Sunday, November 15, 2015

Friday's Chapter Meeting

We had another club day on Friday. This week we had the Fitness Club joining us. We currently don't have a computer teacher so we have five groups led by four special area teachers each week. 

The Fitness Club students researched games from around the world and then invented their own games.  Some students asked for makerspace materials and cardboard and actually made their games. They all shared their games with the rest of the club before they left.

The Imagination Chapter kids were at the opposite end of the media center and their choice of materials included the Ozobots, Snap Circuits, or K'Nex. There was some movement between activities.

I looked around the room as students were collaborating, researching, writing, creating, making videos, tinkering, building, designing, problem-solving, and communicating.  These are the moments that stay etched in my mind. 

There were more than 40 students in there with me. Everyone stayed on task and genuinely seemed very happy to be there.

I certainly felt the power of being the "guide on the side" instead of the "sage on the stage".  Here's to many more days like Friday! 


Friday, November 13, 2015

Setting Up a STEAM Lab

We started our makerspace in our school media center during the 2014-2015 school year.

I teach information and literacy skills during regular media classes during four blocks of each day. Classes regularly use the media center’s computer lab during four blocks of the day.  These overlap but we are at opposite ends of the media center. The media center, computer lab, makerspace, and I are all available for flexible during parts of the day. Last year I ran into the problem of teachers wanting to use the makerspace but the media center being too full to always accommodate that.  Some teachers do borrow materials.

Our assistant principal took a few of us to a LEGO Symposium in May. She mentioned that she would love to have a STEAM lab and would love to have that as an encore class time like music, art, PE, etc.

Fast forward to this past week. We are blessed to have been able to purchase some K’Nex kits at half off, then my DonorsChoose project was funded, and then we received a Bright Ideas grant for robotics and coding materials. All in a week’s time! My principal and I were chatting on the way to the Bright Ideas luncheon and she said we could use a room for a STEAM Lab!

This room has served various functions over the last few years.  I first envisioned a room for teachers with resources for them to use: professional books, book sets, room for planning.  It then became a tutoring room.  It also houses miscellaneous resources from several departments.  The best part of this room is that it is near the media center.

And so we have begun the task of renovating this space into a STEAM lab.

Here is my current plan of attack:

  1.  Inventory current resources
  2.  Research other STEAM labs
  3.  Get teacher and student input
  4.  Decide upon needs
  5.  Make a plan
  6. Gather volunteers
  7. Set up room
  8. Share a calendar for sign-ups
  9. Train teachers and students
  10. Add and replenish supplies to keep up interest

I ran into Staples last night and saw some clearance storage containers that are the right size. The salesperson and I started talking and he was very proud of his alma mater’s pioneering and award-winning STEM lab just up the road in a neighboring county. I looked it up when I got home and saw the $500,000 price tag.

I must admit that I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point.

Imagine my luck when I was participating in an Imagination Chapters Google Hangout after school and there was a school architect in today’s session! Jeff from Cincinnati recommended the book Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration by Scott Doorley.  He also suggested using whiteboard paint on the walls and even using five gallon buckets as seats.  They are not only economical but they also work as storage.

One thing that really stood out to me during today’s GHO session was his question, “How do we make school irresistible for children?”  I often see a similarly themed comment on Twitter: “If students had a choice, would they come to your class?”

I have no doubt that children will want to come to our future STEAM lab.

In the meantime, I have some reading and research to do.

Here’s a reading list to help you get started as well.

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I am a small town girl.  I married a small town kind of guy. I have always lived in small towns and probably always will. My dear husband is not much of a traveler.  I became a stepmom at the age of 20 and had kids later. I do want my children to see the world, but traveling with kids has never appealed to me much. My grandmother was a traveler, but my parents and the rest of my immediate family are really not.

I am fascinated with other people's cultures. I went to Carolina, one of the most diverse colleges I know. My favorite college class was probably Anthropology.  I love virtually visiting exotic locations via Google Earth and Google Cardboard. I love hearing stories of my father's and brother's travels while they were in the Navy. One day I will make it to Paris.

But honestly? I'll have to get my passport first.

Technology has opened up the world to me.  How can I, little ol' Tonya from sleepy Mayberry, be connecting with people - strangers really - from all over the world?  And how are they finding me?

One word: Twitter.

Yesterday I received a message from a California business coach/mentor and she wanted to chat with me about the Imagination Chapters. We had a great conversation on the phone and then she sent me interview questions for a blog post.  [Update: Read her blog article about us here: Marla Diann's Blog Article About Us.] 

