Thursday, October 2, 2014

Two worlds

"Sometimes the thing that brings us together also pulls us apart.  Sort of like a zipper."
                                                                                                                 Jarod Kintz

It’s a delicate balance, a fine line, one foot in two separate worlds…. Whatever phrase you use to describe it—the predicament remains.  I am ½ Techie and ½ Teacher.

I taught High School Social Studies for 20 years.  I’ve created thousands of lesson plans, attended countless professional development meetings, spent hours grading student work, and taught hundreds of classes.  I understand what it takes to be a teacher and I believe it is one of the most difficult but rewarding careers one could choose.  The deadlines, the phone calls, the paperwork, the meetings-- all the time spent trying to create an educational atmosphere in your classroom while encouraging and sometimes prodding students to learn can be exhausting.  What could possibly make it worse???


I could lose my Geek Club card for this one!

I know you are a little confused at this point.  Here I am, Director of Instructional Technology, and I am making a statement like that!!!  Technological Blasphemy!!!! 

Bear with me….

I have devoted the last 4 years of my professional career to helping teachers and students use technology in the classroom as a way to engage in, and deepen their learning.  I truly believe that technology is a must in classrooms today and I will do just about anything to make sure students and teachers that I work with have what it takes to utilize all of the tools at their disposal.  Within the past 4 years, I have been exposed to numerous learning opportunities of my own.  I have had a number of very patient “teachers” help me to understand how networks function, iPad troubleshooting, email servers and just about anything that would help me do my job. 

I remember one of the first days as Teacher Librarian/Technology Integrationist at Bettendorf High School, I was helping our technician, Eric McCoy set up a computer lab in our newly renovated library.  He patiently answered a lot of questions and taught me how to connect the computers to the network and a magical place called the switch closet.  He showed me how to fix a common issue of monitors that would not turn on by teaching me how to “seed” a computer hard drive. At this point, I thought I may just be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs with what I had learned.  Of course, every computer issue from that point on—I was convinced—would need me to practice my new skill.  Eric finally had to confiscate my screwdriver, as he gently explained that not every problem had the same solution, even though it was a pretty cool one at that.  I’ve asked a lot of questions and learned some of it on my own but the point is…. I have been very lucky to learn the “tech” side of teaching as much as I have and admittedly, I have a long way to go.

What I find very interesting is the “foot” I have in both worlds and how those two worlds interact and yes, sometimes clash.  I have the unique experience of seeing this relationship from both perspectives.  I understand the pressures that a teacher and administrator deal with on a daily basis and I also know that the IT side of things usually isn’t a one-click fix it type of proposition.  There are so many things that are done by teachers and IT people that the other side doesn’t see and that is the my main reason for writing this blog.

As a teacher, it was almost impossible to try and get something done without a working computer in your classroom, or a lab that would not function properly, a printer down, and don’t even get me started on the internet outages or slooooooow internet speeds. (Yes, I know, those of you who taught before computers are chuckling right now)

 What is going on in that technology department?  Why aren’t they fixing these issues?  I have 30 scholars sitting in front of me wondering why it is taking so long to load a web page and what makes it worse—my whole lesson plan is in danger for today because of these ongoing issues.  Why hasn’t anyone been to my room to fix my projector?  Are they not aware of what is going on?  Maybe I should email again or better yet, make a call. 

I’ve had many of these same thoughts as a teacher and have even communicated them to our IT staff.  As a teacher, it is easy to get wrapped up in what is happening within your classroom and if the technology is causing issues or problems in your attempts to complete your work, it is very frustrating.

On the other side of the coin—IT departments are all about customer service.  The customers are teachers, administrators and students. They are here to make your life more comfortable, more efficient and let’s face it…easier.  Most techs could tell you horror stories about a computer they have had to spend hours fixing because someone who thought they knew what they were doing, decided to download a piece of software that doesn’t function well using the operating system that is in place.  Do you know how many 911 texts that techs get when a teacher is standing in front of a classroom of students and their projector won’t turn on only to rush to that room and find out a cord had been unplugged?  Or the amount of troubleshooting and testing that goes into making sure that a network filter is blocking all the bad stuff but allowing all the good stuff when a class is doing research on teenage pregnancy?

I’ve seen an example of each of those types of situations and even more in the past four years.  I’ve seen IT staff members visit a classroom to take care of one problem and get pulled into 3 more issues because a teacher sees them and decides to take advantage of that opportunity to have them fix their problem.  And most techs do just that—after all they are here to serve their customers.  
Let me be clear—teachers/administrators and IT staff will always look at things differently.  They have different perspectives, different responsibilities and different methods.  The one big thing they have in common, however, is the end goal.  That end goal is to make technology available and integral for the process of teaching and learning.

