Friday, October 23, 2015

5 Years Ahead... #ThinkFurther

“This blog post is part of the ‘Think Further’ series sponsored by Fred Alger Management. For more “Think Further” content, please visit

Looking ahead five years can be a daunting task, but not too difficult if we pay attention to
trends in education and technology. The traditional classroom will be considered more of a
relic than ever before, wearable technology will become more commonplace and change
the way students consume content, and the abilities to connect with classrooms around
the globe will become standard procedure for connected classrooms. These changes will
have a positive impact on education and it is important for teachers to be prepared for

The traditional classroom that revolves around the teacher as the gatekeeper of
information will be more antiquated than ever before. More students will have their own
devices and access to information will be instantaneous. No longer will students need
teachers to provide facts, they will need them to guide them in understanding of the
information and helping them apply it to their lives. Overpriced and out of date textbooks
will be a thing of the past as students will be able to access the most important information
on websites and e-books created by their teachers. Information will be available all of the
time to all students. A room with four walls will no longer be needed house student
learning. Changes to learning spaces will take place that no longer place teacher front and
center. These learning spaces will now focus on communal learning and be student
centered. These needed changes will support student centered learning and change the
way schools are viewed around the country.

Wearable technology will change the way students consume information. As technology
shrinks and enters every facet of our lives, wearable technology will provide everyone
instant access to information. This information can come in different forms.

Personal feedback can give the student information on their health and activity.
Students can use this information throughout the day to keep track of their
movement and other health vitals. This could come in handy for physical education

Personalized Information will allow students to set up notifications that can be
pushed to their wearable devices to keep them up to date with the things that are
most important to them.

Teacher communication can be enhanced with the use of wearable technology.
Updates to assignments or gradebooks will allow students instant notifications and
allow them the ability to address issues immediately.

The days of waiting for teachers to update the gradebook and share assignments on their
website will no longer be considered cutting edge ways to communicate in the classroom.
Wearable technology will allow students to get notifications and stay connected to class
wherever they are. When students are more connected, they can be more engaged. Proper
support and training will be needed to take full advantage of these tools. Wearable
technology will become an everyday part of education like the pen and pencil.

The emphasis on global connections will become more important in the coming years. As
technology grows, the world shrinks. It will become increasingly important for students to
connect with others outside of their community to give them a world perspective on their
studies. Video chat, collaborative web based tools, and other web based technologies will
allow more students to connect than ever before. The world is becoming more a global
community each year and it is important for students to have experience working in that
community. Projects will no longer be confined to the classroom, the building, or even the
state the students live. They will be massive projects that encourage students to reach out
and make connections with others and learn together. These experiences will have a
greater impact on student learning and will replace standardized tests in the future. These
large projects will become portfolio items that colleges and businesses will value more than
a number on a test. The technology will be in place to make all of this happen easily for
everyone involved. It will revolutionize the way everyone looks at education.

The most important thing with all of these predictions is that everyone involved has to be
open to the idea of change. Education needs to evolve with the world around them if it is
going to be relevant for our students. Technology is just a tool and will never replace the
need for teachers. It will be important to spend time learning how to use any new tool to
engage students and support learning. As educators, it is our job to do this. If we do not,
someone will do it for us. That would lead to a very dark future for us all.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#NerdyCast with @AdamBellow

I had a blast talking to Adam Bellow today on #NerdyCast. We spent time talking about homework, worksheets, Star Wars, and the value of pop culture in our homes and our classroom. Have a listen and share with your friends. You can also get the podcast on iTunes and on PodOmatic. It would be rad if you left a comment or review on either site to help boost my self esteem. ;-)

My Biggest Responsibility #EdChat

As a teacher, we are often asked about our biggest responsibility. It is something I think about whenever another new responsibility is added to the list. Recently, I really spent some time going over what the most important thing is for me in my job. The answer was pretty simple, but I wanted to share it here.

Letting each kid know they are important. This is it. I want every single student in my class to know they are a big deal. I want them to know they are more than a test number or a student ID.

A student last year was talking to me and they said something along the lines of, "I'm just dumb." I looked that student in the eyes and told them to never say that about yourself. You are awesome and you will figure this out eventually or you will not. That does not make you smart or dumb. The student smiled and gave the warmest thank you possible. Their eyes told me that nobody had ever told them that before. At least not in a while.

While some things are important, my students' well being is my biggest responsibility.

Not SAT/ACT testing data.

Not the new piece of technology that is going to "save" education.

Not the difference between verbal, dramatic, and situational irony.

