A Window Into What I Do…

The Northwest ISD Instructional Team posing for a "fun" picture before going to the TCEA Educator Awards Ceremony. Cara Carter, our Instructional Technology Curriculum Coordinator was a nominee for "Instructional Technology Specialist of the Year."

The Northwest ISD Instructional Team posing for a “fun” picture before going to the TCEA Educator Awards Ceremony. Cara Carter, our Instructional Technology Curriculum Coordinator was a nominee for “Instructional Technology Specialist of the Year.”

Normally this type of post would be in my professional blog… “Tag You’re It,” however many of my friends and family outside of my professional circle are not familiar with my present position as an Instructional Technology Specialist. I wanted to share with those outside of my professional circle and provide a window into an exciting experience I had in early February.

The first week of February for the last two years I have traveled to Austin, Texas with my fellow district Instructional Technology Specialist (IT Coach) teammates to the annual TCEA Convention and Exhibition.

It is a week long time for those of us in instructional technology to learn, collaborate and share our experiences and take a focused time to beef up our professional learning.

It is the place that I get inspiration. I also find ideas that help me facilitate experiences like Skyping with industry experts and connecting with other educators to support one another as we implement new ideas. One such connection is in the incubation stage right now with my friend and colleague @lunaggie (Brandee Brandt).

Never miss a chance to take a selfie with George Couros. He is the #selfieking! If you haven't seen his TEDtalk on #OurVoice you must!!!

Never miss a chance to take a selfie with George Couros. He is the #selfieking! If you haven’t seen his TEDtalk on #OurVoice you must!!!

It is here I am fueled with urgency and need to get back to my campuses and share the message of how vital integration and digital literacy are to our students and their future. It is here that I become more resolute in my belief that pedagogy comes before any digital tools. It is here that I am re-invigorated, reassured and validated that passion based learning and student-led learning is the path to authentic student learning. It is here I get to connect with Twitter colleagues like Eric Patnoudes (@NoApp4Pedagogy) and George Couros (@gcouros).

Here I am among others like me, so that when I return to the four elementary campuses and one middle school I support and guide, I am ready with a toolbox of ideas and a mission for facilitating dynamic learning environments. This time provides me with the resources that help me to push others, help learners take risks, and redefine their learning through how they leverage their technology. It is an awesome job.

Thanks to colleague Tom Kilgore (@Tom_Kilgore)- founder of #txeduchat who captured me in action at the end of the PD on "Starting a Twitter Chat in Your District"... he even caught the back of new friend Brandee Brandt (@lunaggie)!

Thanks to colleague Tom Kilgore (@Tom_Kilgore)- founder of #txeduchat who captured me in action at the end of the PD on “Starting a Twitter Chat in Your District”… he even caught the back of new friend Brandee Brandt (@lunaggie)!

On this same trip I got to experience something new as well. Presenting two different professional development sessions within two hours of each other on two different topics.  Presenting, while I have done many, are still very nerve-racking. #1- the rooms are set up in a very traditional, lecture style format. I love to “work the room” and much like my teaching style… I do not like to stay at the front of the room. Typically the rooms for these sessions are set up with 150 to 200 chairs with a “lecture table” at the front and a projector sitting in the aisle at about the 3rd row. Walking the aisle is even a challenge. So for me that is a huge “mental” barrier for me to overcome, as it is directly counter to the way I like to deliver information and interact with my audience. #2- You don’t know what type of audience to expect or what experiences they come with to the session. This makes differentiating and making the professional learning as personalized and individualized as possible very difficult. This makes me nervous as I don’t want to overwhelm nor do I want to waste anybody’s time. So those two factors alone make me a bit frazzled when presenting. However, I do believe that the message I have to share is of great value for learners (both educators and students) everywhere, so I feel that despite these barriers… it is still imperative to share.

A selfie with "The Why of Genius Hour" audience at TCEA.

A selfie with “The Why of Genius Hour” audience at TCEA.

The first session was on “Starting a Twitter Chat for Purposeful PD in Your District.” The room seemed to swallow the group of 20-ish. However, the four or five that came up to chat with me afterward, were passionate and it was exciting to continue the conversation knowing that the insight and experience I had shared was now going to carry on and transform learning for others. The second session has become something of a standard presentation for me. Two years ago I traveled down the path of trying “Genius Hour” in my classroom. It was the most amazing experience. It is a message I cannot keep to myself. Every time I present I expect that its message will have run its course, but every time the audience grows and this time it was no exception. To a standing room only crowd I shared my journey, resources and passion for “Genius Hour.” It was an awesome experience and what first overwhelmed me with the size of the crowd was soon gone, as I knew I had a message to share and audience eager to hear it… this was the opportunity to once again transform learning for students and teachers.