So, what do we do now?  We are well aware that teachers/administrators and IT staff go through this love/hate relationship many times throughout a school year and summer.  How can we minimize the “hate” episodes and practice recognizing and understanding the different perspectives and responsibilities of both groups?

Catalyst Charter Schools stress the importance of Stephen Coveys’ 7 Habits of Highly Successful People and we strive to help our scholars to practice these habits on a daily basis.  It seems a natural place to start when considering the relationship between teachers/administrators and IT staff.

1.       Be Proactive—Think ahead, prepare, and plan.

Lesson plans that include technology should be tested ahead of time.  Don’t wait until the last minute to see if a site is blocked or if a piece of equipment will work. Stay ahead of the game and there won’t be any big surprises waiting for you and IT can serve your needs quicker if you give them some time.

Just as teachers and administrators need to have a long range plan and short term goals, IT departments need the same type of thinking.  How do you build a system that will allow you to reach your short term goals but also protect you in the “long term planning”?  Put systems in place that allow for growth will keep things running smoothly and means that slight changes in process or structure won’t be catastrophic.

2.       Begin with the end in mind—What is the ultimate goal and how can you get there?

What do you need your students to do, know or learn?  Start with that in mind and then decide if technology will help you accomplish those goals.  Technology should be integrated within your lesson plans because it will help you in your teaching practice and also to help scholars in their learning process.  Using technology just to use technology is missing the big picture.

Creating an infrastructure and support system has to begin with what you need the system to do.  Shortcuts in technology often cause more problems along the way.  Build systems that are going to be structurally sound when minor changes take place.  Avoid using a system that allows for quick resolution of an issue but is going to have to be addressed again to complete.

3.       Put first things first—prioritize

What do you need to have now? What can wait until later?  If everything is an emergency then it will make life much more difficult for you and the people that are trying to support you. You may have to make difficult choices.  Be prepared to prioritize your needs and the needs of your scholars.

Make sure you understand and utilize a priority model that puts teachers and scholars first.  Just because it is easier to fix, doesn’t mean it should be the first thing you do.  Prioritize and delegate. 

4.       Think Win-Win—compromise

Understand that IT staff members are there to help and support you but may not be able to get things done as quickly as you would like.  It isn’t because they don’t want to help—it usually is a result of many other tasks that have to be considered before they can act.  Be patient, find a middle ground that you can live with until IT can fully complete the task.

Understand that teachers/administrators have many deadlines and often are answering to a lot of different organizations.  Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!!  If you can’t complete a project, let them know why and give them an idea of when you will be able to finish.  Most of the time teachers/administrators will find a way to get things done when they know what to expect and when to expect it.  Be honest and upfront but always communicate. 

5.       Seek first to understand, then to be understood—listen for understanding

This skill is probably one of the most difficult for both groups.  It can be hard for teachers and IT staff to stop and take a moment in the middle of an emergent issue.  The stress that both groups are under often can cause discussions to take place where one side or the other and possibly both sides aren’t really listening.  People are talking, possibly even shouting but communication isn’t happening.  Stop, take a deep breath, listen for understanding and then take your turn.  Understanding that there are many perspectives at work here is the key to knowing how to view an issue from both sides which will encourage a working relationship based on trust and a common goal.

6.       Synergize—work together for common goal

Teachers, administrators and IT staff are all working toward a common goal.  And if we always keep that at the forefront of our actions, we will have less friction between the groups as we all understand that we want to do what is best for our scholars.  This type of relationship needs to be built on open communication and trust.  Once those have been established, there is no telling what these groups can accomplish together.

7.       Sharpen the saw—reflect and move forward

We know that people in the field of education don’t have as much time as they would like to sit back and reflect on past actions and accomplishments.  As most people believe, teachers have the summer off to prepare and get ready for the upcoming year.  Of course, we all know that summers are a time for teachers to reenergize and work on long term lesson planning, taking classes, getting trained and just overall preparing for the next school year.  Take some time to reflect on how the year went, what you want to change and what things you thought worked well.  This will make the next year even better.

Of course, the summer is often one of the busiest times for IT but there also needs to be an opportunity when IT staff take a look at how things worked that specific school year, where are we with our short and long term goals and what can we do to make the start of the school year as smooth as the middle and the end?

Regardless of the position or role that you have in your school community, it is vital that we remember that we are all in this together for one common purpose.  When we keep that in mind, there is no limit to what we and our scholars can accomplish.

"All for one and one for all"
                            Alexandre Dumas

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Patron Saint of Teachers

St. John Baptist De La Salle, patron saint of all who work in the field of education.
Did you know that we had a patron saint? I didn’t. I was pleasantly surprised when I attended an orientation meeting for my new job and learned a very important history lesson.  

