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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

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.

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.

CUE Rock Star Solana Beach Reflection, Day One

Since I had such a great time and learned so much at CUE Rock Star Tahoe, I decided to sign up for another three day session of learning and networking a little closer to home at CUE Rock Star Solana Beach, and I’m so happy I did. I will take a page from Melissa Hero’s book and write my reflections day by day so I can process today’s information before it gets overwritten in my brain with new information acquired tomorrow. Yes, I am taking notes in Evernote (one of the best tools ever), but writing about what I learned helps me make better sense of it.

The structure of the conference was the same as at Tahoe; there were ten sessions to choose from, each attendee could choose two to attend, and each day follows a theme. Today’s theme was “Getting Googley,” just like in Tahoe, but the sessions offered were different. I chose Holly Clark‘s session on digital student portfolios and Who Said Google Docs is not for the Primary Grades? with Juli Kimbley. One of the goals at my school this year is to increase communication; I thought that these two sessions would help me find ways to make it easier for teachers to publish student work online for an authentic audience.

The Power of Digital Student Portfolios

In Holly’s session, what I was really looking for were things I could take back to my school and share with my teachers to explain why they needed to have their students create digital portfolios and how easy it was to do it. I was not disappointed.

One of the best reasons to have students create digital portfolios is that it provides an opportunity to discuss digital citizenship. As students are working on their portfolios, we can teach them they about their digital footprint and how nothing online is actually private. This is key because when students post something online, whether they post it on Facebook, Instagram, or somewhere else, they are actually building their own brand, but they often fail to realize this fact. We need to teach students to think about what they are putting online. It is easier and better to create a positive digital footprint than to fix a negative one, so they need to learn how online interactions now will affect them later. This is especially key in an age when college admissions officers and prospective employers search for you on Google before they make a decision about whether you are a good fit for their school or company.

Digital portfolios also offer an opportunity to teach kids to be good global communicators. They must learn to put their work online in a way that makes people want to consume it. Simplicity is key. Just because you can use red text on a green background doesn’t mean you should.

Holly also pointed out that when work is online, both students and teachers up their game. Students produce better work when they know it will be seen by an authentic audience, and teachers will reflect on their lessons to make sure they are good enough to be used in a digital portfolio.

Holly’s recommended workflow:

  • Upload all work to Google Drive
  • Provide a Google Form for students to use to write a reflection
  • Publish the work and the reflection on the digital portfolio

Suggested platforms for the portfolio were Google Sites (good, but can have a bit of a learning curve for teachers), Kidblogs (not live, you can choose to limit visibility to specific people), and Weebly (her favorite for ease of use and attractiveness of the result). If none of those are an option, at least the work will be stored in Google Drive and accessible. She recommended that whatever platform you select, make sure that the kids never have to click more than twice to get to their work.

One of the keys to her success was parent buy-in. We need parents to understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. If we can do that, they will be on board. Talk about what you are doing on Back to School night. Have as many meetings as it takes.

My favorite take-away from this session was the idea of creating QR codes that link to student work housed in the portfolio and posting those on the class walls instead of printing and then posting the work. Codes can also be sent home to parents.

Choose File > Make a Copy to save the planning sheet below to your own Google Drive.

Digital portfolio brainstorming sheet

Who Said Google Docs is not for the Primary Grades?

In this session led by Juli Kimbley, I hoped to find ways to have students in the primary grades collaborate and publish online. We are not a Google Apps for Education School, so I was hesitant about whether this session would be useful for me, but I decided to check it out.

Juli started out by immediately allaying my fears. A classroom account will work just fine for younger students to create in Google Drive. She suggested making the name and the password easy for the students to type and sharing all passwords with the parents.

When introducing Google Drive to young students, Juli pointed out that they must first be given the opportunity to play with it, just as they would if they were be given math manipulatives for the first time. Have them open a practice doc and type on it. Let them explore a bit.

Other helpful tips:

  • Have students use a consistent naming protocol for their work, such as first name and date (Ex. Nancy 7-24-13) so that you can find it easily later.
  • Have students work in pairs, especially in the beginning. This allows them to remind each other about what they need to do and how to do it.
  • Ask students to do a pre-write on paper before they open a doc. It doesn’t have to be a rough draft; it can be a brainstorm, a Venn diagram, or anything else that has meaning for the student. In this way, you can avoid students sitting at the computer complaining that they don’t know what to write.
  • Don’t worry about teaching proper keyboarding. Children at this age are too young for formal keyboarding instruction. That will come later.
  • To help students learn beginning research skills, put information they need to access in a folder in Google Drive and let them pull what they need from there. Photos to be used in the documents can also be stored in a folder in Google Drive.
  • Once a project is complete, store all the student work and any research/image folders inside a single folder. This cleans up your Drive without deleting any work and makes it easier for students to find what they need for the next project.
  • Showcase one student’s work on your website every week.

By using Google Drive in her classroom, Juli said she saw improved classroom management (nobody wanted to lose laptop time), collaboration skills, and higher quality work as the learners strived to make their work as good as it could be.


When I get back to school in a few weeks, I will be meeting with the teachers to do planning for the beginning of the year. I hope to get at least a few teachers to try out digital portfolios, perhaps posting one project per trimester. For the younger students, maybe just using Google Drive will be enough. But first, I have two more days of learning here in beautiful Solana Beach.

Confessions of a Wannabe Rock Star

Photo: Hands in the air – in concert by Martin Fisch

Or, my experience at CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp.

I signed up for CUE’s Rock Star Lake Tahoe because I wanted to learn and have fun doing it. After attending this three day non-stop learning extravaganza, I have to say, “Be careful what you wish for.” Talk about your proverbial attempt to drink from a firehose. I (more…)