Saturday, February 21, 2015

More on OETC15...


I am so happy that my district was generous enough to send me this year, along with several of my colleagues to OETC. As usual, I had a fantastic time and learned a ton.

What's interesting to me, however, as I reflect on my time in Columbus last week, is the difference in my own learning style and learning needs since the last time I was there.

In the past, I came away with tools and tools and more new tools to use at school and with kids. Tools for efficiency, tools for creativity, tools for "drill and kill..." 

This time, it was more about what to do with the tools AND what to do with education.

I learned more about the Google Apps for Educators, tips I didn't know after using it for over 2 years (or has it been longer?). I learned how to find more fonts in a Google Doc which will truly help some elementary teachers to finally make the switch from Word.

I also had time to play around with "add-ons." Typically in a school day, this doesn't take priority but it was nice to know some extended features like EasyBib and the highlighting tools. I realize this is easy and I could've figured it out in time, but I wasn't spending the time to do so. It was nice to have that time. 

We heard a keynote speaker, a woman coder for Pixar. Danielle Feinberg (@dafeinberg) spoke about giving opportunities to everyone, regardless of gender. Of course this keynote felt like it was written for me because of my recent realization of and struggle with these gender inequalities.

I spent more time with my friends Sean Wheeler and Peter Debelak (@peterdebelak) discussing these same gender issues and feeling empowered because they often help me to realize that we can change these inequalities, one by one, slowly but surely. They are big time dreamers and doers. This is why I like them.

I spent time with folks from our district that I normally don't have time to chat with- Jacqui Berchtold (berchtoldj), Kim Taylor (@taylortchr), Scott Kinkoph (@scottkinkoph), and John Schinker (@schinker). We spent time talking about limitations and expectations in our own district while also having fun and gaining new rapport with each other.

Another keynote speaker, Yong Zhao (@yongzhaoUO) kept us laughing for over an hour. Nothing new but wonderfully fulfilling ideas about what's wrong with education and how we should change it. We ordered his book 5 minutes after he was done talking.

Spending time with so many like minded people was refreshing. So good to see Bob (@bob05), Ryan (@mr_collins), Toby (@tobyfischer), TJ (@tjhouston), Nevin (@mathremix), and Stacy (@stacyhaw) again! 

On Wednesday, I spent a lot of times in the "unconference" aka OETCx. The day was filled with conversations, not presentations, about education.  I engaged in one convo about "adult issues vs. student ones" where we discussed how adults should get out of the way already. Our own insecurities and fears are holding kids back.

I also stayed to talk about the Soulcraft Cohort with Sean and Pete. If you've been following this blog, you already know about it, but we all (along with Vicki Turner @Vturner8 and Jeremy Schorr @jeremyschorr) got to talk about our very authentic learning experiences thus far. By the way, we still go there every Saturday morning for our "six week class." I wish Tom Grodek (@mrgrodek), Jim McNaughton, Karen Wheeler (@mathcoachlkwd), Julie Rea (@juliesrea), and Christy Neider (@christyneider) could've been there too. Words don't do justice for what we've done with #soulco.

After that. A conversation about motivation and behavior... Since I am studying ABA currently, this was a major topic for me, and as I started the conversation, I realized its still a bit foggy for me, what I believe about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards and motivation...

Then onto the FRED (Finding Real Education) talks where presenters had 15 slides at 30 sec per slide (or something like this) and shared short bursts of info with us.  Jon Smith (@theipodteacher) inspired me to start using iBooks and Michael Rousch (@mdrousch) had me in tears as he spoke about his daughter with ASD. I cried, not because I pity him (I don't), or because his life is sad (it's not), or even because his story is particularly unique, but rather, because I felt proud. He was showing that we can do it. We can integrate that little bit of "oh hey, remember 'those kids' too when you develop tech and curriculum and school" into a day with folks who are generally apathetic to the topic of special education. He is a great model for me to say "look, it can be done." His preso is here-

One thing that annoyed me was that there was not one female FRED Talker. I found out later that the document, which I never saw, was open for anyone yet "Why didn't any females sign up?" I believe I would've, yet after over a week pondering it, I'm still not sure what I would've talked about...

