Sunday, April 26, 2015


Ohmygoodness!!!! If you have not checked out Coursera, you are missing out! This is a great tool for your own professional development, for use in the classroom, and for you to bring to the attention of your family and friends!

What is Coursera? It is a website and an app (both Android & Apple) that allow you to access MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from universities and colleges all over the world. The courses are free. However, you can have your course signature verified for a fee and receive an official certificate of completion. If you are a teacher in the US, you can get your courses verified for FREE. Check out this page for more information. 

I am currently taking an AMAZING course, Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills from the University of Melbourne. The course is just starting, so you still have time to join. Do it. You won't regret it.

How could this be used in the classroom? There are many ways. You can register for a course so you have access to the course materials to support your subject. You can also use it for advanced students by allowing them to take the courses on their own when they have completed classwork. It is a great way to allow them to advance their learning while learning how to use online learning tools in a "no risk" environment. If they fail or find out that they don't have the technical skills needed, they have lost no money and it does not affect a college GPA. This really is a no lose situation for teachers and their students.

The verified certificates of completion truly are a good idea. More and more employers are becoming more interested in your actual skills and abilities and less impressed by a college degree. The verified certificates can be linked to LinkedIn accounts and shared with potential employers. As we move to a work place environment that is more focused on skills and characteristics than on job titles and degrees, those who learn to leverage this amazing tool will be at the forefront of the change and be the most likely to be successful in finding new careers.  

So, checkout Coursera. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sorry for the drought....but Microsoft IT Academy is AMAZING!!!

The last several months have been a little crazy for me. I came back from a summer of helping my dad build my sisters house to find out my principal was retiring. We were also in the process of hiring several new teachers AND it was decided I needed to be the lead teacher. This was in addition to my being the CTE Administrator for the new CTE program we were starting. Did I mention I still had to teach?

The bright point in all of this? The Microsoft IT Academy program! This school year, the AZ legislature decided to spend some money on education by paying for the Microsoft program to be made available to several hundred school in Arizona. This program provided 50 free copies of Microsoft Office 2013 to the schools, access to the Microsoft learning site, and classroom materials (digital version) for teaching every MS Office product, including lesson plans, presentation, and training. We also have access to training material for the MTA program,  we would just have to pay for the testing. The school also became a Certiport testing site so we could administer the exams in the classroom. Our school was one of the schools participating and I was in charge of implementation.

The program is amazing. It allows students to test and become Microsoft Office Specialist, all at no cost. I have done the research. One course in the private sector runs $1500-$3000. I had access to teach all of them to my students (and staff!) at no cost. Test? No cost? Failed? That's okay, they can retake it at no cost after a set period of time. And these are real certifications. The test are proctored and these are industry recognized certifications. I have even seen job postings requiring a Microsoft Word certification or Excel certification, not just stating "proficiency". This is something real that my students can put on their resume and that will help them to qualify for better jobs right out of high school. For my kiddos, that might actually allow them the opportunity to go to community college or trade school if they can get a job making better than minimum wage.

Many states across the US have provided the funding for schools to participate. Finding out if it is avalaible in your state is as easy as sending an email. The email address is your state mnemonic For example, Arizona is I would strongly encourage taking advantage of the Microsoft IT Academy if it is available in your state.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Recovering from a summer of building a house....but in the mean time...a great resource for transferring large files.

This summer I spent five weeks in Arkansas with my parents and sisters (I live in Arizona). Last summer, my BIL had a car accident and is now paralyzed. At the time of the accident, he and my sister were in the process of building their first house (they live in a small mobile home right now). Needless to say, he can no longer work on the house. So my 67 year old dad has taken over the building, along with the help of my sister (who is taking care of her husband, raising 3 and 6 year old little girls, and running 3 chicken houses), and my mom. Building is sometimes sporadic and most of the time it is just my dad working there by himself. 

So, this summer I became my dad's assistant. I helped wire, caulk, tile, install fans, make a tub and counter fit in a bathroom that was too small, and many, many other tasks. I went to bed exhausted every night but feeling accomplished. Needless to say, I did not get in much computer time. Add to that, they live in the middle of nowhere and have a monthly 5GB limit on their internet and my phone had no service out there. I was basically forced to take a 5 week technology hiatus. It was kind of nice, once the twitching stopped.

I tell you all of this to explain why I haven't blogged much this summer, though I have been writing down some great topics and resources. So look for more blogs shortly.

In the meantime, I found another blogger who made this GREAT resource to help you find ways to transfer large files. Sometimes that is the most frustrating part of technology; the limit on how large of a file we can transfer. As we become more and more dependent on technology for work files, managing personal documents, and creating/sharing videos and pictures, this is going to continue to be a growing problem.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

GoogleTreksTM: Add the whole world to your lessons.

