instructional technology

GAFE Teacher Resource: Equation Editor

As I go along, I’m always learning new things about GAFE and its set of programs. Today I was exploring ways to use Google Classroom in the math classroom and came across the equation editor in Google Docs. While I am aware that there are some more robust add-ons (and that I’m looking into them!), I went ahead and put together a quick how-to sheet for my staff while I learn the other add-ons.

Click here for the resource

#IMMOOC: Innovation and Professional Development

Thinking differently isn’t enough. We can think differently all we want, but that’s only a step in the right direction. It takes more than just a step to evoke change. We also can’t simply replace one thing with another, such as when teachers replace pencil and paper with computers and tablets. In many cases, all that has been done was replace the traditional with a far more expensive tool, unless educators decide to use the tool to make their lessons do something new or better.

As an instructional technology resource teacher trying to help teachers see how they can innovate with the technology they have in their classroom can be rather difficult. My district recently received a large load of Chromebooks. All levels received a cart of 30-40 Chromebooks to share between 2 or 3 teachers. At the high school level, all English teachers received their own Chromebook carts. This is great!… except it’s not. We’re almost 2 months into the school year and teachers are typically using the Chromebook for the following: MAP or IA testing, Mobymax/Study Island, or simply having them type up papers. This is one use for a Chromebook, but it’s nowhere near the best use. All that’s been done is replaced the typical pencil and paper tools. And while the data and computer adaptive nature of some of the above programs are amazing, that’s not all that the Chromebooks should be used for.

My fellow ITRTs and I are trying to counter this use of the tool, but it’s very difficult to accomplish. So far we’ve offered professional development that’s been lacking in attendance, usually a handful at most. When I came on board this year, I made the suggestion to move to doing Google Classroom self-guided professional development. Our teachers had 3 options to partake- in person, Google Classroom-based, or 1:1 with one of us instead. Our sessions that are being offered are based on the feedback given from staff so we go from offering Google-based sessions to others, such as Kahoot or Seesaw Portfolios.

Despite the feedback and new ways of attending sessions, we feel the reception to be lukewarm at best. This is a problem for us because in most cases professional development isn’t mandatory for teachers. They have to attend anything offered on a staff day, and they need 180 points for licensure renewal (VA requirement), but they don’t need to attend so many sessions a year. It was like this in my previous district. They had to get 18 hours of PD each year, but if they attended the Opening Day session and the next day, they easily had 12 hours completed.

Even if the trainers have the tools to help teachers begin to innovate their lessons or to help inspire them with something new, it does no good without teachers attending the sessions. This is my 3rd year in instructional technology, and still I don’t have the answer to this. I haven’t figured out a way to make professional development sessions new and better, at least in the sense of getting more people to attend them. I have moved away from the sit and get method, and the sessions I offer have teachers doing hands -on work. I know this still isn’t enough, and I’m working to improve in that regard.

If you are a teacher, it would really help me if you would give me some perspective, on why you choose not to attend professional development. What would make you want to attend a session, especially if all you have to go on is the description before signing up?

What I Wish I’d Known as a 1st year Technology Integration Specialist

Note: This article was originally written last school year, but I never finished or posted it. At the time, I wasn’t actively blogging as much as I do now, and I wanted to get this post out there. This post applies to anyone brand new to the field of instructional technology, no matter the job title. Since I’m in a new district this year, you can bet I’m going to heed the advice of my past self!

I always see these articles for teachers, but I’ve never seen one for a technology integration specialist (TIS). I’ve decided to create my own article, and hopefully my experiences will help another TIS in getting started on their new journey.

As I’ve mentioned before, I became a TIS last year. I applied for the job in September, thinking that I would not be allowed to switch out of my current job as 4th grade teacher into the position. The deadline to transfer jobs had just passed for the district when the job itself was posted. In order to apply for the position, one had to have their TIS credentials, or be able to apply for the 1 year temporary certification. In order to do the latter, one had to be a part of the current TIS cohort for the 2014-2015 school year. I fell into the latter category, so I took a shot and applied. I was hired, and allowed to switch. Come the end of October, I said goodbye to my students and classroom, and stepped forward to begin my new journey as a TIS.

