What Just Happened? #ISTE13

2013-06-23 16.38.42I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference in San Antonio last week.  Today, I’m trying to make sense of all the notes, pictures, and SWAG that I returned with.  I also wanted to write a blog to share some of the things I learned, so here is my attempt to do both at the same time.

The ISTE13 Conference Experience

When the program was published several weeks ago, I had a feeling I might be overwhelmed by the conference.  It literally took me three days to just read through the program and make notes about possible events I’d like to attend.  When I had finished going through the program, I had booked myself for at least three events for every time slot!  So much to do, so little time!


Ironically, most of the highlights from the conference for me were not about technology, but about people!

  • The conference was huge! Word on the street is there were around 20,000 attendees from all over the U.S. and 70 countries, yet everyone seemed like they knew each other.  I blame Twitter!  Seriously though, the people attending the conference were really nice.  I found myself in conversations with people from all over the world while standing in line for workshops, waiting for events to begin, and just hanging out in the lounges.
  • The content I learned from the workshops was great!  I learned many new things, and was reminded of some things that I had forgotten, but the most impressive part of the workshops was the passion in the voices of the people presenting.  They were sold on their topic, and they were convinced that the information they were sharing could literally change the way our kids learn.  As I listened to the speakers, I was reminded that it’s not the technology, it’s the teacher!
  • bandThe final highlight I should mention came from the keynote sessions.  The speakers were incredible (I’ll get back to them in a bit), but the highlight was the “house band.”  ISTE brought in a live band to entertain the audience before and during the keynotes.  I have a feeling they could have showcased any band they wanted at this event, but they chose a local group, comprised of high school students, to entertain thousands of people from around the world!  And they were amazing!  They are called the Dara Niemi Band. You can hear some of their music on their website: http://daraniemi.com/.

Here’s a clip from their performance at the final keynote.

The Exhibit Floor

I tried to spend some time on the exhibit floor, hoping to come across that magic “next greatest thing!”  The space was huge, with hundreds of exhibitors (I’ve got the free pens to prove it)!  I took time to watch and listen, and tried to envision how the product would change how we teach at Timberview.  But at many of the booths I visited, I found myself thinking, “Can’t Google do that?”  So I spent much of my exhibit time here:


Poster Sessions and Student Showcase

If I could change one thing about my experience, it would be to spend more time at the poster sessions and the Student Showcase.  I had no idea how cool these would be!

At these booths, students and educators showed real life examples of technology in schools.  I loved listening to the students explain how they used technology in their learning.  You could actually see the excitement in their eyes.

One of the groups of students was from the Centro Escolar Los Altos in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico.  They shared with us how they created ebooks using iBooks Author to share with the younger kids at their school.  A few of the students stood at the front of the booth and explained the program, while the rest manned a station where they demonstrated the process.  They spoke eloquently (in English I might add!), were very knowledgeable, and eager to share.  I realized later in the conference, that I missed eight other sessions that they presented!  Luckily, you can find all of their projects on their blog!  


From the opening keynote to the last session I attended, Gamification was a recurring theme.  As I learned about using games to impact learning, I kept thinking that they should call it something other than gamification.  Too many people think games are just “wasting time” or “enrichment.”  So I came up with my own term for using games in school…ready for it?  I think we should call it – Good Teaching!

My Takeaways Regarding Gamification:

My first takeawayJane McGonigal is a rock star!  I knew a little about her through her TED talks and following her on Twitter, but seeing her in person, and hearing the passion in her voice, convinced me that gaming is an integral and necessary part of learning.

My notes from her presentation:

2013-06-23 18.18.40

The average Call of Duty gamer plays 170 hours per year! That’s one full month of full time work every year!

The longer you stay in school, the less engaged you become.

The longer you stay in school, the less engaged you become.

Ten Positive emotions from gaming: Joy, Relief, Love, Surprise, Pride, Curiosity, Excitement, Awe/Wonder, Contentment, and Creativity

Ten Positive emotions from gaming: Joy, Relief, Love, Surprise, Pride, Curiosity, Excitement, Awe/Wonder, Contentment, and Creativity

The opposite of play isn't work - It's depression.

The opposite of play isn’t work – It’s depression.

Signing her book, "Reality is Broken."

Signing her book, “Reality is Broken.”

