ISTE2016…Start to the Road Race

So Denver is on FIRE (not literally) but the heat isn’t too unbearable. Teachers are on Fleek and we are  going to #makelearningviral this week.

On Your Mark

Last evening, I arrived at the Denver International Airport and though it is a beautiful facility, it was all a blur. I raced past trains and concourses and out the building to get to the train that would bring me to the Convention Center. Making sure to not end up in another city, was my main concern. I purchased a full schedule pass for $9 which in hindsight I probably should have opted for a special discounted pass since I was just making the 1 trip. The ride was smooth and steady (we were going nowhere superfast) but glided our way into Union Station 37 minutes later.

Get Set

Let me tell you, the city was LIT in many ways as the smells of delicious food, clanging of glasses, and uproar of laughter was a sight in itself. My trek in the race wasn’t over so I boarded the Free Mall Bus Ride, which resembles a city bus headed in the direction of the 16th Street Mall.

This part was a little more intimidating because of the arrival of night lights and partygoers brushing past me in everyway. To add on to the anxiousness, I had to look at bukding numbers to guage where I would request my stop and then on top of it—my phone was on 15% with the constant chirp chirp as a reminder.

The relief of feeling like I was at home was achieved when my Edumatch family from Voxer greeted me at the door. The sweet smiles and hugs of Sarah Thomas and Tara Linney made me feel more prepared for this race. I had members of my VoxSquad on deck.

Go

As we arose this Sunday morning to the cool breeze and hovering sun, we met more familiar faces that were strangers until our hugs and handshakes over yummy Crepes at the 16th Street Mall. We started our learning with Ricoh 360 pictures, selfies, Twitter DM messages, and Snapchat. We talked out our plans and hopes for the conferences and sessions we want to attend but all of that will happen after the EduMatch/EdSpeakers meetup. To see a periscope about it–find me as iamvlewis on Periscope or search #passtheScopeEDU

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I broke away for a moment between breakfast and EduMatch meetup to grab my  media credentials and write up this first blog.

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You will see me armed and equipped with my tech tools, moving to and fro throughout the building and the city of Denver at lightning speeds. Though I plan to be cute at all times the work I will be doing will be FIERCE and INTENTIONAL.

Game ON!!!

 

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Because They Call Me…. M.o.M.

On February 26, 1978 this little brown girl was born to an immigrant mother from Cap-Haitien, Haiti. As a single mom of 3, it wouldn’t be easy but LIFE in the 305 (Dade County, Miami) was going to toughen my smooth baby skin.

The Journey

Let me tell you about a woman who raised 2 boys and a little girl with little to nothing. The funny thing is they didn’t realize that they weren’t exactly rich. The kids were conceived from different dads but you aren’t allowed to judge their mom. You see the first man was one she was in love with and bore a child out of wedlock; but a jealous woman (perhaps a side chic) made sure that their union wasn’t complete. The 2nd man forced himself in and upon her causing her to conceive a man child. She chose not to press charges and the irony is they could come together and co-parent that baby with no hard feelings for over 30 years. The 3rd man had a family and a wife but simply wanted to gain residency in the United States (so the story goes) and I was conceived after their short stint of a “marriage”. But that is neither here nor there—you can read more when I write a full length book about it.

Life is a Journey
http://www.glavoquotes.online

The Lessons

As Mother’s Day approaches, I think about how sometimes my heart feels hardened because she was always just a mother and not a friend. Life was structured, stern and full of RULES! I think back to those embarassing times my friends would dial my number and she would answer the phone singing the first 2 verses of the hymnal. She spent most of her time giving us the side-eye and lectures longer than the Nile. I guess it was her way of being a perfect role model to us but sadly it was the same delivery she was mimicking from the aunts that forced her teenage laboring hands into adulthood.

Mother

The Experience

Fast forward through life and I found myself having to take a series of tests that had been prepared for me —MY LIFE! The things I’ve observed with my eyes and held in my heart would now paint me a colorful narrative. In 2007, I welcomed Carsyn-Piyere in my arms, followed by Xander-Ma’Chi in 2010, and then my beautiful Bella-I’man in 2013.  In this leg of the race, I was blessed with a partner that could share the laughs, wonders, heartaches, and ultimately…happiness.

