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Confessions of a Tech Specialist: Teaching Math to an Empty Room

Confessions of a Tech Specialist: Teaching Math to an Empty Room

I spent the last two weeks in two incredible places and I have no complaints as these places, Tennessee and Canada, were amazing experiences.

I’ll be honest in saying that even with these experiences there were two places that I desperately wanted to be…the Beyonce concert in Dallas and TMC14 (Twitter Math Camp). Now, I won’t bore you with the details of how I purchased Beyonce tickets before realizing that Canada was “a thing” and how my daughter and niece were able to share this experience which was amazing. But…that’s what happened.

Twitter Math Camp, the place that wasn’t, was one that I not only wanted to go…but NEEDED to go. I’m not a part of the Math Teacher Blogosphere (MTBOS) as I do not write from the lens of a reflecting math teacher however, math is and will always be the platform from which I build understanding of the technology that I share.

I will never have another math classroom of my own and my “years in math” will forever be stunted at 9. However, my understanding of students, learning and helping them to envision the world as they learn continues. This is because even as a math teacher, I taught “kids” first. This is an important characteristic to note.

My personal classroom may be but an empty vessel of ideas but connecting to math teachers through the global math department and reading their blogs #mtbos, keeps my grounded in understanding the importance of what I do as well. I learn from them and it’s even more amazing when through their blogs, I see my own classroom again. I take that back. It’s even more amazing when through their blogs, I see things that I could have done better. This is how I continue to grow.

I will always be a math teacher first and even if that means that I technically teach math to an empty room, I’ll take that any day of the week before I relinquish this “super power” that I have at understanding how to help kids connect mathematically and how to support teachers in their understanding of where the technology fits.

My life is different now yet it is the same. I teach and support through technology but it is ALWAYS coming from a math perspective. This is where I am different. I like this different.

Math is my happy place.

As it should be…


Changing the Tech, Same Story

Changing the Tech, Same Story

There was a time when I was a worksheet/packet printing teacher who taught from the front of the room while my students sat in their seats…in various room settings copying and regurgitating. I hated that year and I imagine that my students, all adults now, did as well. My students were not engaged but totally complying because of the relationship that we established.

Were they successful in my class? Yes.

Did they learn math? I think so.

Was it fun? Probably not.

I knew better. They deserved better and thankfully that period of time was short.

My school district invested in SMARTboards in every classroom. That, aside from student computers, was all that we had. Eventually, I would add SMART Response PE, XE and then VE to our learning environment in addition to a Slate. The interesting thing is that my students would still become creators. They created content using SMART Notebook. They were making videos and stories related to math because I demanded that Notebook software be placed on student computers too. I should also add that their videos were not just “instructional” but “informational” and fun. It was important.

It’s interesting to me that we tend to discount the power of creating outside of our mobile mediums. My students were creators before creating was a “thing”. They did not have ipads, chromebooks or smartphones because at that time, those mediums did not exist.

Fast forward 6 more years and now students have the power to be creative at their fingertips. Yet, we are often still not at a place where students are creating or even collaborating.

I would love to say that the days of students in rows watching a teacher teach are gone. They are not. Instead, that teacher may be carrying an ipad and even sharing a screen to student devices which means that instead of students staring at a board…they are staring at the small screen on their desk.

We still fight daily for creation and innovation yet in most cases, if ipads are in classrooms, they are filled with consumption apps and multiple choice assessment tools.

Why is that?

Simple…Changing a device isn’t transformation. Changing beliefs is. Removing a board and replacing it with screens does absolutely nothing if pedagogy isn’t addressed.

Also, screen writing on pages of pdfs = packets.

Sometimes, change isn’t change at all. We will get there once we know the difference.

Reflecting on My Time as an Edtech Brand Advocate

Reflecting on My Time as an Edtech Brand Advocate

A few years ago, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I would be leaving the classroom. I just knew. Yes, I’ve had many moments that sparked a certain desire to return but I know in my heart that a return isn’t on the horizon.

More on this later…

I’ve worked collaboratively with a few edtech companies through advocacy programs and in a majority of those cases, when it came to classrooms…edtech didn’t “get it”. Marketing people within those organizations seemed to be just as disconnected sometimes as well. When money is on the line, it can easily become more about shoving “the product” down the throats of teachers/schools than it is about understanding how that product impacts learning.

I am very fortunate in having spent time with two very different companies, SMART and Discovery Ed, over the past few weeks. I can’t even compare the two as they were both completely different experiences. Discovery Ed focused more on building relationships with pedagogy interwoven. My experience with Discovery was more about teachers supporting other teachers. It was more about the community itself than Discovery Ed’s media which speaks volumes to their understanding about brand advocacy.

Build the community because the most valuable tool in the classroom is the teacher. 

SMART focused on teaching about their product and with so many changes in terms of product focus, it was necessary. In addition, SMART’s event united educators from all over the globe. In most of those cases, these educators were receiving training for the very first time as they are THE resource for their country. There were focus groups as well as opportunities for educators to express their thoughts on SMART’s products and direction. They wanted honesty and I can definitely say that we did that. I can also say that SMART listened. I appreciated that. When you have 76 educators from multiple countries leave your building feeling heard and valued, you’ve done something right.