The tools I learned are important but the connections and conversations are priceless...

My friend Sean Wheeler (@mrwheeler or @teachinghumans on twitter) says "I became a teacher because I hated school." 

For me, it's the opposite. I loved school and I played the game.  I was great at the game of school. It's only now that I see that our kids today shouldn't be playing that game. They don't have the time.  They are getting ready for jobs that haven't even been created yet. So why teach them with points and grades and worksheets and tests that make them cry?

More of these authentic experiences please!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#OETC15 Day 1

#OETC15.  Here we are.  I'm looking forward to some awesome learning and some engaging conversations.

So far, I've been near some like minded colleagues which always helps make a conference (or any day) better.

Today, there are the pre-conference workshops.

Currently, I'm hanging out in "Google Power Users."  It's a little dry, BUT I've learned some things so far.  I don't typically have time to check out all of the "add-ons" and extensions, but this workshop is show casing these things.  It's nice to have time to sit and look around.

I already found an awesome Google Add-On called Easy Bib.  I'm sure you know this, but, I can get a source cited in APA style right within the document!  This thrills me because Citation Machine has changed and I'm not a fan.  (Remember when we actually wrote out our own citations?  Me neither.)

Who knew that I could make my own memes in Google Draw?

And now it's so cold... I can't think.

Sunday, February 8, 2015



It's the running joke at the woodshop now, that you can always find me sanding.

I'm the master sander.

Okay, not really the master, but I do enjoy the sanding.  I even asked for (and received) a circular sander for Christmas. 

What is it about sanding wood at Soulcraft that I love, I wonder?

Well, first, it's my new comfort zone. While I know how to use other machines there, I can use a sander without any help, not even reminders or prompts. :) I love the comfort zone. I could go back to it every time. Every piece can be sanded. And sanded again. And maybe a little more...

Next, although it's cliche for a special ed teacher, of course I LOVE to take a piece of rough wood and turn it into something smooth and beautiful.

Making something beautiful with your hands is such an experience... 

And the vibrations... I feel calm. And zen... If zen is something you can feel...

And if I want to learn and work this way, why wouldn't a student at school want this? Would this motivate more students? It motivates me.  Would more students want to come to school? Would more students succeed?

What motivates your students to come to class? 

Can you provide them with a comfort zone? 

Can you push them outside of their comfort zone?

Or enjoy their zen state?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Success of 2014!

Almost the last day of 2014, trying to spend a little time reflecting. 

As they would say on the RHOBH, I'm "in a good space right now" and want to focus on the positive.

Thus, my #1 most successful moment of the school year:

It has to do with a student very near and dear to my heart (as if all my stories couldn't say that)...

This student was in my class for three years and at his IEP meeting last May, it was up to his IEP team to determine if he was to take the Alternate Assessment (AASWD) or the Ohio Achievement Assessment (OAA) as a third grade student. Based on the scores from his IQ testing, he could've taken the AASWD, however, as we often know, IQ tests are not always so accurate for those with autism spectrum disorders.

The team used the flow chart from the state and determined that he should take the OAA. I was pleased with this because I believed he could. He was not two grade levels below, he was not working on an alternate curriculum... His parents agreed.

Towards the end of the meeting, we returned to the testing page and had another conversation about the tests. It was up to me to again convince the team that he could do the OAA with the allowable accommodations. I was sure he could do it. We signed off and that was that. 

Fast forward to his third grade year. I am no longer his case manager nor do I work with him at school. I do work with him privately and worked on simulating the testing conditions to complete practice tests so this was not a new experience for him. We practiced one passage and the questions 2 or 3 times each week from August through October...