I look forward to my next opportunity to go to the TCEA convention to learn, share, collaborate, connect and grow. I do have to say this is probably one of the most exciting experiences I have ever had at a professional convention, but hopefully you get a sense of what I do… maybe not on such a big scale, but every day I am working with learners of all ages, experiences and passions to help create opportunity for them to transform learning for themselves and those around them. How you ask? Through a philosophy of great teaching practice, a deep belief in relationship building and through the leveraging of technology.

How are you transforming learning in your community?

Caroling and Candy Cane Bombing

This fall I became a life-group leader for 6th grade girls via our Church Youth Group… known by students as Fellowship of the Parks (FOTP) “Inception.”

inception

Every Wednesday after a time of worship and a message from the youth ministry team, I get to sit down and learn more about this amazing group of 6th grade young ladies. They are enthusiastic, energetic, generous, kind, considerate, compassionate, silly, goofy, dynamic and unique. At the beginning of December I challenged them to do random acts of kindness throughout the month.

RAK calendar (I used the calendar here that was shared with me on Facebook from the blog site coffeeandcrayons.com)

Every time we met they had wonderful stories of how they gave to others and their joy in giving was contagious. One of the ideas we considered as a random act of kindness was candy cane bombing. This typically is where you go to a parking lot outside of a grocery store or large warehouse retail store (i.e. Wal-Mart) and place candy canes on every windshield. While the idea itself is fun, as the adult in the conversation, I was concerned about the safety of all my girls that would participate.

To appease the eagerness to do the candy cane bombing, we came to a reasonable alternative. We would carol and candy cane bomb at the same time.

IMG_6853So in celebration of the Savior’s birth and to provide an opportunity for these girls to come together socially outside of the normal weekly “Inception” meetings, I hosted a Christmas party. We grilled hamburgers, ate cake pops and then grabbed packets of carol lyrics and candy canes. This new twist on candy cane bombing was to go to every door in the general area of our home, knock and then begin caroling. If a door opened continue the song to an appropriate stopping point then gift the audience with candy canes. If no door opened finish the carol and leave a candy cane on the door knob.

The event was a success and the young ladies loved it as much as the neighbors.

IMG_6999[1]IMG_7003[1]IMG_7006[1]Who knew what started off as a conversation about random acts of kindness would turn into an event that was so much fun that the girls asked as they left if this would become an annual Christmas event. Of course I am only too happy to continue this event, candy canes included. It not only revives the tradition of caroling that many have long forgotten, but allows me to relive my own childhood memories of caroling under the guise of providing “adult supervision.”

IMG_7225[1]

What holiday activities from your childhood would you like to see re-emerge?

Sinterklaus and Ugly Sweaters

There are many traditions that families have during this time of year. Some light an advent candle and have an advent calendar, others visit every holiday show and light display possible throughout the season, and others may do an Elf on the Shelf.

Whatever you do it is something your family looks forward to with anticipation. Some traditions are influenced by your childhood, others are new traditions that have been created as a unique part of your family. There are opinions about all of them and with the explosion of social media and blogs there is no shortage of said opinions. I have come to a point that I don’t pay attention to others’ opinions, but rather, focus on the house where my husband and I create a home for our family.

One tradition, new to me but is part of my ethnic background, is Sinterklaus Day. Sinterklaus is the Dutch Santa or St. Nick.  From what I have learned over the years Dutch culture and tradition separate the visit of Sinterklaus and the birth of Jesus. Sinterklaus Day comes early in the Christmas season while Christ’s birth is observed on the 25th. This white-bearded man, donning a long colorful winter coat, rides in on his horse late in the evening on December 5th. Dutch children leave their wooden shoes on the front porch with goodies for Sinterklaus’ horse in great anticipation. On the morning of December 6th children awake to find goodies such as succulent fruits and sweetbreads if they have been well-behaved; if not they find switches.  The idea of the wooden shoe is believed to have evolved into the American tradition of hanging the stockings.

When my Daughter Embug was born we started celebrating Sinterklaus Day. While we do put out wooden shoes, they are not shoes we wear like the Dutch children. Embug and Kritterman enjoy leaving hay, an apple and carrots for Sinterklaus’ horse. On December 6th Sinterklaus usually leaves each child their Christmas PJs for the season, Christmas ornament, Christmas t-shirt or sweater, a Christmas Movie or CD, plus a variety of yummies and winter stocking caps/mittens. This tradition has become such a part of us that Embug and Kritterman were surprised when they found out from their peers that Sinterklaus did not visit their homes. However, Sinterklaus has made his way to homes of our friends in recent years once those children learned of his practices.