“To be entrusted with the teaching of the young is a great gift”   John Baptist De La Salle
John Baptist De La Salle was the son of wealthy parents and was ordained a priest in 1678.  Early in his life he became interested in the many children of peasants who would have no opportunity for education as they would not have the resources to attend school.  Most of these children would not have parents who were there to guide them and if they did, the parents did not have the money or capacity to supply them with the necessary resources they would need to be a contributing member of their community..  He very quickly recognized his calling to education, left his family home to move in with teachers and created a community of Brothers of Christian Schools.  Facing stiff opposition over his determination to provide an education to every child regardless of their financial state,  using innovative methods that included focusing on the whole child and teacher preparation, De La Salle and the Christian Brothers went on to establish a network of very good schools throughout France.

The network of schools they created today are LaSallian schools.  “LaSallian Schools operate in over 80 countries around the world with a special emphasis on the poor and teaching people from all walks of faith and culture.”  The values found in the LaSallian tradition are embraced by   Catalyst Charter Schools.  Everyone is welcome at Catalyst Schools and positive change is the result of compassionate and caring adults working with children in a mutually beneficial relationship that will educate and inspire.

The foundation of Catalyst Charter Schools:
  • Faith and Hope: The belief that the children who enroll will be active in their own education.  The belief that the families of these children will do what is necessary to allow their children to grow.  The belief that the community will play a major role in developing these young children.
  • Service: The mission is to be a “catalyst” for change in the neighborhoods these schools serve.  Participation in community activities is encouraged as it is vital in making these communities grow and allowing positive change.
  • Community and Relationships:  Learning is not an activity done by an individual.  It is the result of relationships.  Relationships between teachers and students, relationships between teachers and families, and relationships between the school and the community.
  • Dignity and Justice: Recognizing and celebrating every person’s worth and value, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, etc.
  • Educational Excellence: Having high expectations, high accountability and educational growth.

‘'Take even more care of the education of the young people entrusted to you than if they were the children of a king.”  John Baptist De La Salle

The first thing that struck me as I heard about the history of Catalyst and the values that serve as its foundation is “Shouldn’t all schools be based on these values?”  I mean, we, as educators have made a commitment to do everything in our power to help our students grow, not only in their knowledge and skills but also as individuals who will some day take their place in a community.  These values are pretty basic, or at least they should be, in every community in the country--not to mention the world.  

“Inspire and lead others by encouraging them”   John Baptist De La Salle

How do I, as the Director of Instructional Technology, work to put these values into action? How do I support teachers and scholars in their quest to embrace these values?  For me, I see almost everything through a technology lens.  How can I help to promote these values within the Catalyst organization. I may not be directly working with scholars in the classroom but my responsibilities include helping teachers use technology to both engage and inspire their scholars and that will have a tremendous impact on these values.

Faith and Hope: What better way to have scholars engaged in their own learning and partnered with teachers than to add technology to the mix.  Connecting scholars to people around the world with similar struggles and obstacles can be very powerful.  Scholars would not have had the opportunity for access to this type of technology, nor have the world as an audience,  but now will have it in their hands and at their fingertips every day.

Service:  Children that are a part of the Catalyst system will take their place within their communities one day in the future.  Access to technology will allow these scholars to expand their knowledge of what the world has to offer.  They will be able to explore the many opportunities that are available to them and in turn, will impact their communities and become change agents. Technology will also allow these scholars and their teachers the ability to affect positive change.

Community and Relationships: Education, teaching and learning--its all about the relationships.  Imagine the types of relationships that can blossom with the use of technology.  Connections can be made with a simple “send” button.  Networks can be created with collaboration opportunities.  Communities will sprout within the constructs of the school.  Some say technology has been damaging to our ability to develop relationships.  I would disagree as I think technology changes the types of relationships we build but we are still responsible for cultivating and enriching those relationships.  The community and the world will unfold in front of our scholars, like it never has before.  

Dignity and Justice:  Technology, I believe, can be the ultimate game changer for many.  Regardless of the community you live in, the circumstances of your birth, etc. Technology can level that playing field, giving every child that comes into Catalyst Schools an opportunity to expand and grow without limits.  Not enough can be said about the opportunities present as a result of technology.  Opportunities, that until now, have been only available to schools and children that are in specific districts or schools.  With a 1:1 initiative, Catalyst Schools is making a commitment to providing scholars with the same technology that can be found in a number of schools around the country.  Technology that you would not find in the homes of most of the scholars. The goal of Catalyst Schools is to prepare every scholar for college, and in order to completely prepare our scholars for the college experience, they must be treated with the same considerations that you would find in most average communities.

