Posted in Edublogs

Parents

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While this looks like a stock photo, it is actually my mother, myself and my son in a photo shoot from several years ago. It is one of my favorites. 🙂

EduBlogsClub Prompt #24:

Prompt: Write a post about parents.

Whether it’s working with parents, being an educator-parent, or something about your own parents.

Here are some possible topics to help get you started:

  • Write a post about successful parent-teacher conference moments.
  • What is the most challenging part of being a parent-educator or do you feel you are an educator-parent?
  • Write a post about how your parents have helped you develop yourself as an educator.
  • Write a post suggesting ways that parents and teachers can work together to ensure student success.

I am an educator-parent. As an educator-parent I am privy to a lot of insider information. I feel I am much better versed on the education system than a parent who isn’t an educator. I don’t mean this comment in a disparaging way, it’s simply my own experience.

My parents weren’t educators and they made the best decisions they could when it came to my schooling, but that largely consisted of sending me to the public school we lived near. I made the best of that experience. I had exciting teachers and boring teachers. I was an avid reader and where school could not deliver, I branched out, seeking my own answers via books.

I remember asking my parents if I could go to a private high school…mainly to be with my best friend, but also because the notion fascinated me. How would a private school compare to a public one? But the answer was no. We ended up moving just before high school as it was, and I did as I did before, attended the school assigned to my home. I remember being underwhelmed about high school. It was just something I had to do. I had a few cool teachers, but for the most part it was just something I was getting through. My grades were good as I was the sort of kid that always wanted good grades. My love of reading didn’t diminish and I kept entertaining my curiosity with reading. I remember a lot of time at the public library and how it was more to research my own interests than study for school.

I was thrilled when the time for college came. I got to choose what was next for me! I was exhilarated. I diligently studied colleges I might like to attend. I applied to the obligatory schools, like the UC near my house and my Dad’s alma mater, but there were 3 schools that were completely of my own choosing. I remember my Dad telling me to go to the UC or join the military to have my school paid for, but I rejected both. This was going to be my choice.

I ended up going to a small private college in Washington state. I always look back on those 4 years fondly. College was everything I wanted it to be. I had made the right choice.

My son’s experience has been different than my own. He has a mother for a teacher. I had been a teacher for 4 years when he was born. I had transferred to an amazing school site that year and knew I would remain there to see my son attend a great school. Granted, this school was not near our home, but because I worked there my son could attend. I personally knew all his teachers, and built relationships with each of them as both a colleague and a parent of one of their students.

That changed when my son entered middle school. The school I had worked at was K-5, so it came time for my son and I to part ways. I had chosen the middle school I wanted him to attend, but his voice is important to me. I listened to his preference and reasoning and in the end allowed him to attend the middle school he wanted to.

His 6th grade year was the hardest year for us both. I entered a district office position and he was at a school where I wasn’t. I didn’t know the teachers and I didn’t call them friends. I had never felt so in the dark. I realized that this must be what it feels like to be on the outside, and be “just” a parent. I didn’t care for it at all. I was as involved as I could be and made an effort to get to know the administrators and his teachers. I attended every event I could. My son loved his middle school for a while, then he didn’t. While the beginning of the year seemed to start off alright, come the halfway point he was showing signs of suffering. He was being teased daily. He was enduring verbal and physical bullying, he was afraid to go to school. He would tell me stories of his teachers venting to the class about how much they hated their job or how bad the kids were, and I was appalled. I reported all of this to the administrators, and while they were friendly and generally supportive and responsive, I got the impression that they felt helpless to truly remedy any of it…the climate was toxic and not at all good for my son.

I asked around in my own district about another school to transfer him to, specifically the school that had been my preference before and was told that it was largely the same at any middle school. This answer was unacceptable. I tried to look at the other middle schools around us and was frustrated that there was no true way to get information about the school without being on the inside. It was then that I realized there are options, online options.

I am a doctoral student whose dissertation will be about K-12 online learning, so naturally why not explore online schooling for my son? I am also an online student myself, having completed my second Masters in EdTech online and working toward my doctorate in Educational Leadership online. I felt confident that as an online learner and an educator, I could see my son through online school.

