One example of using Skype to enhance student voice and learning

By this point in time almost every single person has heard of Skype and video calls. Some have used it to connect with friends and family. Some educators have dabbled with connecting online with other classrooms whether it be a Mystery Skype or sharing of learning. Some have connected with experts(like professional editors for a language arts project). Some have not dabbled at all, but are intrigued.

Regardless of your ability and experience this is story to showcase the power of connections. Many would agree that face to face is always the best method to build connections. However, in this day and age that is not always possible and yet some of our most influential people in our lives are ones we only meet online.

I would like to share a story to promote the use of Skype and work to build those connections with all the amazing people around the world.

Recently, Microsoft hosted a Skypeathon where classrooms connected with others from all over the world to try and reach 1,000,000 virtual miles of interaction. It was a 24 hour event that reached over 3,000,000 miles.

There was one Skype session that we were lucky to schedule with Margo Day, VP of Microsoft Education. This was a session where instead of figuring out locations we talked about embracing student voice and empowering our voices to lead by example. We were not real sure what to expect, but we gathered members from our Iowa High Five student voice group and allowed them to ask questions and learn from someone who has made an impact on so many people.

As an adult and educator I learned a great deal from the message Margo provided. It was one of the best Skype calls we have ever had(and we have had many this year). Here are couple notes I jotted down.

  • every person should be able to contribute to the learning environment
  • students should be working together in groups where students are not in the same place/location to understand what it takes to work with a variety of people
  • nobody works on anything alone anymore
  • you need to find a sense of who you are
  • everyone should have some experience with writing code
  • I don’t know what I can’t do…..I don’t know how high is too high!

Besides my learning, there was something even more powerful than a tall, bald, ugly guy sharing his insights. An amazing 6th grade student, Isabelle, shared the following reflection that showcases the power of learning from others, flattening our classrooms walls, and doing all we can in schools to help connect students with amazing people like Margo. Check it out below and if you want to watch the session you can click the recording here.

Isabelle, 6th grader at Bettendorf Middle School

I feel that the Skype call really helped me think about my voice. There were answers from Margo that really helped me. When she was talking about exploring, and trying to find out what she can’t do it made me think, “What is so bad about failing?” For some reason I’ve been afraid to fail my whole life, but why? I just didn’t know the answer to this question, and still don’t know the answer to it. Also, when she was talking about our teachers picking us for Student Voice because they think we have a voice made me feel good on the inside. It actually made me feel more confident with my voice, like I have something special out of 7 billion people in the world that I didn’t know about. When Margo was talking about kids all over the world not having a voice made me upset. There are so many missed opportunities that our education is missing out on because the children who do have a voice are looked down upon. Some people think that kids are just little humans that are always in their own little world. The truth is we’re not.

I really like Sammy’s answer to Margo’s question which was, “ What does student voice mean to you and how do you apply that to school?” Sammy answered that question by talking about listening to other people’s opinions before immediately just auguring back. It really just shows how much of a voice students can really have. Also, Margo was talking about college, and how we need to find ourselves before going to college. This made me think about what new things I should start exploring to help me figure that out. My mother told me that I need to start thinking about what I want to do for college. Of course my answer was, “Mom! I’m only twelve I have six more years until I go to college.” This video helped me realize that I should start exploring now because there are so many things out there that are out of my comfort zone. I have always been into drawing, so I might try and do that for college. There are also a lot of possibilities in this world and I might like something better than drawing. If Margo never explored science and technology then everything would be different. The students who Skyped with Margo listening to her message might be doing something different now or in the future.

The message that I got from this Skype call was very uplifting and made me think a lot. The answers that I got from this call will stick with me for awhile. It helped me think about my voice in a very different way and even think about myself in a different way. This is something I help will pass on to other students in the future. 

How have you used Skype? What are ways you have flattened your classroom walls? In what ways have you leveraged technology to enhance student learning? I would to learn from you and hear stories like Isabelle to showcase and share with other educators who need examples of the power to connect with others. Sometimes we just need a little encouragement to push our comfort zones.

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Analyzing 2015 to make 2016 Super Kick Ass

I am just like everyone else on the face of the planet. A new year is on the horizon and I have been spending time figuring out what 2016 will look like for me. Perhaps you are reading this blog post because you are like me and currently in the same process. As I make plans for 2016 I get stuck so I need to look back at 2015 to see what worked and what sucked.

I find the process to be a bit cathartic as well as exciting mixed with a small dose of stress and anxiety.

There is so much I want to do and after many years I realized that not having a plan means that nothing will get done. I also know from many years of living that I cannot script out my future because so much can happen that I am not able to foresee.

With that being said it is helpful and wise to check out your year you just lived, analyze the events, and modify and make new plans to avoid what did not work as well as use what did work.

Here we go.

