Don’t Forget, Technology is the Vehicle.

As you wrap your arms around what it means to “Go Google,” consider what it means to integrate technology. whatdoyouwantMany doors are opened! You have quick access to GAFE, so leverage it to devise learning activities that increase engagement. Our kids love to collaborate, communicate, and share. Think big and shoot for the moon!   

Lastly, remember technology is just a vehicle for learning opportunities. A well-designed and engaging lesson still trumps the gadget. Always ask yourself the four magic questions:

  1. What do we expect our students to learn?
  2. How will we know they are learning?
  3. How will we respond when they don’t learn?
  4. How will we respond if they already know it?

Keep those in mind first and know that there are a multitude of tools (digital and non-digital) at your disposal.

Guest Post: Chris Aviles

Google Teacher Academy. Atlanta, GA #GTAATL15

Last summer I was fortunate to be selected for a Google Teacher Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of the most innovative educators were selected by members of the GAFE team to participate in a two-day training at Atlanta’s Google Headquarters. I was one of the fortunate to be chosen. The whole experience was surreal, but probably the best part was that I made valuable connections with like-minded educators. One such person was Chris Aviles, an edTech Coach from the Fair Haven School District in New Jersey.

Chris captured my attention because he was incredibly fluent in something I have not been motivated to learn — gamification in the classroom. I did not grow up with gaming (other than Atari), and I’m not motivated by games. Despite this, I know that lots of kids are, so I listened to Chris with open ears. I learned that I have a ton to learn, and it’s going to have to be a long-term goal for me.

Last week I asked Chris to be my guest blogger with my audience being my Pre-Service Teachers. I left the topic open, and while I was guessing he would write about gamification, this post will leave a different type of impact on readers. The timing of his post is perfect as my students are strapped with coursework and licensure demands. His words provide a much-needed burst of energy. Read on…

Dear Pre-Service Teachers,


Congratulations, you’re going to be a teacher.


Teaching is the single most rewarding and important profession on Earth. I’ve talked videogames for hours and watched my kids play sports I hate watching. I’ve been tackled by my kids, college acceptance letter in hand. I’ve been piled on by my kids after winning a championship. I’ve been invited to weddings and all kinds of other special events. I’ve received thank you notes and emails years later from kids saying, “I get it now.” Three times I’ve received notes from my kids who had been contemplating suicide and, unbeknownst to me, I’ve helped them through it. More than once, I’ve been the first person my kids have come out to. Not long ago, I received a phone call that one of my kids had been in an accident; it was from his work, it turns out I was one of his emergency contacts. He’s 25.


It can also be the most frustrating, horrible, and downright heart-breaking profession as well. I’ve watched my kids single-handedly lose games and matches, having to face their teammates and me after. I’ve seen my kids get rejected from every college they applied to and lose scholarships because they’ve done something dumb. I’ve had my kids steal from me and lie to me, curse and throw desks at me. A few have even swung on me. I’ve seen my brightest kids lose all motivation once they found pot. I’ve spotted cuts on my kids’ wrists and had to break my kids’ trust to tell guidance about an abusive situation. I’ve seen my kids shipped off to foster homes and Juvie. I’ve lost my kids to drugs, suicide, and all manner of accidents.


Through all this, I remind myself of four things to keep moving forward, to not quit the greatest profession on Earth:

