Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Guest post on A Year of Fatherhood

My colleague and friend +Devin Schoening contacted me to write a guest post for his "A Year of Fatherhood" blog where he has been writing a post a day for an entire year!  This is an impressive feat in my opinion, but more importantly as I have been following it, it has often been thought provoking for me as a dad to read and reflect upon my own fatherhood in its current state and how "I am doing" as a father.

It should be noted that my friend Devin and I have a +Dads InEd Google Hangout LIVE show bi-weekly typically, with our other friend and colleague +Josh Allen as well.  The three of us talk about a variety of things in education and particular about being fathers within education.  We podcast it and publish it in iTunes as well so give it a listen or look sometime.

With all that being said, I was honored Devin asked me to write a post for his blog because I have been following his blog for this entire year and have left him comments or many times he has provoked thoughts that I didn't publicly comment back about, but it made me think and relate it to my situation.

Being a father isn't easy, and I am far from perfect, but I know I want to be the best possible dad I can be.  That, of course, is easy to say, but very hard to follow up on.  I have always preached and believed in learning from my mistakes and that others should do the same.  I have learned a tremendous amount about being a father by all the great role models I have had in my life, from my own dad, grandpa, uncles, brother, and other friends.  I have always prided myself on pulling the positive qualities of someone I admire into my way of doing business in all aspects of my life, particularly as a father.  I catch myself now as a father of 4 children saying the exact same things my dad said to me.  This is kind of scary!

There are so many things I want to improve upon as a father.  I want to be more present.  I want to have more patience.  I want to create memorable moments and say the right things when it counts.  I have so many defining moments in my life that have defined who I am today as a man, father, and educator.

I know in my life because of the fact that I have decided to bring children into this world that they are my responsibility and mine alone.  Of course, I wish and hope that my family, my wife's family, and friends are involved in things with our kids as well as interactions with their cousins.  At the end of the day though, the four kids I have thankfully brought into the world have changed much of how the way my life works now.  No longer are the days, weekends, and summers spent doing, traveling, and playing as I see fit whenever I want.  Their schedule dictates things now.

This transition at times has been difficult and sometimes not that hard at all.  It's a catch 22.  When you have friends that are lucky to have grandparents that LOVE to watch their kids and they are going out and you can't because you don't have the same luck to have grandparents biting at the bit to watch my kids it can be difficult and frustrating at times.  On the other hand, one might argue that I shouldn't be going out anyway.

Another area that has gotten extremely difficult to keep up with is in the relationship with my wife.  It's so easy to get caught up in raising our 4 kids and changing diapers, giving baths, cooking food, picking up the mess after they eat, and on and on.  Then by the time they are finally asleep we are both exhausted and fall fast asleep ourselves.  Defining times together and apart from the kids on "date nights" is very important and something I wish we were able to do a little bit better.

All I know is this.  I love my kids.  They are good kids.  They sometimes drive me nuts.  Sometimes make me laugh.  Sometimes make me cry.  On this journey of fatherhood and raising these little ones I don't have all the answers, but knowing that I will do my best is all I can ask of myself and the same I will ask of them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

My own personal struggle

I recently became the Director of Technology for Independence School District in Kansas City, Missouri!  I am over the moon and thrilled about this opportunity for myself professionally and for my family to relocate to the Kansas City area, a place my wife and I really wanted to be with our family.

This professional opportunity is second to none at this point in my career.  I am all in and I will work my tail off to do the best I can to make "technology" as a whole within my district the best it can be!  I have big dreams and aspirations coming into this position and I truly hope to redefine the position and put my stamp on what's possible from this seat!

Over lunch, (me eating my sack lunch in my new office by myself) I decided to go to the TED Talks Youtube channel and find a video to watch.  I luckily stumbled on to this one by Sherry Turkle:  Connected, but alone?

This TED talk by Sherry Turkle is fantastic in my opinion and it really got me thinking and inspired this post.  Her words of wisdom should be heard by all of us who are "connected" and it made me pause and reflect upon my own personal use of technology and the way I have "connected" myself.