  1. Notebook Planning and Use

Back on 1/2/15 I posted a blog post(Using Evernote Moleskine Planner To Prepare and Plan in 2015) where I shared how I planned to use my “new” Moleksine Planner to organize my life. I plan on doing the same except this year buying a new Moleksine that starts January 2016 and ends December 2016(of course it is Star Wars themed). I bought one last year that was started in August like school, but now realize that even though that makes sense I am wanting a new start with a new year. As I go back and watch my 2015 goals for the year I realize that despite not meeting some of the ideas I was pretty successful in the end.


Key Things to Keep in 2016

  1. Moleskine Weekly Calendar Notebook mixed with Google Calendar
  2. Create a new year goal sheet using Moleskine Template site. Actually, this year I will be drawing my own template and adding to my Bullet Journal
  3. Use another notebook to record ideas, daily insights, book notes, blog ideas, etc(see #2)

2. Morphing the Logbook Experiment to Bullet Journal

Last year I also tried to keep a logbook where I documented things each day. It started off good, but it fizzled out because it was simply too much with my weekly planner notebook and other notebooks where I scribbled down ideas. Now, looking back at things the notebook was super powerful and I wish I did not give up on it because so many little life events were captured that would have been lost forever.

This year I am not buying the 12 month variant color system(but I LOVE them and the look and wish they worked for me). Instead I will be using a new modified system where I am building up my own Bullet Journal system. This is something I have wanted to do for years and this year I am making it happen. I have already started merging ideas from last year to make positive gains in 2016. Check out my video here on part 1 of my preparation(part 2 coming soon). Even more exciting is that my 9 year old daughter is making one and we had a great evening making and preparing our notebooks. This year will be epic!

Key Things to Keep in 2016

  1. Daily log of events but more structured and organized so it is a benefit and not one more item on the to do list.
  2. Make it fun, don’t make it feel like work which I made it last year
  3. Recording small moments in life
  4. Last year I started out documenting each month with recaps of my monthly goals. I won’t be doing this on my blog, but this will happen naturally with my Bullet Journal so I am excited to see how this develops and impacts my life.

3. Newsletter

I sent out an email to all my newsletter subscribers. Well, I actually sent out the rough draft with a 1000 typos, but the damage had already been done. In this newsletter I talk about changing things. I lost the love of the newsletter. It turned into work and I simply stopped doing it. I felt bad because I have worked hard to make it something of use and inspiring. I realized I had no direction or purpose. This year I have changed it up, new name, new design, and new purpose.

You can see all past newsletters here with more information about the newly revamped e-mails from me newsletter starting up next week. This will be so good I promise. Go ahead and subscribe so you don’t miss out on what is to come!

Key Things to Keep in 2016

  1. The newsletter but giving it a purpose.
  2. The newsletter will merge with my podcast system streamlining them into one cohesive piece of work. They will both serve the same goal together.
  3. Weekly – Biweekly system and not a sporadic system due to making it feel like work.

4. Coffee For The Brain Blog: Year in Numbers

Last year I shared this blog post about what I learned from 234 blog posts and all the data. These blog posts are so important looking back to see how I have grown.

I really made a goal last year and once again this year to work and think about what I shared. I used to share almost daily on everything under the sun. I put this pressure on myself that I had to publish daily or nobody would read. I finally stopped that mindset and focused on quality content. I did not post as much in 2015, but the numbers speak for themselves. When you focus on quality over quantity, things happen. I have had more things happen this year that I am forever grateful for in my life. I thank every single person who spends any moment of their life reading or viewing my work and even more gratitude to those who leave comments, share, and connect with the content.

My goal for 2016 is to create even better content(I have a plan) and to help more people lead better lives and become better educators.

In 2014 I had over 21,000 views on my site according to the WordPress end of the year report(different reports give different type of numbers but I will use this for consistency).

In 2015 the views jumped quite a bit to over 34,000 views, but as opposed to 234 blog posts in 2014 I only had 154 so this tells me that focusing on content really works.

The top referring sites in 2015 were:


The top referring sites in 2014 were:


Nothing too crazy here except that things have changed in my PLN. Where Twitter was on top in 2014 it really dropped down in 2015. Livebinders and LinkedIn completely dropped. Linkis is there but I hate it and don’t understand how to avoid that monster. It is really interesting to see legoengineering make it since I have not done a lot of LEGO EV3 on my blog this year(however, the data tells me to do so in many avenues). Last, Google Plus has always been good to me. I love the networks developed on this platform and still feel it is one of the most underused and underestimated social media tools for people to use.

In 2014 I connected with 114 countries for my readership.

In 2015 I connected with 142 countries and that goes to Microsoft Expert Educator group as this is one of the best things that has happened to me for my career and overall well being.

