Step Right Up

There are no great people in this world, only great challenges which ordinary people rise to meet.   — William Frederick Halsey, Jr.

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Life has a way of putting you in your place. Just when you think you are on top of the world, in my experience at least, your world usually comes crashing down. Mine did earlier this year. Each year I choose my #OneWord. This year my word is #Intentional. I had this elaborate plan of how I was going to be intentional in my personal and professional life. I decided that since I was turning 50, this would be my year. Because this is a blog, I have shared a lot about my personal as well as work life. I share the good and the bad because although this is my outlet for my work life; my work life is intertwined with my personal life. My plan of being intentional ground to a screeching halt April 15, 2019. Five days earlier I turned 50. I was at home in the bed with the flu. Not the way I planned to spend my birthday. Again, I had an elaborate plan of how I was going to spend 2019. I had mapped out the remaining eight states I needed to see to accomplish my #50By50. My hematologist and cardiologist both told me I would not be flying to Alaska to see the Northern Lights since I have a pulmonary embolism. That was unknown to me until my continual chest pains drove me to the local emergency room and subsequently my primary care doctor in January who diagnosed the PE. Thankfully, I found out earlier this week that the embolism is gone; however, I found out in April that my father was dying. His cancer had returned, and this time it was terminal. Part of that was his choice because the treatment the first time was devastating to his body and also, there really was nothing left of his stomach to treat. The cancer had eaten the remaining portion that was left after the initial surgery in 2017. I spent most of April and May traveling back and forth from my home in Georgia to be with him in Chattanooga. We lost our father, the leader of our family on June 4th. All of my plans for my #GoogleInnovator project were on hold. The completion of my first solo book for EduMatch Publishing was on hold. I didn’t even want to go to ISTE although I had been selected to share a TED Ed talk as part of my participation in the TED Masterclass partnership with ISTE and TED Ed.  The conclusion of ISTE19 also meant the beginning of my term as president of the ISTE Edtech Coaches PLN. I had to be there.

Talk about a challenging year. To be frank. I was lost. I couldn’t focus. I had no desire to do much of anything, and I missed my dad something awful. I wrote a little, but it made no sense. I did a little work on the bus project, but the bus still sits at the bus yard unfinished. For the girl who said she was going to be intentional, I was not at all who I wanted to be. Then I got a phone call. My dad was a career soldier. In 1971 we met Dan and Priscilla Daniels and their daughter Carla. Their son David was born while we were stationed in Turkey a few years later. Only because I know she won’t read this blog, am I calling her Priscilla. Fifty year old Leslie knows better. She is still Mrs. Daniels. Her husband was MSG. Daniels, but we just called him Mr. Daniels. Our families remained friends throughout many changes in duty stations. Mr. Daniels passed away in 1991, and my mother passed away in 2001 (today is the anniversary of her death). Our families are still close. Mrs. Daniels called me to check on me after my dad died. My heart was hurting, but hearing her voice provided just the right amount of comfort I needed at that moment. We chatted for a while, and she said something to me that reminded me that I am the daughter of L.C. Fagin, Jr. and Ernestine H. Fagin. They didn’t raise us to wallow nor to be quitters. She told me that whenever she and my dad spoke, she would ask about the three of us – my older sister and younger brother. He generally gave the same response when talking about me. He would say, “Leslie is fine. She is handling her business the way she always does, and she is always trying to go the extra mile in everything.” I needed to hear her tell me that. I needed a kick in the pants because I was wallowing, and I was not handling business.

I took the rest of my time off (watching your dad die is not really a vacation thing so I won’t call this time off a vacation) to get myself together. I have a seven year old that will be my son one day. I am adopting him just as soon as he is legally free. He keeps me busy which is most definitely needed and appreciated. I have to get busy with the book.2019-07-20_0-55-42

 The story being told in the book was the spark behind my TED Ed Talk at #ISTE19. My talk was entitled, Let’s Talk about Race, Baby!  The book will pick up where my talk left off as well as address issues my parents faced growing up in the segregated South. I will also discuss how race and politics are deeply entrenched in American schools across the country. Ernie’s Mobile STEAM Lab is close to completion. All that is supposed to be on the bus is here.  I am waiting to get air conditioning in the bus as well as finish painting and installing the floors and countertops.  Once those things are done, it will not take any time to get the technology on the bus, and the bus in motion engaging students. In my personal life, I have been a volunteer for the Flint River Council Boy Scouts of America for 20+ years.  My oldest nephew is an Eagle Scout, my current #FosterLove earned his Tiger rank in May, and my former #FosterLove will be a Boy Scout when school starts. The plan is for me to be the Scoutmaster of the new troop we are chartering. In addition, I have been working to get a troop for girls started in our district. Both projects were put on hold because of the turmoil in my life.