  1. Don’t take anything personally. Some students are going to hate you for no reason. Often, students rather be seen as the bad kid than the dumb kid. Often, it’s their home life. Often, they have to make sure they don’t lose face in front of their peers. Sometimes they’re just mad and they don’t know why. Whatever it may be, chances are, your toughest kids are fighting a battle, external or internal, you don’t know about and will take it out on you. So too will parents, administration, other teachers, the Board of Ed., and the Government. You will have days when you feel like everyone is out to get you. They’re not; it’s not you. But if you start to take it personal, you’re in trouble. You can’t take it personal.
  2. Teaching is sacrifice. No one gets into teaching for the money, they get into teaching to make a difference. Making a difference requires sacrifice. Teachers will sacrifice their time, their money, their relationships, their health, and much more. Some teachers complain about the sacrifice, but great teachers embrace it. Be proud of the sacrifices you will make as a teacher.
  3. Always do what’s right for your kids. I will always do what I think is right for my kids.  I’ve not taught some things I should have and taught some things I shouldn’t have. I’ve allowed retakes, redos, and apologized to students for poor lessons and bad days. I’ve defied administration, been written up, and my job threatened. All because I think it was right for my kids. Be prepared to stand up for your kids and to your kids all in the name of doing what’s right for them.
  4. Relationships are the number one priority. Find something to like about every kid, even the ones you don’t like. Build those relationships. Get to know and care about every kid because as Rita Pierson said, “Kids won’t learn from teachers they don’t like.” You will find the most rewarding part of teaching isn’t the textbook, it’s the relationships. Build them first and hold relationships as a priority over all else.

It’s not going to be easy, but teaching will be rewarding.  Eventually, you’ll find your own way and your path and your own methods to get you through the day, the week, or the year. These are mine and they’ve served me well thus far. Steal them, if you want, until you develop your own. Just make sure you develop your own and no matter how terrible the day remember: you chose to be a teacher, the greatest profession on Earth. When you stop saying students, and start saying my kids, you’ll know you’ve made it.

To learn more about Chris, visit his website at


Hey, Chris. Thanks for being a guest blogger. Your energy and thoughts stirs my spirit to keep on pushing! ~ Jessica #GTAATL15


When it Doesn’t go as Planned

You know it’s going to happen.

Even the most well-planned lesson just might not unfold how you had hoped. It happens to veteran teachers too. There are all sorts of reasons it happens when we do not…

  • gather enough material for students to practice skills
  • organize groups in a fashion most conducive to learning
  • consider exterior factors that might impact learning (homecoming, snowy weather, pep assemblies)
  • prepare a plan B if students came to class unprepared
  • plan for technology glitches


Obviously, if this happens, it’s best if you can adjust as these events are unfolding, not after. When I taught Sophomore English, I would adjust in between hours. In time, I learned to adjust during the hour. It takes experience to get to that point.


If you’re not at that point yet, then at least reflect at the end of the day. Here are some questions to ask yourself:wordle

  1. What were influencing factors outside of the classroom that might have impacted student learning?
  2. What class chemistry factors influenced the success of the lesson?
  3. At what point did students become confused or disengaged? What can I do to change that next time?
  4. How did the activity give students a chance to adequately demonstrate their understanding?


Here’s how I would apply these questions to my own experience: A few weeks ago I asked students to read a chunk of text. When they came to class, students were to sketchnote two questions, specifically written at the higher end of Bloom’s. The task was completed in small groups of their choice, and their work was published on the Smartboard, dry erase board, or iPad. It’s not that it was a disaster, but as I was assessing their learning, it became clear to me that many had not read the text as closely as I had hoped. Here’s how I would answer my own questions:

  1. My students might have more on their plates than I know. I gave them extra time to read, but they still might need more reading comprehension support.
  2. I allowed them to select their own groups, and I believe those groups were conducive to learning. I do, however, need to build in more checks for understanding within those groups. I could have also included some proof that the students had taken the time to read. Yes, they were to come with notes or post-it note annotations, but I made no adjustments if they came empty handed.
  3. The students were slightly disengaged the first 15 minutes because it was obvious not all of them had read as carefully as my questions demanded. The other issue I noticed is that some students chose to use iPads, but the iPads aren’t really a great group collaboration doodling device. Two Smartboards sat idle. I should never have offered the iPads as an option.
  4. The questions were worded right, and the reading answered the questions. Sketchnoting is a valid way to demonstrate understanding, but…it’s really hard to demonstrate understanding if not everyone in the group read carefully. FYI: Most of my class read. It was evident though that their were pockets of people that might have read, but not as carefully as I needed. Here’s the deal though — At the end of the hour, I’m would not be able to map out which students “got it” and which needed support. For that reason, I have to say while I had good intentions, I couldn’t measure what I was looking for. :-\


What would I do differently?

