Friday, August 30, 2013

Week One - What a Whirlwind!

Week one of another school year is down in the books!  Whew, to say I'm exhausted is an UNDERSTATEMENT!  I'll try to get all my thoughts down....

We started school on Monday like most of Texas.  Went off with a bang.  Worked with getting school supplies sorted, learning the school, setting expectations, and building relationships.  One really big part of my classroom every year is spending time getting to really know my students as individuals and building that rapport with them.  We did ColAR Augmented Reality pages, we played games, and we did a team building activity with a Tarp!  So much fun!

One thing that I noticed right away though (and continued to be reminded of throughout the week) was that this group is VERY different than the group I had last year.  Last year was my first year flipping.  This year I was ready to jump into the different technology tools and flipping!  But I learned very quickly I wasn't going to be able to do that.

This year's group of students have clearly had quite a bit of work done for them in the past.....they're not independent thinkers.  They very much want me to tell them every step of every thing I ask them to do.  It's kind of like holding their hand as they walk.  And in my head I'm screaming "You're a 5th grader!! COME ON!!" and then I realized.....I'm used to my students from last year.  The students I spent 9 months training to be creative, independent, and out of the box thinkers.  This group I'm having to start over again from scratch.  And it's quite frustrating, but that's because I'm so impatient haha.  But I spent the week teaching the students the ins-and-outs of their Google Accounts (GMail and Drive), we learned and we wrote our first ever blog posts,  we learned Edmodo, and we set up accounts to start flipping!

I think KidBlog had the biggest impact on me this week.  I came to learn that many of these students had never used their voice.  They'd never had that moment where someone cared to learn about them.  Their first blog assignment was the write a paragraph about themselves.  So many of them struggled with this....but once they got started it was like a waterfall of information.  One student in particular, who hates writing, wrote over two paragraphs about himself!  It was amazing to watch, and I can't wait to have my students continue to blog every week for the entire school year!

I'm excited about the possibilities that this year holds with my students.  This group is probably one of the most kind group of students I've had in a while.  But, the most exciting thing about a new group of students is looking forward to the amount of growth my students will have by the end of the school year! Yes it's going to be a lot of work, but it's work I'm willing to put in because the rewards are so worth it!

Friday, August 23, 2013

My 7 Favorite Tech Tools for My Class

So many of my Tweeps have been sharing some of their favorite tech tools that they use in their classroom so I figure I might as well too!  In no particular order here are my favorite tools to use with my students and a few I plan to use this year that I'm really excited about!

Ever since I found out about in July of 2012 I have been obsessed.  I'm a guy who always has my phone on me.  Always.  And I know how quick it is to read a text and share information via text!  What Remind101 allows you to do is send texts to parents and students without ever needing their phone number and they never need yours!  Best of all it's a one way communication, meaning parents can't text you back! Oh, and it's FREE!!!

I have absolutely loved being able to send text reminders to parents about field trips, tests, upcoming activities, all kinds of things!  And best of all parents have continually told me how much they appreciate the text updates.  Many statistics are out there now about how few parents actually read emails or letters that are sent home.  Those statistics GREATLY increase though when it comes to texting!

And it helps that Remind101 has one of the nicest teams of people out there that I've met! has been an excellent resource in my classroom.  Since I am flipping my classroom it is nice to have a platform like Sophia, that is free, and very easy to use.  In addition to having over 34,000 videos on their site already made by other teachers, they have Bill Nye the Science Guy, and a FREE Flipped Class Certification Program and a iPad Certification Program endorsed by Capella University!

Even though I upload all my videos to several different places for my students, my students have clearly chosen as their favorite place to access videos.  And that's because I can create "Tutorials" in Sophia that in addition to embedding my video Sophia will allow me to embed a PowerPoint, PDF, Word Document, or even a Google Form!  I also get a quizzing feature and video analytics that will not only tell me who is watching my videos but also HOW LONG they're watching the videos!  Awesomness, right!?!

I absolutely love Sophia and like Remind101 they have an incredible team of people behind the name! is a tool that I have used for the past 3 or 4 years.  In short it's a social networking platform that allows me to connect with my students in a safe and protected environment.   I can share information, give tests/quizzes, share documents/websites, take polls, take assignments, and now can even link my Google Docs files to it!

I have really enjoyed Emodo for the ease at which it is to use.   And since I teach 5th graders, they have greatly enjoyed getting a "social media type" account since many of them aren't old enough to have Facebook/Twitter type accounts.

Edmodo is completely closed so no one can have access to your class unless you give them access.

