This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Before I forget: The good, the bad and the ugly at the 2011 TCEA

So I went to my first Texas Computer Education Association's annual conference last week and like most of these things it was hit and miss. But I am glad to say that most of my time was spent in hit sessions. I wanted to jot down here those things that I thought I would definitely want to explore further, as a reminder to actually do them!!!

The Good

1. This blog right here is the first thing I learned from Tammy Worcester ( She knows that if things aren't easy, we won't do them for very long. She showed how you can set up a blog in 2 minutes (if you don't get too picky about fonts and layouts) and keep it updated from your phone or e-mail account. She also showed how to make your own maps on, write your lesson plans on and link them to your blog, keep one calendar of events, activities and to dos on Google Calendar and even do a live podcast on

2. I also learned how to actually publish my own book! There are several sites that allow you to do this. I used http://www.bookemon.comto publish this little book that I made back in 2003 to teach Spanish to English speaking first and second graders. It was so satisfying!

3. I met some dedicated people from Weslaco ISD down in the Rio Grande Valley who work with the parents of their students to close the gap in their child's achievement in the pre-school years. They use iPads and iPods to engage both the parents and their young ones in learning literacy and English language skills. They send home activities and materials so parents and children can spend quality time together. (Isn't that what middle class kids get from their parents?) They talked about "eduplates" (see which are a set of six dinner plates with letters and numbers and accompanying activities and songs, as well as sending home Texas Kids Learn materials from so parents can work with their child at home and during school breaks. I really appreciated their emphasis on giving disadvantaged parents the tools and the knowledge to empower themselves and their children because that is what will really make the difference.

4. I also enjoyed the idea of connecting classrooms around the world and making learning real and relevant through on-line projects. Kids can join projects to talk about books and events. Here are some examples:,,,,,

The Bad

The bad sessions weren't really that bad; they were just rehashing of the same set of Web 2.0 tools presented in a different context. I guess when you are from Leander ISD, it is hard to find these trainings completely new and interesting because so often we have seen them already in a much more relevant and interesting setting. For example, I heard about the Web 2.0 and its tools for 21st Century learners, last year at our Instructional Services retreat.

And . . .

Now for the ugly. When people, especially teachers, insult the precious act of reading with rewards (read bribes) I have to say something. A large number of people turned out to hear a session on using the Wii to teach reading. Well, that's what they thought it was going to be about. Instead it was all about how to bribe kids with time to play on one teacher's Wii if they earned enough points on their Accelerated Reader program (another insult to the act of reading.) My colleagues were surprised at my display of self-control in that particular session as I did not challenge the presenter or the rest of the very engaged audience on their belief that reading is its own reward.

I also saw a comment scrawled on one of the public posting places that said something like: Examine technology, explore teaching. Because really, it is all about teaching and there are teachers in this world that do it with a stick and a patch of dirt.

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