It came down to two online programs available in my state. I did my research, I asked around, attended online info sessions, discussed my findings with my family, and we chose one. My son started 7th grade in an online charter school last month, and while it has been an adjustment, I love it for him. I am not a teacher at his school, but I am his co-teacher. I see everything he is expected to do and the transparency of it all is what impresses me the most. His teachers are responsive and tech savvy, which is very important. My son has complained about the level of work he has to do, but I like that the bar has been raised. No more coasting and going unnoticed by teachers who don’t enjoy their jobs. I have never been so keenly aware of what he is working on than right now, even when he was attending class at the school where I had worked. This level of awareness is powerful.

Are you a parent? Perhaps a parent-educator like me? How do you feel about engaging with your child’s school and education? Share with me in the comments below. 🙂

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Posted in Edublogs

What Leadership Means to Me

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Hello Reader!

First I want to address the new theme for my blog! I had changed it when I left the classroom to something rather neutral while I transitioned into my new position as a Teacher on Assignment in our new Linked Learning department. Since beginning the #edublogsclub blogging challenge I have felt my blog take on a new feel which called for a new look! I hope you like it, because I sure do!

Now onto business. This is the 3rd post of the #edublogsclub challenge. This week’s prompt was: Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change. 

I had really wanted to stay on time with my posts, but this one made me pause to think for a while, and then life happened and prevented me from really and truly thinking about it. I have probably written this post over about three times as I wrestled with what I really wanted to say about leadership. What brought it together for me in the end was a quote I was introduced to as a part of my school district’s aspiring leadership program:

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
– Jack Welch, former GE Chairman and CEO

We had been presented with several leadership quotes that day and had been asked to move toward the one that spoke to us. There had to have been at least 10 quotes plastered around the meeting room we were in and the one above was the one that stood out the most to me. It gave me cause to reflect on all the great leaders I had worked with at my last school site, Dorothy Grant Elementary (aka DGE). Now I am going to try VERY hard not to go on a long rambly, nostalgic post about how amazing this school is, but this school changed the trajectory of my teaching career. The truth of that fact was something I had never given conscious thought to, but when thinking on leadership and the qualities of a good leader, and the type of leader I want to be, my experience at DGE has everything to do with outstanding leadership.

I arrived at DGE just after my 5th year of teaching…a rather crucial turning point for many teachers. It is widely recognized that a significant number of new teachers do not make it to or past their 5th year of teaching. I needed to be at DGE. I had already suffered through 2 previous schools with significant leadership deficits. I was transferring to escape them, to hopefully arrive at a school that was right for me and equipped with an inspirational leader. I wonder if I would still be here 12 years later and in my 17th year as an educator had it not been for DGE and its leaders.

I was very fortunate to have met and been selected by Dr. Ken Decroo to transfer to the open 4/5 combo position that was available. DGE was a shiny new school then, only one year old. As I had shared in a previous post, I had NEVER gotten to work at or attend a new school, so this was certainly a perk for me. Dr. Decroo was new that year, but he was very well liked and did a lot for the school’s climate. I remember enjoying his handling of the school and interaction with the staff. He was by far the most mellow, friendly and knowledgeable principal I had ever had at that point. While he and I had several interactions over that year, one in particular has always stood out to me. I remember being in his office, talking about something I don’t recall at the moment (and likely never will) when he said to me “You should consider becoming an administrator.” I remember my reaction. Shock. I remember backing away from him as if he was trying to infect me with something and shaking my head and waving my hands “What? Me? Oh no…no I could, never… Was that the bell?” Now I could be paraphrasing just a bit, but that exchange really did occur and it has stuck with me. I don’t know what he may have seen in me, being too caught of guard to really ask and too quick to dismiss it.

