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?

A Time to Talk and A Time to Stay Silent…

Kritter Basketball JayhawksThis is Kritterman’s first season to play basketball. Learning the fundamentals have been his focus. Passing, dribbling, standing his post, defensive and offensive moves. While the glory comes in making baskets, that was a skill that when in the heat of a game was more difficult for our little man.

So fast forward to mid-season. Our local sports association had agreed to play with another local sports association to give both associations kiddos more games to play. Part of that agreement resulted in our association traveling to their home courts to play a tournament. What wasn’t shared with the coaches or our association’s Basketball Commissioner was that when they planned the match ups for the tournament… they put their kids aging the youngest on their teams a full year older than our oldest on our teams. So, for example, your 2nd grader age 8 would be playing a 4th grader age 9 1/2.

It was daunting for all of the boys on the team. The shortest boys on the opposing team were still four to six inches taller. This huge difference in size was not lost on the boys. However, they rallied. Did I want to call attention to this obvious miss-match of age and by default skill? Of course, but in the moment, I had to make my kiddo believe that he could do the impossible.

I would like to be able to say that the Jayhawks won both games they played in the tourney that day, but they didn’t. However, there were some amazing things that happened. The boys NEVER gave up. They played hard all the way to the end of both games. Even Kritterman had his moment… he shot for a basket and made his first one for the season in the second game. We were so excited we jumped up and screamed with joy. He had chipped his tooth right before the second game in a random accident… we were sure he wouldn’t bounce back, especially with the uneven pairing of the opposing team of giant 5th graders with his 3rd grade team.

So it wasn’t a fair match. Did it frustrate the boys? Of course. Did I want to right the wrongs of the situation? Sure, what parent wouldn’t? But sometimes there is a time to talk and other times it is a time to stay silent.

When have you stayed silent and let the life lessons rise to the top, that if  you had spoke up, would have been thwarted?

A Boy and His Books…

This year Kritterman surprised us when he spread his wings and decided to be part of his elementary campus’ Battle of the Books club.

Students were given a list of books to read over the summer. In mid-fall they were asked to sign up to compete. They were asked to take an entrance test to earn a spot on a campus team.

Battle of the Books list 1In the fall of 2014 Kritterman did just that. Most 3rd graders do not make it on a campus team the first year… but he did. From mid-November until late January he and 6 other teams of six to seven students per team met. Teams consisted of 3rd, 4th and/or 5th graders. Kristopher’s team was mostly newbies and had the most 3rd graders with a couple of 4th graders and no 5th graders. In late January all the campus teams would compete to determine the team that would represent the school in the district Battle of the Books.

Battle of the Books team 14Odds were that his team would not be the campus team to move on to the district competition. However, they fought valiantly. They were a cohesive team, respected each others strengths and supported one another.

Kritterman was saddened by the loss, but is more determined than ever to return next year and come out on top.

Sometimes defeat is all the motivation needed. Now Kritterman has the experience paired with desire to not allow defeat again.

How has defeat turned into determination for you or your children?

20 Years and Counting…

FullSizeRender (2)Eric and  I celebrated our 20th anniversary back in July.  We have moved to 4 different towns during that time. Had 7 different addresses, and become parents. All that moving around and child rearing can result in some friendships becoming more distant, and even lose complete contact with wonderful people.

However, there are just some people you can’t lose… no matter the how much you move around. As luck would have it, they sometimes move in the same places. The Johnson’s are those people.

FullSizeRender (4)Eric and I met Bruce and Janice the summer we were engaged to be married in Ozark, Arkansas (our first community to reside in as a married couple). Once married we attended several events at their home. Janice taught me the finer art of garage sale-ing and showed me how to “Design on a Dime” before HGTV ever thought of it as a concept for a television show. To top it all off, my first year of teaching, I taught Janice’s oldest son Cody. Our lives were intricately woven.

Fast forward five years, Eric was transferred to Waco by his employer. We loved the little town of Ozark and the people we had met. However, we were headed to a new life in a new town. We figured our interactions would be few if any with the Johnson’s and the rest of our Ozark friends.

Fast forward six years, we left Waco (with one child and another on the way) and headed to a new opportunity in Dallas/Fort Worth. Three years after that I returned to teaching at Haslet Elementary in Northwest ISD. A year later I discovered Facebook. Through a former friend still in Ozark via Facebook we learned that Janice and Bruce were living in the very town I taught in, Haslet!