...The test was coming up in two days and his teacher had an unforeseen absence the entire week of the test. Who is going to administer his OAA? I was feeling panicked. 

The day before, his teacher and I spoke on the phone and determined that I would administer his assessment. Uh oh. How will this go? What if it's too hard? Why did we do this? 

The day of the test, as I was driving into school, I had another moment of panic. What if this goes all wrong? What if this is just torture for him for three hours? What if I was wrong?

I set up our testing room with snacks I knew he would like, a visual timer, some reinforcers (M&Ms that we often use at home), pencils, erasers, water, and a white board so that I could make him a visual schedule (1. Read story. 2. Answer questions. 3. Take a break.)  I had already taught him to read the questions for each story before reading the passage. I knew he was ready. He could do this! "We got this," I thought to myself.

As the busses started rolling in that morning, I got nervous once again. Why is he taking this test? What will it tell us about him? What if I was wrong?

Too late now.

I got his testing booklet and picked him up after the morning announcements. We read a social story about doing your best and continuing to work until the test was done. We read the visual schedule to show that he would do one passage and the questions then take a break. Then he was ready.

As he opened the booklet and saw the story, he said "read the questions to me first," just like we had practiced. I read the questions and answer choices aloud to him and then he proceeded to read the passage.

Throughout the next hour and a half, he was rewarded with M&Ms, break time, theraputty, and a short walk to the water fountain. He read every passage out loud without assistance. He answered every question in the booklet with prompts only to "color the circle darker." 

As he colored in the last circle in the booklet, I could feel my tears... 

We closed the book, I shouted, "You did it! You really did it." I gave him a small round of applause as he said "no please" and pushed my hands down. 

I took him back to his resource room and walked his test booklet back to his home room. I was crying. He did it. He really did it.

And it was better than my Super Bowl. He did it.

And I didn't know what score he would earn. The written expression questions were tough. Answering questions with whole sentences was tough. 

His score didn't matter. His score does NOT matter.

I could have never seen his score and it would've still been one of the proudest moments of my 12 year career.

He did it.

He proved he could do it.

No "meltdowns," no "behaviors."

He did it.

I could not have been more proud.

He did it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Success!!! Top 2 of the year...

Because lots of people are probably making lists or countdowns this week, I've been attempting to reflect on my ten most successful moments in the year 2014...

Truthfully, I try not to think of the school year before July and so I've settled on my two (yes two) most successful classroom moments of 2014.

Here's the big reveal:

The #2 most awesome classroom moment of 2014.... Wait for it...

This year I teach reading intervention. I do interventions with students in grades k-3 who have shown consistent difficulty on reading assessments like the DIBELS, the DRA, the STAR Enterprise, and the Wonders Reading Assessments... I give at least one "test" every other week to check on our progress. Luckily, some of the assessments only take about three minutes but the STAR Reading test is 34 long questions. I give this only once a month and we get ready for this assessment by talking about our past scores (the color band the score falls in, not the actual number) and trying to figure out how to get a better score. (By the way, YES, I HATE that this story revolves around a test. But it gets better.)

I discovered at the beginning of the school year that the majority of my students were getting terribly low scores, not because they couldn't read the test, but because they were choosing not to read the test questions. They didn't believe they could do it, so... Why try? THIS HAD TO CHANGE!

So.. I use the behavior plan that we have set up in class and give out "tokens" throughout the test when I see that the students are ACTUALLY READING THE QUESTIONS! They also get tokens for correct answers when I catch them while I am monitoring all 4 students. (Students later use the tokens to buy extra time on the iPads, computers, and prizes from the prize box.) 

(You're welcome for the background.)

Now, onto the success!

I have a seven year old second grader who told me at the beginning of the year, "I'm lazy, that's why I can't read." At the time, I made a mental note to address this and moved on. Throughout the year, I have not allowed her to use this excuse throughout her thirty minute sessions with me, but she liked to employ this belief on the.... Surprise, surprise... STAR Reading test.

