Monday, September 11, 2017

Advice to Student Teacher Me

Nine years ago today, I was evaluated as part of my student teaching experience.  As I make plans to fly to Oklahoma to work with a group of high school teachers next week, it's hard not to think about how far I've come.  If I could go back to that day, I'd give myself a few pieces of advice, some that took years for me to gain:

-Do not fear evaluations, fear leaders who do not know how to evaluate themselves.

-If your evaluations don't include actionable, constructive feedback, abandon ship.

-Time spent doing what you love is not wasted.

-There will be good days and bad days.  For every amazing day, there will be 50 you question everything.  Make cupcakes/muffins on the really bad ones.

-Sometimes you will want to stay home with your dog.  It's ok to use a sick day for that every now and then.

-It is possible to be on fire for what you do every day.  People will think you're crazy.  Do it anyway.  Sometimes that looks like getting out of bed early.  Sometimes it looks like staying up until 2AM planning experiences for your students.  Sometimes it looks like falling on your face in front of students. Sometimes it looks like faking it when your world is falling apart.

-People over paperwork.  The students in front of you take priority over any other "number one" goal people try to give you.

-Teachable moments rarely happen on a schedule.  They are the most important lessons you will teach.

-Pivots happen.  Embrace them.  (Who would have thought I'd be teaching computer science classes and training teachers in the use of ed tech when I was working on degrees in math and special education?!)

-Just keep swimming.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

#tlap Chat Questions 5/8/17

Here are the questions for May 8th Teach Like a Pirate #tlap chat, taking place at 8pm CST/9pm EST.  Use these questions to plan/draft your answers so you can participate in the conversation.  Follow @i3algebra and the #tlap hashtag to participate in the chat.

The chat will use the Q1/A1 format.  Questions posted will begin with Q_, answers to questions should begin with A_ and include the chat hashtag #tlap.

INTRO: Introduce yourself!  Who you are, where you're from,, and what you teach.  If this is your first #tlap, @mention who invited you.

Q1: PLANNING COMMITTEE: What Twitter chat advice do you have for those new to #tlap tonight? OR If you're new here, what is a question you have about Twitter or Twitter chats?

Q2: THE PROMPOSAL: What is your "Promposal" story?  How did you first get involved on Twitter?

Q3: THE VENUE: Some Schools elect to host prom in-house, while others seek out different locales.  Where do you go to expand your learning and PLN (professional learning network)?

Q4: SLOW DANCE: What are you head-over-heels about with education right now (lesson/topic)?

Q5: WALLFLOWERS: Some of us began on Twitter and #tlap as "lurkers" on the side.  What is a risk you took this year?  OR  How can we help others find comfort outside their comfort zones?

Q6: KING & QUEEN: Who are the people who have had the most impact on you as an educator this year?  Why?  (Don't forget to @mention)

Q7: Find someone without a reply to one of their answer tweets tonight and leave a comment adding to the discussion and/or to further the discussion.  (I encourage you to try to do this throughout the chat, but we will focus on it for the last portion)


Some tips for a great chat experience:

  • Use TweetDeck or similar service to search for #tlap during the chat.
  • Use 1 column for #tlap and another for the chat host (@i3lagebra this week)
  • If using TweetDeck, delete the "Home" column if the website starts freezing up.
  • Read and respond to what others have to say, further the conversation
  • It's ok to lurk...but try to jump in when you can
  • Don't forget to include the #tlap hashtag in your tweets! 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

DocStickers: A Docs + Keep Integration for Old School feedback

Today, I'm excited to tell you about  DocStickers!  If you can give me 90 seconds of your time, this video is worth a watch!  Otherwise, continue below.

I remember getting papers back with stickers and stamps as a kid.  While I may not remember the specific assignments and what I learned from them, but I remember how it made me feel when I saw a sticker or stamp on them.  While my teachers were just taking stickers from a page and adhering them to all of the student papers, it meant something because they took them time to do it.  They didn't have to do it, they cared enough to do it.  It meant something to read "Excellent!" "Great job!" "A+!" and even better when it was the coveted scratch-n-sniff sticker!
Sticker: "Grape Job"
One of my students asked for this sticker, so I made it.
I may have to provide grape bubblegum with it for the full effect though!

With most of my assignments having gone digital, I still want to be able to bring this joy to my students.  I've kicked this idea around for a while, but there really wasn't a seamless way to get images/digital stickers into a Doc...until the latest Google Keep update (in Docs).  So while I can't bring you a way to make your student papers smell like grapes, cherries, or bubble gum, I can show you a way to bring the joy of stickers to your students' digital assignments.  DocStickers was born!

