Click Here

Learning About Digital Equity from Students

Learning About Digital Equity from Students

Throughout the year, I have had opportunities to work directly in classrooms on digital learning initiatives. Each of those moments seemed to inform a new reality that we needed to face from 5th graders not having the foundational skills needed to simply use a computer beyond online testing tools or kids not having access to any form of learning in a connected world. Then…there was the realization that our wifi access needed a major boost on every campus because as a district that fully supports BYOD, making sure that every person could connect at least one device should be a priority.

Today, I talked to two young men on our robotics team. One of them stated that he actually started writing code when he realized that in order to make the game that he downloaded from “STEAM“, collaborative, he needed to create a server. Youtube was his teacher. He is not enrolled in Computer Science and as of now, his schedule doesn’t even permit it until junior year. On our robotics team, he decided to program because he wanted to learn more about computer languages. Six days per week…after school and all day Saturday, he does.

The other student chimed in that he has never had a computer in his home. They have wifi for their mobile devices, but he didn’t have a laptop…until he was given one as a student in our High School STEM program. Having that computer enabled him to access not only his school work, but the programs and videos needed to continue learning about writing code for the team’s robots. Having that computer meant that he was no longer limited by learning what he needed when mobile browsers aren’t enough.

As of now, we do not give every student a laptop. I hope that we can revisit this soon.

Like many districts, we collected Brightbytes data at the beginning of the year. It allowed us to see a snapshot of the access that our students had and did not have. I love brightbytes because it informed quite a few decisions on what we needed to provide for our teachers and students but the realities often fail to become real until you are actively experiencing them.

Earlier today I shared a video on Periscope of a student, Elie, designing an SD card holder for SLR cameras to be printed on the 3D printer. Elie works with Lockheed Martin as a student intern through a partnership with our CTE program. Last week, I spent some time talking to him about some of his projects and learning that he was passionate about providing computers for families in need.

He is so passionate that his eagle scout project is to refurbish and build computers for single mothers and families in need in one of our housing projects. To him, everyone should have access to a computer and I imagine that he came to understand it even more as a student surrounded by those that did not have such a luxury. (Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn how you can help his project)

To those that scream that kids can write entire essays on their mobile phones, I would like to point you to the student that I mentioned earlier who only had a phone, until his school gave him a computer. I saw his phone and let me just say that typing an entire essay on that phone would have been completely impossible. Not every “smart phone” is as smart as an iphone or the latest android. He did, however, play minecraft on that phone…so there’s that.

This evening, a student mentioned to me that he had never seen as many black students as there are on this year’s robotics team and he was excited that they were there. One of our black students, a senior, joined the team for the first time this year. When I asked him what took him so long, he responded that he had no idea that it existed until he was placed in a class taught by their robotics coach.

He wishes that he knew about it sooner. His teacher, fully aware, said…”We’re working on it”.

And she is.

Personally, I am deeply happy that he has her as his teacher. Her presence means the world to all of her students, especially those of the Lufkin HS Pantherbots.

One more thing…

If you are in a role in school where you are charged with making decisions for kids, especially on technology and digital learning, please do so only after getting involved with your schools at the core and having some conversations with kids…specifically those whose decisions you make will impact the most.

Also, read the National Edtech Plan (NETP16)

Aside from talking to kids, it’s a start.

Opening Dialogues for CSed, MakerSpaces and Innovative Experiences

Opening Dialogues for CSed, MakerSpaces and Innovative Experiences

Six days per week our Lufkin HS Robotics team meets to design, build, program and learn for their FIRST robotics competition in April. Many of these kids, first time members of the team, are learning in ways that they probably could not have envisioned without this experience.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve met countless alumni robotics team members who have taken their experiences into engineering and computer science majors in college, most of which would not have been possible without competing in FIRST robotics, as my community…like many, did not offer computer science as a choice and when we did, it was difficult to fill the seats with students who honestly wanted to take the course beyond beginning programming or competitive programming for UIL competition.

This, of course, has led to much more in depth discussions centering on purpose and how computer science can be used to solve real problems. We’ve also had to ask ourselves how we are giving students the experience and opportunity to design and create apps centered on their interest or community impact.