Finally, here are the top posts and page visits from 2015 compared to 2014. What does it mean? Well, when I look at the blog posts in the top 30 for 2015 I see something very powerful. People want help. They want specifics. They are coming to the website to learn HOW to do something. In years past I wrote many pieces about WHAT I was thinking or WHY things are working/not working. People don’t want that. Read the titles, read the posts and you will see that almost every single one of them people are reading to learn, to catch a glimpse into what is going on in Coffee For The Brain World, and how to do something.

2015 Top Posts 2014 Top Posts
9 Ways Microsoft Surface Can Transform Your Classroom by Recording Your Teaching The World is a Makerspace, Not a Classroom
Learn How To Make A LEGO Picture Frame Help Purge the Education Landscape of Terrible Games!
Don’t Build a Makerspace Until You Create a Culture of Learning #edplay Panel Chat: 3 barriers to graduating tinkerer scientists in US schools #stuvoice #stem
When Both Parents Are Teachers: An Apology To Our Kids Are we even listening anymore?
Microsoft Surface 3 Episode 9: OneNote Clipper 3 Key Components to a Powerhouse Staff and School
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Episode 4: Using Office Mix 024: Living on Edge of Chaos – Book Discussion: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell with Lisa Van Gemert
What To Do When It’s Your Turn by Seth Godin Increasing Teacher Voice: Challenge and Nominate a Teacher
Educators – Please Stop and Think About This for a Minute Love of Learning Cannot Be Taught….Can It?
Robodogs Robotic Camp Day 1 Useless Homework Only Results In Frustration
Amazon Echo: Could It Transform Teaching? Selling Autographed The Fault In Our Stars for Good Cause
Using Evernote Moleskine Planner To Prepare and Plan in 2015 Avoid the Game of Education and LEARN!
Game Based Learning: Is It Effective Classroom Instruction? “And I Won’t Back Down”
10 Ideas I Learned from Satya Nadella Fireside Chat 020: Living On The Edge of Chaos: Season 2 Episode 2 – Mini Thought on Courage
Developing a Logbook, Recording Ideas, and Sticking to the Plan! Teacher Tinker Time Reflection: Teamwork and Collaboration
Microsoft Surface Pro 3: Episode 3 – Using the Pen and Education Connections The Intricate Balance of Instructional Coach
What are you going to do with that old tire? #tirechallenge #YEOT – Soldering Project 1: Adjustable Power Supply
Robodogs Robotic Camp Day 3: Bowling Coffeechug Offers First After School Hack Class: Greeting Cards
Child’s Play: A STEM Language Arts PBL Unit #edplay GHO Panel Chat: Group Work Shownotes, links, and feedback
Young Engineers of Today Spring Lab 5: PVC Trebuchet Part 2 Brainwriting Activity, not Brainstorming
Robodogs Robotics Camp Day 5: Team Challenge Drop a Turkey in November: Coffeechug Fitness Challenge
“Is it really the goal of schools to create college and career ready students?” 027: Allison Edwards – Author of Why Smart Kids Worry
Robodogs Robotics Camp Day 2 Book Review: Deeper Learning by Monica Martinez
Robodogs Robotics Camp: A Week In Review Snapping Jaws Jack O Lantern Using Arduino and Sparkfun
Why I Believe Every Educator Should Graduate With a PLN #YEOT Open Lab 1: Solder Skill and Solder Project
My #InboxZero System and How It Might Work For You! Shrink the attention span to boom the voice
Creative Schools: A Review and Rant
Robodogs Robotic Camp Day 4
Flipped PD: Using Google Classroom to Make It Happen!
Scratch for Arduino: LED “Sprites” in Action
2015 Top Pages 2014 Top Pages
Home page / Archives 1 BrushArtBot
Young Engineers of Today 3 Projects
LEGO EV3 Tutorials 4 3D Printed Ornament Challenge
Robodogs Summer Camp 5 Who is Coffeechug?

Key Things to Keep in 2016

  1. More focus on content and not so much on quantity.
  2. Provide more work on HOW and less on rants
  3. Share more of what I am learning and trying to figure out myself
  4. Makerspace, STEM, and Engineering are what I am starting to be branded with

5. YouTube

YouTube was a huge goal of mine in 2015. I often felt like I spent more time developing this channel than anything else. It is still a bit of a hot mess and I need to really look at my channel and figure out what exactly it is that I want to do with it, but for now it is a collection of everything that I need. Looking at the data you can see that my laser focus worked much like my blog. I focused on content once again and tried to share videos that would be of service. It is no surprise that all of them except two are HOW TO videos which is the biggest niche on YouTube unless you are a celebrity or musician. This is where I feel my focus will be for 2016. I have a new concept coming out soon covering all things Windows 10 to see how that goes, but seeing the growth tells me I am in the right direction with my goals and what I love to do.

