Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: The Year I Chose to Dream Big

I've thought a lot about this post.  Debated with myself how I wanted to write it, what to include.  I mean this post is my wrap up from an entire YEAR!  That's crazy.  This year, like any other, was like a roller coaster ride.  There were extreme highs and some pretty deep lows.  But for those of you who read my blog often, you know that I have chosen to focus on what went right, the good memories.  So what better way to end 2013, then to take a look back at my Top 10 Moments of the Year.

10.  TCEA - My number ten moment is TCEA.  TCEA is the state technology conference for Texas.  It's huge.....like only ISTE is bigger in the nation, huge.  This year was my 4th year to attend TCEA, and every year I've had a blast.  But this year was different.  About 8 months before attending TCEA I had gotten involved on social media and made a lot of "friends".  TCEA was my first real opportunity to get to know and hang out with some incredible people.  People like Jon Samuelson, Carrie Ross, Matt Gomez, Mindi Vandagriff, Amy Pratt, Scott Floyd, Dwight Goodwin, Andrea Keller, and Rafranz Davis (and many more).  People I consider friends.  People, that had it not been for social media, I would never have met.  It was my first large conference experience where I spent more time building relationships and getting to know people, then I did in actual sessions.  And at the same time I had more learning experiences too!  I will always fondly remember TCEA 2013 as a big turning point for me.

9.  Skype Changes My Classroom - 2013 was the year that I really started branching outside not only the four walls of my classroom, but also the state of Texas.  I reached out, through social media, to several really amazing people that my class got to meet and talk with. Some of my class favorites were Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler, ISEF 2012 Winner Jack Andraka, Olympic Athlete Giddeon Massie, Paralympic Athlete Joshua Sweeney, and classes from Sweden, Australia, the UK, and Venezuela.  Those experiences are ones that I will hold near to my heart for a long time.  The look on my student's faces when the Olympic and Paralympic Athletes called in was one to remember.  They glow in their eyes to see these incredibly accomplished athletes talk about their lives, show their medals, and share words of wisdom.  Wow.  But truly one powerful experience was bringing in (at the time) 16 year old Jack Andraka to talk about his medical breakthrough dealing with Pancreatic cancer.  And I will always remember the words he spoke to my students about never letting anyone tell them they're too young to change the world, because the truth is it will be the wild, imaginative, boundary pushing kids that do change the world.

8.  My Grandmother - 2013 was the first year I had to live without my grandmother, my greatest cheerleader.  It took me almost 10 months to be able to publicly talk about her, but I did in this post.  She inspires me still to this day to remember that every one of us needs a cheerleader.

7.  Meeting Dave Burgess - I will always remember driving out with my wife to California for the "20 to Watch" celebration, and along the way getting in touch with Dave Burgess.  I had really looked up to this incredible man ever since I read his book "Teach Like A Pirate".  While in California Dave offered to meet up with me and my wife.  He took us out to lunch and gave us a mini tour of a small part of San Diego.  I will forever remember that moment.  Dave probably will never realize how much of an impact that had on me, as a young teacher, who never though anyone, online or otherwise, ever noticed me.  And then months later when Dave flew into Texas I got to meet up with him again along with my friend Chris Kesler.  Those are such special memories that will stick with me for a lifetime.

6.  Flipped Classroom SUCCESS - At the beginning of the school year (in August of 2012) I started the whole journey into flipping my classroom and going completely project based with zero test formatted questions.  It was a terrifying experience.  I spent many a days in tears or banging my head against a wall.  But in April of 2013, I was finally able to show my district some success measures.  We took the STAAR (our state test) and 96% of my students passed on the first try (state average was 75% passing).  I couldn't have been more proud of my kiddos.  Yes, I realize that standardized tests are only one form of measuring success and that they don't judge adequately every student, but still, it was a gratifying moment.  Then being contacted to write a chapter for "Flipping 2.0" along with teachers from all over the nation!  That was mind blowing.  I'd always loved writing but never thought anyone else liked my writing.  But the day that book came in the mail and I got to hold it in my hands is a day I'll not soon forget.  Working with Sophia has also been a huge blessing.  I've gotten to lead webinars for them, write blog posts, and am even one of their Flipped Classroom Certification Instructors!  The success that I have found with flipping my classroom again is a testament to my students and their work.

5.  EduAllStars - this podcast has been a joy from day one.  Never would I have imagined the experiences or the guests we've been honored enough to interview.  We started the podcast with the idea of allowing inspiring people who have a hand in education just share their stories.  It has been such a thrilling experience to talk with people from all realms of the education sphere.  A true highlight, and testament to the power of social media, is when we were able to interview the Secretary of Education.  Regardless of how you feel about him, it was an incredible moment for us to get to speak to someone with that kind of authority and job.  If you haven't checked out EduAllStars you definitely should today.  We're on iTunes, but also YouTube and our website.  I promise you we've got some big surprises lined up for 2014.  Here are the amazing people we interviewed in 2013.

