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My Gmail Inbox Causes Me Anxiety...You?

Create a "School Year" label then
add sub-labels under that year
I'm embarrassed every time someone gets a peek at my Gmail screen - But one day, a fellow teacher mentor (without judgement) suggested that I create labels for school years (2018-19).  Slowly, I've been deleting and moving - I'm proud to say that I'm down 300 emails!!!  It's taking a bit of time, but it's been well worth it.

Some categories I have created reflect my teacher leader roles (ELA, ELD, TIP), updates from EdTechTeam, and correspondence with parents.  What's nice is that the labels are for your eyes only...no one knows if you made a label for non-sense emails, such as, "Reminders from Hell."

So, let's begin to tame the Gmail Inbox:
  1. On the left side in your menu, scroll to the bottom and click on "More" - Then scroll down again.  You will see "+ Create New Label" and click on it.
  2. A pop-up will appear where you will create your School Year 2018-19 label - Click on "Create"
  3. Once created you will find it in your menu on the left - The 3 dots will give you a new menu where you can edit your label
  4. Add a color to better manipulate your labels (I'm a visual person, plus I like colors)
  5. Start adding "Sub-Labels" or wait until you get an email that needs saving

If you need a visual here is a short clip on what it looks like to follow the steps above:

Think about starting this new school year by using the "Label" feature for Gmail 
and begin organizing your Gmail life.

I hope this helps you - like It has helped me relieve some anxiety...Share any thoughts below and suggestions for keeping the Gmail Inbox under control.

Perfectly Pear-ed

Every good EdTech teacher has a few secret weapons up their sleeves - go-to’s for student engagement, something that’ll hook their students...sometimes, it's just something "fun." I have my favorites - but there are some I pull out more than others. Pear Deck is one of those tools.

Pear Deck is an EdTech company offering a web-based application to K-12 schools and teachers. Pear Deck Slides gives teachers the "ability to engage and assess every student in every row, no matter what grade or subject." Pear Deck will help teachers create an interactive and community-focused classroom that builds confidence and comprehension.

Pear Deck Slides is very similar to a slide show, like PowerPoint or Google Slides. But instead of static (read: boring) informational sides, you can make interactive slides that let every student participate in your questions or prompts from their devices.

I didn't have (or didn't make many) opportunities last year to use it in my classroom - I felt my kiddos were all over the place academically (and rightfully so - I had FOUR grade levels in one room!) and I didn't put much time into creating presentations that my entire class could benefit from...because really, I had barely enough time to pull on a clean pair of pants in the mornings.

This year, in my new position, I have planning time each week to create lessons. I'm creating lessons that are engaging and relevant, thanks in part to Pear Deck.

The first time I used Pear Deck with some of my new students (a particular 5th grade class) - the kids literally "oohed" and "aahed." They couldn't believe the magic of Pear Deck. And it really is - without having to buy any additional programs or software, I am able to hold the pace of instruction (and my presentation) and have control of what my students see on their screens while increasing student participation rates.

So, how does it work? Students are given a link to join your presentation. They enter a class code (very similar to that of Google Classroom) and it connects them to your presentation. Once connected, the teacher is able to control the pacing of the presentation and what students see on their screens. If I move forward to the next slide on the presentation, so do their screens. Magic, see.

With the help of the add-on, students are able to interact with your presentation - answering questions and checking their comprehension throughout. The teacher has the ability to review answers to the questions by (anonymously) projecting the answers onto the board - a feature I love because it encourages everyone to participate and have a voice (the teacher still has access to see which students provided what responses through their dashboard, if needed - something I always point out to my students in case they'd dare to make inappropriate remarks or comments.)

Students can draw/write on slides like these with the help of Pear Deck.
"True or False" questions are just one type of question that teachers can use to gauge student comprehension.
I also love that it seamlessly integrates with Google Slides - I was a big Google Slides user before and this add-on just reaffirmed my love for both. Another thing I love - the team at Pear Deck is so responsive to their users' needs. If I have a question or concern, I can easily send them an email and I have a reply in my inbox in a couple of days. Big plus for a busy teacher.