The Edmodo support team is INCREDIBLE with their response to questions, and Edmodo also provides tons of pre-made letters and handouts so you never have to "re-create the wheel". has been a more recent addition to my classroom.  My students LOVE using Movenote!  We use the add-on in our Google Drive (since we're a Google Apps for Education district).

In shot, what movenote allows the students to do is upload their Google Presentation and then record themselves (via a webcam or separately attached camera) talking through their presentation!  

I recently found out that movenote also has an app!  So I can't wait to start using that.  Movenote took no training with my students, they picked it up RIGHT away!  Very easy way to record students presenting a presentation for you to have access to or to add to their digital portfolios!

I love the idea behind Classroom Champions.  Created by Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler and his sister Leigh what Classroom Champions does is connects your students and classes with Olympic and Paralympic Athletes.  There are tons of pre-recoded videos on their website for you to use for FREE!  Things like goal setting, making friends, and so much more!

The idea of being able to bring perspectives from Olympians is incredible and super inspiring to use in the classroom!

Socrative is not only web-based, but also an App!  This free resource allows me turn any of my student's devices into Student Response systems (or "clickers")!  I can gain instant feedback, do quizzes, or even just brainstorming!  I love the ease at which it is to use socrative and love that any of my students can use it with their own device! 

There's been a lot of backlash lately about different behavior management tools.  And I agree with some and disagree with others.  But regardless of the thoughts, Class Dojo really is an excellent resource for teachers to use in their classroom for behavior management.

You create a class, add your students, and each one of them gets a little "monster" that they can later go in and personalize.  The "positive/negative" points are changeable so can make them fit your needs exactly.

What I also really enjoy about Class Dojo is the data you get.  You get charts and graphs after every class with breakdowns of the points given out that day.  Parents can also log on at any time to check how their child is doing!

But for me, best of all is the App!  I can update something on the app and it immediately updates the website!  I carry my device everywhere with my giving out positive or negative Class Dojo points no matter where we are!

What I'm looking forward to using!

Now there are also a few tools I learned about this summer, and two I am really looking forward to using are below!  I do have to say that I heard about BOTH of these tools from Drew Minock (@TechMinock) and Brad Waid (@TechBradWaid).  Those two guys are INCREDIBLE resources.  In addition to their amazingly information website (, they are also starting a brand new weekly podcast with the EdReach network called "Two Guys".  You can find more information about that by visiting! Their FIRST podcast is this TUESDAY at 8:00pm CST.

Three Ring is one of the tools I most excited about using this school year!  Drew shared with me how often he uses it with his class and I can't wait to use it as well!  Three Ring pretty much allows you to create digital portfolios for all your students.

You can put your students into the website and the via the website, or the app, you can upload images, audio files, video files, whatever! And then "tag" the student that goes with that file and it puts those files in that particular student's account.  Students get a log in where they can also add their own materials, and parents get a log in so they can see what is being added by the teacher.

It is so easy to just snap a pic and then tag it to a student!  I can't wait to keep a digital portfolio for all my students!

Aurasma is the site and app you can use to create your own Augmented Reality experience.  Rather than me try to explain it here I suggest you just check out the Two Guys website for information as well as AWESOME instructional videos!  But the potential this holds for engage and exciting students is hard to even fathom!  I can't wait to Augment my class!

To see any other tools I enjoy or that we use feel free to check out my website at or The 3 Tech Ninjas site for TONS of great resources!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Gone Without Goodbye

This post is probably going to be the most personal post I've written.  But for me sharing through writing is cathartic so I need to write this out.  This past week a tragedy happened within my school family and within my personal family's life.  To keep the backstory short, here's a little of what happened...

In February of 2013, a co-worker of mine lost her 26 year old son to cancer (colon cancer I believe).  It was a tragic blow to our school family to watch this family go through the pain of losing a child.  Then on Thursday morning, this same family had another blow dealt to them.  Their 18 year old daughter got into a head on collision on her way to breakfast with friends and had to be life-flighted to a hospital.  Through the next 48 hours they had to say goodbye to their 18 year old daughter because of the damage sustained in the car crash.  It was absolutely heart breaking to watch this family lose two children within a year.

It was also much more personal to my family.  Because you see, a little over a year ago I married my wife, Liz.  The mother of this family mentioned above, is the one who set my now wife and I up on our first blind date.  The 18 year old mentioned above was also one of my wife's, Liz's, best friends and a bridesmaid in our wedding.  Spending Thursday and Friday up at the hospital waiting on the doctors to finish surgery after surgery was hard to watch the family go through the pain, but it was also difficult to watch my wife deal with the agony of losing one of her best friends and especially at such a young age.

