Jul 13

Ancient Journey

Imagine walking through a tunnel surrounded by granite bedrock. Water drips down the sides of the rock while calcium leeched from rocks slowly deposits as stalactites. You know there is history in the rock as a feeling of the ancient washes over you. As you reach the end of the tunnel, you walk into a room and board an elevator. Where do you find yourself? Extraordinarily, we’ve just walked through the solid granite of Buford Dam and find ourselves on the intake side of the dam. As you drive over the dam, did you realize that solid granite bedrock is below the tires of your car? The granite only accounts for a small section of the dam as the majority of the dam is earthen works. Did you ever wonder why Buford Dam was built here? Granite core samples were collected from many sites during the planning stages in the 1950s, and this area was deemed the best. A peek in the granitic tunnel reminds us of the solid granite and gneiss beneath our feet all over Gwinnett County. Next time you cross Buford Dam or one of the many other dams in Georgia, stop and consider for a moment the engineering marvel that is dam. I hope one day you have the chance to experience this amazing wonder as you walk through solid rock holding back billions of gallons of water behind a dam. If the name of our schools are indication (Lanier Middle and Lanier High), the dam is in our backyard. This unique look behind the scenes of Buford Dam will help me provide concrete information to my students so they too can marvel at the ingenuity of this amazing dam that created Lake Lanier.

Erosion around Lake Lanier

Where Lake Lanier meets Buford Dam

Creeks to Coast Day 2, July 10, 2014, Buford Dam

*Cross Posted on the Georgia Aquarium Blog.

Jul 10

What is the value of a river to you? #C2CwithGP

Horse Trough Falls

Horse Trough Falls

Imagine driving a few miles out of town to a wildlife management area. You pull up to the parking area near a trailhead and head out. In a matter of moments, you hear the sound of falling water, and you feel the stress of the day melt away. What is the value of a river to you? As you sit in a pristine wilderness with trees, a rushing creek, and a cascading waterfall surrounding you, what is the value of a river to you?

Rivers are a unique environment. Based on your relationship with the river or where you are on the river, your perspective of that river and its impact on you will change. Have you ever though about that? The Chattahoochee River is prominent and important river throughout Georgia, but wherever you are your view of the river may change.

Imagine instead wading out into a creek to monitor the quality of the river. How would you do that? Did you know sampling for macroinvertabrates is a great way  to gauge the health of the river. Some of these critters can only live in clean, clear water. Others thrive in polluted waters. Depending on what you find and the diversity of life, you can determine the health of the stream. Why is a clean stream important? What is the value of a river to you?

As we continue this journey down the Chattahoochee River, different perspectives on the river will be uncovered. I challenge you to think about what the river means to you.

Creeks to Coast Day 1, July 9, 2014, Horse Trough Falls and Duke’s Creek

Jul 03

#ISTE2014 Days 4 and 5: Sharing then wrapping it up

Day 4:

I started my day at the keynote with Kevin Carroll. I had not heard of him before or his message about the Red Rubber Ball. He was very inspirational and focused on the importance of play. When was the last time you took time to play?

I then stopped by the Mobile Makerspace Learning Playground and played for a little while. Next step was the posters. I like the idea of poster sessions, but I find them a little overwhelming to take it because of all of the other people there. I then met up with part of my Iron Chef team to work on our presentation.

Then, its as time for our own poster session! We quickly set up, and then people started arriving. We shared about our project based learning programs in our elementary, middle, and high school. We brought a few students with us to share about their experiences, and they were definitely the stars of the booth.

photo 1-4 photo 2-4 photo 3-3

After our poster session, I needed some quiet time to regroup, so I headed to the welcome lounge. I recharged and then was ready to meet with my Iron Chef group to but the finishing touches on our presentation.

I decided to finish the day out at the If You Build It documentary viewing. This was such an inspirational documentary about trying to change the culture of a school and community in a small, rural district. It reminded me how difficult it can be for change to happen but how important it is for students. If you ever have a chance to watch this documentary, I highly recommend it.