To change the scope of thought around CS, we are having to rethink our own course plans for future growth. We hope that with an increased emphasis on computational thinking in core curriculum and an increase in open CS experiences, that we will change that. During CSEdWeek, I attended the White House Launch and at that meeting, heard about the new NSF funded, Computer Science Principles Course. I forwarded the information to our CS teacher as the training opportunity from that would be amazing. He responded with the link to the course that he’s excited about, one that happens to be listed within the frameworks of the CS Principles Course, Mobile CSP. We’re definitely on the same page and that’s refreshing!

We have much work to do in developing our HS courses over time and as the interest of our students increases (Thanks in large part to Hour of Code and after school coding clubs)…We recognize the importance of growing our course offerings to not only meet the state requirements of the STEM designation but our student interest as it is most certainly there.

Just to give a bit of perspective, February 11th, we’ll engage in a district-wide STEM day for our entire 4th grade class and as the keynote speaker of that event, I will certainly be talking about computer science while also providing hands on experiences centered on “making”. (Squishy circuits, Little Bits, Minecraft, Makey makey, Coding)

A few days after, our grades 3-5 teachers will enjoy a day with affiliates as we move forward with the inclusion of algorithmic thinking and coding into student creations in the upcoming school year and beyond.

This summer, we’re offering coding and robotics as a camp for various grade levels with app development as one of our key areas. This camp will be created by members of our robotics team. It’s something that they have wanted to do for years and now they will. In addition, we are considering camps that focus on math exploration through a real world lens, science camp, media creation, Minecraft and of course a STEM/Maker camp. Moving forward, we hope that activities such as this can give students a new window into sharing what they love and are learning in truly unique ways.

Getting back to the present, with our Digital Ambassadors, we are looking at how we can bring makerspaces to the classroom. Our first experience will be tomorrow with a class of grades 1-2 multiage and I could not be more excited!!

On the menu? Minecraft, Little Bits and much more!

Our goals are simple.

We want kids to be curious. We want them to ask questions and we want them to be seekers of knowledge for no other reason than because they can’t breathe without doing it.

We want them to see that their zip code doesn’t limit their explorations and that the world is here for them to create it.

Every single kid.


Thoughts On Minecraft Education Edition


Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 12.26.44 AMLast week, I had the opportunity to participate in the string of interviews for the release of the new Minecraft Education Edition and I’ve been eagerly anticipating how others would respond at the today’s news of its summer 2016 release.

By now, attendees at the BETT conference in London have experienced a sneak peek into the future of Minecraft in the classroom. I imagine that they were excited about the internal camera block, student portfolio, interactive map and single file export. I also imagine that they were as excited as I am about not having to set up a server anymore or about students being able to download and play at home. For a second, they were probably okay with the pricing model of $5/user and then they walked away, did the math and connected with the fact that where minecraftedu was a one time seat license fee, this new Minecraft Education Edition is a yearly subscription per student and teacher. In a climate where schools barely have money for paper, this can get quite pricey.

Now…hear me out on this next part and I mean this coming from someone in a high poverty rural community without accessible devices for every student. Don’t get caught up on pricing.

I always said that If I had it my way, I would send every kid home with a copy of minecraft as I know first hand how powerful of a program it is and can be. It’s just never been financially feasible to do so. At $5/student (even lower with volume pricing), we can now do that.

In addition, we pay yearly subscription fees for programs like Discovery Education, Brainpop and a nice collection of content based assessment tools…programs that our students barely access. (That’s an entirely different story) At least with DE, kids can download media to remix in projects but if we value creative learning, minecraft should be a choice too.

In other words, perhaps we should consider what we value and what matters to our students. I’m not saying that we should not have math/science/reading programs but we should consider that perhaps if we look at how kids learn differently, in lieu of multiple choice, we might see progress in ways that we are unable to imagine. That was my experience with Minecraft anyway.

Is Minecraft for You?

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal where the writer quoted the senior policy analyst of the NEA saying basically that Minecraft was a supplementary tool that could not fit the bill in the classroom and should simply be an after school program. (Clearly, he is dead wrong on this)

I have no idea if the senior policy analyst of the NEA has ever actually been a classroom teacher but I imagine that if he were, he taught with desks in perfect rows and classrooms as quiet as a mouse. If he used any technology at all, it was provided by the text book company and deviating from that would have been a sin. In addition, I imagine that if he were to look for apps for teaching, he would have insisted only on those that provided complete and total teacher control because heaven forbid kids learn something that wasn’t itemized in the standards.