Takeaway number two: When I heard about gamification, I immediately related it to technology…video games.  But it’s not about the technology at all; it’s about the game itself.  Rory Newcomb gave an excellent definition of gamification in her session:

  1. In short:  a careful and considered application of game thinking to solving problems and encouraging learning using all of the elements of games that are appropriate (p. 15)
  2. A more thorough description:  Gamification encompasses the idea of adding game elements, game thinking, and game mechanics to learning content.  The goal of gamification is to take content that is typically presented as a lecture or an e-learning course and add game-based elements (story, challenge, feedback, rewards, etc.) and create a gamified learning opportunity… (pg. 18)

Here’s a link to her presentation.  If you are at all curious about gamification (you know you are!) her presentation is worth your time!

And if you are looking for ideas to gamify your classroom, check out Andrew Miller’s website: Andrew K. Miller

Takeaway number three: Teachers who use gaming effectively in the classroom are just doing what all great teachers have done throughout history – doing whatever it takes to make teaching relevant!

Apps I Didn’t Know (or Just Didn’t Understand!)

First, I owe Evernote an apology.  I’ve had the app on my devices for years.  I even used it several times in 2010, and once or twice in 2011, but I never really gave it a chance.  After hearing many people talk about it at workshops and conferences this year, I decided to give it another shot.  I am now a believer in the power of Evernote.  I’m not sure there is a tool out there that could have helped me keep my notes from the ISTE Conference organized (not even you, Google!)

Here’s a list of a few of the  websites and apps I learned about (or learned more about) at ISTE:


  • Educlipper – Pinterest for educators.  You can share clips with other teachers or your students.
  • ThingLink – Really cool way to create interactive posters.  I see a lot of potential for class projects, presenting information to staff, and publishing information to the community.
  • Infogram and Easel.ly– Both Create great looking infographics.
  • PollEverywhere – This was a popular tool during the conference.  It was used at keynotes, sessions, and in the exhibit hall.  It’s one of those tools I knew about, but didn’t realize the power.  It’s way easier than I thought.  The presenter sets up the question, then participants answer the question via text message (or Twitter, etc.)
  • InfuseLearning – This one is a must have! It allows real time feedback in the classroom.  Teachers can ask all kinds of questions, students can answer with any device, there’s the ability to draw your response, and teachers can send out links to websites from the program.  It’s pretty incredible – and FREE!
  • BigHugeLabs – This site allows you to do some cool stuff with pictures.  I thought it was cool that you could make trading cards and press badges!  Word on the street is, if you log in as a teacher, your students can log in to an ad-free space.
  • Cel.ly – Mobile social networks.  (Think “Remind 101” with a twist.)  Cel.ly allows two-way communication between teachers and students, faculty and parents, etc.  It’s definitely worth learning more about.
  • Doodle.com –  An easy way to schedule meetings with multiple parties, and it works with your Google Calendar.  I have used this, but it was a nice reminder about a powerful collaboration tool.
  • ScreenCast-o-Matic – This is probably the single best tool I saw at ISTE!  It’s a free online tool that allows you to create simple screencasts.  When I say simple, I mean really simple!  Teachers can easily record lessons for Flipped Learning or days when a sub will be needed.  Tutorial videos are very easy to create.  I think this tool and I may become very good friends this year!


  • Skitch – Skitch is pretty amazing!  You can annotate pdf, pictures, etc. directly from your device.  Works with Evernote.  Lots of potential!
  • Remember the Milk – This is another one I tried a couple of years ago, but just couldn’t convince myself it was worth hanging onto.  After listening to Elizabeth Calhoon talk about it, I think I’ll give it another shot this summer.  It’s a task manager with lots of organizational tools.  Evidently it syncs to Google, so I’m definitely good with that!
  • Ifttt – If This, Then That – This is just genius!  You can set up “recipes” for pretty much anything!  “If I’m tagged in a photo on Facebook, then send me a text message.”  So cool!  I think I found something to do this summer!

Finally, this tool could be the most useful of them all.  It can be used to help those people who are always asking you questions that they can easily find themselves.  Go to the website http://lmgtfy.com/ and enter the question.  Copy the link and paste it into an email.  Send the link to the person asking the question.  (Click preview under the link to see what your colleague will see.)