IF YOU BUILD IT (Official Trailer) from OCP Media on Vimeo.

Day 5

First off today was the Iron Chef competition where we shared our Tweet Fondue presentation. You can also check out our twitter feed. You can learn more about the Iron Chef challenge here. It was a great experience. If you want to be a part of ISTE next year, I highly recommend it.

Next up I went to Sylvia Martinez’s presentation about the Top 10 Tools for the Maker Movement. It was another great perspective on the maker movement. I then headed to the Maker’s Playground for some more time to play around. It was cool to see a Makey Makey in use as I just picked up one of these.

I then spent some time making sure I had covered the entire exhibit hall. Overall, I was disappointed by the exhibit hall. The sessions were so inspirational, but in the exhibit hall it was all about grading quickly, making assessments, control devices, etc. It was a completely different atmosphere. The one highlight of the exhibit hall was the Ron Clark Academy students at the Classflow booth.

I then headed to another session about making and technology. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like the presenters were prepared or sharing anything that I hadn’t heard before, so I left. The final keynote was already seating, so I headed to the hall and grabbed a seat. I was front and center for the final keynote, and it was my favorite keynote of the conference. Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 Teacher of the Year shared What if? It was an amazingly inspirational message. Plus, Jeff is a science and engineering teacher, so I felt like I found a kindred spirit. Jeff teaches in a small rural district in Washington State. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, do!

ISTE2014 was an amazing conference, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to attend. I will be processing everything and sharing a reflective post soon.

Jun 29

#ISTE2014 Day 3: Diving In

Today was a whirlwind of amazing experiences! Here’s a quick overview:

  1. Poster sessions – I especially enjoyed the one on creating a personal brand for students and starting a tech entrepreneurial club.
  2. Science and math playground.
  3. I popped into the ISTE Iron Chef and decided to join a group. We’re putting together our solution to the challenge and will be sharing on Tuesday!
  4. A vist to the exhibit hall which was an exercise in total overstimulation!
  5. I visited the ISTE Board Office Hours and shared my opinions on the topics they presented. I also tweeted by responses. Thanks to tweeting, I won a Starbucks gift card!
  6. Invent to Learn session with Gary Stager. I was really lucky to get a seat to this event as a half an hour before start time, the room was nearly full! It’s too bad there was not a larger space. If you wanted to attend but couldn’t, here are my notes (it’s not been proofread yet). I also picked up the Invent to Learn book and both Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez signed my copy. Exciting!
  7. Disruptive Collaboration with Angela Maiers. I have been aware of the #youmatter movement, but to hear it first hand was amazing. We hash tagged wit the sessions with #collabruption and learned how to find our own genius and the genius in our students. It was incredibly empowering.
  8. Finally, the science share-a-thon. I had a chance to have conversations in two small groups. One was about PBL, which is what I am all about. The other was about finding leadership roles in the ISTE Science and Technology Network. I am looking forward to diving in and finding a place to make a difference.

It was an amazing and overwhelming day. I started the day tired and dragging a little. I ended the day energized and inspired! I also met new friends and was able to network. This is something that is usually so far out of my comfort zone but so much easier to accomplish at ISTE. Tomorrow is the big day of our poster presentation on PBL, so tomorrow is sure to be filled with memories as well!

Jun 28

#ISTE2014 Day 2: Kicking it off!

photo 1-3I arrived to the Georgia World Congress Center around 1:45 pm today. My goal was to go the opening Ignite Session. I had NO IDEA how popular an event this would be! When I walked in, there were people everywhere. It was a much different atmosphere from yesterday’s #HackEd14. I saw a very long line and wondered what it was for. I realized pretty quickly it was for the Ignite session. I realized pretty quickly I would not get a seat, so I spent the time networking instead. There is a great networking game in the ISTE app, and you’ll find small groups of people huddled around their phones swapping codes. It’s actually a great way to meet people!

I ran into my colleague, and we walked around to get our bearings and to figure out where the opening keynote address with Ashley Judd would be held. We found our way, and then we headed to the ISTE networking session and our Gwinnett meet up. It was a great time learning about the ISTE communities, meeting up with other teachers from my county, and best of all, finding my TK teammate, Krissy!

