Thursday, November 12, 2015

LOA Diaries -Ed Tech

Almost as soon as I got the gig at Edmodo, I, along with my cohort of iPad Academy

4/5 of the Original iPaddians
members received an email from our former fearless leader, +Kirby Fell. He had moved down to a school district in the central coast area of California as the Chief Technical Officer of Orcutt School District  where he joined our former superintendent, Dr. Debra Blow. We were invited to kick off their iPad Academy, all 5 of us, with a one day training at their district office. We would have done it for free but they were even going to pay us! We stayed at our colleague, Lorena's, second home near Paso Robles, and made a fun weekend of it. It was great to share our experiences with a receptive and enthusiastic group of educators, quite different than the reception we'd received in our own district when we first started out on our iPad adventure four years ago. As my friend and colleague, +sheila monger was quoted in The Orcutt Pioneer, "It was an honor to work with the Orcutt teachers...It takes a brave educator to take the initiative and risk to learn so much so quickly...each one ...will take back an idea that will immediately and positively impact their students' educational experience."

One of the benefits of not being tied to a classroom is the ability to attend conferences, workshops and classes just because they interest me. Of course, the downside is, I have to pay for them, but often such activities targeted to the education community are free or at least reasonably priced.  Within the span of a week I attended Looking at Learning, Common Sense Education Teacher Institute at +Twitter headquarters in SF, and the SVEF iHub Pitch Games.  

Looking at Learning was hosted by and at the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College. After a lovely catered dinner, with wine made from founder Gay Krause's own grapes, there were three TED style talks to inspire and ignite educators. +Diane Main  presented her ideas on using gaming to goive students more control in the classroom. +Kyle Brumbaugh spoke about constructive friction. During his presentation his wife, +Elizabeth Calhoon, tweeted out from Dallas how she wished she was there to see him speak, so in less than 3 minutes I learned how to Periscope and she was able to watch her husband's presentation, and even catch a glimpse of her mom in the audience. The last presentation was +Esther Wojcicki sharing her teaching adventure with James Franco, first as her student years ago and more recently as her co-teacher, inspiring us to go for the moonshot in education.

+Common Sense Education teacher institute on digital citizenship was held at Twitter HQ in SF. If I thought +Edmodo has great perks, Twitter is over the top! They treated us very well and again the presentations and activities were inspiring and informative. The institute was all day on a Friday, something I could not justify if I were in the classroom. It was a great opportunity to network and learn from not just the presenters but my table mates. Plus it was a beautiful day if the city. What caught me off guard was, driving I'm into the city I realized it was the exact route, exit and intersection where I used to drop off Jim in those years when we commuted to work together. The memory took my breath away and I wiped away tears as I entered Twitter's lobby. Even on a beautiful day, focused on edtech. I can still be overcome with grief. 

About two weeks after school started I was approached by a former colleague and invited to participate as a teacher team in SVEF iHub. I explained that I wasn't in a classroom and she invited me to be on the short list selection committee. They met on a Tuesday at lunchtime at some Palo Alto office building, again, something I could never do if I was teaching. We were evaluating up and coming Ed tech companies who would then compete shark tank style, in Pitch Games. The winners would go on to work with selected teacher teams who would use their products in real life classrooms. The Pitch games themselves were fascinating. I'd been asked by Arati to be the Twitter moderator, a role I completely enjoyed. They even asked me to join in the judging process to add insights gained from monitoring the Twitter feed. 

I attended MERIT at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) in 2009 and have kept in touch with Maestro +Steven McGriff, professor-in-residence, ever since. We run into each other at various edtech events and I am always so impressed with his positive energy and outlook. He really is a breath of fresh air.  He's talked about me coming on board to teach for KCI but due to my schedule and dealing with my husband's illness and death, the timing has never been right.  After attending Looking at Learning, Twitter and iHub in the span of a week, and seeing some faces in common at each event, I was approached by Kyle Brumhaugh, who is now also working at KCI with Steve. He asked if I'd be interested in teaching a few of the sessions at an upcoming mini-MERIT program.  Of course I would! So finally, is will be a part of this amazing program from the delivery side. I am so honored to be asked and thrilled that the time is finally right!