Looking back, there are many things I wished I’d known about being a TIS, or getting started in the position. Unlike a beginning teacher, I didn’t have a mentor in my building to go to for advice. I could email the technology office if I needed anything, but for the most part, it was a learn-as-you-go experience. I was pretty confident in my abilities with technology, but I was overwhelmed as to where to begin. My first day on the job happened to be a staff development day without students, and so I was to shadow the previous TIS at the middle school. We didn’t do the elementary school. After that day, I was to work 3 days a week at a middle school, and the other 2 days at an elementary school. The days I chose to be at each school were up to me, as were my hours. I could do 7-3, 7:30-3:30, or 8-4. Of course, I worked hard and made it through the year, but not without a few issues and lessons learned along the way.

So without further ado…

What I Wished I’d Known as a First Year Technology Integration Specialist

1. Exactly How Crucial Relationships are for Collaboration: As with any work environment, relationships are key. However, a TIS does not have the option to lock themselves away and be isolated. A TIS must be able foster and build a comfortable relationship with the teachers they will be working with. We all hear about collaboration and working as a team. I came from a school where for the past 3 years I’d been the sole 4th grade teacher. Collaboration between grades or areas was minimum at best. Collaborating with other teachers in the county? Difficult. We didn’t have time anymore to get together, and schools were spaced out. Not the best, but that’s how it was.

A TIS must be able to work with anyone- teachers, librarians, custodians, cooks, administrators, and more. This can be hard, especially when there are teachers who would rather be left to their own devices. As a TIS, one learns that some teachers do not wish to have them, or know how they want to use them. The best thing to do is to continually offer
services, but not push for them. Instead, building relationships with them. Find common interests, talk about the classroom, or just eat lunch together. Sometimes they’ll come around, and sometimes not. Don’t take offense to it, as there are others who are happy to have assistance.

2. Expectations of You May Not Be What The Job Actually Entails: Coming into this position, I knew that a TIS is expected to help teachers and students integrate technology into the curriculum. This means that we must teach both teachers and students how to use the technology. We also find new technology for teachers, show them how to use it, look for resources, and teach their students technology lessons or co-teach lessons involving technology. However, if the previous TIS did not do this, beware of what others’ expectations may be. Expectations for your position may be nothing more than a glorified computer repair person.

If the above happens to be the case, then a TIS has quite a task in front of them. The first problem that a TIS faces is that faculty expects them to fix computers or any other technology related issues that arise, and that is the only expectation. In my district, a TIS will take a look at the problem, but if they can’t resolve it quickly, or they don’t know how to resolve it, then a work order is put into the system to have the issue fixed by someone who can. At first, this is what most of my job was for teachers in the middle school, and the only time they would sign up for my assistance. I spent the entire year trying to show that my job was more on the side of technology integration, rather than just fixing. By the end of the year, I was leaning closer to a balance of the two. Hopefully this year I can swing it so that I’m doing more integrating than anything else. It takes baby steps to swing the pendulum the other way, but it pays off in the end.

3. Elementary and Middle School Collaboration are Very Different: I come from an
elementary background, so most of my knowledge and experience was with the elementary level. I was used to working as a team with a variety of staff, or working with a particular colleague. I was not ready for the difference I found in middle school. I discovered a lot of isolated pockets my first year, and found that there wasn’t very much cross-curricular collaboration going on. Granted, it may just have been my school, but still.

When faced with trying to build up collaboration, a new TIS needs to make sure that relationships and trust are gained first. I didn’t heed this in my first year. I worked toward it, but not as adamantly as I should have. Had I known this, I might have been able to gain
the teachers’ trust more quickly. I’m hoping that a year in this position makes a difference for me as a TIS and the amount of technology I can help my teachers integrate.

4. Go Slowly: A TIS cannot just through random bits of technology at the teachers and expect them to grab hold and use it. This is absolutely the quickest way to gain a staff member’s distrust. Not only is it overwhelming, but the staff have no buy in, and no reason to use it. Rather, a TIS should make suggestions from time to time, but really focus in on what staff do want. They may not know the name of the particular technology tool, or if it even exists, but they will describe what they want so that the TIS can research and see if something does exist.

A TIS should also learn about the staff members’ comfort levels with technology. Someone who is very comfortable may know exactly what they want and request it. They might be happy to go at their own pace from there, or they might need a little bit of help. Other staff
members may not be very fond of technology, or know what it can truly do. With this type of staff member, it’s best to go slow. Make suggestions, offer to co-plan and co-teach with the teacher as well. Make them comfortable from start to finish to help reduce the fear. Of course, you will have staff members that fall in between these two levels as well. A TIS isn’t meant to create more frustration in the work environment.