4.  Meeting the President - When I first was notified I was chosen as a White House Champion of Change I was in shock.  I thought it wasn't real.  But through the weeks that followed I was able to travel to DC with my wife and two best friends, tour the White House, speak on a panel, and even shake hands with the President of the United States.  It still is hard to believe.  But you can read about my entire journey with that here.

3.  ISTE - Wow.  Where do I even begin.  ISTE truly was a turning point in my career.  It took me out of my world of interacting online and put me in a room, face to face, with people I admire, look up to, and want to emulate.  You can read about my entire ISTE thoughts here.  I will forever remember meeting and building friendships with Erin Klein, Adam Bellow, Jimmy Casas, Daisy Duerr, AJ Juliani, Colin Wikan, Amanda Dykes, Andrea Keller, Wendy Sanders, Jake Duncan, Martha Lackey, Brad Waid, Drew Minock, Kevin Honeycutt, Ginger Lewman, and sooooooo many more.

2.  Math Fair - My proudest  moment of the year, and my proudest moment of my career was the Math Fair I did with my students.  You can read about it here.  I have never been more proud of my students or the work that they put in.  I will forever have that evening etched in my brain as the moment I saw students proud of their work, proud of themselves, and beaming with joy.  I was in tears that evening and still tear up to this day when I share the stories of my kiddos.

1.  Real Friendships - The number one, ultimate highlight of my year though was creating real lasting friendships of people that I had previously only "known" virtually.  Without the late night phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, google hangouts, and more I would have never survived 2013.  To Brad Waid, Drew Minock, Erin Klein, Andrea Keller, Evan Scherr, Jake Duncan, Wendy Sanders, Stacey Huffine, and Chris Kesler, I say thank you.  Thank you for showing me my worth, for being a shoulder to cry on, and an ear to listen.  Thank you for celebrating with me in the good times and for being there in the bad.  I am the man I am, and the educator I am, because I truly believe that I surround myself with the best people on the planet.

2013 was a blast.  A year filled with huge accomplishments, cool recognitions, and friendships built to last.  Honestly I could have listed my Top 20 moments of 2013 and still had needed more space.  To friends like Brad Gustafson who purchased my children's book Spruce & Lucy for every staff member and allowed me to make a personal video message for them, to friends like Daisy Marino, Summer Diamond, Terri Eichholz, who I FINALLY got to meet this year and continue to have my mind blown by.  To the fun times of being part of The 3 Tech Ninjas and presenting all over the state of Texas.  And to the many more that I've connected with online, shared in your blogs, and so much more.  Thank you to Remind101, Classroom Champions, and Sophia for allowing me opportunities to work with you guys and help provide feedback!  I could go on and on and on, but I'll stop here.

2013 was the year I choose to dream.  But more than that it was the year I choose to dream big.  What does 2014 hold?  I'm not quite sure.  But I'll tell you one thing, I'm not done dreaming.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Our #HourOfCode Experience

So I had heard about the #HourOfCode movement for quite a while.  I even signed up a few months ago saying I would take part.  Then the month of December quickly came upon me and I just had far too much on my plate to even consider "losing" a day of instruction to allow my kids to try this whole coding thing.

Then last week I heard about how much fun Mindi Vandagriff had doing it with her 4th graders.  Through her excitement and the awesome photos she took I figured I might give it a try with my students.  Now I love the idea behind coding but didn't think my kids would "get it".  So Mindi told me about csedweek.org/learn and the awesome Angry Birds/Plants Vs Zombies FREE coding activity.  I checked it out and was blown away by it!  So I figured I might just give this whole coding thing a try.

Then I heard about how much fun Drew Minock and Brad Waid's 3rd and 4th graders had.  And those guys are always on the cutting edge of what is cool and fun in technology.  If those guys were having a blast doing it, I knew I should try it too, so that pushed me over the edge and convinced me I was doing it.

The morning of our #HourOfCode was a DISASTER.  There was just one thing after another that threatened to cancel our entire experience.  I'm one of those teachers who teaches every single day.  Just because it's the week before Christmas doesn't mean it's time to just lay around and play games all week!  We're learning!  Well not everyone agrees about that and things tried to get thrown in the way of our schedule.  But thanks to an awesome teammate who rearranged her day and combined with my classes, we were able to find an hour per class to let them try it out.

We begged the 3rd grade team to borrow the school set of Chromebooks, I took out the 3 iPad/iPad Minis, the Google Nexus 7, and even that dreaded Surface tablet, and we utilized the couple of desktop computers in my class.  We really utilized every resource we had to try and make this work.

Well once we got the kids online, the whole event went off without a hitch!  It was an incredible experience to hear their excitement, wonder, and joy of programming.  They really had the time of their lives!  I was shocked at how much some of these kids really bought into the whole idea of computer science and programming.  Let's just say, we now have an after school technology/program club that will be starting in January!  Kids begged me to!  Here are some of my favorite quotes from the day:

"This is really hard, but I like it!!"

"Mr. N!!!  I made it glitch! I'm a computer programming genius!"

"Mr. Nesloney, I couldn't figure it out.  But I kept trying and then eventually it just came to me! I passed another level!!"

and my favorite quote of all..... "I'm a freaking genius!"