Dr. Decroo’s time at DGE was far too short for me when he retired the next school year. Chris Ridge was the next principal assume the office. Mr. Ridge was driven. He had a mind for innovation and staying ahead of the academic curve. He wanted the best for DGE students and it showed. Some teachers didn’t care too much for him because of his drive, but I did. DGE was in at the top of the elementary rankings in our district, we were leaders in trying new techniques out like RTI and data driven decision making. Talk about data! Mr. Ridge was always equipped with a report of some kind. I had never looked at data so much in my whole life, but he took great care in explaining to us why we needed to spend so much time with the data and how doing so could help drive our instruction and in the end help our students achieve. I amuses me now to think back on it. Data driven decision making is so common place now, just as is RTI, but thanks to Mr. Ridge I was exposed to both a lot earlier than others in and out of my school district. Mr. Ridge stayed at DGE several years and then his time came as well, not to retire, but to pursue other opportunities. I was sad to see him go, I had learned a great deal from him.

Sadly, DGE had a year of administrative uncertainty after that which is really not relevant to this post apart from saying that in year where we did not have stability in our leadership, the overall DGE community had already become so strong that we weathered that storm just fine. Thankfully we did receive another solid leader in Anne-Marie Cabrales. I have to say that I wasn’t certain about Mrs. Cabrales when she first arrived. She wasn’t like any leader I had before. It has been hard to put my finger on, but in the end I believe it was that she still felt like one of us. She felt like a teacher. She did not feel like a principal to me, and I don’t say that in a negative way at all. It was just something about the way she carried herself and how she got to know the staff. There was something very personable and humble about it. Mrs. Cabrales became very well liked immediately. She fit right in with the staff and was very passionate about DGE and its students. She works tirelessly to keep DGE at the top of the rankings and has continued the trend of keeping DGE at the front of the pack when it comes to new approaches to education. She did a great deal in supporting me and the various projects I wanted to do with technology and our kids, and it was she who encouraged me to consider a position at the district office level. I remember conversations with her turning toward me branching out and getting known in the district so that I could advance beyond the classroom. Dr. Decroo’s words would echo in my mind at those times. I had tried for district positions before, only to not be selected. My home was DGE, and I took the fact that I was not selected for a position as a Teacher on Assignment for Instructional Technology on more than one occasion to mean that I did not have what the district wanted for that position and that I was best suited to my work in the classroom at DGE.  I had become a teacher leader at DGE – in technology as a site coach and as a part of our leadership team where I spent a several years being a grade level leader. DGE had become my cozy, comfy blanket that I never wanted to be without.

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
– Jack Welch, former GE Chairman and CEO

So here is my favorite leadership quote again. It expemplifies the leadership that I experienced at DGE in the 11 years I was there. 11 years that felt nothing like 11 years. I was having so much fun there I had lost track of the time. I felt successful in the way I had grown as an educator and the way DGE had nurtured that growth. Dr. Decroo, Mr. Ridge and Mrs. Cabrales were all amazing leaders in their own right for their own reasons. I have recently realized that they were helping me to grow so that I could be a leader too. I cannot thank them enough for that. This post has likely already passed the point of rambling nostalgia, but it has captured what leadership is to me and that is the kind of leader I want to be – one who creates a space where leaders can grow.

Always a Volunteer,
Mrs. Ruiz

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Posted in Minecraft

It’s Been a While

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Hello Everyone!

I am honestly not sure who reads this blog anymore now that I am out of the classroom. My class website was created to be a communication tool between myself and my students and their families. I left my classroom to be a teacher on assignment last December…I can’t believe it has already almost been a year. It still feels like only recently that I left my classroom.

The transition was not an easy one. Being a teacher on assignment was a completely new experience for me, and one I am learning from every day. I have been wrestling with what purpose my website would serve now and I am still sorting it out. It bothered me that I hadn’t posted since April, and I had been meaning to post again for a while. What finally brought me back to posting was one of my long time passions…employing Minecraft for educational purposes and showing other teachers how to do that as well.

Minecraft has been around for 6 years now. I have been aware of it since it was 3 years old and a few boys in one of my 3rd grade classes had Minecraft fever. Lots of educators around the world are using Minecraft in their classrooms now, but while many educators are quite skilled in using Minecraft for education, there are still a lot of us who want to use Minecraft with our students but don’t know where to start.

