Look out 15-16… Here We Come!

11694953_898606800175715_3501341556521079753_nWhere does summer go? It flies, that is for certain, but let’s face it, it makes us appreciate every moment and use the time to decompress and get ready to make the next year even better than the one before! As for me, I have spent as much time as possible just taking in the non-techy moments, and while that is sometimes hard to do, I gave it a good shot. Now it is time to get back into the swing of things, as here in Georgia we teachers head back in two short days!

#EdCampFayette sure did get me back into the moment last week at Sara Harp Minter. I loved hosting this great event at our school, and I loved watching so many of us there learning and sharing! I had a blast seeing so many like-minded educators jumping in and truly discovering new ways to take their instruction to the next level!

I had so much fun sharing Google Cardboard, and it was so exciting to introduce virtual reality using something as simple as Cardboard with other educators. I noticed that no matter who was experiencing Cardboard, they were smiling. It was an excitement about potential, about opportunity, and about possibility. We discussed the variety of ways we could use Cardboard for instructional purposes, and I think it is safe to say that won’t be the last time we think instructionally about virtual reality! I can’t wait to see what opportunities arise as Cardboard becomes more utilized!

As the time has come to set my sights on the year to come,  yes Google Cardboard is on the agenda, as are many other new ideas swirling in my head! I am also excited about the learning potential in some new ideas I have in K, 1, and 2 using tablets for 1:1 instruction. I have professional learning goals, collaboration goals, relationship goals, and instructional goals. I have goals for my school relationships, and goals for our district relationships. I feel like we made so much progress last year, I simply must keep that momentum going! I want to continue to build on the dynamic culture around instructional technology, and look for ways to foster other leaders in this journey. For when we see our role in technology as one that fosters growth in learning and in people, we get to watch all of that blossom, while seeing others take the lead. This doesn’t make me less needed, rather it gives me the opportunity to learn new things, and take other leaps in technology based instruction. So as you embark on your year, I hope you set goals, dream big, and never stop inspiring!

When #EdTech Succeeds: A Story of True Collaboration

11187278_10205354466692539_6640646744179122719_oMoving to Georgia three years ago gave me an opportunity to meet new people, make new connections, and build great relationships in instructional technology. While I would have loved to report every relationship was a match made in heaven, I think we all know that isn’t realistic. I had a lot of great learning experiences when it came to trusting people, working with and for people, and finding a balance between partnerships and competition. After all of those lessons I have a few ideas of what real #EdTech relationships should be… and thanks to Amy Pietrowski I can tell you for certain they are attainable with the right mindset. Amy leaves me this next school year, and blesses Maryland schools with her passion, but from our days as collaborators I can tell you for certain the recipe for true success.


1. Encourage each other – It wasn’t about how well Amy did something… or I did something.. it was about how we encouraged each other to go for it. We held the same role at two different elementary schools just minutes from each other, but we weren’t worried about who was doing what. We encouraged each other to just go in each day and make a difference! Having no true team in this school based role, we were each others ‘team’. By 7:20 am I had a “good morning from the bus loop, have a great day” message. Encouragement makes every day better!


2. Be real- My frustrations… they were heard. I knew if I needed someone to just listen, Amy wasn’t going to do anything but take in what I was telling her and give me her best advice. I tried to always do that in return. Never was it a weakness, but an understanding that there would be success and there would be failure. We always celebrated the successes, and tried to do the same with the failures. When you are real, you show the most human part of this experience. This career is full of ups and downs, but having someone you don’t have to sugar coat things for is crucial.


3. Competition is never allowed! When I took the job down the road from Amy last year, what did she do? She helped me.. every.single.day! Yes I know instructional technology, but what I didn’t know was all the crazy little ins and outs of how that was going to work in a new school, in a new district. When I had a great idea… she built on it… When she had a great idea, I ran with it. We always gave each other credit, where credit was due, and we never ever wanted to see the other fail. We were a team. We voxed daily, shared ideas, and never once wanted to be better than the other. I promoted her ideas, and she promoted mine! Competition has never once been a part of our relationship, and that is why we were successful, without a doubt!