Many adults, myself included, don't quite understand the idea behind teaching kids code.  But after today, I'm a changed man.  The excitement level alone in my kids made it totally worth it!  I can't wait to find ways to take this even further, and even more so for our soon to be started after school club!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Please Don't Give Up On Me

As teachers we have all kinds of students.  We have the ones that drive us absolutely bananas.  The ones that know exactly what buttons to push at exactly what times.  Sometimes they make us lose our temper, sometimes they make us want to scream, and sometimes they make us want to just flat out ignore them.

Those students exist in every school across the United States (and the Globe for that matter).  I was one of those students.  Many times I drove my teachers insane because of my constant chatter or because it was very difficult for me to stay in my seat.

When I was younger I was a much more social kid then I am today (I know hard to believe).  Today I actually suffer quite heavily from social anxiety (but that's for another post, haha).  But when I was in elementary school I was in trouble all the time for blurting out, for talking to my neighbor, for yelling across the room, for interrupting or correcting my teacher, or for just mumbling to myself.  I was always out of my seat.  I was always sitting on my legs when I was supposed to be sitting on my behind.  I leaned back in my chair, I passed notes, I did all those things that kids do now that drive even me insane!

But a part of that was me seeking attention.  That was me begging for someone to notice me, for someone to care.  For someone to invest something in me.  And as I grew older and into Jr. High and High School my personality began to change, and I began to withdraw into myself.  I learned how to disappear in some situations.  I learned how to bury things.  I learned how easily things are masked with a well placed smile.

And that's where another type of student begins to pop up.  When kids act out it's because of a deeper issue than we can see on the surface.  When kids are withdrawn, or inactive, or mean spirited, something much deeper is going on.

I've had those days where I think "I've had enough with this kid, I've tried everything and nothing is working".  And I hear my teacher friends tell me "Well you've done all you can, move on and focus on the kids you can reach".  And some days I actually believe I have done all I can to reach that "unreachable" child.

And then that little boy/girl walks through the door, and I see the pain the behind those little eyes.  The pain I myself, associate so deeply with.  And I see that child begging me not to give up on them.  Begging me to keep trying, because they're stuck in a situation they can't see out of or how to ask for help.  And I remember that adult in high school that asked me "Why do you always walk with your head down? Pick your head up, look out at people.  Don't disappear into the world.  You have great things to offer, so don't you dare walk with that head down staring at the ground."  It was blunt, but it left a lasting impact.  And to this day when I find myself with my eyes looking at the ground, I remind myself to still pick my head up.

So I write this today, on behalf of all those "difficult" or withdrawn or hurting students.  Those kids who are silently begging you, "Please don't give up on me".  Those kids who feel their lives are out of their own control, or feel that no one notices them, or feel that they're too far gone for anyone to truly love them.

And many of our students have become excellent at hiding it as well, so don't make the mistake of assuming a smile means everything is ok.  Take a little time out of each day to give a moment and "check in" on your students.  To truly connect with them and provide them with, at the least, a listening ear.

Can we reach them all?  Honestly, I don't believe we can.  But I'll tell you one thing, I'm sure going to try.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Creating, Playing, and Learning in a Math Class

Man what another fun week in class!  So this week we're gearing up for our Math Benchmark next week.  Being a classroom that doesn't teach test formatted Questions and that doesn't do worksheets, we tend to do things a little differently.

On Monday we did a rotation exercise.  Kids were split into groups of three and there different stations around the room with word problems that I had made up.  The groups would rotate through the different stations solving the problems and keeping track of their answers.  I was also one of the stations and my job was just to talk to the kids about their struggles and work on different concepts they didn't feel comfortable in.

Tuesday we had a Benchmark for Reading that went from 9:00am until 3:00pm, don't even get me started.

The rest of the week we did different games and group activities for the kids to practice the skills they had been learning about all year.

On an side note we also did something really fun for our Classroom Champions Athlete.  The kids were given coloring pages of Joshua Sweeney (our athlete) and they designed them however they wished.  Then the kids made videos talking about what josh has taught them or what the program has taught them, and then we used the Aurasma app to turn their coloring pages into an Augmented Reality experience.  We were able to send the pictures to Josh virtually and he was able to scan them and watch the videos of my kids! It's so cool.  Right below I've put a few of my kids coloring pages.  If you download the FREE Aurasma app, search for "Nesloney Classroom Champions" and then click "Follow" you can scan the pages straight from your computer screen and see my kids' videos!  They pages are also posted in the hall for anyone to scan.

Another awesome thing we are starting is a collaborative experience between my homeroom and Brad Waid's 3rd grade class in Michigan.  We're going to do a Google Hangout every Friday for 30 minutes and just allow our kids to share with each other what they're learning about in school and what cool stuff they did that week. This week was our first experience, and man was it a blast.  My kids, four hours later, are STILL talking about it!  They just loved getting to share all the stuff we're doing and hearing about the stuff Brad's 3rd grade class is doing.  Brad and I are very much looking forward to doing this every week.  Our classrooms will become "brother classrooms" that work together and what our goal is that next semester we'll also do random GHOs where my students will teach his a quick lesson over math, or his will teach my students a quick lesson as well as continuing to share with each other!