These tiny and beautiful humans bless my soul each day because they call me MOM! Unfortunately, I  had to give up some kids over the past 16 years and that guilt drives me insane. You see from year to year I spend time with them but then from year to year they are taken away. I care about these kids but cannot live with myself as a M.o.M. knowing that some of their names I have forgotten and birthday cards and special occassions are not celebrated with gifts, balloons, cake or ice cream.  I was only responsible to push and challenge them beyond their greatest dreams.  My challenge was to pull those dreams out of the dark hole that somehow faded to black at some point over the last decade and a half.

The Moment of Clarity

As I reflect on this journey, l do not say how much I love her enough or celebrate her in a  way where she truly knows she is appreciated. She sacrificed a lot to be sure my brothers and I were okay and she fought for the opportunities that would make us better. She was a teacher at home before anyone else would claim that title officially. She moved mountains and oceans so we could go far, deep, wide, and high! She possessed a strength and work ethic that could not be contested even when she answered the call in the only way she might know how. I cannot say that we are BFFs or that I do things the way she would like but she is still my MOM and the one that has given me strength beyond her own.

When a new milestone of a school year begins, I sadly think of the spirits of those lost children which seem to haunt me in some reincarnated manner through the bodies of the new learners that sit at my desks and eventually fill a space in my heart. I recognize that I too am and will always be their M.o.M.  Whether they come back to visit or  not, I am the “Motivator of Minds”! I served and continue to lead as their sherpa in this leg of the journey. As we pay tribute to the mom’s and teachers across the world this week–think also upon the Motivator of Minds (M.o.M.) that have also pushed you to greatness. I am rich because they all call me… MOM!

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Why Most Professional Development Stinks—and How You Can Make It Better

At the end of summer vacation, the agenda or itinerary for pre-planning week arrives in the mail, and the feelings take over like the charge of a rushing flood with the thought of “PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.” It happens to the best and worst of us as we ponder what we’d rather be doing in our course teams or classrooms than taking useless PD. Ironically, this summer strummed a different type of emotion within me… I realized that for once, I wanted more–I wanted more from my PD.

Professional development sessions should not be met with frowned eyebrows and a scrunched up face, but instead with a growth mindset and opportunity to improve teaching and learning–yet or even better, as my colleague Dorian stated, PD should make you “fall in love all over again.”

How Administrators Can Improve Their Deliverance of Professional Development

Building administrators and leaders are often following county-level or district-wide mandates when serving up PD to their faculty. These things just have to get done. No contest there! The downside to achieving these goals is that the ensuing sessions often resemble someone standing in front of the group and talking “at” the audience, while we all we just “sit and get”. This torture is usually coupled with endless scrolling PowerPoint slides and a manila folder, which might as well have the stamped words “You’ve Been Trained” handed to you.

Ironically, time arrests that folder, and places it away in a cold, lonely drawer within a file cabinet. It’s always with good intentions that we get back to what we learned, but time usually jangles the keys in our face and laughs hysterically until the mention of that topic resurfaces or the school year draws to an end.

While engaging in a discussion with colleagues through a chat on Walkie Talkie app Voxer, I picked up several pieces of advice on how administrators can better the PD they offer. To kick us off, Aziz Abdur-Raoof (@ziz87 from MD), shared this photo which sums up best what administrators do not want to happen.

With that image in mind, here are some suggestions for how administrators can engage and understand more what teachers are looking for.

  1. Offer teachers some choice throughout the year in things they want to learn about. This is the personalized learning that sparks the flame and makes you want to go deeper without being told to do so. Isn’t this the same thing we want for the students in our class? This can be achieved by collecting ideas on a Google Form or creating a Choice Board where teachers can share their interests. For more largescale changes to the actual event, follow anEdCamp-ish type model, where participants pick their poison.
  2. Observe, in order to differentiate, then decide what the group needs. Just as in writing, know your audience. How do they best learn? Where do they shine? How can you establish buy-in versus push-back? Matthew Mayer from Illinois challenges administrators to do just that here, in this Voxer file.
  3. Be clear and transparent about why something can’t be done. Teachers may often give suggestions as to what they’d like to learn, or at least what they think is meaningful. Tell them the broader lense that you are looking through that may benefit the whole group, or perhaps why this moment may not be the most appropriate for their particular desire.