4. Do it together, even when you see it differently- Our brains work so differently that it is almost hilarious to watch. Give us the same task, and you will see two very different interpretations of the same task. We fed off each other’s passions, then went our own way with implementing it. We built an idea, an instructional plan, and then we each took our own path. Reporting back what we accomplished was amazing, and led only to our next big instructional mission. You don’t have to see things the same way to be a team, you just have to appreciate each other’s differences.


5.  Inspire each other to keep growing – No matter where we went, we were likely not heading to the same sessions or meeting spots. We didn’t have to sit side by side in our edtech adventures, rather we gained much more when we headed different directions and reported back what great ideas we discovered. We didn’t hold each other back, expect each other to be our tag along at a conference, or expect one another to be front row when one of us was presenting. Instead we encouraged each other to go off and learn something new. We grew far more from that, than just sitting together at every event!


6. Use your experience to help others- While this chapter of our relationship closes, another will open. While Amy won’t be down the road from me, she will only be a vox away! What I carry away from our collaborations will be used to make more relationships this strong. I look forward to reaching out to others in this role, and using this recipe for success to help our district grow in instructional technology based leadership. Amy will go on and do the same. She will carry this to her next school and district, and the ripple effect will exist, change will happen, relationships will be fostered.

So to sum it up… be there, don’t compete, value each other’s ideas, listen, encourage, share, and celebrate. It is the recipe for instructional technology success, that when used can create dynamic change in our schools. It is worth a try, don’t you think?




Oh What A Year… Victories, Lessons, and Paving the Way for Tomorrow


It has been a while. Indeed, finishing an EdS in Instructional Technology and Media, while working full time and trying to keep up with life, just didn’t leave much blogging time. So with the EdS behind me… and only one class left to help me earn that Instructional Technology Certificate, I am embarking on a summer of reflection and planning for what is to come. I am excited to share the past, and provide a glimpse of the future with you!

This time last year, quite honestly, I was frustrated. After two years in Georgia consulting, I felt like I was spinning my wheels and just never really creating change. I never had time to build relationships, I never had time to collaborate with a teacher and see the growth potential happen. I just felt lost in a field that I truly loved. Yes, I met great people, and had some small victories, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t feeling like I really made any real difference.

Last July, things changed, opportunities arose, and I found myself going back to elementary school after a two year hiatus. It was a risk… as I moved my kids with me, and just hoped that I was making the right decision. Today, I can tell you you it was the best decision I could have ever made. Sara Harp Minter Elementary is a school that is filled with passionate teachers, wonderful students and families, and leadership that you just do not find in most elementary schools. I found myself with teachers who embraced change, students who thrived in a very different learning environment, and administrators who supported every crazy idea that I came up with. If that isn’t an #eduwin I just do not know what is!

So here is a snip-it of what I learned:

  • 45 minutes teaching technology will fly by faster that you could ever imagine
  • Lesson planning with BYOT for 750 kids is a disaster
  • The ease of using Google Chromebooks and Nexus 7’s makes me want to kick BYOT to the curb
  • Flexible seating is a victory on so many levels.. instructional… behavioral… collaborative
  • No matter what degree I have… I will always learn something from kids
  • Having supportive leadership is worth more than any job title in the world
  • Change takes time…. lots and lots of time
  • Relationships can make or break your effectiveness… take time to make the relationships
  • Listen… Listen… Listen… (one I am working on, as I like to talk, talk, talk)

20150213_105321 (1)

20150318_073825 (1)Those lessons led to some victories… just to name a few…

  • Kindergarten and first grade teachers, in just three months, dove into Nexus 7 tablets like pros & collaborated with me on a performance based math assessment using Lensoo Create
  • First grade teachers started using Google Classroom & Google Forms… yep.. #awesomeness
  • Second graders used multiple devices and resources to create Google presentations, and Google Drawings
  • Third Graders used Flipgrid to publish parts of stories, narrate sidewalk representations of Georgia Regions, and to create commercials for Mini Society
  • Fourth Grade Used EduCreations, worked in project based learning groups, and fell in love with GeoGuessr
  • Fifth Grade built their own Google Site and every single student met or exceeded technology growth in the state of Georgia (98 % EXCEEDED) (This was a true team effort that would have been impossible without amazing 5th grade teachers!)