Another great idea I got this week was to allow my kids some creative and fun freedom.  So on Friday we had a fun day.  What that means is that I set up different stations around the room.  
- One station was our Hot Dots system we got through Donors Choose last year.  The kids were able to practice math facts and other math skills using the system.
- Another station was logic puzzles that the kids had to figure out.
- A 3rd station was new tech.  They worked with some technology that we're getting to beta test.  They worked with Tangible Play, SparkUp Reader, and more!  They love playing with new technology.
- and the 4th station was at our computers working on the FasttMath or ReflexMath programs our school has to master math facts.

It was such a blast to watch the kids just have fun and learn at the same time! 

We also created a #ChooseKind tree this week.  That was designed for the kids to find ways to show random acts of kindness to others.  Whenever they have someone preform a random act of kindness for them or whenever they do one, they get a leaf, write the act on it, and put it up on the tree.  It's been fun to watch the tree fill up with kindness leaves!

The final thing this week was we debuted our Augmented Reality Christmas Tree!  The students LOVED seeing "their ornament" come to life with their video.  Such a blast to see the excitement in their eyes.
 Here's to another awesome week!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sparkup Reader - One of My New Favorite Devices

Recently I got the opportunity to play with an exciting new toy called the Sparkup Reader!  As soon as I heard about this device I knew I had to get my hands on it to play with it.  I’m not even a reading teacher and I absolutely love this little device.  Now, it’s not perfect, but it’s awesome!

So what is the Sparkup Reader?  Well essentially what it does it with the touch of one button you can record yourself reading ANY book, and then the Sparkup Reader will read the book back to a child.  But the cool part is that the Sparkup knows exactly what page the child is looking at!  And so if a child is flipping pages out of order, the reader will still read the page that the child is looking at!!

I took the device to school and played with it.  My students picked it up really easily and so did some other teachers I let play with it.

There is great potential to this device and the battery lasts quite a while too!  The only major downside is that currently there is no headphone jack!  That makes it a big disappointment for the classroom.  Supposedly the next version is going to have a headphone jack, so that is definitely something to look forward to! But if you’ve got young children this is a must have gift.  You can have grandparents, or any relative, record themselves reading any picture book you want with the Sparkup Reader!! Just imagine the possibilities.  If you’re looking for a great holiday gift, I highly recommend this device!

You can check out more and even order one by clicking here

Monday, December 9, 2013

Negativity Kills Creativity

I like to think that I'm a creative teacher who really strives to try out of the box ideas to make my classroom as fun and exciting as possible.  But in saying that, doing things like that doesn't come without some sort of push back.  Over the years I've been shut down by administration, other teachers, parents, you name it!  I used to think that it was just me who was always getting told no, or that my ideas were terrible, or that I wasn't good at what I was doing.

As I've become connected to teachers all over the country (and the world) I've learned something.  I've learned that the battle for creativity is not a battle I fight alone.  I am not the only one receiving push back for some of the things I want to do.

But what I've learned, especially lately, is the power of words, and more importantly the power of negativity.  When you try to do exciting and creative things in your classroom or school, you are putting yourself out on a limb.  A limb where people can criticize.

Used to, when I was growing up, if someone was going to say something bad about me, they said it to my face or to others behind my back.  We've all been there.  We've all heard about something someone was saying about us, and it hurt.  And sometimes it hurts more than we can bare.  We're humans, we long for understanding and we want to belong.  But when someone tries to damage our character it leaves scars.  And scars can heal, but they'll always be there.

But that was then.  Nowadays we don't only have to listen to what is being said about us to others or behind our backs, but now we have to also read about it online.

Before I go any further let me admit something.  Years ago I had allowed circumstances in my life to define who I had become.  For years I had allowed myself to become bitter, angry, jealous, and negative.  I used to say "let's expect the worst, so that if it doesn't happen I can be happy I tried it".  I was angry at the world.  And my anger made me become an extremely negative person.  And I know in that period of my life I hurt people with my words and opinions.

Then one day I saw the damage my negativity was doing.  It was one of those 'wake up calls'.  And I knew I couldn't go back.  For me, it's a daily battle to remain positive.  So why do I do it if it's so difficult?  Because it's so necessary.

As educators we have enough people tearing us down.  We have enough people telling us we're not doing it right, we're not doing it good enough, or that what we're doing flat out doesn't matter.  We're surrounded by it.  Period.

So then, why as educators do we so often choose to attack our own?  Why do we choose to talk about other educators in person, behind their backs, on blogs, or on social media.  Why aren't we choosing to be better?  Why aren't we choosing to band together?  Because honestly, we ARE all in this together.

I've read so many hateful and hurtful tweets, facebook posts, blogs, and more lately.  Other educators complaining about teachers who do this, or teachers who do that.  Or Twitter should be used for this, or facebook should be used for that.  There is so much negativity and meanness being spread around, and more importantly, there is so much HURT being spread around.