Mnii TK reunion with Krissy

Mnii TK reunion with Krissy

Around 4:30, we decided to make our way to the forming line for the opening keynote address. Once we found the line, we joined in and wondered if we would ever make it to the hall. Well, once the line finally started moving, our fears were alleviated. We got into the hall, and it was massive! It really helped me to see what a large conference ISTE truly is. Early this year, I went to the NSTA National Conference in Boston, but the size of that event could not compare! We learned that there are over 14,000 attendees this year representing all 50 US states and 73 countries. Wow! There was also an awesome jazz band from New Orleans kicking off the keynote: Young Fellaz Brass Band. Ashley Judd was the keynote, and it was very interesting. I even had an Instagram photograph featured on the big screen!

Massive space for the keynotes

Massive space for the keynotes

Awesome jazz band

Awesome jazz band

Massive Crowd!

Massive Crowd!

I'm on the big screen!

I’m on the big screen!

After the keynote was the welcome party. There were some great poster sessions to walk around and see. There was food for everyone to enjoy, and Eric Hutchinson was playing.  Overall, it was a great day kicking off the official conference. Tomorrow, the real fun starts with playground, sessions, and the exhibit hall opens.

Welcome Party refreshments

Welcome Party refreshments

Jun 27

#HackEd14 and My First Day at #ISTE2014

It’s finally here – ISTE2014! I am so excited to finally be able to attend this conference. It’s been on my wish list for a long time. Today was ISTE Unplugged known this year as Hack Education 2014. This was a true unconference. Participants did not need to be registered for ISTE to attend.

Don't miss your King of Pops welcome treat!

Don’t miss your King of Pops welcome treat!

Since ISTE registration was already open, I decided to check in first and pick up my badge. This was handy to have throughout the day because it made sharing info easier. The check-in info included coupons and raffle tickets. I highly recommend the coupon for the welcome treat from King of Pops – a peach pop. I’ve had King of Pops before, and they are amazing!

We began the morning with putting ideas for conversations on large pieces of paper and getting to know each other. Then, we voted on the sessions we were most interested in using dot stickers. The next step was to compile the votes and post the schedule on the wiki. Our first “session” started at 10 am, and we walked to the appointed areas and started forming groups. The idea was not to have more than 20 people in a group so that conversations were easily fostered.

For my first session, I chose to go to the Maker Spaces/Girls in STEM conversation. We had a very large group, so we broke out into a smaller group and had a fabulous conversation about girls in STEM and how to engage girls through making. One of the coolest things that was shared in our conversation was a blog called KikiMaker, the making journey of a 10-year-old girl who started making when she was seven.

The second session I joined in a conversation about project based learning. Since I’ve been on the PBL journey for over a year now, I really wanted to hear what other people are doing. Again, we started as a very large group and then broke off into smaller groups to have conversations. We all shared what are experiences have been including ideas for overcoming struggles. A few more participants joined us, and Ginger Lewman also chimed in with her expertise. It was awesome to have her join and share with us.

HackEd group thanks to Padlet

HackEd group (@Padlet)

We then had our group photo. Ironically, Steve Hargadon, our organizer had shared with us earlier in the day that we would not retake the photo if anyone was late or missed it, and he was late to the photo. It was still fun having our group photographed together.

Lunch was followed by the smack down session. I was very glad to find out that all of the great apps were compiled for later reference. I’ll admit, the smack down was very fast moving, so it was hard to keep up.

The last session I attended was about setting up maker spaces in schools. It was awesome to hear first hand from other educators who have already implemented making into their classrooms and clubs. Hearing stories of students making to help them learn were inspiring. I am going to have some pretty cool tools to play with this fall, and I look forward to setting up our own maker space.