Let's also talk data - because, really, who doesn't LOVE data (said no teacher ever!) Pear Deck sends me weekly reports on my engagement numbers. If I have a teacher or administrator doubting the effectiveness of this awesome program, all I have to do is share these numbers - noting the number of interactions students are having when I do this kind of presentation compared to that of a static lecture.

What I love most about Pear Deck is that it allows all of my kiddos to participate and be involved - not just a select, brave few. The anonymity of the sharing components allows even my shyest, introverts to participate without having to feel "outed." Everyone has a voice and all voices matter.

Pear Deck is a FREE add-on for Google Slides and can be found under the "Get Add-Ons" feature in Google Slides.

Twitter Chats - What's That?

When Angela first told me she'd participated in her first Twitter chat a year and a half ago, I did a double-take and said, "What the heck is a Twitter chat?" She patiently explained to me what it was, how it worked, and how to participate. Since first learning about Twitter chats, I've been an avid participator (and sometimes stalker) of them.

First, a Twitter chat is a public conversation via Twitter, centered around one central hashtag. Twitter chats are regular and reoccurring (sometimes every week, sometimes bi-monthly, sometimes once a month) and are usually themed to connect people with similar interests.

Twitter chats are moderated by one or more individuals. The moderators come up with a list of predetermined questions that are asked within the Twitter chat time frame; most chats are an hour long, others are 30 minutes. The moderators "ask" the questions and facilitate a conversation with other Twitter users around these questions. Twitter users will answer the question, using the specified hashtag so that other users can follow, respond, and retweet.

Angela's initial advice to me when starting Twitter chats - stalk and then stalk some more. I started by watching and following a few chats I was interested in. I "liked" a few tweets that resonated with me. It wasn't until a few chats later (and once I really understood the flow of a Twitter chat) that I felt brave enough to try it out.

And I didn't completely fail or embarrass myself! I connected with some great individuals, had a conversation about a topic that I was passionate about, and slowly began the groundwork to building my online PLN (personal learning network) - something I didn't even know existed prior to my Twitter usage.

Now - a word of caution. There are Twitter chats...and there are chats that remind me of why I hated middle school so much. Chats where the "regulars" are wondering who you are and why you're there...the kind where your responses get the cold-shoulder and make you want to crawl into a corner and shrivel up into a ball. I don't have any recommendations for these types of situations...but I will say that the chats I enjoy the most are the ones where I feel welcomed, my opinion is valued, and the other "chatters" genuinely want to know me.

Some of my favorite chats include the following:

  • #newteacherjourney (Sunday nights @ 8:30 CST/6:30 PST)
  • #caedchat (Sunday nights @ 8pm PST)
  • #flipclass (Monday nights @ 5pm PST)
  • #tosachat (Monday nights @ 8pm PST)
  • #cuechat (Tuesday nights @ 7pm PST)
  • #cuelachat (Every third Tuesday @ 8pm PST)
  • #ditchbook (Thursday nights @ 7pm PST)
My advice to anyone wanting to grow their PLN or just connect with people outside of their school bubble...join a Twitter chat. Stalk and participate. You'll be a better educator because of it. Oh...and stay tuned for #TechTribeEDU's chat - coming soon!

Student Log-Ins...To Memorize, or Not To Memorize?

In 3rd grade, students begin to show more independence which is extremely helpful when integrating technology in the classroom.  However, there is one roadblock (out of many) that I try to tackle at the start of the year: students and their login information.

One of my Ah-Ha moments was when there was a discussion at my site about students needing to "know" their log-in information without any help.  This made me think: "Why should I expect my students to memorize their login information?" (yes it is helpful) but I, as an adult, have PWs and account info written down, saved in Keep, etc...
This is me picking my battles, not only for myself as a teacher, but for my students.