Today I was messaging a lady about a DonorsChoose project and suddenly JoyLabz of MakeyMakey tweeted me about a post. She messaged me back and said she was chatting with JobLabz and would be right back. Wow!

I am more of a facebook person.  I love seeing the pictures and reading the stories.  I am probably a little too connected via fb.  It took me a long time to get the appeal of Twitter. It took a long time to build up any amount of followers.  I really just used Twitter to follow Jeff Probst and his live Survivor dialogue.

After some professional development with Lucas Gillispie, our school system's Director of Academic and Digital Learning, I was off to do more with Twitter.  At first I tried to limit the number of people I followed.  I wanted to just connect with people that I actually know and talk to regularly.  I'm now up to 350 followers and that's a big deal for me!

The best part about Twitter has been connecting with others in my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  We are sharing ideas, learning from each other, and getting expertise from people who know way more than me. These people are all over the world.

Chats are a great way to connect with others.

More Reading

What is a PLN?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Six things I wish I had known about DonorsChoose

Several of my colleagues have had DonorsChoose projects funded. I had a bit of trouble getting started because of a glitch in my account. It took me about a year before I finally set up a different account and uploaded my first project: Generation Imagination: Movers and Makers.

I must say, I hate asking for anything.  I always have.  So asking for donations is hard for me. I am sure it will all be worth it.

My friend Sheila McHone has had two projects funded.  She has given me several pointers and has helped me get several donations.

Here are six things I wish I had known about DonorsChoose:

1. Do your research.

DonorsChoose is not just for technology.  It's not just for trendy items.  Do you have a creative idea that you believe in?  Others will believe in it, too! Understand the rules for your photos. Generally the materials you receive should remain at the school where you are teaching when you get your grant funded.

Ask your funded friends for tips.  Check out the matching partner opportunities and the promotions page before writing a proposal.  For example, the Lily Sarah Grace Fund helps fund projects that emphasize creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.

2. Start small.  

There is a $100 minimum amount to start a project.  With all the extras included, the project will end up being $170 or so.  Smaller projects are more likely to be funded. You are given three points to get started.  Choosing a project that totals less than $400 only takes one point. Learn more about points here.

(I understand the expenses of running a website, processing the transactions and donations, and advertising.  I have seen some of my school's teachers get needed technology that they probably would not have gotten without DonorsChoose.  It is not a Black Friday type site.  Charity Navigation gives DonorsChoose a very favorable rating.)

3. It takes time.

It takes time to get the project started and approved.  It takes time to ask for donations and write thank yous.  It takes time to get the project fully funded and shipped. This is not a one night project. Seeing our school's students use new iPad minis and Chromebooks makes it worthwhile though!

4. Get some help.

Tweet, facebook, instagram, blog, email - communicate across platforms to ask others to donate to your projects.  Even if they don't donate, ask them to retweet or share your project. A project with 20 $1 donations looks more appealing than one project with a $20 donation. Lots of family members and students' parent would donate a dollar or two. There are buttons you can click to tweet and share directly from your project page.

There are lots of great communities out there that will help with your project donations. Kindergarten Rocks and Caring Classrooms are just two of them.

Be sure to include a tag when you share your project link so that donations go through the community page. For example, my project link is  When I share it, I need to add ?challengeid=208861 in there so it becomes I was running out of characters for my tweet, so I could have used a to make it shorter.

5. There are great tips specifically for donations.

Donate to your own project, even if it is just $1.  Ask a friend to donate $1 to yours and you donate $1 to hers. Donate $1 to lots of individual projects.  Your history of donations shows up, but I don't think the amount does.  Tweet when someone gives you a donation and tweet when you make a donation.

Get your matching donations! There are special codes that you and your donors can use to get matching funds. Use SPARK in the first seven days. Be ready for upcoming matching donation opportunities so you can have your donors lined up.  Matching money runs out quickly.

6.  Thank everyone!

Thank people as soon as they donate on your project page.  Thank people who tweet about your project. When thanking someone directly on Twitter, use the . symbol in front of their Twitter name so more people will see the tweet (ex .@tonya_nc). Send the thank yous and post the six photos quickly once you have gotten your materials.  This keeps your rating high.

Good luck as you seek materials for all of those awesome kids!! It's hard work, but it's worth it! I appreciate resources like DonorsChoose and especially the donors so much! It is all about that village!

After learning from the experts, I posted a smaller project.  It took a week to get approved, but I was ready! It took about an hour to get funded! Yay!

More Help

7 DonorsChoose Tips for Success