20150323_105528 (1)And… that is just a taste of what I was lucky enough to be a part of this year. To say in retrospect it was an tremendous growth year is simply and understatement. While I had some small part in these things, these teachers took on so many new learning experiences, and our students truly benefited!



So what is to come? Well, I could write a whole blog on just that! This summer I will embark on creating20150209_135601 our instructional technology curriculum. Kindergarten and 2nd grade are going to get an extra technology class weekly, and to say I see amazing potential in this, is an understatement. With that, I feel a strong responsibility to make sure the scope and sequence of what we are doing is setting us up for amazing technology integration growth. So stay tuned, as sometime this summer I will be looking for feedback!

Wishing you a happy and learning filled summer!







Are You Applying the Brakes, or Being A Driver of Innovation?

So this one has been whirling around in my mind for a while. It believe it comes from having a wide variety of experience in instructional technology personally and professionally. I see both examples.. that is, examples of those who put on the brakes when the idea of innovation arrives, as well as those who take the wheel and see where it takes them. I have always tried to understand why one would choose one of these two paths over the other. As someone who lives each day to drive innovation, I assume those who are like me do it for the same reasons. We have found something that we love that truly makes a difference, and we can’t wait to see what happens next. For those who put on the brakes, well I can only assume it is due to a variety of factors that at the end of the day leads back to working harder for something you may or may not value or understand.  So no matter where you stand on the matter I charge you to think about this…

Instructional technology folks, no matter how long it has been, we all started in the classroom. We are teachers. We somewhere along the way found our specific passion in the field and moved that direction, but again we are still teachers. In addition to being teachers I challenge that we are also leaders. Leadership comes with great responsibility. In my opinion instructional technology leaders must be servant leaders. It is not about power, knowledge, expertise, or title, rather it is about serving. The best way to serve those you work WITH, is to learn alongside them, to do anything you would ask them to do, and show you of all people, are a lead learner.

Driving innovation and leading must also be about showing you are always reflecting and evaluating each and every day. You consider what you taught last year and determine if it is still instructionally relevant to your learners, and plan for where you want the learning to go next. While the ISTE standards won’t change from this year to the next, my lessons will. The reality is that my students will change from this year to next. They will have one more year of living in a digitally driven society. They will have one more year of experience with technology in schools. They will be one year more capable of creation over consumption, so in no way should my lessons look the same next year. If I do not model this as leader, how can I call upon those I work with to reflect and evaluate on their own instructional path? Driving innovation is about being the one out front, doing anything you ask others to do.

So look around… who do you know that is driving innovation? Who do you see putting on the brakes every time something new comes around? Ask yourself if you can foster an innovator in the months to come. Can you help one more person see the value of gunning it over slamming on the brakes? It is my challenge to you!



The Day Nexus 7’s Came to Our Classroom.. A Must Share Story


I am crazy busy… I have literally no time to blog… but here I am. Why? Well if I don’t tell you this great story right now, it just won’t come out as amazing later. My excitement about today just has to be shared.

Let’s start with this idea that primary grade teachers are scared of technology. Nonsense… at least not at Sara Harp Minter Elementary! I have 50 district provisioned Nexus 7 tablets that I am getting out as fast as I possibly can. Why? Well because my teachers are well beyond ready to use them, and they let me know! This week I have added 6 classrooms of students to tablets for use in the classroom, and the remaining four I will get out early next week. As soon as I get them ready I literally walk them to the classroom. We don’t let technology collect dust around there! So let it be known, I see NO fear in my teachers, instead I see excitement and drive!