Let me start with explaining that in our district, students are assigned emails starting in TK...but depending on the number of names a student has (2 last names) or if there are others with similar last names, emails can be daunting due to their length.  These emails are used to log into their Google account, hence their chrome books.
email example: Adriane_ValleyBarnett@myabcusd.org
AND... you would think that using birthdays as passwords would be convenient BUT they are never composed the same way for each account a student might have: 
  • ConnectEd: ES20010223
  • baggies, magnet clips, student # labels
  • Accelerated Reader: 2/23/2001 (notice the month)

Because of the many login cards I received I decided to create login packets that students kept in baggies with their earbuds at their desks.  And I'll be honest, if I were still teaching 2nd grade I would be doing this same thing...actually for grades TK-3rd.  I feel that by 4th grade most of the students know their logins, but getting to this point is half the battle.

So, instead of focusing on the memorization part, I teach how to stay organized and how to keep information in a localized location.

Having a Growth Mindset with Technology Integration

I am by no means an expert on EdTech...let me admit that up front. There are things that I don’t know how to do and I will be the first to admit that when I don’t know something, I turn to Google. As a technology lead teacher last year, I had teachers approach me with more technical issues on their Chromebooks and rather than waiting weeks for one of the district’s IT people to come check it out, I took to the nearest search engine and tried troubleshooting the issue myself.

I will also admit that I have a huge learning curve when it comes to the Chromebooks - even though I have been a computer-user since the tender age of three (when my mom placed me on her lap and we played computer-based Sesame Street games on a behemoth of a desktop). As an adult professional, my preference has always been Macs, so having to learn the odds and outs of a PC again took me some time...and even now, I still don’t have them down pat.

I know teachers hear buzzwords and power phrases like “growth mindset” and “the power of yet” — but not many fully embrace such perspectives...at least not in the ways that we encourage our students to. As a teacher leader, I found quite a few teachers who were afraid of taking risks - whether it was because they were afraid of failure or something not going right with the technology, or they were afraid of the tech disrupting their regularly scheduled routines or way of teaching. Rather than attempt a lesson - or anything really - they let the technology sit there, collecting dust.

Now, I am the last person to tell another teacher how or what to teach - but I am a strong proponent for technology use in the classroom. I uphold the belief that technology is a tool for enhancing the already good teaching that is occurring in many classrooms. Even if teachers begin their EdTech integration simply substituting the technology for a current practice or routine - I give kudos because it’s a starting point! If it gets the teacher more comfortable with the tech, than I am all for it. If it encourages them to try some new app or website the next time they pull the Chromebooks out, then I feel we’ve accomplished something.

I feel that the little successes aren’t always celebrated or looked at as special things...but they should be. Especially if it gets teachers (who were very set in their ways) trying something new and taking that initial risk with technology. Technology doesn’t always work...things don’t always go right. But it’s important that students see this and take it as a teachable moment for all.

When it comes to technology integration, districts often shove the technology into the classrooms and expect teachers not only to learn the new tech (on their own time and dime) but also be proficient in integrating technology based on a few professional development days per year. Teachers don’t learn this way.

I conducted an action-research project this past year through a teacher leader program I was involved in. During the course of my research, I learned that teachers need three things in order to be successful with technology integration. First, they need to have positive, personal experiences with technology. Second, they need to have opportunities to observe teachers who are effectively using technology in the classroom. Finally, teachers need to be exposed to supportive, socio-cultural influences through the creation of norms and the discussion of methods/strategies with other educators (Ertmer, 2005).

Presenting for district administrators, fellow Teacher Leaders, and families

I think districts who are “getting it right” are providing their teachers access to not only relevant, meaningful PD opportunities involving (but not necessarily centered around) technology, but also providing experienced personnel to help support EdTech integration in the classroom. Sometimes districts forget that teachers are learners too - and that districts need to invest in their teachers just as much as they do their students. This means providing the tools and personnel to support teachers rolling out technology in the classrooms.

Why Travel Across the U.S. for a Tech Conference

From June 28th - July 1st I was in New Jersey attending FlipTech East Coast 2018 - And one of the questions that I was asked repeatedly was Why? ... Why did I travel all the way to New Jersey for a tech conference? Well, let me start with how this even began...