Not the deep satire Twain uses in is masterful pieces.

Not the worksheet from ______ that is going to help the rote memorization of facts.

All of these things are meaningless to a student if they do not feel they are worth a damn in the classroom. If they feel loved, supported, and safe to learn, everything else falls into place. As teachers, we know this. If you do not win over their heart, you will never educate their mind.

Hugs and high fives,


Monday, October 12, 2015

Supporting Local Schools #MichEd

As a public school teacher, I'm a big advocate for supporting public school. That should not be a big surprise. In Michigan, there will be a number of important bond proposals in communities that are designed to help schools make important upgrades to their districts. Here is a list of districts that have proposals on the ballot this November.

State funding has not been enough to meet all of the needs of school districts. Per pupil funding is not matching the rate of inflation and there are only so many ways you can cut a budget before it severely impacts student learning. Here is a link to the Senate Fiscal Agency Report on Per Pupil Funding. Other than large donations from individuals (which is not a realistic way for districts to support themselves), bonds are the best way for a community to invest in their educational system. 

Here are some thoughts to consider,

I've heard people say that they do not want to support bonds because they do not have children in school, so they do not want their tax money directed to a system that does not directly impact them. That argument makes some sense, but if you look deeper, it is very flawed. Educating the youth of the community does have a direct impact on everyone, whether or not they have students in the system. A stronger educational system can have a positive impact on housing value, it can bring innovative business to the community looking to hire highly trained students, a highly educated community can impact crime, and many more positives are out there if support is given to these schools.

People have also said that they learned just fine without computers, so why do these kids need such fancy devices? While it is true that many of us grew up is world without these devices and have accomplished great things, that doesn't mean these tools have not been important to us today. I'm writing a blog with a Surface Pro 3. I had to teach myself how to use all of these tools. I did not learn this in a class. Tools like blogs and other forms of social media, as well as many different pieces of hardware, are now common place. We need to prepare our students for their future, not our past. Supporting a bond that will provide technology upgrades is key because it will give the students access to the best tools to prepare them for a world that expects them to know how to use them once they leave school. You wouldn't ask a doctor to only use the tools that he used to treat patients 30 years ago, so why would you want a teacher to only use the tools that were used for us? If so, it's time to invest a ton of money in chalk and personal slate boards for our students.

Some bonds do not have anything to do with technology. They are bonds designed to keep building working. Fixing the room, paving parking lots, and other important infrastructure items to keep the learning environment safe for all students. It is important to look into bond proposals to see exactly what they are asking for and what they want to spend it on. Every bond is different for every community. It is important to make decisions based on the bond that impacts your community, not what others have said about bonds in their community.

On the school side, it is very important to have a clear plan to present to the community. What are you going to do with the bond money and how are you going to support it?

As a parent/resident, I supported the bond that came up a couple of years ago. It was a no-brainer for me. I wanted to make sure that my son would have access to the best tools available for his education. I researched and read everything I could on the issue and felt it was right for my family and the community as a whole.

As a teacher, I loved the built in support my home district had in place once the bond was passed. They have organized a tech conference for their staff at the start of the school year and have brought in national level Keynote speakers to kick off the year and inspire the teachers. Providing this support to the staff is crucial. Buying a bunch of tech is nice, but it will be worthless unless you have a plan of action to support it. I was confident that my home district was going to

No matter what, it is important to reach out and ask questions. Attend board meetings, email the superintendent, visit websites, talk to neighbors, and do anything else you can think of to get all of the facts. A yes vote for a bond could ensure that the students in your community can stay competitive and well educated for years to come. A no vote could set the community back years.

Check out this site to see if your community has a bond coming up this year.  

Friday, October 9, 2015

We Are All Models

The thought of me walking the catwalk in my fabulous mesh tank top is the last thing you want to envision, but that is not the type of modeling I am talking about.

As educators, one of the things we need to constantly remember is that we need to do much more showing than we do telling.


There are many ways for us to show our students how to do something instead of just telling them. I've done it in many different ways.

For blogging, I made sure I was comfortable with my blogging skills before I had students do it. For one year, I actually completed all of the blog posts I assigned to my students so I could show them what I was looking for in a completed blog post.

When we read plays in class, I'm the first person to stand up and take the silly voice and run with it. I want my students to feel comfortable to be silly and have fun, so I make sure I can be silly and that I have fun.

If I want students to feel comfortable failing and not knowing something, I make sure to never hide my failures and admit when I'm stumped. I will never ask something of my students that I'm not willing to do my self.