I’ll leave you (finally!) with this:  ISTE13 reminded me that technology is just a tool, and no matter how powerful the technology is, we have to have great teachers in the classroom; teachers who are passionate, brilliant, and daring; who are willing to do whatever it takes to change the world!

And to my friends and colleagues at Timberview, I apologize in advance for the crazy ideas I’ll be throwing your way in the fall!



Planting Shade Trees Under Which We’ll Never Sit

trees-053“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit” – Nelson Henderson

I have to say, teaching middle school is not for everyone! It’s hard!  I mean, really, really hard! Our teachers have to deal with the changes in hormones, emotions, physical characteristics, and even voices of our students.  One day, Johnny is sweet, polite, and respectful, and the next day he’s shaving!

When I tell people that I am an assistant principal at a middle school, they always ask me what I did to deserve that! Did I lose a bet? Upset the superintendent?

Then I tell them I chose this job. And every teacher who works in our school chose their job, too.  And in my opinion, this is one of the most fulfilling jobs I could ever imagine doing.  We are planting shade trees under which we’ll never sit, and it’s worth every second!

Our students are shade trees that are just beginning to grow.  They’ve been fed, watered, and nurtured all the way through elementary school.  Their leaves are beginning to fill out, and the roots have potential for grasping firmly to the soil.  They will make more choices during their middle school years with regards to their future than ever before.  And though we are a crucial part of this growing process, we won’t be the ones who sit under their shade.

But it’s comforting to know that these students we are influencing every day, will grow up to be amazing, kind, brilliant, beautiful adults, who will contribute to our world in ways that will make us proud to be called their teachers.



Edcamp – Where Twitter Meets Reality!

The Keller ISD team at EdCamp Waller

The Keller ISD team at EdCamp Waller

I’ve been on “The Twitter” since June 2009.  Since that time, I’ve met thousands of experts in the field of education.  I’ve created a list of almost 300 Texas Educators who I learn from almost daily!  Through these twitter conversations I feel like we’ve already met.

Yesterday, in Waller, Texas, we really did meet!  Hundreds of educators from around the state attended EdCamp Waller.  Meeting these amazing teachers, principals, and educational leaders in person was inspiring!  They are every bit as passionate, knowledgeable, and willing to help in person as they are on Twitter.

This week’s blog is my attempt at sharing my edcamp experience with others, and to encourage you to find an edcamp that you can participate in (I hear there’s one in Fort Worth on July 27!)  It’s an experience you won’t forget!

What’s an EdCamp?

Describing an EdCamp is like trying to describe Disney World to someone who has never been; it has to be experienced to be understood!

It’s like professional development – on crack…seriously!

Attendees sign up to present when they arrive.  There are no vendors, and no presentations where companies are trying to sell their product.  The workshops are led by educators who are passionate about sharing with other educators.  Oh…and it’s FREE!

My Sessions:

Session 1 – Google Apps in Education

Demonstration of Google Hangouts

Demonstration of Google Hangouts

This standing room only session was lead by Steven Butschi, who is a chromebooks pilot manager for Google.  His information about Google Apps in Education affirmed my belief in the power of Google in schools.  Much of the information was a refreshing reminder about the power of Google Apps, but I learned some new tips and tricks as well.

  • Flubaroo is flippin’ awesome! With Flubaroo and Google Forms, you can automatically assess student learning.  You could give a short assessment before teaching, then another one after, and quickly see where learning fell shorter than expected.  You can also email the grade to the student with (or without) the correct answers.  
  • I learned that you can use “canned responses” in gmail.  This could be a pretty helpful tool.  Used with the filter function, you can actually have a canned response sent automatically for certain circumstances.  For example, a specific response could be sent automatically to anyone sending an email with the words “student” and “complaint” in the subject line.
  • Google is organizing the “Texas Google Summit” on May 18 in The Woodlands, TX.  Registration is only $50 bucks, and there are workshops geared towards all levels of Google Awesomeness!

Session II – Teach Like a Pirate

This was an open discussion about teaching with passion.  The title of the session comes from a book by Dave Burgess I am excited to read titled, “Teach Like a Pirate.”

Chris Kesler "Teaching Like a Pirate!"

Chris Kesler “Teaching Like a Pirate!”