I should mention I feel it is very important as an educator to be "connected", which is a term widely used today by educators in the realm of using tools like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Voxer, and others to get connected to others!  These tools I use both personally and professionally.  This is where my own personal struggle comes into play.  I have said and would say that becoming a "connected" educator has completely revolutionized the game for me in a positive way!  Having access to the world and so many amazing educators out there is amazing!  At the same time I have personally connected myself with those tools from a family and professional standpoint.  Am I using it too much?  When am I disconnecting?  Sherry Turkle brings up some very good points one which really struck me: "We expect more from technology and less from each other".  And she asks herself why have things come to this and she said "Technology appeals to us where we are most vulnerable" and we are vulnerable "we're lonely but we're afraid of intimacy" so social networks can give us "the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship".  Perhaps I am on my phone too much.  Perhaps my wife is too.  Perhaps this connected-ness has hit me where I'm vulnerable like Sherry Turkle suggest.  With lots of kids in our house are we bringing them up properly in this digitally connected world we live in?  As a husband and dad should I be unplugging every night, twice a week, at the dinner table, every night, on the weekend?  I struggle with this.  Do you?

On the same day of watching the TED talk mentioned above, I came across this Social Media Experiment video that was interesting and scary to me at the same time.  I found it fascinating actually, but again, scary.  Just watch:

This would be the where my wife would say to me "don't be posting that and telling people where we are".  My wife is not using an Social Media tools and does not want to.  This video really made me think.  It made me think twice about what am I posting and WHY am I posting it.  I also thought about all the kids posting that, like me, are / were probably ignorant to the possibility of this.  I knew this was possible, but for some reason today watching this video it struck a different chord with me.  Your thoughts?

 Another aspect of this struggle for me is professionally what I expect or wish most every classroom looked like in 2014.  I believe that kids need access to devices.  Whether that's a lab of computers, Chromebooks, or iPads makes no difference to me, but it be about kids having access.  Sadly to me there are often company lines drawn and you either have to be Google or Apple.  Is that what is best for kids?  I would argue maybe it's not.  I think at times I would love to have access to a Chromebook and then there are times I would love to have access to an iPad.  As a teacher it is about the lesson and devices like Chromebooks and iPads serve certain needs and both can help serve those needs very well, but they are often limited within those needs.  Could there be an environment where access to multiple types of devices could work?  I can't tell you how many educators I have talked to all over the country that are limited to one thing.  Yes I fully understand that budgets play a part in this, but so does planning, vision, and tenacity!

In closing, I just know that part of my struggle comes from my love and passion for technology in education as well as my love for my family!  I have been a part of so many amazing things happening with kids in classrooms that had access.  I have been blessed to use technology to easily connect with my brother and his family in Florida thousands of miles away.  Perhaps the balance issue is rearing it's ugly head again in my world and these two videos helped me reflect a bit more on where I am and perhaps where I need to go with all this fabulous technology in my life both professionally and personally.

I would love to know your thoughts about any of all of this.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Too good to pass up

Once again I had opportunity knock at my door.  It you read my most recent post When Opportunity Knocks then you know I had accepted a position for the Grant Wood AEA in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as a Technology Consultant for next year and would be leaving Bellevue Public Schools.

After verbally accepting the position at the Grant Wood AEA with my friend +Stacy Behmer this past week I was contacted by the Independence School District in Kansas City, Missouri to come in for an interview for the Director of Technology position being vacated by Blake Zachary because he was returning home to Indiana to be closer to family.  I decided to go down to KC for the interview.

They called me back and offered me the position!

I was now faced with the very tough task of calling my friend Stacy to let her know that I wanted to get out of my verbal agreement to accept a position with the Grant Wood AEA because I wanted to accept the Director of Technology job in Independence.  This was a terribly difficult phone call to make because I am a loyal person who stands by my word and because I highly respect Stacy and the Grant Wood AEA.  I feel terrible about this solely because of my friendship and respect for her.  Thankfully, she understood the gravity of the situation and knew this was a dream location for my wife and I to end up.  Never mind the fact it was a great opportunity for me professionally!

