Wednesday, May 31, 2017

About Me

Not only do I write this wonderfully entertaining and informative blog, but I am also the Educational Technology Coach serving both Champaign Central and Champaign Centennial High Schools in Champaign, Illinois. My education career actually began as a music teacher, specifically in Choral music education. I received my Bachelors of Music Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2007. My first teaching job was for the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley School District as a Choir Director for GCMS Middle School and GCMS High School until 2010. I then attended Illinois State University from which I received a Master's of Fine Art Degree for Choral Music Education in 2012. In 2013, I was hired as the Vocal Music Teacher at Franklin Middle School in Champaign, IL.

During my time at Franklin Middle School, I became passionate about the use of technology in the music classroom, as my classroom featured a unique blend of acoustic instruments, electronic instruments, and a class set of chromebooks. Using these tools in concert, I was able to create a Project-Based Curriculum designed to engage students with varying musical abilities with a student centered approach that allowed for individual student growth to be measured. With the help of technology tools, I was able to create an environment that fostered curiosity and appreciation for all types of musical aptitudes from music history, to music composition, and everything inbetween.

It was at this time that I indulged my curiosity of meaningful technology integration by beginning an educational technology graduate degree program. I received my second Master's Degree, a Master's of Arts in Educational Technology from Concordia University Chicago in 2015.

In 2016 I accepted my current position and created this blog as a resource for my teachers, as well as teachers everywhere, to continue their journey toward technological fluency. In the same year, I also received an Endorsement as a Technology Specialist for Grades 9-12.

As I continue to grow into this position, I am glad to be serving the Champaign School District and the greater teaching community with every post I create and every solution I find. I hope that I will continue to provide opportunities for educators to consider not only tools that will increase efficiency with teacher and student time, but more importantly spark ideas that transform the classroom into a space that continues to evoke higher cognitive development and improved social skills for our students.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Free Webinars for Teachers this Summer

The light at the end of the tunnel is clearly in view. School's (almost) out for summer. You have Alice Cooper all queued up and ready to sing the perfect finale to the school year. But, in a few weeks, after the stress and pressure of the school year fades, and the fun of the summer begins to seem as monotonous as a winter in Oahu, many of you will start to think about next year. Even if it is only in passing thoughts between blissful family or fun time, almost every teacher starts to think about tweaking content, delivery, or activities in your courses.

When that time comes, come back and read the rest of this blog, because that is the mindset you will need for this topic. For the overachievers ready to move on now, I have good news for you. There are many opportunities this summer that can guide that discussion of tweaking.

One of the best opportunities can be a webinar, so here are some websites that offer free ones:

EdWeb has a calendar of upcoming webinar events. These are all free and easy to participate in. The best news is that if you sign up for one of their webinars, they offer an opportunity to have the webinar video emailed to you if you can't make the live session. Topics are generally related to digital learning, but there are content specific webinars as well.


EdWeek is a great resource for past webinars and future webinars. EdWeek has an immense archive of webinars based on subject matter, including Literacy/ELA, Math, Assessments, Common Core, Ed Tech, College/Career Readiness, and Special Ed.


SimpleK12 has a free registration that gives you access to webinars on demand, and if you don't want to hassle with signing up, there are free webinars as well. This site has a robust number of options for topics, including content specific and social-emotional topics. I highly recommend registering as they will also notify you of upcoming events you can sign up for directly through your email.

Have a great summer everyone! Enjoy the well deserved rest, and only dive back in when you are refreshed and ready to take up the challenge that is educating the minds of our young people.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Using Google Plus Communities as an Online Discussion Board (that doesn't look like it came from 1995)

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Video Length: 10 minutes

Although Google Plus has a multitude of users, and is the Swiss Army knife of the social media space, I feel like there isn't a lot of buzz surrounding its potential uses in the classroom. One of the ways that it can be used is as a classroom discussion board through Google+ Communities. The video above demonstrates how to set up a discussion board that you can make private to your class or open to the public in various ways. 

The reason that I like it so much is just because it looks nicer than pretty much every other discussion board option out there. If you use a backchannel chat or an online forum, the overall viewing experience of both of these tools gives me flashbacks to working on a computer with Windows 95. Everything is in a box or in a folder, giving the impression that the experience is antiquated. With Google Plus, images and videos can naturally fit in the discussion post headings, and all responses can be expanded from the original post. No folders, no scrolling through 15 posts, then moving on to page 2. Everything is clean and nice, able to be accessed on the same page. 