Around mid-May I was on Twitter participating in a Twitter chat when I noticed a tweet giving away two scholarships to attend @FlipTechEC - and truth be told, as I applied immediately, I did not pay attention to the EC part - All I thought was, “Hey, Why Not?!  Free conference? Yes, please.”

Seconds after I hit submit on that Google Form I get a tweet from @spEDTECHer - I responded (of course)...

And as I’m reading everything over to construct my response...a BIG Uh, Oh formed. What did I apply for? Excited, Nervous - What do I do if I actually get chosen?!?
Then it happened.  I got an email stating: Congratulations! FlipTech East Coast would like to extend a FREE invitation for you to attend our exceptional conference taking place on Friday, June 29th and Saturday, June 30th at Collingswood High School in Collingswood, NJ.

Again...Why Go?  Because I do believe that maybe not Everything, but Many Things Happen for a Reason.  With that being said, what an amazing opportunity to be invited across the country to join other educators who are interested, curious, and passionate about Flipped Learning. Anyone could have been chosen, and that anyone was me.

Unfortunately, there are not many technology events for teachers in my neck of the woods, let alone for teachers who want to Flip.  In order to attend a summit, conference, or EdCamp I need to travel quite a distance - and with CA traffic the commute is even longer than what it should be.  They are also very expensive - If I’m going to fork out my own hard earned cash for professional development (my own personal learning) then I might as well make it worthwhile.

And I Did!

From start to finish the committee, including lead organizer @collsphysistry of #FTEC18 ran the function smoothly.  They thought of everything!

Before I left CA there was
a Digital Conference Program with links to interviews with the presenters. Loved This - I was able to map out my schedule and “meet” the people who were presenting before the first day.  This really helped me gauge what sessions would be in my best interest - It’s always a bummer walking into a session blind and feeling like you are stuck - This time I had a better idea of how I would be spending my time.

When I arrived in New Jersey
I was nervous to meet other people, despite my big mouth and loud thinking, I can be quiet and shy in a room full of strangers.

During my first morning I joined @KyleNiemis and another teacher at a table for breakfast talk.  So far so good...friendly people. When lunch came I had the pleasure of sitting with three wonderful women (I'd like to mention @MrsFisher19 and @DOminiakSCIENCE here) who took me in and quickly made me a part of their group.  By Day 2 I was offered rides to and from my hotel and was invited to additional social gatherings.  I completely felt like I was part of this tribe ≛ PLN.

#FTEC18 had A Lot to Offer

The Key-Notes were so on point!  @ChemicalSams & @EmergingEdTech had two different messages, but were completely relevant in their own right.  Being a teacher is not just about being the one who delivers the content...it is the person who can help our students become owners of their learning - Creators of a Student Centered environment.  And as facilitators don't focus on the middle - "Design for the fringe and all...will benefit."

"Balancing Tech with Our Young Digital Citizens" with @EricaRipston: At the beginning of the year survey parents about what tech looks like at home (maybe at Back To School night).  Through a session conversation it hit me that yes, the adults at home are also models, however, it looks like we, as teachers, need to include them in lessons about basic digital citizenship and why it is important to un-plug once in awhile.

"In Class Flip: Understanding the Logistics Behind the Flip" with @MarthaRamirezco and @CRbuitrago: This duo is awesome - Absolultely loved learning from these two educators from Colombia.  They are so smart...They applied one of their techniques to the delivery of this session. Participants were able to immerse themselves in a rotation model while learning about how to incorporate an IN CLASS FLIP.  Even though they teach adult learners I was able to relate to this process. With 30 students I can just duplicate the stations making it manageable (ie. do two station #1s).

"Crafting Autonomous Learners with Hyperdocs and Flipped Learning" with @CRbuitrago: Enjoyed learning from Carolina so much that I had to stick around for another round.  She teaches English to adults and uses Hyperdocs to do so.  I feel that ELA/ELD content is my strongest area and to see all the different ways to use a hyperdoc model to teach grammar was so beneficial. I'm definitely checking out ThingLink and DeckToys for next year - a creative spin on Hyperdocs.

