Thursday, March 26, 2020

Seen and Heard

As an educator in the midst of a pandemic and the new norm of #social distancing, the whole situation weighs on me in many ways, but there is also a deep sense of profound hope in humanity and the collective power of resilience and drawing from the wells of empathy. I find myself thinking about our students, especially the most vulnerable ones, day and night, wondering if they were able to get to the food pick-up stations to get their breakfast and lunch. I wonder how they will access their learning. I wonder how they will adjust to no longer having their teacher greet them every morning, read aloud to them, listen to them, laugh with them, and counsel them through a scrape on the playground, or a disagreement with their friends. I wonder, even if they were able to pick up the paper learning packets, how they will be able to complete them and what motivation they will have to complete them, knowing that these papers will not be submitted for feedback. For the ones who are able to access the online learning my district has set up, I wonder how the wifi will hold up and how their beautiful faces will be seen and their voices will be heard.

Seen and heard. This is my focus of late. How can every student continue to be seen and heard during these most challenging times? How can we leverage the technology and tools available to us to ensure that we are seeing and hearing our kids? To ensure that they are truly visible to us and that learning continues to be a two-way interaction.

I love how educators are engaging on Twitter to start these conversations. Here's one about pair programming that I loved. How can we continue to engage our students in computer science classes in collaboration and pair programming? This is a powerful way for them to be seen and heard.

I've seen Flipgrid being used - another powerful way to ensure students are being seen and heard, that their ideas and thoughts are made visible. And that teachers can respond. I love the message on their homepage - front and center - Empower Every Voice. And that remains our challenge and opportunity in these times - to make sure we are empowering our students' voices.

Today, I was able to participate in Scratch Team's Create-Along. This was another powerful way to see and hear our students. By creating an interactive card along with them, they are able to express themselves in personal and relevant ways. At the same time, we are also able to share our voice with them as well. And we do miss them!

WebEx, Zoom, Google Meet are other powerful tools that have taken on a whole new meaning to me in these times. Much more than tools to 'hold meetings,' I now see them as the lifeline, the vital link for us to see and hear our students...and to ensure that they see and hear us.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Learn Connect Engage

I love this view of the CSTA website. At its heart, the CS teacher community is all about learning and growing professionally while belonging to a strong connected community of fellow learners, and engaging in actions to advance equitable access to CS teaching and learning. To this end, I've been working with an amazing CSTA Arizona board and local partners to bring exactly these kinds of opportunities to teachers in Arizona who might otherwise feel isolated or be the only CS teacher in their school or district. We've had regional meet-ups in different areas of the state to provide for local engagement and annual fall convenings to share vision and strategic approaches to bring back to our respective areas. This past summer, we launched a whole week of CS professional development. The whole story is below and long overdue - it's one I submitted to CSTA Voice back in August - but with CSEd week just around the corner and our chapter beginning the plans for year 2 of CSPD week, no better time to tell our story of the power of partnerships and community to make amazing things happen to "learn, belong, and engage." As one teacher said at the end of the week, I feel like I've found my tribe!"

And here's a video of the week:

From CSTA Voice August 2019

CSTA Arizona: A summer of partnering, learning, and growing community

CSTA Arizona (CSTA AZ) held its first-ever AZ Computer Science Professional Development (CSPD) Week in June 2019. With the release of AZ K–12 computer science (CS) Standards in October 2018 and the launch of a new K–12 CS endorsement for teachers in May 2019, the timing was perfect to offer a week of high-quality CS PD for our K–12 teachers. 

Our initial conversations with CSTA led to further conversations with CSTA leaders in New Mexico who had led a CSPD week the previous year. Learning from another chapter about how they funded the week, reached out to providers, and scheduled the week was invaluable in lighting our path forward. With a clear framework in place, we were then able to customize the CSPD week experience for teachers and counselors in AZ. Our overall goal can be summarized in two words: learning and community. We wanted teachers to learn and expand their CS knowledge, skills, and dispositions in a way that aligned to our new standards and we wanted to build a strong CS community here in AZ. 