Now, that is not to say that SMART did not focus on community. However, instead of having multiple structured community building events, teachers found a way to communicate and do that themselves and this model worked as well.


At the start of this post, I mentioned that I knew when I would leave the classroom. Today, I knew that I have some decisions to make regarding my future in k-12. I love teaching, developing, planning, connecting…learning.

I’ve made no moves or decisions. I just have a feeling. It’s the same feeling that I felt when I left the classroom except this one is much stronger. I know that what I have to offer is something that is missing in a lot of places.

When you know…you know.

Thankfully, I don’t have to figure a thing out right now.

My goal for the next year is to serve our kids and teachers at the highest capacity. I will take what I have learned, share and do so with the voices of learners constantly in my ears.

I will do so with one idea leading the way…

Relationships matter over products.

The Simplest of Things

The Simplest of Things

The other day, in the lobby of our hotel, I stood beside a teacher from another country as he was requesting a folder from the hotel desk. I started a conversation with him and he told me that he wanted a folder for his certificate that he earned that day so that he could show his family. This certificate, the same one that is still currently crumbled in my backpack, meant the world to him. It was as if he had never earned one before. It occurred to me that maybe this was the case. He’ll now have a nice folio for his certificate and I shall un-crumble mine.

Hours later, I sat in a room surrounded by teachers from all over the world as we engaged in a conversation while having our #smartee chat online. Together with Boris, from The Netherlands, we wrote 5 questions and with 10 minutes left…I was out of questions. So, I improvised and made question 6 this…

If you could make one request for your classroom, what would it be?

I asked teachers to think big! What would be the greatest wish for your classroom? I expected the answers to range from ipads to chromebooks and even smartboards since we were here for a SMART conference. As I checked the timeline of tweets, one teacher from South Africa said…Wifi. (I take this access for granted often)

The biggest wish that she had for her students was for wifi. I repeated it out loud and pressed her further for response. She went on to say that each teacher there had to purchase their own “internet box” which gave teachers some form of internet connection. It was spotty at best but students had zero access. While she was speaking through tears, Warren Barkley, the CTO of SMART, leaned down and told her that SMART would make sure that her school had wifi. The entire room erupted in cheers because we all understood the difference that this gift would make for her students.

The next morning, she stopped me to tell me that she sent messages to the students to tell them this amazing news. One student responded, “will this wifi only be for teachers?”

We have many schools in the US without wifi but be also have a movement to provide access to our schools over the next several years. There is no movement such as this where this teacher teaches. This moment…this chat…THAT question… was critical for her and her students. I still get chills thinking about it.

Last night, as I was moping around in despair over so many things, I sat to speak to another teacher from The Middle East. He reminded me of how significant it was to be there in that moment. He spoke about his duty to be a present leader for his family and how they depended on his success. It reminded me of my own and their pride in me.

Today, I will smile because I am surrounded by people who connect me to what is important. Through the simplest of moments…the simplest of things…I am witnessing lives change and people connect.

I am witnessing growth. Luckily, this includes my own growth too.


Confessions of A Tech Specialist: I am NOT the Norm

Confessions of A Tech Specialist: I am NOT the Norm

I am not what one would call an the “average” teacher and if you are reading this, chances are…neither are you. It’s easy for me to rethink what the classroom should be and adjust accordingly. It’s a simple task for me to think outside of the box…far from the intended instructions and repurpose how we interact with tools for learning. I don’t see things as most people. Rules are meant to be broken. There is no such thing as “no” and permission is not something that I’m good at waiting for. Learning is my normal.

This is not the norm…

A few moments ago, I found myself arguing with myself against the use of a certain tool. For me, it wasn’t new…innovative or even necessary because I know how to use multiple tools to accomplish the task that this ONE tool accomplishes. I could not see beyond my own abilities.

And then it hit me…

I am NOT the norm.

For teachers who are still struggling to be where I am, this tool may just be the “thing” needed for them to get there. Maybe this tool will help them to rethink their classrooms and in doing so accomplish much more than their norm.

The point of this reflection is not in giving a single tool any credit for what great pedagogy is but in understanding my own thoughts…and limitations.

As a “tech expert”, it’s important that we see beyond what “we already do” and consider the implications on learning for teachers who are not us. I have to also be mindful of our weakest links for change…the teacher who is scared to death of change.

That does not mean that I make decisions based on the weakest but that I consider that just because something is obvious to me does not mean that it is obvious to them.

I am not the norm and now I’ll continue by looking through the lens of those that have yet to adopt the idea that different is good and must be worked towards. Doing this will enable me to think outside of my own box and into the spaces of others.

To be clear, it’s not about the tool but about the thinking.

In order to help teachers to rethink their beliefs, I have to start with rethinking my own.

It’s time to walk around in their shoes.

My DENpiphany: That Moment When You Get “It” #densi2014

My DENpiphany: That Moment When You Get “It” #densi2014

I’ve spent many moments this week at Discovery Education Summer Institute (DENSI2014) waiting to learn something new. I’ve even gone as far as questioning my being here this week and taking a spot from someone who “needed” to learn new information. I’ve had a blast connecting with friends, hanging out, participating in events and meeting newContinue Reading