A cool chat with the “Cool Cat”

Reader’s Note: this post is about my reactions and impressions from my interview with Vicki Davis, the “Cool Cat Teacher”. To watch the full interview, visit the Vimeo channel at http://vimeo.com/channels/223778.

I recently interviewed Vicki Davis, global collaboration guru and bonafide social media superstar with nearly 22,000 Twitter followers, and over 23,000 blog subscribers to date. Best of all, she’s a teacher, just like me! Her followers know her as the “Cool Cat Teacher” and co-founder of the Flat Classroom™ project. To promote her upcoming book release, Vicki graciously agreed to an interview with me at ISTE 2011. A family emergency prevented us from meeting up at ISTE, but we were able to video-chat using Facetime soon after. Besides being totally starstuck, I truly enjoyed our conversation and found Vicki to be be more than anything, inspirational.

Backstory
I met Vicki for the first time at our state technology conference in December 2010, where she was the keynote speaker. At the time, I was so impressed by her keynote, that I wanted to attend her session on the Flat Classroom™ Project. I was not the only one! I waited in line for 30 minutes just to get in to the session. Then I sat on the floor in what were literally “standing room only” conditions. I wanted a chance to talk to her then, but it just was not going to happen! At the time, I knew that the best I could do was snap a quick pic for my blog, and make it my mission to reconnect later…and, so, here we are!

About Vicki
I prepared a few questions for our interview, and of course, we chatted about unplanned topics as well. To start, I asked how her journey as the “Cool Cat Teacher” began. Interestingly enough, she went all the way back to when she was 8 and her dad bought a TRS-80 computer that she figured out how to use. I had to Google this, since I had no idea what a TRS-80 was, and found out that TRS = Tandy Radio Shack, which I totally remember! I think a Tandy was the first computer in my house, too! She also shared how her students came up with her name: “..we’re the Westwood Wildcats, and you’re pretty cool, so why don’t you be the Cool Cat Teacher?” …and the rest, as they say, is history. I love it!

“Flattening” Classrooms
As our conversation progressed, Vicki began to talk about the Flat Classroom™ Project and how her upcoming book became a reality. She defines a “flat classroom” as a classroom that can “work and co-create with anybody, anywhere, anytime” using synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication. Since our first encounter, I wondered how I could “flatten” my own secondary math classroom. Here’s what Vicki offered:

In this segment, Vicki suggests several ideas for flattening the math classroom, some I’ve thought of and tried, and many that I never even considered. I have had several professionals who use math visit my classes over the years, but never thought to compare and contrast problem solving-techniques across countries!!! I was recently offered a membership to the Math Forum Problems of the Week site in exchange for my tweeting and blogging about how I use it. I am now very excited about trying some of Vicki’s ideas with these problems!

The Book
Here is another part of the interview in which Vicki discusses her upcoming Flat Classroom™ book:

I particularly like this segment because you can really see how passionate Vicki is about the work she’s doing. Here she also talks about how the Flat Classroom™ project has helped “unleash excellence” and “break cycles” for students with mental and physical disabilities, and low socioeconomic status. At one point, she even tears up while talking about a particular student who cited the project as the catalyst for his attending college (on a full scholarship), as the first in his family to do so. In this video, Vicki also talks about how the book is written, full of QR codes the reader can scan to connect with online interactive content right away. I am intrigued and curious to see a book written like this, as it is definitely a break from the norm, to say the least! At a time when many book publishers are fearful of all things technological, I am impressed that Vicki and her co-author were able to get these cutting-edge techie tools included in their text.

Final Thoughts
I will not include the entire interview in this post, since I chopped it up into 7 videos which are about 5 minutes apiece. I think the vids speak for themselves. I did a lot of listening and absorbing throughout the interview and came away from it inspired and energized to do more in the coming school year. Here are a few more memorable things that Vicki said during our talk:

  • “You can’t do everything, but you can do something.”
  • “Principle of Transference: If they (students) love chocolate cake, and everyday they go to math class, and you have a chocolate cake in the front of math class, what’s gonna happen when the bell rings and it’s time to go to math? They will be running, because they have transferred their love of chocolate cake to math! …now what do they enjoy? They enjoy social media…they love to connect with each other.”
  • “Blogging is first person-‘I’ is in there, blogg-ING…we’re hungry for a real person. It’s OK to say I think _______.”

