Reflections on VSTE 2017

Another VSTE has come and gone, and it was fantastic! This was my 2nd year attending, and it was even better than last year because I had some wonderful connections and people to meet up with. Big shoutout goes to my tech buddy Heidi Trude (@htrude07). She and I love tech conferences, meeting speakers, and bouncing new ideas.

I arrived bright and early on Sunday morning and got checked in. My big task for the day was my Minecraft presentation. I was scheduled to go right at the start, which was fine by me. I was able to get it over with and then focus on other things with the conference.

I had a full room of 30, and I set up my session to play some Minecraft themed music from my YouTube playlist. I also dressed up in my Steve outfit, which many people got a kick out of. My topic was on empowering students through architecture and design. I focused on how this topic empowers first, and then dove into each of my workshops- middle school, rising 1st/2nd grade, and my Cityscapers club. From there I also talked about empowering preschool kids, using my buddy Reed as an example. I got a lot of good questions, and shared all of my workshop resources with folks, which they really appreciated.

The rest of the conference was a whirlwind of fun and learning. Here are some of my favorite key takeaways:

  • Virtual courses and professional development: I listened to a presentation from a district on how they were offering virtual courses for professional development. This allowed them to be flexible for their teachers, and to offer many chances for teachers to find ways to use the tools in the classroom. I want to design a course for next year, and I’m thinking it may be on Google for beginning teachers or something like that. I just need to research and toy with my idea more.
  • Minecraft for Teachers: Minecraft is a game meant to toss the player into it with very little instruction or guidance. While there are teachers who will also embrace this tactic and learn to play the game this way, there are others who are too hesitant and uncertain. I am thinking of potential developing a play and learn series geared specifically to them.
  • Minecraft Challenges: I had forgotten that even though I no longer have access to the old MinecraftEDU, I can still get access to the lessons and world files for the program. I would like to import some of the worlds into Minecraft and redesign them to work for students. This is something that could take awhile, so for now I’ve downloaded a latitude and longitude scavenger hunt world to tinker with.
  • Google Forms and Data Validation: I loved this session because it gave me new ideas for my teachers on how to use forms to get certain answers or to set up puzzles and passcodes for access. For example, a teacher can use data validation to get students to enter a secret code to then be taken to the quiz part of a form.
  • School branding: I loved both the keynote speech and the session done by Eric Sheninger. His work affirms that I’m on the right path with branding, especially with our schools. I took away some new ideas for branding, and have since met with one of the middle school administrators to see how we could do better. We actually have a plan in place, and it will allow us to get more stories and pictures from classrooms without teachers having to do much extra.
  • Photojournaling– I went to this session to learn about the impact photojournaling can have on students, and how it promotes collaboration. The presenter had us do some of the activities in the lesson plan itself, and of course received the lesson and all necessary resources. The best part is that the lesson is written in such as way that it can be applied across disciplines, so teachers can modify as needed.

After all those sessions, I was on information overload, and still am. I am slowly working through bits of it as I complete my daily work. I feel that I can be a better teacher and ITRT once I’ve started applying more of what I’ve learned.

I also made new connections and reconnected with folks from last year. It was good to see so many familiar faces. I tweeted up a storm, which should be no surprise if you know me well. I can go back later to check out those tweets and discover new ideas.

VSTE definitely helped me recharge my batteries. I felt on top of the world as I left Roanoke on Tuesday afternoon. I am ready to work on making more changes to my work, and improving myself.

This will be my last VSTE for awhile. I am going to skip next year (unless my district decides to send us) because I want to save up for ISTE 2019. It’s going to be in Philadelphia, and very doable in my case. I just need to make sure I have the money ready to roll. I know my district won’t be able to fund something so pricey, but I am very determined to experience this amazing conference at least once in my career!