Last Friday, I had the great privilege of speaking at the AzTEA MAG (Microsoft, Apple, Google) Conference. One of the benefits of being a speaker is being able to attend the other breakouts when you are not speaking. I love listening to other educators because I always learn something new!

I attended a breakout by Dr. Alice Christie. She has developed an amazing FREE (I love free!) classroom tool called GoogleTreksTM. The GoogleTreksTM process allows you to create an entire lesson on a Google map that can include lessons, rubrics, pictures, videos, discussion questions; the list of possibilities goes on! 

Here are some great examples of lessons that have already been created:

Farm Animals by Lauren Powder. This is a lesson for primary students that allows them to learn about 8 different animals that live on the farm. The lesson includes videos, sounds, and coloring sheets.

Ancient Egypt by Linda Henderson. This trek takes elementary students on a trip through ancient Egypt. It includes images, a Quizlet for review, lesson plans and a quiz. 

Runaway to Freedom; a Story of the Underground Railroad created by Julie O'Rielly. This trek for middle school language arts students complements the book Runaway to Freedom by Barbara Smucker . It includes maps to key locations in the book, vocabulary, and links to historical documents, like slave sale notices, to bring the book to life.

NFL Across the Country: Variance and Standard Deviation by Arlander Gathing. This lesson is for use in a high school statistics class and using videos, football, and math to teach complex statistics concepts.

There are MANY more lessons available on the GoogleTreksTM website for all different age groups and content areas. Take a few minutes and explore the website.

In addition to pre-created treks, there is a tutorial on how to create your own trek. The tutorial is very informative, but if you have used Google for more than 5 minutes, you know that it changes constantly. Some of the instructions are no longer current. For example, at the time of this blog, there is no My Places in the at the top left. It is now called My Custom Maps and is found by hovering over the box in the upper left hand corner. If you follow the tutorial, you will still get the idea of what you are looking for, even if the instructions where to find it are no longer exact. Dr. Christie is in the process of creating a new tutorial that utilizes the current incarnation of Google Maps, so check back frequently.

The great things about treks? You don't have to be the only one to create them! You can have students create treks as well. There is a page dedicated to student created treks. Currently, there are five treks, but have your students create one and it can be added to the list!

GoogleTreksTM are not just a great way to integrate technology, but they can be used as PBL by letting students create treks. They can be used to flip a classroom. They can be used in large group, small group, and independent work. They are very versatile and very easily differentiated. So take a few minutes this summer to explore GoogleTreksTM. It's a great tool for your classroom and best of all, it's free!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Seven Habits to Keep Technology Integration from Driving You CRAZY!

I admit it. There are days that I sit in front of my computer and resemble Goldie Hawn in one of my favorite movies, OverboardMy jaw is slack, my eyes are wide and glazed, and if "buh buh buh buh" comes out of my mouth, that is more intelligent than the other sounds I make

Those are the days that I let technology overwhelm me. Yes, I am a computer nerd and I love computers. Yes, I learned to program at age 12. Yes, I can sort my way through Google searches faster than a speeding bullet and leap over spammy sites in a single bound! But even super nerdy, computer loving freaks like me can quickly become overwhelmed in the world of technology integration.

The reason most teachers are overwhelmed by technology integration is not because a lack of technical knowledge or skill. It is because there is just so much STUFF on the internet! When it comes to technology integration, classroom tools, assessment sites, educational apps; the number of good quality, cheap or free resources is amazing. But how do you know what is best for you and your classroom? Should you try to integrate everything? Should you test them all out yourself before putting them in the classroom? How do you know what till work? And the biggest question of all, What if it ( I ) fail? 

I have come up with some self-guiding principles that help me navigate my way through the magical world called the internet. If I remember these, I enjoy what I am doing and find myself choosing tools that are more effective and more enjoyable for the students. If I don't, see the above "buh buh buh buh" reference.

1. Limit the amount of time that you spend researching educational tools. I have found that I usually do my best work when I limit myself to an hour every 2 or 3 days. There are days  that I go longer, because I am on a roll and it just feels good. But if I ever start getting frustrated, distracted, or find myself going in circles, I stop. Never spend your whole Saturday/Sunday trying out new technology. It will just make you resent technology.

2. The best sites can be grasped within 15 minutes. There are some sites out there that are so intuitive and easy to use, within 30 second of viewing them, you know exactly how to set up an account and how you are going to use it in your classroom. If you cannot understand how or why to use it within 15 minutes, it is going to frustrate you too much. You don't have to be able to learn it completely by yourself in those 15 minutes for it be effective. It is okay if that 15 minutes means using a co-worker, the FAQ, or a YouTube video on how to use it. We tell our students to use their resources. Well, teachers, use your resources!