  1. Show them samples of annotations so they knew what I meant.
  2. Provide a graphic organizer capturing the text’s big idea.
  3. Include an individual check via Google forms at the end of the hour.


Every teacher needs to reflect on his or her professional practice — that never stops. When you have a bad day, ask yourself the questions above and readjust. Teaching reminds me of coaching. As a coach, you make adjustments based on how the game is unfolding, right? Any coach that plows through the game with one, static plan will lose. Teaching is not much different. Developing that reflective habit is so important!


Working With the Community

This spring the pre-service teachers in my integrated methods: Language Arts and Social Studies were given an opportunity to work with children in the community. This was an unexpected opportunity, thanks to Dr. Lindsay Hollingsworth who invited my class into the collaborative effort. Family Connections is an organization in Platteville that provides opportunities for parents in Southwest Wisconsin. My students were invited to provide educational activities for a themed event the day before Valentine’s day, Chocolate Night.

Methods courses are great, but students need more hands on learning. In class students brainstormed appropriate experiences given the environment. Being that I didn’t entirely know the variables, students had to prepare more thoroughly. For example, students did not know how many students would  attending, nor did they know the ages of the children. This information caused us to consider how we might plan for groups of two or seven ages ranging from three to nine. Because I required students to create stations that tied to ELA/Social Studies in some way, students really had to focus on having projects with differentiation. This process was a challenge because they didn’t know numbers, age groups, or the environment. What a great experience in thinking on one’s feet, right?

The groups did well. More than one group had to adjust on the fly. One group was had to merge with another. A second group had to adjust expectations. I was really proud of their willingness to think everything through.

Additionally, I was impressed with the time commitment. The students gave up their Friday night from 5pm-8:30pm. What a long night! Their dedication spoke volumes to me about their willingness to improve their craft and gain experience teaching.

You can read more about this event by clicking here.

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It’s More than Just a Pot

20141216_111928At first glance you might say this is a pot not even fit for a garage sale. It is missing its handle, it’s full of scrapes and dents, and it’s not even flat on the bottom. Clearly it’s seen better days.

There’s more to this story though. This pot is not just any pot. My mother-in-law used this pot to feed her five boys and husband real mashed potatoes for dinner many nights piping hot on the table at 7pm. They rarely missed a meal together, and it was her responsibility to pull everything together. This is something I can’t do two days in a row. She’s done it for, like, six decades.

One day my husband brought this pot home and put on the counter. At first, I thought it was just a bowl for the dogs, but Brad washed it up and put it in the cabinet with the other pots and pans. I never thought much of it until Brad started using it. We have other pots in the cabinet twenty years newer, but for some reason this one makes it to the stovetop. Honestly, it’s kind of a pain to use. There’s no handle, so we have to hang on to it with a pot holder, and since the bottom isn’t flat, it takes longer to heat water. If we stir too fast, the bowl spins. Yet, we still reach past other pots for this one.


It’s because of what it means. It’s the pot used to pull a family together. It’s the pot used to make real food. And it’s the pot that’s been around for more than 50 years, I bet. Isn’t there something to respect in that? I think so.

Historical artifacts speak to me. They tell stories of history and remind me of a life long ago, one that I sometimes wish I could see for a day.

I picked this as one of my artifacts for a class I’m teaching, Social Studies Methods. It’s an artifact that tells a story. The story of a large, busy farming family that was careful with what they had. The story of home-cooked meals where the family sat down together. If I were to use this in a classroom with children, I would tell the story of this simple mashed potato pot, but then I’d use it to…

  • write poetry from the perspective of a tired farmer
  • research farming in Wisconsin, maybe even Grant county in the early 1900s
  • share family traditions and how culture has evolved
  • research immigration into Grant county in the early 1800s
  • write stories from the perspective of a child growing in up on the Brogley farm
  • interview elders for similar stories
  • create recordings of oral histories talking about growing up

Everyone has artifacts like this. Open your cabinets. Look around. Even the most insignificant items tell stories and reveal culture. Acknowledging those artifacts tags them with meaning that was always there, but once noticed, they come something more — a symbol. Suddenly a roughed up pot becomes a family heirloom.