Basically, Minecraft is probably not his thing and if this describes your classroom or the culture of learning in your building, it’s probably not for you either.

…Unless, you are willing to give up control, give students choice in how they show/share learning or simply accept that sometimes kids just need access to create amazing things, whether they use it in the classroom or not…

I will tell you that in my school district, we will struggle with having computers for kids to use Minecraft in school. We utilize a virtual network and right now, we are exploring options to add graphics cards to our servers. We have minecraft via ipad, but it won’t be compatible with Minecraft Edu Edition just as it isn’t with Minecraft EDU.

I’m still going to put it in my budget to provide Minecraft for all of our students, grades 3-8. I’m doing it because even if teachers aren’t entirely ready, kids are. The fact of the matter is that to start, it’s not about teaching teachers the mechanics of how minecraft works but the mechanics of asking more thought-provoking questions that lead to ideation and creation. It’s about empowering teachers to see that there is value in expression and for many of our kids, Minecraft creates pathways towards that. In year 1, we may only have 10 teachers across the district who actively include Minecraft in instruction but we’ll have a district of kids who know that it is available to them.

Perhaps, like tonight, our kids will help our teachers get there sooner than later.

teachers learning
Intro to Minecraft Session, faciliated by students, using Minecraft PE


Hidden Messages of Women in Edtech: Thoughts on Being Visually Appealing

Hidden Messages of Women in Edtech: Thoughts on Being Visually Appealing

Years ago, I struggled with self-image. I struggled so bad that I made excuses as to why I could not go to public events or speak in front of people, other than my students. I was afraid that people would not think that I was “worthy” enough to listen to because I did not look the part. I needed to lose weight and I knew that when people saw me…that’s what they saw.

It’s been years since those days and thankfully I no longer feel prisoner to my own self-doubt. As a matter of fact, I would probably consider the last year of my professional life, the best that I have ever had because I have made a point to be ME and proud of it.

And then I had a phone call today…

It was a person that I know in this industry who wanted to give “ME” advice on branding. I humored him because those calls are always interesting but then he said these words…

“I’m going to tell you something that someone told me one day. It hurt me to hear it but I needed to hear it. You are going to need to lose weight to be competitive in this industry. People want someone who is well put together and who is visually appealing. You need to be someone that people want to see on a stage and they want to see someone who takes care of themselves.”

I paused for a second and after ending the conversation, allowed myself to honestly reflect on what he said and in that moment, I knew that this would be the last time that I took that call.

Unless I am missing something, I’ve never signed up for a beauty contest and yet even as grossly inappropriate as this entire conversation is, I know that it happens because in the aftermath of this conversation, I compared notes with friends and a few have talked about how they were told that they need to be more “visually put together” for bigger speaking engagements. One was even told that she used to be “pretty” but is no longer really taking care of herself.

Is this where we are? Really???

Talking to someone about health, because honestly we should all care about it…is one thing. Telling someone that they need to look a certain way in order to have a voice is another. It’s wrong and it happens far too often. If you are one who values what you see over what you hear, read and learn…shame on you a million times over.

In case you were wondering, many of my friends who are black women in tech get this a great deal except “visually appealing” is translated to “angry looking” and even further that our names should be changed to be more pronounceable or if we have natural hair, we should straighten it to be taken seriously.

And here I was thinking that this work we do was about thoughtful ideas and innovation.

Inside Our Digital Learning Implementation Phase 2

Inside Our Digital Learning Implementation Phase 2

In my school district, our professional and digital learning department is barely around 7 months old. Since school began we’ve been somewhere in the middle of identifying, addressing, creating and revising problems as well as solutions. In addition, we’ve taken full advantage of eager leadership, teacher excitement, “edtech buzz initiatives”, and any opened door that allowed a conversation regarding how students can be active participants in their own learning.

This has truly been a remarkable journey and with all that we still have planned…it seems as if we are only just beginning!

