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sketchnote of Jo Boaler's keynote speech

Jo Boaler Keynote

I am continuing to work on my sketchnoting, and I just signed up for sketch50, which starts Monday, March 27. In anticipation of that, here is the sketchnote from Jo Boaler’s very inspiring keynote at the National Cue Conference, which I attended last week.

sketchnote of Jo Boaler's keynote speech

Conference tips sketchnote

Get the most out of your conference

I have been working on sketchnoting lately and recently shared this image on Twitter. I am very proud of it (and those of you who know my drawing skills will understand why) and it proved very popular, so I thought I would reshare it here, on the eve of the National CUE Conference, one of the biggest conferences of my year. Enjoy!

Conference tips sketchnote

Failing Forward

acceptance email header

Wait, what? Yes, that’s right. I was accepted to the #TOR16 cohort of the Google for Education Innovation Academy. This is a huge deal, and even though it’s been nearly a week since I found out, I still feel kind of like this.

I wanted to share my story because much of the time, our students, especially the younger ones, believe that adults are successful in everything they do. They don’t realize the amount of effort that underlies success. That needs to change if we want them to learn to persevere and follow their dreams. It’s pretty tough to follow a dream without ever making a misstep, and we don’t want them to give up at the first complication that arises. When we fail, we need to learn from it and share what we learned. Fail forward and iterate, right? So here goes.

I first heard about the Innovator Academy (then Google Teacher Academy) a few years ago, and thought it sounded interesting. I applied to go to #GTAATL in 2014 and was rejected. They were probably right not to accept me, although I wasn’t happy about it at the time and didn’t really understand why. You didn’t have to submit a vision, but you did have to do a video that focused on how you were innovating. In hindsight, I can see that while my video was fun and creative, it didn’t really show anything specific about what I was doing or how I was doing it. It was too generalized.

I was hoping to reapply again soon, but I wasn’t able to go to Austin, TX, and the opportunity didn’t arise again for over a year. The next Academy was in Mountain View in early 2016. As soon as the program was announced, I went to work on my application. This time you had to have a vision. Mine was a podcast for teachers who needed help doing innovative things in their classrooms. I thought it was a good idea, my video and vision deck were good, the answers in my application weren’t bad, but I wasn’t chosen. Maybe they felt a podcast wasn’t innovative enough. Maybe they didn’t like my responses to the short answer questions. I don’t know.

I decided to implement my idea anyway, and began a podcast with my friend, Lisa Nowakowski, who is a Google Certified Innovator. We called it Tech. Learn. Coffee. (a play on our Twitter handles) or (our supercool domain name) for short. We weren’t getting a lot of questions about how to do things, so we decided to start having guests on. We invited teachers who were doing innovative things in their classrooms but weren’t well known and whose work wasn’t being shared. It was great, and we saw a lot of room to expand.

In the meantime, the application period opened for the #COL16 cohort. I was nominated by a friend and decided to apply. I changed my vision, thinking that they hadn’t liked the first one, and made it be a website to connect teachers who were doing innovative work but weren’t sharing on social media. Again, I thought I did a decent job, but I wasn’t accepted. I was okay with it, and thought I probably wouldn’t apply again. After all, I had done a lot of work 3 different times and hadn’t gotten in.

Then I was nominated again, by a friend who is a Google Certified Innovator and a person I really, truly respect. I couldn’t let her down. I had to try again.

The Innovator Program conducted a Google Hangout for people interested in applying and I connected with someone from the #COL16 cohort through the back channel. She reviewed the short answers from the May (rejected) application and said that what I had was not bad but I needed to give much more specific answers and examples.

So I went back to the drawing board. I decided to return to my podcast vision, since it was really what I was most passionate about. Lisa and I had been doing it for a few months, and we both felt that there was a lot of room to grow. I wrote and rewrote and edited and refined my short answers (500 characters = 3.57 tweets; not a lot of space to work with) until I felt that they communicated exactly what I wanted and needed them to say. I redid the vision deck from my January application and made it much more focused. I created a new video: a trailer for the podcast including clips from some of the episodes. I submitted it, and crossed my fingers.

