Monday, February 29, 2016

Tech Take-Out

In our job as ITRTs, our main purpose is to meet the on-demand technology integration needs of our students, teachers and administrators. Often this translates to professional development or lesson collaboration in the classroom.

What about other district personnel at the school board office?

Superintendent. Director. Curriculum Specialist. Secretary. Where is their technology training?

We've rolled out several new initiatives this year, most specifically Google Apps for Education (GAFE), which is quickly redefining our structure of work efficiency. While much of our summer and fall was focused on preparing and delivering instructional support for our front-line faculty and staff, we realized there was a need to expand our training to other vital roles in our district.

Welcome to HCPS Tech Take-Out.

The concept, inspired by our friends in Henrico County Public Schools, is simple: Create a list of training options that people could select, similar to ordering off a take-out menu, then provide what was ordered. We decided to take it one step further - we didn't just let school board office employees choose anything off the menu... we let them create the menu themselves. If they didn't see an option they wanted from our small list, they could add their own item.

When was the last time someone asked you what you wanted to learn about? In educational circles, we call this Personalized PD, but to offer this form of training to those who specialized in other aspects of education (i.e. data specialists, programmers, business managers) was something we had never done in our district. Would our Tech Take-Out be a blast or a bust?

We began with a Google Form for personnel to complete, then we assigned trainings based on request. Some people wanted training with Microsoft products. Some wanted Google. Some just needed to know how to access their email from home. The requests varied from simple to complex across a spectrum of topics. Our team of ten got to work scheduling sessions and organizing details so that each person's request would be met.

Best of all? Not one person had to leave the school board office.

Tech Take-Out came to them.

We met in conference rooms, individual offices and even hallways. Some sessions were one-to-one, others were formal presentations. The trainings lasted from thirty minutes to two hours, all focused on meeting the specific needs of each individual in attendance.

At the end of each session, we provided each participant with a Tech Take-Out container which included technology themed novelties such as Nerds and Smarties. We even include handmade fortune cookies with tech-related fortunes.

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop"
~ Confucius

For my Twitter trainings, I made Twitter bird cookies using a cookie cutter designed by students at Chantilly High School that was printed from a 3D printer.

The responses we received were overwhelmingly favorable; the school board office employees were very appreciative of our time and expertise. Tech Take-Out was such a success, we plan to offer it again in the future!

If you would like more information in how to implement your own version of Tech Take-Out in your school or district, contact me through Twitter (@HCPSTinyTech) or email ( We all learn better when we learn together!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Week's Worth of Fun

This week was our first full week of classes following our unexpected snowstorm that resulted in more than a foot of snow in our district - a rare sight to see! We missed four and a half days of school, returning for a day and a half then back home again for the weekend. On Monday I braced myself for lesson cancellations, expecting emails from stressed teachers feeling the pressure to prepare for testing instead of providing opportunities for tech.

I was delightfully surprised - No cancellations!

In Ms. Candler's fifth grade art class, students used the Doodle Buddy app to create product logos. It was inspiring to see how the students layered the different colors and shapes to achieve their final products. 

Several fourth grade classes began researching the Coastal Plain region for a presentation project using Google Slides. Students were placed in collaborative groups of four to create ten slides filled with informational tidbits, vivid images, and fun facts galore. They started this week's session by collaboratively choosing a themed template. It was inspiring to listen to all the different ways they shared their opinions and compromised on one choice. When the projects are completed (in about two weeks), the students will exchange their presentations with students in Staunton City Schools, providing an authentic audience for writing and composing. They will also have an opportunity to leave comments on individual slides to enhance their learning and communication skills.

Ms. Heizer and Ms. Joyner's third graders created stories using Google Docs in writing rotations, while I completed brief writing conferences, capturing my notes through a Google Form. (If you want to see a copy of my Form, click here!) One gal composed three complete pages about her best friend while another student described her recent gymnastics meet. I love learning more about our students and helping them learn and grow as writers! 

Ms. Joyner's students also practiced mathematical problem solving skills using the EdPuzzle website. This site is awesome! You select instructional videos for students to watch, but overlay your own questions and answers for checkpoints (a great tool for flipped classrooms and any content area that can benefit from a spiral-back review!) I accessed student answers on my phone while they were completing the questions, which allowed me to reteach content right in the moment. Students already knew if they mastered the content by the green/red color coding and self-correcting answers. (If you want to use my videos, just create an Edpuzzle account for free and search "Tamara Letter" in the search bar to add my screencasts to your account!)

Mrs. Brockel's class continued working on their collaborative presentations for Pi Day in March. They made so much progress that we moved our group meetings up a week so they could have a quick face-to-face check-in to identify incomplete tasks and create an action plan for completion.

Ms. Miller's students began finalizing their cross-discipline art/social studies project this week as well. Students used construction paper and symmetry to simulate a food chain of one animal being eaten by another, then wrote haikus to describe their artwork. We took digital photos of their food chains, imported them into the ChatterPix Kids app, then students recorded themselves reading their haikus. Click here to see a sample finished project!

Teachers were also busy this week, recording chapters for our One School One Book program that will begin next week. Students will be able to listen to chapters at school and at home thanks to the sharing power of Google Drive!

In addition to a week filled with lessons, tech trainings, and collaboration, our team welcomed a new ITRT, Mrs. Elizabeth Verlander, and successfully completed all tasks on our weekly agenda - the third week in a row! This was a definite #flyhighfri for our team - ending the week with JOY!

Needless to say, it was a fun-filled, jam-packed week. I wouldn't have it any other way!

Looking forward to an awesome week ahead with new opportunities to inspire students and teachers alike. Make sure to check back soon to find out more about our Tech Take-Out PD sessions at our district's school board office on Monday!