Last week I was honored to teach two (of 5) days for a mini-MERIT program at local school district. It was a great experience to work with teachers so eager to learn. Mini-MERIT is a very hands-on, minds-on learning for teachers, TOSAs and administrators to develop knowledge and technical skill as well as work on real-life projects they will take back into their schools. I am hoping I will get to do more of these. I felt like I was making a difference, and the very part time, flexible nature of it fits my needs right now. 

Since I started working in education in 2005 I strive to integrate my experience and skills from my hi-tech career within the education system. It has been so exciting and rewarding to not only get to do so on a grand, fun scale, but also have time to share what I know, and learn from, like minded professionals. In addition, I am allowing myself time to personally learn, grow, grieve and redefine my life.

And it is only November!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

LOA Diaries: What part of Leave and Absence don't I Understand?

When I had first requested leave, I told our Asst. Sup. of Human Resources (HR) I'd be willing to do part time work. In early October I was approached with two opportunities within Cambrian, in addition to my BTSA coaching. Both are totally in line with the kind of work I like to do, so, of course, I said yes, and my mother asked my to clarify my definition of part time

One of the reasons I decided no to retire, but just take a LOA is the fact that next year Cambrian is opening a new k-8 school, Steindorf STEAM School. I've been on the teacher steering committee for the past two years and was hoping to keep my fingers in the pie. I was invited to attend the first planning meeting this year and was happy to make time to attend.  A couple of weeks later I was approached by Steindorf's principal, +Kristi Schwiebert and asked, since I had some time on my hands, if I could help with the website and communications for Steindorf.  It is by no means a guarantee of an offer to teach there, but it's a great opportunity to stay involved with this exciting project. 

Film Club

I was with Kristi at the DO (district office) being trained on the intricacies of Schoolwires, our website platform, by our new Director of instructional Technology, +Dr. William Jenkins . I'd been on the hiring committee and was happy that's he accepted our offer.  Will complimented me on the work I did facilitating last years' Digital Media Academy. Then he asked if I would be interested in leading the transition of the work from a teacher focused academy to student focused Film Clubs. He also suggested I might be tapped to lead some sessions at Cambrian University, our new voluntary teacher tech training program. How could I say no? I love this stuff!

More Coaching
Then just this week I was asked if I could coach two more teachers, new long term subs, through assessments, report cards and conferences...Just. Say. No. But since I need to do the same thing for my new teachers...

I am not at all complaining about the opportunities presenting themselves to me. In fact, I am thrilled. They afford me the opportunity to keep my skills fresh, stay in contact with people i enjoy working with and provide me with a little extra spending money. Perhaps my new title should be Teacher-At-Large. When I decided to "not work" this year, I was so worried about having too much time in my mind, now I'm not sure I'm getting enough time to just sit and be.

Monday, November 2, 2015

LOA Diaries: the first day of no school

I wanted to be sure not to be home on the first day of school.  I knew it would feel weird to be home while my teacher friends were greeting their newest classes. So I decided to do something special and booked one night at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel in the heart of Yosemite Valley. The trip was an homage of sorts, a place on my bucket list that held memories of Jim. We'd had brunch there once with my parents and had promised ourselves we'd come back and stay. One of Jim's happiest days
was the day we joined about 25 other S2000s in a day trip to Yosemite. 

I wanted to drive, in the S, and leave some of Jim in that special place. My friend Danielle, was our neighbor and a huge support taking care of Dharma and our house during those long days and nights at the hospital, Rich and Danielle have since moved south but we remain close. Her mom died about two months before and she has adopted me, and I've welcomed another 'child' to my clan. Unbelievably, she had never been to Yosemite. I knew she'd be a perfect companion for the road trip, and she was. 

As we neared Yosemite, I almost cried at the devastation form recent fires.  The terrain was apocalyptic, the smoky air burning our eyes. I worried that Danielle was wondering, 'where is the beauty?'  Fortunately the fires had not recently touched the valley and despite the drought, it was still impressive.  The lack of water in the falls made me sad but the granite walls were and always will be imposing and awe inspiring. We made our way to our hotel where I had booked a room with a balcony. The room was ready so we relaxed with a class of wine, gazing up at the sheer granite wall towering behind our hotel. Suddenly, Danielle gasped, having spotted the tiniest of climbers high above the valley floor! I got out the binoculars and was amazed to see two men hundreds of feet up.

