29 August 2015

My 14 Year Old Son Built a Computer

Ethan, age 14, built a computer this summer. Starting at age eleven, he began asking if he could build his own computer. He "sold" the idea to my husband by saying "this can be a father-son project." He informed me my contributions would not be required. For the past three years, we've been planning financially for the special purchase of the appropriate parts needed for the build.

Ethan researched the best parts for the best prices for the computer he imagined. Late this summer we finally purchased all the individual parts (not as a kit like at least one Negative Nancy has already suggested). As the parts began arriving via UPS, excitement escalated, and we could see our son's eyes sparkle with anticipation.
First shipment delivered by UPS
When the first shipment arrived, the project began to feel real to all of us. This is really happening--my son is building a computer! Neither my husband nor I have any experience with building computers, so we relied completely on our teenager for leading this project.

Getting Started
Ethan was sure the project would only take a couple of hours, and he and my husband both welcomed my presence with the camera snapping photos (at least for the first two hours they welcomed photos).
Wearing gloves and electrostatic wrist bands

In Ethan's research and preparation for the build he learned he should wear gloves to avoid fingerprints and wear anti-static wrist straps as a key piece of safety gear that helps prevent the build up of static electricity. He told me "highly conductive threads on the wrist band lead to a ground conductor that discharges static electricity."

Part of Ethan's drive to build a computer grew from his desire to have a better computer for gaming, so this particular motherboard was important to him. He's also previously worked on creating a computer game, and he writes code for various purposes. What you see above reminds me of the circuit kits he used to play with when he was younger.

Knowing this would be his first build, Ethan selected a rather large case to make it easier to deal with all the cords. He customized aspects of what he put inside the case and added extra fans for cooling effects. His preference was for some type of water cooling device, but that was completely out of the budget.
Ethan Boss did it--built a working computer!
The smile of accomplishment upon completion (many more hours than he expected) was worth every penny we invested in encouraging our son to pursue his dreams and passions. His patience and perseverance manifested themselves in this project, and a "father-son" experience has been added to the books. When the computer was finished and my son proudly brought us all around to see it, my husband said "he did this on his own; I was merely the person who handed him parts and held the flashlight."

Since he is a teenager and not always wanting his entire life shared by his mom via social media, I asked Ethan's permission to write about him building the computer and he granted it, even saying I could take photos. His feelings of accomplishment upon completion of the final product caused him to say "I really did this, mom, blog about it and be sure to use my name."
Gladly. Ethan. Gladly.

22 August 2015

Using Blogging to Connect, Learn, & Magnify Teacher Voice

In today’s connected world, teachers no longer go all summer without connecting with each other using social media (Twitter, Voxer, Blogs, Facebook). Rather, teachers learn from their personal learning networks (PLN) year-round. Even with frequent formal and informal connections, let’s consider specifically what we can learn from one another through blogging. Blogs are excellent resources for helping us connect, learn, grow, and magnify our voices.

When the communications/marketing director at my work asked me to write a post about teachers blogging, I initially thought “no problem--I blog, I support bloggers, and I read blogs all the time--I’ll pull this post off in no time at all.” Wrong. What I found is that there are so many blogs I enjoy it was hard to pare it down into the size of one readable blog post about educators blogging. After days of considering my options,  I determined that I would allow myself only four slots under three categories (learn, magnify voice, and connect). The blogs listed below are the ones I return to regularly, and there are many more I could have included. Do you have favorite educator blogs? Please share!

Muir Woods
Sites like this provide inspiration to me as a writer.
What places provide you inspiration?

Blogs for learning

With the editor of this blog (Katherine Schulten) having a long experience in education and regular contributing bloggers being teachers, you can count on the NYT Learning Network blog for daily resources for teaching and learning. You will find lesson plans connected to reading the NYT (valuable for all subject areas), questions for writing and discussion and opportunities to join the conversations by commenting on posts. Personally, I have utilized The New York Times in my work with high school students and college students because the resources are free, the topics are timely, and it’s also a great resource for staying current on issues in our country and world.

For years now I have been following the work of Vicki Davis from Camilla, Georgia. As a leading educator in technology and blogging, you can count on Vicki’s blog for resources on a plethora of topics, especially technology. A few years ago I met Vicki at an education conference and she shared the story of the title of her blog coming from students who thought she was a cool teacher and the school’s mascot were the cats, so her blog became CoolCat Teacher. She’s been all over the world speaking and inspiring fellow educators and she still teaches in South Georgia and shares her expertise with all of us.

Kevin Hodgson writes about technology, digital literacy, jazz, connected educators, and teaching middle schoolers. His posts are witty, informative, and innovative. Read his blog to learn new ideas for teaching students at any grade and be inspired by his level-headed approach to education.

A blog written by Tricia Shelton, a Kentucky teacher and connected educator, offers inspiration for learning and sharing through a lens of science for all students. Tricia engages other teachers as learners exploring the Next Generation Science Standards, and she believes science should be exciting and accessible for all students. I concur.

Blogs for magnifying voices

Another site I’ve followed for years is Getting Smart. Here you find innovative ideas for teaching and learning in blogs written by teachers and journalists alike. All positive ideas for re-imagining learning and sharing the voices of teachers as leaders. Coincidentally, I reconnected with a fellow Piedmont College graduate through his blog on Getting Smart. Our liberal arts college Masters in Teaching program served us well because we both maintain forward thinking ideas for teaching/learning and education reform. Check out all the innovative blogs on Getting Smart and access John’s contributions here.