This Director of Technology position is a dream come true for many reasons.  First of all, I have been burning again to lead in this capacity in schools because of my love of instructional technology and my desire to lead!  I think my impact could be far greater and further reaching in this position.  Secondly, my wife and I have been dreaming about living in the Kansas City area for many years and to see that come to life is seriously amazing!  We are over the moon!  It is closer to home (Omaha) and the Lake of the Ozarks where my family spends lots of vacation time every year!  It honestly couldn't be any better in our minds.

So it is with a heavy heart that I tell Stacy and the Grant Wood AEA team that I am not coming to Iowa and joining Independence School District as their new Director of Technology instead!

I am extremely excited about this opportunity to join and help lead the Technology / Learning initiatives with Independence School District beginning July 1st.  Stay tuned....

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Our Challenge Today

I have been contemplating this post for a long time!  Recently I had the opportunity to attend the NETA (Nebraska Education Technology Association) conference here in Nebraska.

It led me to an impromptu conversation with +David Evertson +Heather Callihan and +Josh Allen.  This conversation has led me to finally get this post out!

I have for some time now been formulating lots of thoughts and ideas on technology integration in schools.  I have been around education now for 16 years and have learned a thing or two along the way.  I have always tried to incorporate tech into my classroom and as a principal.  In my current role as a technology integration specialist I am of course working with tech daily.  Why have I done all this, perhaps because I saw it as an engaging tool for kids especially?

In my conversation I mentioned, one of the 1st points Dave made was how he felt everything has been flipped upside down in education and leadership no longer has the upper hand in the realm of technology integration and his point to Heather, Josh, and I was that we needed to get into the game by leading the schools!  That Technology Integration people like us had to become the change in order for things to happen, that people had to quit complaining about administration not embracing or supporting tech because they didn't know any better, they were not prepared to lead with it.  So in order for things to happen WE had to make it happen!

This point struck me because I thought he was spot on.  I have reached this point in my career again where I feel like I have to be that change on a higher level in order to see the impact I want to see and I dream about in my technology integrated dream worlds.  Perhaps one would say that is why I have made a very strategic career move going into next year.  Dave talked about us being strategic in order for the change we want to see happen to happen.  I feel like I'm on that path!  Dave challenged me though with how soon will this change take place or how soon should it happen?  I struggle mightily with this because of my own 4 kids.  I don't feel like there is a timeframe that is acceptable because when I look up at a calendar and see 2014 I think we should already be there, but the bottom line is in many cases we are not.

In our discussion we talked about how districts were in a race to get 1 to 1 and no one knew what they were doing when they got there!  I have been saying this for a long time to anyone who would listen.  Some districts I know have only done it for self proclaimed marketing sake.  That being said, I feel there are many a districts out there who may be 1 to 1 with some kind of device and are not truly doing anything significant with it.

Dave Evertson wrote this post.  Which leads me to my next point.  Dave visited with us about when is this change going to happen and how soon should it happen?!?  I mentioned how this is a point that I struggle with.  He brought up the idea a Revolution and that perhaps education and especially education with technology integrated within it should be a common place in schools today not 2020 or 2025?  That will be too late!  I agree with Dave in that we can't wait forever and we are on a tipping point in today's world with technology integration.

I have often struggled with how a teacher would not want to integrate technology within their classroom.  Can a teacher in 2014 completely ignore it?  Can we continue to completely ignore or ban the use of Social Media?  Is it fair for a school / district to not have technology access of some kind for its kids?

I conclude with this.  I am ready to take on Dave's challenge highlighted in his post and I am on my way to doing that!  Thanks Dave, Heather, and Josh for a great conversation.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

When Opportunity Knocks

I have a big brother named Shane.  He is an awesome big bro and I can vividly remember a conversation we had once when I was a senior in high school and he was a senior in college.  I was at a gathering at his house with all his buddies and he put his arm around me and said,

"lil' Cat, let me tell you something, when you get your chance and opportunity knocks at the door, don't let those opportunities pass you by"

Well, opportunity has knocked at my door and I am going to go for it!  I have accepted a Technology Consultant job for the Grant Wood AEA (Area Education Agency) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  I am going to be joining a team of wonderful, proven, leaders in technology integration like +Jonathan Wylie +Gina Rogers and my boss to be +Stacy Behmer!!