Later, we had an over priced drink on the patio, and headed to the Yosemite Lodge for a lovely, and much more reasonably priced, dinner. The next day, Danielle had got us tickets for the valley floor tour on an open air bus.  I'd never done the tour and it was fascinating to hear both the geologic and human histories of Yosemite National Park.  

We left that afternoon and stopped in Groveland to visit my friends Don and Mike who are building their retirement home there. It is going to be an amazing home and I can't wait to visit again and stay longer.  It was a little bittersweet for me, Jim had always wanted to do exactly what they were doing, buy a piece of land and build our own home, far from the maddening crowd that our city is becoming.  But I am so happy for them, and happy to enjoy it with them!  We made our way home, I was tired but happy to have spent my first day of no school in such a special way. It was a wonderful kickoff to my endless summer.

Friday, October 30, 2015

LOA Diaries: a rare business trip

My job with +Edmodo involved scheduling trainings for schools. We had a workshop paid for in Indiana and my director decided I should go so I could see how our training materials really holds up in the field. Teachers don't get many business trips but I'd had my fill in my first career. I agreed as long as I could go east a few days early and spend a bit of time with my friend Marie. 

I was able to use points to upgrade to first class and, had a relaxing 2 hour layover (with a departure gate two doors down from my arrival, confirming my belief that the distance between gates is inversely proportional to the time you have to get from one to the other.) I arrived just before midnight and without even realizing it, Marie and I stayed up talking until 4:00 am. The next two days we visited, laughed, cried, ran errands and talked. Nothing big, but really huge. Seeing Marie was tonic for both of us. She had been there for me when Jim died, and I was blessed to be there with her in her grief.

Two days after arriving I drove from Chicago to Indianapolis. I cried as I drove away, goodbyes taking on a deeper significance since Jim died. Marie and John had described the trip to me, having made it frequently.  First you see the giant cow, then the windmills, then the Subaru plant and not much else after that. What they didn't tell me is the trip would be in Kodachrome. Not only were the fall colors more vibrant the further south I got, but there was the most beautiful sunset across the plains, over my right shoulder as I drove. I kept thinking I should pull over to take a picture, but was hoping to get to my destination before it was too dark, so I pressed on.  

I cried again when I left Illinois as it symbolically ended my visit with Marie. Finally, I cried again when I got to Interstate 80, and the sign points left to Indiana or west to Iowa. My heart wanted to go to Iowa, but I turned towards the east and pressed on.  I was listening to an "oldies" station 80s and 90s and whatever, and they played We are Family, I got all my sisters and me... As I sang along through the tears, I felt blessed by all the sisters I have in my life.  My sisters by birth, yes, but also my sisters of choice, my close friends and cousins who love me like a sibling and are there when I need them. I stopped at a rest stop and texted Linda and Mitzi. Linda encouraged me to be brave and +M Ochoa  gave me courage by teaching me how to use the voice feature on my phone navigation. As so I pressed on.

I never saw the giant cow, but I did see a giant ear of corn (complete with melted butter), a giant fork, atop a tanker truck parked in a field and finally an over sized kitchen table with a red checkered table cloth. I can't be sure, but I think they were related to the giant cow. A little further down the road I passed one tall windmill to the east. I smiled thinking of Altamont and 'how cute' that they thought this was a big deal. I kept on my way and a bit further south I was extremely impressed by acre upon acre of wind farms.  I guess the one lone windmill was just a teaser. It seemed an unlikely coincidence that just at the moment I passed the Subaru factory, there was an ad on the radio for a local Subaru dealer... I wondered if they had their own transmitter that sneaked into whichever station passers by had playing.  

What the Agostas didn't tell me is that it was still about another hour to my hotel after the car factory. I passed through towns and lots of highway construction and thanks to my talking phone, I knew exactly where I was going, or at least how to get there.  I arrived safely, after dark but not too late to get dinner at the hotel and check in with folks and work back home. Still it was another late night, since Indiana is an hour later than Illinois. As I crawled into bed and set my alarm for 0 dark thirty, I cried again, missing my man and not being able to call him to say goodnight, as I did on so many trips. But I pressed on.

