education, kindness

Remixing Relevance

Last week our #tlap chat focused on remixing lessons. How do we take bits and pieces of lessons and change them to become relevant for our students now? As a technology integrator, I’m always looking for ways to make a good lesson great and I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not about the tool itself, but how you use the tool that makes the most impact on learning.

I’m often inspired by the amazing educators I connect with on Twitter. The sharing of ideas and resources is endless! I especially love how one comment on someone’s post can lead to a side conversation that takes shape and form into something new for your instruction.

I was chatting with Barbara Gruener when she asked a question that would transform my kindness lesson for the week:

“Have you seen our Jet Stream Jax video yet?”

It was a simple question from one educator to another, but became the spark of remix inspiration from Texas to Virginia.

Jet Stream Jax is making a difference in the world and my students needed to see him in action.

I couldn’t wait for the students to arrive. Since our Innovation Lab has flexible seating, I removed the tables and chairs to provide room for students to scatter on the floor. We opened our lesson by reading Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts then discussed different aspects of the book, from not being able to purchase items we wanted to the kindness shared through generosity. This sparked a deeper conversation as we explored the meaning of compassion and empathy.

Students opened their Kindness Journals and shared acts of kindness they had seen and done since our last lesson together. We also gave shout-outs as sparks of gratitude for “Thankful Thursday.”
Kindness Journals from Mrs. Madison’s class
Kindness Journals from Mrs. Cross’ class


Mrs. Cross’ Thankful Thursday List


Mrs. Madison’s Thankful Thursday List

Then we remixed relevance by introducing Jet Stream Jax.

“Last class we watched a video from Kid President encouraging us to make a difference in the world. Today I want to introduce you to an eight-year-old student named Jackson, who lives in Texas. He likes to be called ‘Jet Stream Jax’ because of his passion for reporting about weather. He and his friends were right in the path of Hurricane Harvey back in August.”

Before I could say another word, the room was buzzing with questions.

“Did he lose his house?”

“Does he still have a school?”

“How can we help him?”

Students were making connections by sharing stories of other people they knew that were impacted by the hurricanes this fall. It was a teachable moment that students led by discussion, pondering the impacts of severe weather and the domino effect of damaging winds, power loss, and flooding.

My heart overflowed with their instant concern and desire to make things better for others. Little did they know, Jet Stream Jax wasn’t trying to help himself, but his local and global community impacted by the hurricane destruction.

Our students watched the video, completely engaged, as they saw a real person – younger than them – using technology to make a difference in this world. Their questions became exclamatory statements as they reflected on all Jackson had shared:

“Hey! He’s a real kid like us!”

“I bet recess is really boring for them now. I wish we could build them a playground!”

“I love weather, too! Maybe I’ll make a video like he did!”

“That’s really cool that he’s had so many views on YouTube. I hope they get a LOT of coins!”


We learned about the the Kind Coins for Hurricane Relief campaign, sponsored by The Great Kindness Challenge and made our own collection jar to spread kindness to others, helping to rebuild playgrounds in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico.

In Social LEADia, author Jennifer Casa-Todd asks a vital question about technology use in and out of the classroom:

“How are we showing students that they can use technology & social media to make a positive difference in someone’s life TODAY?”

We empower them to find creative ways to show kindness to others, then encourage them to share their story with the world.

Because of Jackson’s video, our students now want to make their own videos. They want to gather support for a kindness cause. They want their voice heard around the world. They want others to see that their ideas matter.

They want to be a leader like Jet Stream Jax.

Two weeks ago, we had a very different lesson about compassion and empathy sketched out for our students. Sometimes, however, we need to remix for relevance. I’m so thankful Barbara was willing to share her student’s video with us, so we could see first-hand how one student is doing his part to make this world a better place.

I can’t wait to see how our students show kindness to others this year!


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family, kindness

Lego Lessons

“Mommy, will you play with me?”

His eight-year-old voice rang in my ears as I finished the sentence I was typing, my manuscript interrupted yet again. I could feel the urgency to swish him away with my hand, knowing if I could just write for a little bit more I could finish this chapter. I was so close! The words were flowing so well! Just a half hour more and I could take a break.