I've sat back the last few weeks and heard story after story from my friends as they get ripped to shreds for doing this, or saying that, or trying this.  And it breaks my heart.  I've wept for the people I've seen be hurt recently.  And I admit, I'm part of the crowd too as I've listened to others tear me down recently.  But my  heart hurts more for those teachers who are incredibly inspiring people and I sit back and watch others try and break their spirits, and sometimes the negative crowd wins, and spirit is broken. And that's the worst part.

So why do I write this blog post?  I write it today to remind you of the importance of words.  Those spoken and those written.  We have enough pain and hurtful things going on around us, why would we choose to add more pain to someone's day.  The next time we want to complain or be negative, let us pause, think, and find a way to flip it around where we find the brighter side, or we keep our thoughts to ourselves, or we just don't say anything at all. Because it's true, negativity kills creativity, and in the end the person that it hurts the most are the children who are watching our every action and expect us to set the example for them to follow.  Let's show them what love, compassion, understanding, and a kind word looks like.  Let's show them why we chose to be teachers; to set an example worth following.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Perimeter, Twitter, ChatterPix and Christmas Augmented Reality

This week was a whirlwind!  I guess it's cause we're getting back into the swing of things after being gone for Thanksgiving break.

Monday we spent the day catching up on our Classroom Champions lesson, this month over "Community".  We watched a video from our athlete, Josh Sweeney, and then came up with a plan.  To show Community this month we have made a giant tree in the hallway and we're doing random acts of kindness.  Every random act of kindness will get a leaf on the tree!  Excited to watch it grow!

Another idea this week that I had was creating an Augmented Reality Christmas Tree using the app Aurasma.  So I made the tree, cut out light bulbs, and put the kids pictures on each light bulb.  Then I had them record a brief video discussing why they like Christmas.  I attached the video to each picture and now anyone that comes to our school can scan a child's picture on the tree and see a video of them talking about why they love Christmas! A TON of work, oh man.  But HUGE thanks to Drew Minock and Brad Waid for constantly being available to help me make the whole thing and figure out my mistakes :-)

We also did I project this week that I've mentioned before.  It's our perimeter project.  I gave each group of students a piece of chart paper, markers, pencils, crayons, yarn, rulers, play-doh, and blocks.  They had to trace a person's body on the paper, and then find the exact perimeter of that body using whatever tools they could.

I love this project because it really requires the kids to think about the tools necessary to find the perimeter.  Many want to go straight to the ruler to measure, but since they're working with curved lines they have to figure out that using the yarn is the best tool they were given.

I love the conversations that pop up and more!  So great!

The other cool thing we did this week was use a new app I found thanks to Drew Minock, called "ChatterPix".  This app allows you to take a picture, choose where you want the mouth to move, and then record yourself saying something and watch your picture speak it.  To say the kids loved this app is an understatement.  So I decided to give them some homework.  I told them to take the ChatterPix app, and record themselves singing our "Perimeter/Area" song.  They LOVED it!  They came back with so many hilarious videos of cows, hamsters, cars, and even toilet paper singing the song!  It was so much fun they begged to do it again the next night.  Awesomeness.

The final thing that happened this week that I loved was that we were doing a writing lesson and sea animals came up.  One of the students asked if a Starfish was considered a fish....I didn't know...so of course the kid jumped on google to look it up.  At the same time, another student was trying to be funny and said that a starfish was "a star that fell from space, and it the water, and came back to life, like Jesus" I thought it was so funny that we then tweeted it out.  Well wouldn't you know a friend of mine Jenny Buccos, who runs Project Explorer, tweeted us back and shared a link to a video about starfish. We watched that video in class and learned even more!  The kids were in AWE that someone saw our tweet and then shared something with us.  Let's just say that the entire rest of the week the kids were trying to get me to tweet more and more out to see if people would respond.  I even had a child tell me his group was arguing and that he wanted to record them and put it on YouTube to show how juvenile they were acting! Love it!

And how could I forget that this week, I also got to interview Science GURU Steve Spangler on EduAllStars with Chris Kesler. Such a cool experience!

EduBlog Awards Finalists

EduBlogs has released their finalists for their EduBlog Awards for 2013!

Man there are some really great finalists in each category.  I highly encourage you to check out their site and vote for people you respect in the online world!  You can check out all the nominations here

I was super excited to find out I am a finalists for the "Best Individual Tweeter"!  I would love your vote :-) you can vote for that by clicking here or clicking the arrow pointing up below.

But just as exciting, if not more exciting, is the fact that the podcast I co-host with Chris Kesler and Stacey Huffine, EduAllStars, was nominated for "Best Podcasts or Google Hangouts".  We would LOVE your vote to support our podcast, EduAllStars.  You can vote by clicking here or the arrow pointing up below.

We have many friends that were nominated too!  Erin Klein, Shannon Miller, Two Guys & Some iPads (Drew Minock and Brad Waid), Pernille Ripp, Matt Gomez, Amber Teamann, Eric Sheninger, Angela Maiers, Kevin Honeycutt and so many more!  So go, check through the lists and drop a vote! And yes you CAN vote for more than one person/group per event!