Fluco Toolbox: Note Board App

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based around your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever had a great idea and scrambled to write it down on a post-it note? Later on, you couldn’t find that same note in your work space. What about a great idea on a trip? How can one manage everything together?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: Note Board App

First, the basics:

Name: Note Board App
Cost: Free (ads) OR $1.99 (ad-free)
Problem this tool solves: Use this tool to save ideas and notes on corkboard screens, no matter what device you’re using. There is a website, Android, and iOS version available. Create multiple boards, public boards, save web page info, and more

While there are many apps and websites out there that can do the same thing, Note Board App is one of my favorite note apps, mostly for its ability to sync across devices so that whether I’m out and about or at home, on my iPad or my Chromebook, I always have access to all of my notes. But… what else can this app do?

Create a board for your notes. You might have one for lesson plan ideas, one for inspirational quotes, and another for links to saved webpages of articles you want to read later. These boards are large, and the notes can be resized and dragged about. When a new note is created, you’ll have access to the Rich Text Editor, allowing you to customize the look of the note.


Here is a board I have created to store ideas on revamping a workshop that I run for middle school students.

Organizing and taking notes is great. However, let’s take it to the next level. Create a board and share it with your colleagues in read-only access. They can view all of the information, but not change any of the data. Want them to be able to make changes? Give them permission. Want the whole world to see your board? Make it public! Your board will be viewable by anyone, but they will be unable to make any changes to it.

Create boards for more than just notes. Use the boards to save links to webpages, or embed YouTube videos. Use the Chrome or Firefox extension for Note Board to save and create notes on a webpage. This includes images, links to the page, and highlighting snippets of text.


Here’s a board created about Icon for Hire. Videos have been embedded, as well as links to different websites/articles.

Your students can use this exact same tool for note taking. Instead of creating links in one location, videos in another, and notes still in another, use Note Board to have them create a board for their topic, and pin all information in the one space instead. They can refer back to their board on any device, meaning they aren’t limited to just their Chromebooks.


A note created from text that I highlighted on Wikipedia. I only had to add the URL to my note.

Give Note Board App a try and see what you can create!


Here are some examples of boards that have been created for public viewing:

Music Board
Gift Ideas Board
Fan Board of a Band

Try the Demo Board and test out different ways to create notes before creating an account.

5 Ways Literacy is Used in Minecraft

Minecraft isn’t just a game where kids explore locations, kill mobs, and build random objects – It’s so much more than that! The game can spark much creativity and release imaginations. It has made its way into classrooms across the country, and there are lesson plans and worlds being designed for teachers all of the time. Literacy is just one topic that is embedded into Minecraft. It is a key skill for children, especially when they are very young. Here are 5 ways that literacy is used in Minecraft:

Logical Inferencing: Players have to figure out the mechanics of the game, and how things work. They must learn how to create new objects from collected items and how those objects go together. For example, they must take gathered wood, turn it into sticks, and then combine it with more wood, stone, iron, or diamond to create picks, hoes, swords, and axes. They must learn the vocabulary of the game, and how to navigate the world. Players must figure this out on their own, as no tutorial or directions come with the game.

Storytelling (Oral and Written): There is no set story for Minecraft so players create their own. Stories come about whether students are exploring or simply building. Younger children share their stories about their world orally with family and friends, while older children may both write and speak of their work. Creating a new Minecraft world starts children with a blank slate, so stories can build up over time.

Research (Tutorials & How-to Guides): Minecraft does not come with game instructions. Instead, players start the game right in the thick of things. The only directions they are given is how to move and how to jump. Players must learn to play on their own. This usually leads to searching for YouTube videos, wiki guides online, and how-to books in stores. Many written materials are written for levels beyond elementary, but players are motivated to push forward and learn. Players will also seek out friends who can help with new ideas, tips, and tricks for the game.

Analyzing: Players must analyze situations and react appropriately, whether it’s a plan of attack, how to make a machine work, or how to add detail to a build. Some players learn to code or modify the game to suit their needs and ideas. A lack of instructions often forces players to seek solutions and rework their methods until things work correctly. Again, players will seek answers from a variety of sources. They will also create new objects or contraptions to share with others.