Why the push to get back on track? Several reasons actually. First, I am a Fagin. As an Army Brat, I know that the mission must always be completed. We don’t quit. No matter how hard things get, we don’t quit. I have projects that I started, so I must finish them. The book is for my father. He was a career soldier who quit school at age 12. He joined the Army and was denied the opportunity to get off a bus in rural Arkansas because he was Black. He joined the Army voluntarily knowing he would go to Vietnam and may not make it home. He was willing to die for the very country that denied him the opportunity to get nourishment because of the color of his skin. The bus is for my mother. She dedicated her life to providing for children first as our mother, as a PTA volunteer, a team mom, Scout leader, Vacation Bible School teacher, and founder of a co-ed mentoring program for the children of Orrs Elementary School – the first in our district. I have to honor their memories. Second, I have a job as an instructional technology coach. There are students and teachers who are counting on me to share my knowledge with them so that they can become college and career ready future ready learners.

On Wednesday and Thursday of this past week, we had our annual retreat for district administrators. The theme was Step Right Up. I committed to step right up to the challenge of doing my job with all the passion I have for educating children and assisting teachers. Each attendee was given a challenge coin. We are to keep the coin on our desk to remind us of the task ahead. I was moved by the thoughts behind the challenge coins. The giving and receiving of challenge coins started in the military. I am a proud Army Brat. I just lost my dad, a veteran of the United States Army. He is buried in Chattanooga National Cemetery alongside his brothers and sisters in arms. The coin will remind me why I became an educator, and it will also remind me whose daughter I am. I am a Fagin. I have a mission to do, and I must not stop until the mission is complete. I am #Intentional. I am #Passionate about instructional technology. I am #Committed to finishing my bus, book, and the formation of two new Scouts BSA troops. Most importantly, I am stepping right up to mother my soon to be forever son.

To the students in my district, I am here. To the teachers in my district, I am here. To the 4,700+ members of the ISTE Edtech Coaches PLN, I am here.  To my parents, thank you for getting me here. To my son, I am and always will be here. I will #StepRightUp.

Until next time,

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If I Were a Wizard

The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. –Gabe Newell

 

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I have been a day dreamer for as long as I can remember. I spent a lot of time as a child dreaming about far away places I’d like to visit, creations I’d like to invent, and people I wanted to emulate. Part of why I was such a day dreamer was because I was an avid reader. I picked up a book and began reading at age 4 and haven’t stopped since. As a child, my mother would have to force me to put down my book and go outside to play. I ruined many a library a book because I often dropped them in the tub. Yes, I read in the bathtub. I read all the time – at school when I should have been working, at church when I should have been listening to the sermon, and even in the bed when I should have been sleeping. Reading is my escape, and I never want to lose that.

This past Friday I had the opportunity to read If I Were a Wizard to two fifth grade classes at Crescent Elementary School in Griffin, Georgia. It was World Read Aloud Day, and I was so excited to be able to share my love of reading with students in our district. I had two copies of Paul Hamilton’s book (I’m not sure why I bought two) so I decided I would read his book to the students. It was the perfect choice although to me it was just a random decision. I had not read the book before, but I realized I was instantly in love with the message not long after I began reading to the first class. If you have not read the book before, I do not want to spoil the plot although I will have to tell you enough to get my point across. The plot of the book is that a teacher asks her class the usual question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The underlying concept is to teach children about coding, but the point of my post is not about coding. Of course she received the usual responses such as a doctor, lawyer, football player, and such. One young man, Ralph, responded with, “I want to be a wizard!” He goes on to tell of the things he would do as a wizard. His wizardry was not the usual hocus pocus type, but more along the lines of helping people to make their lives easier, better, and meaningful. After I finished reading the book, the students and I had a conversation about theme, helping others, and following our dreams. I read the book to the second class and went back to my office with a lot to think about all because of this children’s book.

Part of my deep self-reflection came from the experience reading to our students and part came from the training I attended/coordinated the day before. A number of years ago, I became aware of sketchnoting and saw the wonderful work by many educators including Sylvia Duckworth.  I was fascinated and wanted to try my hand at creating works like hers and many others. I did a significant amount of research (Internet stalking) and found out all I could about how Sylvia sketchnotes (her tools, methods, and anything else I could find). I quickly went out and purchased an iPad and downloaded Procreate. I’ve played around with it and tried to teach myself. I was not quite successful in teaching myself. I kept seeing sketchnotes on social media, at #ISTE, and this year at GaETC, the conference committee had sketchnoters create sketchnotes of the spotlight sessions. I knew that our teachers and students would benefit from learning the art. Many of our students are visual learners, and as educators, we know that we have to meet our students where they are. Teaching them how to connect words, symbols, and images to the content would surely help them retain the information being shared in class. Not only that, but engaging them in creating their own sketchnotes would give those students who are doodlers something to do that is productive and meaningful. Through some luck and  a partnership with our Federal Programs Director, I was able to secure some Title funding to bring Sylvia to our district. Her sessions put a fire into the participants. I’ve never seen anything like it. All day long, our participants were Tweeting,  Facebooking, and talking about how they could implement sketchnoting in their classes. One of my colleagues who attended shared her knowledge with her nine-year old son. He was instantly intrigued by the thought of being able to draw his thoughts and use them to study what his teachers shared in class. That very night, he was practicing what his mother taught him. He even tried to “permanently borrow” her copy of Sylvia’s book. I was able to give him a copy of his own, and he made his mother take him to the store to get his own sketchnoting supplies.

