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The Mask of Ed Tech

mask

image from http://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/the-mask/249415/why-the-mask-comic-books-deserve-another-movie-adaptation Copyright Dark Horse Comics and New Line Cinema

A little more than a year ago I got a call on my walkie to come to the front office. Despite my ten years in teaching I still have a Pavlovian response to being called to the principal’s office. That should give you some insight on what kind of kid I was. As I approached the office I saw cameras, balloons, and my principal (my truly fearless leader) turning beet red. I knew what this meant immediately.

We had been chosen.

Some background- I work for Baltimore County Public Schools. I am an instructional coach, which means I run all Professional Development in the building. My position is central to the S.T.A.T. Initiative (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow), which is the way we plan to enhance teaching and learning for our students. We have implemented a new grading policy. We have done specific training on implementing and using formative assessments for every teacher. We have built our own Learning Management System to help guide all stakeholders through this process. However there is one change that is grabbing many of the headlines. We are going 1:1. Read More

A Novel Idea For Student Writing

Student novels

Jessie was an angry 8th grader, a fiery girl who had far better things to do than listen to a teacher and do homework. And when I told her class that they would spend the first semester writing their own novels, Jessie rolled her eyes and whispered, “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

But by the time we got to winter break, Jessie was an enthusiastic writer who had dug deep into her own life for inspiration, discovered her voice, and completed her first novel. On her end-of-semester reflection, Jessie wrote:

“I just think this whole thing about writing a novel is really cool. It made me think that a lot of things could be possible in the world. I mean I am thirteen years old and I just wrote my own dang novel! How cool is that? I think it is honestly amazing. I loved the writing time and I wish it wasn’t over!”    -Jessie, 13

When I first discovered NaNoWriMo (a.k.a. National Novel Writing Month), I wasn’t sure that it was something I could do with my students (O.K., to be honest, I was terrified). I had never written a novel, so how could I possibly ask my students to tackle such an audacious challenge? Never fear! Even I, a novel-writing novice, can support students through brainstorming, planning, outlining, writing, and even publishing their own novels with free curriculum from the Young Writers Program (YWP) of NaNoWriMo. (Yes, FREE! There are workbooks available for purchase for high school, middle school, and both upper and lower elementary school, but teachers may also download the workbooks for free.) Read More

#BecauseofCUE

CUE 2017 National Conference

Letting my ‘geek flag fly’

Twenty years ago, I attended my first CUE conference – I had only attended two local affiliate events prior to that conference, so the scale and grandeur of the Palm Springs Conference was mind-blowing. CUE’s growth since then has been astonishing, and I’ve been honored to be a part of the learning of thousands of fellow educators through our collaborative work.

As difficult as it is to do, I’m stepping down as CUE’s CEO on August 31. It’s been a tremendous thirteen-year journey, during which we have built the organization from one serving 2,500 educators to one that serves nearly 30,000. We have grown from one event per year to more than 200 in 2016-2017. We have learned together, laughed together, cried together, and succeeded together. We’ve improved student lives by making their education more relevant to the lives they will lead beyond school, university, and work. I have learned alongside you, grown alongside you, and am immensely proud of what we’ve built together. Read More

A Hero’s Journey to CUE Rock Star Chico

Think about a character in your favorite movie, and the journey they go on. Listen for the call to adventure, accept the challenge, conquer fears, and claim the treasure they seek. My journey in being a faculty member for CUE Rock Star Chico follows this very outline.

My journey with CUE started about three years ago, when I was sent to attend National CUE. I was a kid in a candy shop. The innovative mindset that the presenters were focusing on made me change my perspective of how I ran my classroom. I stumbled upon a booth at CUE called, CUE Rock Star. By the name, I was easily intrigued….(who wouldn’t want to be a Rock Star?). After listening to the presentation, I knew I had to ask my Assistant Principal to see if he would let me go, and I was sent to my very first CUE Rock Star in Manhattan Beach. I was amazed to meet some phenomenal teachers (@nowatechie @LS_Karl @Jstevens009 @JenRoberts1 @MsVictoriaOlson @CoffeeNancy) The CUE Rock Star set up during these camps was much smaller and allowed for: one on one communication, hands on time, and an exciting atmosphere. Needless to say after my first Rock Star, I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to attend one every summer, but I also felt this urge of, “You’re going to do this one day.” The first I was sure of, I’ve been to a Rock Star camp every summer, but I was greatly unsure of the second.

My journey into presenting and leading trainings didn’t fully start until about two years ago. I would lead small sessions and discussions within my school site, but never wanted to go past that. One would say I’m pretty extroverted, however it does not come naturally to me. I have to fight my own insecurities to be outgoing. However, as I led small trainings at my site and later my district, I began to feel comfortable with my knowledge. It wasn’t until February of this year, that I discussed with my Tech Sister (my sounding board & tech best buddy) that it would be a great thing to start presenting at larger conferences, such as CUE. I initially was scared, did I have what it takes to be successful?

To my surprise, I was accepted to teach at CUE Rock Star Chico. After being accepted, I went through all the stages of emotion. The main emotion and thought that would run through my head was, “Am I going to bomb this?” However, I carried the support of my summer school office staff and their positive words of affirmation with me to the airport.