Modeling is key for admins. If you want teachers to do things, model it for them. Give them an example to follow. Show them instead of just telling them.

If you want to see teachers use more technology in the classroom, use more technology in staff PD. If you want to see more student centered classes and engaging lessons, show that in meetings.

Last year, we had PD days designed that got us up and moving. We took trips downtown and to a local historical museum. We used our mobile devices to engage in questions and enhance/facilitate discussion. This was an excellent example of modeling.

Another part of these PD days was that there were teachers involved in the planning of the days. The teacher voice was present to help make it meaningful to everyone involved. How often do we give students a voice before or after a lesson?

Final Thoughts

Students watch us like a hawk. They take our lead every day. If we come into class with big smiles and high fives, they will mirror that enthusiasm. If admins walk in to a meeting with a rain cloud over their head, the teachers will prepare for the worst. We all need to model the best for our students and staff. This is the strategy that will support a culture of learning and growth as a person. 

Put on your best "Blue Steel" impression and get out there. 

Hugs and high fives,


Monday, October 5, 2015

DIY Gamer Kit from @TechWillSaveUs #MakerEd

I had the opportunity to play with the DIY Gamer Kit from Technology Will Save Us and I have to say that it is awesome. Here are my thoughts on using this kit. 

I was given the option of purchasing the kit unsoldered or soldered with love. I have not soldered in quite some time and I'm sure my wife would not want me wielding a soldering iron. It cost a bit more, but I was happy to get the device without any personal burn scars on my hands. 

Everything came together in a nice package and I was able to jump online and follow the directions. The resources of the kits are amazing and easy to follow. If you want to solder on your own, they have the directions for that. If you want to assemble and start playing, they have directions for that. I was able to take it out of the box, assembles it, add a battery, and I was ready to go. Here is what it looked liked assembled. 

Here are some students adding the stickers to the back. 

The next part of the kit is downloading the Arduino software onto my computer so I can start programming my unit. Again, Technology Will Save Us makes this so easy. Their directions walk you thorough the process in a matter of minutes. They also have directions on how to install other games (Flappy Bird and Snake) to your unit. They have other programs that you can play around with as well. Here is one that I was able to place on the unit that I shared on Instagram. 

This was so much fun to play around with on the computer and the unit. I was able to simply plug in the USB and connect it to the computer and start playing with code. I'm not much of Code or Arduino guy, but I felt like a pro in minutes and want to spend more time playing with the code to see what I can change.

I intend to buy more of these for our Makerspace. I want kids to build these and program them for the space. Students can have challenges and competitions to create complex games for others to play and beat. This was such a fun experience for me and my students were interested when I showed them what I was able to do.

There are other kits that are also worth exploring and have peaked my interest. They have a Synth Kit, Speaker Kit, Electro Dough Kit, Thirsty Plant Kit, and more. Check them out to diversify the kits in your Makerspace.

If you are looking to give students more opportunities to tinker and Make, adding some kits from Technology Will Save Us in a no-brainer in my opinion.

Have fun and get Making!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface Pro 3

This past summer, I was given a chance to visit CDW in Chicago. I was given a tour of their facility and talked about how their system of managing products for businesses can impact education. It was interesting to see how their shipping facility worked and how they were expanding to create better services for all of their customers. It was nice to hear how they were interested in making the process to buy and receiving tech for schools a much easier process. CDW has been a sponsor at MACUL events and their staff has always been helpful when I had questions. If you have not worked with CDW, you need to check them out and see how they can help you or your school.

It was an awesome trip that included a visit to Microsoft Office in downtown Chicago. I was able to see some new things and here about how Microsoft is becoming more flexible in the tech space and wants to work more with other types of software. This was refreshing to hear. I think it is something that can truly help Microsoft down the line in the educational world. As part of the visit, I was able to play with a Surface Pro 3 for the past month and I'm going to share what I think about with all of you.

I'm actually writing this post on the Surface Pro 3 right now. I'm using the new Edge browser and I'm running Microsoft 10. Blogger warns me that Edge is not supported and this moment and that there might be some issues. I've done a few posts using the Edge Browser and I have not encountered anything goofy yet.

The keyboard, which is an extra cost if you are buying a Surface, is very easy to use and snaps on wonderfully. It also folds back behind the screen if I want to carry it around and use it in tablet mode. I have found this wonderfully helpful in the classroom. I can be standing at the podium listening to class discussion and entering info into Google Classroom or the Google Doc and then quickly pick up and walk around to get a closer view of the students talking in their groups. This flexibility in the classroom is awesome. The Surface is not very heavy, so carrying it around is not cumbersome at all.

