Screenshot from the YouTube clip I sent to parents of my
homeroom if I didn't see them at PT Conferences. 

Hi everyone. I know, it's been a while.

You look great by the way! Working out? Doing some running? Just chasing the kids around?

Anyway, I thought I'd update my blog because I had a little time, and I kind of want to brag. Let's start at the beginning (always a good place to start).

I have a homeroom class that some might call challenging. Unfortunately, it's also difficult to contact parents - whether by phone, email, text, conferences, whatever way. Well, at least, it's very difficult to tell if the right people are getting my messages if I leave them.

"I'm going to be honest here: I'm not a huge fan of making parent phone calls..."

After a recent tech conference, I knew that there would be tons of ideas flowing. And it just so happened that conferences were the next week. I'm going to be honest here: I'm not a huge fan of making parent phone calls because I'm not exactly the bearer of good news a lot of the time.

Enter the idea. Okay, I know. It's taken me five paragraphs to get to the point where the title is finally brought up. It's been a while since I've blogged. 

MediaCore Capture from the Chrome Store.

During a summer session that another awesome teacher (Kayla) and I presented Google Tools for the Classroom, we thought of the idea to recreate the session so district employees could watch it on their own time. We used the aforementioned MediaCore Capture to do just this. And since the app was already on my browser, what better way to try something new than to use what I already know in a different way.

So, I recorded myself looking at grades and talking about attendance, while allowing the parent to see the grade book for themselves. I limited myself to two minutes max. I know this isn't a new idea. And it only allows for one-way communication. But it seems to have done the job.

Questions? I know there are a few.

How easy is it? Once MediaCore Capture (or whatever app you want to use) is downloaded, recording the video is generally just the push of a button.

How did you send it to them? What I did was downloaded the file, and uploaded it to YouTube as an Unlisted video (keeping the privacy to those who have the link). I then either emailed it or sent it via text message through my Google Voice number (so I can just copy and paste the link). Now there was a little back-work here to get preferred contact methods and up-to-date phone numbers, but I would have done that anyway.

How do you know if they watched? Easy! Just know that I watched it (sometimes twice) and look at the times viewed. Also, all but three of my parents either sent a text back or an email saying how much they appreciated the video! The most verification of communication I've received in the two years I've had this homeroom group.

I don't have that much time. How much time did it take? Because I limited myself to two minutes max (most were about 90 seconds), I think I spent about two plan periods to do this (about the same amount of time of calling each kid and either leaving a message or making contact).

So, for me, it was worth it. I think it's something I can definitely do once a month. If a kid needs more attention, I can use the other methods as well, but I know that sometimes parents just want to see who is helping their kids as much as getting a text or email.

I know because I do for my two little girls.

What do you think? Post questions or your own methods for parent communication in the comments section below!

Holy cow. I think the last time I blogged the Star Wars movie was still a rumor (new trailer: amazing). Pluto might still have been not-a-planet (because it is now again; almost). And I only dreamed of hosting a running podcast that has 350 hits a week (brag; sorry). But I digress.

Well, kind of.

I'm back here because I heard something today that made me think I'm 100% on the right path:

That's right. I'm at NETA for the first time. The Nebraska Educational Technology Association conference "exists for the purpose of providing leadership and promoting the application of technology to the educational process." In short, it's an EdTech conference drawing in people from all over the midwest. And so far, it's pretty dang sweet. 

You can find out more about NETA (by the way, they now have free membership) in the website link above. But my paraphrasing of today's keynote speaker is something I've tried to mention in this blog before. So I'm back. 

I think teachers that have the ability to share what their doing - whether it's in the classroom, in PD, in the wee-hours of the night planning a kick-ass lesson - don't always do so because they are only doing what their particular students need. Guess what. I'd bet other students might need the same thing. Or at least something similar. 

Today I met three people at NETA that made me do a little re-thinking.

The first was my NETA Match (random card with random number, find your match attendee number and you could win a prize) and we talked about being a media specialist that gave free hot cocoa to students if they checked out a book from the library. Circulation was up over 50% in the first quarter they tried it! Thanks to @TriciaBuell for being my NETA Match. *Make it a coffee and not only will students be there, but teachers would have stacks of books checked out!

