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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Summer 2019 PD: IFL, Tech Teach Learn, KET Multimedia

Starting this summer, I made a personal pledge to stretch my professional development horizons and present and/or attend conferences I have never attended before.  Two of the three Kentucky conferences discussed in this entry fit that definition!   I left all three with some great takeaways.

Innovations for Learning

I have been attending IFL for several years now.  This free annual PD is organized by Fayette County Public Schools (Lexington) and happens every June.   IFL has some of the best presenters from around the state, and the educators that attend also come from all corners of Kentucky.  For the last few years, Frederick Douglass High School has hosted the event, and walking around the innovative building is almost worth the trip in itself.  I presented "Google Tools: The New, the Overlooked, and the Quirky."

Here are some highlights:

  • David Kitchen shared his experiences from the first year of flipping his classroom.  Kitchen's accountability structure is to have students watch a video at home (often with EdPuzzle, which provides tracking and assessment analytics) and do Cornell Notes (powerful reflection, and hard to "cheat").  His process of gradual release sounds very useful to emulate.  Kitchen first models what the flipped work will be like at home by showing a video while doing Cornell Notes in front of the class.   Next, he has students do Cornell Notes on a video while in class, providing feedback.  The last stage is having students do Cornell Notes on a video at home.
  • Kelli Reno and Louise Begley shared stories from the libraries and how they are addressing the new AASL standards.  Reno mentioned how FDHS clubs and organizations periodically "sponsor" a shelf in the library and provide book suggestions.  I love the way this gives the school community both ownership and voice!
  • Kelly Fischer introduced me to a free edtech tool for student content acquisition and assessment: Deck Toys.  Teachers can create an interactive lesson using an easy drag and drop interface, which creates a game-like "board" with activities and dashed line pathways.  For differentiation and personalization opportunities, you may give students multiple paths to choose from.  One activity can be a slide deck, either independently viewed or synched and controlled by a teacher's pacing (much like Nearpod); other activities include puzzles, crosswords, "Lock" (think mini-Breakouts), match, sequencing, and more.

Tech Teach Learn

TTL is hosted by Kentucky Country Day school in Louisville every June.  Anyone can attend for a nominal fee.  Not only was this the first time I have attended and presented at TTL, but it was the first time I have been on the KCD campus.  It's beautiful!  I have to give a shoutout to Sarah Shartzer, a teacher at KCD who is not only a leader of edtech for her own school (and TTL!) but presents far and wide.  This year was the first time that registration for TTL was sold out in advance of the event, and I can easily see that happening again as more people hear of this useful and impactful conference.  I led a workshop titled "From Bland to Blended: Best Practices for a Transformative Classroom."

Here are some highlights:

  • Ms. Shartzer shared edtech tools for accommodation and differentiation.  Several were new to me, including a particular standout: Visuwords.  It's a interactive way to not only see a definition of a word and its part of speech, but a webbed relationship to other words and concepts.
  • Jerry Broyles taught us about Google's geo-related tools such as My Maps, Google Earth, and Tour Builder.  Tour Builder in particular has a lot of potential for being a different way for students to share and present information that is location- or travel-based.

KET Multimedia

KET Multimedia PD Day happens annually in July, at the KET studios in Lexington.   Registration requires a small fee.  I have never attended before, and was flattered to be asked to lead a workshop on digital citizenship with the purpose of attendees revising and creating their own school/district DigCit curriculum.  The KET building is a fun, state-of-the-art facility to present and participate in a PD day. Special thanks to Brian Spellman for the invite!

Here are some highlights:

  • Emily Northcutt (our newest Shelby County librarian!) talked about the usefulness of KYVL, a valuable repository of tools and databases.  Like most districts in Kentucky, we pay an annual fee for staff and student access both at school and at home.  As a classroom teacher years ago, I was ashamedly ignorant of how helpful KYVL can be, and I need to do better to publicize its wealth of resources with our Shelby staff.
  • Vanessa Hutchison (a teacher at Louisville Central High School) shared her website full of resources and lesson plan ideas for students to create film projects on a limited or zero budget. 
  • Whitney York and Mechelle Morgan enthusiastically discussed makerspace materials and tools used by teachers and students in Murray Independent Schools.   One new find I'm excited to try out: Sphero Specdrums, which combine music making, programming, and possible accommodative assistance (for example, helping students who struggle with learning colors).

I look forward to applying and sharing some of my new knowledge and edtech, and hope to attend all three of these conferences again in the future!

Full disclosure: KET paid me an honorarium to present at their KET Multimedia PD, which I attended on a non-contract day.

Monday, July 8, 2019

BIg Transitions and Changes

It has been four months since my last blog entry!  I've had gaps between entries before, but that's a pretty long one.  I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what has been going on as well as look ahead to the future.

In order to be transparent in my sharing, I need to first flash back to July 2018.

April, my beautiful wife of 16 years (we have actually been together since 1995, if you're keeping score at home), was trying to schedule a procedure when her doctor's office stopped her in her tracks. 

"It says here you are over 40?"

"Barely," she replied.

"Well, you've never had a mammogram."

And I don't want to start now, she thought.  "I don't have the slightest symptom and I'm very healthy. Can't we just put it off for a few months and do this other stuff instead?"

"Nope.  Insurance won't allow you.  Sorry."

With that, April had her very first mammogram -- which discovered an abnormality.  Surprise turned to concern and disbelief as a biopsy revealed Stage 3 breast cancer.  And for April, myself, and our two daughters, the long fight began.

I am pleased to say that we are at a happy crossroads.  My brave, persistent wife -- one of the grittiest people I've ever met -- has recently completed treatment of chemo and radiation, and although we have a few surgeries ahead, we feel the worst is behind us.  It has been an agonizing, exhausting year, and I suppose this is a very long winded way of saying that as the school year wound down, I rationed my energy and I took a step away from things that could go into suspended animation -- like this blog. 

However, if you're not willing to give up on me, I'm not ready to give up on Edtech Elixirs just yet!  I know there will definitely be major reasons to blog in 2019-2020 on new edtech tools and the occasional pedagogical discussion.   To take one example, I'm sure I'll talk a time or two about Empower Learning, a new learning management system we piloted last school year and as of July 1 has replaced Schoology in our district.  However, Empower is much more than just another LMS.  Its ability to reference standards and track mastery learning for students over time gives us a powerful tool to help Shelby County Public Schools reach our competency-based education goal in 2022.

While personal interests of mine have previously crept into this blog, I imagine I will surprise most readers with sharing our family's struggle in such a public way.  For those concerned I will make Edtech Elixirs into an online diary, I promise that I will return fully to the world of edtech in the entries to come.   That said, I do want to end this entry with a sharing of gratitude as well as a plea.   Firstly, there have been dozens of family and friends and co-workers that have given our family such unbelievable support over this past year.  We simply would not have survived without you -- thank you from the bottom of our hearts.  Secondly, as my wife's story illustrates, putting off a mammogram, or any regular cancer screening, can have tragic consequences.  In a real way, we got lucky.  Please make sure you and your loved ones don't rely on luck to keep healthy!

If you are looking for cancer organizations to support:

Norton's Healthcare (serving Louisville and Southern Indiana) has been an incredible healthcare partner and resource in our fight against cancer.  Here's ways you can give time or money.

April is passionate about, an organization where tattoo artists donate their time and material to breast cancer survivors, particularly in covering up or beautifying mastectomy scars and breasts both unreconstructed and reconstructed.  More about their organization is here.