Educational Excellence: High expectations and high accountability.  We can’t forget that these children are going to be in a world where technology is everywhere.  We have a responsibility, a duty, to create a culture of excellence through a rigorous curriculum and technology will help us do that.  Technology will allow teachers to push scholars to use critical thinking, problem-solving and collaborative skills that will prepare them for college and the work world they will enter.  It is no longer enough to teach content.  We must continue to expand the array of 21st century skills our scholars have at their disposal.  The only way we can do that is to encourage and expect academic excellence which in turn will aid scholars in becoming a part of a global world.

Catalyst deliberately chose to open schools in neighborhoods with the most need, which is a direct reflection of De La Salle’s philosophy.  Identifying the people who would benefit the most from education and opportunities and doing whatever is necessary to serve those communities.  I am humbled by the opportunity to join Catalyst and help to make these opportunities become realities.

**Information and facts taken from Catalyst Schools Orientation Materials

**Thank you Ed Siderwicz

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Tribute To My School Family

“In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, and a bridge to our future.”  Alex Haley

It is that time of the year again, when our students set out to blaze new trails and start a new chapter in their life. Graduation, celebrations and the last summer before they head off for college or to begin their working lives.  I remember the feeling.  I was so proud and happy that I had graduated high school and was excited about starting college in the fall.  As a 17 year old, I didn’t really do a whole lot of reflecting on my high school career that last summer.  I was busy playing softball and well….. being a teenager.  As time for leaving grew near, the reality of what was about to happen started to hit me.  I remember not being able to sleep the night before I was to leave.  I had all of these doubts about whether or not I could handle the rigorous classes.  Would I fit in? What types of friends would I make? Would I be able to survive being away from the comfort and safety of my family and home?  I remember knocking on my parent’s bedroom door.  My Mom asked what was wrong and I told her I was nervous and I couldn’t sleep.  She said, in her best motherly voice, “You’ll be fine, get some rest.”  I chuckle now when I think of that exchange.  I know that if those words are uttered by someone who has been cheering you on and supporting you for your entire life, then they are enough to set your mind at ease and let you get some sleep.  That’s what families do—make you feel everything will be just fine.  I suspect the feelings I had so long ago are pretty normal for high school students who are getting ready for the next adventure in their lives.

What about teachers? The end of the school year represents something different for teachers.  The last day, of course, is really not the end.  Usually the countdown to the last school day is met with cheers and excitement as a long awaited rest and break is needed.  Most teachers enjoy time with friends and family, enjoy hobbies, travel and get things done that they wouldn’t be able to do during the school year.  When fall (or early August) rolls around, we ramp up and get ready for a whole new crop of students who are ready to start their high school careers.

I’ve been through this end of the year process 22 times and each year it is about the same.  We don’t say good bye as most of the time we see our colleagues at one point during the summer, whether it be at school doing curriculum writing or on some social occasions.  When we come back for the start of the new school year—we catch up with those we didn’t see during the break and talk about the great summers we had and the feeling that the start of the school year comes earlier every year.  I had every intention of going through those same activities and emotions at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.  After all I am a veteran teacher who has been in the same school her entire career.  Some things change, people come and go but Bettendorf High School has been a constant in my life.   My colleagues, some of which have been here as long as I have or in rare cases, a little longer have the routine down pat.  We use the first few days of in-service to catch up before we get back into the swing of things as the new school year begins. 

But, for me, this year is much different.  I have accepted a job as Director of Instructional Technology for Catalyst Schools, a network of public charter schools in Chicago.  The strange thing, I wasn’t really looking to leave Bettendorf High School.  I was happy here and loved my job, the people I work with and the work that we were doing.  Why would I leave?  To me, I had the perfect job. 

Something felt different about this opportunity.  I felt a strange yearning to take what I have learned here over the last 23 years and share it with a group of students and teachers I felt I could impact in a very meaningful way.  My pride in what Bettendorf High School does, and the culture of community that we have here made it very difficult to accept this offer. That may sound odd, after all if I have such strong feelings about what we are doing here in Bettendorf shouldn’t I want to stay and finish what we’ve started.  Instead, I found myself thinking of ways I could help Catalyst Schools on their road to transforming teaching and learning.  They would be looking to me for help in implementing a vision that I will help to create.  That’s what it is all about in education, right?  I mean education isn’t only about helping students grow, it’s also an avenue of growth for the very professionals that do the work on an everyday basis.  We work so hard to improve our craft so that we can challenge our students every day in our classrooms.  I feel, what I can only describe as an obligation, to take what I have learned and gained here in Bettendorf and cultivate it in other communities.  I am so very proud of what we have here in Bettendorf and I believe that if I can help another “school community” to establish the type of educational excellence we have here in Bettendorf then I have been successful.  This opportunity will allow me to both challenge myself and continue impacting students every day.  Sounds like a win-win! 