The moderators discussed several questions that every teacher should ask regarding their own teaching:

  • “It doesn’t matter how much is taught, but how much is received” – do you agree?
  •  “Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?”
  •  “What is your purpose in education?” And the answer can’t be, “It’s for the kids!”
  • “Can enthusiasm be faked?”  A good answer – “Sometimes you have to fake it till you make it!”
  • And one of my favorite quotes of the day: “It doesn’t matter how much is taught.  What matters is how much is learned!”

Session III – iPads in Education

Some cool iPad apps for education; some I had heard of, but many new ones.  Some of my favorites:

  • Fotopedia – The world’s largest photo book! 
  • Skitch – Easily annotate pictures.
  • Paper – Cool drawing app
  • Postagram Postcards – There are several apps like this one on itunes.  Basically, you can create your own postcard and they will send it for you for a dollar.
  • TypeDrawing – I’ve seen this app on the school ipads, but I had no idea how cool it was until this workshop.  You can type something, then draw out a path, and the text follows the path.  You can add photos, and draw text around the border.  Lots of potential with this one!

There was also some discussion about seeing classrooms with signs that say “No Gadget Zone” and “Turn It Off!”  I sensed a lot of frustration in the room with regards to districts that don’t embrace technology.  It reminded me how fortunate I am to work in a district that appreciates the use of tech in the classroom.

Session IV – Google Whatever!

I went in to this session thinking it would be a nice way to end my day.  I felt pretty sure there wouldn’t be much new material presented, and I could pretty much turn off my brain and appreciate Google for just being Google.  I was wrong!  Like, REALLY WRONG!  My new Google Hero, Amy Mayer, presented so many new ideas, I couldn’t keep up.  I think a lot of attendees had the same thought I did, because every time she mentioned a tip, trick, or gadget, the whole room collectively “Hmmmmd.”  Here are some highlights:

(These are all tools that can be added to Google Drive – I know, who knew, right? You’ll find them in the Chrome Web Store, under Collections, then Google Drive)

  • Lucid Chart for Education – This is a tool that allows you to create flowcharts.  I was able to create a basic flowchart in about five minutes.  
  • Pic Monkey – This is a photo editor that can be integrated into Google Drive.  The great thing about this editor is everything is saved right to your Drive account.
  • WeVideo – I didn’t think I could love Google Drive more, but this tool is just downright irresistible! Using Google Drive as storage, you can collaboratively create and edit video projects.  I’m experimenting with this with my own kids, and it’s very, very easy to use!

edcampfw5I’m thankful to the great educators at Waller ISD for hosting this amazing day of learning, and I’m looking forward to seeing my Twitter friends again this summer at EdCamp Fort Worth!  You should come, too!

Why We Need “Timberview Dads”

Timberview dads logo

(Photo courtesy Davis Wright)

Timberview Dads is a newly created organization for the dads of our students at TMS.  The purpose of the group is to provide support to the school through mentoring, volunteering, and service opportunities.

Why We Need “Timberview Dads”

Some interesting statistics:

  • More than 24 million kids in the U.S. live without a biological father.
  • One-third of all children from father-absent homes have no contact with their dads.
  • The average father spends less than ten minutes a day one-on-one with his child.
  • When fathers are involved in the education of their children, the children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior.
  • The active involvement of fathers who do not live with their children can have a lasting and positive impact on their educational success.
  • The presence of a father greatly reduces disciplinary problems at school.

(U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Fathers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools, NCES 98-091,by Christine Winquist Nord, DeeAnn Brimhall, and Jerry West, Washington, DC: 1997.)

We need dads in our schools!

We have created Timberview Dads to encourage men to be involved with our school.  There are opportunities for every dad, regardless of schedule, talent, or interest.  Dads can help by mentoring other students, helping with service projects, chaperoning events, or hanging out at lunch. They can volunteer for a day, an hour, or any time that fits their schedule.  You can sign up to be a Timberview Dad here!

Our next event is “Timberview Dad’s Coffee Shop.”  We are inviting dads and their  students to come kick start their morning with coffee and donuts this Friday, from 7:30 to 8:30 in our library.  Sign up here!

Random Thoughts On Parent-Teacher Conferences

Let’s be honest.  How many teachers (and parents for that matter) enjoy parent-teacher conferences?  I mean really, really enjoy them?  We don’t usually get to have conferences when things are going well.  Wouldn’t that be great, though?  Imagine that phone call:

“Hi, may I speak to Mrs. Jones?….I’m calling to see if you might be available to meet with your child’s teachers….Johnny is doing such a great job, we just wanted to sit down with you, and tell you how amazing we think he is!”