Creation of New Media: Players jump on the bandwagon with their own creations: they showcase their work via videos, write discussion posts online and create user guides, or they simply create audio podcasts. Many want to emulate their favorite media stars. For example, a 12 year old wrote a Minecraft Recipes for Dummies book! Players also create their own fictional pieces based on ideas from the game. Players who create and share are adding to the multitude of resources available about the game.

So the next time your child logs into Minecraft to play, sit down with them and talk to them about what’s going on in their game. Teach a younger child how to play the game, or, better yet, learn how to play the game yourself! You’ll be surprised at what you can do with Minecraft!

Fluco Toolbox: Quickshare Screenshot

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based around your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever wanted to take a screenshot in Chrome, but couldn’t remember the key combination (Chromebook) or wanted to open a program to accomplish the task?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: QuickShare Screenshot

First, the basics:

Name: QuickShare Screenshot
URL: Link Here
Cost: FREE
Problem this tool solves: While working in Chrome, take a full or partial screenshot of the active window. Tool works for any device operating with the Chrome browser.

If you’re a Chromebook user, the only way to innately take a screenshot and save it is to use a combo of keys on the keyboard. A shot of the whole screen is captured and saved in the Downloads section of the Chromebook. If you’re a Windows user, you have many options from native Windows programs to free downloadable options. However, if you use both devices frequently, or are simply loving that Chromebook, Alice Keeler’s Quickshare Screenshot might just be your answer.


Image showing the keyboard combo for taking screenshots on a Chromebook – Ctrl + Shift + Switch Windows

First, download the extension from the Web Store using the URL above. It will add itself to Chrome, and will appear as a Drive icon in a green box with a dotted line around it.

Click the icon whenever the need to take a screenshot arises. A box will appear with options to take a screenshot of the full screen or a partial screenshot. If partial screen is selected, the screen will dim, and the user will need to select the area of the screen to capture.


Once the screenshot has been taken, it will automatically be saved to a folder in the user’s Drive called Quickshare Screenshot, and also copied to the clipboard for easy pasting into any program or resource. The first time a user takes a screenshot, they’ll need to give the extension permissions on their account.

Simple, and quick, just as the name implies. Go on and give it a try!


Fluco Toolbox: FlipGrid

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based around your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever wondered if you could have students record video responses and spark a video discussion based around those responses? Wanted students to use a video format to reply back and forth to classmates?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: FlipGrid

First, the basics:

Name: FlipGrid
Cost: FREE (FlipGrid One) OR $65 per year (FlipGrid Classroom)
Problem this tool solves: Allows teachers to pose a discussion question, and then students respond with a short video. Students can then respond back and forth to each other, and continue the discussion.

In the past, I have featured different tools for recording video on Chromebooks and in the Chrome browser. Today, I’m featuring a tool that allows students to record video, as part of a discussion response. Students can also respond to each others’ responses, creating a rich web of linked discussions, if done properly.

The premise is simple: a teacher creates a topic for a “grid”. Students then respond to the topic with a video response. Students can also view other students’ replies and respond to them. Teachers can leave feedback and assessment on student work.

Most teachers will ultimately stick with the FlipGrid One version, which is free. An educator is limited to creating one grid at a time, but they can always remove past content and replace with new content. Switching to the Classroom version will allow for unlimited grids, and let educators save them for future use. Students access a created grid with a code, and share their response. Grids can be hidden, and teachers can also turn off stats such as views and likes so that students are not focused on competing to see who is most popular. Grids can even be placed in “view only” mode so that students can only leave a response to the topic, and not to each other’s replies.

To sign up, simply go to Underneath the grid code box in the center of the page, there is a question that says “Are you an educator?” Click the link that follows. Once you have an account, you can go to the same page and click “Teacher Login” in the upper right corner.