The second and third people I met were presenters that had an idea to reinforce digital literacy implementation. Heather Callihan and Patty Wolfe came up with and refined a StopIt Program for students that violate the internet usage agreements at school; and instead of just a detention or other punishment, the student would be required to take a class (happens only once a month) about being a good digital citizen. The info in the link above is free for downloading, revising, and sharing (per the presenters). 

Now, maybe what I've said will help you. Maybe not. I know the StopIt Program is something I could use as I immediately got feedback online from a few people in my district (and I mentioned it to my Dist. Tech Specialist the next time I saw him). In fact, (toot toot) I'm working on a presentation/eBook on building a social media brand for your classroom; and StopIt will now be a part of it. 

Oh - maybe this will be something you'll try too:
So the description of this blog includes everything revolving around technology and education. And my life and times as a teacher, student, and everything else (just read the subheader).

Well, I'm proud to announce my foray into podcasting. It's something I've thought about for a while, but now I have the means. I have dedicated students that wanted to start a radio show, so I purchased gear. And after school hours, when all of my other work is done, I get to fulfill my podcasting .... wait wait wait. I've done radio before. I've done TV before. This was a dream at one point (to be in news media) but my goals have changed. Or, have they?

With today's technology available to everybody (you just need a little money), a person can do about anything:

Write, produce, film a movie. On an iPhone.
Release a rap CD. All without the physical disc.
Make a radio show. Without the radio.

Internet radio and podcasting is not new. And breaking into that niche market will be difficult. But I'm not doing this to make money (yet). I'm doing it because I have a passion for broadcasting, and I think that I'm not that great of a teacher if I can't do it (see my post about writing for here, that led to this).

So with that horrifically long introduction, my RunIowa podcast was officially released today with Ep. 1. You can find it (and subscribe to it) on the iTunes Store and at Feel free to leave feedback here, or there, or anywhere.

First, either I'm sorry or you're welcome for not posting in a while.

Yesterday was an odd experience for me. As a teacher, I like to let my students try things. Sometimes I know the outcome, sometimes I don't. I'm okay with kids failing as long as they don't do it more than once (for the same reason). I like when kids test limits and question things; it means they're thinking. But yesterday I put my foot down and said, "no."

Not so much as no as hey, I'm not going to let you do this.

My kids were ornery this week (the week before our holiday break). And I was gone on Wednesday. And my broadcasting kids did exactly what I told them not to do (something I've said all year): they interrupted classrooms. Generally, it's pretty harmless. But this week is our "funny holiday" show, which has become a sort-of prank show. Again, I'm okay with the idea ... if they do it appropriately. Unfortunately, I reflect and see I didn't do a good enough job explaining this and we had some issues.

So, I said this episode was cancelled.

Oh, I'm trying pull-quotes too.

At first, I expected a lot of fight from my kids. But in reality, they realized that what they did was not right. I heard from some teachers that they were disappointed in not having a show, but understood why (I sent an email to staff and CC'ed my kids).

And I feel this actually will be very beneficial to my kids in refocusing after our break and getting a broadcast show out better than we have in a while.

More good news....

I finally have some students interested in radio broadcasting. Well, as much as I am. And I've had kids before be interested, so we tried some broadcasting. But this time I have some kids that I felt confident enough to buy some new equipment:
Yesssssss!!!! I even drilled a hole in the table. I'm a nerd.

So far, the only bad news about it is my mixer was defective, so I sent it back. Oh, and I might not be able to have a single phone line (for callers), but I might be able to make Google Voice work.


Anyway, it was like Christmas came early:
I gave the naughty kids coal but earned some respect, and I gave the nice kids new radio equipment for podcasting, and earned some street cred.

Have a happy holiday, and hopefully I'll get a new post to you soon.
This is my forth post in a series of posts for the "#CBCSD Blogging Challenge" in our district. 

The Challenge: During the month of November, teachers, administrators, counselors, superintendents, curriculum directors, janitors, activities directors, coaches... everyone, is invited to participate in a blogging challenge. We want to create a culture in Council Bluffs that emphasizes and honors being reflective and sharing. And, we want to use the tools at our disposal to model for our students and our community what a modern reflective professional, thinker, and life-long learner looks like.