Thanks again for all the nominations!  I love my PLN.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

They're Begging You to Listen

Yesterday while working with my students a realization just came over me.  Something that I often talk about, but that yesterday just hit home so much.

Kids want us to notice them.  Kids want us to care.  Many times as teachers we get so caught up in the paperwork, and planning, and preparing for the test, that unintentionally we forget about the individual child.

We forget that there is a little voice in that body saying, "what are you going to do to inspire me today"?

My kids come to school, and they come to class, and they come into an environment where they know that they are loved, they are valued, and most importantly they have someone that believes that they can really change the world.

I write this today to encourage you to step outside of your comfortable zone.  Have lunch with a group of students, play football during recess, or just let a kid know that you notice them and that you think they're amazing.

You have no idea how much of an impact you make on a kid with just a smile, hug, handshake, or kind word.

Your students are begging you to inspire them.  They're begging you to prove to them that you care.  They're not begging you to teach them math or reading or science (that comes after the relationship is built).  Everything comes back down to relationships.  So listen to them say "INSPIRE ME" and step up to the plate, and inspire.

Friday, November 29, 2013

My Nominations for the 2013 EduBlog Awards

Blogging is something that I really got into a little over a year ago.  Never would I have ever imagined myself being a writer.  But the more I write, the more I also connect with other educators blogs.  I'm proud to announce my nominations of some great educators/blogs that have inspired me!

Best Teacher Blog
Written By: Erin Klein

Best Group Blog
Organized By: AJ Juliani

Best New Blog
Written By: Brad Waid & Drew Minock

Best Administrator Blog
Written By: Jimmy Casas

Best Ed-Tech/Resource Sharing Blog
Written By: Terri Eichholz

Best Individual Blog
Written By: Pernille Ripp

Best Free Web Tool
Twitter: Remind101

Best Individual Tweeter

Best Educational Podcast
Twitter: 2 Guys

Best Mobile App

Best Open PD
Twitter: K12

Thanks to all these and soooo many more who encourage, challenge, teach, and push me every day.  I love reading, and reading these blogs makes me that much of a better teacher!

You can learn more about he EduBlog Awards here.

Friday, November 22, 2013

My Trip to the @WhiteHouse for #WHChamps Event

To try to even put the last few days into words is impossible.  So bear with me as I try to type all this out.

For those of you who didn't know, I was selected as a White House Champion of Change for being a "Connected Educator".  Someone who is "taking creative approaches in using technology to enhance learning for students in communities across the country."  You can read more about it here.

When I first got the email a little over 3 weeks ago, my first thought was "this is a SPAM email", and I almost deleted it.  But it wasn't SPAM!  So after sharing the news with my district (Waller ISD), my co-workers, and my friends, a last minute trip to Washington DC got planned.

I was able to bring a few guests along with me, so of course I brought my wife Liz, and I also invited my two best friends, Brad Waid and Drew Minock.


Liz and I flew in Wednesday morning!  After leaving at 6am from Houston, we landed at Dulles Airport at about 1:00pm.  We grabbed our rental car, and headed the 37 miles to our hotel in Downtown DC.

Of course after all that traveling, what was the first thing we did?  Take a nap!  Well I couldn't take a nap because I was far too excited about Brad and Drew arriving later that night, but Liz took a nap.  After taking a brief break Liz and I decided to head over to Chinatown for dinner.  Now I've used public transportation before.  When I was in Los Angeles for a few days a few years ago it was easy.  Well DC Metro Rail is quite more difficult haha.  It was a learning process for sure!  But after arriving in Chinatown, We searched and searched for somewhere without an hour wait but finally decided on Las Tasca.  It was AMAZING.  Probably the best food I ate all week.  A great start to the DC experience!

Then we headed over to Reagan International Airport to pick up my two best friends.  To say I was excited to see them was an understatement.  If I'm being completely honest, I have to admit that I was even more excited to have my three favorite people in my life together for a few days, more so than I was even about the White House.  Seriously.  Relationships and the people in my life mean the most to me, and I hadn't seen my buddies since June, so the excitement had been building!

We picked them up, then Drew walked us around Downtown DC just showing us around a little.  We headed back to the hotel to sleep and get ready for the next day of crazy.


The big day had arrived.  We all got up super early, because as a WH Champion we were being given special permission to have a tour of the White House (the wait list is over a year we were told).  We checked in with Secret Service (several times, haha), and entered the White House.  We weren't allowed to take in any bags or take pictures, so that was a bummer.  But walking into that house was mind blowing.  Being in the halls of a building where so much of our country's history has taken place was overwhelming.  There were several times I just had to stop walking, take it in, and hold back tears.  I was so emotionally overwhelmed with the experience.  I even told the guys afterwards that I think one of the coolest moments of my DC trip was standing at the front of the White House and looking out the front windows at the lawn and Washington Memorial.  It was breathtaking to say the least.  We spoke to Secret Service, learned a ton, and even saw the place where the President the night before honored people like Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.  After touring the White House we took far too many pictures out in front of it!