Once an account is set up, a Grid will need to be created. If you are using the FlipGrid One version, you can only have one grid, so it’s best to give this grid an over-reaching name like “Mrs. John’s 5th Grade 1718”

It is not recommended to set your grid to “hidden”, unless you do not want anyone to be able to respond to it for a period of time. All grids must be accessed via a code by students.

With a Grid created, teachers can now set up topics for students to discuss. When creating a topic, teachers are asked to fill in some details. They will create a name, add the topic/question, set the maximum recording time for videos, and the date the topic should display. Click the blue “Create Topic” button and the topic will now be ready for students to create responses.

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.01.35 AM

Speaking of students, any created topic can be viewed as a student would see it, and teachers can create video comments this way as well. This is an image of the student side for this topic:

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.03.44 AM

Clicking the + in the green circle brings up the video recording screen. If this is the first time for recording, the site will ask for permission to access the webcam and microphone. A preview image of the video will be seen on the screen, and it will also track volume levels. Students will be reminded of the question once more, and they will also be alerted to the max time allotted for recording video. They simply click the red record button and they are off and rolling!

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.05.02 AM

If you’re like me, and you like to have your key talking points in front of you, FlipGrid even has a Stickie feature that pulls out a yellow sticky note onto the screen. Key points can be jotted down, and will stay on the screen as the video records. No more forgetting what you wanted to say!

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.05.27 AM

Finally, it’s very easy to share with students. Teachers simply need to click the blue “Share” button and then select the Google Classroom icon at the bottom of the window.

Screenshot 2017-09-20 at 11.55.07 AM

A new window will load, and Google Classroom will ask for the class the Topic should be shared to, and what kind of post should be created (announcement, assignment, question). From there, the teacher will have to fill out the usual post information for a Google Classroom post. Of course, Google Classroom isn’t the only way to share topics, so feel free to explore the other options as well!

If FlipGrid seems like a tool you’d like, give it a try. Check out some of the resources below!



Fluco Toolbox image created by Stephanie King (Fan) for this series. Please do not use without permission.

Fluco Toolbox: The Noun Project

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based around your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever needed to find a simple icon to visually show something, whether it’s for a website, lesson, or project?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: The Noun Project

First, the basics:

Name: The Noun Project
Cost: FREE (must give attribution for images) OR $20 per year (EDU license- unlimited; no attribution required) OR $2 per icon
Problem this tool solves: Provides icons for just about any noun you can think of. Icons are created by other users. Simply search for a noun and explore the icons that appear.

This Fluco Toolbox tool is quite easy to explain. Teachers who need quick visual pictures or icons can easily search the many collections on The Noun Project, which are contributed by global users. First, create an account. This gives access to your icon history, which makes it easy to download an icon that has been used in the past, or look up attribution information.

Once an account has been created, simply search in the box for an icon. Below the search box, the site also gives some sample icons. This sampling often changes.

Screenshot 2017-10-26 at 2.27.15 PM.png

For this tutorial I searched for Pokemon. My search results page looked like the following:

Screenshot 2017-10-26 at 2.27.37 PM

At the top of the results are collections of images, usually from one of the icon creators. Below that are simply icons fitting the noun I searched for in the beginning. I simply search the icons and select the one I would like to use.

Screenshot 2017-10-26 at 2.28.21 PM

The image is now shown in a large format, along with the option to download. I can also see what the image looks like in different colors, but as a free user I cannot download the image in color. This is a paid only option.

Screenshot 2017-10-26 at 2.28.37 PM

Clicking on download gives me two file type options for the icon. For classroom purposes, the PNG format is the easiest to use in any program. SVGs can be downloaded with most programs, but may not work for everything.