When I think about how Vicki and I met at a time when she was literally untouchable, it really underlines the beauty of online communication and collaboration. Someone who was impossible for me to get to in person was in my living room just a few days ago! This is truly powerful, and I have to share this power with my students and peers! Vicki and I have decided to continue having these conversations, so stay tuned for the next time we get together. For more info about Vicki and her book, visit http://www.coolcatteacher.com. I’ll leave you with my favorite video from our chat, which I’m calling “1-minute inspiration”.

My 1st ISTE Part 1

Wow. I have finally made my first pilgrimage to the Ed Tech “Mecca”, ISTE. If you are a “newbie” like me, you may not know what it stands for; ISTE=International Society for Technology in Education. It is the premier conference for educators using technology in the classroom. I have been selected to receive 15 iPad 2s for my class next year, as well as a set of 32 ActivExpressions, alphanumeric “clickers” for students to text answers to questions I ask in class. One of the main reasons I came to ISTE this year was to learn some innovative ways to use the equipment I currently have and the new tools I am getting next year. However, as I embrace a personal lifestyle defined by minimalism, I can’t help but crave “less stuff” in my classroom. For this reason, I am trying to avoid hanging out in the exhibit hall, where I am sure to find some cool new tech tool that I “cannot live without”!
Exhibit Hall
If you enjoy exhibit halls at conferences, you would lo-o-o-o-ve ISTE!!! There is no exhibit hall that I’ve seen that even comes close to ISTE. It is overwhelming, bustling, and chock full of everything you go to exhibit halls to see– new ideas, free giveaways, and every vendor you’ve never heard of! I was a little taken aback by the sheer magnitude of the vendor presence at this conference, and frankly, a little turned off. I get it, people come to conferences like this to connect with vendors to find tech solutions for their schools, but for me, it is a gross display of the commodification of our kids’ education. Every one wants a piece! That said, I will continue to avoid the exhibit hall, but if this is your thing, ISTE is the place to be!

Please do not let my rant about the exhibit hall lead you to believe that I am not enjoying this conference. Every interaction, session, and just passing through the tremendous halls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center has made this one of the most enriching experiences of my professional life. I plan to attend next year and in years to come. There is sooo much that I am getting from this conference, that it would be impossible to share in one post, so stay tuned! I have been taking really detailed notes and plan to share what I learn right here very soon! For now, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from sessions I’ve attended so far:

“What is OBVIOUS to you, is obvious to YOU!” -Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules

“Leadership is communicating people’s worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”-Dr. Stephen Covey, author of The Leader in Me

“Treat a man as he is and you make him worse than he is. Treat a man as he has the potential to become and you make him better than he is.” -Goethe

I’m Ba-ack! (with My New “Digital Kiosk”)

Sorry for the big break in posts. My husband and I celebrated our tenth anniversary on Valentine’s day with a cruise to Mexico where we renewed our vows on the beach! Good times! It has taken this long for my mind to leave Mexico and return to normal things, like my classroom.


I guess the biggest thing going on right now is the TV/ “digital kiosk” that I’ve recently had installed outside of my classroom door. In September, I wrote a “Quality in Science and Mathematics” (QSM) grant for a 40-inch TV and an Apple TV unit to use as a digital kiosk to display my student’s tech projects. In my previous job, I worked at a school where project-based instruction was the norm. To show off the projects students had created, teachers would fill the halls with posters, dioramas, models, and other artifacts of their work. As I have made the transition to tech projects, I was finding it very difficult to find ways to display my students’ work. Of course I could print things out, but they would not have the same dynamic qualities that could only be shown in digital form. Here we were doing all these great projects and no one had a clue! I know that when you display student work, they take more pride in it. Students also feel their work is validated when they have an audience, even if it’s just passersby in the hallway. Of course the big TV in the hallway made quite a splash when it was first installed, but like all new things, it is slowly becoming a natural part of our school landscape that occasionally catches someone’s eye.