"Flipping the Pre-Laboratory Introduction in the Science Classroom" with Robert King: Even though the wi-fi was down we were still able to see examples by the verbal sharing of YouTube links (I always say that tech is like magic...AND I adore magic so much).  

On my phone I viewed a quick video

While I'm gradually implementing NGSS and transforming what science instruction looks like in an elementary classroom I can generate videos that prep my young learners and give them the confidence they need to follow through with a hands-on excercise - ultimately Building that Student Agency.

Student Panel: This is the first ever student panel I have seen at a conference.  It was comprised of AP Chemistry students at Collingswood HS. These particular students are very active and involved in extra-curricular activities.  As a traveling athlete, having access to wifi on the school bus is a must...Students who don't get home until well after dinner on a school night due to school functions away from home base can still get work done.  There is also more time during the class period to receive help and clarification if needed. Downfall, not all students will take advantage or have the capabilities to partake in a Flipped Learning setting.

Viewing of "Most Likely to Succeed": Day 1 couldn't have ended any better. Every parent, guardian, and educator should see this film.  Talk about giving students choice and voice...this is the window to which we are all looking for - What many of us are attempting.  If education actually supported this type of learning experience what would the future hold? Thinking about the year that I had and the group of third graders I closely worked with brought tears - Yes, I cried (publicly I might add).  But it's hard not to feel responsible for the future of our students when you are sometimes the only direct role model they have for 180 days. I was honored to be asked to help with a discussion after the movie by @spEDTECHer and wished the conversations could continue, but it was late and we all needed a break.

FlipCamp (EdCamp style): What a brilliant idea...one day of conference is tiring in itself so being able to have something light on the second day was, lack for some better words, a good idea.  There were a variety of sessions (formal, directed, and attendee driven). Because I didn't join in any of the sessions by @matthew_t_moore I decided to hang with a group that he assisted.  I enjoyed having someone to help guide the conversation and even share their personal thoughts on Flipped Learning.

Conferences: CA v. New Jersey
It was so interesting to me that I was pretty much the only elementary teacher at this conference AND the majority of teachers who were in attendance were NOT ELA teachers.  Most of my experiences with tech conferences have been where the participants are mostly primary teachers and the sessions are focused on apps used for reading and writing.

I was pleasantly surprised by this phenomena.  It gave me a new hope and validated the way I am using technology within my own classroom...across subject areas.

Why Did I Go To #FTEC18?
I hope it's clear by now why I decided to spend time and money on a conference being held on the other side of this country (literally).  If not, read a little further:

As an educator and someone very fond of learning I am constantly trying to better myself so that I can be the best for my students.  Yes, I teach 3rd grade and Yes, we have 1:1 chromebooks in the classroom...This means that I need to find meaningful ways to use this tool in conjunction with the curriculum so that students are mastering the standards.  Does it have to be cookie cutter? Does it look the same for every student, every teacher? I am growing my PLN (something I knew nothing about a year ago) and finding ways to bring real-life learning into an elementary school classroom.  Yes, students will be using technology in high school, even middle school, but if I can better prepare these young scholars for what they will be exposed to in 4-6 years from now, then I should. The point of school is not to test, not to memorize, but to be prepared for and succeed the next year, and the year after that.

Because I attended this conference I will forever be reminded that "We must not only teach students to know and to do, but also to be."  There are so many definitions for Flipped Learning, but "there is no right way" or THE way to do it - Only YOUR Way. Start small and find methods that compliment your teaching style and your students' needs - You can make it work...Why? (hope the message is clear) Because EdTech is NOT going away nor the idea of Flipped or Blended Learning.

Build Your PLN (there are so many shout-outs in this text and there are more that I did not mention:@flipping_A_tchr & @MrsStephenson3 & @DynamicDuda338 & @mollywmus), Communicate with others (ask questions and share ideas), Collaborate with educators outside of your space (webinars, video chats, Travel!), Be Creative on how you deliver content/standards (use YouTube and Hyperdocs), and most of all Be a Critical Thinker (EdTechTeam Blog: Critical Thinking). Aren't these the expectations we have of our students?