The training was well received, and we learned a lot about how to make the workshops even better. It was at a Catholic school that just the day before had hosted the relics from their patron saint, an event attended by thousands of parishioners and pilgrims, including some gypsies. The staff was still buzzing but were eager to learn and willing to try new things. After the training, as I drove south on a side road with seemingly hundreds of roundabouts, I briefly was irritated by the delay compared to a freeway to expressway I could've gotten to about 3 miles east. But then I remembered the moment is now, and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the leaves. The reds and yellows and oranges were simply breathtaking.  Compared to our drought stricken brown California, the foliage really was a joy to behold and I was grateful to be driving slow enough to be able to take it all in. But still, I did not want to stop and take a picture. 

As I approached the airport there was a huge solar panel array right next to the highway, it was incredible and inspiring - a great use of uninhabitable space.  The training and debrief were done by 3 and I hoped that if I timed it right, I might be able to get an earlier flight home and get to my bed before midnight.  Alas, there was none, and I had about a 3 1/2 hour wait. So I relaxed and enjoyed the now. So at present I am 37,999 ft above the ground, traveling just under 500 mph. And I press on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

LOA Diaries: Humans of Edmodo

At +Edmodo I was excited to participate in q. my first hackathon.  My director, +Kevyn Klein had an idea that I thought would be fun and engaging, a riff on Humans of New York called Humans of Edmodo.

We sent out a request using influitive Teacher Leader Network and received some great quotes and pictures from the teachers who use Edmodo. 

Our team included Kevyn, Nick Jarvis, a graphic artist, Vivienne Pustell, Rachel Sherman & of course all of the teachers who made our project possible. We collected quotes and pictures throughout the afternoon and worked on the images late into the evening. We communicated almost exclusively through +HipChat each of us at our own location, but collaborating as a team. Most of our team used Canva, a free and easy to use design program to add teacher quotes to the images, creating sometimes thoughtful and sometimes funny, and sometimes both, posters. Kevyn even recruited her fiancee for some voice over work on our introduction video.

Friday morning, I arrived in the office early to work on the presentation with Kevyn while Vivienne waited for Target to open. When it opened, she bought almost every frame they had in the sizes we needed. Rachel was busily multitasking - supporting customers and printing all of the images. As she was printing, Vivienne and I started framing the posters. Once we had them all framed, we hung them in every conference room and in team rooms so that Edmodo staff could always have a customer with them in the room, a Human of Edmodo.

We took pictures of the hanging work, and pulled everything together into a Google presentation which we would show the judges at 2:00 to describe what we had done.  After presenting our project, The Humans of Edmodo, and all of the other hackathon projects were submitted, the judges, including yours truly, retired to the large conference room for deliberations. Although I had agreed not to take part in the judging of our category, I couldn't help myself and pointed out the beautiful photos that were now gracing the walls.

Again, I found myself planning how I could take this idea back to my students... The Humans of Bagby, or making memes with historical figures, character building quotes (The Bagby Bs), these are the things that keep my head spinning at night... So many ideas, so little time (#IMCAST)...if you have other ideas, I'd love to hear them.

I am really proud of what we accomplished in 24 hours and I love how each of us brought our own design sensibilities and strengths to the project.  And yeah, I like that we won, too!

Monday, October 26, 2015

LOA Diaries: Edmodo - Judging the Hackathon

Allison kicks off the presentation of projects
I was honored to be included on the judging panel for our Hackathon. I loved hearing about the amazing things these teams had accomplished in just 24 hours. I am always willing share my opinion, when I feel safe to do so. I do think most of the engineers valued a teacher, their customer's perspective. Chris presented a project to filter and block malicious links from being posted to +Edmodo. It occurred to me that there is much that goes on behind the scenes that we customers never see. From the judges table I pointed out that teachers, really any customer, will not be shy in letting you know when your product does not meet expectations, doesn't work, is slow. But there is much work engineers do to protect our students and keep them safe, without us even knowing. I thanked him for that.  And the most adorable thing happened, he blushed! Working in safety and security, he usually only hears about from customers when something doesn't work. It may very well be the first time a customer had thanked him for his work. This was a good reminder to me to show gratitude more often. 