As a teacher, you can pin the discussion post you want to start with your students to the top of the community page. Once you are done with that discussion, you can then unpin the post, letting it naturally drop down the page over time. This allows for easy access and less confusion on the student side. 

Teachers also can have a strict level of moderation privileges, where each and every post could be approved by you before being seen or can be left a little more open depending on your trust level with that class. More importantly, even if trust is lost, the settings can be changed with a few setting changes. 

I highly recommend using Google Plus as a discussion board, especially for those schools that are G Suite for Education schools or even if you just use Google Classroom as a classroom organization tool. Google Classroom users know that there is not (at this time) a viable online discussion option embedded in the tool. Google+ Communities can be shared by link in an assignment, which makes it easy to share in Classroom (or any Learning Management System).

A properly managed discussion board can be a great learning, collaboration, and peer feedback tool. That statement especially rings true when it looks like an inviting, relevant space. It's time for discussion boards to look like this, not the 1995 specials that we have been inflicted with since...well, you guessed it.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Gamification of the Classroom: What is it? How Do I Get Started?

Gamification: What is it?

At a recent brainstorming session for topics related to professional development, one of the topics that was suggested as an option was Gamification. Based on the overwhelming feedback from that session, it is clear that many of our teachers are interested in learning more about this approach to teaching.

So, here is an infographic on the subject that is very helpful in understanding what Gamification is and how it has evolved.

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

What is clear in the infographic is that Gamification is an effective means of connecting to students. As schools continue to adapt to the student-centered learning model, this type of education recognizes the potential for engaging students in a way that is familiar and comfortable to a population of students that have been playing video games longer than they have been in a structured educational environment.

Gamification: How Do I Get Started?

When you begin to understand how Gamification works, you may notice that you may already be implementing some of these strategies, or this type of instruction could be brand new to you. Regardless, if you are interested in creating intentionally designed gamifications of your content, here are some basic ways to do it. 

1. Create a Point System

In many games, the more points you earn, you can earn rewards. Now, this may sound like grading, and in a way, it is. But it can be so much more than that. You can give points for not only assignment completions, but also any behaviors or completions of particular tasks, based on something you want to specifically emphasize in class or several different categories. The most important aspect of implementing something like this is that points must be given based on evidence, not by observation. You know your students. They are able to sense if a system is fair or not. Involve them in the point designation process as well, so that they take ownership in its establishment. After all is said and done, provide a reward (either intrinsic or extrinsic) for students that reach an agreed level of points. The beauty of this type of system is that you can make it as simple or as involved as you want. You could do it with one particular unit, or with all of them. You could even designate a student leader or diverse student group to be in charge of tallying the point totals. You can make it team based or individual. The possibilities are endless!

2.  Tap into Digital Gaming Resources

  There are more and more educational gaming platforms that are designed to help students review for a test, summarize a lesson, and even introduce students to a concept. Here are a few of the top ones currently:


Quiziz is an online game that makes reviewing and learning more engaging through competition with classmates and fun images (memes) when students answer correctly or incorrectly. You can create your own quiz or use one in their library. Once you have your quiz, you just share a code with your students and have them join. Students will have a certain amount of time to answer the question, and the faster they answer, the more points they get. Students are assigned an avatar (funny looking animal) so students can see how well they are doing compared to other classmates to up their game or track their rank in the class. You can also have classes compete against each other and award students who finish in the top 10, or just do it for fun with bragging rights on the line.

Breakout EDU Digital

A fairly recent craze for entertainment is the escape room scenario where you must solve the puzzle to leave the room. This idea has come to the digital space with digital breakout activities. The clues can all be connected to your content and students will compete to finish first. You can even create your own using Google Sites with a pre-made template ready for you to input your content.


This is a very similar to Quizizz. The features are very similar, but this can also be used to introduce students to new information through a Blind Kahoot!

3. Digital Badges

Badges are small tokens to represent success in certain areas or units of your class. In my experience, handing out a paper certificate or getting actual badges for something is about the least exciting event in the life of a high schooler. But perhaps awarding digital badges may allow students to compete for a grand prize or a learning experience that will be special for that student. 

A way to easily record and track badges digitally is Classbadges, an online platform designed to show students how they have excelled. You can create your own badges or use stock images. Either way, this could be a great way for students to see how much they have achieved and could be a motivator as well.

With these ideas as a starter for your Gamification journey, you will be well on your way to adding another tool to your teaching belt. It's important to remember that balance is the key to any successful instructional technique. I wouldn't recommend making everything you do into a game, but a few instances of this instructional practice combined with other effective strategies will keep your students engaged and on their metaphorical toes.