I looked up from my laptop and saw him standing there, his small hand holding out a Lego figure that matched the illustrations on his favorite pajama pants. When my eyes raised up to meet his, I knew in an instant how I would spend the rest of my morning.

Instead of writing about kindness, I needed to show kindness to my son.

He guided me to our staircase as he explained the rules of his game.

“Mommy, you sit on the floor over there. You get to put Lord Garmadon anywhere you want, but you’ve got to stand him up. I’m gonna sit up here and slide down the Lego Ninjagos and we’re gonna see who knocks him down. It will be awesome!”

The excitement in his voice was infectious. He was proud of himself for creating a game we could both play and he was certain he would win the first round. I set up Lord Garmadon and one by one he slid his Lego figures down the base of our banister.


Round 1: Complete failure. 

All the Lego Ninjagos were scattered on the floor and steps, yet Lord Garmadon was still standing in all his fierceness. According to the rules of the game, my son and I couldn’t swap roles until Lord Garmadon was eradicated from his reign over the others. He had to try again.

And again.

And again.

After the fourth trial, his frustration started to show as he exclaimed, “How can this be so hard?” He started to tinker with his strategy. He tried to slide them along the edge. He removed and added weapons. He tried head first, then feet first.
We moved Lord Garmadon to a new spot on the floor, a little more to the right, a little farther back, noticing that this is where most of the Lego people would land after taking flight from the banister. Still no luck knocking him down.


And then it happened.
Lord Garmadon fell backwards and my son’s joy reverberated from the stairwell. He did it! He really did it!
We switched roles and now I was charged with guiding the Legos down the banister. It didn’t take long before my son started offering suggestions for improvement.
“Move that guy a little closer to the edge, Mommy.”
“If you have him hold the nunchucks, they might fly out and hit him when he lands.”
“No, Mommy, don’t take his hat off. If his hat flies off and knocks him down, it still counts as a win.”
We were teammates, helping each other with tactics and strategies. The teacher in me recognized all the things he was learning in his game: the correlation of force and motion with gravity, the mathematical insights of angles, the scientific experiments of cause and effect with dependent and independent variables.
But to him, we were just playing a game.
We continued taking turns setting up Lord Garmadon and knocking him down, our game increasing in difficulty as our technique improved. We set him up behind obstacles and used the opposite banister to launch. We had dozens of trials, even more modifications.
His older brother came downstairs, observed our game, and promptly stated, “That’s impossible. You can’t knock him down from there.” That declaration sparked a rush of denial, an urgency to prove him wrong.
It wasn’t impossible.
We just needed to improve our attack.
We tried again.
And again.
And again.
And then…


We mastered our game!
I was reminded of valuable lessons from our Lego time together:
It’s OK to lose the first time you try.
A quick win from the start would have shortened the length of our game, but we learned so much more by trial and error. The failures and mistakes showed us what didn’t work, thus narrowing down options for strategies that might.
Embrace the power of “yet”.
Carol Dweck states in her TED Talk “The Power of Believing You Can Improve” (as well as her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success) that children with a growth mindset engage deeply and embrace the challenge of accomplishing something just outside of their reach. They discover an error, process it, and learn from it. I saw this first-hand with my child and his Lego game. Even when the bouts of frustration started to creep in, he didn’t shut down and throw a tantrum. He understood completely that he hadn’t mastered the game yet.
Sometimes we need to listen to the whisper on our hearts and make time for things that matter. 
I didn’t finish writing Chapter 8, but I can always get back in the groove later. I may never get another opportunity to battle Lord Garmadon with my son. He is growing older and there will come a day where he doesn’t play with Legos nor want his mom to join in his fun. It’s important to recognize opportunities to be kind to others (even our own children!), to say “yes”, to shift our priorities, to strengthen our relationships.
Today my passion for kindness was for him.
And like a boomerang, that kindness bounced back to me.