Of course, now it is nearing the end and I am realizing that again, I will be leaving home.  A home, in which, I have lived longer than any other place in my life.  A family that has gone through many changes but has been a consistent source of support and encouragement to me in both my personal and my professional life.  All of my adult life has been spent here and that makes leaving very difficult.  I feel like that 17 year old graduate the night before leaving.  I have some of those same doubts.  Am I making a mistake leaving? Will I be able to make a positive impact?  Will I be able to establish beneficial relationships with my colleagues?  Will I be able to help teachers integrate technology in a meaningful way?  Although these doubts will creep into my thoughts the next few days, this time, I’m not having trouble sleeping because age and experience have taught me that when you leave home your family will always provide the support, love and encouragement that you need.  Your family wants what is best for you as a person and a professional and will support you in any way they can.  Just as Mom, Dad and my siblings helped me to mature into a young person who could take on the challenge of attending college, my family here in Bettendorf has given me the confidence and courage to strike out on a new adventure.  That is what is so wonderful about Bettendorf.  I consider the people I work with my family and I know that they have been helping me to be the best person and teacher I can be and that is not going to change just because I am changing jobs.  Just like the people that I am related to by blood, my Bettendorf family has been there for me through everything you can imagine and I will forever be grateful to have them in my life.  There isn’t any way that I can thank my Bettendorf family enough for everything they have given me so I will make this promise, I will continue to strive to be the best Bulldog I can be and that will take me as far as I care to go.

I know family members, regardless of their relationship to you, will only be a phone call, text, tweet, email or face-time conversation away.  And that is the way it should be.

 “In life, a person will come and go from many homes.  We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us.  Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world.  They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.”    Ari Berk

Thursday, March 13, 2014


“True belonging is born of relationships not only to one another but to a place of shared responsibilities and benefits.  We love not so much what we have acquired as what we have made and whom we have made it with.”  Robert Finch

What defines a community?  I know that in education we see a lot of trends and buzzwords and sometimes hearing them can get a little tiresome-- but for me, community is different.  We all are members of multiple communities; family, friends, church, school, work, cities, states, countries and virtual. There are a number of opportunities for people to belong to communities in today’s world.   So many opportunities that it can become overwhelming to some and even with the options available, there are people who are convinced that they have no community.  I am fascinated on a daily basis with the different communities that are available to our students and of course, to us as educators.  The path to community may be changing but the foundation will always be the same-- relationships.

“Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community.”  
                                                                                                                                                Simon Mainwaring

I was fortunate to be able to attend a presentation by  Jeff Utecht (@jutecht).  His focus was the changing world we live in and its impact on education.  His presentation was informative and engaging. One specific quote of his resonated with me; “Twitter is not about people, it’s about communities.”
When I first decided to open a twitter account I was not unlike a lot of people.  The perception that the purpose of twitter is to share with the world what you had for lunch or to keep track of the activities of your favorite celebrity.  I joined reluctantly because I thought in my position, I needed to model the use of technology.  It is pretty obvious to me now that my perception was flawed.  What I hadn’t planned on was being a part of the many different communities that have allowed me to grow in both a professional and personal way.  Sure, people sign up for twitter accounts for various reasons and there are many different uses for the information that is posted on twitter but for the most part, I agree with Mr. Utecht, people use twitter to create communities.  It might be a professional learning community as I often share information with my followers because I feel a responsibility to offer something in return for all of the great things I have learned from them.  It seems to me that I should be giving back to a profession, from which, I have gained so much.  But I don’t use twitter just for professional communities.  I also follow accounts that are purely for personal reasons such as: my favorite tv shows,  sports teams, celebrities, motivational quotes and of course, adorable puppy pictures.  I find myself having twitter conversations with people around the country and even the world about things that I like and also things I dislike.  I even made  a point to “bingewatch” Breaking Bad so that I could join the twitter conversation during the last episode as it aired.  #BreakingBad became a hashtag that represented a community, albeit temporary.  The thing about twitter is that it is about building a place where we can share our ideas, thoughts, opinions and knowledge.  I am a member of many different communities on twitter.  I seek out all kinds of people.  People, in which,  I share common interests, and some that I don’t.  I think most of us can think of an example on twitter when you have disagreed with a fellow tweep (twitter user).  It is perfectly acceptable to have adult discussions about a variety of topics—that is one of the many benefits of a twitter community.  The ability to have these types of discussions is a valuable skill that we should be teaching and modeling. What an inspiring environment to be able to explore.  Of course there are other Social Media outlets to use to create communities.  Google +, Pinterest, Instagram, and the list goes on.  It doesn’t matter which one you choose, the opportunities to belong to a community are endless.