I tell you all of this backstory to tell you about my journey as a CUE Rock Star Faculty Member….

If you are familiar with the CUE Rock Star camps you will know that there is a component called the “Shred Sessions.” If you are a camp attendee it’s the time to hear about all the fun and engaging opportunities you will experience during a faculty members session. As a presenter it was one of the most scariest time of my life. I can be humorous and fun, but I am not a singer, dancer or performer. As I was watching my fellow faculty members rock their sessions, I was dying on the inside. When it was my turn, I went up, don’t really remember what I said, but was excited I was done with the shred. Unsure of what I said made any sense, I was ecstatic to see attendees come to my “episodes”.

The theme for this year’s CUE Rock Star camps was “A Hero’s Journey”. As I reflect on my experience as a faculty member I can see relate my story so much to a journey.

The stages of a hero’s journey are as follows:

  1. Listen for your call to adventure
  2. Accept the challenge
  3. Conquer your fear
  4. Claim the treasure you seek

The call to adventure that was presented to me was taking the step out of my comfort zone and applying to teach outside of my district. I wanted to spread my passion to other educators ready for a challenge. So once I found my adventure, I took the step and applied. Let me just say applying to speak at conferences or for things in general really takes a toll of a woman’s psyche. I questioned everything! Even from the littlest things, such as whether or not to add a bitmoji to the slide. Overall, through the process I had an amazing support team, constantly encouraging me and reassuring me, I can do this! Then as I said before, I conquered my fear. Those shred sessions were the biggest hurdle. Actually teaching the episode was the best part! The definite treasure in my journey: being able to share and interact with teachers. Watching them learn how to do tips, tricks or redesign their lessons is so rewarding.

As I walk away from an absolute blessing, I tell you to find what can be your own Hero’s Journey. Find your adventure, accept the challenge, conquer your fear, and claim the treasure you seek. So many of you, educators and people, have so much to offer the world. We often limit ourselves to reach our full potential due to fear, doubt and insecurities. I can speak about that first hand. But seriously, you have so much to give, why not give freely. I can’t wait to hear how you are using your talents to give back. Be the hero!

Ed. Note- Registration is still open for summer Rock Star Camps and Fall Specialty Rock Star Camps.


Jennifer Calderon is Google for Education Certified Educator and Trainer from Oak Hills, California. She is currently an AP Biology, Honors Biology and Freshmen Focus teacher. Alongside being a teacher she is a Team Technology Leader as well as the ASB Advisor. Jennifer enjoys incorporating G Suite for Education tools to meet the various curriculum standards. She has a passion for teaching students and other educators to become 21st Century learners. In 2013, 2015 and 2017, Jennifer was selected as Teacher of the Year for Oak Hills High School. In 2015, Jennifer was named Secondary Teacher of the Year for H.U.S.D. She blogs at lifelearningpassion.com.

I Saw it on Facebook! Focusing School Communities on Literacy with Social Media

The jury is in. Building relationships matters. In fact, it may be the thing that matters most in teaching and learning.  If you want to build relationships, you’ve got to go where the people are. In my neck of the woods, the people are on Facebook , which means so am I, and I am one thumbs-upping gal.

Reading Ambassador

I am the librarian at an elementary school that serves over 400 students in grades K through four. I am also the self-appointed community ambassador for reading and writing. Recently, my husband shared a study with me that showed that the brains of folks who read and write every day are a third healthier in old age  than those who didn’t  (Leslie, 2014). That, coupled with the evidence I’ve gathered in over 20 years of teaching, leads me to take my role as the unofficial literacy ambassador very seriously. I think every community should have an ambassador and social media should be at the heart of their work.  I use Facebook to communicate, collaborate, and celebrate with the wider community.

Wired For Sound

This year, like every year, teachers in my school worked to engage the community in several school-wide literacy activities. For example, the IditaREAD Family Reading Challenge calls on families to read together while racing an Iditarod musher to get to 1, 049 minutes of reading, an equivalent to the miles Iditarod mushers race to Nome, Alaska.  Another example, Books Without Borders, helps students and their families learn about the world by reading diverse stories. I heavily promote participation in both of these events on Facebook. Each day I post a variety of reminders, encouragements, links to materials, and short informational videos. The participation levels are better than I’ve ever seen and community members comment frequently about how helpful the posts are.

Have a peek at the three short videos below.  Notice that they are not perfect! That’s okay. Quick and frequent is better than perfect and rare.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

My cell phone is my best friend. Well, maybe not my best, best friend, but it’s in the top five for sure. I use it to collaborate with parents and the community somewhere around a million times a day. Johnny forgot his homework? I message his mom. Shanquin needs a little help with his spelling words? I message his dad. My class needs more books on owls for a research project? I message the public librarian. I need a petting zoo for a Family Fun Night? I put out a call for volunteers to bring their animals. The community always comes through.

This type of collaboration is simple but it packs a powerful punch. Surveys of stakeholders show that our community feels cared about and confident that the school is doing the right thing. They also show that families are aware of and invested in the literacy lives of their children. That goes a long way.