Sinterklaus Day 14

In addition to the tradition of Sinterklaus, the family has been caught square in the web of the Ugly Sweater themed Days and Parties. While there are too many events to recount, one party got Kirsten and Eric caught red-handed in the knitted disasters.

Chrismas Sweater

How are you creating memories and celebrating new and old traditions in your family?

Family, Football and Faith

It doesn’t happen every year, but we try as best we can to go to at least one home Razorback game in Fayetteville. With my sister now living in Farmington (a small country town near Fayetteville) and my parents in Little Rock, coming to a game is a family event, for the four of us and beyond.

We packed up the car and headed to Fayetteville this November for the last home game against Ole Miss. We drove up hopeful for a win, but the sting of loss with every home game we had been to the last few years in the back of our minds. With that the forecast was for 100% chance of rain with temperatures in the low 50s.

This was not a game for the faint-hearted. Only the committed need attend… and attend they did. Despite the rain the Hogs shutout the Ole Miss Rebels 30-0 to a nearly full Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Even better, we, as a family, were there to witness in person.

With my sister’s family and her kids with us at the game, we cheered on our Hogs with unbridled enthusiasm and joy. Being a Razorback has been a part of who I was a child, then attended the University where I received my Bachelor’s in Education. I even married a second generation Razorback.  The Hog blood runs deep.

It is no coincidence that are kids have aspirations to attend the University of Arkansas. While those future plans may not be realized, the memories and the love for the Razorbacks will continue. There is no doubt memories were made with this game, where this shutout with ranked Ole’ Miss was epic.

After the game on Saturday the kids went to  my sister’s to have cousin time, while Eric and I met up with one of my former students, Kelley Whitson and her boyfriend. We enjoyed amazing gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches at “Hammontrees.” Their homemade soups and their multitude of twists on the basic grilled cheese are incredible both in taste and creativity. After great conversation and sandwiches, we made our way down Dickson Street to check out the night life. We quickly became aware that we are no longer “night life” people. Plan B led us to our favorite college eatery, “Hugo’s.” There we had their famous grasshopper crepes. We wrapped the night with a walk on the Fayetteville Square already lit up for Christmas… complete with Christmas Razorbacks!

Hog Christmas Lights

The following day we enjoyed an early Thanksgiving dinner with my sister, her family and my parents that came up for the game from Little Rock. We had a great time reflecting on our blessings, laughing and eating delicious home-prepared food in my sister’s home. Food, family and faith… that’s what brings us together, connects us, and holds us together.  For that, I am thankful.

How was your Thanksgiving?

Trick or Treat… Under the Sea

I know the days are numbered when Embug will no longer Trick or Treat for Halloween. Carving pumpkins will be an after-thought. Attending the elementary carnival will be a distant memory.

But this fall we celebrate.  The trip to the Haslet Fall Carnival, costume contest at Fellowship of the Parks Youth Group, carving pumpkins with Dad, and the Lonesome Dove Estates Halloween Hot Dog Roast and Life group Hay ride made this another great Halloween for the books.

The Land-Shark and the Lion-Fish created the perfect under the sea treat for all who encountered them.

Enjoying the moment and hoping that this fast moving journey we call life doesn’t start playing it’s tricks and let these two grow up too fast.

#RazorbackFB as a #HogFamily

razorbacks-banner

We have been Razorbacks since before the Wilson Family was founded July 23rd, 1994.

My father, Gary Huitink, received his PhD. from the University of Arkansas. I received my Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Arkansas in 1994.

Eric’s father is a UofA graduate, as well as his brother Michael and himself. Eric received his Bachelor of Science in Poultry Science in 1994 as well.

It is in our blood. So it was no surprise when we had our children, while in the middle of Texas where football is King, we taught them the ways of the Razorback.

Their first words were momma, dadda and calling the Hogs. Our memory books and photo archives are full of images of the kids and us in Razorback regalia.

It is a family tradition that we are proud to show.

This fall is like the others. We count down until the first game of the season. We schedule our events, as best we can, around the games or set the DVR.

Every year it becomes more fun to go to games with the kids and this season is no different.

We traveled to Lubbock to see the Hogs defeat Texas Tech, but had to leave EmBug behind due to her musical rehearsals. The entire family missed her like crazy. While there we saw a new side of Kritterman… he has become fully invested in his Razorback team and feels the victory and defeat with deep abiding passion.

