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The Day After, SemicolonEDU 

Three years ago, I sat in a suicide awareness and prevention session given by our high school counsellors.  It was my first time attending a session such as this and also the first time that I’ve been around anyone openly talking about suicide. The first words of the session…

“Last year we had three completions…”

…the most painful statement that I’ve heard in a long time. I couldn’t help but to think of myself, my “near completion”…and the day after.

Nick Provenzano and Joe Mazza challenged the greater education community to help bring attention to mental health awareness by sharing their stories in the spirit of The Semicolon Project. 

The Semicolon Project 

A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.

At 15 years old, I made the decision to end my life. At 15, I thought that I was unloved, uncared for and insignificant. I didn’t have a moment where I decided to live…I just lived.

I wish that I had some pivotal moment where I decided that living was the thing to do, but I didn’t. What I did have was the day after…that day in a family filled hospital room where I understood the blessing of being alive and the pure emotional joy of not dying.

My heart still aches for those that didn’t have that moment of being thankful to be alive. So many didn’t have “the day after”…completions.

Such a finite word…

I can appreciate the semicolon project and I want to encourage you to not let it go by as yet another soon to be insignificant awareness project. Have open dialogue and be aware…fully. Be aware for the adults in your life as well as the kids that you teach. 

At 15, what I really wanted was to feel that I mattered. I didn’t want to die but I felt that it was much better than living. I was wrong and I understood that the moment that I opened my eyes…complete and yet incomplete. The significance of that moment still lives within me.

It’s the day after Nick and Joe’s campaign and for me, a reminder of the day that I learned to live again. 

The day that I was not a completion…

;

Conversations with my Son: Moving, Fresh Starts and Robotics

Screen Shot 2015-07-11 at 12.49.08 AMAs a student, there is something incredibly powerful when you know that your teachers and administrators truly care. That’s what my son felt about his new school before he ever stepped foot in the building. I remember that as we were driving to the campus, we were in a deep discussion and upon pulling to the corner to turn, we both fell silent.

In front of the school were hundreds and hundreds of signs, all bearing the names of students. There was a sign for each student along with the name of their future college, trade school or military branch. We had never seen this before and after realizing what they were, my son said…”hmm, that’s cool”.

We would go on to spend about an hour touring the school and visiting two programs of interest for my son…computer science and football. After the meeting with the coach, I was sure that my son was eager to join the football team as he loves the sport but something shifted in him in the last month or so.

My son told me that he wanted to leave football and focus on computer science. He said that he felt behind all of the other kids and wanted to dedicate his moments after school to learn. He wanted to learn as much as he could about computers and compete in robotics. He went on to tell me that he believed that computer science offered him an opportunity to “go to the next level” while football did not.

That was the moment that I knew without a doubt that our move was not only great for my career but exceptionally wonderful for my son. That was also the moment that I knew that this move was not about me at all but 100% what is right for him.

Prior to now, my son hasn’t had a single CS class, other than Code Academy. His current school didn’t have a program so this was not an opportunity within reach. I could not help but think about how different his life would be had he had the opportunity to explore coding and robotics in school. His new school works with engineers and competes in First Robotics. It’s authentic creativity and critical thinking that is beyond exciting to experience.

My son chose computer science over football.

In Texas, football is everything and he is choosing to not play so that he can focus on something that has been a hidden passion for a long time. The best part isn’t even that he is making such a huge decision. The best part is that he knows that he can and that is an amazing feeling.

Tonight my son had this to say…

“Mom, when I saw those signs, I knew that I needed to be there. They really do care about their kids. They have a college and career center where counselors help you apply for scholarships. I’m going to spend all of my time in there. I want to go to college so bad mom. The counselors even use this thing called “Remind” to send scholarship alerts to the students. I already signed up for it. I kind of wanted to play football but I really want to be able to spend the time that I need to learn about robotics. Mom, they work with real engineers and that teacher knows a lot about computers. I can definitely learn from her. It just feels good to be able to have a fresh start and not have to worry about being in a place where I am labeled. My life is going to be so much better because of this and I can’t wait.”

I can’t either son…

I can’t either.