By November, we  mostly had this thing down. You move up a color band, you get tokens, candy, and some major praise. She still didn't care much and moved up only 3-5 points each month. By November, she'd had enough. She whizzed through the test and answered all 34 questions in less than 15 minutes while I was attending to another student. "No way," I said. "You didn't read it. You are so smart and you aren't even trying. You have to show people you're smart. You are taking this again during recess tomorrow." (Now, I do NOT believe in taking recess away from kids, and so I found a time with her home room teacher to take the test the next day that did not include recess.) 

The next day, she showed up. "I'm going to sit next to you and listen to you read the whole test," I said.

She began. First question timed out while she read it. Second question timed out while she read it. Third question, she just looked at me. "Try this," I said. "Remember when I said READ THE QUESTION FIRST? Let's try it." She read the question out loud. Then she started reading the paragraph and the answer was in the first sentence. She looked at me and smiled and I could actually see the light bulb go on. Got the answer. Next question, "Read the question first." She did it again. Got it. By the sixth question, she was starting to feel successful. By the eighth question, I didn't need to prompt her to read the question first. By the 34th question after over 40 minutes, she had done it. She finished the questions, read every last one, and she had really tried. 


But the story doesn't end there. 

We decided to look up the score (with my fingers and toes crossed that I would be able to show her what happens when you try).

And then I almost fell out of my chair. She went from the second lowest score in second grade, in the red (red, yellow, blue and green are the color bands that show the national percentiles) to the top of the BLUE!!! 

My co-teacher and I started yelling and jumping up and down and said "Look! Look what happens you try! You tried, you tried! We're so happy you tried!" 

"Doesn't it feel good? Doesn't it feel good that you tried?"

I printed out her score in a graph so that she could see how high her score went when she just tried. We highlighted it and passed it around and went to the office to show the ladies there. I said "Tell them what you did." ( I thought she would say something about improving her test score. ) 

She said...

"I tried!"

Her smile was so big. And she was so proud.

There it is! Success!

She has not missed one "optional" homework assignment since that day. 

Her score skyrocketed into the GREEN in December.


It wasn't about the test. It wasn't about the color band or the national percentile score.


She really tried.

And she's still trying.

And I'm praying that she keeps it up when we get back after break. 

She tried!

She tried!

Whoooo hooooo!

Friday, November 28, 2014

I'm done!!!

I've been holding off on this post for almost a week because... well, because I don't actually want to be done.  I don't want our journey to be over and I don't want to be done with the shelves.  But I wanted to hang the shelves, and since this class has now extended from 6 weeks to 10 weeks (with continuous weeks coming up), I guess it was time to pull the plug on the fireplace shelves.

Here are some photos, in all their glory, followed by just a few of the things I've learned... 

I'm sure I'll add more posts reveling in the things I've learned and reflecting on the time I've had in this "class" or "cohort" at the Soulcraft Woodshop....but...

First, I've made some great friends.  I hope their friendships will extend longer than just through this experience.  If they don't, I have learned a great deal from each of these people and I will FOREVER be grateful for a group of people that came into my life at a time when I really needed to learn and grow, but also be true to myself.

Second, communication is awesome.  Some of our best (or my favorite) conversations came after the "class" while exploring truths and beliefs.

Next, I was reinforced in my belief in being genuine. And I appreciate the people in this experience because each of them is genuine. Genuine people 24/7. How often do you find an entire group of people like this?

I've also been reminded of the need to learn something new and be open enough to make mistakes.  I love that I can use this lesson to help students.  "Oh. My student is looking at me like I am speaking a different language."  "Oh yeah, that was how I felt on the second day when Peter told us about all the "machines" in the shop."

Reflection is necessary.  For me, I need to constantly be reflecting.  How did this experience go? What did I learn? What would I do differently? What can I do next time?  And writing these thoughts down helps me to reflect. Good reminder.