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Friday morning, another participant shared a picture with me via social media. She was already teaching her students how to use sketchnoting. She is a speech language pathologists and is always looking for new ways to engage her students. When I tell you, she was on fire after leaving the training, she was on FIRE!!! Here’s a quick video of her reaction after being trained by Sylvia.

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Photo Credit: @RobinHarris417

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Photo Credit: @RobinHarris417

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I think that although our teachers received a superb training and excellent tools to engage their students, and two classes of fifth grade students had the opportunity to hear a life affirming story, I received confirmation that although sometimes we expect things to go one way, they go the way they are supposed to. I never thought of myself as a wizard, but I am. I help people (teachers and students) find their way and give them the tools to be successful. This past week is the week I needed. I have applied on several different occasions to become an assistant principal. This last time I applied, I did not get an interview. That was like a punch in the gut. I felt like I was ready and would be an asset to any school in our district. I let the rejection bother me for a while. It’s not anymore. I am where I am supposed to be at this time in my career. Will I be an assistant principal later? Who knows? Will I still have the ability to be a wizard and impact lives? Of course. However, at this moment in my career and my life, I am doing what matters. I am making magic for the most important people in our district – our teachers and students. Is there anything more important? What I do know is that I am a wizard and the teachers and students will continue to get the very best wizard that they deserve.

 

Until next time…

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#OneWord 2018

Embrace failure. Missteps and roadblocks are inevitable but are ultimately an opportunity to learn, pivot, and go after your goals with a new perspective. –Jenny Fleiss

2017 was a hard year for me, and I am hoping that 2018 is a whole lot better. On January 5, 2017 I had a colonoscopy because I was having GI problems, and although my primary care doctor was certain my gallbladder was not functioning, the surgeon refused to take it out until I got the colonoscopy. I had that and an endoscopy performed on the same day.  Some polyps were removed, and I was told to come back in a few weeks to get the results. That was a Thursday. The following Monday I received word that my father who was vacationing in Hawaii had a bleeding mass in his stomach. By the end of the day, we had confirmation that he had stomach cancer. Wow! What a way to start the year. On January 30, I spent eleven hours at Parkridge Hospital in Chattanooga while my dad had 2/3 of his stomach removed. About a month later, he began an aggressive treatment plan that included several rounds of chemotherapy, several rounds of daily radiation and chemotherapy treatments, and more rounds of chemotherapy. He lost nearly 100 pounds during his battle, but thank goodness he is cancer free.

I don’t think that I have ever addressed my childlessness in this blog, but I cannot have children. In 2016, I started the process of becoming a foster parent. State agencies move as fast as pond water, so it took a long time for me to get approved. I got approved right as my dad began his treatments. I decided that I could not devote my attention to my dad and a foster child so I told the agency to put me on hold. That wasn’t a good idea because I was imagining the worst possible outcome for my dad and was driving myself crazy. I realized I needed somebody to take care of so I wouldn’t continue to worry about my dad. On March 27th I got a call asking if I could provide a home for an 8-year-old boy. I immediately said yes. That was the best decision I could have made for myself. My dad was getting the care he needed, and I had someone who needed my attention. For 235 days, I had the opportunity to provide a loving, nurturing home to a child in foster care. While he was with me, we discovered he had some medical issues that needed to be addressed. We did, and then I turned my attention to my own care. Remember the bad gallbladder?  It had progressively gotten worse, so I made plans to have it taken out right after the new year. I didn’t want my foster son to have a crappy holiday season because I was recuperating from surgery.  I had my plan and expected everything would be fine. Not so.  He left right before Thanksgiving. To say that I was devastated is an understatement.  Two weeks later, I was in the back of an ambulance on my way to the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t. I was dehydrated, my potassium level was pretty close to non-existent, and my gallbladder had just given up on me. I spent the weekend in the hospital and decided that since the little one was no longer with me, I would move the surgery up. My gallbladder came out on December 13th.  I spent the Christmas holidays recovering although that is not what I wanted.

Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I don’t want a repeat of 2017 because I feel like I couldn’t get my feet on firm ground. Professionally, things weren’t so bad. I did not accomplish everything that I wanted to, but in retrospect, I think I had my hands full. At the beginning of the year, the book I co-authored with 19 other phenomenal educators came out on Amazon. To see my name on the cover of #EduMatch: Snapshot in Education 2016 was a dream come true. In April, I was named the ISTE Edtech Coaches PLN Award Winner for 2017, and in June, after two failed attempts, I was accepted into the Google Innovator Academy as part of the #WDC17 cohort. Getting that email was definitely the high point of my year.