Then let’s talk about how teacher with tablets immediately put kids into consumption apps. Noop… not at our school.  Hours after getting the tablets today, one of my kindergarten teachers set students off on a  scavenger hunt taking pictures while looking for words they could read. This wasn’t me… not my idea… purely the first thing she put into action with these devices! Down the hall a bit I sat on the floor with another class, and after putting the student’s pictures on their profile the teacher let them work on exploring the apps. What did they do… oh a little creative drawing… some Google Earth… you know…  the kind of things where they express themselves and explore the world! Was she hovering over them like they had rare jewels? No… in fact she was the example of great ease. She showed them that she trusted them, and in turn they worked together and learned together! Amazing example of what digital leaders do.

Last… well of course I saved the best for last. How about that idea that kids just want to play games on devices? Well let me tell you about a moment when a 5 year old asks me to find shapes and bump them to her device, and I am in awe. Kyli asked me to send her a triangle. In Google images I found one and beamed it to her. She then found one and beamed it to me. Then I sent pictures where she had to look and see if she could find the triangles. She then beamed me a different shape (to see if I knew what it was, of course).  This little one gave me the greatest vision of what kinds of collaborative assessment you could do with the Nexus 7’s!  That’s right, she was showing me the very potential that lies in these tools! 

So there you have it… one afternoon… lots of theories debunked… and no room for excuses! Let’s tell those naysayers who think mobile learning is poorly implemented that they need to look a little harder. Take it from my Kindergarten crew… The potential that lies in utilizing these resources for emerging learning opportunities simply is limitless!




It’s the Things NOT in the Lesson Plans…


I am always trying to plan technology lessons that expose students to something new, challenging, and relevant long after our class time together. This week for K-4 we Built With Chrome. This great project between Google and Lego is one that can be used in so many ways, so I wanted students to have this experience this week. I had a feeling the Legos would be a hit, but what I didn’t account for was how fascinated each class would be with Google Maps. We had conversations about geography and map skills that I never planned to have, but they sure where great. I sometimes forget that things I expose my own kids to, other kids may have not experience with. For many of the students I saw this week, Google Maps was fascinating because they had no idea such a thing existed. Many of them wanted to build where they had lived previously, where family members lived, and my little ones wanted to go to the “white place” where Santa, or the penguins lived! Several of my students have families with European or South American descent, and this was an opportunity for them to see where their families came from! These very unplanned leaning moments were the best part of the week!


While Google Maps were a hit… they were also pretty excited about those Lego bricks! Watching students build was a window into who they were. I saw creativity, detail, and patience in kids I have never seen before. I observed those who would start on a task, and 30 minutes later be adding the last perfect detail, as well as kids who looked at others work, compared themselves, and wanted to completely start over.  I watched students show grit and determination, and that was pretty great to watch!


While both Google Maps and Lego Bricks made the week, often the bigger picture is the real win. This week I stepped back and 20150122_131154realized that for the first time this year, most of the classes were showing independence and collaboration. Instead of having everyone asking me for help, they asked each other. It was such a great observation for me. While not everyone would walk into my room and see kids “playing” with Legos online as learning, I could debate that opinion on so many levels. Every time students come into my room and are exposed to a new digital creation tool, they are also getting additional exposure to the online environment, online tools, and online vocabulary. We all know that so many of these things consistently overlap online. Each of these experiences helps me to build a school full of independent digital creators, not just digital consumers!

So with that week in the books, I have the next two weeks to plan our next big adventure. I have a pretty good idea where I want to go with my big kids already. I am so thankful for these days. While I am truly exhausted after teaching 750 kids in 5 days, the reflection makes me realize it is all worth it.




Welcome to the Digital Learning Lair… A Glimpse into 2014

Sara Harp Minter (@saraharpminter) - Twitter.clipular

Well I have not blogged here since June of 2012. That was the last time I was technically a teacher. Yes I am certified in two states, and yes I am a teacher at heart, but until August of this year, I wasn’t technically a teacher. I consulted for two years, gained such great experience, but really… at the heart of it… I was a lost teacher. Even though I tried to deny it, I missed elementary school. I missed little hugs, crazy shenanigans, and all things elementary. So when Kate Matthews (@gatechteach) pointed me in the direction of a interview for an elementary instructional technology position, it seemed like maybe I would have a chance to get back into that wonderful elementary world once again. After two years of consulting however, I was well aware my vision of technology may not line up with that of school leadership. Luckily I was quite wrong, and at Sara Harp Minter Elementary  (@saraharpminter) I was going to be right at home. Not only was I about to start working in a wonderful school, but that school just happens to be a 5 minute commute… and a wonderful place for my children to go to school as well. To say this was an abundant blessing would be an understatement.