The best thing about teaching my grade level/subject is…

Well, let's start with a little bit of history. When I was being interviewed at the district's offices, the one question that really flustered me was, "Who do you want to teach?" I'm pretty sure I misunderstood the question because my response was something like:

Um, well. I want to teach each kid individually, but make sure the whole group understands. I don't want to have any previous knowledge about a child because I want to make my own decisions based on how they are with me. I should probably know some of their interests because that's important, but I'm not sure if they will, like [note: I despise 'like' as a fill-word because of my high school English teacher], like me.

By then, I'm pretty sure I was visibly sweating.

Right now, my answer is without a doubt, high school students. It's as easy as that. I had a few experiences teaching the younger kids as a substitute and a long-term sub (in another district), and I just don't have the guts, the smarts, or the energy (at every minute of every day) to keep up with some of those young kids. 


The work and energy that the primary teachers gives is amazing to me. I see some of their work on social media (and through blogs) and from reports from other teachers I know. It's not that I'm lazy [another note: any district employee reading this, I'm not lazy], but the amount that they do is above and beyond going above and beyond.

Now, because of the narcissist that I am, back to me. I'm able to do a lot of great things with the awesome kids that I have. A lot of that is because of their natural maturity and ability to take direction. And with those kids that really excel, we're able to make great things happen for my elective classes that sheds light on all sorts of ongoings happening in our school.

As recently as this past Monday in my Graduate class, we were talking about relationship building in the classroom. A few pieces to add: I am the only male of 14 students (and prof); I am one of two secondary teachers; it's a class I only took because it fit my schedule and my adviser allowed me to use it as an elective. I tell you this because I've become the default answer-giver to all questions high school... and male.

So when the question was posed to me with regards to how important relationships are, I had an answer similar to what was above (oh, and I've talked about it in my previous post, Changing Classroom Management into Classroom Relationships). I'm able to have a working relationship that is different than other "core" teachers because I'm "just an elective" teacher; and for whatever reason, students take my lead when I tell them that my courses are more of a job than a class. I've worked hard for that "whatever reason."

My broadcast kids interviewing a broadcast alum for an episode of our weekly newscast. The relationships helped this happen.

And when I heard that it is (obviously) a little harder to get those same types of relationships with elementary students... I felt a little bad.

So the short answer is the relationships.

Oh, and high schoolers usually get my humor. That helps.
This is my third post in a series of posts for the "#CBCSD Blogging Challenge" in our district. 

The Challenge: During the month of November, teachers, administrators, counselors, superintendents, curriculum directors, janitors, activities directors, coaches... everyone, is invited to participate in a blogging challenge. We want to create a culture in Council Bluffs that emphasizes and honors being reflective and sharing. And, we want to use the tools at our disposal to model for our students and our community what a modern reflective professional, thinker, and life-long learner looks like.

There is a hashtag on Twitter called #PartyLikeAJournalist and, while I'm no longer a paid journalist but a journalism teacher, I still relate. Take five minutes, it's worth it (if you're into self-deprecating humor, and the sad reality of the harsh work conditions of an average reporter). 

The prompt for this post of the CBCSD Blogging Challenge was "My Desk Drawer," which is pretty self-explanatory. So, for all of it's glory on this date of November 6, 2014, my desk and drawers:

This is my desk, and I would consider this a clean-ish day. 
A couple of things you may have noticed:

  • My trinkets/toys/bobbles. I need a shelf.
  • The newspaper. Always there.
  • The cameras in my lockable drawer.
  • The food. Hidden throughout. It's like finding a little surprise.
  • A Safety shirt. It's Safety Day tomorrow.

A couple of things you may not have noticed:

  • A living cactus.
  • Waldo.
  • An iMac.

Each thing on my desk has a purpose. And, for the most part, I know where everything is. If I know I'm going to be gone, I will straighten things up for the sub. That just means I pile everything a little neater.

So I end this post with a question: what is a good rate to pay a personal assistant to clean this up?

Share your desk photos in the Comments below, or share what the weirdest thing is on your desk.
This is my second post in a series of posts for the "#CBCSD Blogging Challenge" in our district. 

The Challenge: During the month of November, teachers, administrators, counselors, superintendents, curriculum directors, janitors, activities directors, coaches... everyone, is invited to participate in a blogging challenge. We want to create a culture in Council Bluffs that emphasizes and honors being reflective and sharing. And, we want to use the tools at our disposal to model for our students and our community what a modern reflective professional, thinker, and life-long learner looks like.