From Teacher to TOSA: A Transition Story

I have worked in public education since 2008 when I was offered an internship at a local public school, working in conjunction with my community college. I was in the college's Teacher TRAC program and thought that the internship would provide me with some good work experience, giving me a first-hand look at what I would be facing three years down the line when I graduated with a degree and teaching credentials.

This first experience eventually lead to me getting a job as a paraeducator in the district which ultimately led to a full-time teaching position upon graduating.

To say I was tenacious when it came to my professional endeavors would be an understatement. (In conversations with my mother regarding my career, she would comment that I had - and still have to this day - a "pitbull" demeanor...never giving up, persistent, stubborn most times.) I have always wanted more out of my career. And maybe that had to do with the fact that I had to put myself through college - taking out more student loans than I care to admit. But also too, I think I felt I had something to prove as a first generation college student.

I've been a full-time teacher for the last 7 years - all of them being spent in a special education classroom. And while I absolutely love what I do and who I get to work with, it is no joke working in that type of setting. Behavior and classroom management is just part of the equation; having to navigate the bureaucracy of special education, the piles of paperwork, IEPs and behavior plans that never end, and the fact that no one cared enough for my students to make the hard decisions and push back when needed (except me!)...this is what lead me to start looking for something more.

The one commonality among my experience in all of the schools and districts that I have worked is my love for technology and bringing it into the classroom - and teaching teachers how to make it work for them! For the last seven years, at every site I've worked at, I have served in some way, shape or form as a technology facilitator/chair - leading up to my most recent position as one of the Technology Integration Teacher Leads and School Site Technology Coordinator. Having provided both staff and students with professional development and in-class demo lessons, I knew that this was something I wanted to explore further.

Cut to June, end of the school year, when I stumbled across a job posting for a Technology TOSA in the district I student taught in. The same district that offered me a job three years prior - shortly after I had accepted the position in my most recent district. Coincidence? Maybe. But I am a full believer in fate and the saying "When one door closes, somewhere else a window is opened." So, on a whim, I applied for the job. I was called back that same day to come in for an interview.

The rest is history, as they say. I was offered the position as Technology TOSA. I would be stationed, coincidentally, at the same school site I student taught at 8 years ago.

Although I made a difficult decision to leave my classroom and the kiddos I have worked with over the last three years, it was the best decision for me at this time. With each day that passes and gets me nearer to the beginning of a new school year, I become more excited about the year ahead. I am excited that I get to work with teachers and create lessons that will engage their students with technology. Not having a classroom of my own also allows me a little bit more liberty with my after-school scheduling - more time to work with Angela to build up Tech Tribe EDU.

I have promised Angela that I won't become "one of those TOSAs" - you know the kind. She's promised to keep me in check and grounded, which I don't think will be too hard. I'm not far removed from the classroom and my priority has been and will always be the students I teach and the teachers that I have the profound opportunity to work with.

EdCamp: A Review of Our First One

Angela and I attended our first Edcamp this past weekend in Burbank, CA. As first time attendees, we weren't sure what to expect.

Edcamp is touted as being the "un-conference" - whatever that means. Having attended a handful of EdTech GAFE conferences, I was interested in finding out what an "un-conference" was and if it was better/worse than the paid conferences I had already attended this year. (Another plus - the Edcamp was free!)

Coffee in hand, Angela and I showed up bright and early on Saturday morning to a middle school auditorium in Burbank. Freebies were laid out on tables (you better believe I stocked up on some more stickers for my laptop), along with a nice breakfast buffet of pastries, fruit and more magical elixir (read - COFFEE!)

We went into the auditorium and I waited for the seats to fill up...and waited. And waited. Ten or fifteen minutes after the "start time," the event presenters decided it was time to get started - with all 17 of us. Yes - 17 attendees! I was a bit surprised that not more teachers/educators/education professionals weren't up at 8am and joining us for some FREE professional development.

Now, on a side note - as a broke teacher half the time, I am ALL FOR professional development opportunities that don't cost me squat except for a little gas out of my tank. Conferences (or at least the bulk of ones I have been to) are expensive, rarely local, and at times - elitist.