I could go on and on about the great things that happen at our school, but I want our media products to speak for themselves. I see students (all 750 in K-5) once every three weeks. That time is truly a whirlwind. I work hard to hit each of the ISTE standards twice, and infuse as many digital learning opportunities as possible into our short time together. I have opened up BYOT and let students bring a device to my room any time. I have started plans to redesign the learning space, and let kids be a valuable part of that change. I have a fourth grade digileaders team, and they meet with me twice a week during lunch. I hope to instill in them how important digital leadership truly is! Here is a little taste of what we do during those lunch meetings!  https://audioboom.com/boos/2698689-shmes-digileaders-review-the-wobble-stool-by-kore

With this short recap I will say this…  I need to once again use this blog to share the amazing things going on in our school. I need to blog regularly… and now I will! 2015 is the year to get back in the game! For now… enjoy a few media products that showcase the best of this fall at Sara Harp Minter. Follow us on Twitter… and keep an eye on the #shmesdll hashtag too! Great things are happening, and I am thrilled to be one small part of it!



So now that you are caught up… I hope you will stay tuned for 2015 and all that is in store of us!

I call it a BackChannel- May we agree to disagree?

This summer I am officially free! Yep- Not one single required professional development course lined up for me. I should be dancing in the rain.. singing “Schools Out For the Summer” and living it up, right? Well instead, I am sitting in front of my Mac – With a Tweetdeck full of hashtags to educational conferences around the world. Why in the world would I do such a thing? Didn’t I just prove my PD requirements were null and void this summer? Sure… but as a professional, continuous learning is important. I am not content doing things the way I have always done them, and I do want to grow and learn in regards to educational technology, curriculum, instruction, and professional development. Unfortunately I don’t have the opportunities to get to every conference out there… But I have a way to still learn and grow, all thanks to the BackChannel!

When I share the concept of BackChanneling with others, I get one of two responses. Either the educators think that is one neat way to learn, or they look at me with questionable eyes and pose the idea that BackChanneling is disrespectful to the speaker. It sends the message that one is not listening and has better things to do than participate in the lecture.

I tend to always err on the side of hopefulness, in that I hope I can illustrate enough knowledge on a matter to help someone who disagrees with me, see a potentially different view. While I am not always successful, I do attempt to bring about a different view on BackChanneling by sharing this.

1) A speaker who does not want you sharing what they have to say, might not be saying the right things.

2) A speaker can have a limited audience with just the attendees in the room, or could have a global reach with their words via a BackChannel.

3) With busy conferences and multiple speakers, why should I only be able to gain the knowledge of the speakers I go to see? BackChanneling lets me know what is happening in other sessions… which multiplies my learning exponentially.

4) Whether I can attend a conference or not has a lot of variables. Finances, travel, family or work responsibilities all weigh in on what I can and can not attend. Should I not be able to learn alongside my peers because I can’t afford to get to a conference, or I have a prior commitment? The BackChannel makes it possible for me to participate as the conference is taking place, or look back at the information shared at a more convenient time. Isn’t that a valuable learning opportunity for an educator?

So whether you are a proponent of the backchannel, or a skeptic in the wings… I hope  you take part in at least one BackChannel this summer and find that there is something to be said for a profession full of people who believe that sharing and growing together, is far better than competing and outdoing one another with a collection of held back knowledge. So I am proud to be a BackChanneling girl… and if perhaps I did not change your mind,  can we maybe just agree to disagree?