To give some background, our district is a BYOD district and has only been such for about two years. Unlike many of my peers, we did not have the luxury of mobile carts on campuses, enough labs beyond the one per campus, no technology to supplement for students who did not have their own device and barely enough training on the tools that we have in place. When I say that my department started from a blank slate, I am not joking. Everything that we have done and will do is brand new to Lufkin.

I want to also point out that being here in the land of no devices, other than smartboards, has also opened my eyes to the powerful learning that STILL happens even when there are no global connections. Our kids benefit greatly from community partnerships and involvement with community stakeholders. We still have field trips and on occasion guest speakers from industries around Lufkin. What we were lacking were connections outside of Lufkin and the ability to see…”Yes, And”

Our first opportunity to get teachers connected happened with the Global Read Aloud. Classrooms were skyping with classes all over the country. It was certainly remarkable to see. That same campus jumped into utilizing, well before hour of code, to have a coding club. This was a K-2 campus and the excitement generated opened the door for #hourofcode.

While many of my peers see Hour of Code this venture as nothing more than a hashtag, it was much more than that for us. We took the time to discuss experiences and opportunities that we could and should be offering our students as well as the importance of computer science. We held professional development for teachers and shared learning via twitter and blogs. We also came to understand that computational thinking was so critically important that we are training all of our 3-5 staff in a matter of weeks, which can have greater long term rewards for our students for years to come.

That week was a game changer for Lufkin as our teachers were able to experience first hand what “different” could be and they want more of it! We are fully aware that it takes more than an hour but we are also committed to continuing what we started and making sure that Computer Science is just as important as our other core courses beginning at pre-k.

This month, we are focusing on active planning with teachers and thinking beyond the tools. Our digital learning specialist will be transitioning from “after school training” mode to school day planning and development with the goal of developing model lessons and publishing them.

With the timely release of #NETP16 as well as resources like the Google Lesson Plan Jam Digital Learning Toolkit  as well as Graphite’s Lesson Flows…our specialist are charged with researching and thinking about how we can craft the support that we need according to Lufkin…not specific to a tool but open to universal ideas. (We actually started months ago with Common Sense Media’s 1:1 Essentials Guide and it helped build some foundational understanding for this work)

We are also including teachers in this process and are fortunate to have 50 district wide teacher ambassadors from PK-12 so that the work will not be framed from a department of three but by a collective. Eventually, we will include students and have student leadership teams already in place to do so.

We took the time at the beginning of the year to get our leadership teams on board with their own use and understanding of technology through their lens, upgraded a few antiquated process and invested in a few pilot tools.

Moving forward, we will be developing common language and continuing the work through the lens of “YES, AND”

On the horizon…

#NETP16 – Visioning and ongoing study/discussions

Launch of our Student Voice Blog (Beyond excited for this!!)

Grades 3-5 Computer Science across the curriculum professional development

Minecraft Teach and Learn (with students and teachers)

STEM day with 4th grade (Design thinking and inventing with little bits, cloudbits + minecraft, coding)

Inventing to Learn with our Digital Ambassadors and any teacher who wants in!

A community-wide MakerFest (because why not?)

And reflection…lots of reflection…and long term planning for what’s ahead.

Our first guiding question…

What does innovation mean to Lufkin?

Stay tuned!

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Rabbit Ears, Tin Foil and Bandaids of Tech

Confessions of a Digital Leader: Rabbit Ears, Tin Foil and Bandaids of Tech

Remember back in the day when television sets had rabbit ear antennas? Chances are that if you do, you also remember the set of pliers that replaced the channel knob, the wire coat hangers that replaced the antennas and the extensive amounts of tin foil that covered the wire hangers that extended into the sky just… Continue Reading

Halftime Review: Building School 2.0

Halftime Review: Building School 2.0

I remember my personal “teaching mindshift” as if it were yesterday. I was walking through the halls of New Tech High in Coppell, a project based learning school. I was shocked at seeing kids roaming about, working in small groups, discussing, debating, working in classrooms with cell phones out, laughing, making videos to share with… Continue Reading

The Week After CSEdWeek and HourofCode

The Week After CSEdWeek and HourofCode

It’s Monday. The frenzy of “everyone will code” is technically over and most people are back to business as usual. Last week was incredible as I was fortunate enough to participate in the first ever White House Computer Science Tech Jam where educators were paired with technology developers to ideate ways and/or products to help… Continue Reading