Next, learning styles vary.  It has never been more clear to me than through this experience.  The experts can help the beginners and those who have experience can provide insight along the way.  Some people could help with the math while the others look at the aesthetics. Every single one of us had a different strength.

"Create more than you consume."  I first heard this from Sean and have thought of this every week. The need to create is real. 

I believe I could go on and on AND ON about the many skills and lessons I've learned along this journey...

I plan to keep writing about them as we all continue to go to the shop... even though our class is over.

See you Saturday, my friends, at the #soulco.

Coming soon: videos of the experience.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Uneven Playing Field

This topic comes up in my life regularly. This topic is discussed at least weekly in our Soulcraft Cohort, as well as at school, and on twitter. And as I continue to grow older, I see it more and more.

Our culture simply does not "allow" women to hold the same stature or status as men. 

I'm not talking about the paycheck. We all know that women make less than men for the same jobs, right? I see the headlines and I shake my head. "Not in my world," I usually mumble to myself. I would never put up with that.

But isn't that exactly what we put up with?

You speak up too much as a woman and you're labeled. Bossy. Pushy. Not flexible enough. Can't work with others. Bitch.

So, because I advocate for what I believe is right, I suddenly don't play well with others? I know a few people who would disagree. 

Because I advocate and get what my students need, I'm pushy. I'm bossy. I've overstepped. I know a few parents of kids with special needs who would disagree.

But, the boys can fix the computers. The men can do the tech job. The new man in the corner office who has never even been to my school can now block my access to the iTunes Store even though I will use my own money on my own account. 

A #soulco friend told me that she was approached by a male colleague after speaking up at a staff meeting. Isn't she worried how she'll be viewed in the district? Isn't she concerned about her reputation? What about her credibility? he implied through his callous comments. 

This past week, there was a technology conference run through WVIZ. I looked through the pictures because some of my friends and members of my PLN would be there. Sean, our soulco co-founder did the keynote and I heard he killed it. Check him out at @mrwheeler and @teachinghumans. Did he deserve to be the keynote speaker? Hell yes. 

Could his wife and her co-teacher also have rocked as presenters? Yep.

I noticed some of my other colleagues then, both as presenters and as attendees. All men. Did they deserve to be there? Are they hard working and ambitious? Hell yes.

But aren't there also some hard working and ambitious females in the field of ed tech, progressive learning and teaching, in education?!?!

The truth is, there are. But some have been silenced. Some have to jump through too many hoops. Some are so concerned about making sure that that kid in their class gets to eat breakfast when he gets there that they don't have the time or energy to be a leader in the field. Some are focused on school, work, AND their own kids. Some simply don't want to...

But shouldn't we at least have an equal opportunity? 

My work at Soulcraft these past 10 weeks has been consistently eye opening. I'm learning about myself, my perceptions, my learning style, and the Maker movement while applying all of it to what I can do better for kids.

Why is that marginalized?

Why is it not enough?

Since when is it wrong to do what's right and speak up? 

In my world, it's not.

"You appear to be more of an advocate for the parents than for the district," I heard loudly last school year. "No," I thought, "I'm an advocate for kids."

I'm not bossy. Or pushy. Or loud mouthed. Or difficult. Or a bitch.

Because if a man did the same things, he be lauded and applauded. 

In fact, he is. Daily. 

While I continue to search for those like me... 

At places like Soulcraft... 

Where it's okay to be a woman in a "traditionally male" universe.

Did you hear that Barbie can't even restart her own computer now? 

As my friend @stacyhaw said "Women aren't big in the education field... Oh wait."

Who can you name that could become a teacher leader or education leader? Go.

Here's the start of my list:
Cathy Roderick
Caryn Cody
Karen Wheeler
Julie Rhea
Stacy Hawthorne
Christy Neider
Vicki Turner
Lee McClain
Melanie Broxterman
Kim Taylor
Jacqui Berchtold