A week later, on September 6, I began refreshing my email every 5 minutes. I checked the #googleei hashtag on Twitter incessantly. Lots of great memes about waiting for a response, but nothing else. Until 5:05 p.m., when I got the email pictured above.

I am so excited to be heading to Toronto. Our cohort is already connecting and sharing, and I know we will do great things together. I’ll keep you posted.

P.S. If you are interested, here is the link to the playlist of all 4 of my application videos.

Custom logos: yet another reason to love Google Drawing

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Google Drawing. Partly, it’s because it makes me look like I know what I’m doing when it comes to creating art. In real life, drawing anything more elaborate than a stick figure is challenging to me. I know what I want my result to look like, but I seem to lack the essential brain – eye – hand connection to make it actually happen. Mostly, though, it’s because of how versatile Google Drawing is and how many things you can use it for.

My friend Lisa Nowakowski (aka @NowaTechie) recently reached out to me about doing a podcast for teachers about classroom innovation and I eagerly jumped on board. Supercool domain name of in hand, we needed to have a logo to go with it. My first thought? Let’s create it in Google Drawing! We used shapes to make the whole thing, with the exception of my glasses and a text box. Here’s how we did it. logo with callouts

We started with a transparent canvas 1000 pixels square (File > Page setup > Custom). In the step-by-step tutorial below, I have outlined the shapes in green so you can see them better. In our logo, the outlines are transparent.

Step 1: Insert Shape > Rounded rectangle. Use the yellow handle to adjust the curvature. Did you know you could do that? Neither did I, until very recently.

Logo step 1
The yellow handle is available on many of the shapes in Google Drawing. Check it out!

Step 2: Duplicate and resize your original rounded rectangle to make arms and legs. Move them into position. Add 2 teardrops and stretch them a bit to create the knot at the top of the head.

Logo step 2
Just because it says “teardrop” doesn’t mean it has to be a teardrop.

Step 3: Use a chord to make the face. Adjust size and shape with corners and yellow handles. Fill with an appropriate skin tone.

Logo step 3
This shape has 2 yellow handles!

Step 4: Eyes. We used 3 circles/ovals to make them: colored iris, black pupil, white dot.

Logo step 4
These eyes aren’t creepy at all.

Step 5: Belt. 1 rounded rectangle and 2 Flowchart: Punched tapes.

Logo step 5
Because all ninjas need belts.

Step 6: Select all and duplicate to make the 2nd ninja. I moved it over and changed it slightly; the belt was reversed (Arrange > Rotate > Flip horizontally), the knot was moved, and the eye color was changed to match my baby blues.

Logo step 6
If one is good, two must be better.

Step 7: Add other details. I can’t draw anything freehand (see above), so instead of using shapes for my glasses, I downloaded a pair from, a terrific place to find free, high quality, public domain images, and added them to the drawing.

Logo step 7
I couldn’t draw glasses.

Step 8: Give the logo a little character and depth. Place the shadow beneath the ninjas, and add in the tablet and the coffee cup. The shadow is a gray oval drawn over the top to get the right size, then moved behind the other items (Arrange > Order > Send to back). The coffee cup is a collection of trapezoids, while the tablet contains multiple shapes.

Logo step 8
The gray rectangle gets placed on top of the rounded rectangle and under the triangle to create the tablet.

Step 9: Add the text box. If you want to use the logo somewhere the transparent background could be a problem, either download your image as a .jpg or right-click on the background and change it to white or another solid color. logo
The final version with transparent outlines. If you would like to play with it, feel free to click here and make your own copy to see how it works.
CUE 2015 Conference logo

CUE marks the spot

CUE 2015 Conference logo

I have decided that, rather than follow my usual modis operandi [i.e. make myself crazy] and attempt to complete all the #youredustory prompts that I have missed, I am going to try something new. I am going to follow Elsa’s advice and Let It Go. I am getting back into the challenge starting with week 18, even though this is week 19, because it is an integral part of who I am as an educator. The prompt: What is your favorite education conference you’ve attended? Why should others attend?