Minecraft with Mrs Ruiz

From late 2014 til recently this year (2016) I ran my own Minecraft server as a part of my Master’s practicum. Talk about a learning experience! I offered a Minecraft Club for 3rd through 5th grade at my school. Since Minecraft is not district approved, I ran it as a distance learning experience with students using their own Minecraft accounts and logging in from home to my hosted server. At most I had about 15 students and in the end as things got harder to manage, I ended up with about 5. I closed my server just over a month ago. It really was a great experience for all of us and I was sad to shut it down, but in the end no one was using the server anymore.

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Recently I attended Minecon in Anaheim, and that really made me miss Minecraft. I am in a position as a teacher on assignment to propose teaching tools and Minecraft is one I recently brought up to find my directors receptive to hearing more. Both of those factors made my desire to have my own server again strong. I am approaching it differently now. I am not running a club, but running the server for me to learn and experiment, and for Xavier (my 11 year old son & 6th grader) and I (as well as any interested previous club members) to come and create. No agenda, no lessons, just learning, experimenting and playing.

Me on my new server
Me on my new server
Xavier and I on the new server
Xavier and I on the new server
The Ruiz Fort
The Ruiz Fort
Me and Miss Piggy taking stock of the new fort
Me and Miss Piggy taking stock of the new fort

I hope to post at least my Minecraft experiences, as well as other experiences related to education that may be of interest to others.

Thanks for reading!

Mrs. Ruiz

Posted in Class News

A New Chapter Begins

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It has been a whirlwind of activity since I learned that I had been recommended for the position of Teacher on Assignment/Instructional Coach in the new Linked Learning department of Fontana Unified.

I had been encouraged to apply for this position by a few who knew my passion for educational technology. I had hesitated in applying at first because of the timing of the position (I had just spent a good deal of time setting up a new classroom and had just begun the year with my new class) and I was apprehensive. I had applied for positions like this one before and not been selected. That was several years ago, and I had not completed my Masters in Educational Technology, nor my National Board Certification, nor had I been a Doctoral student then either. So yes, a few things had changed, but my desire to teach teachers how to use technology effectively in their classrooms or help my district move forward with innovative ways to use technology had not. So I applied and made the second round of interviews for one of 3 remaining positions on this new team.

I was surprised how quickly the news of my recommendation came, I was shocked really. Then there was the waiting. I had no idea when I would be expected to leave my classroom. That was all contingent upon my replacement being found. Interviews were held for my position at Grant and my principal made her selection. That teacher accepted the offer and I was told the last day I would have with my students would be the Friday before we went on Winter Break. I got that news three days before Winter Break. I was preparing report cards and now had to prepare to move out of my classroom…again. Thankfully, I had my college freshman nephew visiting again, who seems to enjoy volunteering at Grant quite a bit. His help in moving saved my sanity once again (he has helped me move before). I told my students and their families that I was leaving them, and it was very bittersweet. I have been in the classroom for 15 and a half years, I have taught 2nd – 5th grades, and I have always had a passion for innovation and educational technology. I have been at that point in my career where I knew leaving the classroom would be eminent, I just had no idea how soon that moment would arrive.

Therefore, while I am thrilled to be offered this opportunity, to explore the next chapter in my educational career, it does not come without a price. I will miss my students and doing everything I can for them to bring them the latest tech tools to enhance their education. I take solace in knowing that this shift in my position means I will be affecting more than just my own students, I will be helping students in several classrooms at several schools in my district, and I am very excited about that. Dorothy Grant Elementary has been amazing for me. The staff, students, and their families are a wonderful community I am very proud to be a part of and the decade I spent there will be one I always cherish.

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Posted in Apple Applications, Class News, DGE Events, Educational Technology

Computer Science Week

The class is eager to begin coding!

This week is Computer Science Week and to celebrate, Dorothy Grant Elementary is participating in the Hour of Code. Yesterday my class had a special lab time to explore programming and they had a blast!