    How Teachers Fit Into the Equation

    The buck doesn’t stop with school leaders and administrators–teachers should go deeper with their learning and ownership over PD. When the excitement sparks from within, then we can teach our students better and apply our knowledge. For example, my #satchat buddy, @TG_Neil distinguishes professional development from personalized learning (in her opinion) here in this Voxer file.

    Teachers, here are some suggestions for how you can own your PD.

    1. Familiarize yourselves with the local school’s improvement plan and how that helps the district overall. This may not always be what we want personally, but may be what the school needs as a whole towards a common goal. There is always a challenge in education that could be solved with our simple ideas as suggested in Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez’s book, Hacking Education.
    2. Proactively seek out opportunities to share, lead, and earn PLU credits and stipends on your passion areas. I usually don’t wait for an opportunity to fall in my lap, but instead I try to create them by running a parent literacy night, leading a teacher group, or suggesting and teaching an intervention class for students with disabilities. I am honing my craft and leading in areas that I am passionate about. Find your passion, seek it out more in depth, and impact those around you positively
    3. Attend conferences and join professional organizations. ISTE, Miami Device, EdCamps, and those put on by Staff Development for Educators (SDE) and Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) are all opportunities to learn deeper and meet like-minded people or those with a different viewpoint. Subscribe to publications like National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) for articles and latest research.
    4. Get connected and establish global connections through Twitter (#gwinchat, #SoFLEd, #EduMatch, #satchat), FB Groups (PoC in EdTech and Hack Learning), Instagram and other Social Media outlets (i.e.Pinterest). Though technology can be a game changer, it is not the only tool out there that you can use to change the game. Remember to find value from the people within your building that offer tons of knowledge and are rich in experience and connect with them first. Remember that you are a “forever learner,” and keep a growth mindset. Learning new things can often be uncomfortable until you try and begin to experience success.

Professional development is what your leaders say you have to do, and that may make you feel like your hands are tied behind your back. However, you hold the greater responsibility to personalize your learning each day, and oftentimes for free. The major cost to you is your time, and perhaps a few moments away from those you truly love.

In the end, for any educator, grow your network to include like-minded individuals (and perhaps even those with a varied point of view) that may be within your building, outside your district, and perhaps even across the country. The perk in this is that you can and will exchange ideas (even simple ones), share resources to improve your practice, and grow through learning in both your professional career and personal passions.


Valerie Lewis is an educator, and can be reached on Twitter at @iamvlewis.

This post is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Georgia). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors alone and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

#BackToSchool: The Old Posterboard Is Now Outdated

This post was written by Valerie Lewis. She is a teacher, entrepreneur, technology fanatic and forever learner from Atlanta, Georgia.

As teachers and students head back to school for another amazing year; the planning is as lengthy as the teacher supply store lines at WalMart. There is a sea of overzealous parents overspending in order to be certain their young learners have everything they need. On the other hand, there are some parents frustrated with the wish lists of elementary and middle school teachers requesting staplers, borders, paperclips, pencils, markers, tape, notebook paper, and colored copy paper!

One item that teachers add to their collection annually is……POSTERS! How could we ever do without plastering our walls with quotes, memes, and infographics?

Classroom walls

Howver, the typical posterboard has run its course. Over these past 2 years, I have come across a tool which allows my students to display complex information in a concise way. An alternative that’s digital and custom.

Piktochart.

It all started when my 8 year old came home with one of those infamous “All About Me” projects that have families running to their local CVS or Walgreens to print out family portraits. It was a daunting project, but I knew there had to be a better way. After reaching out to my Professional Learning Network (PLN) to vent, they suggested Piktochart and we set out to create his digital poster.

This is the result! Superb for an 8-year old boy!

Carsyn's Infographic

Getting Started

Creating an account

The first step is creating your Piktochart account. We already had an account so I did not need to create another for him. However, if you haven’t created yours, go to www.piktochart.com and click Sign Up. You can use Google+, Facebook or email. You will then need to create a username and password. Once you are in, you can decide which of the 4 formats you’d like to use: Infographic, Poster, Report, or Presentation.

Piktochart's format picking

Selecting a Template

There are 12 FREE templates for you to begin with, including a blank canvas for you to customize and format to your liking. I have found the benefits of the free account rewarding but upgrading to a Premium account will give you access to so many additional features. Once you have selected your template, you are ready to begin!

A great tip is using the search bar to find what you are looking for. For instance, if you need to work on a project with food, you can search for that. Odds are you’ll find a beautiful template that will suit your needs!

