VSTE 2016: ISTE-T Certification

I’m always looking for a next possible step in my career, and I’d been stuck. Becoming an ITRT was the next step, but there really was no certification to do so; VA doesn’t require it like WV does. That means I end up competing with all sorts of folks. Competition isn’t bad, but I want to find ways to make myself a better ITRT and stand out in my field. Turns out, I found my next step at VSTE- ISTE-T Certification.

The ISTE-T program is tied to ISTE standards and is a rigorous program that shows you know the standards and how they are applicable in today’s classroom and schools. It’s meant for those who have been teaching for some time, and is self-guided. There is a 12 month period to complete all of the required work. The cost is actually pretty doable, and I’m pretty sure I can get all of it/most of it compensated by my district as well, which is even better.

I can apply at any time by submitting a lesson plan to demonstrate my current level of technology use in the classroom. I have a few to work with and will probably tweak one more in the future. The best time to start the program is October 1 – April 1. They don’t like you to start during summer break and immediately lose 3 months due to summer vacation and they also don’t like you to start during September when school is starting. Based on that, I would want to start the program next November since I’m getting married in October. I don’t want to have to deal with coursework and plan for a wedding at the same time, especially not the final bits.

During the session, we had a chance to practice getting things ready for submission by providing possible documentation that we already had for some of the standards. We can double-dip as well. That’s certainly helpful. I know there are definitely standards that I’ll be working toward creating things for, and working my hardest so I get good feedback on my work.

The group at the session was very small, and some folks left in the middle because it wasn’t right for them for one reason or another. It is meant to be a very rigorous program and isn’t meant for someone just starting out in teaching. It’s a nice goal to look forward to though.

I feel like this will be a good challenge for me, and really put my skills to the test. I want to keep challenging myself, and it has been a little bit since I committed myself to a work heavy program, the last one being the TIS cohort. I’m ready for the next thing, and it’ll help me out if I decide to switch positions and move as well. Unlike the TIS certification, this one will be recognized for its rigor and prestige no matter where I ended up living.

Now I just have to prepare for next November and get anything together that I plan to use already. I can use whatever I have, as long as it’s been done in the past 2 years. I’m ready to advance!



VSTE 2016: Minecraft World Building

I am a huge fan of Minecraft. I originally started playing it in 2014 the summer before I had the last 4th grade class I’d teach at JJC. I knew that so many of them were into it, and I wanted another way to connect and build relationships with them. Fast forward to 2016 and I still play from time to time when I can. I’ve gone from enjoying survival to creative. I have hosted one workshop on building theory, and my current club, Fluco Game Designers is getting ready to tackle modding in Minecraft, a topic with which I am most unfamiliar, (right now!) but am learning about.

I chose to attend the session on World Building in Minecraft by John Painter (@zwaaa) for my own personal learning originally. When I do play creative, I love to explore designing and ways to make the task easier. I also build strange and random objects at times, like a giant pyramid…with one flipped on top of that, just because. I knew that John was presenting on some tools I’d heard about, but never really used before and I figured an introduction to them would be handy for when I was ready to explore them.

Without further ado, here are the tools that were discussed in the session:

World Painter – This tool makes it easy to paint in biomes for use in the game. It doesn’t provide a detailed look at the biomes, at least with what we were shown. It does make it easy to add in different biomes or blocks. There are different types of paint tools that can be used. This tool makes it easy to build up or depress land or to flood the area with water. The finished map can then be exported into Minecraft.


terrain.party- This is a handy tool to use to get real world height maps that can be used in Minecraft. This is super useful to those trying to build a map based on real world locations, or creating a location based on the real world. One can use the site to get map data for any location and then save that file. Using another program, World Painter, import the map and make any changes. One that we were told to make was to set the water level to 10. Make any final changes and then export to Minecraft. Our presenter said that this was really handy when he needed to create a location based on Jamestown for a social studies unit that he was creating. Using this site, he didn’t have to worry about the land shape being accurate, and could focus on other parts of his build instead.

MCEdit Unified- There are different versions of MCEdit out there, but the reason this one was selected was because it also worked with Minecraft PE. For my own purposes, it wouldn’t really matter, but I’ll most likely end up using this one. This tool lets one edit a particular world map to suit their needs. It’s useful to bring in schematics and to build the world up or down. It’s a tool I need to learn to use so I can easily copy buildings as needed, too.


Planet Minecraft- This particular site is great for inspiration, which is how I’ve used it in the past. However, it has tons of schematics that can be downloaded and brought into Minecraft using a tool such as MCEdit Unified. This is how our presenter brought the boats from Jamestown into his build without having to recreate them himself. During the session, we brought a schematic of the White House into the test edit.


Spritecraft- This recommendation was more of something fun to do. Basically it’s a way to bring images of people into Minecraft, having them reconstructed as Minecraft blocks. Take a picture of someone and edit it in GIMP or any other photo editing software. Then use a program called Spritecraft to create the image in Minecraft blocks. Export it to MCEdit and put into the world.