3. Just because it works for a colleague does not mean it will work for you! Remember that little thing called learning styles? I have noticed that once a teacher gets out of college and into the classroom, they forget that those same principles they apply to teaching their students also applies to them. I am visual. Website like Symbaloo, Blendspace, ThingLink, Kahoot! they all appeal to me! But LiveBinders (which I think is a great site!) just annoys me. I can't use it to create binders effectively and it frustrates me. But I have seen amazing binders done by other teachers that I use as resources. We all learn differently and different types of technology appeal to us. Don't beat yourself up over it. Find what does work for you and use it!

4. Students are your best test subjects. Want to know if a tool/app/website works? Let your students try it out! I usually pick a smaller class that has students with average technology ability as my test group. If you are an elementary teacher, you may want to try it out with a small group first. I let them know that this is a new tool I have found and I want to see if it works. I advise them that their feedback is important to me, and that they will affect if and how I use this with all future classes. Most of my students love the responsibility and they take their role very seriously. I have even asked them for ideas how we can use it in class. Say I find a website that I really love, but not sure how I would use it in a lesson. I present the website to the students, have them explore it, and ask them for ideas how it could be used in class. Students are brutally honest. If you want tech that will work with your students, let them help guide you to the right stuff.

5. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because it doesn't work now, with this group, or with that lesson, does not mean it will never work. I have an entire list of websites that I really like, but just have not found the right fit for them. It does not mean I will never use them, just not right now. I go back and do a quick run down of the sites about once a quarter to see if they still seem interesting, if there have been any updates, or if I can think of a way to use it.

6. Technology should be enjoyable and educational. As a Common Sense Media Graphite certified educator, I have the privilege of trying out new websites and apps and writing reviews on them. I have found that there are many  apps and websites that hold themselves out as educational that have no real educational value. They may be fun, but are students really learning anything? Then there are sites that are very educational, but they are so mundane that my students learn nothing because they are bored out of the minds. No, not all technology is going to be fun. Try teaching Excel to high school sophomores. But if your subject is one students consider boring, adding a boring website or app to the lesson is not going to improve anything. The technology should compliment the lesson and make it interesting, not just repeat the same old stuff.

7. K.I.S.S. Good technology integration should not be difficult. If you have to struggle and fight to make it work in your classroom, then it is not good integration. Remember, the purpose of technology integration is to put tech in the hands of our students and complement the lessons we are teaching. Playing a Kahoot! review game with smartphones/tablets is a great way to use technology, have fun, and learn something. Having students post responses on PollEverwhere or Padlet by texting or using computers is a simple way to encourage student participation and collaboration while learning. Socrative is a great way to check for understanding with an exit slip. The key is to make it easy for you to set up and simple for the students to use. 

The bottom line is this. Do not let technology integration ruin teaching for you. Remember that you are human, just like your students are, and what works for your fellow Language Arts/Math/Science teachers may not work for you. That is okay. Use the technology that works for you and your students. Use the technology that makes tech integration fun. Don't get sucked into the educational technology tools vortex. It is an ugly, scary place and it is hard to drag yourself out of it. I know. I've been there.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Twitter in Education: Not just for celebrities to make fools of themselves anymore.

Twitter. The word used to cause me to cringe. We've all seen the escapades of celebrities; the cat fights, the drunken tweets, the pictures that you can't un-seen. It seemed like the only thing Twitter was good for was making a fool of yourself or providing fodder for future blackmailers. 

I finally created a personal Twitter account a few years ago to follow event activities and to try my hand tweeting about Phoenix ComiCom (#PHXCC). It was an interesting experience. Have you ever tried to express yourself in 140 characters or less? I found that I preferred to be a Twitter Lurker, following others on Twitter and occasionally commenting when something caught my eye. I followed  a few celebrities and political figures that I liked, as well as some friends, but that was it. I did get into a fun Twitter argument with Adam Baldwin (Jayne from Firefly, John Casey from Chuck). He actually conceded the win to me. That was a proud day in my Twitter history. 

(At the time, he was @adamsbaldwin. He has since claimed @AdamBaldwin)

I never though Twitter could really be something useful, especially in education. But that has since changed.

There are several areas that make Twitter an attractive and useful EdTech tool. It is great for your own PLN (Professional Learning Network). It can be used in the classroom to discuss current events. (It is a historical record.) And Twitter can be used to assess a student's understanding of material. Who knew Twitter could be useful?