"5 Ways to Gamify Your Classroom." ISTE. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.
"The Gamification of Education Infographic #gamification #edtech." Knewton. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

Friday, March 10, 2017

What is the SAMR model and why should I reference it in my teaching?

Yay acronyms!

Actually, I can't stand acronyms. They are the intellectual equivalent to "What do you mean you don't know who Mark Zuckerberg is?" This snobbish notion that "everyone who is anyone knows what PBIS stands for" and the lethargic statement of "it's just easier to say it this way" are equally infuriating to me. This practice also can create barriers between new educators and "established" educators, as well as leaders and team members. But, now I am ranting...back on topic in 3...2...1.

So, let's talk about the SAMR (pronounced SAMMER) model, or the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition model! Before becoming an Educational Technology Coach, I had no idea what this was. But after doing some research on this model, hearing about this model from its creator Dr. Ruben Puentedura, and hearing some perspectives from colleagues in the technology education community, I am really excited about how it can change the way technology is used in the classroom.

This model is designed to help teachers consider how technology is being used in their classroom and classifying each activity by a particular word; either Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition. The end goal is simple: improving student outcomes through increasing understanding and application of concepts. Take a look at one of my favorite illustrations of this model below.

  image courtesy of and @Sylvia Duckworth 

I love the analogy of ocean exploration in comparison to technology. The important thing to remember, as we reference this work as teachers, is that just like the ocean, there are progressively deeper experiences to expect from every level. You are unlikely to see a deep sea fish that has transparent skin while rowing your boat close to the shoreline. This analogy applies to student outcomes. The depth of student knowledge increases with each level, with the end goal that students are able to think like a historian, mathematician, scientist, and so on. And at the same time, there are certain activities that work perfectly well in the "Enhancement" levels, so thoughtful implementation is key to this process. 

With that thought, let's "dive" (pun intended) into each category within the context of one assignment. The assignment begins with a traditional essay assignment. Originally this assignment is to compare and contrast two similar topics within your content area (ie. dystopian literature vs. real world oppressive cultures/societies, Chicago Blues vs. Memphis Blues, balancing equations vs chemical formulas, etc.). Regardless of the content, here is how you would enhance it using these categories:

1. Substitution- Instead of having the students hand write their essay, students would use a word processor. This category is a direct tool replacement. Instead of a pencil and paper, you use a tool like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. This would work the same way if you were having students within a classroom present a PowerPoint or a Google Slides Presentation instead of a presentation with hard copies of pictures or an easel with printed visual aids for structure and charts. 

2. Augmentation- In this step, you would use a tool like Google Docs with the student sharing their working document with the teacher. The teacher and student are able to provide comments and chat about the essay digitally, being able to highlight specific sentences or sections to clearly discuss specific grammar and content. This category is using a tool that provides functional improvement to the processes, such as providing easier communication, simpler assigning/returning work, or other useful functions that make the processes easier in the classroom.

3. Modification- Here is where the activities start their metamorphosis into something different. These categories can not take place without the use of technology. As an example, the essay now is published to a class blog, where other students comment on the content within the blog outside of the school day or with another section of the class. The student could also find an expert to interview to gain perspective on one of the topics with video conferencing.

4. Redefinition- In this category, the assignment has the same goal of student understanding of content, but using an alternative means to demonstrate that knowledge or a way of applying that knowledge to real life situations. This can also be a way to use technology to take the understanding and share it with the world. In this example, the students would create a video that demonstrates the student's understanding of the similarities and differences between the two topics. This could also be shared online through YouTube, Google Hangouts with another student across the country or globe, and sharing a link to the essay/video that sparks a discussion using a particular hashtag on Twitter. These are all ways to extend the learning and experience of learning outside of the classroom using the technology that we have at our fingertips. For more redefinition ideas, visit this blog.

If you are having difficulty determining the category your activity fits into, that's okay. Mark Anderson, a world renowned keynote speaker, educator, and advocate for "purposeful use of technology linked to pedagogy", has created a wonderful flowchart that can help guide the thought process of both assessing current technology usage as well as devising activities targeted at reaching a specific level of the model. (ICTEvangelist. (n.d.). Retrieved March 09, 2017, from

Also, for a firsthand look at SAMR model from the perspective of its creator, watch the videos below to enhance your understanding of this model.

How to Apply the SAMR Model

An In-Depth SAMR Explanation (First 11 minutes introduces SAMR, the rest is great too if you have time)