In addition to Zach's formatting project, as each group presented I realized how many of the projects were designed to enhance the user experience, from giving us bigger video viewing area to more content in Spotlight, to helping new teachers get comfortable with Edmodo, the customers really are foremost in Edmodo's work, even in their passion projects..
The Judges (yes, bribes are on the table, chocolate and wine)

Despite jokes about accepting bribes, I did recuse myself from deliberations regarding my team and our category of Company Culture. And yet, our project, Humans of Edmodo, won!  So in addition to experiencing this inspirational event, our team won $500 for each member! That never happens in public education.  Even better, +Zach Rutta, who had done his initial presentation alone and had asked for engineers to help him create something teachers had been wanting for years, won the grand prize!  So really I felt like I won twice!

As I was drinking a celebratory plastic cup (recycle able of course) with the judges, we explored the idea of bringing the Hackathon concept into staff development days and classrooms on campuses. It would be interesting to see what could be accomplished. I'm not sure the union or parents would approve of a 24 hour project but imagine if we gave teachers and/or students a focused, dedicated block of time to pursue a project they thought could make a difference...whatever that means to them! I'm still working on how to implement it, but I think there is potential there. Participants develop perseverance, creativity, communication and collaboration which are all critical skills for future ready teachers and students.
I am a Human of Edmodo

Thursday, October 22, 2015

LOA Diaries: Edmodo - The Hackathon

I admit I had no idea what a Hackathon was. I thought a bunch of people sat around eating stale pizza, drinking Red Bull and hacking into other people's software. The term definitely had negative connotations, and after a very unscientific poll, many of my contemporaries have the same impression, but we couldn't be more wrong. "A hackathon is an event where people with diverse skill sets work collaboratively to create solution-oriented technology," writes Claire Shorall, of the Teaching Channel.

Our hackathon started at two o'clock on a Thursday and ended 24 hours later.  It's a 24 hour period when everyone can set aside their usual work and create a passion project. I normally skip the all hands meetings but was intrigued, so I sat through the kick-off, MC-ed by +Allison Laureano . I was interested to hear the wide variety of projects that mostly fit into four categories: features, monetization, culture and fixes. Of course I listened with a teacher's ear and I couldn't help myself but cheer out loud to +Zach Rutta's proposal of giving +Edmodo  users (mostly teachers) the ability to use bold, italics and underline formatting in our posts. It seems like a simple thing but it's funny how much you miss it when you don't have it. And currently Edmodo doesn't have it. Zach's was the project that directly addressed something I as a user want! Between my background in Customer Service and the fact that I am a customer of Edmodo, I felt heard.

Speaking of feeling heard... I've met a few times now with a coworker named +Kul Wadhwa, yes, pronounced cool and he is. He has been asking me what I think about a certain Edmodo product and I have been at times brutally honest with him, and he keeps coming back for more. Teachers are not often asked what they think about products nor given a real voice, outside our classrooms, so it's been refreshing to be asked. After I met with Kul one day, another man came up and asked if I'd be willing to give my input about some changes being made to Edmodo. Of course I said yes, I am always happy to give my opinion. I knew he was some sort of manager but I found out - after we spoke - that he is the General Manager, Manish Kothari. I love how accessible everyone is at Edmodo. There is no overt sense of managerial hierarchy that prevents anyone from talking to anyone else...quite refreshing.  A few minutes later Manish introduced me to CEO Vibhu Mittal and they asked me to be on the Hackathon judges panel, since I was a teacher! Talk about feeling heard!! I was thrilled to accept and rearrange my schedule to be in the office the next day.

Cheers to our hard work!

I'd pretty much already decided I was coming in when my Director, +Kevyn Klein intrigued me with her idea for a project, Humans of Edmodo.The excitement was almost palpable in the office that afternoon. 
Some people work at the office throughout the night. When I left at 6 p.m. to catch my train so I could get home to let the dog out, the GM was pouring people wine and IT was making dinner. We worked on our project well into the late hours, communicating with +HipChat  and I was excited to see what would be accomplished by all the teams overnight!