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education, ITRT

HCPS Digital Learning Initiative

Digital Learning Initiative Logo 2017.png
It’s an exciting time to be a middle school teacher in Hanover County Public Schools! As part of our Digital Learning Initiative, all middle school teachers received new laptops on Friday, the first milestone in our five year plan. Our team of thirteen joined forces with several teachers and administrators across the district to roll-out this initiative in all four middle schools on the same day at the same time.
It was so much fun to feel like Oprah, handing out laptops to everyone! (“You get a laptop! And you get a laptop! And you get a laptop!”) Packaging materials were collected to use in the CMS makerspace as teachers eagerly pulled out their laptops and logged on. We discussed the laptop agreement form and provided on-the-spot support via our ITRT Website, then broke into small group sessions to learn the basics of “Getting to Know Your Laptop.”
Amelia did an awesome job as our CMS team leader for laptop distribution!


Unpacking laptops and logging on


Time to explore!


CMS teachers gather before the breakout sessions.

Today we provided additional support as we led two hours of professional development sessions for these teachers, but we added a new twist to our PD: We offered a “Fast Pass” option for teachers who had mastered required learning.

As technology integrators and professional development specialists, one of the common refrains we hear is the need for differentiated PD. Just as we modify instruction for student needs in the classroom, we need to do the same for our teachers in their learning environments, too! After much brainstorming and hours of planning and tweaking, we finally implemented our very first “Fast Pass” lane for teachers to choose if they like.
So what is a “Fast Pass”? Based on the concept used at amusement parks, a “Fast Pass” allows you to enter a separate line to get where you want to go faster. By implementing a “Fast Pass” system, we validated the time teachers had invested to independently learn about their laptops, so that on their actual PD day, they could show what they know and reclaim some of that precious time back instead of wasting it listening to information they had already mastered.
It was a fantastic success!!
Look at all those happy teachers!


Casey led Fast Pass Station 1 – All About Chrome
Today’s two-hour session was divided into four sessions: Google Chrome, Be a Closet Organizer, Personalizing Your Laptop, and Windows 10 Basics. We distributed the Show What You Know sheets to teachers on Friday, so they could refer to it and decide for themselves if they needed face-to-face training or felt confident enough to showcase their skills Monday morning.
Each school was divided into four groups based off their last name to make the learning size manageable for our teams. Teachers who wanted traditional PD started in one location for twenty-five minutes, then rotated to the next session in a different room, completing four sessions in two hours.
Teachers who chose the “Fast Pass” option came to the cafeteria and gathered around their station number where they opened their laptops and literally showed us the steps of how they mastered each task.
ITRTs were assigned to one base school to provide face-to-face PD, but then paired with another middle school to provide Fast Pass validation during their training time. Two middle schools offered PD from 9-11 am and the other middle schools offered PD from 1-3 pm. It might seem a bit complicated with all the moving parts, but it actually worked seamlessly with each ITRT knowing their exact role in the process.
What struck me the most about the PD training today was the joy. Teachers were happy! Even as they grappled with multi-step tasks like installing printers from a school network, their kind words of appreciation and thank-yous brightened our day.
As our trainings came to a close, we had signed hundreds of Show What You Know sheets, repeated training modules dozens of times, and reached our Fitbit step goals for the day. Despite our feigned exhaustion in the photo below, we were actually quite giddy by the success of the day!
Four schools down this year, nineteen more to support next year! Our first district-wide teacher laptop rollout was GREAT!
Now to get back into the buildings and help our teachers learn how to use these devices to support their professional productivity and instructional learning for students!
Many thanks to ITRTs, district leaders, teachers in surrounding districts and educators in our Twitter PLN who shared their experiences to guide our development of this training model. We are better together and appreciate everyone’s input for making our laptop roll-out such a success!


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Innovation Transformation

I have a secret to confess.

Right here.

Right now.

I have no idea how this will all turn out and there are moments when I’m completely terrified by the thought of failure, but I’m willing to take a risk and make a change because I know it’s the right thing to do!

