

With Coach Jay Atwood
You’ll notice that these two blog posts were very lacking in discussion about technology, which you would think you would have found in this particular post. While we did talk a lot about the impact of technology, I believed the Academy was more about mindset. We have big problems in education and we need even bigger solutions. We need to empower students, families, teachers, and everyone in education to innovate every single day. Only then will we get where we want education to be.

To EdTechTeam, Google for Education, the coaches and mentors, the #MTV16 cohort, and everyone who supported me in this endeavor, thank you. It was well worth the money for this experience. You can check out the vlogs I made about the experience on YouTube. I hope to continue connecting with you all and look forward to big things from us in the future.