Too many heart wrenching things going on personally. Great things going on professionally. I just couldn’t figure out how to mesh my personal and professional lives. I have been at home since December 13th with lots of time to think. I still don’t have all the answers, but I do know this: I did not accomplish all that I set out to accomplish in 2017, but I will in 2018. How do I know this? I know because I come from a long line of strong people, and we are resilient.  Things were shaky last year for me. That’s not the case in 2018.  What I didn’t do in 2017 will get done in 2018. What will get done in 2018, you ask:

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Ernie’s STEAM-tastic Mobile School Bus

This is my Google Innovator Project.  My intention is to renovate a school bus and turn it into a mobile STEAM lab that will travel around our district providing hands on learning for our students and professional development for our teachers. I have a lot of work to do, but I look forward to the challenge.

 

 

edumatch publishing As yet to be determined book penned by Leslie R. Fagin 

I have met with my publisher and should have had the first draft of my book done in September. That didn’t happen. I am thinking of changing my initial idea so that I can write about something a little closer to my heart. My publisher and I will be meeting again in a few weeks to discuss the direction of my book.

 

The completion of my Google Innovator project and my first solo novel will not be the only things I work on during this year. I am on the leadership team for two of the ISTE PLNs – the Digital Storytelling Network and the Edtech Coaches Network. Both PLNs have a lot planned, and I anticipate being very busy. The Edtech Coaches Network is kicking off a book study via Twitter in just a few weeks, and I will moderate several days of the book study. Of course, since I am heavily involved with two PLNs, I will be at the conference in Chicago this June. I love going to ISTE because I am able to make connections, renew acquaintances, and gain so much new knowledge. I must admit though, ISTE 18 will be a little different for me this year. Not since ISTE 14 have I not been a presenter. I was brand spanking new to my job when I attended ISTE in Atlanta. Since then, I submitted proposals for the conference, and presented in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Antonio. In addition, I worked in PLN playgrounds and was a conference volunteer. I was worn out when I came home from San Antonio.  My fellow coach and I asked our boss if we could attend and not present. Thankfully, he agreed. I am looking forward to being able to attend more sessions and actually play in the playgrounds.

In February, I hope to be presenting at the EdTechTeam Southern Summit. I submitted two proposals and hope to hear any day whether or not they were accepted. I love attending their summits because I get to see so many wonderful educators sharing tons of Google goodness.  Our district is moving towards blended learning, so Robin and I will be in Rhode Island at the Blended Learning Conference in April.

So, for Leslie Fagin, AKA The Faginator, my #OneWord is #resilient.  I will bounce back from all that I dealt with last year and keep moving forward. I have to. In an earlier post, I was excited that I was chosen to be a Google Innovator. That means I have a project to finish. I have a book to write. I have teachers to learn with, from, inspire, and collaborate with for the benefit of our students.  We tell our kids to keep pushing through. I have to do the same.

 

 

 

Until Next Time,

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Ms. Fagin Goes to Washington, Part I

The innovation point is the pivotal moment when talented and motivated people seek the opportunity to act on their ideas and dreams. — W. Arthur Porter

The first time I applied for the Google Innovator Academy, I really thought that I had a good project idea. However, because of medical issues, I could not fully commit to putting together a top-notch application and video.  The day applications were due was the day I created my video. I had just been at home on medical leave for 4 weeks and not feeling my best. Needless to say, I was rejected. I was disappointed but not much.  I knew what I submitted was not my best work, so I couldn’t really be upset when I received the following email from the Innovator Program Team:

Rejection 1

The second time I applied, I loved my idea. I put together a great video and application. I eagerly awaited hearing back from the Innovator Program Team.  It wasn’t to be. Again. This time I was more than disappointed. I couldn’t figure out why I was not accepted to be part of the Boulder 16 cohort.  I remember watching the Twitter hashtag for the academy, and I was quite jealous. I felt like my time had passed, and I would never be a Google Innovator. I saved the second rejection email. I am not sure why, but I did.

Rejection 2

When I was rejected after the second application, I decided that I would take a break from applying.  I fundamentally believed that there was something wrong with how I was approaching the entire process, and I needed time to regroup. I also thought that there was something fundamentally wrong with me since I could not put together an application packet that was worthy of being accepted.  I would watch the #GoogleEI Twitter feed each time a new cohort was announced.  Each time I would see the congratulatory emails from those accepted, I was reminded of my failure.  I pretty much decided that I would not apply again.  I felt like I could make a difference without the Google Innovator label. Plus, I was tired of getting the email that said, “Sorry, we don’t want you but keep doing what you are doing.” Okay, that’s not what the email said, but that’s how I interpreted the message.