I have been to many conferences (and unconferences) over the past few years. Some were larger, some were smaller, and all but one (which shall remain nameless) yielded valuable new knowledge, ideas, and connections, yet I have to say that the annual CUE conference in Palm Springs is my favorite. It has a special place in my heart because it was at the 2013 conference that my journey as a connected educator began. It opened my eyes to what was possible in the world of education. You can read more about that in this post.

Why should others attend the Annual CUE Conference? Because it is a wild and crazy ride, but if you are open to new experiences and willing to put yourself out there, you will learn a lot and have a great time doing it.

Before they fade completely from memory, here are some thoughts on the 2015 event.

Today I Didn’t Teach: Thoughts on Independence

Today, I didn’t teach anything. I let my students teach themselves, and it was wonderful.

Although the Hour of Code was in December, we didn’t work on it then, because there were many other projects that had to get done. Now that the school year is winding to a close, I thought it would be a nice way for the kids to spend their last visit to the computer lab.

One of the classes that came in was a class of third graders. I played them the 60 second teaser video for the Hour of Code, explained a bit about what coding was, and then introduced the importance of going patiently step by step and iterating your code by showing part of a BrainPop movie, Computer Programming: One Step at a Time. (We had a limited amount of time, so I only showed them the part that covered the basic concepts.) I demonstrated the site we would be using,, and told them that I would not answer questions once they started working. If they ran into trouble, they had to figure it out on their own or ask another student. (more…)

Tales of a Connected Educator or What a Difference a Year Makes

I recently returned from my second CUE conference, and my experience could not have been more different than the first had it taken place on Tatooine.


Image by yovanson

CUE is a wonderful organization and resource for educators. Every March, they hold a three day conference in Palm Springs, California. At this conference, there are literally thousands of educators (this year, 5,300) who come together to share their knowledge and learn from each other.

CUE conference logo

Last year (2013) was the first year I had the opportunity to attend the conference, and although I found it a bit overwhelming, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I attended sessions, visited vendor exhibits, was inspired by the keynote speakers (Sir Ken Robinson and Catlin Tucker, what’s not to like?), and shared great meals and terrific conversations with my then-fellow LVUSD employee/roommate, Jennifer Peyrot, who helped me plan my schedule and gave me some tips about making the conference a success. (The best one: Go to one session just because you think it will be fun, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what you are doing at work. I chose the Google Search Slam, and it was awesome. I even won a prize.) I came back excited, energized, and full of new ideas. I thought I was getting the most out of my conference experience. I was wrong.

It turns out that I was missing a key element of my conference experience. The best part of a CUE conference, or any conference for that matter, I have come to learn, is the connection you can make with the other attendees.

That is not to say that the other parts of a conference are not valuable. The sessions, the vendors, the keynote speakers, they were all just as wonderful this year as last year. What was different for me was that this time I had relationships with many of the other participants.

You see, over the past year, I have become a connected educator. I have developed a PLN (personal learning network) of teachers and others I can turn to when I need help, inspiration, or just someone off of whom to bounce my latest idea, someone who will tell me honestly if I’m crazy… and whether or not that should stop me from pursuing said idea.

Connected Educator
Image by wtbates1 CC-BY-SA-2.0

These connections made my conference experience so much better this year than last, when I knew nobody outside of the few people from my district and only met a handful of others. This year, I began the first day of the conference by having breakfast and sharing ideas with David Theriault, Chris Long, Megan Ellis (whom I met for the first time; such an inspiring person), Linda Yollis, Andrew Schwab, and Mike Vollmert. After breakfast with such amazing people, CUE 2014 was off to an excellent start for me, especially thanks to David’s suggestion that we meet at Espresso Cielo instead of your typical Starbucks. I’m not as much of a coffee snob as the name of this blog might suggest, but I do enjoy a good cup of espresso, and the chocolate croissants at Espresso Cielo were some of the best I have had this side of the pond.