5. Always Watch for New Learning Experiences: Okay so this isn’t something I necessarily needed to know as a first year TIS, but it is something any TIS should always know. It’s a good reminder to start the year with as well. Technology is an ever changing field, and there are always new applications, programs, and websites for educators to review and look at. Just because one year a particular edtech tool is hot, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the next year, or that it will be the only tool to do that particular task. There are always new programs, and they don’t always replace the old ones.

As a TIS, stay connected online. Research new edtech tools, and ask colleagues what they might recommend. Stay current on new changes in the field, and don’t be afraid to try something that doesn’t work in the end. Oh and one of the most important parts to this- always listen to the teachers at the schools. Just because they aren’t a TIS doesn’t mean they don’t have some great ideas or resources to share. It’s easy to avoid having to research, but it only hurts you as a TIS, and is a disservice to the teachers, too.

Hopefully, these 5 things will help get other new TISs started on their journey in the field, and help them to avoid making some common blunders. I wish all the new TISs the absolute best this school year!

Lesson Plan: Budgeting a Clothing Allowance

This was originally taught to a 5th grade class at the elementary school where I work. I wanted to incorporate real world skills into our Learning Excel section. I needed to introduce simple formulas to the students, as well as teach them how to format their spreadsheet. Since it is real world math skills, I tagged it as mathematics, even though very few standards match up to it. However, I feel that learning how to create a budget is very important, and that this was a good start for the students. This can certainly be adapted for older students as well.

Summary: Students will use the Excel app,, and Popplet to
create a budget for themselves with a specified clothing allowance.

Lesson plan link here

Proposals for WVSTC 2016

WVSTC, or the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference, is a yearly technology conference held in Morgantown, WV at the Waterfront Place Hotel. It typically happens during July. This year, it’ll be taking place July 19-21st. This so happens to be one of my favorite conferences, and thanks to Twitter, I have made many contacts with fellow colleagues in the state. The first year I attended was 2014, when I was part of the TIS Cohort. It was one of our required activities, and it was during that conference that I wondered why I’d never heard of the conference before then. For me, it was one big vacation and a chance to learn so much. In 2015, I again attended and opted to present two different sessions. One was on blogging as an educator and the other was on building a PLN.

I have been eagerly awaiting the call for proposals for 2016, and a few weeks ago the announcement was made. As soon as I saw the email, I sent in the two items I wanted to present on: Twitter and Coding.

Session Proposal #1: Twitter 101 Getting Started on Twitter as an Educator

Twitter is a powerful social media tool for educators looking to expand their personal learning networks. Educators have learned to use this tool to build connections and participate with others in discussions taking place around the world. If you’re looking for a new way to connect and get involved in the world of education, this session is for you! Come join this session for a hands-on approach to joining in and changing the way you learn. Attendees will learn the basic Twitter lingo, set up their Twitter account, create their first tweets, explore hashtags, discover educator resources, edchats, and more. All attendees will leave with the resources and connections to help them jump start their educational foray into the world of Twitter. A laptop or other mobile device is required for this session.

One thing that some of my fellow Twitter colleagues and I have noticed is that there seems to be a lack of educators on Twitter in WV. When we have our biweekly #wvedchats, we often see the same faces, and our biggest participation turnout has been 31. We want to see that number grow, and that would hopefully allow for chats to be held more often like other states do. Of course, we’re always encouraging educators to think outside of the box when it comes to professional development. We want to see more involved WV educators on Twitter, and this session would be one way to do that.

This session, if accepted, will also be a feeder session for the proposal submitted by another fellow #wvedchat member. Once we get folks set up and interested in Twitter, we want to do a live session and promote more of the benefits of using Twitter as an educator. We’re hoping it’s successful in gaining the attention of other fellow WV educators, but only time will tell.

Session Proposal #2: Coding Clubs – Anyone Can Start One!

Getting coding into the classroom is being encouraged more and more these days. If you don’t know much about coding though, you might feel daunted by the task. Not anymore! This session will guide you through getting a coding club started at the elementary or middle school levels. Explore coding programs for students of all ages, program a Bee-Bot, and test some coding board games meant for students from preschool to adult. You’ll leave this hands-on, interactive session with plenty of ideas and a Getting Started packet perfect for starting coding clubs at your own school. Make sure you bring a laptop or other mobile device to participate!

