#TLAP: Tone Makes a Difference

It’s been a crazy time, and last week school started for staff in Fluvanna County. Ever since Monday, it’s been a flurry of activity, but I have had time to begin incorporating new ideas and projects into my work already. One thing I have already done is changed how I present to staff, and the results were fantastic. Let’s travel back to August 1st…

On August 1st, I was at the high school to attend the opening day faculty meeting. I had been scheduled by the principal to present since the end of the previous year. Over the summer, I had developed a Slides presentation to introduce FlucoTech, and later I’d tweaked it to add in stuff about my role as an ITRT. My presentation already used Bitmoji images, as they are fun and draw the audience in. The only thing left was how I would present all of the information.

After meeting both Dave Burgess and George Couros in the early summer, I realized what a difference the way information is presented makes. This was further demonstrated by the Bowtie Tech Guys at WVSTC. How we share that information is just as important, and after this summer, anyone who tells me that students should simply learn the information because they have to should think again. As Burgess discusses in Teach Like a Pirate, we’re competing for students’ attention from so many outlets. If we can’t go with the flow and hook them on our material, we have lost them and we have lost out.

As teachers, we have attended professional development sessions where we loved hearing the presenter, and others where we’d rather gouge our eyeballs out because it was so boring. Think of how those sessions were presented though. Did they engage you? Did they draw on stories, jokes, imagery, videos, or some other form of showmanship? Think of how the “boring” sessions were presented now. Was it simply a presenter speaking in a bland manner while referring to some kind of slide presentation?

For my presentation, I grabbed my pirate flag and hat. This alone had folks curious. The image on the title screen of my slide was a bitmoji that said “Let’s taco about it”. My presentation was the last one scheduled on the agenda… over two hours into the faculty meeting. By this time, people are ready to go, they’re done, they’re bored. My teachers were high school ones, and they were quite a large group.

I immediately start with “Ahoy there!” and get a lackluster response. I remark to the principal that his crew must be dead, and then do it again. This time I get a much better response, and from there we are off and running. I’m loud, I’m animated, I’m working to get them to laugh. The information itself is not the most interesting to many of them and I know that, so I draw them in in other ways.

When I was finished, I heard many compliments from my teachers, and how they enjoyed the presentation. Some told me it was the best one of the morning, others appreciated the way I made them feel comfortable. I have since heard many more compliments, which lets me know I’m on the right track with engagement. I also had a lot of teachers reach out to me for help after that, which really contributed to my busy schedule at the high school last week.

In contrast, I have yet to do such a presentation at the middle school, and I do feel this has made a difference with the staff I have interacted with so far this year. The principal has mentioned having me present at a faculty meeting next week, but this is not set in stone just yet. We will see what happens when I do though.

Overall, I have found that tone and showmanship make all the difference. I am definitely heading in the right direction with my work, and will keep building on it throughout this year. All it takes is a small spark to make a big difference!

Social Media & Feedback

The school year is winding down here in Fluvanna County. Our students only have a 1/2 day to attend tomorrow, and they are out for the summer. Staff have 3 days next week, and I have more beyond that. My mind is wrapping things up for this year, and beginning to make plans for next year. I have received my contract for next year, and am happy to be returning to the district. I have plans to improve on what I’ve done, and am working with leaders in the school board office to try and make some of it happen.

As many of you know, social media was a focus of mine this year. In fact, I’m going to be presenting on it at the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference. I believe that social media branding is very important for schools to take part in, and that more schools need to tell their stories. Alas, not everyone feels as though it is a necessary task when added to the other bits and pieces of work for school, but it does pay off and parents do take notice.

Because I am presenting, and because I want to make improvements next year, I needed to turn to our main viewership base- families of the students. I needed to get their feedback on their thoughts about social media, and I needed it to be honest so that improvements could be made. I know our first year really pushing it didn’t go well in some areas, while it excelled in others. Reading over the responses so far, I see many parents who agree with the observations that I have made.

However, first years never go as planned, and are usually meant to be ways to work out the kinks and problems for the next year. If professional development is my main passion, then school social media branding is my second one.

When it came time to develop my survey for parent feedback, I considered the following:

  • It needed to be anonymous
  • There needed to be a separate survey link for each school
  • It needed to be quick and easy
  • It needed to ask the few burning questions on school media

The anonymous part is pretty obvious, but I stated it anyway. The reason a separate link was needed for each school was so that parents with students in multiple schools could separate their comments based on the school’s page, and give feedback regarding both schools if they wished. Quick and easy was a point because no one wants to spend forever doing a survey on anything. Rating scales were key to making it quick. Finally, it needed to ask my target questions and get written feedback from parents. That way I might gather some specific topics or points to address when preparing for the next year.