Matthew G & Jaythan work together on a bit of Minecraft coding.
Matthew G & Jaythan work together on a bit of Minecraft coding.
Madelyn explains how to do some coding to Samantha.
Madelyn & Samantha work together.
Dalia and Malachi explore coding together.
Dalia and Malachi explore coding together.
Brandon is excited to have completed his Hour of Code.
Brandon is excited to have completed his Hour of Code.

I shared the Code.org website with them and there they got to choose from three tutorials: Star Wars, Minecraft, or Frozen. I had them share their selection with the class via an Edmodo poll and after the hour in the lab, they were to return to my post in Edmodo to share their experiences.

edmodo poll snapshot

edmodo post 1

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The Hour of Code website has been added to the class website on the “After School Links” page. I also wanted to take a moment to share Tynker, one of the more widely known coding apps for tablets. I know it is available in the App Store (for Apple devices) for free and it may be in the Google Play store as well. I will be installing it on the classroom tablets this weekend for the class to continue exploring coding. I recommend it for any personal tablets for students who particularly enjoyed the coding experience.

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Posted in Minecraft @ DGE

Minecraft Club Day 2

Mrs. Ruiz at the future site of Minecraft DGE

Our second time meeting on the server went much smoother today. I attempted to deal with any lingering tech issues before we met so I could have the whole time on the server with the kids. I even extended club time from one hour to two hours because one hour just didn’t seem like enough. After two hours today, I felt that was a much more appropriate amount of time and will likely extend the club hour from 4-5pm on Thursdays, to 3:30 – 5:30 pm on Thursdays.

We are still trying to establish our community on the server. I was trying to direct them to build our school, but the kids kept breaking off and building their own homes. I am currently brainstorming ideas on how to bring 20 “lil miners” (as educators in the Minecraft Educator Google+ group I am in call them) into focus. After viewing all of their newest creations, I broke off at the end of the session to try some building on my own. I didn’t want to build our school myself, but perhaps once I give it a footprint, the kids will then be more focused about making it happen.

We are using Edmodo in conjunction with Minecraft and Skype, so I will have to put up some more assignments there, mainly on planning our community, which should hopefully bring them into better focus. I think perhaps assigning them to regions of the school build is a start. I would also enjoy seeing what they have in mind for our Minecraft school, like drawings or blueprints.

Since I am presently unable to use Minecraft EDU, the suggestion of a Bukkit server was made as it allows for more options than a standard server. I am new to not only Minecraft but running a server and mods so it is quite easy to be overwhelmed. This week I plan on focusing my research on what a Bukkit server is like and what additional commands it can allow me and my students that our current vanilla server cannot. I have several experienced “lil miners” who are used to playing with several mods in place and are feeling a bit restricted by our vanilla server. Those experienced miners ask me almost daily (our Skype group is always up and running and chat there is frequent) about when I am going to allow mods and give them more command ability.

Here is a video I put together of some of the kids in the club telling me what they think Minecraft is along with some footage from day 2 in game. Enjoy!

Posted in Minecraft @ DGE

Minecraft Club Day 1

L to R: Carlos, Xavier, Jayden & Daniel

What an afternoon!

After much anticipation (and three Skype orientations), the DGE Minecraft Club was officially in Minecraft together! I expected it to be chaotic and it certainly was. I spent most of the hour in tech support with parents who were not fully prepared for the amount of tech we are using, and I turned 15 students loose on the server I had acquired for our club. I was sad that I didn’t get to be there with them fully for the first meeting, but in the end I managed to get everyone on which should hopefully make meeting 2 easier.

I opened the server again a little while after the club meeting and let the students know via our Skype group. I had a few eager students willing to log back in to help me work out some kinks and we did! I shot a video of what the students were able to accomplish in the tech club hour while I was helping parents. I have told the kids that I am no Minecraft expert and I am looking to learn from them as some have been playing a majority of their years. The video I shot is amusing for many reasons, one being the tone in my voice as I learn from them. Sadly you cannot hear their replies to me since I was wearing headphones, but you will be able to get the idea of the conversation. I just know each meeting will get better and better.

Enjoy!