“The process of really being with other people in a safe, supportive situation can actually change who we think we are…. And as we grow closer to the essence of who we are, we tend to take more responsibility for our neighbors and our planet”.  Bill Kauth

Back in January when our second semester began, one of our students Chelsea Kalar (@chelseakalar) began a movement that has since blossomed.  Chelsea was enrolled in Mark Pisel’s (@mpise12) Entertainment Marketing class.  Mark had his students create a blog as a part of an exercise to practice marketing.   The students were allowed to choose any topic that interested them and they proceeded to “Race to 1500” views.  Students were given a real life marketing experience while being able to write about anything they wanted.  Chelsea chose to write a blog entitled Experience Acts of Kindness.  In this blog, Chelsea describes her daily act of kindness, the reasons behind her choices and the impact it has on the people she helps.  As you might guess, the blog has exploded and Chelsea has become somewhat of a celebrity.  She has over 50,000 page views on her blog.  She has created an official twitter handle (@KalarKind) and has asked people to use #KalarKind in their tweets about any act of kindness they are sharing.  She had schools from all over the world, contact her and set up a connection.  She and her group have skyped with schools in New Jersey and Saudi Arabia.  The community that Chelsea has impacted isn’t solely in her geographical area—that community has expanded across the United States and into other countries.  How powerful is that?!  What a lesson in being a part of your local and global community!

“In most vital organizations, there is a common bond of interdependence, mutual interest, interlocking contributions, and simple joy”.  Max DePree

This idea of community has me thinking about the library and its role within a school.  At a time when some school districts are cutting budgets and getting rid of library personnel, it is important to remember, the library is a community.   It is a community for creators, knowledge-seekers, and those just wanting a safe and supportive place to “be”.  It is a place where students and staff can get answers to their questions, collaborate, and create.  At any time on a given day you will find many of these activities happening in our library.  Just today, for example, we have a class in the computer lab working on research for an English paper.  We have small groups of students using our Design lab--complete with green screen to create Cold War newscasts.  There is a student using his iPad and our library MacBook to create an iMovie that will serve as his application for a welding scholarship.  Students are checking out our new fiction books that have just arrived and there are a few Seniors who have camped out in the soft-seating hanging out and waiting for the start of their next class.  This is what a learning environment should look like and what a community should be for our students.  

A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people.  It is a never failing spring in the desert.  Andrew Carnegie

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Blog challenge

Thanks to Matt Degner (@mwdegner) who challenged me to do this blog post.  As I sit here, on the second snow day of the year, trying to stay warm and avoiding the dishes, laundry and shoveling that await.  What a perfect time to churn out a blog post!

Here are the Rules: 
1. Acknowledge the nomination blogger. 
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4.  List 11 bloggers.  They should be bloggers you believe deserve a little recognition.
5.  Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate and let all the bloggers know they been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)

11 Random Facts about Me (Wow--11, really?)

1.  I've run 7 half-marathons (Vegas twice, Ocala FL, St. Louis, Madison, Pensacola FL, Cedar Falls, IA) and have done 3 sprint triathlons.  My best friend is an avid marathoner and triathlete and is a very good influence on me in trying to be healthy.  

2.  I grew up on a farm approximately 13 miles from the Minnesota border in Osage, Iowa--We farmed until I was in the 6th grade when we moved to "town".  I am a farm girl at heart!  What does that mean? I'm not sure but I truly believe that my upbringing sculpted me into the person I am today.
3.  I am the youngest of 5, 1 brother and 3 sisters.  I have 9 Nieces and 2 Nephews.  I have 5 Great Nieces and 7 Great Nephews and still counting....
4.  I was a four sport athlete in high school and went on to be a 4-year letter winner at Wartburg College playing volleyball.
5.  I have 2 Masters degrees.  The first one, from the University of Northern Iowa in Physical Education, Teaching and Coaching), the second, from DeVry University in Educational Technology.
6.  I am a football nut!  Although I am a Viking fan living in the middle of Bears territory--I proudly display the purple and gold in my office.
7.  I've coached just about everything.  Coaching paid the bills while I was in grad school. At one time in 1990--I was the Assistant Girls Basketball Coach at Union, of LaPorte City while also Head Coach of an 8th grade basketball team at Holmes Junior High in Cedar Falls.  Early morning practices, class, after school practices.....I learned so much, but I don't miss that schedule. I coached softball in my hometown after graduating from Wartburg, coached track and volleyball at Homes Junior High and also was a volleyball camp counselor at UNI for a number of summers.  Those experiences were priceless as I went on to be the Assistant Varsity/Head Sophomore Volleyball coach at Bettendorf for 15 years until I retired from coaching in 2005.  
8.  I absolutely love animals.  I currently have a furry baby--Rory, a mini Australian Shepherd.  I am sure that I will never spend any time without a pet in my household.  
9. I never considered doing anything but teaching.  I loved school, loved learning and couldn't imagine my life doing anything else.  
10.  I love to read-- you may think--of course, she's a Librarian.  The Teacher Librarian position came to me much later and I never really thought of myself as a Librarian.  I've always loved to lose myself in a good book and have quite a collection of hard cover books.  Ironically, since taking my newest position, I haven't devoted much time to reading but I am hoping to change that this year.
11.  I love to binge-watch!! Can't help myself.  My apple tv and a subscription to Netflix.  To me--it is almost like you get to watch mini-movies as you work through 8 seasons of Dexter or 4 seasons of The Walking Dead.  Admitting the problem is the first step..... right?