The tragedy is still fresh in all of our lives.  Every body deals with grief in different ways and at some point we all choose to ask God, "why?".  Why would this family have to go through not one but the loss of two children in less than 6 months?  What's the purpose?  And being a man of faith, I haven chosen and will continue to believe that every thing that happens in our lives happens for a reason.  Reasons we can't understand, and will never truly understand.

Tragedies don't make sense.  Losing someone close to us, never makes sense.  And honestly I don't know how people make it through tragedies like this without any faith.  But like the mother of this family told us, her children are now dancing together in heaven with their Heavenly Father.  And I know that Natalie and Michael are in a much better place, and I know that I will see them again one day.

So today, and this week, and this month, and this year as you go through your life make sure you remind those around you that you love them.  Don't miss any opportunities that you are given.  Because life is precious, and life can be gone in an instant.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Don't Miss Your Opportunity

If there's one thing I've learned being a teacher and working with kids, it's that building relationships should be your number one priority.

And I think this mainfest by Angela Maiers speaks VOLUMES and is our class motto

The education is important, the skills are important, the lessons are important, but I believe that getting to know your students, connecting with them, and reminding them that they matter, is far more important.

School is starting soon, and for some of you it may have already started, which is kinda why I felt lead to write this post today.

Growing up, there were very few teachers (I can actually just remember two) who made any sort of positive impact on me.  My teachers never tried to build relationships, or at least not with me.  But then again, when I look back at my days in school, those adults who did have the largest impact on me were adults (outside of school) who took the time to make me feel like I mattered, like I had some sort of value and importance.

As educators we have an opportunity every single day to change a child's life.  The responsibility in knowing that is HUGE.  How dare we squander that time!  We've been given an incredible opportunity to tell a child that they're important.  That they matter.  That they exist for a reason!  We've been given an opportunity to love those kids even when everyone in their life may tell them they're nothing.

So how can we do that?  How can we take every opportunity we've been given and seize those moments to impact a child?

Well here are some things I do....

Eat Lunch With Them!
This one is a big one for me.  And in years past I've gotten a lot of flack from other educators about not eating in the teacher's lounge or statements like "aren't you sick of those kids and need a break?"  And I think back to when I was a kid.  When I knew an adult was giving up some of their time to spend time with me, it made me feel like the  most important person in the world.  So I make it a point to give up some of my time to have lunch with them, talk to them, get to know them, and just remind them that even though I'm their teacher, I actually LIKE spending time with them!  This always makes a big impact on my students and it is a traidition I plan on continuing.

Spend Lots of time the first week bonding!
I can't stress enough the importance of the first week of school.  Some teachers like to hit the ground running and jump right into curriculum because "they have so much to cover and so little time".  But I say take the first week differently, yes the entire first week.  Just spend that time BONDING with your students.  Play team building games, do art projects, just flat out get to know your students on a personal level.  And you know what?  Let them get to know YOU too!  Kids love learning about your life and who you are outside of the classroom.  Why keep it a secret?  Let your students in.  And you know what happens in the long run?  By spending that entire first week getting to know them, you've now built deep relationships that will pay off huge dividends later in the year when you're covering concepts.

Play at Recess!
Such an easy thing to say, but so much harder to do.  There are so many days we go out to recess and I just want to sit there and watch them play because I'm flat out exhausted.  But then I remember the impact this makes.  Recess is the BEST time to interact with your students in a totally different environment then the classroom.  You have to opportunity to play, have fun, and just let loose with your kids!  It ends up being something that quite often invigorates me!  And it also lets the kids see that I'm not afraid to let loose and play soccer or tetherball or just swing on the swings!  Don't be afraid to act like a kid!

Attend their Extra Curricular Activities
This one is one of the toughest because it requires you to give up some of your personal time.  But this one pays off the biggest in the long run.  When you have those kids who are "troublemakers" or "brats" in class, attend one of their extra-curricular activities.  Just doing that one time can completely turn that "troublemaker" around and let them see that you genuinely care about them.  Kids act out because they're hurting.  I wrote a blog previously entitled "Hurting People Hurt Others" and I think it applies greatly here.  Kids so often feel unimportant or unloved.  Attending one Baseball game or Dance Recital can turn that all around for a child, and it really also makes an impact on the parents who see you giving up some of your time.