Celebrate Good Times

My favorite way to use social media is to celebrate! I post pictures all day every day. I take snapshots of the work students are doing, the books they are reading, the projects they’ve completed and upload them to our school Facebook page. I text or message parents pictures of their kids with captions like, “Look who met her goal!”, “Azalea is reading a huge book! She can’t wait to talk to you about it!”, “Wait until Hector tells you the theme for Moby Dick he came up with, it’s BRILLIANT!” Sometimes, I even take short videos of students at work reading, writing, talking, or even playing at recess. These get posted with fun and nurturing comments as well.

Students beam with pride and parents comment on the posts in droves, proud of their babies and encouraged by how responsive our school is.  

Nominate Yourself Ambassador!

Every school needs an ambassador for literacy. Getting information out to collaborate with the community and celebrate school successes is more important than ever. It doesn’t have to be a formal role. Post often. Share good news. Be informal. Have fun! In a time when public education is increasingly maligned and public trust is dwindling, sharing our good news on social media  is a must.  

Facebook is the main vehicle I use but it’s important to chat with your community to find out what works best. If everyone is using Twitter, you use Twitter. All on Instagram? That’s where you go too.  What probably doesn’t work is a webpage, people just don’t go to bookmarked sites like they once did. The digital world changes fast and teachers have to keep up.

For more ideas and information, check out my webinar on Engaging the Community in Reading through the Ed Collaborative.

CYB – Cover Your Bases

Not ready for social media? Try making positive phone calls, they are like money in the relationship bank.

If you’re looking for a great read that can help you use social media as a leverage to build community, try Your School Rocks! By Ryan McClain.

Before you launch a social media blitz, check on your school/district policy. At my school, we ask parents to sign a permission slip. I keep a note on my ipad that lists students that are on the “no photo” list and make sure I don’t post their pictures. It’s that simple.

Whatever platform you choose to use, focusing school communities on literacy with social media will make a difference. I promise.  Smiley face emoji. Thumbs up!

Leslie, I. (2015). Curious: the desire to know and why your future depends on it. New York, NY: Basic Books.


Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a Nationally Board Certified teacher with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a teacher-librarian, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, consults for local school districts, and writes for We Teach We Learn.

Rock Star Camp: Embark on a Hero’s Journey

The 2014-2015 school year was the educational equivalent of my morning cappuccino, a concoction causing me to gulp down the year in a fiendish, caffeinated frenzy. And it all started with CUE. Finding CUE was the answer to many years of hitting my head against the walls of outdated pedagogy.

For those of you that live in northern California, you know full well how difficult it can be to find quality professional development. We’re “in the middle of nowhere” [ed note- I went to college near there, you’ve got cows] and get the short end of the stick when it comes to conference variety and choice. I can’t tell you how many times walked away from professional developments feeling uninspired, drained, and often, with an empty wallet.

CUE’s Rock Star camps were the perfect answer for my colleagues and I. We were those who wished to engage in meaningful edu-conversations, out-of-the-box ideas, and who wanted a support system beyond our district walls. CUE delivered. Ten-fold. They not only provided us with engaging, hands-on activities and ideas to benefit our students, we also gained something even more precious: the beginnings of a state-wide network of amazing educators!

Being able to attend one conference and come away with so much was a breath of fresh air! In a matter of three days, I dove into the value of social media in education, online tools for effective student feedback, elementary STEAM activities, and project-based learning. My classroom vitality was renewed!

In just a few short weeks, I will attend my third CUE Rock Star Chico camp. I’m especially excited for this year, as the new “Hero’s Journey” format will help provide an alternative path for future lesson planning! Each “episode” (session) will be aligned to this journey and will reflect one or more of the following elements: engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate.

Some of this year’s episodes include screencasting, infographics, public speaking, maker clubs, engaging assessments, QR codes, Seesaw digital portfolios, iPads in primary grades, and many topics surrounding the use of Google Suite features. I have no doubt that it will continue to be a pinnacle of awesomeness in northern California, especially with the amazing presenters in this year’s line-up! I never leave a Corey Coble session without a new device to try (I imagine a 3D pen or some type of circuitry will be on my shopping list this year). And with Ryan Archer sharing his knowledge of virtual reality, I will finally understand how to use and integrate Google Cardboard! I can’t wait!

You can register for any Rock Star Camp at cue.org/rockstar and Chico specifically can be found here: cue.org/chico2017. This year’s two-day camp, happening June 14-15 at Chico Country Day School, is a mere $199 (which now includes a year’s CUE membership)! There are three 90-minute episodes each day, and lunch is provided. As always, it will be a hands-on learning experience with plenty of collaborative conversations! It is an incomparable value, and an experience you will not regret!

Hope to see you in Chico!


Laurie York has been a classroom teacher for twelve years and currently teaches fourth grade in Gridley, CA. She is also President of North State CUE, a #CAEdChat Moderator, a Seesaw Ambassador, CUE Rock Star Faculty, and Level 2 Google Educator. You can connect with Laurie on Twitter, Snapchat, and Insta @MsYorksClass.