I honestly cannot wait to join the team!  I think I have alot to offer the team and I look forward to learning and growing with all of them.  I know I have so much to learn!

Of course, this decision was difficult to make because it meant I was leaving my hometown for the past 38 years of my life in Omaha / Bellevue (I'm 38!).  It also meant I was going to have to leave Bellevue Public Schools where I have truly enjoyed the last 7 years of my career!

But opportunity has knocked.

This move is BIG and it has its pros and cons just like anything in life and I am so incredibly excited to make this move!  If I could I would pack up today and make it happen!  When I think back to that comment my brother made to me 20 years ago I can say it has always resonated with me and I have honestly tried to live by it.  I think change is good.  I think change is healthy.  I have never been the type of person or educator that was going to do 1 job forever.  It's not in my make up.  I thrive on new challenges, new places to go, and new people to meet!  Anyone that knows me knows that I am loyal.  So this decision of course becomes terribly difficult because I am leaving the great state of Nebraska where I have been born and raised and Bellevue Public Schools where we have been making incredible things happen with technology integration in schools with GAFE and our iPad Academy.  To my NE friends, trust me that no Iowans will be converting this Husker for life anytime soon.  ;  )

I am however excited to join a great state like Iowa that has so many progressive educators within it and build upon my skills and talents in its state!

This move is strategic for me.  I have my plans and my goals coming in.  In a conversation at NETA this year with +Dave Evertson +Heather Callihan and +Josh Allen I was challenged by Dave to make the change happen that we want to see.  This is a part of my decision and dreams in this move!  (a whole nother blog post is warranted by this conversation with Dave, Heather, and Josh alone that will be coming soon)

My family, particularly my amazingly supportive wife Josie, are 100% behind me and we are really excited to have Josie home with the kids next school year and beyond!  This move affords us so many new opportunities as a family and we cannot wait to see how everything plays out!

Thanks to all of you in my PLN & BPS that have made my job so much fun everyday and supported me!  Even though I'm moving I am still the same old Brent and I am a tweet or Google Hangout away!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stuck on Stick Around

On December 13, 2013 +Tony Vincent came out with a new app called +Stick Around

I love it and I think it has tremendous potential!  Essentially the app allows you to create "puzzles" to share out to your students.  These puzzles can be anything you can think of and can tie to any curriculum there is within our schools, from foreign language in high school to Dr. Suess in grade school.  Math, Science, Social Studies, Grammar, Health, Reading, and Words their Way in my district are areas of curriculum that we are tieing puzzles to which are all easily created, shared, and learned.

+Tony Vincent of course is amazing and has wonderful resources available for you to learn up on his new app Stick Around.  I would start with his website http://learninginhand.com/ from there you can click on the Stick Around icon and go to this page loaded with video tutorials, blog, user guide, and other great resources.

Watch this great 1:39 trailer via Vimeo on Stick Around!

In my district we have our #ipadacademy which is comprised of 38 teachers and classrooms using 1:1 ipads with their students!

We have many of those 38 classrooms using the Stick Around App and they love it!  The possibilities are truly endless with what a teacher could create for his or her classroom to drive home a concept the students need to learn, to review concepts, to challenge them, quiz them, or to just plain have FUN!  These puzzles can easily be considered formative assessments.

Teachers in our #ipadacademy are creating all sorts of puzzles on a variety of things and here is perhaps where the greatest beauty of Stick Around occurs in my opinion.
As you can see above and to the right, we created a Shared Google Drive Folder and broke it down by grade level and then within the grade level broke it down by subject or content area.  The greatness then occurs because the folder is shared to everyone and that means everyone can access everyone else's puzzles whenever they want.  They can also look through other grade levels to get ideas!  So in our case within the #ipadacademy we have teachers sprinkled all over the district.  Let's take 4th grade for example, there are four 4th grade teachers at three different buildings.  One of those teachers could create a puzzle one morning for Math because they were inspired to do so and the moment they drop the .stickaround file / puzzle into the Math shared Google Drive folder the others would immediately have access to it and be able to copy it and drop it to their students in a matter of a few taps or clicks.