EdTech advocates are jumping on board the Twitter train for their own edification. The new buzzword in PD is PLN. It means developing your own network of education professionals to collaborate with, learn from, and share resources. Blogs, like mine, are popping up all over. Other teachers who are passionate about EdTech are sharing their knowledge and experience. That is one type of PLN resource, and I love them. But blogs are static. There is rarely any discussion on the blog, just one person's experiences. In today's fast past society, we want lots of information and resources, in one place, in small bites, and with input from others. That is were Twitter comes in. Educators now have the opportunity to participate in weekly Twitter "chats" about education. These are moderated events with a set time, topic, and hashtag.

I was curious, so on Wednesday April 23, I participated in my first Twitter chat. It was quite the experience. I started trying to participate on my phone, but I can't swype fast enough. So I opened Twitter on my computer, but found that the hashtag search wasn't finding ALL of the related Tweets. I finally had my phone and my computer opened at the same time, and that seemed to work best (I have since found that TweetDeck is the BEST way to follow these events!) The conversation was fast paced, invigorating, and full of great ideas. It took me a bit to get the hang of how to properly participate, but soon I was heavily involved in the discussion, retweeting, favoriting, and replying to other educators. It was an interesting hour. A couple of things I learned:

  •  ALWAYS use the # for your current Tweet chat. I was in the #EdTechBridge chat. I forgot my # a couple of times, and my comments were lost to the rest of the participants.
  • When a question is asked by the moderator, they will start it with Q1, Q2, etc. When you respond, don't respond Q1. Respond with A1, A2, etc.
  • Even when you go off on a side discussion with a colleague, still use the #, because others actually are interested in what you are saying.
Twitter chats are one way that Twitter can be a powerful educational tool. I much prefer learning from other educators who are currently in the field, not from white papers written by people who have not been in the classroom in years. Twitter chats allow me to learn from my peers. Here is a Google Doc that list all of the weekly Twitter Ed Chats, their times, and the associated hashtag. Check out one that interests you. Even if you don't contribute, follow the # and see what others are saying.

Current events open the door to critical thinking, debate, and a stronger understanding of what is going on in the world today. As a consumer of information, I have often found that the news fed to us by all the news sources is limited to what they think we need to know, and not necessarily all of the related information. I believe that to form a valid opinion, we need all of the information, not just what is selected as useful by the media. Twitter can help. With the increase in use of hashtags (#), you can quickly sort through the Twitterverse and find tweets that are interest to you. A quick search for #Ukraine brought up the following:

Using the # search, you can quickly find Tweets related to the topic. Just like with any source, students need to learn to evaluate the information they find on Twitter. Biased or unbiased? What makes this person an expert? Facts? But this is all part of building our students' critical thinking skills. Sometimes, having to wade through the plethora of information and sort it out in their own mind is a much better teacher than we could ever be. You can also check under Trends to see what others are talking about. Here is what was on my Trends list this morning:

This can lead to a whole new discussion. What makes something trend? Why are people talking about Tucson, Donald Sterling, or #gsalead ? Why are these topics important? What do they have to do with you? How do they impact the world or do they? You could teach an entire class that develops critical thinking skills using Twitter Trends as your source material.

I am not an English teacher, nor could I ever be. English teachers have a huge challenge in today's world trying to make students raised on technology understand why literature that is old is relevant. Hats off to all the ELA teachers out there. But from talking to my colleagues, I know that assessing their understanding of a topic can be challenging. Essays are too easy to buy or access for free on the internet. Plagiarism is rampant. And unless you or your school invests in the software to check for cheating, it is sometimes nearly impossible to discern if a student actually "gets it" or if they are great at using Google and cutting and pasting. But ask a student to compose a tweet that Romeo would send about the fight with Tybalt?  What would Juliet Tweet when she found out Romeo was from a bad family? Now you have their attention. The format may be different, but the checking for understanding still exists. A student that can show  the main conflict in a novel in 140 characters or less understands the material. Students can use a class Twitter account (or their own, if you are brave) to send Tweets using a # that you assign. #Romeosproblems #Julietswhining #RandJweregansters . You get the idea. Now understanding Romeo and Juliet is a challenge. The students want to write witty and insightful tweets that will get noticed. That requires understanding the material. You can also have your students use Twitter to see what others are saying about the books they are reading, to prompt discussions with others on Twitter about the book, or if you are James Joyce fan, use Twitter to retell Ulysses in a series of Tweets. The possibilities for application in the classroom are endless, limited only by your creativity.