Partners & Funding
In addition to partnering with CSTA through a chapter grant, we also partnered with the Arizona Department of EducationArizona Governor’s Office for EducationArizona State University, and Arizona Community Foundation. Each of these local partners was essential to our success providing funding, plus logistical and on-the-ground support for our entire CSPD Week. Working with CSTA and Microsoft Stores, we were also able to provide micro:bits to every teacher. We also felt strongly about providing teacher stipends and aligning these stipends to our overall goal of building a strong CS community. We did this by writing a grant that covered the cost of all teachers becoming CSTA+ members and the cost of their registration upon completing the week of learning. 

At the core of AZ CSPD Week was the providers. We knew we wanted to have a menu of K–12 options for our educators in order to meet the varying needs of our CSTA AZ membership. Whether a kindergarten teacher, math teacher, K–5 STEM teacher, MS electives teacher, AP, or CTE CS teacher, we wanted everyone to have an opportunity to learn and develop their knowledge of CS content and practice. Our tracks are summarized in this menu.

Logistics, logistics, logistics
No matter how lofty the goal and vision of AZ CSPD Week, it’s important to carefully manage the logistics. Planning the registration and payment processes (if teachers are charged) is critical. Remembering to account for any parking fees associated with the venue is important. Thinking about how credit hours may be awarded to teachers is another consideration. Most importantly, ask for help! It truly takes a team to make this come together. 

Get Creative!
We kicked off the week with a short keynote that one of our partners, NCWIT C4C, recommended — this was a tremendous boost to the start of the week. We incorporated two field trips that highlighted ASU’s Decision Theater that models the application of big data and CS to solve problems. And a highlight of the week was a CSTA AZ meeting with ice-cream donated by a local Microsoft store. This was a great way to introduce brand-new CSTA members to the community we have right in AZ!

Teachers repeatedly thanked us for a fabulous week with many saying that it was the best professional development they have ever attended. This was due in large part to the excellent facilitators. The facilitators were top-notch and did not just teach content; they modeled what it means to be an engaged CS educator who exemplifies inclusive pedagogy, reflective practice, and community building. Listen to participants sharing experiences from the week here

Next Steps
We know that AZ CSPD Week is just the beginning. We have events planned for next year with the same two goals: to engage our CSTA AZ members in continual learning and becoming part of a strong CS community in AZ!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"Listen... change what's possible" This is one of the messages that is part of NCWIT's new messaging toolkit that can be found here, or at

I love this new messaging. Listen. This is where it all starts. Because 'the idea you don't have is the voice you haven't heard.' This is so true. How did I get involved with computer science? All from listening to a third grade student I taught who asked me how he could make a website. It's certainly an idea I never had until I heard it from my student's voice. This puts everything that I am as an educator in perspective. Building a positive classroom culture where my students feel safe to share ideas, voice concerns, innovate without limits - this is how the ideas that are in all of their minds and hearts have the opportunity to surface so that what were invisible ideas are made visible and heard through their voices.

It was that question from my student that sent me on a quest that continues to this day - to find ways to bring the opportunity learn and create with computer science to students K-12. It is that question that drives me to ensure that students have a voice and that inclusion thrives because this is how what is possible changes.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Curiosity in Action

I've been reading lately about the changing role of educators in today's classroom. This article highlights the need for teachers to take an active, student-centered approach to learning that focuses on questioning, critical thinking, and a culture that embraces authentic, relevant experiences. Questioning is critical for both the teacher and the student. It's essential that teachers are equipped with to explicitly model and teach questioning strategies so that they can help students in turn engage in asking questions for themselves. By asking questions, students become empowered learners and knowledge constructors (ISTE Student Standards). As important as questioning is, it is an art to both teach and apply to practice. It requires scaffolding, modeling, and useful frameworks. That's why I love this site called Knowledge Compass. It contains resources, articles, frameworks, models, examples, slideshows, toolkits, and more on questioning. For example, this page contains a set of question infographics that can be applied across the curriculum. These question frameworks are a great launchpad for any project based learning, problem-based learning, or research in the classroom. As a facilitator and designer of learning experiences with students at the center, teachers can use the Knowledge Compass to navigate the world around them by creating customized learning pathways and driving questions that are relevant and personalized to students' interests.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Nurturing Explorers

At a recent state science teachers conference, I learned about the National Geographic Geo-Inquiry process along with the professional development opportunities it offers for educators.