So, here's what I learned about Edcamps:

  • They are very informal. You show up, you mingle, and YOU get to create and generate "sessions" via a session board with post-its.
  • You attend the sessions you're interested in, much like any other conference. You might have 10 or 12 educators in a room...or you might have two other people and yourself. And if you start the session then feel that it's not the right one for you, you're encouraged to get up, leave, and go find another session you're interested in. No harm, no foul.
  • Edcamps are truly about the conversations, reflections, and connections. Not being from the local Edcamp district, it was a great opportunity to hear what other districts outside of my own were doing with technology, ELA, and flipped learning. Teachers, TOSAs, and even school counselors had the opportunity to talk and get real with what good things were happening in their classrooms and districts and what areas could be met with improvement.
And, as if the ideas and takeaways weren't great enough...everyone left with a raffle prize. Now, who doesn't like FREE swag!? (Especially a $50 STEM kit from Lakeshore!)

Angela and I left feeling inspired - and with a desire to host an Edcamp for our local area further south. Maybe another Edcamp is in the not-so-distant future for us...

#Sketch50 and Growth Mindset by Angela

You've probably seen the wide-spread phenomenon of #Sketch50 across Twitter - If you haven't, check out the website here.

Here's My take on this movement and how it can be used in the classroom.

#Sketch50 and Growth Mindset by Kristin

I first learned about #Sketch50 when Angela and I traveled up the Central Valley back in the fall for their Central Valley CUE's "STEAM Powered Education" summit. We ventured into a session with Cate Tolnai - co-founder of the #Sketch50 movement and CUE's Director of Member Engagement.

Now, granted...I had never used sketch notes a day in my life prior to this session. Like, ever. I didn't know what it was. I didn't know if it was something that I could use with my special learners.

But I liked the message - one of the first things out of Cate's mouth was something along the lines of "leaning into a growth mindset." I wasn't an artist - YET. I wasn't good at drawing - YET. I couldn't teach this - YET. I had been hearing a lot about growth mindset through my talks with other educators but I didn't realize that it could be applicable to a skill that I could pick up as a teacher. Until I went to this session and learned that my own teaching practices and skills could be developed and polished - even if I was starting at a "novice" level.

My first sketch using the Procreate app (with final editing in Photoshop)

Since that first session with Cate back in November, I have participated in the #SketchCUE 25-Day challenge, along with the more recent #Sketch50 2.0. I've learned that as badly as my OCD, Type-A self would like things to be pretty and perfect...these movements aren't about that. They focus on the process and development of skills rather than the final product. (Granted, some of my sketches haven't turned out half bad!)

Participating in #Sketch50 2.0

Although I already had the Apple Pencil, I didn't really start using it until this past fall (and I've had it since last April!) I invested in the Procreate app - the only program I really work with when sketch noting. As someone who grew up using Photoshop and learning how to create and manipulate layers in an image, Procreate was much more familiar and easier for me to navigate in the long run. I also preferred having the ability to upload my own brushes on Procreate - something that I was very familiar with doing on Photoshop. Other apps didn't offer this feature. So, the $9.99 investment for the app has definitely been worth it.

A sketch from the #SketchCUE 25-Day Challenge
So some of my take-aways...

  • Practice Makes Progress - not Perfection! I tell my students this ALL. THE. TIME. Yet, I didn't really take it to heart for myself and my own learning until really embracing the growth mindset and applying it to these sketch challenges.
  • Tools Enhance but Aren't the End All. Yes, it's great if you can afford to have a tablet, or the Apple Pencil, or invest in (expensive) apps like Procreate...but do you absolutely need them to just go and create? Absolutely not. I use paper and pencil...and my trusty PaperMate Flair pens. But even those aren't a necessity. Tools don't make the artist.

And the biggest ah-hah...just do it! Really - it's not just a Nike mantra. Take the prescribed five minutes (or 15, if you're like me) and just start drawing. It may not be pretty. It may not be polished. But it will be a work in a progress and something you can say you've tried...and in the end, isn't that what we want to teach our students? Success isn't just the end product - it's the attempts and failures we've endured along the journey.