We then headed back to our hotels to get ready for the Champions of Change event.  By now I was getting sick to my stomach from nerves.  I had bought my very first suit a few days before so I quickly changed and we caught a cab back over to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the event.  We checked in, again several times, with Secret Service and headed into the room.  The room was fairly small and I quickly spotted my seat with my name on it.  To be in a room that was so formal and see a huge sign on the wall and the podium set up, it was surreal.  I tried taking it in, and emotionally I just couldn't.  The 10 Champions were quickly put into a side room for us to get some last minute details.

Keep in mind, up to this point we knew pretty much nothing.  We knew there would be a few guests, we know there would be a time for us to answer questions as part of a panel, and that's about it!  So they took us back into a small room, and organized us to get ready for a picture with Valerie Jarrett who is the Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President.  Well after organizing us, we kept waiting and waiting.  We were told there were some surprises coming.  At this point the time was 1:10, which was concerning considering the event was supposed to start at 1:00pm.  So Bess Evans, who was organizing the entire event, came up to us Champions and said "ok I have a secret I can't keep any longer.  The President is coming and that's why we're running late!".....to say the mood changed is an understatement.  All of us got even more nervous, yet super excited about the possibility of meeting the President of the United States.  Then Valerie Jarrett showed up, greeted and congratualted us, and took a photo with all 10 of us as a group.

They then ushered us into the room to get the event started (we guessed that meant the President was on his way!).  We sat down and the Live Streamed event began.  I was soooo nervous.  Valerie Jarrett came out and did a quick welcome and then....next....the President came out!  Wow talk about the room freaking out.  I have to admit though that when he first came out my first thought was "He looks just like that guy on SNL!" hahahaha.  Then he started talking and I couldn't believe who was standing in front of my eyes.

I was sitting in the same room, less than 15 feet away from the most powerful man in the United States.  Regardless of your politics or how you feel about the President, I have to tell you, to be in the same room as this man I've seen on my TV so many times was emotionally overwhelming.  I almost started crying right then.  Why?

Because I've always lived in a small town.  Up until the last year or so I've never really been that "big of a deal" or recognized for much.  I teach in a tiny town in Texas.  Yet now, because of my work with kids, or more importantly because of my incredible students, I was sitting in a room with the most powerful man arguably in the WORLD.  Who am I, and what did I honestly do to deserve this honor.  That is still a question I am asking myself, and I've spent quite a lot of time in tears, thanking God for placing this blessing in front of me, and praying I set an example that my friends, family, and my students can be proud of.

Anyway, after the President welcomed all of us in the room, he invited us Champions on the stage for a photo with him.  I was able to shake his hand and introduce myself, and my friends and wife tell me he said "Congratulations Todd" (I don't remember much of the actual experience, I was too overwhelmed).  Then we posed for a picture, and for a split second I experienced what it feels like to be a "celebrity" because cameras were flashing EVERYWHERE.  It took everything in me not to break down right there on the stage.

We all sat down again and throughout the next two hours we heard congratualitions speeches from
1.  Director & Assistant to the President for Economic Policy - Gene Sperling
2.  FCC Commissioner - Jessica Rosenworcel
3.  Director & Assistant to the President - Cecilia Munoz

In between the guest speakers, we were called up 5 at a time for a Panel session.  I was in the first session with Daphne Bradford, Heather Cox, Misa Gonzales, and Brian Walsh.  I was sooooooo nervous.  I knew the world was watching, and I knew my students were watching and I so badly wanted to make them proud.  We each introduced ourselves and then spent some time answering questions about things in education and our classrooms or careers.  I don't remember much of what I said but I do know the panel discussions were recorded and are going to be put on YouTube (I'll tweet out the link as soon as they're put up; should be by Sunday).  And I hope I really set a great example for my students.

The second panel then went up: Mark Coppin, Dallas Dance, Carolyn Foote (Go Texas!), Bud Hunt, and Jennie Magiera.  They spoke so well and made the crowd laugh!  I hope my panel went as well!

Then the event ended.  It was all and extreme blur.  I remember Brad, Liz, and Drew coming up to me and saying "Oh my gosh! You met the President!! He said your name!  He shook your hand! You spoke so well!" and so on and so on.  But I was so overwhelmed that I couldn't even comprehend what just happened.  So we headed out, and ended up leaving right at the West Wing!!!  So we took a few pics outside the West Wing and then headed to dinner.

We had a celebratory dinner at Old Ebbit Grill near the White House.  Then we headed back to our hotels to change into more comfortable clothes so we could go see some of the historical aspects of DC.

We then headed out and Drew took us around (he'd been here before a few months before).  We looked at the Washington Monument, front of the White House, Lincoln Memorial, the WWII Memorial, and Woodrow Wilson Plaza.  It was sooooo cool seeing all these mind blowing architectural buildings/memorials and powerful as well.  I was standing on so many places where history was made, where moments in our Nation happened.  It's a crazy feeling for sure!

We got another bite to eat at The Hamilton restaurant and then headed back to the hotel to get ready for our final day together.