Photo example of a DocSticker in a student assignment.
Example of a DocSticker in a student assignment.  "Now you're flying!"

Brought to you by the wonderful integration of Google Docs and Google Keep.  Enjoy!

Some goodies for you to get started (links open in a new window):
"Starter Pack" of DocStickers (links to a Google Folder...which I will continue adding to)
Quick-Start Video (in case you can't view the one above)
Quick-Start Flier (also pictured below)
*new* Tutorial: Creating Stickers in Google Drawings (2 min video)
*new* Google Drawing Template (make a copy to edit your own)

One thing I want to make VERY clear.  This isn't about turning a worksheet into a digital assignment just to add a sticker to it.  It isn't about creating more work for you as a teacher.  It IS about helping you give feedback to students (and making your grading time a little bit cheerier).  It IS about making sure we aren't just "passing back" (returning on Google Classroom) assignments without some sort of feedback.  Much of the work my students do has gone digital.  This was true in my math classroom, and it is a reality in my computer science classes.

There are many forms of feedback I utilize and this is a complement to written and/or verbal feedback.  Can it be more than that?  I hope so.  The Google Keep integration lets you insert more than just images, and Keep is very much a lesser known tool despite it's power for cross-device bookmarking, shared lists and notes, etc....the possibilities are seemingly endless.  I look forward to sharing more ways you can utilize this tool both as a teacher and with your students.

I have high school students who remember getting stickers and stamps on their work when it was handed back.  And although it may seem childish, they miss it.  They miss the way it made them feel.  I want to make sure that joy doesn't go the wayside as we go paperless.

Tweet me @i3algebra #DocStickers I'd love to know what you think!

If you would like to share this idea (edcamp, tips session, etc) I'd also love to collaborate with you to help you share this idea in the greater context of student feedback.

Click the link above to access this pdf
Quick-Start Flier

Saturday, March 18, 2017

I Was So Observant I Forgot to Post #IMMOOC Week 2

(better late than never)

Week 2 of #IMMOOC, I focused on being observant.  I was so focused on it that I didn't blog.  Oops.  For the purposes of this post, "this week" refers to March 6-10th.  #SorryNotSorry

This week I observed my students in the halls, in the cafeteria.  I observed them in class.  I observed their learning processes.  I watched.  I listened.  I asked some for perspective.   I asked myself the question: "Am I doing what is best for students?"

This week was a great week.  I learned as I observed.  I don't want to share everything, but I'll share this one.  It is an experience I won't soon forget.  It is often difficult to convey the message in 140 characters on Twitter, so I'll elaborate below.

Tied with mere seconds to go, the Longhorns sank a game-winning shot!  The students seated on the other side of the court are my students.  My school's team lost, but this is what happened next.

This is how I described the experience to my PLN without a character limit:

"Today my students cheered against their own team as we played a team from a high school for students with moderate to severe disabilities...and had a blast!  I wish every politician (and school administrator) could see the amazing things that happen when you are allowed/encouraged to teach human beings, not data points."

In all I observed this week, I must never forget that I have the ability and power to influence human beings.  That is the greatest superpower of all.  It shouldn't be wasted.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Give Yourself Permission to do Something Amazing #IMMOOC Week 1

This semester, I started my Computer Science Applications class a bit differently than it had been done before.  I asked the students WHY they signed up for the course and what they hoped to GAIN from being enrolled.

I know not all teachers and courses have the ability to change the course of, well, the course, but I do.  At least I gave myself the permission, for student feedback to steer my class in a big way.  Even if you think, "I can't do that!" My message to you is this: You can, even if it's in a small way.
Even when I taught math, I wasn't ever just teaching math.  We teach students many things and lead by example for much of the lessons our students learn about life in general before they don mortarboard caps and set off "into the world."  My students' favorite lessons were ones that brought in aspects of their lives and let them have some fun while learning.  My favorite lessons to teach were ones my students were invested in.  In geometry, we designed and built a "greenhouse" for our Tower Garden seedlings.  In pre-algebra, we discussed whether Black Friday deals really were good deals (or good purchases).  In algebra, we talked about lines--a lot--but we also visualized them as rollercoasters because much of my class enjoys spending time over the summer at Six Flags.  I previously wrote about using the Design Thinking process (inspired by Launch) with my summer school math students.  End result: Cardboard roller coasters for the win.