Needcoolshoes.com- This website is a website to find and edit your own skins for Minecraft. There are many sites out there that can also do this, so it’s really up to personal preference.

While I do want to use these personally, I’m going to attempt using Spritecraft, MCEdit Unified, World Painter, and terrain.party in my Fluco Game Designers club. I don’t want them to think modding is only about coding of course, and I want them to be able to create an inviting environment for their mods as well. I will introduce these tools after they’ve had some time to learn about the code side of modding though.

VSTE 2016: PD Here, There, & Everywhere

One of my goals during VSTE was to see how other districts implemented professional development in their own districts. There were a few different sessions focused around professional development and each one seemed to be different. The one thing I quickly learned: No one has the “best” solution for professional development. The programs that are successful only reach a small percentage of a district’s staff. This is because they aren’t mandatory and seek the ones who are self-guided to learn.

I find professional development to be key to a teacher’s continued growth, but find it frustrating to see that so many folks opt to only do it when it’s made mandatory or when they need the points/hours for credit or licensure renewal. We have a failure to model for our students what continued growth and learning looks like. As a teacher, our landscape changes constantly, and so do the tools that we have to use to navigate the landscape. Our students, too, change over time, and they need to acquire the ways of using new tools and yet unknown tools in order to be successful in our landscape. The teacher that fails to adopt and flex with the changing landscape essentially has doomed the students to fail behind.

Drastic? Maybe a little. However, our students cannot learn in the same types of classroom that we did. That was a different time, with different tools and skills needed. Things have evolved and changed, and we need to prepare our students to evolve along with them. It becomes easier when we, the educators, have to find our own ways to evolve because then we pick up on some of the struggles that the students may have.

There were 3 sessions at VSTE that I attended on professional development. One was done by Chesterfield County, one by Spotsylvania County, and another by Blue Ridge Technology Center. Each of these districts did something different with their staff. Each district was successful with a small percentage of their staff. Each district did what worked best for their staff and PD leaders. Each district is hoping to bring more staff into the fold with each passing year. Let’s dive in to how each district tackles PD. In a later blog post, I’ll discuss my plan to create a technology cohort based on the different types of professional development that I’ve researched.

The first session I attended was Chesterfield’s. This actually aligned nicely with the idea I was toying with for a technology cohort at the time based on other research, so I found it very informational. Chesterfield has created what they have dubbed the LITE Cohort. Teachers involved in this cohort had to submit an application to be accepted. Since this is the first year of the cohort, it is only being implemented in about 1/3 of the district buildings. The steps of the cohort are tied to ISTE standards.

Once in the cohort, teachers develop a mission statement for themselves that they will work on during the year. These missions are based on ISTE modules. Teachers then work on research, with the assistance of ITRTs as necessary. From there they implement and reflect and continue forward. ITRTs meet with them once a month. There is also a Google Classroom component where teachers get involved in discussion at least 3 times a year and use it to support other cohort members. Teachers will collect all of their documentation in a portfolio. How they create the portfolio is up to them, but they must follow a template to make sure the required pieces are in there. Finally there are a few big meetings that are done face to face. One is the launch, and the other two are end of semester meetings.

One of the things I loved is that the Chesterfield crew provided plenty of extra materials and links to help those in attendance plan and design their own cohort. I’m pretty sure I’ll be calling on them again in the future!

The next session I attended was Spotsylvania’s session on professional development. Their system was a bit different. Instead of doing a cohort, they had worked to create a resource where teachers could look up the type of tool or professional development that they were interested in and then find a video to watch about said tool.

This particular district started with Digital Learning Day and doing live video feeds. They had some snags, such as weather that caused a delay the day of their live video. In addition to their team of ITRTs, they had some teachers that also helped present on different topics. After this, they started archiving all of their videos and developing a center for all of their video resources.

It works well for them, but they also have a large team of ITRTs compared to our 3. I also didn’t like that staff could easily fill out that they’d watch the videos for PD credit, but that there was no way to authenticate it. With what I want to design, I want there to be more than just sit and and get. I want them to implement and reflect. I’m very glad it works well for their district though, and I at least learned something I didn’t want to do.

The final session on professional development that I attended was presented by Blue Ridge Technology Center. They had a slightly different take on how they presented professional development to their staff. They ended up creating a special room for professional development that was geared for teachers ready to learn. It was toted as a place where teachers would come to learn, discover, and fail in a safe space.

I had never really seen a place dedicated to professional development before, so it was interesting to see what they did to make sure it was easy for teachers to have a space set aside. Not something we would do in our district, nor would it increase professional development, but a nice idea nonetheless.

In the end, I left with ideas of what I did and did not want to do. As I mentioned above, Chesterfield’s meshed nicely with another idea I’d found from the Olwein district in Iowa. I decided to mesh and combine both ideas together to develop something for Fluvanna County for fall 2017. I will be spending a good bit of time on hashing everything out and making sure it’s ready to go by then.

VSTE 2016: Connections & Connected Educators


A group of us from the 1st Connected Educator session.