FullSizeRender_4Quickly we reconnected. We have been going to most of their New Year’s Parties and other social events since then. This year was no different… except now our children have come to expect this celebratory tradition.

FullSizeRender (3)Some paths only cross for a little while, others weave back and forth and by creative design are intricately woven. That is the path that has formed between the Johnson’s and the Wilson’s.

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What paths in your life have crossed the paths of others and become a part of your intricately woven life journey?

It’s a Razorback Tradition

Razorback Texas Bowl

This Christmas Break we had the opportunity to take the kids to the Texas Bowl in Houston at the NRG Event Center.  This was especially exciting for Eric and I, who got to relive the old rivalry from the Southwest Conference days.

Experiencing the pre-game events, running into former head football coach Ken Hatfield made this family’s Razorback Football traditions even better. The kids were all in…

From the 5 hour ride down, to the stop at Bucee’s (going down and coming home), to the entire event, there enthusiasm never wavered. Even when we stopped at Whattaburger some time after midnight for an after-game victory snack.

Our Razorback game-watching family tradition continues, and this event will be one of the best memories in a long line of games that have already passed and the many games we will experience in the future.

What traditions does your family bond through? How has it become a part of your family culture and fabric?

Traditions, Santa and Visitors…

Christmastime is full of all kinds of traditions. Some traditions continue for generations and others for a season.  The tradition of believing in Santa is for a season and all indications say this was the last year of true belief.

We began the our Christmas Holiday break with Eric’s mom and step-dad, or as the kids know… Grammy Kelly and Gramps Dale, visiting from Florida. We were so excited for their arrival and visit, as they had never seen our new home in Haslet, nor had they been back to Texas since they moved away 7 years ago.

To make their stay extra special we had planned all our meals around a Texas Christmas theme.

12 Foods of Texas at ChristmasIn addition to the yummy planned meals we enjoyed the comfort of a warm fire almost every day. On Christmas Eve we baked and decorated cookies, attended Christmas services at Fellowship of the Parks- Haslet, ate our traditional Christmas Eve meal at our hometown Joe’s Pizza and Pasta and drove around the area enjoying the outdoor Christmas lights.

Upon returning home we put out the reindeer food (dried oats and cookie sprinkles), plated the cookies and milk (egg nog at our house), and read the Christmas Story. Every Christmas Eve we relive the story through the nativity poem/interactive manger scene “What God Wants for Christmas.”  In years past I would read the story and the kids would create the scene as the story unfolded. This year, the kids took over and read, unpacking the manger scene as they went. It was a precious site to see and while the tradition has evolved, the change a bit bittersweet, the tradition that was once mine to initiate, has  now become part of Embug and Kritterman’s own fabric of Christmas traditions.

Once we were all nestled all snug in our beds… Santa arrived stuffing the stockings and leaving presents under the tree. In his haste to depart a boot print of soot remained on the hearth and a subtle reminder that the bell still rings for those who truly believe.

Ice Skating and The Stockyards

Only in Fort Worth, Texas can you take your kids to ice skate and see a cattle drive all in the same day.

On the Monday before Christmas with our good friends the Bear’s, we ventured out to ice skate at the Outdoor Panther Ice Rink (yes the high temperature was in the mid-50s) and then watch the Cattle Drive in the Stockyards. We also enjoyed a delicious lunch at the one and only Joe T. Garcia’s followed by the kids trying out the life sized maze off of Exchange Avenue near the stockyards and made famous by the “Amazing Race.”

Here is a few snapshots that was compiled into a flipagram for viewing pleasure.

Look for more updates from the holiday break to be posted soon…

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.”

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

“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”

FullSizeRender[1]By the time the last day of school before the holiday break starts most of us are ready.  Some of us are so haggard with events and parties we may even exclaim “I just want to poke my eyes out!” But God gave me a Christmas Baby, and he gave me the energy, stamina and creativity, I believe, to do both the holiday activities and Embug’s birthday with equal energy and excitement.

Lucky for me, Embug loves all things Christmas and I have given extra effort to keeping her birthday special in the mix of all the holiday hullabaloo. Even though I do everything to separate the events of Christmas and her birthday, it has become a natural process to integrate the themes of the season into her birthday.  This year was no exception.