Picking a template in Piktochart
The Creation Process

The process is a very simple drag and drop motion which allows you to resize, change font appearances and colors or simply delete what is already there. This reminds me of the interface of Microsoft Word when you are adding an image or Word Art. On the left side of your screen is where you can find various graphics to include shapes, lines, icons, photos, and photo frames.

You can also upload images to your canvas from files that are already saved on your computer or external drives. The benefit is that you can save these images within the site and they will become part of your gallery for future use. You can also change the look of your background, add text and charts and the latest feature allows you to import external tools and embed into your infographic (i.e. SurveyMonkey).

Piktochart's editor

If you would rather watch an instructional video first, I suggest you start with this one by Michelle Shaeffer. I showed it to my high school students and my 8 year old. Or, you could simply use the Tour button within Piktochart to get familiar with the many features that will help create a great piece of art.

Finishing Up

Just like any cautious being, I would advise you to save your work as you plug along and give your masterpiece a title so it is easy for you to locate under the My Saved Piktocharts or File icon the next time you log into your account. You can preview your completed work and share it out through Social Media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. If you level up to a premium account then you can export to SlideShare and Evernote as well! If these aren’t an option for you then you can download your infographic as a JPEG or PNG but with an upgraded account, you can download a PDF version of your work and remove the Piktochart watermark from your finished product.

Bonus: Brainstorming and Crowdsourcing Ideas

I remember having a discussion on Twitter one evening where one of the teachers mentioned wanting to see things around her classroom that would be culturally relevant and reflect the students she would be teaching. I suggested creating posters of African-American scientists that were innovative and contributed things that we still use today. She loved that idea and was excited to see if she could print the final products in larger dimensions from her school’s printshop. This was so she could cover her classroom walls with quality contributions by her students, all the while demonstrating the knowledge they had gained. One of my fellow Edumatchers from my VoxSquad, TimmonsTechyTips.com uses Pinterest to pin her work and mentioned how Piktochart is a great way to share information learned as evidenced by the infographic she created on 3 ways to Read an Anchor chart.

As an educator, I have had my students create cultural projects, advised other teachers on how to use these projects to set the school tone, climate, culture and spirit during the school year and even let my 8 year old start his “All About Me” project (which sadly, his teacher wouldn’t accept because it wasn’t on old fashioned poster board). I have even created infographics for a Reading, ESOL, and Gifted endorsement class that I took because I just simply wanted to try something fresh and easy. Though, my skills were very basic at the time, it certainly allowed me to stand out amongst the other submissions which all shared the same presentation format.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating with Piktochart. I would think that school administrators, reading coaches, instructional and tech coaches can create informational materials to help parents, teachers, and students all “get connected” and remain in the loop in order to have a successful school year. To be able to walk in school hallways throughout the year and see work created by students, administrators and faculty would certainly contribute to the learning environment we’d all love to see!

Teaching from the Inside Out

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Valerie Lewis is an EDUPRENEUR, technology fanatic, a forever learner, and a DISRUPTOR of normalcy within education!  Connect with her on Twitter at @iamvlewis.

We all have that ” ITch” from within that drives us, makes us, consumes us, tickles us and incessantly strums louder than our heartbeat could ever drum. This abstract thing we can’t put our hand on pushes us beyond our usual self and in some cases causes us to step aside, around and outside of our normal selves. Each day is a given chance to challenge ourselves to be greater than the day before. When I rise in the morning and before going to bed at night I look in the mirror (or in reality lay in bed while gazing at the TV ) I want to be able to say to myself “Self…YOU did that!”

The power of ME is one that can’t be contended. This power is unmatched BUT infectious. It’s OH so lethal that it causes those that long to be unbothered, apathetic, and indifferent to take notice.  Pardon me a moment for those that want to call it arrogance but let me rub my CONFIDENCE in your face just a little bit more. I’m not talking about taking a glance at the physical ME. NO NO! I want the ME that forces an inspection into the depths of themselves because they have been so long buried under layers of skin, bones, organs, muscles, tissue and STUFF.

EMOTIONAL STUFF, EGOTISTICAL & HAUGHTY STUFF, HATEFUL & SPITEFUL STUFF, COWARDLY and SILENCED STUFF, INHIBITED & INSECURE STUFF, and STUFF STUFFthat just can’t be easily erased away STUFF!

