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.”)

Jun 23

It was time to say goodbye to start a new adventure

Goodbye LanierA month ago, school wound down. Like other years, I started going through all of my supplies, papers, and books, purging out what I no longer needed. And just like many other years, I began packing up what remained of my classroom for a move. But this year, something was different. Instead of moving down the hall, upstairs, or into a brand new building, I am moving to a new school.

After eight years in my current position, I decided I was ready for a change, a new challenge, and a new adventure. As I packed up everything from my classroom and crammed it into my car, I was full of excitement, sadness, and wonder. I can’t wait for my new position! I can’t believe I am leaving great friends and a respected position behind. Am I making the right decision?

As I walked out the doors of “my” school for the last time, I was reminded of why I made this decision. I thrive on challenge, and I love to find innovative ways to educate students and engage their passions. I was starting to get too comfortable. I was no longer stretching forward as much as I had been eight years ago. It is time to start something new.

This fall, I will be teaching high school as part of a STEM academy. It’s a school within a school model. Our entire high school is going to project based learning (PBL), but the program I am joining, CDAT, has been doing multiple subject integrated project based learning for four years. The school I am joining was just certified as a Georgia STEM school, the first public high school to earn this distinction. One of the other exciting things about my new school is that it is the high school my middle school students feed into. This means I will have the opportunity to teach many of my former sixth grade students again as high schoolers. I am really looking forward to this.

I have already had a chance to work with my new team planning a couple of our projects for the fall. I am really looking forward to working more as part of this team. It’s going to be an amazing adventure. My goal will be to share how we do project based learning with you, so stay tuned for more on this amazing journey!

And were you wondering what I will be teaching? I’m joining our STEM academy, and I will be teaching chemistry, engineering, and a introduction to technology course this fall.


Jun 20

Announcing a river exploration adventure!

Creeks to CoastI’m so pleased to share that in just under a month I will be taking part in the Creeks to Coast workshop presented by Georgia Aquarium. Georgia-Pacific has generously provided funding for teachers (like me!) to take part in this week-long workshop adventure.

During Creeks to Coast, we will be studying the Chattahoochee River and watershed from its source in North Georgia to where it empties into Apalachicola Bay in Florida. During the trip, I will be learning about how rainwater becomes part of the river system, how everyone is connected to a watershed, and how the Chattahoochee River impacts Georgia’s growth and economy. I’ll also have a chance to learn about the the biodiversity and ecosystems along the Chattahoochee River.

Last Wednesday, we had an introductory meeting about the program and also had a chance to learn about watersheds. A great way to explain watersheds to your students is to have them take the following steps with a piece of copy paper and a marker:

  1. Wad up the copy paper into a ball.
  2. Un-wad the copy paper, but let it stay in a 3D shape with ridges and valleys.
  3. Have students draw on the highest points (ridges) with a marker.
  4. Ask students to draw an “X” on the lowest points.

Then, go around and spray each student’s paper with water. Students can quickly see if they drew the watershed areas well by where the water pools. A watershed is the land area that drains into a river system. Divides (ridges) mark the boundaries between watershed areas.See the slideshow below for a visualization of this activity.

The Creeks to Coast adventure begins on July 9. I’ll be tweeting (@janellewilson), using instagram (janellewilson), and blogging (here) throughout the journey. I hope that you will follow along! Here are a list of hashtags and handles to follow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This opportunity was made possible through a sponsorship from Georgia-Pacific. However, all opinions reflected in this post are my own, and I did not receive additional compensation from the sponsor for this post.

Jun 17

I’m *that* kid!

A couple of weeks ago, I spend a week in professional development training for a couple pieces of software I’ll be using with students this fall. On the last day, we were able to take exams to become certified users of the software. And from my experience this week and with the exams, I’ve realized once again who I am in your classroom.

I’m *that* kid!

You know the one I’m talking about. As students, we all knew of one or two of these kids in our classes. As teachers, we see them every year.

That kid who you watch pick up new concepts in the blink of an eye.

That kid who sees once and remembers forever.

That kid who always seems two steps ahead of the rest of the class.

That kid who barely studies, races through a test, and gets good marks.

I’m *that* kid.

During my week at PD, I’ve also seen what it’s like to not be *that* kid. I saw the struggles for people when things don’t come easily. I saw people take different approaches to learning. And I remembered that all of these students are in our classrooms.