Just a sidenote, the first video cost me big time. I lost all the data as well as I was taken down and still have lost most of my YouTube options. I was at a Taylor Swift concert this summer and posted a short video segment of a song and next thing I know I was being served for copyright and stripped of my rights. I am still serving the penalties of this action and will not have full YouTube use until the end of January. It was a honest mistake that I learned from as I don’t want to cause any harm. I have shared concert footage of other artists and never had a problem, but Taylor Swift had issue. You live and learn and despite this setback through my own mistakes I still made huge strides by tripling my views in one year compared to 2014, doubling the number of new subscribers, doubling the time people spent watching videos and increasing 7x’s the amount of minutes on my site. Things are still small in terms of numbers, but I have plans to create better content so the channel will grow more in 2016.

2014 2015
Bald Eagle Screech Unidentified video(Taylor Swift Concert Footage that was removed and lost lots of options)
Opening Ollie from Sphero Bald Eagle Screech
Gaga Pit Rules for BMS Dog Pound Using Moleskin Evernote Weekly Planner to Prepare for 2015
LEGO EV3 Bluetooth Project – Windy City Using Moleskine 2015 “Color A Month” Daily Planner as a Logbook
Using Wunderlist to Organize Weekly Productivity Using Wunderlist to Organize Weekly Productivity
National Honor Society Speech: So What? LEGO EV3: Move Steering Tutorial
Bald Eagle Photography Fireside Chat with Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, at #MSFTEduE2
Coffee For The Brain Book Review: Meanwhile by Jason Shiga Bare Conductive Boombox DIY
Teachers Save Lives: Mrs. Clarke Scratch 4 Arduino: 3 LED Lights
LEGO EV3: Move Steering Tutorial LEGO EV3 Tutorial 3: Move Tank, Large Motor, Medium Motor
Total Minutes 32,827 220,001
Total Views 29,380 92,544
Average View 1:07 2:22
Subscribers: 40 99

What does this all mean for 2016? I am currently developing my planner template goal sheet, mapping out my year and getting ready to publicly launch some new ideas I have been working on. Stay tuned to the new year where I will share all my goals for 2016 and I how I plan to get there.

Let me know your thoughts about any of this if indeed you have any.

Overall, it has been a good year. I have not even began to dabble in all avenues of my life shared above in the 2015 goal template I filled out. That will come with my next post where I shared my 2016 goals.

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Hacking Mr. Robot

It is that time of year when your schedule is loaded to the max with projects, to do lists, and more. As we prep two teams to prepare for state competition in robotics and as I work to push out a new makerspace after school program of high quality………I have something even bigger to announce.

The last two years I have worked with small groups of students to build Mr. Robot. These were students pulled from study hall and other classes who had their work done. These students all had different abilities and prior experiences with robotics and building(from zero past to a little bit). Over time we were able to assemble the robot. The robot has been built and rebuilt many times as they learned the hard about build things incorrectly. Mr. Robot had an arm move backwards, he had a kink in his neck and only looked one way and recently his arm fell off.

These are moments of beauty because they reinforce taking care of the small details and learning to problem solve. I actually live for these moments to watch how students respond.

This year, we want to upgrade Mr. Robot. He needs a new facelift. He needs a real name. He needs to do more. He needs to make a presence in our school.


It is about to happen.

Currently Mr. Robot has lost his head and arm. We are reworking the motor system. We are developing a list of upgrades.


As we work to assemble our Mr. Robot team and purchase our parts, here are a few things to be on the lookout for over the next several months.

  1. Mr. Robot will have an official name(school wide vote)
  2. Mr. Robot will have eyes that work
  3. Mr. Robot will have a face uplift where we are hoping to add a few more lights to give feedback(think: mouth)
  4. Incorporate Raspberry Pi to operate the robot via wifi and to take over controls of the robot.
  5. To record the life of a robot, we are also looking at connecting Google Glass to his face.
  6. Why not add a camera because what could be cooler than a robot photo booth?
  7. We cannot share all of our ideas yet….

The team is being assembled. The ideas are being brainstormed. Things are in development. I am so excited.

This is the biggest engineering challenge I have ever taken on before as an educator, engineer myself, and working with students at a middle school. I have never been more excited.

We will begin operation starting in January. Be on the lookout for updates, his(robot) own social media pages, and hopefully a brand new way of teaching and educating students about robotics.

Take a look at Mr. Robot in these images. These are his before snapshots before he undergoes his transformation. He will emerge a new manbot soon!

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What are you going to do with that old tire? #tirechallenge

Seven students make up one of our three Robodog First Lego League teams. These seven students ranging in grades 5th – 8th have been working since September to figure out how to make the world a better place by figuring out a new idea to help reduce trash. This is the theme for First Lego League Trash Trek.

This team has come up with an idea rather than a product. They have developed #tirechallenge mimicked after the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. They are hoping to inspire action by everyone.