At the conference, I met many people face to face for the first time, although I already knew them from Twitter. They included (in no particular order) Jon Samuelson, Craig Yen, Sam Patterson and Wokka, Victoria Olson, Rushton Hurley, Ed Campos, Karl Lindgren-Streicher, Ryan Archer (who created a set of shared folders for collaborative conference note taking — thank you), and Jon Corippo, among others. I also reconnected with so many people I don’t have room to mention them all here. The hallway conversations were as jam-packed with learning as the conference sessions, and sometimes even more so.

How did I meet these people and become connected? I attribute it to three factors. First, Twitter. I started tweeting at CUE 2013 and engaged with people. I asked questions and shared what I could. I took part in Twitter chats (#caedchat in particular) and went to CoffeeCUEs, Rockstar camps, and edcamp. It wasn’t difficult, but it didn’t happen without a small effort on my part. It was a bit like beginning to ride a bike. At first, you are slow, wobbly, and feel generally awkward, but as your skills improve, you can really fly with just a little bit of pedaling to stay upright.

Training wheels are good
Image by John Young

The second factor is Alice Keeler. Not only has she been a great friend and extremely supportive, she also convinced me to sign up for the Innovative Educator program run by CUE in conjunction with Fresno Pacific University. Through this program, I learned a great deal about innovative teaching and using technology in education (pedagogy first, please), but I also made lasting personal and professional connections with a fabulous group of educators with whom I have enjoyed wonderful, productive, collaborative relationships.

The final factor can be summed up in two words: Why not? This is a major part of my personal philosophy. If I can’t think of a really good reason not to do something, I do it. I would rather regret something I did than something I failed to do. As an educator, I feel that I have to try new things. It isn’t always easy, but worthwhile things rarely are.

If we want our students to learn new skills, we need to experience what it is like and model it for them when we can. In practical terms for me, this has meant that this year I presented at some local conferences and at CUE 2014. I also put on an unconference of my own, PLAYDATE L. A. It wouldn’t have been possible to set up and run this event without the help of my incomparable team of co-organizers, and being at these and other events has led to more and deeper connections with a wide group of dedicated educators.

I am excited to see how things change between now and CUE 2015. In the next few months, I am looking forward to edcampVC, to being on the faculty of CUE Rockstar Manhattan Beach and to running PLAYDATE L. A. 2014 (registration will be open sometime in late April or early May). Who knows what new connections they will bring? I can’t wait to find out.

CUE Rock Star Solana Beach Reflection, Day Two

Another day, another pair of fabulous CUE Rock Star sessions filled with learning. Today’s session were all about using mobile technologies. Both the sessions I chose focused on iPads.

The One Ipad Classroom

My first session, the One iPad Classroom, was led by Jen Roberts. Although we don’t have any one iPad classes at my school, we are far from 1:1. This year, each class will have from 5-8 iPads, so I was interested in learning strategies to use and share them effectively.

One of the best ways to use a single iPad is to connect it to your computer or projector via a dongle or the inexpensive Reflector application for your computer. Once students can see your screen, there are several things you can do.

  • Use the Presentation Clock app ($0.99). It displays a countdown that changes from green to yellow to red as the time winds down. The visual feedback is very helpful for students who need to meet time goals for presentations. It can also be used as a timer for any classroom activity.
  • Use ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard app (free) to record a voice-over as you write on your iPad and teach your lesson. You can add pictures from your camera or those stored on your tablet.  After you are done, you can upload your lesson to the ShowMe website, copy the embed code, and put it on your website for absent students or for those who are struggling and/or would like to review. There are also many other videos on the website that you can share with your class.
  • Walk around the classroom as students are working and use your iPad as a mobile document camera to showcase exceptional work.