Here are the questions that were decided on for each survey:

  1. Think back over the school year. What types of posts do you recall seeing on [School]’s Facebook page?
  2. How often do you feel [School] utilized their Facebook page?
  3. How satisfied are you with the frequency that [School] posted to their Facebook page?
  4. How did adding school stories, identified with #flucostories on the Facebook page, impact your overall view of the school?
  5. How satisfied are you with the frequency that #flucostories appeared on the Facebook page?
  6. How satisfied are you with the types of #flucostories that appeared on the Facebook page? (clubs, classroom activities, sports, events, etc.)
  7. Please provide any suggestions you have to help [School] improve the Facebook page for next school year.

With the exception of Question 7, all questions were based on a 1-5 rating scale, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best. The survey was designed in Google Forms, and handed off to each school. If your school uses social media and wants to get feedback from families, feel free to borrow the questions I’ve listed above.

I am looking forward to analyzing the data and determining the weakest areas for each school. I am also looking forward to (hopefully!) developing a more uniform plan for the district, instead of going on a school by school basis.

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!

#WVSTC 2016, Pt. 2

We’ll pick up right where we left off last week and begin this week with the sessions that I presented at WVSTC.

This year I presented two sessions on my own, and I co-presented a third session with some other colleagues. This year I presented Twitter 101, Coding Clubs, and co-presented #wvedchatLIVE! As always, I wasn’t finished with either presentation beforehand, but this year it was because of the classwork, the prep for the move, and the driving back and forth to my new district to take care of things. Thankfully my one session was very hands-on. Unfortunately, guess who decided to get creative with the handout she created for it? Yup, me. Thankfully, neither of my sessions were on Tuesday afternoon, and they were spread out as well. I did my Twitter session on Wednesday afternoon, my Coding session on Thursday morning, and the co-presentation immediately after my Coding one. I also didn’t have to prepare anything for the #wvedchatLIVE one because the main presenter had already taken care of everything. I just had to participate and help out.

My first session, Twitter 101, was meant to be a step by step session and help educators get started using the platform. I discussed key Twitter terms, and then we delved into getting started. Step by step we created usernames, looked up users to follow (and followed them),
looked at various hashtags, discussed the purpose of edchats, and then looked at an easy way to organize Twitter using Tweetdeck. Really there’s so much to do with Twitter that it should be multiple sessions over a period of time with help, but when it comes to a conference, you can’t really do that. I did have a pretty decent turnout, and I gave out quite a few of my cards. Quite a few people were very pleased with my session, and I felt pretty good about it. I still think there is more that can be done to assist teachers, but again, not something that can be done in a conference session.

My second session on Coding Clubs was first thing Thursday morning and I wasn’t sure that I would have many people show up to an 8 AM session, but I had a packed room. Granted, it was one of the smaller rooms, but I had people squeezed in. We held discussions on how to start the clubs, and I told them about how the handout had many free links to help get them started. The second part of the session I had pulled out all of my coding board games and devices and let the attendees look at them and play with them. They would ask questions about which ones worked best for each level, and I told them, also reminding them that the information would be in the handout as well. At the end of the session, I was able to give out more business cards so that anyone could contact me should they need me.

After my Coding Clubs session, I had to hightail it over to the #wvedchatLIVE! session across the hall. Thankfully it hadn’t started yet. The goal of this session was to do an edchat with the audience right there and let them see the benefits in person. This way, we could also provide any help and assistance as necessary. Randall, who was leading the workshop, had already pre-scheduled the questions to be asked so he was able to hold discussions and answer questions in between about the edchat as well. We had a smaller audience than anticipated, but the ones who were there were actively participating. I would love to see if, in time, more folks join our biweekly chats on Twitter. I haven’t been active lately, so I don’t know if the amount of participants increased last time or not.

I was much more pleased with the outcome of all of my sessions this year over last year’s. At least this year, I had more people in attendance, and more folks asking questions along the way, too. I felt more confident in my presentation manner, but that’s most likely because it was my second year presenting. I also had my roommate, aka the amazing Dr. Rikki Lowe, livetweeting both of my sessions. I still think that next year I will do just
one session. Then again I’m pretty sure I thought that last year as well, and that didn’t go as planned…I just get too eager to share my stuff!

In addition to the sessions I attended, I also attended the Twitter edchat meetup for #wvedchat, the STEM Playground, and the TIS Reception. Both of these are my ways of making connections with other colleagues around the state, and I wouldn’t miss out on the good food either!

Immediately after the last session of the day on Tuesday, WVSTC hosted its very first STEM Playground. I had brought my coding games and such to use in my presentation, so at the last minute I asked those in charge if they wanted me to set up a spot with my stuff. They were happy to add me and get me a table. I spent 2 hours sharing my games and letting parents and teachers explore their options for preschool on up. It was fun, but very tiring.