After enough time had passed, and I found other reasons to be proud of my work (I co-authored #Edumatch 16: Snapshot in Education and signed a contract with my publisher to write my next book due next year), I decided that I could try one more time. I am not a quitter, and I could not let myself not try again.  This time I didn’t spend hours trying to find a project. I let my project find me. One evening I was online and saw a bus that had been repurposed into a mobile learning center. At that moment, I knew what I had to do for my next Google Innovator application project.  I am not the instructional technology coach assigned to the elementary schools in my district, but I do visit them from time to time. I also have an eight year old foster son living with me. He loves to tinker with stuff. There are many days that he will go in his room and make things. He then will ask me to come in and play whatever game he has made up.  His games usually involve throwing things and counting things.  When my idea hit me, I knew that we needed a mobile STEM lab in our district.  Our kids need places they can tinker, create, collaborate, critically think, and communicate with one another.  Just like districts around the country, money is an issue.  We cannot put STEM labs in every school, but we can have a bus that travels around the district and expose our students to as many opportunities as possible.

From the moment I had the idea to make a mobile STEM lab, I knew that would be the project that I would do regardless of my status as an Innovator.  I want it for my foster son and the children in our district.  I now know that in my two previous attempts, I was not passionate. I cared, but those projects did not keep me up at night.  This project does. This is the project that I want to complete and share with others around the world.  This project I want to use to train teachers in using STEM in the classroom.  This project will allow me to go from school to school in my district and possibly neighboring districts and watch students be amazed as they create and communicate with students in their classrooms and around the globe.  Yes, they will be able to do Google Hangouts while in the bus.

When putting my project application together, I had to do a slide deck explaining the problem, and how I hoped to solve it.  To complement the slide deck, I had to create a video and upload it to YouTube. I spent a lot of time on both because I wanted my passion to shine so that those judging the applications could see how important this project is to me.  I even went so far as to record my video on a school bus.  I felt that atmosphere would add just the right touch.  As I completed the various parts of the application, I had trusted friends look over it and give me suggestions.  I wanted to make sure that I was not overlooking anything.  The most consistent feedback that I got was to make sure that my project was scalable meaning I needed to make sure that the mobile STEM lab idea is something that can be replicated by others.  Sounds easy enough. Right? I tweaked the application and submitted it.  I will go ahead and tell you that I am not a patient person.  Initially applicants were told that acceptance letters would be sent out on June 4, 2017.  Somewhere along the way, the date got changed to June 6th.  I was tortured every moment of every day as I waited to see if I had finally been accepted to be a Google Innovator.

I began checking my email at 12:01 AM on June 6th.  I checked, rechecked, and checked again. All day long. I watched the Twitter feed. I checked my SPAM folder. I had two training sessions on Google Classroom.  My mind was half on the  training and half on my email.  Still no answer by the end of the work day. My church had Vacation Bible School that week, and I had registered my foster son and my nephew.  Let me apologize to God for what I am about to say.  I have no idea what transpired that evening during VBS.  I was checking email.  At exactly 8:00 PM, my pastor was praying.  I did not have my eyes closed nor was I paying him any attention.  I was scanning my email and saw one from The Google for Education Innovator Program.  Before I clicked on the message, I saw, “Congratulations from the Google for Education Innovator Program Team.”  Although my pastor was praying, my church is not one that is okay with folks screaming out during the prayers.  I had to refrain.  I opened the email and saw what I had been wanting to see for so long:

Innovator Acceptance

I made it!  Finally. I was going to be an Innovator.  I, Leslie R. Fagin, was going to Washington, DC, with 36 other phenomenal educators.  The #WDC17 cohort would be tasked with something similar to our predecessors – be different, be creative, be innovative, be the driving force behind change in our educational system and our communities and our world.

Of course, being selected to attend the Innovator Academy is not the end of my journey.  It’s just the beginning.  Since my intention is to share the process with others so they can replicate it in their districts, I will blog on this site and add videos on my YouTube Channel.  Not long after our acceptance letters were sent out, we received a ton of information about what to expect as well as things that we needed to do prior to our arrival in DC.  I will continue to share my experience as I travel the road to becoming a Google Innovator.  I can’t wait until I get to the Google Office in DC, nor can I wait to see the bus in motion sometime in 2018.  I already have a name for it, and I can’t wait to unveil it at the press conference.  Yes, there will be a press conference.

Stay tuned…

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WDC17 Logo BIG

What to Expect When You’re Attending…ISTE 2017

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success. –Alexander Graham Bell

The highlight of my year begins in about 3 weeks. I passed being excited a long time ago. I was excited last October when I purchased my airline ticket. It became real when I got the hotel reservation confirmation. When I first heard about ISTE, I knew it was a place I had to be. I had no idea how I was going to get there; I just knew I had to be there. My first ISTE was in Atlanta in 2014. I was unprepared. I had just been hired as an instructional technology coach, and I had no idea what to expect. I was a little better in Philadelphia for ISTE 2015. ISTE 2016 in Denver was much better. I plan to totally rock ISTE 2017 in San Antonio!