When I first had the TV installed (by the shop class who built and painted the case for it, (thanks, Coach Bridges!!!) I envisioned it showing a never-ending slideshow of student work pulled from my Flickr account. That’s why I got the AppleTV–it has lots of cool options for slideshows that can stream directly from Flickr or your computer via iTunes. Shortly after, I realized that I could stream video from iTunes and suddenly the floodgates opened.

I created a slideshow of student work using Animoto and added it to a video playlist including student video projects, instructional videos, and my students’ favorite–math rap videos I downloaded from youtube. I find ones related to what we are doing in class, and the kids in my classes (and everyone else’s) love to watch to see what the new video is! Here’s our current favorite:

Periodic Table, Elements, and Technology


My Chemistry class worked on a project to explore the uses of elements in everyday life. Ms. Blanchet and I worked together as a collaborative team to develop this lesson. The lesson was student-centered in that the students had to work together in pairs and use software to gather information. The software was on iPads. In pairs, students were to explore an assigned group of elements. Some students worked alone in order to cover the whole periodic table. This lesson was a great replacement lesson from my rather lackluster and traditional lesson on the elements. The students were involved from the beginning to end of lesson. The lesson was designed for 45 minutes. The introduction of the lesson/ student engagement was a song that had all the elements names in the song. I offered the students who learned this song by heart an incentive of an “A” on a bonus test grade. Next, the students had to find the symbol, the atomic number, draw a picture, and to write a use. The pictures the student drew were admirable, and they had very few problems finding uses. The students were engaged throughout the whole lesson. As for comments from the students, they said the graphics and the software was great, they learned that elements are in many things and is used for everything. Also, they wished they had more time. In order, to achieve an excellent grade, students were encouraged to go home over the weekend to finish with the help of a website: periodictable.com to complete assignment. The final product is to have a huge periodic table to display. I hope this goes well. It is a class effort and everyone had a part to do. -Ms. J. Gibson, John Ehret H. S. Chemistry teacher More Links:

Back in the classroom with blanchetBlog

School has been back in session for only a month, and I already feel like I have a million things going on in my classroom!  I am only teaching two classes in the fall semester- GEE Prep Math, a remediation course for students who struggle with math and need to pass the state test to graduate, and AP Calculus.  I have been doing lots of hands-on activities with my GEE class using some great manipulatives I bought from EAI while at NCTM in San Diego last year. We started the year with every math student’s kryptonite–fractions. My motto is “fractions are our friends”, but I have yet to get many students to agree. Nevertheless, we used fraction pattern tiles to explore the meaning of fractions, and I think having the concrete examples really helped.  In the photo above, you see students working with algebra tiles to express polynomial expressions. Although I sprung for the “quietshape” foam tiles from EAI, you can print your own and have the students cut them out. Check this link out for your own algebra tiles, and here is a place where you can get some activity ideas.

In my calculus class,we began with a review of Advanced Math and a project I have done before in Calculus—Function Family Trees. This year, since I have the model technology classroom, I had the students make a Glog (online poster) for their function families. Here is an example of their work:

Go to Glogster EDU to set up your own classes with this awesome tool!  I can already see that this is going to be a super-busy year for me and my students.  I love having the opportunity to teach AP Calculus again.  It was great experience when I taught it the year before last.   I now get the chance to revisit my tried and true strategies and refresh things with some new activities and projects.  My GEE Prep class is a chance for me to really learn how to use data to move students forward.  I have been crunching a lot of numbers trying to figure out what my kids’ strengths and weaknesses are.  I have also been asked to do some additional small group tutoring with these students.  I plan on using my data to provide targeted assistance in each student’s weakest areas.  I will also track practice test scores to see if my efforts are working.  My goal is to have a 100% passing rate for my students after they take my test prep course.  Wish me luck!  I wish you luck in the coming months, as well. Stay tuned for more!