Screenshot 2017-10-26 at 2.28.49 PM

Next, I must choose whether I want a royalty free image, or a creative commons one. Choosing Royalty Free means I must pay $1.99 for the icon (unless I have a Pro account). Choosing Creative Commons means I will need to provide attribution each time I use the icon. Free accounts must choose Creative Commons.

Screenshot 2017-10-26 at 2.29.08 PM

Once the image is downloaded, the screen will immediately let me copy the attribution text. This downloaded icon is also stored in the Icon History section of my account, should I ever need to find it again. I don’t have to worry about remembering the attribution text because it is also printed below the image. I can crop this off when I use the image, as long as I give credit in some fashion when I use the image. Credit must be given under the Creative Commons licensing used for these icons. Unsure of how to credit icons in different mediums? TheNounProject has created this guide to assist with this task.


Lack of Passion to Connect

One thing I’ve noticed over the course of this year is that change is low in numbers. I do a lot of social media connecting, both for the school and for my own personal growth, and I’ve noticed it in both areas, so that’s where this post is going to focus.

I will admit that my posting slacked a lot until this month. I was far too busy with dealing with wedding planning and all that went with that. When I was home, my destressing time was spent with my wife and painting rocks, as well as planning a wedding and honeymoon. I had too much on the brain, and not enough to go around for everything I wanted to do. Pretty sure that’s okay, and now I’m back on track. Any big life event is going to cause a lapse in working toward change, specifically connecting and sharing one’s stories. Those are not the people I’m worried about.

I’m concerned with those who don’t feel the need to change, or to seek change. I’m concerned with those who feel they have nothing to share, don’t want to share, or brush it off. When it comes to our classrooms and schools, we should be proud to showcase what goes on inside with our students and the learning that takes place. We should want to show parents more than just a child’s grades and progress. As with anything else, one or two glimpses a year won’t tell the entire year’s story.

In my district, I run social media for the two schools I work at. I also can post to the other schools, and act as one of the social media leads for all of the schools. I have noticed that if I am unable to be at work on a given day that the posting isn’t done. I make sure events are placed on the school pages, that announcements are posted, and I try to create things where families can contribute. I love working with social media and spreading the good news about the schools in our district, but I am only one of many.

Over time, I have learned that it takes a passion for social media and leading change with social media to produce results. I can speak about being a connected educator and school branding all I want, but it takes audience members to make that change inside of themselves. Listeners have to want to make the change and follow through with the change.

Social media connectedness is a slow process. Becoming connected with others takes time and patience. One cannot start a Twitter account and expect to quickly gain followers and connections. Like a garden, one must cultivate and invest their own time in the process. I have been actively using my account for professional growth since about 2014, and it’s something I cannot stop doing. I still find some of my best resources and connections through Twitter, or because of Twitter.

For example, I went to Copenhaver Institute this past summer. Because I actively tweeted during the Institute, I not only made a new friend in Heidi Trude (@htrude07), but I also was able to connect and talk to Stephanie Doyle (@stephaniedoyle), who helps run the Virginia Teacher of the Year network. That has led to me being invited to present at the Teaching, Learning, Collaborating Symposium in Radford next month. Ironically enough, I elected to present on being a connected educator.

For as many as I see unwilling to jump on board and connect, there are others who work hard, despite obstacles. A colleague from my former district, Nicole Morris (@cnicolemorris), moved from the classroom to principalship at the beginning of this school year. She was already active in growth and learning on Twitter, and we also are connected on Facebook. What I have noticed about her switch is that as an administrator, she loves to share her schools’ stories (she is in charge of two small schools). While it’s a work in progress while she adapts to her new role, she still realizes that it’s important and shares the stories when she can. She even had each of her schools create a hashtag to use for their stories. I love seeing these little glimpses into her schools.

As I think about becoming connected, I realize that I still am looking for ways to get others to connect, but that it won’t come about without a mindset change. I cannot force anyone to become connected unless they decide that they want to do so. However, I do need to analyze my topics and how I present on becoming connected to see if I can find new ways to persuade others.