Tuesday evening was also our Twitter edchat meetup, so we went to the Mountain State Brewery in Morgantown, WV for some yummy pizza and trivia night. Last year we’d done well with trivia. This year I didn’t even participate, as our group was so big and spread out over a long table. I did enjoy discussing technology toys, Pokemon Go, and things I’d
learned about at the conference so far. The Twitter edchats are meant to be a fun way to relax and kick back with faces that one might only know from online. I also loved that we had more people attending this year as well!

The TIS Reception on Wednesday evening is a time for all current TIS Cohort members and alumni to come together for a couple of hours. Everyone enjoys good food, which was provided by the Waterfront Hotel again this year, and then we have some kind of shareout activity. A Genius Hour was scheduled, but not many people stepped up to take a slot, so it simply became a time to shareout a new technology tool instead. I had already volunteered to present on Mystery Skype. It was very easy to prep for, as I’d already written up a getting started blog post. I used my time to demonstrate what it was through video, and then when all was said and done, I was able to hand out notecards with my QR code link to the blog post. I had a lot of people take one, and they would tell me they’d never heard of Mystery Skype before. I hope that some of them at least give it a shot! The only sad part about the TIS Reception is that we found out one of the cohort leaders, Valerie, was set to
retire before the year was out. It was a bit of a damper, but we all wish her the best of luck. She is one amazing lady!

Overall I greatly enjoyed my time at the conference this year. Everyone kept asking me if I would be returning next year since I’m now employed in Virginia. I told them I would definitely be back because I would hate to miss out on seeing all of my colleagues and catching up. Plus, I simply love the atmosphere, and love giving back some of the knowledge that I have gained. Wouldn’t trade that for the world!

#WVSTC 2016, Pt. 1

Another year of WVSTC, aka West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference, has come and gone. I didn’t think I could have a better time than last year, but I did! This year was a little different for me because I funded the cost of my conference fees, and had planned to bunk with a colleague from my old district, but she had to cancel because her mother had surgery during that time, and she needed to be there. I was lucky enough to find someone to bunk with during the conference, and we had a blast together. How did I find her? Oh, we’re just networked colleagues on Twitter, that’s all…. More on that later!

This year I had originally signed up for two pre-sessions- one on Minecraft in Education, and the other on Apple and its Swift and Playgrounds coding platforms. I had to miss the Minecraft one because I had to go to my new district to be fingerprinted first, and wouldn’t be back for the 1 PM session. As for the Apple session, it was good, but not super interesting. I learned that I couldn’t do a lot of the advanced stuff, like get Playgrounds because I didn’t have a Mac. I can easily use Swift on the iPad with students so there is that. I most likely won’t be getting a Mac, so no Playgrounds program for me. However, what they are trying to do with coding is pretty fascinating, so I would definitely keep an eye on Apple and how they are looking to make coding more accessible to more people of all walks of life.

Once the conference was in full swing on Tuesday, we were off and running. Our keynote speaker this year was Kelly Reddin from Lego Education. She is a very hands-on kind of speaker. In our conference bags we had all been given a small bag of Legos. When we arrived for the keynote, we also found french fry containers with a baggie of a few Lego pieces as well. Things were already different. Our first goal was to build a duck from the pieces that were provided in the fry container. We had no picture or guide, just “use those pieces and create a duck.”

We were then asked to hold up our ducks, and look for anyone else who had made a duck in exactly the same way that we had. Maybe one or two people found a match around them, but the rest of us did not. We all create differently, and we all think differently. Everyone’s creations resembled a duck, but the pieces were put together in different ways.

From there we had to pair up and with our partner, each choose 10 of the same pieces from the other Lego kit that we had to bring with us to the session. Once we had each chosen 10, then we were asked to make a tree from those pieces.

My partner and I got pretty creative with ours by the end. First it was a fire breathing wizard tree, and then it became a Star Wars tree. I eventually put my Lego duck in charge of the Star Wars tree. Other groups around us were also making up stories about their trees and describing them. By building and creating first, we had an easier time coming up with stories and descriptions. This was a lot easier than being told to describe a tree first in writing.

We all left the session feeling energized and creative, and I hope that my fellow attendees are also ready to help their students be more creative this year. It can really make all of the difference in the end.

I believe after this that I went to the vendor hall, but I’m not really sure. Now that I think about it, I went there before opening session because that was after lunch. There were a wide variety of vendors visiting, as always. There were many new vendors, and of course, the neverending swag available. I always like to hit the vendor hall as soon as it opens because that’s when the best swag is available. I ended up with the usual pens of course, but other things as well, such as mugs, stress balls, earbuds, multi-tool kit, screwdriver set, and more.