Teaching Channel started with videos but I’m finding more and more blogs by teachers as another way for teachers to share their ideas about teaching and learning. Sometimes the blogs connect with the videos (another great resource for learning) and sometimes the blogs stand alone on topics relevant to the time of the school year or to issues in public education.

In this popular blog, teacher Pernille Ripp shares thoughts on teaching and student voice. I’ve always believed one of the major reasons teachers should be sharing their voice is because they are some of the best advocates for students. Ripp believes students have the right to raise a ruckus when education being given to them is not working. I couldn’t agree more, and I also believe teachers and parents have the same right. Let’s raise our voices & do so with the tips Ripp offers--with kindness, empathy and persistence. Together, we can make a difference in education.

The blog for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation frequently features teacher bloggers. My personal experiences working with the BMGF and with other teachers across the country working with them have been top notch. They listen. They learn. They support and encourage. They value teachers’ voices as experts in the field of education, and I couldn't agree more. Teachers know what students need to be successful in life.

Blogs for connecting

This teacher generated site hosts information for teachers in Kentucky wishing to connect with one another for optimal student learning. Visit to learn more about professional learning opportunities, to learn about Kentucky teacher blogs, and to add your voice to the change making happening in our state.

LDC provides tools for classroom teachers seeking to ensure students graduate college and career ready. The LDC instructional design system helps us think about the learning experiences we provide for students. LDC’s blog provides updates on information related to the tools and also shares educator perspectives on the usefulness of the tools for improved student learning. If you use the LDC tools or even if you don’t (yet), following the blog provides a great way to learn and stay connected.

Established by a non-profit organization over a decade ago, CTQ created the collaboratory for teachers to blog and connect with one another around topics of interest. Not only do they have the larger collaboratory, they also have smaller groups (called labs). Lab topics range from advocacy to leadership to sharing professional expertise. One of my personal favorites is the lab on Teacher Powered Schools.

Created by teachers for teachers, this service oriented blog offers various services to teachers, including free writing coaching by fellow teacher bloggers. The NBC encourages more teachers to blog and share their perspective on issues in education. Check out the site and start your own blogging journey today!

13 August 2015

In Response to Replies About Changing the American Public Education System

Within minutes of my blog posting yesterday I began receiving messages from friends, Twitter followers, colleagues and other blog readers. Most concerning to me was a private comment from someone (not a teacher) who said my attitude toward teachers is negative since teachers are part of the system I propose we change. A few thoughts: A) I taught high school students for nearly 12 years before leaving the classroom for other education related positions B) I am married to a teacher  C) I know many teachers who agree with me that the system needs to change because it's too focused on test preparation and not focused enough on learning and finally D) I work with teachers on a regular basis and have developed strong professional relationships with many in my state and across the country. I am a huge fan of teachers, and I understand how difficult teaching can be, especially teaching in schools with little autonomy or support.

After reflecting on yesterday's post overnight, I happened upon this article earlier this morning when I was catching up on reading. In Tom VanderArk's Education Week Column, Nicholas Donahue writes about why parents should support student-centered learning. Pertinent to consider because parents (and community members) are part of the overall education system. As parents we too often find ourselves nostalgic for the past and we sometimes say "the way we did it worked for me, so it's fine for my son or daughter." But, not all of us say that all the time. Some of us have begun to recognize the larger shift that must take place in the traditional system. Even if it's a system where our children are fine (as Donahue asserts is the case for his daughters and I concur the same for my sons), we must ask:  Is fine is good enough?

Granted, this is a difficult conversation. For us as parents. For our children who have learned well how to play the game of school. As with many things in life we find challenging, the struggles are worth it. We can have children/teens who are deeply engaged and owning their learning--the successes and the failures--and it will be worth it when we do.

12 August 2015

As My Oldest Son Starts High School, Here's What I'm Thinking

You know those tears a mom can't help but shed when her children head off to kindergarten? I had those tears again today as my oldest son set off for his first day of high school. I'm so proud of him and hopeful for his opportunities to continue pursuing his dreams and his goals.

I'm also still eager to press onward with the changes needed in our public education system, so he and my younger son, and all the other children/teens in America's public education system, can pursue their dreams and goals.

Last night, on the eve of his first day of high school, I showed him a few photographs from his first day of kindergarten, and he responded with "wow, you look younger!"  Though he and I have both grown older since 2006, I find myself asking...what has changed in public education since he started public school? Not much, really. Sure, there have been new initiatives, new standards, and new assessments, but the overall system is pretty much the same. The same as it was when I was in school and when you were in school, and when our grandparents were in school. In fact, the system has been largely the same since the 19th century. That's why I persist with asking questions, sharing my voice, and advocating for my children.

Three years ago on his first day of middle school, my son shared his queries in this What if post.

Today, I am asking what if....

The system didn't focus so much on tests?
Teachers were supported and compensated fairly?
We allowed our children/teens to learn from their mistakes ?
We encouraged more movement in our schools?
We stopped tracking students?
We changed the system?

*Note: I am not opposed to standards, and if you read this blog you will notice much of the work I've been doing in the past few years has been related to new standards. While standards have the potential to improve what students are taught, our entire system still needs to change to meet the learning experiences students must be offered in the 21st Century.