Bring in their Interests and Give them a Voice
This is a biggie for me.  Kids need to feel like the classroom is their classroom too.  I am not a dictator here to punish them with learning.  I always tell my students that we're a family and we're in this together.  And one way that I show them I mean it is by allowing them to design the room, plan some lessons, come up with project ideas, and even choose our class pets.  My students know that their ideas and opinions are listened to and more importantly valued, and it makes all the difference to them

Many of the relationships I've built with my fifth graders continue on today.  I still get phone calls or texts to attend band recitals, plays, or baseball games.  I've gotten those phone calls at ten in the night because a family member passed away and the child wanted me there at the hospital.  I've gotten those emails or phone calls when something incredible happens and they want to share it with me first.  I've sit and cried my eyes out with kids, laughed until my stomach hurt, and sometimes just sat there and listened as they pour their hearts out.  Those are all moments I will never forget, because I know what it felt like for me to be reminded that I was valued.  Building those relationships help remind those kids that someone cares.

There are so many other great ways you can interact with and make a difference with your students this year.  But've been given quite the opportunity.  The opportunity to change a child's life!  To tell them they matter.  To tell them they're important.  And to tell them they're valued, loved, and cared about.  So as you continue or even begin your school year, don't miss your opportunity, because you may be the only person who ever tells that kid they matter.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hurting People Hurt Others

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When I was in college I remember hearing one sentence during a sermon, that totally changed the way I viewed people.  That sentence was, "hurting people, hurt others".  Those four little worlds completely blew my mind.  From that moment on I chose to make a conscious decision to keep those four words at the forefront of every interaction I had with those around me.

Here's the point behind those words.  Sometimes when we are hurt by someone, we just think they're being mean.  We think they have some vendetta against us or that that is just part of their personality.  The truth behind it though is that when someone bullies someone else, or says a mean word, the person saying it is usually the one that is truly hurting.

image from

Because as humans that's what we do.  When we're hurting, a part of us wants those around us to feel the same pain we're in.  Sometimes it's intentionally, and sometimes it just comes out before we can stop it because we're hurting so bad.

So the next time someone hurts your feelings, or is being a jerk, or says something really rude, stop and think about them from a different perspective.  Stop and take a different look.  There's probably a lot of hurt behind their words.

Which is why the words "treat others as you would want to be treated", ring so true.  We need not to jump to conclusions when we see the bully or the jerk.  We need instead to take the time to figure out where their pain is coming from.  Because if we can help them through their pain, we can take away that need they may feel to make others hurt as bad as they do.

Because the phrase is true.  Hurting people really are the ones who hurt others.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Learning from Those Who Inspire

A little over a month ago a few friends and I started a brand new endeavor.  For months now we've been in love with amazing podcasts that we listen to at home and when we travel.  To everything from Techlandia, to the Tech Chicks, to Instructional Tech Talk.  But one thing that all of the podcasts we listened to had in common was technology.  Now, don't get me wrong we're tech nerds, but we wanted something a little different in the mix too.  Something we were craving.  Something we didn't see anywhere else.  We wanted to interview people in education who were inspiring and had great stories.  From there the idea of EduAllStars was born.

Now at first people said things like "why are you classifying certain people as 'All Stars'"...well you know what??  We're educators, ALL of us are All Stars!  We just wanted to interview people who inspired us and allowed them to share their stories with the world at large!  And man what an exciting time it has been.

Chris Kesler (@iamkesler) and Stacey Huffine (@techninjastacey) are my two partners in crime.  They round out the team who dreamed up the EduAllStars podcast idea.  The past month or so we've been able to chat with and learn from some pretty amazing people.  People like...

Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler, Iowa Principal of the Year Jimmy Casas, Teach Like a Pirate Author Dave Burgess, Technology Leader Jeremy Macdonald, EdTech Guru and Author Adam Bellow, and Blogger/Educator Erin Klein.  Every interview we've done has surprised me, touched my heart, and taught me something.  I feel like I've grown to really know and learn from these inspiring people.

As Educators we all have a story.  We all something to share that can change the world around us.  We've all been in the trenches and learned our way around and we're all still learning!  What better way to learn than from the stories of others?  I have had such a blast interviewing people who have inspired me and can't wait to interview even MORE amazing educators and people in education!  People like Drew Minock, Brad Waid, George Couros,  Eric Sheninger, Angela Maiers, Jack Andraka, Todd Whitaker, Jenny Bucos, Amber Teamann, and sooooo many more!  We have a lot lined up for you guys and can't wait to continue this journey!

So join us! Be inspired! And share with a friend!  Would love to hear in the comments below some of the things you've enjoyed so far OR even better ideas of more people for us to interview!

EduAllStars Website:
Twitter: @EduAllStarsHQ
iTunes: Search "eduallstars"