The students have taken on the task of trying to make sense of the millions of discarded tires found in rivers and landfills all over. After many hours of research and trying to come up with something innovative they realized that there is simply only so much that can be done with tires. They realized that unless you are a national company that has the machinery to shred tires there really is very little you can do.


You realize that a tire can be morphed into hundreds of thousands of different ideas. They can be repurposed for very little cost. And so #tirechallenge was born.

#tirechallenge is challenging you take an old tire and turn it into something useful in your life. They are asking you share your ideas and work with the hashtag #tirechallenge on Twitter or you can email me(I am a coach) and we will share it for you.

Below you will see their ideas that they came up with. These are just a few(we will share more on Twitter over the course of the next week)

7E8857F2-1FCC-4592-AA40-743A6B6AE8FF 32F50D59-19EE-46D1-BC38-48326151C164 96E13EA2-F551-4197-9BA2-DD19F75D8749 C5E7365C-167F-44D3-AC9F-039571E2EE45

The first student took a tire and cut it down to size to resole an old shoe. He sure learned a great deal about the toughness of tires! Second, we have a flower pot. Third, we have a dog bed. Fourth, we have a tire chair and this has become the hot seat in my room. Every student wants to sit on this chair.

We have more ideas like making tables using tires and old barn planks, picture frames, and more.

We are asking that you share this message. We want this challenge spread. It is a great STEM activity, science lesson, after school club, and/or family challenge. We want you to make something awesome.

If nothing else, then please spread the word so we can see how far our message will reach. The more that are aware, then the more tires can be reused and not just sit in landfills.

Here is our YouTube video to learn about our process.

Our research presentation will be shared soon after regionals. We compete Saturday so we are hoping to get an invite to state to continue the journey. Regardless, we will continue to push the #tirechallenge.

Last, we have two other teams that we will be sharing about next. Stay tuned, but in the meantime please go find that tire, make something cool, and spread the message.

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Educators Stuck At The Crossroads

Bone Bone Bone Bone.. Bone.. Bone.. Bone.. Bone.. Bone
Now tell me whatcha gonna do
when there ain’t no where to run (tell me what)
(When judgment comes for you, when judgment comes for you)
And whatcha gonna do
when there ain’t no where to hide (tell me what)
When judgment comes for you (Cause it’s gonna come for you)

Educators at some point in their career hit the crossroads. It is that point in time where you feel like you have seen it all. Where you feel like the circle is going around again taking you back to where you started. Or perhaps you feel like you have it all figured out and there is nothing new to learn.

It is at this point when we face the crossroads and have to make a decision.

Do you take the path that leads you to being cranky, grumpy, and unhappy where you are set in your ways?

Do you take the path that allows you to reinvent yourself as a dreamer ready to be a crazy thinker and a visionary?

I cannot tell you what path to take. Perhaps you hit the crossroads several times in life and have to keep making decisions.

Is it worth it to be set in your ways and unhappy with the world changing around you? Maybe it is easier, but is it better? Only you can answer that question.

Is it worth it to keep going and learning new things? Maybe it is harder, but is it worth it to fail and start over? Only you can answer that question.

What will it be? Burst out of your bubble of comfort and ask “What if?” or hide in your shell and resist and stay protected?

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Let It Go, Let It Go, Only Deal With What You Can Control

There are times in our lives when we hit obstacles, roadblocks, events, or ______(insert word of choice) in our lives where we wonder why things happen. Sometimes they are quite serious to the point of life threatening and other times just make for a very inconvenient moment in time.

Regardless of the extremity of the situation we cannot help but feel frustrated, stressed, anxious, mad, and sometimes really angry about the way things turned out.

I was recently part of this set of emotions and events. I have been preparing for quite some time to attend the #NYSCATE15 conference this week in Rochester, New York. I had about 6 presentations with my makerspace session turning out to be one of my best turnouts ever. I was ready to push the envelope a bit in challenging the thinking in education in a good way. I had a few new things to test out after ITEC and I was just pumped to go!

Even more important to me was the opportunity to engage and speak with educators with a whole different perspective compared to my Iowa lens. I was excited to pick their brains, learn new things, and understand what educators from the East are doing in their classroom to help improve our own school.

But then the snow came. I will bear you the long journey I had sitting in Moline for 9 hours, but after sitting on a plane for 2 hours after 3 hour delay, and then getting off the plane, back on the plane, and finally getting off for good things were not looking promising. After being on hold for two different one hour blocks with United Airlines and them telling me I had to pay $2000 for airfare(even though they cancelled my flight) to arrive the next day by midnight, I finally came to the conclusion that the trip was not to be.

I was really upset. I was bummed. I had spent hours preparing. I had started to make connections with educators to learn from. I took my own advice about preparing for conferences. And it was all for nothing…….in theory.