Digitally Leading and Learning

There’s a general rule of thumb when thinking about teaching and learning when it comes to technology. The tools are never the focus and always come secondary to learning goals. I believe this to my core but I have to say that this is a difficult thought to maintain when student device access is close to zero…other than a BYOD. When you know how critical access to technology is…the absence of tools for learning can definitely cloud “rule of thumb” thinking.

In my new role as the Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning for Lufkin ISD, it is my responsibility to ensure that as we tackle this idea of being globally ready digital learners…that the current and future learning experiences of our students drive everything that we do. It’s also important to understand that modeling best practices through choice and personalization for professional development is critical. After-all, isn’t this the type of learning that we want for our students?

It’s not everyday that one is handed a blank canvas and asked to paint it. However it should be the norm that progression isn’t reliant on one person but a collaboration of many and I’m incredibly lucky that in my new department, this is the case. 

I have to say that as much as I am involved within the social space of educational technology, being charged with making large scale decisions and suggestions that will impact an entire district is new territory. It’s also different in terms of perspective. It’s one thing to justify doing something because it is a district decision. It’s another thing to have to make that decision. 

Luckily my connected life and experience reminds me daily that no decision is mine alone and that part of “buy-in” of new ideas is the involvement of those voices that will be impacted most.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not moving forward with supporting certain ideas that I know work but it does mean that how we move forward can and will lend itself to critical eyes and ears because it matters greatly to do so.

Needless to say, I’m pretty excited for the challenge ahead and look forward to sharing our journey from the inside out.

#LufkinLearns 

Minecraft in Education…Not Just A Game

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 2.15.19 PMThis year, I turned 40 and while all of my classmates were throwing events and dinners to celebrate their special days, my nephew was deep into his system creating a world just for me…in Minecraft.

Yes, I had a Minecraft Fab 40!!

In my world, my nephew created mini games involving getting sheep to cross treacherous paths, a Merry Go Round and a game that allowed players to shoot at boxes with images of prizes…with those prizes landing in a chest and into the player’s inventory. He even made a bowling alley. Yep, we bowled in minecraft!

The best part though, was my roller coaster where Braeden programmed music boxes to play such hits as The Birthday Song, Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood, Everything is Awesome and of course a song from Frozen.

It only took him two days!!

Like many kids, my nephew doesn’t get to play Minecraft in school. As a matter of fact, his teachers told him constantly not to play which meant that we were absolutely going to play much more because through minecraft, the exploration goes much deeper than a worksheet or homework schedule.

I’ve been in teacher tech sessions where I shared creative ways that kids are using minecraft for storytelling and the teacher response has been either that they do not have time or my favorite…

“Minecraft is a game and if we put that on their ipads, they won’t use anything else.”

To be clear…

Minecraft is more than a game. It’s like having a blank canvas to do and be anything. It’s like having a master key to your greatest adventure.

The worst thing that can happen if we let kids play is that they will learn much more than our standards sometimes allow. Those who play minecraft know this but the problem is that most people in charge of schools and curriculum do not. So, how can we change that?

For starters, Minecraft isn’t like any other tech tool that we use. It can definitely be implemented so badly that kids grow to hate it. Please don’t do this. Minecraft was not created to be a single set of choices so avoid turning it into a multiple choice assessment.

When we define the learning that should happen before allowing kids to explore…we are doing it wrong. Instead, give kids the task of mining and crafting to their creative desires. Draw upon that creativity to empower deeper learning. I exercised more math and science in building a house of my own free will than if I were given the definitive structures of what makes a house.

The only way to truly understand that is to play and I think that all teachers should. You can even let kids teach their teachers, which is immensely powerful! What should happen is that as teachers play, they’ll get an understanding of where and how the learning happens.

Discussions should follow and those discussions should probably center on learning and purpose because if we go into Minecraft in education approaching it along the same lines as a textbook or worksheet…it will be that…which is frightening.

If all else fails…challenge your teachers to plan a party much like my nephew did for me.

They’ll get it.

Trust me.