For a group of students who have been told they have to pass summer school or they wouldn't get to move on to high can imagine their less-than-excited view on taking math class forcibly.  Many of them surprised themselves by saying math was their favorite class.  This wasn't just during the summer session, but those I taught during the year too.  I gladly accepted the victory.

Coming back to the present--What did my students tell me for my CS Apps class?  They were interested in building apps.  Not surprising coming from a group of junior and senior boys (who can usually be found with phone in hand and a charging cable handy).  What was surprising to many of them is that my intention was to allow them to do just that.  Well, that and the amount of work involved with accomplishing this task on their part.  We are currently working through Apple's App Development with Swift curriculum and it has been an amazing semester so far, especially now that the smaller pieces are starting to come together.  This entire semester is steered by student interest.  The learning goals for this class are still being addressed, the students just have a voice in how we get there.

All of the amazing things I did in my classroom, I did them while still teaching the content I needed to teach.  At every turn, I had the option to do things the way they'd always been done, but I made the decision that is best for my students.  I gave myself permission to do what was best for my students.  Even when it's not something I feel 100% confident with, I'm willing to try it.  Change can intimidate some, I've found embracing it is a challenge I gladly accept.

"The most successful people in the world aren't defeated by change; they thrive on it." -Launch
One of my favorite quotes from Launch
Your change may be big or small.  It may be implementing new technology or trying a new room arrangement.  My classes are taking a journey into new territory, but I don't fear change.  I'm inspired by it.  I've had many opportunities to stop this process and go back to "the way we've always done it."  I pushed through in spite of illness, in spite of missing the first week this semester due to a concussion. If you don't allow excuses from your students, don't allow them from yourself.

What will happen when you are open to the possibility of something different?

What will you be inspired to do?

How will you inspire your students?


If you haven't already, join the #IMMOOC (Innovator's Mindset Massive Open Online Course).  You can find more information at

Monday, February 20, 2017

Post-Concussion: What a car accident taught me about my students

When I found out I had a concussion, I didn't think it would impact my life in the way it did.  Honestly, I felt fine--for about 12 hours.  Then the way I look and interact with everything in my life changed.  About a week in, I knew I wanted to remember and catalog this journey, but I wasn't able to.  I dictated thoughts into my phone, but it just wasn't what I was used to doing.  It's hard for me to listen to myself be so--vulnerable, and for this reason, this post will be the least edited I've put out to the world.  I am fortunate my injuries weren't worse, but I'm still healing.  And, as I've learned, healing is a process.  Especially for the impatient ones like me.

I share this for many reasons, but mostly for me.  I don't want to forget what I went through.  At the very least, I don't want to forget that I was able to better understand some of my students' struggles.

December 27th

I was leaving my sister's house, driving along the gravel road, when the loose gravel carried me into a tree lining the side of the road.  I wasn't going very fast, but in a matter of seconds, my car was totaled.  I wasn't looking at my phone, distracted.  Something had caught my attention and I looked in the rear view mirror for a moment too long.  Being of short stature (I'm 5'4"), I have to sit fairly close to the steering wheel.  My first collected moment was hearing my phone ringing.  Remembering I had set up 911 assist, I tried to end the call.  I was fine.  Sure, my car was not in good shape and in the middle of the road, but I was fine.  My nose hurt a bit from the force of the airbags punching me at full force and there was this burning sensation.  I guess airbags are basically fireworks inside your car.  That's probably not supposed to burn your skin.  I couldn't figure out how to end the call.  My car wouldn't let me.  I'm sitting in the middle of the road, sideways.  The last thing I remembered after the airbags going off was looking forward, yet seeing down the hill.  I closed my eyes and braced for the trip over the edge.  Now I was in the middle of the road.  Turned 90 degrees from where I'd been before.  I tried to call my sister.  She didn't answer.  Maybe I should run to her, then a car came along.  My shin hurts.  Stupid knee airbags...more like angle airbags for me.  I knew this would hurt tomorrow.  I get a good look at my car.  It's toast.  My ears are ringing.  I'm not sure how much time has passed.
The view from my sister's car while we wait for the tow truck.
Those are county deputy lights, not fire.  Sorry folks!

The EMTs clear me but tell me I should see my doctor anyway.  I passed all of the neurological tests they gave me.  I remember them saying my vitals were "something to be admired."  Maybe it's a teacher thing, calm during the storm and all.  I went home to sleep.  I just wanted the day to be over.