A New Adventure

wpid-img_20140820_180232.jpgToday marked day #2 of being “on the job” at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville. Today was Orientation Day for new employees. During this time I learned about all of the services that folks can access on campus. I knew that UWP offered a lot for students, but I didn’t realize that there were so many opportunities. I left with a mind full of ideas!

I was able to share some of my ideas with all sorts of groups on campus. It felt great to articulate some of those big ideas that I had kept fairly quiet before. Having creative outlets is so important for professional growth.

On my lunch break, I was surfing twitter and I noticed a few chatting about a blogging challenge (@Jena_Sherry & @jmalphy), and I asked about it. Both directed me to @Akevy613 as the facilitator of a 30 day blogging challenge. 

Okay, seriously, I was just asking for information, but within two minutes I think I was in the group, and while I’ve got enough on my plate, this will be good for me. I will also be supporting a practice I preach to my students.

Blogging really IS good for the soul. I don’t care if anyone reads my posts; writing is just my opportunity to iron out my thoughts. I’ve also been able to incorporate original photography just for fun. Actually, blogging has helped me explain concepts to other people later. There’s something about sorting out concepts in writing first.

Tonight @Jena_Sherry suggested that I use Voxer to record quick blogging topics before I forget them. That’s a great idea! I can’t tell you how many times a great topic popped in my head only to drift from my mind two minutes later.

I’m looking forward to a writing challenge. It’ll be good for me! It’s opportunities like this that lead to professional growth and networking. All thanks to Twitter!



Every Day is New…Seriously!

In January we adopted a newwpid-img_20140111_225336.jpg dog from the humane society in Dubuque. Ally was an intake from Kentucky with a mostly unknown past. She was a very young dog who had recently stopped nursing puppies. It was also obvious that she had been mistreated as she showed several signs of fear and submission.

With a great deal of attention, compassion, and patience, we have gradually massaged those from her persona. She still retreats if someone speaks harsh even if it’s not towards her, but overall her change has been pleasant and even dramatic.

One of the most rewarding observations is in noticing how Ally approaches every day. When I stumble out of bed, the first chore I have is to let the dogs out. Emma, our other dog, trudges with me and waits by the door. I let Ally out of her kennel, and stand back. She springs from the kennel and leaps to the door with her tail wagging. After we return to the house, she doesn’t stop bouncing for at least three minutes. Her tail is wagging. She is playing. She is genuinely HAPPY.

It doesn’t matter what the previous day was like; she is absolutely thinking, “Yay! This is an awesome day. Let’s do something awesome!!” Seriously, every day is like this. She spends the day being goofy, and she never passes up a chance to play or smooch. I’ve never known an animal to have a true attitude of gratitude, but she does.

Ally has taught me that despite the past, every day really is a rockin’ opportunity to do something wonderful.

Making Civics Real

As my daughter enters 4th grade this year, I’m becoming more aware of my educational responsibilities as a parent. I have the ability to take her on many adventures and expose her to historical standards in ways the public school system can not. While I’m no history buff, I do find inquiries about history and culture really interesting.

I’ve been paying close attention to this year’s sheriff’s race. Normally, I’m not paying much attention to politics (sadly admitting), but my work with the SAFE Grant Coalition has sparked an interest in how our county handles drug and alcohol awareness. There’s no doubt that if law enforcement wants to reduce seeing people behind bars, more effort needs to exist in prevention. The current sheriff has been very active in engaging with the communities in Grant county on such matters.

This past Monday, both candidates attended an open forum in which they each answered questions submitted to the Platteville Journal the previous week. While I was planning to attend, it dawned on me that this would be a perfect moment for my daughter to attend.