In case you missed it…His minecraft 4th of July celebration

 

The Best Part of ISTE2015…YOU! (Also Minecraft…Always)

The Best Part of ISTE2015…YOU! (Also Minecraft…Always)

There was a moment in Stephen Reid‘s session when he described what it felt to walk the streets of Philadelphia…moments of thought common to minecrafters. He said that as he looked at buildings, he saw beyond their stature and literally saw himself through the lens of building them. His words… “I can build that”…formed the phrase that lasted beyond any other moment at ISTE. The power of knowing what you are capable of is empowering.

More on that later…

For me, the best parts of ISTE weren’t the moments that people may think. It was amazing to nervously give an ignite about diversity…twice. I was starstruck meeting Soledad O’Brien, especially after being told that I only fought for her speaking because she was a woman of color and because I was a fan. (She killed it, didn’t she??) I even had a workshop that went quite well.

My excitement about ISTE was in none of those things but in the result of those things…The Powerful Connections that I made with people. I will always love that.

I was once a lurker, a person watching from the shadows of the room in a distant chair. I was terrified that talking to people would invite their judgement and the idea of being rejected was paralyzing. As a matter of fact, the first time that I allowed myself to truly connect, the people that I talked to didn’t even remember. Those people are some of my closest friends now but it’s a meeting that we still disagree about. It’s still telling that people have conversations with entire groups of people and often fail to see the individuality of the group itself.

It was two years ago at an ISTE where, possibly one of the biggest voices in Education, George Couros…basically willed me to blog and I have done that with a vengeance. It was at an ISTE that I learned that my silence about my own passions and the work that I did held me back more than the pronounced over-speaking of others. This is what motivates me to be as open as possible and to give people the same attention that I was given…perhaps motivating them to open up the same.

Yes, a conference is one big social gathering but by focusing on the single moments of negativity and disconnectedness, it’s easy to forget about the insurmountable amounts of real connecting that are taking place amongst people who are learning and finding their “tribes” for the first time.

Back to Minecraft…

Perhaps, my favorite moment was sitting beside a teacher waiting in line 2 hours early for the Minecraft class. She had never played herself but was interested in perhaps finding an outlet for her students to play in an after school program. She said…”Starting is what matters” and she was so right. It was in that room that I literally could have lived all week…and not because I am a Minecraftoholic (I am)…but because there is something completely magical about a person discovering such creativity for the first time.

As an parent and aunt, I have watched my own nephew find his creative voice through minecraft and as a district leader, I hope that we can help other kids and teachers do the same. If you missed the line wrapped down the hall and around the corner for Minecraft, you truly missed a treat as it was the place to be at ISTE!!

Also, Microsoft brought the best possible person in Stephen to lead the “beginner session” as his perspective was truly inspiring and I definitely plan to draw upon his nuances to help our teachers understand how and why Minecraft impacts learning.

Hint…Get in and do the simplest of things…Build!

When Stephen said, “I can build that”….I related to it on a much deeper level than minecraft.

I can learn that.

I can do that.

I can be that.

I can _______ that.

Like the multiple learning pathways of ISTE…It’s your blank to fill.

Debating the ISTE2015 Keynote Selection

Debating the ISTE2015 Keynote Selection

Last year when I saw that America Ferrera was slated to keynote ISTE, I was absolutely confused by her selection. When she backed out and was later replaced by Ashley Judd, I was even more confused. Fast forward to the end of Ashley Judd’s speech and I, like almost every other person in that room, was… Continue Reading

Campus Leaders: Developing Teacher Tech Leaders

Campus Leaders: Developing Teacher Tech Leaders

  The following is an excerpt from my book, The Missing Voices in Edtech: Bringing Diversity into Edtech. It is the chapter on teacher voice in edtech decisions where I describe ways that campus leaders can help teachers grow as digital leaders. As a classroom teacher, I would have definitely described myself as a “Tech-Fearless Educator”.… Continue Reading

The Audacity of Growth

The Audacity of Growth

Earlier today, one of my former principals shared this quote… “When a seed is planted, the creative urge is to grow. It never stops trying… The audacious hope of rooted things…” From the novel “Ruby” by Cynthia Bond.   The beauty of this quote is in its direct relationship to the art and science of being… Continue Reading