Student created Math puzzle
So let's discuss the student aspect of this.  I have coached our teachers to use shared folders in Google Drive with their students as well.  Most of the teachers I work with have used gClassFolders for this process.  gClassFolders does an amazing job of creating View and Edit folders for all of your students really quickly with limited work.  Watch this great tutorial by my #nebedu friend Mickie Mueller to see what it can do!  It is seriously amazing and worth learning if you are a heavy Google Drive user with students like we are.

Student created Science puzzle
Once students have those folders shared with them in Google Drive they need to add those folders to their Drive by selecting them and choosing "add to my drive" so they can easily access the puzzles that are shared with them from the teachers.  Also, more importantly, we have found this to be the easiest way to have kids share the puzzles they have proudly created to their classmates.  Trust me when I say the kids will love creating puzzles and the cool thing is some of your students may come up with ideas / puzzles you did not even think of and then it very well may become the featured puzzle to drive home a concept within your curriculum.

Student created Math puzzle
There is so much pride taken by students in creating their puzzles and the other interesting part of this is the fact that kids are taking the time to create these puzzles is in its own way them learning the concepts.  The fact that they have to think about the right and wrong answers of a puzzle they are creating really helps them retain the concepts.  Once they start sharing their puzzles on a given concept to the shared Google Drive folders their classmates have even more practice happens on concepts as they "play" each others puzzles.  It's a WIN WIN!  or perhaps an #eduwin!!  You can't go wrong with this app!!

Our #ipadacademy Google Hangout with Tony!

Another amazing thing about Stick Around is Tony Vincent!  Tony and his team are approachable and willing to listen to the suggestions of educators and our students.  App improvements are continuing to come out and Tony and Stick Around are approachable on Twitter and Google Plus.  Read up here on how our #ipadacademy connected with Tony via Google Hangout!

Another great resource to check out is this wikispace where teachers can share and steal other puzzle ideas to and from:
Stick Around is on Pinterest too!
Like them on Facebook!

Quite simply I am STUCK ON STICK AROUND because of its capabilities, its ease of use, and its versatility with Google Drive.  I highly recommend you check it out in the APP Store near you!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just in the nick of time

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend my 4th Edcamp Omaha on the UNO campus.  I will start with:  I have never met an Edcamp I did not like.  This was no different!  I loved it and had a blast!  Actually, in all honesty, I needed it.

This time of year can sometimes be tricky to find motivation, inspiration, and the energy to keep working hard to finish the school year strong!

As I mentioned this was my 4th Edcamp Omaha, but my 9th overall Edcamp I have attended.  Technically I could add 2 more to that total for 11 if I counted Husky Edcamp that my friend +Craig Badura has invited me to come to the past couple of years in his district for their PD day, but who's counting anyway.  It's possible my numbers are off because I am terrible with dates and keeping track of stuff like this!  I wrote about Husky Edcamp if you care to read.

There are simple reasons as to why I have attended so many.  Edcamps never let me down!  This personalized professional development is always beneficial and rewarding for me to attend!  I read this post by Alex Glade who edcamp Omaha this year and I was surprised at his apprehension and thoughts of not getting something from it, but you will see he soon found out he was wrong and enjoyed it.  The other interesting thing to me was I never crossed paths with him and he attended 4 different sessions than me and he also had a great day!  Hmmmm.  Maybe Edcamp is on to something!

This year was even better than I anticipated it being for several reasons!  My colleagues pictured here to the right plus several others not pictured from my district came!  Never have we had this many people from our district come.  Not even close to these kinds of numbers, but this year was different and many of the educators I work with in our #ipadacademy showed up and even surprised me with the shirt at the left!  So cool!  I was shocked!  As you can see they were all wearing them too!  It was so awesome having #TeamCAT represented so well.  I was shocked, honored, and humbled by all of them!  Thank you guys so much!