My answers to Matt Degner's questions
1. What is your stress reliever?
I'd like to say exercise--and it definitely does relieve stress.  But for me, a lot of times, I need to laugh.  Watch a funny movie, read a funny book, check my twitter feed.  Mostly, I look for something to make me smile.

2. What Twitter chats do you participate in? Why?
I participate in #Iaedchat and #1to1techat on a fairly regular basis.  I believe that there is always something you can learn from others.  

3. What was the best conference you ever attended?
I was lucky enough (thanks Jimmy Casas) to attend ISTE last year and it was phenomenal.  So many opportunities and so many people--learning 24/7.

4. What is your best educational experience?
Too many to count.  I loved school and learning so most of my days were positive and I have very good memories of my education.  

5. What is your worst educational experience?
This is a tough one.  I don't remember a lot of bad experiences.  I guess one would be--being embarrassed as a teen for good grades.  Some of my friends who struggled to get good grades would make comments about me being smart or good at school.  It used to bother me and then it didn't.... couldn't do anything about it and so I embraced it.

6. What are your favorite athletic teams?
Minnesota Vikings--favorite by far. Iowa Hawkeyes football fan as well. If I watch baseball, I watch the Minnesota Twins.  I don't like NBA basketball at all but watched the Bulls in their hay day.  Not a hockey fan, but I will cheer for the Blackhawks. College basketball--I do watch some but it is usually the Hawkeyes.

7. If you were not in education what would you do for a career?
Probably something in the tech field.  

8. What is your most noteworthy accomplishment as an educator?
I had an article published this past year in ISTE's Leading and Learning with Technology.  Not sure that it is the most noteworthy but I'm proud of it.

9. What is one book you would recommend to others? What are you reading right now? 
As noted earlier, I haven't read any books lately.  But some of my favorite authors are David Baldacci, Jeffrey Archer and Michael Connelly.  

10. What would you tell someone that hasn’t bought into social media as an educator? 
Start small, lurk first, participate later.  You really are cheating yourself and your professional development.  It doesn't take any more time to check your twitter feed then it does to wait in line for your Starbucks.  What you learn from twitter doesn't cost you as much and will be with you a lot longer.

11. What year will the Cubs win the World Series? 
The Cubs will win the World Series in the same year as the Vikings win the Super Bowl!!!


1.  You are on an island and can have one book?  Which one would you bring and why?
2.  What do you think will be the biggest innovation in education in the next 10 years?
3.  If you weren't in education, what occupation would you have pursued?
4.  What hobbies do you have, outside of reading?
5.  Which teacher (s) had the biggest impact on you and why?
6.  What conference/workshop would you consider most valuable?
7.  Do you have a bucket list? If so, what are some items you are willing to share?
8.  You can eat a meal without having to worry about any negative effects (weight, cholesterol, etc) what would be included?
9.  Where is one location that you would like to visit and why?
10.  What is your favorite inspirational quote?
11.  What is your most cherished memory of your childhold?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


In my position as a Teacher Librarian I get an endless supply of problem-solving opportunities.  It is really one of the best things about my job.  I get to do something different every day.  I get to challenge my mind and I get to solve puzzles.  I learn every single day as a result of those occasions.  Which brings me to the million dollar question, how can we give our students those same chances? How can we provide our students with openings to problem-solve and learn within our classrooms?  Or better yet, how can we instill the same passion, that we, as educators have for learning.

Let me tell you about Joe.  Joe is a student that I have been working with rather closely because he is involved in our student technology group.  He is one of our few volunteer members that show up every day to assist with technology issues in the building.  This is Joe’s second year in the program.  As a freshmen, Joe came in on an after-school basis to be here in case any student had issues with their iPad or if our technician needed help troubleshooting in the building.