My goals were the following:

That she would be able to…

  • observe what an open forum is within her community
  • observe how adults can respectfully disagree
  • develop a list of vocabulary words to define and apply
  • understand topics of concern for the adults in her community

As we listened to the forum, she formulated a list of questions that I answered afterwards. They were the following:

  • What is a community?
  • What is an extension?
  • What does it mean to utilize?
  • What is the county board?
  • What does advisement mean?
  • What’s wrong with our jail?
  • What is a proposal?
  • What is dispatch?
  • What does horrific mean?
  • What does enforcement mean?
  • What does Republican mean?
  • What does Democrat mean?
  • What is unity?
  • What does internal mean?
  • What does promote mean?

Yipes! That was a long conversation, and I will have to revisit many of the terms. I was able to go through most of them, defining and applying each as best as I could. We spent a fair amount of time talking about definitions and meaning in context. For example, the word dispatch might be a verb, but she heard it as a noun. So we talked about what dispatch was as a department.

While she wasn’t sitting on the edge of her seat with anticipation, I do think she gained understanding from the evening. She saw civics in real life, I guess.

I’m no historian or social studies guru, but I find value in attaching learning to real events, places, and people. There are outlets for learning all around us. Sure, children can enjoy great experiences in their classrooms, but don’t forget to utilize your community.

Look for events within your community where students can see government happen in real life. Guide parents in how to gather and answer questions. And give students a way to share what they question or understand. Welcome that discussion.


Finally! I did it.

My good friend Katie Grassel became a Google Certified Trainer well over a year ago now. Maybe it’s been two years. I don’t know. I was immediately envious at her knowledge and commitment.

In my defense, I had started a new job and was getting settled at home. There was no way I was keeping up with Katie. 🙂 About a year later, Kurt Wismer, another friend became a Certified Trainer too. Gah! More Google envy.

Both of them had been to a Google summit and had immersed themselves in those tools, whereas I had only taught myself how to use them on my own time. I vaguely remember watching Chad Kafka at WEMTA three years ago; other than that, I was on my own. Again, I was jealous.

This summer I decided to stop making excuses and get those tests done. Honestly, the tests were a lot harder than I had anticipated. Finally some time in August, I finished my tests. On November 1, I became an official certified trainer.

I am excited to share my knowledge with others. Maybe I’ll get to a Google Summit, who knows.

Overall, I’m proud of myself for getting through this. I’m glad Katie and Kurt reached that goal first; they certainly inspired me to finish my goal. 🙂

Tomorrow the Kittens Go


Since mid-april I’ve been a foster mother for the Purr-fection Animal Shelter and Rescue of Galena, IL. During that time I raised 9 babies and helped 2 mothers transition away from their parental roles. These kittens were born from a semi-feral cat colony that exploded in East Dubuque, IL. We only took maybe 1/4th of the colony to my house, I think.

20130823-230610.jpg My children and I helped the kittens learn the ropes of being kittens and we helped the mothers understand that not all humans are mean. It was a long road. We lost one baby along the way; we never did understand what took his life. He faded in a day and the next night I found his mother resting on him. He lived for a few days, but in the end, his little body couldn’t recover. That was a tough lesson to learn. He was buried by a willow tree in a friend’s yard.

My children learned a great deal from this experience. I hope my son, especially, learned the importance of being compassionate. Whether I like it or not, he’s shown all sorts of images in media and school that tell him men are only tough and domineering. I hope this softens the edges a bit. I hope my daughter learned the value of hardwork. She’s a bit of a princess and at times we had to get really dirty in a cat-poop type of way. It was not pretty work, but the reward was great.


Tomorrow some of the kids are heading to a new foster home. The others that are neutered are heading to a farm where they’ll be reunited with their mothers. They’ll be able to live peacefully with food, shelter, and affection.

I am thankful that I was able to do this the past five months. I’ll admit I’m tired, but I’ve also rekindled a new-found passion for animal-control and neutering awareness. I’m thinking to be the Bob Barker of Grant County if I have to. It seems that I’ll burn out cleaning up the problem. I wonder how I can help from the other end — prevention.


The work is never going to be done, but at least I know I did the right thing this time.