I only ran one session this time at the beginning of the day called SPEED Dating EDU / Tech Style.  I got this idea from following #edcampLiberty one Saturday via Twitter.  My goals for the session were to get people up and moving while at the same time meeting new people, having conversations, and making new connections.  Of course, learning an app or educational tool within the time allotted wouldn't hurt either.  It was very fun, interactive and maybe a little loud, evident by the tweet below:

Stacy Behmer showing off her Google Glass!
After that I attended Let's Get Smashed with +Craig Badura & +Heather Callihan on App Smashing and had a blast!  In fact my colleagues +Jennifer Manning & +Michelle Boyce put together this app smash that I lended my voice and picture too.  Watch this 18 seconds:  http://youtu.be/AYYWRXDFdIs

Lunch was fabulous as well, I was able to eat with Craig, Heather, Michelle, Sharae, Jenn, Terrie, Peg, and Darin Swenson from Minnesota.  I was excited to visit with Darin because Edcamp Omaha was the 1st time we had met face to face so it was fun to connect with someone like him that is within my extended PLN on Twitter!  Read Darin's post on his 1st edcamp in Omaha.

The afternoon was also fabulous!  As the lucky Coach of +Michelle Boyce I encouraged her to put up a session on her up and coming Agile Classroom that she has written about here.  She did an awesome job moderating her session, sharing her story, and allowing for conversation, the true essence of edcamp in my opinion.  It was perhaps my favorite session of the day!  The conversation was rich and encouraging for both of us!  You can read about her experience at her first edcamp here:  http://boycetownipadclass.blogspot.com/2014/03/3-cheers-for-edcamp.html

I finished my day in the awe-inspiring +Laura Gilchrist photo session!  We were all encouraged to become "camera-toting teachers"!  It was so much fun and inspiring!  I believe that education could use more pictures telling its story and Laura does such an amazing job with this and she shared all her secrets of success with us as we bantered and played around together in the session.  The picture below is courtesy of Laura's Flickr set for Edcamp Omaha she created, which you can see here:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/gilchristlaura/sets/72157642787485724/
Group picture from Laura's session!
I finished my evening having dinner with several edcamp goers downtown at the Blatt!  It was cool too because I got to meet the married couple Beth and Chris Basinger from Iowa and had a nice visit with them.  Also, I got a chance to spend time visiting with Toby Brown which is always good.  Making new connections like this and seeing old friends and personalizing your own professional development are what makes edcamp so special to me.  I was overjoyed by the amount of people from my district that attended.  I have been to so many great edcamps and they have become a part of my lifeline in education.  I'm not sure what I would do without them.

I encourage you to read my colleague +Jennifer Manning 's amazing reflection on her 1st edcamp here:  http://mipadclass.blogspot.com/2014/03/edcampedcampedcampomaha.html

I think my colleagues Jenn, Sharae, Michelle, and the #ipadacademy folks made this year's edcamp Omaha my personal favorite so far because seeing the light bulbs turn on for them and having them see what I have seen by attending edcamps just simply makes me happy.  I believe many of them now have the same bug I have where they will be craving another edcamp sooner than later to recharge their batteries for FREE!  Also, being suprised by my Team from #ipadacademy was extra special as well.  Thanks again to all of you!  You know I think you all rock and I am so impressed by all of you!

My colleague +Ann Feldmann also wrote about her edcamp Omaha experience here.

Some more fun had in our photo session with +Eliu Paopao and young student Liv Nebel:
Liv and I won in case you were wondering.
This edcamp for me was just in the nick of time.  I needed this blast of energizing, free, personalized, professional development, surrounded by like minded educators who want to share, learn, get better, and grow!  I feel absolutely rejuvenated to finish the year strong.  Thank you to everyone who made it super fabulous as usual!

Special thanks to +Josh Allen and +Kristina Peters for co-organizing this fabulous event and to +Bob Goeman for hosting it at UNO!  Here is Kristina's reflection on the day.

O my GOSH, I almost forgot, you won't want to miss next year's edcamp!  Trust me!  Several of us took a tour on a possible slight change of venue on the UNO campus to a new building which will be off the chain!  Kristina and I were doing the happy dance to some Pharell, literally!  It is a gorgeous new building with state of the art equipment that shall be amazing so long as Mr. Goeman can come through again!  Seriously amazing!

To further your growth on why you might want to attend an edcamp check out our +Dads InEd Google Hangout with co-founder of the Edcamp "un"conference with Dan Callahan as he talks about the Edcamp Foundation and Edcamp DOE (Department of Education) happening in Washington DC!

Check out the edcamp nearest you!