This type of contagion can be the breaking and changing point within a mere soul that will eventually connect to many other lives. I intentionally and purposefully teach fom the inside out because my kids need to know that I am human, real and relatable. Though stern and strict at times they must always know that I have their best interest at the heart of every moment we share together in our learning space. The goals I set for myself are good for me but I also need to help them blaze their own trails toSUCCESS and HAPPINESS.

I once had a student say to me “Mrs. Lewis…you are always doing the most and act like we’re going to change the world.” Though it pierced me a bit to think that he was doubting his own ability (and that of his peers) to do just that; I quickly recovered and realized he was surely being infected with the venom of my PASSION. He recognized he was getting the ITch and in many ways wanted to deny or reject the process or metamorphosis. He was battling with the idea that he actually may want to try to change the world and be successful at it. There would surely be an OUT-BREAK!  This would be a shedding of normalcy and a true TRANSFORMATION in thinking for all of us.

Despite the fact that we change clothes, hairdos and outwardly things; our inner beings should dominate and shine through all the layers of STUFF! What a great day it will always be when we  facilitate and assist our students to discover the GOOD & GREAT longing to be unveiled from within. Let’s continue to plant and water the learning seed simply by teaching from the inside out.

My New Summer Love

Summertime is made of all things nice: cookouts, swimming and tanning poolside, chilled watermelon, lemonade, family, friends, concert series, good books, sandy beaches, festivals and PROFESSIONAL DVELOPMENT! Hmmmm? < insert Scooby-Doo voice here>. Unfortunately, the ipod and playlists will not include Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s Summertime anthem! 

Here we are mid-August and on the 2nd week of school and I am asking myself “where in the world did the time go?” I made plans to clean out closets, empty out the garage that is harboring God knows what, and taking care of those home projects that the school year holds me hostage from flirting and dancing with. I guess you can tell that my summer went by too quick and I did not get to the many things I had hoped to accomplish. This is true but an unexpected surprise made this summer feel like the Bruno Mars and Mark Brunson collaboration…TOO HOT!!!

I had an affair and cheated on my husband and 3 kids with a large group of strangers. It was more than just a one night stand—- BUT don’t judge me! In fact, this group gave me a new lease on my professional career. Where did your mind take you? SMH! Things that I wanted to learn about and even things I didn’t know I needed or wanted to know were “gifted” to me. They massaged my mind and electrified everything within me. For certain each day and every night I was summoned by the 3 chirps in notification form to come to the fold for more mind stimulations and I….. DID…. NOT…. REFUSE!! I longed for more of this good good loving and to top it off–it didn’t cost me a dime. Usually all things come to an end but this relationship seems to be going 1,000,000 miles fast!

The rush and the thrill of this new found love causes me to keep tight grips on it. I’m holding on tight and have this baby in the palm of my hand. That’s right…I’ve got it in the bag. The exchange is so deep that I am propelled to new dimensions. I don’t even need gravity to keep me on my feet because My VoxSquad (in my Ice Cube- Straight Out of Compton voice) now holds me down.

I have learned more this summer about the things that matter to me. I have had professional development my way. It’s been individualized and personalized. The “sit and gets” are for the birds and the “you’ve been trained” in a manilla folder of printouts or death by powerpoints should never resurface.

Voxer is Twitter on steroids! Subtract the 140 character limitations or inability to hear or read tone and Voxer is where it is at. You feel connected to the voice on the other side of this walkie-talkie app. These strangers have upgraded to accountability partners, friends, and sometimes feel like family. The affair we’ve had has blossomed into a relationship of several months now so I feel comfortable disclosing some names. SatChat, Teacher VoxLine, PoCEdTech, EduMatch, Hack Learning, Admin2B, DocVox, TeacherPreneur, and Google Education Certification Support all have my back and best interest at heart! No hidden agendas…just great people wanting to share their knowledge and to help in whatever way they know how. The names are too many to send individual shout-outs. I could never forgive myself by playing “favorites.” This thing has my mind so crazy that I’ve gone so far as to have more of them in a multitude of ways that I upgraded to a Pro account/user. Though summer has sadly ended before I could cross most things off my list but I am glad to announce that this sizzling affair will continue to run its course into Fall, Winter, Spring..and of course..next Summer!

More specifics on Voxer and how you too can get in on some dirty dancing will be part of a future post!