There were a few vendors that I liked best, but my favorite by far was a new vendor, Piper. Piper really piqued my interest. It allows students to put together a computer built on raspberry Pi and then add more components as they complete a specially designed Minecraft program. The goal is to stop the cheeseteroid from hitting the planet. It’s very hands on for students, and gives them a taste of putting together different components to make everything work. Teachers can buy 1 Piper kit for $300, a set of 4 Pipers for $1000 (a discount of $50 per kit), or rent a Piper kit for $49 a month, and yes, it’s rent to own. And if you were wondering, yes I will be buying my own Piper kit using the rent to own option as soon as things are settled.

Find more info on Piper here.

I went to many different sessions at the conference, but many of them I don’t remember. I didn’t really have time at the conference to write like I normally do because I was also taking a class from WVU, and had classwork to complete for it. Thankfully the session schedule is still up on the conference website, so I can go through and jog my memory.

I have to give a shoutout to my connected Derek for his “Explode Your Brand” session. So many educators don’t take advantage of building their brand, especially in this time where teachers are often criticized and put down. There are many options he talked about, which included Twitter and blogging. The connections that can be made are so very valuable, but they do take time to put into motion. Myself, I feel the time is well worth the reward. I hope that by reading this blog, you also begin to see how branding can benefit you as well.

A shoutout also goes to my connected colleague Randall, who presented a session on how to find quality resources for the classroom. His biggest focus was on Common Sense Education, formally Graphite.org. He also touched on how to become a certified educator or school on Common Sense as well. If you’ve never checked out Common Sense Education, you really should. It’s the best way to get reviews and ratings for websites and apps that are done by teachers. It’s a good place to go instead of the app store when you want to know just how useful an app is in the classroom before it’s downloaded, or before a website is used in a lesson plan.

One of the vendor sessions I attended was done by Edmentum. They were not focused on selling their product, but they were focused on exploring the various concepts of blended learning, and the variety of ways that blended learning can take place. What I liked best about this session was that they explained how the setup worked in a classroom, the benefits, and the drawbacks to each. They also gave examples of schools using the different models. Oh and they also gave away a Bose speaker, which helped get people to come to their 8 AM session, ha!

Another session I attended was Pokemon Go and Marketing, which was a last minute submission, mostly because the game was released a couple of weeks prior. The presenter talked about how businesses can and should be using the game to their advantage if they have a PokeStop or Gym nearby. It was informative for those attending so they could see the impact the game was already having. Myself, I’ve already seen businesses taking advantage. Some give away free things. Others give discounts for meeting certain requirements. It can really help net more foot traffic and business if used effectively. At the end of the session, just for fun, we all went on a PokeHunt to see what we could find.

In addition to the Piper vendor being my favorite, I also attended their session as well. In the session, they walked us through the first levels of the game, and had a kid volunteer test it out. They were excited and energetic about their product, which was a plus for me. After the session itself, the presenter asked me for feedback, and the only improvement I could think of was to have tables in the session next time so Piper kits could be set up for folks to test out and use during the session.

…to be continued in next week’s post!

Registration for WVSTC 2016 is Open!

Last month I made a post about the proposals I was submitting for WVSTC 2016. WVSTC, better known as the West Virginia Statewide Technology Conference, occurs each year in July. I’ve been going since 2014, and during that time it’s always been held at the Waterfront Place Hotel. This year it will be held July 19-21st.

On Wednesday of last week registration for the conference itself opened. I totally jumped on it, as I didn’t want to miss out. There were pre-sessions I wanted to make sure to attend, and I swear that this year’s list of pre-sessions is even better than last year’s. Check out some of the options:

– Minecraft in West Virginia K12 Schools
– Talking = Learning with Hands-on Manipulatives and Digital Storyboarding

– Bring Science to Life through elementary robotics with LEGO Education WeDo 2.0

– Get Your Classrooms Ready to Code (using Swift and Xcode 7)
– Real-World STEM Learning in the Classroom


The pre-sessions are optional and not included with the regular attendee fee. Each session is 3 hours and costs $50.

Attendance for the regular conference is $150. If you are selected to present, however, the cost drops to $75. There are addition options for attendance, specifically if you are a student or bringing a student with you. The attendance fee gives you access to the following:

  • All conference sessions
  • Tuesday Opening Luncheon
  • Opening Keynote
  • Wednesday Luncheon
  • Wednesday Exhibitor Reception
  • Thursday Luncheon
  • Access to the Exhibitor Area

If you’re interested in attending, go to the WVSTC website to register. Links and conference codes for hotels are also available there. If you’re interested in checking out the vendor list so far, click here. It’s always being updated and changing, so make sure to check back often.

If it’s your first time attending WVSTC, or you’re not sure about attending, don’t fear. There are many options to suit the needs of all different kinds of educators. My advice is try to network some before hand. I’ve found this conference is always better when you have some fellow colleagues from around the state with you!