It’s more likely that the reason for the meeting is Johnny is failing classes, acting up, sleeping, bullying, or one of a list of issues that needs addressed.  It’s really no wonder nobody likes attending these meetings.

I’ve been thinking lately about how important these meetings are to the home-school connection.  When we create positive parent-teacher meetings, in spite of the negative topics discussed, we can strengthen our relationships with families.  Allow me to share some random thoughts about conducting positive parent-teacher conferences:

Start meetings with something positive and personal about the student

This could be the single most important aspect of a positive parent-teacher meeting.  Before the meeting officially begins, talk to the parents about something positive and personal about the student.  Ask about last night’s baseball game, or how the trumpet lessons are going.  Bring up the trip the family just took, or maybe the plans the student has for his summer.

Not only does this lighten the mood a little, it shows that you care about their child and have taken an interest in his or her life outside of school.  Oh, and if you can’t think of anything to discuss, that might be part of the issue!

Wait for it!

Wait time is important in parent-teacher conferences.  Parents deserve our full attention when they speak.  When we interrupt them or begin speaking immediately after they have finished, we are saying that what we have to say is more important than listening to what they have to say.

Be patient.  Listen with your ears and your eyes.  Spend a second or two absorbing what is said.  Let the parents know that you came into the meeting prepared to have a conversation, to listen, and to understand.

We’re on the same team!

Above all else, remember that we are all in this together.  Everyone in the meeting wants the same thing – the best for the student.  Although sometimes we disagree, we all want the student to be successful, happy, and eager to learn.  We have to remember, they are bringing us the best kids they’ve got!

Frame it with positive

Finally, end the meeting the same way you began – with something positive.  Let the parents know that you appreciate their time and you are dedicated to the success of their child.



“Burn Your Ships!”


Hernando Cortes (photo courtesy of Photobucket)

Hernando Cortes (photo courtesy of Photobucket)

In 1519, Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortes landed on the shores of Mexico with 508 soldiers, 100 sailors, and 16 horses, determined to conquer the Aztec Empire, the Western Hemisphere’s most powerful nation.

According to legend, after reaching the shore, Cortes burned the ships to the ground.  He wanted his men to understand their options; win or die.  Retreating was not possible.  One can imagine the result of this action on Cortes’ men.  Knowing their options were limited, the soldiers would fight harder and with more determination.

The intriguing part of the story is not so much the determination of the Spanish soldiers, but the effect of the ship burning on the Aztecs.  After word of the ship burning spread, the Aztecs knew that the Spanish soldiers were literally fighting for their lives, and forcing a retreat was not an option.  The Aztecs were fully aware of the commitment the Spanish had made to victory.

Do They Know You’ve Burned Your Ships?

If you are a teacher, I believe that you have already burned your ships!  You are fully committed to the education of your students.  You pour your time, energy, and resources into teaching, and retreating is not an option.

But do your students know that you’ve burned your ships?  Have you told them that you are fully committed to them?  Do they know that you will never retreat?

Let your students know you won’t retreat:

  • Tell them they are important to you, not just as students, but as people!
  • LISTEN to them and treat them with respect.
  • Don’t accept their excuses.
  • Make it impossible for them to think you don’t care!
  • Help them find their passion.

I know there are other ways to show your students that you are committed to them. Share your ideas in the comments!

Congratulations Digital Principal of the Year!

I really enjoy working with my colleague, Timberview Middle School Principal Carrie Jackson.  She has many qualities that make her a good leader, but the one I admire most, is her humility.

Ms. Jackson was recently named one of three National Digital Principals of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).  This is a HUGE honor!  It confirms at a national level what we already know; Carrie exhibits “bold, creative leadership” as she strives to create an environment that embraces new technologies for teaching and learning.

So today’s blog post is a shout out to a humble leader, dedicated principal, and passionate educator,  who exemplifies the qualities of a “National Digital Principal Award Winner!”

Please take a moment today to read her insightful post on the NASSP Conference Website: Diversifying Community Outreach with Social Media.

She also writes a weekly “Friday Focus” article that discusses topics of interest to the campus and the education community.

And you can follow her on Twitter to learn more about technology, education, and TCU!