I didn’t know Joe at all when he started but figured that eventually as time passed, I would get to know him a bit better.  Joe didn’t say much, in fact, more times than not, if he did say anything, I had to ask him to repeat himself because he mumbled and spoke in such a soft tone that I couldn’t hear him.  It made it difficult to develop a working relationship as I wasn’t able to have a productive conversation with him as often as I would have liked. 
Since we were in the first year of our student technology group, I wanted to make sure that our student volunteers were not letting their grades slip as a result of their time spent troubleshooting.  I regularly checked their grades in their classes to see if they were keeping up with their homework and/or passing. Joe was a challenge.  I talked with Joe on a number of occasions about missing homework, projects and low scores.  He was failing some of his classes and when I met with his teachers, I found out that he just wasn’t doing the work.  Was he playing on his iPad? Probably. Was he distracted by the technology? Yes.  The cycle was always the same.  I would check Joe’s grades and email his teachers.  When I had a list of assignments and projects that he needed to complete to raise his grade I would wait for him to come in after school and I would have a discussion with him.  The discussion was always the same.  Do you have these assignments done? If you have them done, why didn’t you turn them in?  Why haven’t you finished your homework?  All of the questions that you would expect a teacher to ask a student who was not passing.  Joe, almost to a fault, would listen to me, nod his head and every once in a while mumble something incomprehensible and then I wouldn’t see him for a couple of days.  Why? He didn’t want to have to explain to me why his grades were so low.  Did he understand that not doing his homework was going to cause him to be short on credits at the end of the year?  Did he understand that when he was supposed to be a sophomore, he wouldn’t be because he would have to make up credits first?  Yes—he understood all of the implications of his actions (or lack of)—he just didn’t care.  He was bored.  He was interested in technology and didn’t see the need to do work that he did not consider beneficial.  He was able to pass most tests without doing the work but couldn’t pass the class because of his outstanding assignments. 

I think if you were to ask Joe today, he would tell you that he spent way too much time playing games on his iPad—time that he could’ve spent doing his homework.  If you don’t do the homework in school, you aren’t successful.  That is just the way things are…. 

Homework has been a hot topic for a very long time.  Expecting students to put in time outside of school reading, practicing math problems, writing and researching is a long-standing practice.  Some would consider that time essential, others would consider it a hoop that students must jump through in order to get the grade that will allow them to pass the class.  We’ve all done it—complete the task at hand so we can move on.  Is that what we want homework to be?  Why can’t homework become something that students can’t wait to do? How can we change homework into opportunities to problem-solve?  What if homework became an occasion; to learn, to push the boundaries, to try something new, to grow?  If we can create openings for students to exercise their curiosity and their passion, I’m not sure we could stop students from taking advantage of these learning opportunities.

Joe took a Multimedia Art class this year.  He was so intrigued by the software he was using and by the products he was creating that he couldn’t wait to share these with me.  He would come in to work at lunch or after school and couldn’t wait to show me the latest change he had made on his design.  Joe, the kid that would barely talk, was now talking my ear off.  What changed?  Sure, Joe had matured some over the summer.  He was now making up those credits he was missing and was passing all of his classes (which is huge).  But the real change that I noticed was that Joe was more than willing to take time out of his day to show me what he had created, what he was working on and how excited he was for me to see his designs.  What happened to that student who didn’t want to do a simple homework assignment for Biology?  He was now a student who was spending an hour after school fussing with one aspect of a design to get it “just right”.  He wanted to spend so much extra time after school, there were some days I had to push him out the door because I wanted to go home.  Wow—what a difference a year makes!  Not only that, but he had found something that he was passionate about.  He loved designing digital art.

We were lucky enough to purchase a 3D printer with the help of a grant and when I asked our Art teacher to give me the names of students from her class that may have an object that they would want to print—you guessed it--Joe.  I asked him if he wanted to see if he could get his file into the proper format so that we could print one of his objects.  Now, Joe is no longer in Art class but he has spent the past two weeks, every day after school and sometimes at lunch working on getting his file ready to print.  First, he had to figure out how to convert his file into the correct file format.  Once he had that done, he opened the file and part of his object was missing.  He then had to research why that part of the file didn’t transfer.  He came up with a hypothesis, tested it and he was able to put the file back as it was originally.  Mind you, this was all being done on his own free time—with no pressure from anyone to turn it in or to finish it by a specific date.  When his file was ready to go—we printed it and he now has a solid object that was created from a digital file that he produced.
Original Digital Art File (top view)

  File after rendered (top view)

3D printed object (spaceship)

I had someone ask me “So what is he going to do with it now?  I said, I don’t know, but I guarantee that the process Joe went through to create his design, convert the file, fix the issues that arose, and produce his object will do more for his learning than any worksheet ever could.  And the smile on his face when he saw it for the first time......Pretty cool stuff!!!!

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail"
                                                                                                         Ralph Waldo Emerson
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