This particular session is one I have had in mind since before last year’s conference. In April of 2015, I attended a professional development session by on getting started with coding in the classroom. I was hooked on the idea, and had plans to begin coding clubs at both SES and CBMS the following school year. This session is going to allow me to present on how to get clubs started at other schools, and what potential materials work really well with the curriculum. I would really love to get enough space to do some hands-on demonstrations with the extra materials. I really do not want this session to be a lecture session. Coding is fun, easy to get started with, and it’s best to just jump right in and play around!

If you would like to submit a proposal for the conference, be sure to do so by April 29. The call for vendors is also up. Interested persons should go to Currently, signups for attending the convention, as well as conference hotel fees, are unavailable. I hope to see other friendly faces there though!

#Vaedtechjourney Update: LFCC Job Fair

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a job fair at Lord Fairfax Community College in Virginia. The districts represented were from the Northern Shenandoah Valley area. Clarke County, Frederick County, Harrisonburg City, Page County, Shenandoah County, Warren County, and Winchester City Public Schools were all represented. This particular job fair did not require any kind of preregistration form, and only asked that attendees bring their resume to hand out to representatives.

I had not been to a job fair since I was finishing up student teaching in the fall of 2008. I wanted to make a good impression, so I bought a new button up blouse in one of my favorite colors, and got a new pair of dress shoes. The night before the job fair, I sat down to revamp the resume I had put together for the instructional technology positions I was seeking, and edited it so that it showcased both my teaching and technology successes. I did the same thing to the cover letter I had written up. For good measure, I located the nice resume paper that I still had left from my student teaching and printed both on that. I tucked both sets of documents into a folder andfelt confident.

The day of the fair was rather yucky, weather-wise. The weather was a rain/snow mix, with the chance for up to 6 inches. Thankfully, it never really stuck to the ground, or caused any issues with travel. I arrived at Lord Fairfax shortly after 9 and headed in with my gear. After quickly filling out the registration form, I was allowed entry.

It was a decent turnout, though not as crowded as I thought it might have been. I would guess that the weather played a key role here. I decided on a counterclockwise rotation and began my journey around the room. Many times I had to wait until I could speak to district representations, so I had plenty of time to observe. There were student teachers, educators who wanted to transfer (like me), and career switchers. I found that in some cases, certain districts did not want to really converse with you if your job was notsomething they were looking for. On the other hand, if your job was in need in a district, you became a very interesting person on the spot.

I handed out my resume to each district except for 1 or 2. Iwas disappointed that I did not yet have the teacher business cards I had ordered because some district representations asked for my blog URL, and I gave them my Twitter handle as well. I do wish I had thought of the business card idea sooner because it would have looked more professional, but at least I will have them before I attend TIS Regionals next month.

I finished up just after 11 and had found that Clarke County was one I was interested in applying to for a teaching position. It’s a smaller district, with only two elementary schools. The good news is that both principals were there, so I made sure to speak to both of them. I did come home after the fair and put in a job application that evening. It was the first teaching application I had submitted on my hunt for a new job.

Overall, I think it went pretty well, and it gave me a chance to put faces to some of the districts I had looked at in the past. I loved being able to make connections, and hopefully some of my hard work will pay off in the future.

Teacher Resource: Front Row

(Note: All images used in this post are screencapped directly from the Front Row website, and meant to be visual guides throughout this post. Rosen Shepherd is a fake student for this post, and her name has been edited since to keep anyone from logging in as her.)

Show of hands: How many times have you wanted to find a free program that will differentiate instruction for students in English and mathematics AND allow the teacher to analyze all of the data? Again, free is the name of the game when your district is on a budget for this teacher resource as well.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Front Row.

Front Row is another program I was introduced to at the Infusing Technology Spring Showcase. It is a computer adaptive program for students whose needs fall in the K-8 range of English Language Arts and Mathematics. There are two versions- free and school edition. The free edition includes all of the math program. The limitations come with the ELA side- teachers can only assign 5 articles to students per month. The articles are
adapted to the students’ levels. The school edition includes many features- an administrator dashboard, an upgraded teacher dashboard, benchmarking tools, inquiry lessons, and professional development. There is no estimated cost for the School Edition, only that anyone interested should contact Front Row for a quote.