Make A Plan

Here’s how my colleague Robin Harris and I navigate ISTE. Without a plan, it is very easy to get overwhelmed and miss out on events and opportunities. Since it is such a huge financial investment, having a roadmap helps. We used Google Sheets to create

ISTE 2017 Schedule

My ISTE 2017 Schedule

schedules for ourselves and then we shared with each other. We listed everything we had to do (our presentations, volunteer obligations, and BYOD sessions) and filled in what we wanted to do (sessions, meetups, and exhibit hall time).  We also decide ahead of time what our focus will be for the conference. I am trying to learn more about STEM, and Robin is adding to her blended learning knowledge base. Once we identified our focus, it made it easier to build our conference schedules. Of course, we may change some things once we get to San Antonio, but it sure does take away a lot of anxiety knowing that for the most part, we have planned what we will do.

Limit Your Gadgets

I know. Die hard tech people love their gadgets and travel with as many as possible just in case. Who knows what you will need, and who wants to be unprepared? I have been guilty of taking too much to previous conferences. Every time I do, I regret it. Extra technology means extra scrutiny going through airport security. I understand the need for airport security, but I hate having to pull all of my devices out of my bag. In the past, I have carried a laptop, iPad, a Chromebook, and two cell phones. I used all of the devices but could have made do without some. The last day of the conference when I had to store my luggage, I did not feel comfortable leaving my devices unattended, so I carried everything in my backpack. My back was so not appreciative. I was not appreciative when I was pulled aside for extra screening on the return flight home. I even had to go to a separate area to retrieve my laptop. It’s not worth the hassle. This year I will have the cell phone, the iPad, and the Chromebook. That’s it. I don’t need more.

Protect Your Wallet

Hi, my name is Leslie, and I purchase too many t-shirts. It never fails. I say I won’t, but I do. I buy one or two conference shirts, shirts from the city, and at least one sweatshirt. I also purchase other souvenirs. Why is that bad? Well, for one thing I never have enough room in my suitcase and I also don’t need most of what I buy. I have way more t-shirts than can be worn in my lifetime. Really. Just ask Robin. Save yourself some money. If you want a shirt, go to the exhibit hall and ask. A lot of the vendors have shirts to give away. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Also, you can get a free conference one if you volunteer to help out. I am a Conference Volunteer and will get a cool shirt to add to my collection. Plus I get to talk to other attendees. That’s a win-win for me.

Might I also mention food. ISTE is a conference held at a convention center. Eating at such may require a second mortgage on your home. Seriously, plan ahead so that you don’t spend a lot of money eating at the conference. There will be a free continental breakfast in Exhibit Hall 2-4 on Monday and Tuesday. It’s usually pastries and coffee. Vendors will also have events in which they provide hors d’oeuvres. Find one or two and go. You will no doubt have to listen to a sales pitch, but free food can be worth it.

Being Mobile

The conference itself is huge. You will do a lot of walking in the convention center and outside of the convention center. To help combat foot issues, please wear comfortable shoes and stay hydrated. There will be water stations located throughout the convention center, so you can fill up your water bottle. There will also be a lot of places where you can sit and rest your feet for a bit and talk to other conference attendees. Don’t pass up the opportunity to meet new friends.

How to get around San Antonio? In the last couple of years, I have tried a couple of different options. The first year in Atlanta, I drove my car and parked it at the hotel. My hotel was not on the bus route so I had to take a cab every day. I was concerned about my safety, but my concerns were unfounded. There were other conference attendees staying at my hotel, so I was able to share a cab with someone every day. If you are staying at a hotel not on the bus route, ask around (Twitter, Voxer, ISTE 2017 Network). Somebody else is looking just like you are.

As far as getting to and from the airport, we have done it both ways. In Philadelphia, we took public transportation. It was cheap and gave us a chance to see the city while riding the train to the hotel. In Denver, we split the cost of a cab since there were five of us. It was pretty easy to grab one at the airport on the way into the city, and we had the hotel secure one for us the day we departed. We had a little extra time in Denver that Wednesday after ISTE ended, so we chipped in and rented a car. Robin, Will (our network administrator), and I wanted to go to Rocky Mountain National Park. We only spent about $25.00 each and had time to get out and explore. Make sure to leave some time to see something. I am not sure when I will be back in San Antonio, so I am taking full advantage of the time I have during ISTE.

Get Connected

Even if you are going by yourself, you are not by yourself. I am saying this as a shy person. Talk to someone. Talk to someone else. Keep talking to a new person every single day. Share whaIMG_5410t you do at your job. Ask them what they do. I know it’s hard, but it will be so worth it. I promise you will be glad you did. People talk about the power of the PLN. It’s real. It’s as real as you and me. My go to PLNs are #Edumatch and #ETCoaches. My involvement with Edumatch resulted in my becoming a published author. I did not know any of my fellow authors before I got connected with Edumatch. Now I have a global group of friends that I can go to with any question and get an immediate answer. Working with the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches has given me a group of fellow coaches who constantly push me to do better and be better. We all need someone in our corner who will help bring out the best in us. Having a PLN will help you be better at whatever you are doing. I promise.