There are other ways you can use your iPad without projecting it. Plickers is a free Android app that is coming soon for iOS devices. The teacher gives each student a paper barcode and students answer multiple choice questions by holding their codes up. The teacher scans them with her smartphone and gets a bar graph showing the answers. Data can be anonymous or stored by student. If your students don’t have iPads, but they have smartphones or other devices, you can use Socrative to participate in class discussions and take quick quizzes. The results are saved in a Google spreadsheet.

Because so many of the participants at this camp are rock stars, when there was a little extra time at the end of the session, they shared some other apps that they love. Most of them are free as of this writing.

  • Subtext (best with 1:1) for collaborative reading.
  • Too Noisy to monitor classroom noise. An alarm goes off when it gets too loud. You can set sensitivity levels. When kids are monitoring their noise level, they are also monitoring their on task behavior. It is worth 99 cents for the pro version. 
  • Confer is a notetaking app for teachers. You can take detailed notes as you observe students and review their work, then sort and share them in a variety of ways for many different purposes.
  • Stick pick to select a random student.
  • Pick me buzzer to use your iPad as a buzzer when playing games.
  • Puppet Pals to create puppet shows .
  • Remind 101 to text parents and students without them seeing your phone number (not an iPad app, but still very useful).
  • Haiku Deck to create beautiful presentations with Creative Commons licensed images. One way to use this app in class would be to create a group presentation, passing the iPad around, and having each student add a slide according to the theme of the presentation (adjectives, a 6 word story, etc.).
  • Common Core Standards so you have the standards in an easy to use format.
  • Snapguide to create step by step guides with pictures and text.
  • PixnTell to take pictures, put them into a slide show, and add a voice-over. 
  • Snapseed to enhance the pictures you take with your iOS device.
  • Number Pieces, an app with virtual manipulatives to help with understanding place value.
  • Cheater Pants Calculator to show you not only the answer to the problem but the steps to get there.

Content Creation

In the afternoon, I went to Will Kimbley‘s session on Students as Creators of Content, not Mere Consumers. Will showed us (and we got to play with) several apps that could be used for this purpose. Some of them have web and/or Android versions with similar functionality. When students create content, they are more engaged, learn to think critically, understand the content better, and retain the knowledge longer. Below are some of the apps we got to experiment with. Some of the apps are free; others cost a few dollars.

  • iPevo Whiteboard Somewhat more for direct instruction, although you can also have students create their own tutorials or instructional videos to demonstrate learning.
  • ThingLink to create interactive images on virtually any subject. See my earlier post on this app.
  • Venn Diagram to create Venn diagrams. Students can save the diagrams as images. They can even use them to create ThingLink images or add them to a whiteboard app, Animoto, or similar. (Has logins for multiple users.)
  • Trading Cards to create trading cards for famous people, animals, historical events, chemical elements, or anything else you can think of. (Has logins for multiple users.)
  • Animoto to create slideshows with text, images, and music. Animoto offers a free educational account.
  • SundryNotes to create and share notes with text, audio, images, maps, and more. Students can collaborate with others on the same wifi. Some ways this app can be used include creating field journals or recording scientific experiments.
  • Notability is another note taking app with similar capabilities.
  • Explain Everything is another screencasting and interactive whiteboard app that lets you annotate and animate as you record your voice-over. You can even annotate over your video.
  • Ask3 is an app that lets teachers and students collaborate on lessons inside and outside the classroom.

What I really liked about the apps that Will showed us was how flexible they all were. It didn’t matter if you taught elementary school or high school. Almost all the apps could be used for students of any age and for any content area. I look forward to introducing them to the teachers at my school and seeing what wonderful ideas we can come up with.

It was a great day. I am looking forward to another one tomorrow.