Signing up for Front Row is quick and easy. Simply fill out the requested information and you will be off and running. Front Row will also ask you to select your school. The very next thing that teachers will see is the tutorial page with Piggy, Front Row’s mascot. If you’re a first time user, make sure to go through Piggy’s tutorial. If not, click Skip and you’ll be taken to your dashboard. Here you can set up your rosters, manage assignments, check out data and more. To manage a roster, simply click the green “Manage Roster” button in the upper left corner. From there, you can add students to the default class, create a new class, or change the name of the class.

For the sake of this blog post, I’ve created a sample student named Rosen Shepherd who is in 4th grade. For Rosen, I will only be able to see her current data for the week, and not any past data. Front Row only offers this feature to the School Edition accounts, not past ones. Rosen is now ready to log in and begin using Front Row. Rosen will be required to take a diagnostic test so that Front Row can place her level accordingly. Notice that in the blue bar for Rosen’s class, there is also a code. I’ll need to give this to Rosen when she logs in to Front Row.

Rosen’s student login screen is very simple. All Rosen needs to do is enter her first and last name, and the class code. Then she logs in. Rosen’s dashboard looks very simple and colorful. Depending on the day’s assignment, she chooses whether or not she is working on Math or English. Today, Rosen will select Math. Since this is Rosen’s first time, any of the math areas selected will given Rosen a diagnostic test.

Rosen’s dashboard pictured above

During the diagnostic, Rosen will have access to different tools. There’s a pencil tool to write on the blank whiteboard space. There are numbers to be dragged over (since she’s doing Counting and Operations), there’s an eraser tool, and there’s a speaker tool that will read the question and answer choices to her if she needs help. The diagnostic will take 5-10 minutes, depending on Rosen’s skill level. Once Rosen has finished the diagnostic, she’ll be placed on the board at a skill where she needs to work, and will be able to move up from there. Rosen can also choose to do any of the other diagnostic skills. Throughout, she’ll earn coins for correct answers and lose coins for wrong answers. Once a diagnostic is finished, a window may pop up and tell her that she can visit the Piggy Store.

Piggy Store is a place where students only have 90 seconds to make decisions. In the store they can buy accessories and backgrounds for their Piggy character, all while a clock counts down the seconds left in the store. The time limit is a good thing because it keeps the students from spending too much time in the store, and allows them to get back to practicing instead. However, students may earn trips to the store multiple times in a session because they have worked on completing skill areas. Every time a window will pop up to let the student know if they’ve earned a trip to the store.Students have the option to visit, or they can decline.

I had Rosen take a few diagnostic assessments. Let’s sign back in to our teacher account and see how she’s doing. Below, you can see the different types of report options available to teachers in Front Row.

For the sample here, I chose to pull up the Report Card and then selected Rosen. As you can see, the report card is very detailed for what she has accomplished. This report can then be printed and used for any documentation or IEP purposes that the teacher requires. Teachers can hover over any of the charts to get an accurate reading. Teachers can also click on the current standards. The next screen will explain what the standard is, as well as give sample types of questions that the student will see.

Switching to the ELA side of things, teachers will find that it is much less detailed, but that is because most of the options on the ELA sections are not available without purchasing the School Edition. Students can, however, take the diagnostic. When I took the diagnostic as Rosen, I was provided with two sample reading passages and comprehension questions. The passages weren’t too long, and there were only a few questions. After I had completed the diagnostic, I was able to choose to read articles on my own, and answer the questions that went with them. The articles for Rosen are now much longer and have more questions to answer. I switched back to the teacher view to assess Rosen’s diagnostic test, and it had her at a 7.4 grade level. The bananas article I selected as her to read on her own was 8.2. I did not have any say in the level of the article; the program automatically adjusted for Rosen’s needs.

Rosen’s sample diagnotic passage

Some of the articles that Rosen can choose to read on her own. These are geared to her reading level from the diagnostic.

Unlike the math, the reports available on the English side are not as detailed or in depth. This may be a result of using the free version only. However, the English side is a good way for teachers to differentiate instruction for students in small groups. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the teacher can only assign 5 articles per month to students with the free edition, but the articles will automatically adjust to each students’needs.

Overall, Front Row is an amazing tool for teachers to integrate into their classrooms. It works great for small group instruction, as well as varying instruction levels to match the abilities and skills of students within the classroom. I’d recommend trying out the free edition to begin with to make sure it is a good fit in your classroom. If the free edition provides the results you want, then contact the company for a quote for the school edition of the program, especially if you want to get more out of the English section. If anyone has the school edition and would be willing to share their experiences with me, please feel free to contact me!