At the heart of the geo-inquiry process is the belief that students in our classrooms need to understand how the complex and dynamic human and natural systems interact in order to make wise decisions - decisions that impact the world around us in immediate and long-term ways. By using a geographic perspective and carefully analyzing the interconnections between the human and natural world, I am learning to look at ways in which I can develop my students' mindset, knowledge and skills. Recognizing opportunities to implement this in my classroom affords my students the opportunities to truly be explorers as their curiosity is ignited, they are empowered, and engage in responsible, collaborative decision-making. The National Geographic Learning Framework describes what it means to be an explorer. More about this framework in this video:

When it comes to implementation and student artifacts, I came across this Think with Google blog post that captures the spirit of what I want to do with students - be able to see things from their perspective while infusing the experience with the interconnectedness of the human and natural world. Think with Google has a marketing slant, but in this case, the post is all about celebrating and preserving Australian culture by using 360 images and layering these with audio to tell  and preserve their story through a StorySphere. Thanks to StreetView, the cultural significance of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park have been preserved. 

 Here's a quick StorySphere I put together to try it out for myself of none other than the Grand Canyon. I can't wait to try this out with students and to see the world from their perspective! 

A Community Approach to School Safety

School Safety - Challenges and Opportunities

I can still remember growing up with annual visits from the local police officer who would talk with us about staying safe in our neighborhood community. “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Walk straight home.” “Go home with a buddy.” “Don’t take candy from strangers.” Fast forward to the world my children are growing up in today. More than half of all households have a cell phone, but not a landline. Add to this the fact that 90% of U.S. households contain at least one smartphone, desktop/laptop computer, tablet or streaming media device, with the typical American household containing five of them. What does this mean for our families? That “children are accessing and viewing media in new ways now that the majority of American families have mobile and internet-connected devices at home. Smartphones, tablets, and other devices also present new challenges and opportunities for parents introducing media to their kids for the first time.” (Common Sense Media)

Challenge and Opportunities:
The same challenges and opportunities that parents face when introducing media to their children transfer to the classroom with educators and administrators. As a school community, we are charged with keeping our students safe. This notion of what it means to be ‘safe’ in our world today has dramatically expanded from the talks and reminders I got as a child from my local police officer. The definition of ‘community’ and where these ‘strangers’ come from and why they are has expanded to include online communities, forums, social media, chat spaces, and all forms of media sharing. This rapid expansion of contacts that our students have access to and who in turn have access to them, has in turn shifted what it means we need to do when it comes to educating our students about being safe in their community. Combined with the challenge of school safety and keeping kids physically and emotionally safe, has made us as an educational community acutely aware of the need to think about school safety in terms of a  comprehensive continuum. While we think about how to monitor who enters our buildings, we simultaneously need to consider who might be getting through firewalls. Superintendent of Paradise Valley Unified School District in Phoenix, AZ, clearly understands this need as he states, "As the needs and uses for technology explode exponentially, schools must assume responsibility for preparing students with the tools to safely navigate this environment.”  Donna Plaza, a 6th grade teacher shares, “Instructing students on digital citizenship definitely aligns with school safety.  The environment we create at school through positive expectations, promoting kindness, and appropriate use of technology builds a community at school that allows the students to feel safe.  Ultimately that is our goal.”
Along with challenges such as these come opportunities - opportunities to think and collaborate, opportunities to create solutions that did not previously exist. My district chose to take on this challenge through a unique approach by blending the two worlds of district IT department and school resource officers (SRO) together to benefit the children they serve. Technology integration specialists with experience implementing Common Sense Media lessons on digital citizenship in classrooms partnered with SROs and classroom teachers to deliver this curriculum.
Over a total of four weeks, technology integration specialists teamed up with the school’s SRO to teach 6th grade students two lessons a week that encompassed everything from raising awareness on how to live safely in our online world, but also, according to Principal Amy Moore, “showcasing how to use the potential of media outlets to create goodness, kindness, and positivity within our world and each other’s lives which is one of the greatest preventative strategies to school safety that we can promote.”  Through the series of lessons, the SRO teamed up with technology integration specialists to lead students to reflect on appropriate ways to use technology both in and outside of school. For example, through the Trillion Dollar Footprint lesson, students learned that they have a digital footprint from which information can be easily searched, copied and passed on.  As a result, they recognized that online information about people can either harm or help their reputation and image. At the end of the lesson, they created a personal digital footprint, as they shared accomplishments they hope to achieve in the next 10 years that included “Writing an article on how to go green and save animals,” “becoming a mathemusician,” and “creating my own website.”  The SRO was able to integrate this topic into a discussion on school threats that spread through social media outlets. Principal Amy Moore shares that the SRO made students aware of “the reality of ripple effects and consequences to making even idle threats on social media.  An awareness was created to students understanding the power of social media and lifelong outcomes it can have.”
The benefits to this shared and comprehensive approach to school safety was tremendous. Beyond the valuable content and immediately applicable skills covered in the lessons, Ms. Plaza was inspired to start the next school year with the digital citizenship for all of her students. Not only so, she plans to engage parents “so they have a better understanding of what their children face in the world of technology today.” Through this collaborative and community-based teaching approach, Ms. Plaza’s students connected with the SRO as he developed a rapport with them, with several of them seeking him out for guidance on matters other than digital citizenship.  Ms Plaza truly recognizes that “In these turbulent times it is important for our students to see our police as approachable, helpful, and knowledgeable.” It is truly incredible to see what can happen when partners come together - community is built, students are inspired, reflection takes place, and change happens to bring in a safer, kinder world. Jill Felty and Cathy Cumbee, the IT specialists shared, “As a result of the partnership, we experienced the value of a team approach (principal, teacher, SRO, IT facilitators) to build a supportive environment for students to discuss their online experiences and learn how to be proactive and positive online.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Igniting Wonder in Young Minds