Connecting with other educators is one of my big passions, especially when it comes to conferences. I often end up going by myself, so I love having people that I can meet up with and talk to that I’ve spent the past year following and conversing with online. I wasn’t attending VSTE alone like I typically do with WVSTC, but I knew that I would spend much of my time away from my colleagues except for evening. We had a lot of different interests and we handle different things when it comes to being an ITRT, so we split our time wisely.

One thing I loved about VSTE and was looking forward to was the Connected Educator pop-up sessions. This was new to me because WVSTC doesn’t have anything like it. I’m going to see if I can get something like it going though this summer. I made some calls. More on that later if things work out. These Connected Educator sessions were led by Margaret Sisler (@Techy_Margaret) and Tamara Letter (@HCPS_TinyTech). You should certainly give those two ladies a follow if you don’t already follow them! Unlike a typical conference session, these were very laid back. Folks could pop in and meet up. They could add their Twitter handles to a chart that would later be tweeted out. If someone didn’t know about Twitter or how to use it to connect to Twitter, all they had to do was ask and their wish was granted.

During VSTE, this session was offered once per day, and at different times to try to catch as many different folks as possible. I was able to attend 2 of the 3 sessions, and meet other ITRTs. I ended up with quite a few new followers, and I still haven’t yet gone through the list to add folks from the sessions to my Twitter feed. I handed out some of my business cards along the way so that I could connect with people beyond Twitter.

Beyond this session, I found other educators to talk to and connect with. Some were technology folks, but others were teachers from all walks and grade bands. Everyone had a story to share, and it was nice to be able to hear them all! These connections rejuvenated me and my passions for instructional technology. Without connections, these conferences wouldn’t be nearly as fun to attend.

Building connections at conferences is a great way to find colleagues with similar interests, subjects, and grade bands. It can be really hard to find new folks, but they are out there. There are many friendly faces who would love to connect. One just has to reach out and try talking to someone. It is easier if there’s a session or meetup that encourages this though.

I ended up with 28 new followers by the time VSTE ended, and all but a few of those were VSTE related. I have new feeds and ideas appearing on my Tweetdeck, and I love it. I cannot wait to see what WVSTC brings this year with my connected educator group there. Don’t let anyone tell you that making connections like these or using Twitter is pointless. Without my crew of fellow educators to gather inspiration and knowledge from, I wouldn’t be the ITRT I am today!

Recap: VSTE 2016


The view from my hotel room. I hated that the weather was crappy because I would have loved to walk the beach one morning!

This year I had the pleasure to attend my very first VSTE (Virginia Society for Technology Education) conference. It was a much bigger conference than attending WVSTC, and I am so glad I got to attend. There are quite a few things I want to discuss in relation to the things that I attended at VSTE and what I learned, but I first wanted to start with a general overview and recap of my few days at the conference. This was the first conference I wasn’t presenting at, so it was nice to simply sit back and attend everything and not have to worry about finishing up the final touches on a presentation. I was joined by my two fellow ITRTs from my district, which was great because I had people to hang with on my downtime.

This year’s VSTE was held in Virginia Beach at the Virginia Beach Convention Center from December 4-6. It started mid-morning on Sunday and ran until mid-afternoon on the 6th. Attendees had a variety of sessions to choose from each hour. Some of these sessions were pop-ups in the hallways, and others were hands-on demonstrations. There was the exhibit hall of course, and plenty of good food around and about. Perhaps the only big downside to the conference was the horrible internet. It was very hard to find connection that was decent. Even the presenters had a lot of issues. Hopefully changes will be made so it’s not that way next year. I’m certainly spoiled by how well the internet runs at WVSTC!


Me the very first day of the conference!

One of my biggest goals for this conference was to make connections with VA folks. I know I’ve really built up my connections when it comes to my WV colleagues, but not so much with my VA ones. I haven’t really had the chance to attend something that would allow me to, until now. I made sure to attend the pop-up Connected Educator meetups that were held. I only missed the last day due to another session running that I had wanted to attend. I definitely made new connections and passed out a good many copies of my business card. It’s gotten to the point where I need to consider redesigning my lists on Twitter as well.


A large group of us from the very first Connected Educator meetup. I saw many of these folks often over the course of the conference.

One of the big things with this conference is the collection of ribbons for one’s badge. I got lucky and ended up gathering quite a few, though mine was definitely not the longest. Mine nearly touches the floor though. It’s just a fun way to add interest to the badge I suppose. Of course, the first one on mine was my Twitter handle badge. Obviously that’s one of the most important!


My badge. I only gathered 1 more ribbon after this 🙂

VSTE of course isn’t only focused on learning. There’s also fun to be had as well! There was the vendor reception, which hosted live music and snack foods. Later on we had a karaoke and casino night. There happened to be a photo booth there as well so one of my colleagues and I had some fun with that.


A group of attendees at the vendor reception. I believe they were dancing to Wobble


Fellow ITRT and I being goofballs

Look for more updates on VSTE. I do plan to update on the new things I’ve learned about social media, professional development, and Minecraft world building.