December 28th

The pain I expected, but the nausea started just before I called my doctor to schedule a visit.  A trip to urgent care it is!  My ears are still ringing, I'm not sure I should be alone, let alone drive.  A friend drives me to urgent care.  I'm told that I pass all the neurological tests again, but I still don't feel right.  The diagnosis is a concussion.  My students have had these, many on more than one occasion, but my airbags went off.  I wasn't driving very fast.  It just doesn't make sense to me.  I'm supposed to go home and rest.  At least I'm still on break.

December 29th

After being cooped up in the house for longer than I'm used to, I went out to eat.  It's hard to hear everyone's conversations and focus on the one I'm supposed to be having, but I really don't think much of it.  That is, until I'm at the counter, paying my bill.  I'm trying to add 27+5 and I can't do it.  I can't hold focus on the task at hand no matter how hard I try.  I hear every conversation, clear as day and muffled at the same time.  Dishes are clanging on the buffet line.  Sizzling at the hibachi station.  Children tapping their cups with forks.  People eating.  Lights buzzing.  I could hear everything and I couldn't block any of it out.  Determined, I focus on my hands.  "27" I point at one of my fingers "28", another "29", another "30", until I have 5 fingers up.  I may not teach math this year, but I'm a math teacher.  This isn't happening to me.  I sign the receipt and nearly burst into tears as I walk out of the restaurant.  My brain is broken and I'm locked inside.

This isn't right.  None of this is right.  I end up in the emergency room later that night because either my concussion made me so nauseous I threw up or the thought of me not being me was much more than I could handle.  I still don't know.

NOTE: I've been through simulation activities for ADHD and specific learning disabilities.  I wouldn't wish this restaurant experience on anyone, but if I could have others experience it I would.  Maybe they would understand what many of our students go through in our classrooms.

December 30th

Brain rest is boring. Nothing with a screen, no reading, no thinking.  Brain rest is boring.

Note: I didn't even write this part that day.  I didn't need to because it's really easy to remember that brain rest is boring.

December 31st

Tried to leave the house tonight for New Years.  I can't drink and I don't want to drive.  I'm exhausted.  I'm not sure why I left the house.  Leaving the house is overrated.

January 2nd

I went to the car dealership today. I sat there for an hour, waiting. I should have been home, but I just wanted to feel like I accomplished something. I need to make sub plans for my students tomorrow and maybe even Thursday.

I can't believe how exhausting it is to do the most basic things. I feel fine when I'm at home. Once I'm out, it's like I'm in a fog. I feel like everything I'm doing is for the first time. As if my muscle memory was wiped. I remember doing these things, just can't seem to do any of it right. The muscle relaxants make it easier to move, but I still feel that piercing pain when I turn my head at even half normal speed.

Yesterday, the remote fell off the couch and made a loud crack sound as it landed on the wooden floor. In that moment, I was back in my car. Scared and alone. Heart racing, frozen from fear. In that moment, I realized that I did lose consciousness. The phone ringing brought me back to focus, but I was miles away in the seconds before. How many times did the phone ring before I was aware?

I managed to have a conversation today when two people were talking at the same time without cringing in pain trying to focus. I have no clue what one of them said. I only managed to follow the other. Hopefully it wasn't anything important.

In so many ways this would be easier if I had a cast or something visibly broken. People could see the progress, see that I'm not quite there, but more importantly, others would know that I was injured. They would know that I didn't walk away from the accident free and clear. So they wouldn't tell me how thankful they are I wasn't hurt. I know they mean well, but I'm too tired to explain. More importantly, I would be able to see and gauge my own progress. As my cuts and bruises heal and fade, I know how long I'll be left with those marks. I have no way of knowing how long before I feel connected to the rest of my brain again. No way of knowing how long before I don't feel like a stranger in my own body.

What will my doctor say tomorrow, when I ask him if he can give me a cast? Will he understand? Will I feel more detached from the world I no longer understand?

January 6th

I missed the first 3 days of the semester. I have 75 students, most of whom have never met me, and I'm not there. I hate concussions. I hate head rests and trees and laws of physics. Brain rest is boring, but at least it's an excuse to block out the rest of the world for a little longer.

January 9th

I'm not ready to go back to work. I'm not ready to leave my house, but today seems just as good a day as any. If there's anything that has kept me from losing it during this time, it is my job. Even after missing the first week back, everyone welcomes me with open arms. Teachers who have given up part or all of their plan periods (in some cases multiple times) to sub for me aren't angry as I would have expected. They are happy to see me return. I don't know why I was so worried. I have the best workplace I could ask for.