A few weeks later we were able to see the Razorbacks expose Texas A&M and almost beat them. The loss was felt by all, but was best expressed by Kritterman in tears of anguish at the end.

Snapshots from Lubbock and AT&T Stadium Arlington

This team built by Bret Bielema is deep and abiding in passion much like Kritterman’s true love for his Razorbacks. They have been built to be men from the inside out. I look forward to the upcoming games this season. We are #Beliemer’s and know that while this team was rebuilt from the ashes, it is being reconstructed on a foundation of strong character and fundamentals. When you #NeverYield you will succeed.

Show up, Shine, Let it Go…

This week marked some big changes for our family.  Embug started middle school and Kritter entered 3rd grade where he will have more than one core content teacher every day.

Those kind of changes are big for any kid and a mom’s heart aches when she sees any fear or anxiety in the eyes of her children.  To be honest, I think I was as nervous as the kids were about this first day of school. Perhaps more than any other first day we’ve shared thus far.

You would think being an educator, a first day for me or my kiddos would be old hat. Well, just like any other family embarking into the unknown, we had our concerns.

I am so thankful for the wisdom and guidance our church leadership provides us.  It seems that the teaching staff, including Doug Walker, are guided to preach on topics that are just in time for me and the needs of my home.  Now I know it has everything to do with God speaking to me and my eyes and ears being open to HIS WORD, but Fellowship of the Parks has got God dialed in and delivering his message with purpose, meaning and power.  The Sunday before the first day of school was one of many occasions of timely, God-breathed nourishment.

Doug encouraged us to go forth and “Show up, Shine and Let it Go!”

Show up, shine, let go

At that very moment I caught the eye of a friend of mine at church and knowingly smiled.  We both had been facing some struggles as moms and how to best guide our kids.  This was our directive. Show up… just go where you are supposed to go and be there, be present. Shine… let the love of Christ shine through you and be a light to all.  Let it go… leave the details and the inner workings to God, it will all work out as God intends. Don’t waste your time or energy worrying over things you can’t control.

The first day arrived on Tuesday.  Tuesday and every day after that was a good day.  We are four days in and we…

Showed up.

Shined.

Let it go.

Next week we plan to continue to…

Show up.

Shine.

Let it go.

How will you approach your new school year with your kids? Do you have a motto? Share your plans for this year.

Top 6 Things We Learned on Vacation

This brings an end to the blog series on our Family/Anniversary Vacation to Florida.  There are a few pictures that didn’t make the #wilsongetaway previous blog posts or Flipagrams that I will share here along with 6 things my family and I learned on this trip.

Here are the Top 6:

6. Sharing a bathroom with 4 people when 2 people have their own bathroom at home brings to light all the bad habits. (I will now be intentionally reminding my son often to put the lid BACK DOWN! My mother-in-law instilled that lesson in my husband, I only think it fair to my future daughter-in-law no matter how far in the future that might be!)

5. “We proudly serve Starbucks.” Does not mean it will taste anything like Starbucks, and in some cases the gas station coffee is MUCH better and less expensive.

4.  Send a post card each day to your home residence from the location you spent most of your time for that day highlighting the most memorable moments/events.  Send it the next day (most hotels will mail it from the guest services desk if you provide the postage).  There will be some post cards  waiting on you when you return from your vacation and others will arrive as you return to your ‘normal’ life.  Everyone can enjoy the vacation just a little longer.

4. Blog as you go, then schedule to publish the following week where it posts to your Social Media accounts.  This lets you tell everyone about your vacation adventures without letting the opportunistic burglar know you are away from the house.

5. Keep your expectations low.  If you expect great things and the situation doesn’t live up to it, you could unexpectedly rob yourself of joy you were intended to have but let unsubstantiated high expectations get in the way.  (This one was compliments of Embug.)

6. Teach your children that “hole-in-the-wall” eateries are often the best way to taste the local flavor and have the best food.  Our kids learned this lesson time and time again while we were on our #wilsongetaway.   It will be one they won’t forget!

I hope you enjoyed this little blog series tracking our #wilsongetaway vacation.  We aren’t sure when our next getaway will be, but this one will linger in our memories for a long time.

It’s a REAL Beach!

We woke early at Hawk’s Cay ready to head up through the Everglades and along the west Florida coast to Marco Island.  Call it dumb luck, exhaustion at the end of an exciting and amazing trip, or just smart.  Whatever you want to call it, my family will probably call this leg of the trip their favorite.