Last night, as I was scrolling through the #IMMOOC Twitter posts, I came across one by Alice Keeler that stopped me in my tracks:

It was only one sentence, but those words were confirmation that making a change in our room layout was not only a vision and hope, but essential for innovative learning.

For the past ten years our laptop lab has looked the same.

Twelve Tables. Six Rows.

Twenty-four chairs.Twenty-four laptops.

Headphones. Mice.

Stark, white walls.




Last year I took a stab at innovation and modified one-fourth of our lab space into a Tiny Tech Cafe, complete with sofa, bar stools, tables, refrigerator, and Keurig. We raised funds with a GoFundMe campaign and discovered the impact of community generosity that went above and beyond our expectations.

We added a tall bookshelf and created a lending library of current, trending educational books that teachers can read by choice, not requirement. We were humbled by the kindness of authors and publishers who provided books for us to share.

The Tiny Tech Cafe was created to encourage casual collaboration, a comfortable place where teachers could plan together, conference with students or just grab a quick cup of coffee during their day.


A special thanks to Dave Burgess for jump-starting our collection!


After one year of operation, the Tiny Tech Cafe was a huge success! I saw an increase of teachers “just stopping by,” which almost always led to deeper discussions about technology integration and professional development needs. We strengthened relationships as we chatted about this and that and I learned that sometimes the best way we can help one another is simply listening and engaging in conversation.

Now we’re taking that delightful medley of culture, communication, and collaboration and stretching it through all four quadrants of our traditional laptop lab to include students as well. With the generous support of the Hanover Education Foundation and Mechanicsville Elementary, we are creating an Innovation Transformation.

We are transforming our learning space. Instead of immobile tables outlined by battery power cords, we now have sturdy portable tables that fold in half for quick and easy setup and tear down. We have equitable access to common supplies so students can use whatever they need for learning without having to bring it themselves. We have bins to collect consumables so students can build, create, and innovate. We have Legos, a green-screen wall, and a recording studio. We are a constant work-in-progress as our space adapts for lessons and ideas yet to come.




We are transforming our seating. Instead of only offering hard, plastic, one-size-only chairs, we now have multiple seating options. Students can sit on the carpet with pillows or choose an over-sized cushion to sit on the floor. We have wobble seats, stools, a sofa and bar-height tables for standing. We are learning how to “let go” of making students sit in rows and embracing the freedom of providing students choice. We are realizing that there really is such a thing as organized chaos.




We are transforming our activities. Instead of using laptops for interactive games or “everybody use this website” lessons, we are discovering the joy in learning by providing students tools that showcase students’ creativity and innovative spirit. We are taking risks by having them teach us how to use green screen apps and design digital collages. We are offering activities that allow students to create and fail, then iterate with an improved design. We are using technology as a means to an end, not the end itself.






We are transforming our mindset. Instead of “going to the lab,” we are pondering new ways to use our space to fit our purpose. We are taking risks by doing things we’ve never done before, like allowing second graders to sit on a sofa with a laptop and encouraging fifth graders to share their design process with peers.

We are embracing our vulnerability in not being the experts, not knowing the end result, not having all the answers in our grasp. We are breaking through the #TeacherMyth that perfection is progress. (Thanks, Aaron Hogan!)

We are nervous.

We are terrified.

We are intrigued and paradoxically intimidated.

We are struggling to overcome the panic of “never having enough time” as we discover that time well spent is time recaptured.

We are part of a grassroots movement, with some teachers ready to dive in and others standing along the shore. No matter our proximity, we all want to be the best teachers possible for our students.

We just need some time to figure it all out while we are learning ourselves.


“The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros


We are transforming our perception of technology integration. Technology is simply a tool that allows us to strengthen our school culture, facilitate collaboration, and effectively communicate with others in ways we’ve never experienced before. We can use technology to showcase our creativity while also learning required information and curricular standards. We are shifting our views of “I can’t do technology” to understanding technology isn’t something you “do” in the first place.

The first four weeks of school are now complete. We’ve changed the month on our calendars and are taking small steps towards innovation by embracing our transformation:

With our learning space,

With our seating,

With our activities,

With our mindset.

Now it’s time to create!









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