A lot of times we focus on the struggling learners or the average learners in the class. I understand, and I’ve done that, too. However, the opportunity for learning needs to be afforded to all students in our classrooms. Challenging *that* kid can be is a challenge. However, I think it’s just as important to push *that* kid as it is all the others in our classrooms. Plus it would benefit the entire class to see *that* kid find an appropriate struggle. The other students in the class wouldn’t feel inadequate, and they would see that struggle is necessary for growth and learning.

Why do we need to challenge *that* kid? Because one day in the future, *that* kid won’t be *that* kid anymore. They will meet a true challenge, and whether or not they are successful depends on past experiences. This lesson is easier to learn early in your school career. In my sixth grade gifted science classroom, I often found my students in their first grips with struggle. In my experience, I have found that the students who adapt to middle school the easiest are the ones who have had to struggle and learned to be successful in the past. Learning to persevere through struggle may be even more important than the learning objective.

So please, don’t forget *that* kid in your class. I promise he or she wants to be challenged, too. (Although they might not know it yet!) You can trust me on this because

I’m *that* kid.

(Except in college organic chemistry, and I wish I’d experienced the struggle sooner.)

Apr 29

We lost the stars…

Lost the starsIn the ever advancement of society and technology, we often forget to stop and think about what we have lost. As I was watching the most recent of episode of Cosmos (“Sisters of the Sun”), Neil deGrasse Tyson mentioned that we lost the stars with the advent of electric lights.

The other day as we were learning about where we are in the Milky Way Galaxy, I provided my students with a set of clues. Some of them mentioned the visible Milky Way. It lead to questions, and when at one point I explained that the Milky Way got its name because it looked like milk spilled across the sky by ancient peoples, they were surprised.

And why shouldn’t they be? Most students have never seen the wisps of the Milky Way across the sky. Even in the suburbs, there is enough light pollution to block out only the brightest stars. Our children have lost the stars, and they do not even know the stars are missing.

In education, we have also lost the stars.

Although we realize there is a problem with how we are educating our students, the solutions often seem to be just a re-branding of what we are already doing. We realize the vast majority of students are treated like a factory product. Even teachers are evaluated on the quality of the product (in student test scores). How did we lose the stars? We took all of the natural curiosity and thirst for learning from students and required everyone to learn a standard curriculum. Take a standard test. And somehow, learning fairly turned into everyone learning the same.

Maybe one day, there will be a widespread power outage at night. We’ll stop what we are doing, and gaze up at the sky. Then, for the first time in a long time, we will really see the stars. We’ll realize what we are missing, and as a society, we’ll choose to make a change.

Perhaps there will be a metaphorical power outage in education as well. We’ll realize what we were missing. We’ll remember the power of learning when students feed their own natural curiosities and interests. We’ll remember that learning is about passion, experiences, adventure, and fun. We’ll watch students remember how to learn authentically. We’ll choose to make a change.

And we’ll see the stars.

Apr 27

Funding Inspiration

funding inspirationI received a letter in my post box yesterday from a student in my neighborhood.

It made me sad.

It reminded me of how difficult it is to fully fund inspiring activities for students in our school systems. The letter explained that two teams from our local middle school (not where I teach) won the state Odyssey of the Mind Tournament and are now headed to the world finals at the end of May.

Exciting, right?

Except it goes on to explain that despite their numerous fundraising activities, they just do not have the funds yet for the 14 students to cover travel costs, lodging, meals, and transportation of materials. (It will cost about $1,000 per student.)

Isn’t it sad that students may miss out on an amazing STEM opportunity like this due to lack of funding?

It would be awesome if this were an isolated story, but sadly it’s not. I am sure almost every school extracurricular activity (especially STEM ones) has a similar story to tell. My Team Kennedy teammate, Kaci Heins, is currently raising funds to take a small group of students to see the launch of a rocket in June. It will be carrying an experiment they designed to the International Space Station! She has also been conducting a series of fundraisers for this project from the initial funding needed to get a spot on the rock to get the experiment on the International Space Station to travel expenses for the students to attend the launch.

It’s amazing that students have these incredible, authentic experiences in problem solving, engineering, and science. These are the type of adventures that hook students into the STEM careers that we keep hearing so much about.

But it’s sad that it takes so much to fund inspiration. I wonder what the solution is?

Feeling inspired yourself to help out one of these many worthy causes?

Donations for the Odyssey of the Mind Teams can be made out to DMS-OM and mailed to

C.W. Davis Middle School, c/o Kim Carroll, 4450 Hog Mountain Road, Flowery Branch, GA 30542

You can contact Kaci Heins via Twitter for information on how to donate funds to her students for the launch


And if neither of these interests you, find something amazing happening at your local school, and go support it!


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