My favorite EdTech tool is video, and this is how I use it:
- Writing prompts
- Informational
- Professional Development
- Introduction to a topic
- Animation
 - Presentations (think PowerPoint, but with video)

In the day of technology that we're in, especially in education, some tend to forget that a moving picture can capture the interest of a student in the way other media can't.

One of my favorite writing prompt starters when we work on Opinion Articles in Intro to Journalism.

And if you use video correctly, students tend to have a greater understanding of your content.

One of the points I make in my presentation "Effective Use of Video in the Classroom" at area conferences, is that planning is important. (Hey, that sounds familiar.) Here are some ideas when planning to use a video in your classroom:

  • Preview the video
    • Just a few seconds can spark your whole discussion
  • Start a KWL before video
  • Have students fill out a Google Form while watching

You can even do work during the video depending on the students you have, and the intended purpose of the video.

If you want more information, tips, or tricks from my presentation - of course, it's not everything because you should never read directly from a presentation ;) - I have linked to it here:

Effective Use of Video in the Classroom

Let me know in the comments if you have video ideas you've used that work and you'd like to share!
This is my first post in a series of posts for the "#CBCSD Blogging Challenge" in our district. 

The Challenge: During the month of November, teachers, administrators, counselors, superintendents, curriculum directors, janitors, activities directors, coaches... everyone, is invited to participate in a blogging challenge. We want to create a culture in Council Bluffs that emphasizes and honors being reflective and sharing. And, we want to use the tools at our disposal to model for our students and our community what a modern reflective professional, thinker, and life-long learner looks like.

I am in my 6th full year of teaching at Thomas Jefferson in Council Bluffs, IA. I student-taught in the fall of 2008 at Underwood High School, then subbed for about a semester (a majority of that time as a long-term at TJ). It was a busy year. But boy, I had no idea what was coming for my first year as a teacher on my own. 

This was me (far right, polo) on my last day of student teaching an Eng 9 class at Underwood HS. Photo by my co-op teacher Shelley Brown.
But, as the saying goes (I'm paraphrasing because I don't actually remember the wording): Teaching is the one profession that gets easier as you go. The first few years are the hardest, and then you find your stride. That is, unless everything changes after those first few years. So, to make things easier for my first-year teaching self, here are 10 pieces of advice:

1. Hang on. No really. It will go really, really fast. Try to get as much information as you can. But don't fret on things you may have missed.

2. Plan, then over plan. It helps to know where you're going.

3. Work with other teachers. Even out-of-content teachers. I was really lucky to have a wonderful co-op teacher help me getting started with what teaching was like. Then I was able to be paired with the perfect teacher at TJ on 9th grade team (it's you Haney!) and she showed me the ropes of content and organization. Then, throughout the years, other teachers have shown me how to manage my classroom even more efficiently than I did.

4. Get to know every administrative assistant and custodian as soon as possible. The nurse is also good to know. But these people keep the building alive. They have a tough job, so get to know them. They will help you and you will help them.

5. Reflect. It doesn't matter how you reflect. You could do a blog, Tweet nightly, *gasp* write in a journal. Reflect on how your day went right, and wrong, and what you can do to be better. This will also help you do #2 better.

6. Work with parents. I wish I did more of this in the beginning. It would be easier for me now. Not that I don't work well with parents, but I don't have my time managed accordingly for parental contact.

7. Keep a calendar. I started doing this way too late. I now have my Google calendar synced with my iPhone. I (try to) keep school work separate from personal stuff (like putting a dentist appointment in my school calendar), but sometimes they overlap. It's worth the time investment to learn the calendar.

8. Put in the work. Every job I've ever had, from dish washer to radio DJ, I've started from the bottom of the totem pole. It's worth it to do all of the work, because it will create a more well-rounded person.

9. Don't be afraid. Of students. Of administrators. Of Parents. They're all just people. If you act professionally, responsibly, and respectfully you will be heard and treated fairly. And don't be afraid of learning! Continually change. Be fluid. Don't become static, and don't settle.

Twin Day for Homecoming Week 2014. 
10. Enjoy it. Teaching really is a wonderful job. Don't get caught up in all of the paperwork or politics. You're there to help students realize their potential. It's a great and wonderful profession.

Oh, and as a bonus. You get to be goofy, sometimes, too.