This year my biggest challenge was not to keep it special for Embug… but to make it “cool” for my blossoming Tween. We’ve tried small intimate birthday celebrations and big “on site” birthday events. Either have had their set of challenges. Most of our difficulties lie in scheduling a time when there weren’t conflicts with everyone getting to her party due to parentals having holiday events of their own.

To try to plan for the least amount of conflict we planned for the evening on the last day of school. Most parentals have had their company or neighborhood parties and kids events are over. Now we just run into those that may be headed out of town for family holiday events or vacation.

The second challenge, which is a new one for us this year, is making it appealing for both boys and girls. This is where the collaboration between myself and Embug came into play. One of Embug’s favorite movies is “A Christmas Story.” Over the course of several discussions with her friends she discovered that this was not a well-watched Christmas movie by her peers. After she got over the initial indignation of the lack of Christmas culture, an idea arose. Embug and I devised a plan to have “A Christmas Story” Themed Birthday party.

Christmas Story Invite frontChristmas Story Invite BackThis party involved PJs (footie PJs preferred), BB Gun target practice with a Red Rider BB gun, fried rice and egg rolls in honor of the Chinese Restaurant where Ralphie’s family was relegated to after the Bumpus’ hounds destroyed the Christmas turkey, and a viewing of the Cult-Acclaimed “A Christmas Story.” What tween boy or girl would not enjoy this event?

 

 

The evening arrived and there was an excited buzz in our home.  The fried rice and egg rolls were a FullSizeRender[1]surprising hit and the party guests couldn’t get enough of the BB gun target practice. While some didn’t have quite the artistic appreciation for the movie, Embug was content in knowing she had passed on yet another nugget of Christmas culture to her friends.

Embugs Birthday 2014FullSizeRender[1]

 

 

 

 

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While we didn’t have cake. Cake pops were all the rage with flavors of lemon, red velvet, vanilla and FullSizeRender_2[1]chocolate done in thFullSizeRender_4[1]e shapes of the “Frah-gee-lay” box, Target with the words “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”, lampshade from the “Leg Lamp Award”, and Ralphie “Bunny PJs” head.

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It was a success all the way through. I have the evidence to prove it, as over and over again Embug thanked me for a great party.

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I only have about 6 more years of birthday parties that I will be able to plan for her before she’s out on her own, and I realize that the next 6 years will probably be some of the most challenging parties to plan, but I am going to enjoy the success of this one.

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However, any and all suggestions for future parties are welcome!

Christmas Orchestra Concert and Talent Show

This time of year seems to be heavy on Embug events. (Lucky for us Kritterman is content with his basketball and Legos.)

christmas orchestra pit 2014

Embug participated in her first Christmas Orchestra Concert. There was huge improvement with the 6th grade orchestras as a whole since their fall performance just 7 weeks earlier. They played a series of ten 30 to 60 second arrangements.

Christmas Orchestra Concert Program

I captured them on video but that will stay in the family archives, as I believe only a parent can appreciate the performance. It was also difficult to capture a shot of her with her bass, as we all know the bass section is always at the back of the orchestra pit. Of course we are proud of our amazing FIRST Chair Bass Player (Yes! First chair!).

Christmas Orchestra concert ImageThe same week as the Christmas Orchestra Concert was the Wilson Middle School Talent Show. Unlike in previous years there were tryouts where not everybody made it. We were very honored when Embug was one of the sixth graders selected.

She was in charge of this project from beginning to end. She selected her song and accompaniment soundtrack… “We Need a Little Christmas,” planned and rehearsed her own choreography, and chose her “flashy” Christmas sweater and metallic leggings (that look flesh colored in the video).

She had two performances on the last day before the holiday break that resulted in her singing in front of the entire student body by the end of the day.  I took her brother out of school for the first performance mid-morning so we could watch her, then returned him to school for his Christmas party.  Eric came for the afternoon performance.

Here is a less than professional recording job, compliments of my iPhone.

Unfortunately, the video also does a poor job of capturing her facial expressions as she sang, which made the song all the more entertaining.

Practically speaking, I should not go and buy expensive recording equipment or cameras to capture all these events, but part of me wonders if I should. Either way, the moment has been captured and this is just enough for me, Eric and Kritterman to remember how it was in person. Pure joy!

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