The battery was able to last all school day with heavy use. I was even able to throw on a movie from Netflix at the end of the day while I graded to see how long it would last. There was still 20 percent left after a full school day and 90 minutes of playing Netflix. I was able to charge it over night and it was ready to go in the morning. That is awesome!

I was able to download all of the things one would need for their computer without an issue. I downloaded Chrome so that I can access all of my school Google Apps. I can switch to Edge when I need to use my personal account. I could add another browser if I really wanted to. The downloads were fast and simple.

Another awesome feature for me was the stylus that comes with the Surface. I've never been a huge fan of using a stylus, but other web apps have made it very helpful. I use SMART amp with my students. It is an awesome application from SMART that integrates with Google Apps and allows me to work on a digital space with students in real time. Click the link for more info. The Surface is an awesome tool for working with students while on amp because it allows me the freedom to move away from the computer connected to the screen and SMART Board and access amp on the Surface. The stylus allows me the ability to draw and annotate anything I want as I walk around. Students can also access amp from their devices as well. This allows for a completely mobile environment where all students are connected and sharing. The Surface and the stylus make this possible with ease.

I'm a big Evernote user. I always have been. People have asked me about OneNote, but I've never used it. OneNote is built into the Stylus with a click of the top button. OneNote opens and you can start writing your notes or typing away. You can also capture directly from your screen and drop that into OneNote as well. If I wasn't so deep into my Evernote use for me and my students, I could see using OneNote regularly with the Surface.

The 12 inch screen is beautiful and I was able to watch Netflix without an issue. The picture is crisp and clean. No stray pixels to be found. It is a large screen that makes it feel like I am seeing everything I need without an issue. The touch screen is accurate and responsive without any lag. It makes the workflow seamless.

Cortana is nice to use, but I do not use it very much. It is tough to use in class with all of the students chatting. It is nice to tell it to open a specific app instead of trying to find it. It hears me clearly and rarely does it get confused or have trouble executing the task requested.

The Surface starts at $699 and the keyboard is an additional cost of $129. That might seem like a steep price, but you are getting a full computer that could replace your laptop easily. The tablet use is great and the Windows store has all the apps I need and use on my other tablets. The bigger screen is great and it is a wonderful mobile device. Microsoft is pushing the competition and I would recommend people to take a serious look at the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 if they are considering purchasing a new device for work or for home.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Conversation #withMalala @MalalaFund

This summer, I was given the chance to see a sneak preview of the documentary He Named Me Malala. This is the documentary that shares the story of Malala Yousafzai and her work to bring equality and education to girls all over the world. Here is a trailer for the movie.

This movie was simply amazing. It moved me. It showed the strength and courage of a young lady who is determined to make the world a better place even though her life has been threatened. This is a movie I cannot wait to show to my students. I really want to pair it up with Persepolis. The documentary was just beautifully shot and it really showed the other side of Malala that you do not see in the press. You are shown the silly side with her family. She helps her dad send out a tweet and work Twitter. She gives her brothers a hard time. She goes to school and stresses out over the home work she misses when she is in Africa helping build schools. It is an interesting view on an important figure in the world today. Her message is beautifully shared with the audience and left feeling better about the world because Malala was going to fight the good fight and try and make it a better place for my son. 

As part of this sneak peek, I had the unique opportunity to be part of a phone call with Malala Yousafzai the other day. A student submitted some questions and one of them was chosen. My student. 

Shannon M asked, "What is the most significant way being Muslim has impacted your activism?"

This was such an awesome question from one of our student journalists. People of her own faith have vowed to silence and tried when they shot her. Her response was wonderful. 

Malala said that being Muslim is just like any other religion. It means peace, community, loving each other, taking care of each other. Its part of my life to be kind to others, to be peaceful to others, to offer forgiveness. To her, this is what Islam is about. 

She takes these beliefs and focuses on helping children all over the world with The Malala Fund

The Malala fund is set up to provide quality education for girls all over the world. She says that secondary education is the basic human right of every girl. She will not stop until every girl can go to school. I get chills when I think about her and her work. She is making a difference. 

I want to let all of you know that you should make time to see this documentary with your family and your students. Do what you can to book a field trip and share Malala's story with them. Malala needs everyone to come together to ensure that girls everywhere receive the same education as their male counterparts. She has chosen to stand up and speak up? Will you join her?

I stand with Malala.