First of all, this post won't be necessarily about technology in education. But I do want to say that I am using voice command on my iPhone to write this post so the technology itself is doing some work. That does mean I need to go back and do a little bit of editing after this post, but oh well.

In a previous post I've talked about why I teach and in that post it's at a lot of different things including that I wanted to make things better for my kids and other people. Lately, it's been harder and harder for me to see that. No, it's not because I have "bad classes," but I am inundated with many non-teaching tasks. With that being said, I understand the data is needed to understand a child's development. And record keeping is important for the upward mobility of children. But our society is so caught up and statistics when it comes to education that we're forgetting that we actually have to cater to the kids needs; oh and teach them once in a while.

As I stayed home sick today and sifted through my 30+ emails of things I need to do when I go back (of which contain data wall information, homebound resources, and home visits with the administration and graduation coaches) I think to myself are these kids even being taught anymore? Or are we just lumping them in a bell curve data point area of achievement?

I'm a non-traditional teacher. I didn't always want to do this job. But I see now that it is a great fit for me. It fit my post-secondary education, and I absolutely love helping kids learn and succeed in the field I was taught to love. I never think of teaching as "a job" and I don't think I'll ever leave it.

But, when making sure a student is on track to graduate, calling their parents to make sure to check up on their kids' work and attendance, filing daily reports on kids with behavior issues, filing a report on each contact with parents/guardians/other teachers (if it's a homeroom kid), and trying to actually teach, it's easy to see how a teacher could get burned out.

I remember hearing somewhere that if a teacher can make it through the first five-years, they are generally there for the long haul. I'm in my 6th full year, but with all of the education changes from the government and local levels, the focus shift from each student, to federal data/money, I start to think that the five year mark might be on the low end.

I have an extra long lunch because my planning period falls during lunch hour. And every single day I work during my lunch. All of the way through. Just trying to keep my head above water. Sometimes, I forget to eat. And most times, I have kids in my room during that "planning" time, which should really be renamed "catch up" time.

My first rant. Thanks for reading. Comment below with your thoughts.
In the last two hours I have seen some things online that I said, "Crap, why didn't I think of posting that?"

Exhibit A: A screenshot that sold for $90k
Exhibit B: A baby being soothed by Katy Perry's "Dark Horse"

Both of those things happen in my house... actually a lot. And there are a million (probably exaggerating a bit) other things that happen and I don't post or share online (you're welcome).

But, this experience of the last two hours reminded me: sometimes what you think is "normal" or "obvious" isn't to everyone.

Specifically, in the world of education and EdTech, I know some teachers personally that have a lot of knowledge, but are timid about putting it out there because "everybody knows that."

So, I've come up with two short lists. The first is where or how you can share your ideas (hint: you're reading one). The second list is why you should share.

Where and How to Share your ideas:
1) Blogging: Free form flow of ideas. Can also lead into links that share others' ideas. Traditional methods suggest Blogger or Wordpress. There are a lot of new and different ways to blog now too, like photoblogs through places like Tumblr and Instagram. You can even create your own website and just start sharing your ideas there.

2) Twitter: specifically #hashchats (is that a term? If not, I'm claiming it now. Editor's note: it's already out there. Darn). Your PLN is probably already doing a #hashchat on Twitter right now. They usually have specific times where users interact through questions and prompts. Try your state's abbreviation with ...edchat to see when your next meeting is (e.g. #iaedchat)

3) Other social media. I won't go into all of the details, but Google Plus and Facebook are obvious places to share. Just remember your intended audience with your pages. You might create specific pages to share info for your PLN and personal posts.

Why you should share:
1) Because it's important! And super easy. Obviously, you know a lot. You're educated. And not everybody knows what you know. So share things.

2) Perspective. You're reading this as a learner. I'm typing it as an educator (not just a classroom teacher, but someone sharing their knowledge in the hopes of you retaining some of it). But you're also an expert in whatever field you're specifically in; elementary ed in a low income, large school district, a district tech coordinator for a tiny rural school of 120 kids, or "your average teacher in the middle of Nowhere, USA."

You might be thinking, "What should I share?"

You're the only one that's had the experiences, both good and bad, that can help others (both the new and experienced) along the way. Whatever you decide to share will probably impact somebody in a big way.

Oh, and this screenshot is for sale. Make me an offer!

Do you have something to add? Or did I just simply miss something so obvious you need to vilify me? Share with me in the comments!