EdCamp or Bust.. Educators on a Mission…

In the early days of “California of Bust”, on the back of wagons heading West, the message was clear: Bigger things awaited them, and they were determined to get there, one way or another. This message seems to me to be the perfect fit for the nature of EdCamps. If you have never been a part of one, you might not fully understand this analogy, so let me explain.

Educators have long since the beginning of time been required to take part in professional development opportunities in order to stay current on educational practices. Most often choices are limited, if at all, and one simply goes through the motions, not intentionally, but by circumstance. How much learning takes place in those inservice opportunities?  What percentage of take away is truly applied in the classroom in the days that follow?  As educators we know that engaging our audience is at the core of growth and learning, and so some pretty smart people in education sat down and redefined what PD should look like… And out of that ….EdCamp was born!

EdCamps are the “unconference” for a a reason… They have no agenda, no planned presenters, no real plan of action. It is simply educators coming together to network, share ,and decide WHAT they want to learn, and WHO in that room can lead the discussion. The agenda for the day is set as attendees come together and find they have something they can share. The best part of it all… EdCamps are planned by people like you and me…. Not districts or educational content developers.

Last spring I myself took on Co- Chairing #PadCampDallas with Venita Jones (@vcjtx). #PadCamp is simply a spin off of the EdCamp philosophy, focused specifically on using tablets and handheld devices in the classroom. I won’t lie, it was a lot of work planning such an event, but at 8 am on Saturday March 24th, I looked around, and found myself surrounded by a group of truly dedicated professionals. These educators gave up their Saturday to learn… willingly… with no PD prodding by their districts or administration. They came because they had a tablet, and they wanted to know the best ways to engage their students with it…  Amazing to say the least.

So where does that leave us in this EdCamp or Bust analogy? Well look around.. there is undoubtedly one happening in a city near you this year. EdCamptAtl is my next stop. On September 8th, I have a feeling I am going to look around Woodward Academy and have that same moment I had back in March. I am going to be proud I am part of a profession that gives their all for the betterment of our students, determined to find the best ways to engage these learners of the 21st century.  Hope to see you there… EdCamp or Bust!

Final Post of the Year- What Did You Learn From Me?

As the year comes to an end, I felt that the best way to conclude my teaching career blog experience would be to let my kids do the blogging. Only they can truly tell you what I was able to teach them this year. Brutal honestly from 3rd graders is the only way to go! So I hand if off to them, to share our memories of learning from JVand3rd 2011-2012

Abi-Mrs.Vandergrift taught me how to prepare myself for 4th and 5th grade.

Alessandra- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us a lot of things about math, like charts and graphs.

Grete Mrs. Vandergrift also taught me that even though there are annoying people, you still have to work with them sometimes.

Lauren- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me how to line symmetry.

Cassidy- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me about angles.

Sebastian- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me area and perimeter.

Kyle- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me how to mutliplication and divison.

George- Mrs. Vandergrift has supported me with learning to do square roots.

Jesse- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me geometry.

Eli- Mrs. Vandergrift helps kids solve their problems.

Leart- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us cursive and decimals, and prepared us for 4th grade.

Kristin- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us to write poetry.

Sydney- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us how to think and work hard.

Brayden- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us how to do Kidblog.

Sawyer- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us how to copy and paste 🙂

Rafay-Mrs. Vandergrift has taught us the life learning skill, that you have learn this stuff now, because you will have to use it in your older life.

Keegan- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us with a lot of technology.

Riley- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us about the Solar System

Sarah- Mrs. Vandergrift taught math in a fun way.

Brooklyn- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us math.

Parmida- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us everything.

Ellie- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us everything we need to know to go to 4th grade even though we make her a little crazy .

Extras from my talkative boys : She taught us how to use technology the right way.

In the past Mrs. Vandergrift has taught us about science in a funny way with Jeff Corwin. 

My girls need to chime in extra too: She has prepared us for our future and the real world.

Needless to say, it has been quite a year. Memories abound, and good stories will always come from our year together. I wish them all the luck in the years to come and hope I instilled in them a love of learning and growing. To the class of 2021- May you always reach for the stars!