However, my wife told me that things happen for a reason. As we went to bed she asked, “I wonder what you avoided by not going today?” This was a deep question. Who knows what would have happened had we attempted the flight. Things could have been worse. The what if game will drive you crazy.

Instead, I was able to be home. After taking off my grumpy pants I enjoyed the happiness of my youngest who was not happy with me leaving in the first place. She was excited to have me home. I was able to watch the Notre Dame game(they looked terrible!). Even more important I was able to be home while my middle child had surgery(nothing serious, but surgery is scary for any kid).

Things work out for a reason. I believe in this. Nine hours in an airport is not fun. Especially a small one with nothing to do. However, I was able to observe, think, and make some connections. These will be coming out in future blog posts. I witnessed the power of communication. I witnessed the errors of miscommunication. I was able to read two books that put things in perspective.

And probably the most important to my wife was that I was home to help declutter our house of things. This was not the most important lesson learned, but we did spend 10 hours decluttering since I was home. The most important thing was that I was home. My family is healthy. We are safe. Things will be just fine.

Conferences are great. Learning is vital. But I am able to do this where I am at. I can follow along on Twitter. It is not the same as in person, but life will go on and things will continue to move forward.

In the end there are certain things we can control like our mindset and how we respond to events in our lives. There are things that we cannot control like weather. Getting upset about weather is a waste of emotion and energy on an event we cannot control and getting upset will not make Mother Nature change her mind.

We must learn to know when to let go and when to hold on. I will let go of NYSCATE, but I will hold on to my daughter while we are thankful she is healthy and for my family. In the end, this is what is important above all. Not losing sight of those most important to you.

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How to prepare mentally for an education conference or learning experience

Perhaps you are doing it wrong!

Everything is connected and interwoven. This is the idea I am trying to process and understand in my life right now. I look at my job, my personal goals, my kids and family, and everything else and am constantly striving to make sense of everything.

With that being said and going through my ideas scribbled in my notebook and listening to some podcasts I realized a few things.

  1. I never reflected upon my experience at ITEC
  2. I have goals with some upcoming conferences I am attending and presenting
  3. I am giving up certain things when deciding to make decisions to attend conferences and be away from home*

* #3 is important. For every decision we make we are turning away other ideas and events. I was thinking about how to frame my mind for these upcoming conferences so that it is worth the sacrifice to other things in my life. When we say yes to one thing we say no to another. For example, saying yes attending NYSCATE15 is me saying no to watching my kids play basketball and missing out on a small surgery my daughter is having.

Let’s take a look at some things I have learned over the years when preparing for a conference, PD, or learning experience.

Mindset – I am not going to bring up growth mindset(I just did I guess), but the idea I am about to share falls in line with this concept. When you go to a conference you should not go to a conference for others to “give” you ideas and things. Instead you need to go to the conference looking for answers to, “What am I going to learn?”

You need to have a plan and goals instead of attending and hoping. For me, I am heading to NYSCATE in a few days to present and also to learn. I have a goal. I want to learn from teachers in others states about the pressures they face and how they organize their days and planning to make ends meet. Each state is different with different expectations and criteria. I think it will be very helpful to absorb the ideas from teachers in New York to bring back to Iowa. I want to come back and prove to our teachers that we are doing amazing work and/or to come back and share ideas about how to make our work easier and more time efficient. I want to find educators and schools doing great project based learning, interdisciplinary work, and find people who are making sense of standards in ways that does not feel like more things on teachers plates.

What is more important?

What is more important to you – to learn a new idea or connect with a new person?

This is a very important question. For me, my goal is to connect with new people. I feel like I can find almost any new idea from my PLN and social media. However, I want to enhance my PLN and meet new people to make sure this happens daily. I want to engage in conversations and push the thinking of others that will push the thinking of my own.

Each person is different. Some attend to gain specific ideas. This is why the mindset piece above is so important. What are your goals and how are you going to reach those goals? I shared above what I am hoping to find, but if you peel back the layer to my goals it is about people. I am seeking educators.

Goal Check

If the conference is more than one day, then make it your goal to reach your agenda/goal by the end of day one. If you can complete your goal on the first day, then the second day and all the days after are just bonus.


Finally, don’t sit on the ideas and do nothing. Take time to reflect on your learning and your goals. Then it is time to create an action plan. I have a notebook where I draw and draft my ideas and how I plan to implement. I also use this blog to showcase my learning and ideas so that I am held accountable. Find a method that works for you. Otherwise, those notes and papers sit and collect dust or move way down in your Google Drive and nothing happens. When that occurs, did you actually learn anything? Don’t fool action as simple note taking.