I love the tagline for Google Science Journal - inspire and empower. When it comes to science, I also think of igniting that sense of wonder in their minds so that they are asking the questions of "Why does that work the way it does?" "What if I do this? What will happen next?" "How can I make ____ happen?" Science is all about noticing patterns, making connections, and continually asking questions based on observed phenomena - and more often than not, observations include collecting data. So you can imagine how excited I was to find Google Science Journal - an app that can be added to any device and one that makes use of the sensors right on the phone to collect data and make sense of the world around us.

The first thing that came to mind when I started using Science Journal was not even all the things that I could do that were related to science, but the tremendous potential this had for providing equity and access to all. Science for all really has a chance of happening with something like Science Journal in the hands of anyone who has a phone. All the teachers I've shown this to have been equally amazed. One commented about how excited she was for her students to see and use their phone as something other than a device to connect socially with friends.

I tried Science Journal out today with a class of third graders along with two colleagues. We ran a 45 minute session with students sharing one phone per pair of students. Each of us ran a 'center' using the three introductory experiments: Getting Started with Light, Getting Started with Sound, and Getting Started with Motion. Every 12-15 minutes, the students rotated so that had a chance to explore all three. The students were amazed and were able to make connections between what they were seeing and doing in the physical world with what the sensors were responding to. The graphs and numbers provided great visuals and made sense to them whether they were moving the phone along the x, y, and z dimensions or making sounds of various pitches. It is intuitive and definitely drives a sense of curiosity and exploration. At the end of each center, I tried to help the students to make a connection between what the sensor does on the phone and other sensors that are used for other purposes such as detecting earthquakes or when a goal is scored. To demonstrate a seismograph, we put the phones in the middle of a table while we moved the table back and forth. Students were able to observe the sensor at work in the graphs. The  chorus of "Wow! Cool!"said it all - they were definitely inspired and empowered!

The thank you notes from the students said it best of all. Here are some examples, in their own words:
"It is cool that a sensor can register how much light is hitting something...I think it is very cool because you can see how much different things are shaking...PS We could use a real sensor to insert in cars so they don't crash into each other."

"We think we could use the app for natural disasters. We think we should put a sensor on the fastest car in the world."

"I really enjoyed learning about movement, sound, and light. Something that surprised us is how the app could tell us different measurements. I would like to put a sensor on a pencil to see the different movements of our pencil."