I do not profess to be an ISTE expert. I am just someone who has been a few times and wants others to have a good experience. By no means is this list all-inclusive of what you should and should not do while at ISTE. It’s a starting point. If you have questions about anything else, please reach out. I can be found on Twitter, Voxer, or good old-fashioned email leslie.fagin@gscs.org. If you are wandering around the convention center and want to talk to someone, send me a message on Twitter. I would be glad to meet up with you and chat.

One last tip: Have fun!

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GSCS Prize Patrol

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Mrs. Amy Brown, staff members from the GSCS Instructional Technology Department,  and her 3rd grade students the day of our announcement!

As a child I dreamed of the day when Ed McMahon would knock on my door with a giant  check from the Publisher’s Clearing House. Once I got a job, I even bought magazines thinking that would increase my chance of winning. I know. I wasted my money on something that was never going to happen for me. All that happened was that I spent money on magazines that I am sure I never read.

I never got a visit from the Prize Patrol, but I recently had the chance to bring joy to someone’s day. At the beginning of the school year, our Instructional Technology Department decided that we wanted to give a teacher in our district the opportunity to attend the ISTE Conference. Going to ISTE is a wonderful opportunity, but the cost of registration, housing, and travel is prohibitive to many teachers.  We knew that by giving one of our teachers the chance to interact with other educational technology enthusiasts that our students would be the real winners. My colleagues, Lonny Harper and Robin Harris, and I sat down and discussed how we wanted to give away a trip to ISTE. We did not want to just give someone a free trip nor did we want to put names in a hat and do a drawing. We strongly felt that if we were going to invest nearly $3,000, we wanted to do it right.  After much discussion, we came up with a plan. We would have a competition, and the winner would be the recipient of the trip to ISTE.

Win a trip to ISTE Application top

In order to maximize our return on investment, we came up with some requirements for the scholarship recipient. Since ISTE is all about effective technology integration, we wanted to make sure that whomever won the contest already had a strong history of effectively using technology in class. We drafted a list of instructional practices that we thought should take place in class and came up with a Google Form for the applicants to fill out. We advertised the contest in our weekly Tuesday Tech Tips newsletter and made announcements during our professional learning training sessions. It was officially announced in October.

Win a trip to ISTE questions 1-3

Win a trip to ISTE questions 4-7

Win a trip to ISTE questions 8-11

Win a trip to ISTE questions 12-13

Not long after we announced the contest, we began to get a lot of interest from our teachers.  They had questions and wanted to schedule time with Robin or me so that they could knock out that requirement.  Having the teachers get excited about the contest was refreshing for both of us. We both know the power of ISTE, but our teachers do not. Knowing that one of our teachers would be at ISTE AND able to mingle with other ed tech enthusiasts AND see student presenters AND explore in some or all of the many playgrounds available at the conference gave us reason to encourage as many teachers as possible to apply. I will admit that I was a little jealous because I remember wanting to attend ISTE when I was a classroom teacher. I knew I could not afford it even when it came to Atlanta in 2014.  Looking back, I suppose I won the jackpot when I got this job because I ended up at ISTE 2014 as a brand new instructional technology coach. Going to and fully taking advantage of opportunities at ISTE can be life-changing for the attendee and the recipients of the shared knowledge.

As word got out about the contest, there were building level administrators who wanted to know if they were eligible. Although we feel that having administrators onboard with technology integration is vital to a successful endeavor, having teachers exposed to the all the educational technology offerings is a better investment for us in the long run. Teachers are the ones who are in the classroom day after day working with our students. They are the ones who need to know what is out there and how best to maximize opportunities for our students. Teachers have the biggest impact on student achievement. Sending a teacher to ISTE is part of our effort to get our teachers exposed and involved with effective technology integration which in turn will enable our students to be global learners with unlimited potential.

The contest ended and our judges had a very hard decision to make. Robin and I did not want to be the ones to make the decision because we are too close to the teachers. We were able to secure outside judges who admitted that it was a close competition, but ultimately they selected Amy Brown the winner of the Win a Trip to ISTE 2017 Competition.  On April 11, 2017, Lonny, Robin, and I paid a visit to Jackson Road Elementary School where Amy is employed as a third grade teacher. In front of her students, co-workers, and administrators, Amy was announced as the winner of the scholarship.  She was quite thrilled to find out that she would be attending the largest educational technology conference in the world.