When I think back to ITEC I launched five new presenations with two being workshops. I was nervous as they were all brand new. My goal was to test my new learning. Could I actually teach these ideas? Even more important, I was gauging my audience in terms of my style. I opted from using slides. I used OneNote for everything. I used ITEC as a playground for learning and experimentation. I learned so much from certain things to keep, certain presentations that should go away and not be repeated, understanding timing and how much to talk and how to allow hands on, and I learned more about myself through others. Basically, my sessions were my class periods I had as a teacher. I had to make adjustments on the fly from not having enough seating to technology not working to people liking my presentation to people walking out.

After ITEC I spent the rest of the week cleaning things up, eliminating the unnecessary and researching how to improve my weak points. The beauty is that I get to test out my improvements at NYSCATE and continue my learning journey.

Additionally, I sat in on some sessions to learn how others presented information. I was not there necessarily to learn the ideas being shared, but how it was shared. I love watching the craft of teaching. I wanted to learn from those who teach students every single day to how they teach to adults. I believe it is a different set of skills.

I had goals. I had a mindset to learn specifics. I was successful.

How do you tackle conferences? And what else should I consider?

NCCE2015 spkr button

And by the way I am super pumped to learn at NYSCATE! with the help of Microsoft!

Last, never, ever, forget to drink coffee!

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The State of Student Voice. My Thank You Letter

Students. Kids. Young Adults.

Yes, they are words used to describe the people we teach every single day, but these words do not do justice to who or what they are.

Leader. Energy. Passion. Curiousity. Entrepreneur. New Frontier.

These words come to mind when I think about the people that enter our schools five days a week and sometimes six.

I had the luxury and privilege to meet up with six students(seven when we all arrived as the Maurer Mobile could not hold seven) early on Saturday morning to depart on a three hour drive to Waukee High School for RISE.

Yes, it was early on a Saturday morning, but their shoulders were not slumped. They were not complaining(we did stop right away for coffee). Instead as they wiped the sleep from their eyes they were already permeating an energy that only youth can exude.

For three hours they talked. We talked. We laughed. We questioned. We challenged. We just were………. well, human beings.


We did not have to adhere to school roles, rules, and a false sense of a leveled power struggle. We could just talk and be ourselves. We were in a fluid environment where we were talking issues together and cohesively.

When we arrived in Waukee for the RISE conference we were joined by 150 other students who were ready to share, connect, collaborate, and confirm that indeed they could have their voices heard and actions implemented.

The conference as always was a success due to the hard work of the ISLI team and amazing students like Ian Coon. You can check out all the details of the conference in the link, but I want to shift the focus to what matters most – the power of voice to change the world.

I don’t know how to convey the ideas in my mind right now. This is going to be a spew of my ideas, emotions, and concepts I am trying to process.

Education is a rollercoaster ride as an educator. There are ups and downs. Days when you see the breakthrough in learners that keep you coming back. Days when you feel like all your work is for naught and you question whether or not this is really the lifestyle for you. You question the sacrifices made to your own family and kids. You question is it worth it? You question many things.

As I walked, talked, listened, tweeted, and simply observed the magic of learners at work I was challenged in my own thoughts and reminded why I am an educator.

There was a small moment in the day. It was the last session and in my session where I laid the groundwork for learners to rethink high school. At this point in the day many were done. They were tired. Their brains hurt. They had been thinking about what matters to them all day. Yet, here were learners from elementary through seniors rethinking education and what it means for their schools and their life.

My group of students were there working and at one point in their conversation they asked me half jokingly and probably just to rest their own brains:

“What do you want to do when you grow up? What do you want to do with your life?”

This very question we ask learners, our own children, and others came back and hit me like a ton of bricks. My first quick response is that I am doing what I want to do. I love my job. I am right where I want to be.

And yet when I said that I felt like that was not the right answer. It did not feel right. It did not taste right like orange juice after brushing your teeth. Even more, the looks on their faces told me that this was perhaps a disappointing answer. It was not intentional. I don’t think they even realized this small sense of panic I instantly felt. I felt like I shattered some hope in their own dreams by not giving them a mind blowing answer. But, perhaps in that simple answer I did.

They asked if I was going to be an administrator. I said no, that is not in my life plan. I just don’t have that calling in my soul. As I thought about the question when I walked away to let them get back to their work, I had to stop. What do I want to do with my life?

Is this it? There is that moment when you just don’t know how to process the world. On one end what I am doing is what I love. I love getting up at 4 am and doing work until 6 before heading to school all day to only come home and do more work at night when the kids are off to bed(this is serious and not sarcastic). I often think many people including people in the profession forget how much learning and growing occurs as an educator. We don’t flatline, but we constantly should be challenging our approaches, our thoughts, ideas, and connections to the world of education. On the other end, I started thinking, “Is this it?” Is this where I am going to be for the next 30-40 years? Should I be satisfied?

I don’t know. I feel like I am back to my youth where I have no idea about life and the future and what it holds.