Since the moment we stepped on the plane on this adventure the kids have been talking about the time on the beach.  The Space Coast we only had time for the Kennedy Space Center.  The Everglades… NOBODY gets in that water, unless they want to be alligator dinner.  Then there were the Keys.  Beautiful, colorful, seabreeze… but no real sandy beaches.  So came the term by my 11 year old while at Hawk’s Cay… “Faux Beach.”

We arrived in Marco Island at Noon.  My husband was already sold.  After driving the two-lane Scenic Highway 1, he was done with traffic and there was none…. HONEST!  We came in from the Everglades so the kids didn’t see the coast until we went  over a tall bridge welcoming you onto the island.  There was many exclamations of joy and excitement… over and over again, “Real  Beach, lots of it! Real sand!”

Unfortunately we wouldn’t gain access to the beach until after we checked into our hotel…and at noon, that was too early.  Seeing that it was noon, and knowing we all were hungry I turned to my trusty “UrbanSpoon” app once again.  This time it led us to a VERY local sandwich shop called “Big Al’s.”  It was so local that the cashier knew the name of everyone who came in and left… except us.  The sandwiches were awesome.  I have never seen meatballs so big or so yummy on a meatball sub before (I stole a bite from Kritterman).

After lunch the kids couldn’t stand it anymore, so we decided to take a chance and see if our room was available for early check in.  Off to the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa we went, hopeful we would be beach side within the hour.

Luck was on our side.  We were on the beach in no time, reserved an hour of family fun on a jet ski and played, sunned and relaxed beach side.  Aside from the hour on the jet skis the kids spent hours beach-combing and building sandcastles.  I finished a book I started mid-trip (Legend by Marie Lu) and Eric enjoyed the lack of crowds and the opportunity to just sit.

After 5+ hours of beach relaxation we cleaned up, went back to the beach to catch the sunset and then enjoyed our only “Seafood Buffet” of the trip (the Hilton does an incredible Seafood Buffet).

On Saturday morning, all but Kritterman  arose to catch the sunrise on the beach and gather a few more sea shells.  We also got to see a scientist examine a recently hatched sea-turtle nest and learn a little bit about her job. While eating breakfast a storm rolled in and persisted the remainder of the morning.  We longed for a little more time on the beach and will definitely return to Marco Island again.

This #wilsongetaway has been a home-planned event that won’t soon be forgotten.  So glad we saw so much… can’t wait to return to some of the same spots again.

20 Years, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 2 snakes and 1 fish

On July 23rd, 1994, 20 years ago, Eric and I for better or worse said I do.  Since then we have had a revolving door of pets and friends reside with us.  However, lately we are keeping to our 11 year old daughter, Embug, 9 year old, Kristopher in regards to additional humans in the house.  The animals far out number the humans with a boxer named Sammy, a Bichon Frise named Izzie, a very onry orange tabby named Ralphie, 2 snakes (Marty, Jr. and Bosco) and beta fish named Rainbow.  So it is no wonder we needed a get away!

Long before we planned the destination for our 20th anniversary, we decided we would make it a family vacation.  With that we agreed that a portion of the trip would allow us to enjoy time together and some just as a couple.  The Hawk’s Cay Resort in Duck Key provided just the place.  We arrived as the sun slipped below the horizon on July 22nd where we enjoyed a meal outside near the channel.  It was a few hours after a rainstorm had come through and cooled the air  making for a pleasant outdoor family meal.

The while the family slept I slipped out for a run.  I will say humidity and warmth are not my friend.  After 2 miles I unlaced my running shoes and traded them for a day poolside.  We enjoyed spending the day going back and forth from the pool and a man-made lagoon/beach.  The kids enjoyed water games and discovering resident anoles and iguanas who would occasionally make an appearance.

We were staying in a villa that was away from the actual hotel.  It provided us with a condo like living space complete with two separate bedrooms (and two separate twin beds for the kids), front and back porches both upstairs and downstairs.  Breakfast and lunch we utilized a limited grocery within the marina for coffee, breakfast biscuits and sandwich makings.  Dinner the first night the kids ate at the villa while we enjoyed an anniversary outing.  The outing included a sunset cruise and then dinner at “Hawk’s Cay” fine dining restaurant “Alma.”  It was a nice evening for just the two of us to celebrate.

The next day we spent it once again at the pool and lagoon.  Although there is no pictures the kids and Eric enjoyed messing around with a Kayak.  Eric is still feeling the enjoyment of that excursion in his lower back.

Here are a few more images from our stay.

(insert images)

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