Not long after the announcement was made, Robin and I sat down with Amy so that we could familiarize her with some tips and tricks to make her first trip to ISTE successful. Robin and I create our own schedule for the conference so that we can fit in as much as possible yet not be overwhelmed. We always share our schedule with the other. We have done that for this year and shared our schedules with Amy. Once school is out, and she has time to breathe, she will make her own and share with us. We also decided to have a shared Google folder to put documents in that will link resources from the conference. Part of winning the trip means that Amy will have to re-deliver to our teachers next school year. Having everything in once place and having a plan means that we won’t waste time replicating what someone else has done. We each have a focus for the conference. Robin is looking at blended learning, I am looking at STEM, and we aren’t yet sure of what Amy is looking at. She’s kind of busy with the end of the school year. Did I mention that she is our current district Teacher of the Year?  She is a phenomenal teacher who engages her students each and every day, so we are quite pleased and anxious to see what she will do with her new-found ISTE knowledge next school year. During ISTE, we will periodically met and share what we’ve learned.  We are also planning to take Amy to the #Edumatch Meet-up  on Sunday so that she can get involved with that awesome group of globally connected educators. Monday’s plan includes the ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Meet-up. Amy has indicated that she would like to join our ranks down the road, so we want her to make connections with others in our #edtechvillage.

I hope that we are able to offer this opportunity again. I would also like to see some of our building administrators budget money for one teacher (or more!) to attend ISTE or even the Georgia Educational Technology Conference in November. Our teachers crave professional learning opportunities, so why don’t we give it to them. Stay tuned for more updates once we get Amy to San Antonio!

Until then…

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Google Expeditions

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. –Saint Augustine

My motto is, “Have suitcase, will travel.” If I could spend the rest of my days traveling, I would. However, I do not have access to unlimited funds, so I work. I work as an educator and encourage all of my former students to see as much of the world as they possibly can. I travel bitmojiknow that not all students are able to explore our country or the world right now, so to me, being able to use Google Expeditions is a way to expose them to as many experiences as possible so that maybe, just maybe a spark will be lit and later in life they will take off on grand adventures and do great things.

When Google Cardboard and Google Expeditions hit the scene, I desperately wanted to get my hands on a headset. When I had the opportunity at ISTE, I was absolutely amazed and felt like our students would be just as awestruck as I was. I begged my boss, but because of budget limitations, it was not possible at the time. Finally, right before Christmas this year (great gift, I know), we found a way to build our own kits that would be put in the hands of our teachers. This is how we were able to expose our students to the world beyond their classrooms and our city.

Our Process – Phase 1

We initially purchased 15 Kxox V2s from Knox Labs. Instead of purchasing the Google Cardboards from Google (strictly a financial decision), we went to a different retailer. This is a pilot project and we want to make sure that it is feasible to move forward before we make a huge financial investment. Making a decision on what kind of device to use for the kit was a harder decision. After doing some research and not getting a conclusive Google Expeditions kit Contentsanswer as to the suitability of an iPod Touch, we made the decision to utilize iPhones. In our district, all building administrators and central office administrators are issued iPhones. Some were eligible for an upgrade, so we upgraded them and retrieved their old phones. Once the phones were reset to factory condition, my colleague Robin Harris and I set up the phones with the appropriate apps. We also disabled the features that would allow the students to add or delete apps.  The only apps that are on the phones are the ones for virtual reality. Everything else is hidden, and all of the apps are in the same location on each phone.   We also put a pass code on the phones.

We purchased boxes from Office Max. In each box, we put 15 cardboardGoogle Expeditions Checkout Form headsets – they are numbered, two power strips, and charging cables. There is also a checklist in the box indicating the contents of each box.  Robin created a Google Form that we use to keep up with the location of the boxes. Once the boxes were finished, they were ready to be put in use.

Another Box – Phase 2

After we had some success with the first set of boxes, we decided it was time to do another set. We purchased 15 more Google Cardboard headsets and upgraded the phones for the maintenance department. We again reset the phones and added the apps. Now we have 30 headsets and devices that can be checked out by our teachers. This time we added a release form that must be signed when the boxes are checked out and in. Teachers will be held responsible if something happens to any of the devices or accessories. Upon completion of the lessons, Google Expeditions Teacher Agreementteachers are asked to complete a short Google Form to reflect on the experience and also to give us feedback or suggestions. We are also working on creating a list of available expeditions for the teachers to use. As we make plans for next school year, we will offer additional trainings for the teachers. We want to make sure that they know how to successfully lead an expedition and seeing it from the student’s perspective will help tremendously.

Future Considerations

Going forward with this project will mean making some changes. For instance, we purchased the cardboard headsets. They will not withstand the wear and tear inflicted by constant student use. In the near future, we will have to purchase sturdier headsets. I would like to encourage more schools to purchase some and have us provide training and curricular support. If more schools purchase kits, then more students will have access. I am hoping that at some point, Google will enable features that allow teachers or students to create their own expeditions. Talk about 21st Century Skills! I am looking forward to having them ready for the next school year. Having two kits in use will give us good data to analyze. Also, I am eager to get my hands on an iPod Touch to see if they work or not. If they do, I think that we may be able to get more kits because we won’t have to worry about having cell phones. We can purchase iPods for much less money.

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