I decided I would talk to my students about what is going on with me and my brain. It isn't easy and I hold back tears at times when telling them about what happened and how it will impact what we are going to be working on for at least the first part of the semester. Several students who have also suffered concussions nod in camaraderie. They get it. That's what got me through the first day. Then I left and went home to sleep for 12 hours.

This continued. Some days were better, some days weren't.

January 18th

Three weeks #postconcussion and still healing. In the last three weeks, I have learned that the side effects/symptoms of post-concussion are basically that of pregnancy plus a few fun extras (irritability, exhaustion, nausea, neck pain, tension headaches, ringing ears, hyper-sensitivity to certain sounds, lack of focus, and crappy memory/processing). I used to get migraines, I would take one instead in a heartbeat.

It is a daily struggle to be patient with myself when I'm not able to do what used to come so easily (or without exhausting me by 10am). I do a good enough job of acting like I'm ok and maybe that's a bad thing. Sometimes it's harder to keep it together. They say it just takes time. I kind of hate hearing about "time" right now.

February 3rd

I made it through an entire week without feeling like I was mentally held back. I have made it through post-concussion.

Then it happened...

February 15th
I presented two 3-hour pre-conference sessions at #METC17 and helped host the #tlap (Teach Like a Pirate Twitter chat) on Monday, then powered through Tuesday's sessions like a pro.  I met up with fellow Google Innovators and members of my Twitter PLN.  It was a great week.  Anyone who knows anything about me knows I live for these days.  METC is our "little ISTE of the Midwest" and my goal had been to be well enough for it.

#COL16 mini-reunion with Austin Houp
Getting ready to Teach Like a Pirate
with Dave Burgess

I was set to present one last session on Digital Differentiation and I was ready.  I kept joking that I wasn't because I have this thing about tweaking my materials and going perfectionistic on them, but I was ready.  I'd been ready for months.  Then at 2pm my brain decided it was done, but I didn't know it yet.  I walked into my session and began by telling them about my journey, this journey.  I didn't tell it for sympathy or pity.  I told them because it is at the heart of why differentiation and accommodations are good for everyone, not just students who have been identified with learning needs.  It's why we should be familiar with them, because students won't always know about the tools that could assist them.  I tripped over some of my words, but I was off to a great start.

Then my computer glitched.

I'm the person people come to when there is a tech issue.  That is who I have been for years.  I know how to troubleshoot through most problems, so when I clicked a link in a Google Doc and nothing happened, I am more than qualified to handle that.  If not just because having passed the Google Certified Trainer test means I know how to figure this out.  But I couldn't.  My ability to problem-solve was gone.  I was instantly overwhelmed by the lights in the room, the temperature, the number of people in the room, the sound of them shifting in their seats.  In my classroom, I would have been able to have my students work on something while I sat down and collected my thoughts.  Here, in a room with 40+ teachers, I had to be on my game.  My reputation as a speaker, presenter, trainer, teacher, conference committee member...that depends on me being able to collect my thoughts, focus, sound like I know what I'm talking about and generally, finish what I start.  When every part of me wanted to say "here's the link, go have fun," I stepped away from my computer and tried to share some stories from my classroom.  Some from previous years, and some from now.  It was the worst session I've ever led.  It's embarrassing.  Even days later, I fixate on it because I know I can do better, I know I am capable of better.  But in that moment I wasn't.  All I want to do is go back in time and make those 50 minutes better, but I can't.  All I can hope is those in attendance learned something that made my session worth attending for them.

So what's this post really about?

So many things.  Here are a couple of them:
1. When I met with my new primary care physician before I went back to work, he told me that he is seeing kids take about twice as long to recover from concussions since schools are going 1:1 and cell phones are more prevalent.  Looking at a screen is basically your job description when you teach technology and I fully understand the risk and setback I cause myself by subjecting my brain to endless hours of lesson planning, personal learning, and tinkering with new technology.  Our students don't always have a choice.  I often have not even known when a student has come back to school following a concussion.  It's my personal goal to do better and lay out some recommendations for students who have suffered brain trauma when returning to the classroom.  If just one good thing could come from my experience, it will be that.

2. I share this because I'm not the only person you know who has an invisible injury. You can't see all wounds and everyone is different. Some are better at hiding the pain. Some may know what tools are available to help them on a daily basis, others may not. Teachers often provide a support system without ever realizing it.

2016 was a rough year for a lot of people in many ways. It has been blamed for taking a lot of people from us. I refuse to let it take me too.