Another breakthrough for me came when a student had a revelation. I have worked with this amazing student for a few years now through various projects, clubs, and activities. Today I witnessed a transformational moment. For reasons that I don’t know this student connected. The student found a moment where things clicked. This student approached me inspired, HYPED(student word of the day), and ready to move from voice to agency and action. We are going to connect next week to develop the plan of action to help make it happen.

This moment filled my heart with joy. In an instant I was reminded about the power of human connection. I was reminded about the importance of the human soul and being able to grow organically with one another to reach our goals and find our purpose in life. This student had this moment. As an educator, I can be a platform to help the student reach their goal in a positive manner. This made the entire trip worth it.

As I drove home late at night after a day of collaborating and connecting and viewing the film Most Likely To Succeed my head was filled with so many thoughts, questions, rethinking of my own beliefs, and the state of student voice and education.

As I listened to six students from middle school and high school blare a massive mixtape of songs, belting out their voices in unison, holding conversations between the drum solos while also texting, I was reminded that there is a generation of hope. There is a generation of doers. Students who are not waiting for the “real world” as they are already in it. Students who don’t only want to change the system, but actually are changing the system.

They view themselves as normal. They don’t realize that the things they are doing are above the bar. They are different. They are powerful. They are the movers and shakers not waiting to be an adult as often is the message given to them because they have so much to learn(well the message is given, but the culture stops them). Well, darn-it, even adults have “so much to learn” and perhaps we should flip the school model like RISE does. Instead of adults running the show, creating the parameters, and telling others what to do, flip it. Today I sat aside and watched students create a schedule, make food, speak the keynotes, invite new thoughts to adults, create new ideas on the spot, question the system, come up with new plans while adults sat and listened.

And it was amazing. Not amazing, but transformational.

I am moved not only as an educator, but as a human being who is part of this society. I am inspired by the passion of our youth. Whether it is passion for the greatest drummers, video games, lyrics, coffee, school, voice, college, or whatever is the pressing issues of the moment. When you can bring this passion together and fuse it with education and their future I see hope. I see change for the better. I see things happening before my time is over.

This is a thank you letter to the students who changed me today. This is a thank you to the parents who have helped raise a generation of youth who are not afraid to think, to take action, and have the belief in themselves to attack their fears and questions. This is a thank you to the schools who are willing to listen. This is a thank you to the schools who are not willing to listen as you will soon see why you made a mistake. This is a thank you to the students once again for being yourself and not being afraid to embrace the most important element of being alive – your soul!


Now, I am off to walk my dog, play babies with my four year old, and smile and laugh with my 8 and 10 year as we play apps, shoot hoops, and talk about whatever is important to them in the moment with hopes that one day they turn out to be like the six amazing examples in the Maurer Mobile and the hundred of others who gave me hope for life, education, and sticking to the course of being an educator.

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Morning Mojo

Morning Mojo

Thank God For Girls by Weezer is my jam for the week!

Welcome to Morning Mojo!

Testing out something new with the newsletter concept. I felt like mixing it up delivering some good things early in the morning to start your week off right.

Let me know what you think. Do you like this method better than the weekend drop or via email?

A few years back Millstone Coffee used to have peppermint coffee that Amanda and I would buy at WalMart. Those days are long gone, but this year I found San Marco Peppermint Coffee on Amazon and three pounds of coffee later, we are in heaven! It tastes even better when snow is on the ground. Not joking.As seen below, this is my window pane with my November goals. You can listen to my podcast I just posted to learn more.

030: November 2015 Month Goals, What Are Yours?

What are your goals for November?The intro to the podcast was a bit goofy, but it was a discovery found when backing up all photos from my old computer to Google Photos.As I continue to work through backing up photos and files, complete credit goes to my favorite podcast Note To Self and even better is that Manoush favorited my tweet. I want to frame this because her honestly as a narrator of this podcast is what makes it sparkle. You need to listen to all episodes of this podcast if you are not listening to it already.Here is what I have been reading… well I finished the last two weeks. It feels damn good to be reading books again.

1. My Fight/Your Fight by Ronda Rousey — One day I will make my daughters read this book. Just not now being they are 8 and 4. A great message about not giving up on what you believe.

2. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert — Need help with your creativity and justifying how you embrace your passions and interests? Then read this book. Some great points that have pushed me to move to action myself.

3. Bold: How to go big, create wealth, and impact the world — The first 2/3 of this book literally blew my mind. I have about 10 blog posts coming from my reading. Essential reading to think about the future.

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030: November 2015 Month Goals, What Are Yours?

My podast is back! Check out this episode where I discuss my four goals for the month of November. I have 4 big goals

  1. Weight under 230
  2. Donation of 500 books
  3. Build a robot that delivers coffee to teachers
  4. NaNoWrimo nonfiction style to finally finish my book!

Follow and Subscribe to my podcast on iTunes

Follow and Subscribe on Stitcher so please follow here if you use Stitcher

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