Friday we got up SUPER early so that we could head over and check out the Arlington National Cemetery before Drew's flight left (he flew out before Brad).  We got there right after it opened and rushed to see Kennedy's Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  Walking up to the Kennedy Memorial something was different.  We noticed Secret Service, and some camera crews and we didn't know what was going on.  We didn't even realize TODAY was the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.   We saw the Kennedy family arrived and experienced them playing taps in memory of Kennedy.  Talk about a powerful moment (we later were in a restaurant watching CNN, and saw that Brad was caught on film! He made national news, haha).

We then went and viewed the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, and seeing a member of the military outside watching and marching was a powerful moment.  I've gotta say it was quite sad to see all of the graves of the men and women who've given their live for our freedom and for this country.  A reminder of the sacrifices so many have made!

Drew then got on the Metro to go catch his plane.  Telling Drew goodbye was incredibly difficult.  That man is incredible.  If you don't know him, or haven't connected with him, I can't express enough how much you can learn from him.  He inspires me every day and has been that constant friend these last few months who has not only kept me sane, but also kept me grounded and reminded me of so many things.  He's got the biggest heart, and the best sarcasm and sense of humor.  I love that guy and he is such an important part of my life.  The only reason I was able to hold myself together when I was telling him goodbye was because Brad was still there.  But it was so difficult to tell Drew goodbye knowing I won't see him again until March (and let me tell you March can't come soon enough).

Then Brad, Liz and I headed back down to my hotel to drop some things off, because I was able to "pull a few strings" and get us a personal, private, tour of the Department of Education.  Cameron Brenchley, the Director of Digital Strategy for the DOE, invited us over.  He showed us around the building.  It was pretty cool to see the place where some decisions are made regarding education.  We saw the many cubicles, Cameron's office, their meeting room, and even a GLIMPSE into the Secretary's office.  I can't say thank you enough to Cameron who gave us the tour.  He was so surprised we were impressed, but I just loved the opportunity.

Then Brad, Liz and I headed over to The Renissance Hotel to meet up briefly with Gail Conway and Brian Puerling.  Brad knew Brian through Twitter, they heard we were in town, so we briefly met up and talked EdTech, Augmented Reality, and Flipping the Classroom.  It was neat to talk with Brian and Gail and share some things, and Brad got quite a few compliments on the INCREDIBLE things he and Drew are doing with Augmented Reality and changing the face of education.

Then we headed off to see several Museums.  We visited the National Archives (and saw the Constitution and Decleration of Independence), Museum of Natural History, and The Air & Space Museum.

We then went back to my hotel, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and drove Brad to the airport.

We dropped Brad off and said our goodbyes.  Brad is amazing.  Let me just say that now.  He has been such a source of encouragement and strength for me these last few months.  I knew that if anyone was coming to me it had to be Liz, Drew, and Brad.  Brad is the most inspirational person I know and I am proud to call him my best friend.  I am a better person for having someone like Brad in my life.  After already holding it together barely while saying goodbye to Drew, I couldn't do it with Brad.  I was tearing up just talking at the airport.  As we said our goodbyes and Brad walked through the door, I lost it.  I just cried.  I had held emotions in all week, and it was overwhelming.

I am so thankful for social media and the relationships I've built like with Drew and Brad.  The most difficult part though it only getting to see them every few months.  But thank goodness for Google Hangouts, twitter, and cell phones to continue our building our friendships.  I can't wait to see those guys again in March for MACUL, and to present with them at MACUL.

Now as I head into our last evening in DC Liz and I plan on seeing a few places tonight and in the morning and then heading home tomorrow, back to our "normal" lives.

This has been an incredible experience.  I can't even begin to comprehend what took place this week and I don't think I ever will completely comprehend it.

But I have to say, there are so many educators doing incredible things.  There are so many educators changing lives and inspiring kids, yet they never get recognized.  They never get noticed.  Accepting this award I remembered what it was like never being noticed.  Do I feel like I deserve this White House Champion of Change? No way!  Do I feel like there are so many other teachers doing just as incredible things as me and my students? Of course.  Which is exactly why I tried tweeting as much as possible and writing this blog, to hopefully, virtually, bring you along with me.

Every since getting involved with social media, and more importantly Twitter, my life has changed dramatically.  And it's because I now get to surround myself with some of the most INCREDIBLE people in education.  Some of the most innovative and caring people in the world.  I've chosen to surround myself with awesome people like you.  And I don't think it's fair for me to accept this award without telling all of you thank you.  Thank you for taking this journey with me, thank you for tweeting me, leaving blog comments, for sharing, for everything.  But even more so I have to give credit to my students.  They are, and have been, changing my life for years.  My students are the most inspiring, innovative, incredible, hard working kids on the planet.  They challenge me every day, even as I challenge them.  And the rise to the challenge, face it head on, and together we're changing things.

In closing, if you made it this far through this REALLY long post, I have to tell you thank you.  I was able to tour a city full of our nation's history, and meet the President of the United States this week.  An experience that I don't think can ever be topped and one that I will always remember.  I tried to express my experience through this blog, but honestly words can't even describe what happened.