Twitter is no longer just a place for fans to find out what their favorite celebrity had for lunch. Twitter can be used for our own personal growth as teachers, to provoke conversation and critical thinking in our students, and to check for understanding of material. It can be a very powerful tool, if we use it properly. It can also make you the cool teacher on campus, not that we care if our students think we are cool or not. Really. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Education Technology Website Review: GENi revolution (Financial Education)

This blog post is a review of the free Personal Finance website, GENi revolution. Really, it is...but first you get my back-story.

Technology integration is my passion, but it is not what led me to become an educator. I entered the world of high finance in 1993, becoming a licensed stock broker shortly after my 22 birthday, and didn't leave the industry until 2005. During that time I had many positions, from quoter (someone who give stock quotes over the phone) to a investment specialist/relationship manager working exclusively with clients investing a million dollars + with the firm. I taught many different seminars, specializing in educational seminars for women. I thrilled in teaching my clients about WHY they needed to invest and why my recommendations were sound. I did not believe in just telling them what to do and expecting them to follow my instructions with no questions asked (that is not a wise investment strategy). I LOVED the educational aspects of my career, but I HATED sales, with a passion. Especially when my firm would tell me to push a particular product or service, even when I did not feel a client needed it. Finally, after much soul searching and prayer, I came to the conclusion that this was no longer where I needed to be, and that if I truly wanted to affect the financial futures of others, I needed to start in the classroom, before they could go into debt or waste 20 years of not investing in their 401(k). So, I left the world of finance and became a teacher.

I was very fortunate. I did not have to complete an educational degree program before I could get into the classroom. Because of my prior experience in one of a select group of careers, and the fact that I live in Arizona, I qualified for a provisional Career & Technical Education certificate. I had to prove extensive experience in finance to get my certificate. Then I had to get 2 years of teaching experience, pass certain AEPA exams, complete several college classes in CTE education, and get a favorable review to allow me to get a regular certificate. I don't know if you know how hard it is to convince a school to hire you, with no formal teaching experience (not even student teaching) and not being in an education program at a university. All I had was a certificate that said I could teach business and marketing. Thank goodness computers falls under that, because I finally found a school trying to fill a recently vacated computer teacher position 2 days before school started. Long story short, I was hired and  I soon convinced them of the importance of personal finance education, especially for our particular student population. The course is now required to graduate from our school, and I couldn't be happier!

I actually use a paid program from Knowledge Matters to supplement my teaching of Personal Finance, but I recently came across GENi revolution, created by The Council for Economic Education. This is a free online game that teaches students key financial concepts and I LOVE it! I will be supplementing all future courses with "missions" from this game. The quick and dirty is that it requires critical thinking, applied business math, inquiry, and online research skills. And it's a GAME! That's FREE! It has 15 missions covering investing, budgeting, savings, career choice, post-secondary education decisions, financial planing, and economic outlook. Did I mention? It's FREE!

As an educator, you have the ability to add students, create teams, create classes, and monitor progress through a very simple interface.

If you notice, students can play a desktop or mobile version of GENi. But there is also two additional games: Murktide Invasion and Beyond the Mission which allows students to dig even further into more advanced financial concepts. I will leave the discussion of those two games to a later date.

The interface for playing the game is actually very intuitive and easy to work with (BTW, you can also play). 

Students start with the Situation Map to choose a mission. Missions do not have to be done in order. The focus for each mission is listed below:

Based on the way I teach my Personal Finance course, I would group all the missions involving investing together and have students work through them in the order that compliments my teaching plans. You have that flexibility with this game.

Every mission has a briefing that gives students their objective. The missions require students to view short, informational videos about the subject (found in the backpack), use a regular calculator as well as various financial calculators, and answer questions throughout the mission to check for understanding. They receive immediate feedback and recommendations for next steps if they are struggling with the questions.

The game feels like you are solving a mystery and requires students to find the information needed to answer questions, so students are challenged to think critically. But the students are also engaged and enjoy playing the game.

This game is a great learning tool for any teacher interested in teaching any or all of these financial concepts. There is a book (Supplemental Materials) that you can purchase for use in the classroom to complement the game, but it is not required to be able to play the game successfully. The audio and video component of instructions, along with the students ability to replay as many times needed, allows for immediate differentiated learning for all students. The game also allows those students with stronger skills to move ahead at their own speed.  It challenges students to think, requires the use of math skills, and allows them to analyze information and make a decision based on that information. All around, it is a great learning tool.

So, I hope you will check out GENi revolution. It is free and easy to access.  Our students are graduating HS without the basic money skills they need to survive in this world. Including some form of financial education in your social studies, econ, math, business, etc. class will better prepare your students to be successful in the real world.