Going ribbon crazy!The final round of sessions I didn’t see anything I wanted to attend, so my colleague and I decided to go explore ISTE Central. We hadn’t really stopped in at the welcome center, and we saw many people wearing multiple ribbons on their badges. Being nerdy, we wanted lots of ribbons as well. We came away from there with several ribbons, so if you’re looking to ribbon up, be sure to stop by. There are other places as well to find ribbons over the next few days. We also checked out the ISTE bookstore and stopped to make new friends.

The last stop of the day was for a maker event hosted by Bird Brain Technologies. They make the Hummingbird Robotics Kit, and we had a chance to build our own robot, program it, and watch it work. It was a lot of fun, and I made “new” friends while we built our robot together: @slmteched, @SuzanBrandt, and @ezigbo_. It’s funny when you meet someone, exchange Twitter handles and realize you already follow each other.

It’s hard to believe the official activities haven’t even started yet! I can only imagine what amazing experiences the next few days will bring. I am so excited to be a part of ISTE 2014!

Working on our robot (@slmteched)

Working on our robot (@slmteched)

Finished robot! (@suzanbrandt)

Finished robot! (@suzanbrandt)


Jun 26

The “Teachers Get Summers Off” Debate

SummerIt’s summer, and everyone knows that teachers get summers off. I was thinking about this while I was on my morning run.

My morning run. During the school year, I don’t have the time for a morning run, so this is definitely a major perk of the summer.

And I’m blogging. It’s a lot easier to find time to blog during the summer. I do have more free time, and I’m not coming home exhausted at the end of a long day.

So, do teachers really get summers off? I guess that depends on your definition of “off.” If you mean two months of relaxing, vacationing, and doing not much of anything, then, no, teachers don’t really get summers off. However, if you mean off in the sense that there is a break in the daily routine, time to reflect, recharge, and rejuvenate, then, yes, teachers definitely get summers off.

My typical summer consists of professional development, conferences, a science adventure, reflecting on the previous year, and planning for the upcoming year. I also spend my summers rebooting myself. I usually start the school year out heating pretty well and exercising pretty regularly. As the school year progresses, my schedule gets crazier, and I start to eat lazily and find less and less time for exercise. One of the best parts of summer is having time to get back on track with how I eat and how often I exercise. Having mornings to run, for instance, is priceless. During a Georgia summer, the mornings are the best time to run. Other times of the day are pretty much impossible!

A few years ago, I began summer adventures. My very first summer adventure was at Honeywell Space Academy for Educators in 2011 followed by going to Florida for the final launch of the space shuttle program, STS-135. That was a pretty amazing summer, and I wondered how I could possibly follow it up. But since then summers have included Advanced Space Academy for Educators and flying weightless with NASA. This year, I have two exciting adventures starting soon!

So what is the Summer of 2014 like for me? Here’s a quick overview:

  • Academy PBL Training
  • Engineering Software Training
  • Completed writing an online course for my district
  • Engineering and STEM professional development
  • Gwinnett Digital Learning Conference (both an attendee and a presenter)
  • ISTE 2014 – I am very excited about this as it’s my first ISTE experience, and we are presenting about our PBL program
  • Running the Peachtree Road Race
  • Creeks to Coast with Georgia Aquarium
  • Flight Experiments Workshop with Teachers in Space focused on launching a high altitude balloon

I LOVE having a full summer. Professional development experiences, conferences, and summer adventures help to refresh and recharge my teaching batteries. It is a blessing to have an open summer in order to fill it up with these amazing experiences.

Yes, I do have summers off. I have summers off from my classroom and interacting with students every day. I have summers off from scores of important emails that need immediate responses. I have summers off from wondering when I can sneak to the bathroom next. I have summers off from 12 hour days spent at school.

But I also have summers off from laughing with students every day. I have summers off from inspiring students to find their passions and discover the wonders of science. I have summers off from interacting and learning with my colleagues each day.

Having the summer off is a gift. It’s a gift of reenergizing, relaxing, and getting inspired. It’s a gift of time. It’s a gift of preparation, and I believe my summers help me be a better teacher. I am so thankful for summers off! (But I am looking forward to the start of school again in the “fall.”)

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