Conversations About Ahmed: Student Quotes from Class Discussion

Today my class went rogue on our lesson plan to discuss #IStandWithAhmed. I’m not going to sum up the event, but will point out the Washington Post article, @IStandWithAhmed Twitter account, and Ahmed Mohamed Wikipedia entry. I will also say that it was difficult to find any resources without bias; most publications were heavily in favor of the young man. I would have preferred a more Joe Friday “Just the facts, ma’am” account, but we make do, right?

I asked them several questions including:

  • What would you expect if you made a clock at home and brought it to school to show me or another teacher?
  • Why was this important enough to change our lesson plans for the day?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Do you think the hashtag will matter around in a year?
  • What does this have to do with you?

Mostly I tried to shut up since one of the hardest things is to listen. Sometimes the conversation got out of control and we need to work on that, but I would like to say one of the greatest moments of today was that by the end of one class, all the students had moved forward and closer to each other as the conversation became more involved.

In any case, I’d like to share  some unedited quotes from my students’ conversations. They come from grades 6-8, ages 11-14.

  • “They were wrong to assume, they didn’t check it out.”
  • “The teacher could have asked him to examine it.”
  • “He looks confused. If he really wanted to do harm, he would have known what he was doing, he wouldn’t look so confused.
  • “No kid that wants to blow up a school wears glasses and a NASA shirt.”
  • “They’re stereotyping him because of his race and he’s Muslim.”
  • “People are accusing of each other of being racist.”
  • “He probably wasn’t even Muslim because a lot of them weren’t Muslim, he was just Indian. Some people aren’t really Muslim.” “You can’t tell they’re Muslim because of the way they look.”
  • “No one knows their human rights anymore. I’ve been reading about this because I am so heated. They need to teach us about human rights.” “They feel we don’t need to know about it because they feel like we’re not mature enough.”
  • “I don’t know who the man is. I just know he’s making our decisions.”
  • “I thought they at least should have investigated and looked in his room and disabled it and reassembled it and figured out stuff before they arrested him.”
  • “At least my cousin isn’t Osama.” [discussing comments made to one of our Muslim students, not in the class)
  • “It would have taken 5 freaking minutes to check. It’s not that hard.”
  • “People like him are geniuses. He’ll grow up to be like Albert Einstein.”
  • “I think he shouldn’t’ve brought the clock to school. He should have asked to bring it to school.” “Even if he asked first, they would have thought the same thing. That it was a bomb.”
  • “But isn’t the numbers supposed to go down? On a bomb? I think the numbers on my clock go up.”
  • -“If a regular white student brought it in, they wouldn’t think he did anything wrong.”
  • “He looked terrified.”
  • “I think the teacher should be fired.” “Why? The teacher did what was right.”
  • “The teacher was racist or didn’t like him.”
  • “How did he get through security?”
  • “With stuff happening around the world, they have to be careful. An ISIS official made a threat saying they would send half a million soldiers to attack Europe and the U.S. when we least expected it. Then you have thousands of Syrian refugees coming here and to Europe that are mostly men with a few women and children.However, they aren’t your average sickly, ill refugees. This are built, strong men who could all be ISIS soldiers. So, by welcoming them here without question and open arms is upsetting so many people. The U.S. government is planning to feed 10,000 of the, which is upsetting U.S. citizens because there are so many of are people that are homeless and starving that aren’t being helped.”
  • “I think it’s stupid. It’s just a judgment call. There’s nothing connected to it that would explode. People just assume it’s all technical and a bomb. It makes kids…it was racial profiling.”
  • “In this day and age, everyone wants to make the world a worse place.”
  • “We’re getting to an age where we’re curious and want to build stuff but we could get accused of trying to make bombs and stuff.”
  • “I think the race doesn’t matter to the teachers. I think the media made it a big deal.”
  • “I feel like it was a good thing that the whole situation was blown out of proportion because it has brought more awareness to things of this nature: racial profiling, religious profiling…”
  • “They could have at least called his parents.”
  • “Even if he explained it, they don’t know what a bomb is made of or what a clock is made of, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
  • “Over the summer, we had #BlackLivesMatter and this is kind of like the same thing. After 9/11, people got a lot more racist against those people so I’m not gonna lie, I don’t think bringing the clock to school was a good idea but it makes sense to ask first because that would have cleared some stuff up.”
  • “I think they shouldn’t have arrested him without letting him show it off.”

PS- My students were very excited that I would post some of their quotes on Twitter.

Camp Tech Terra Wrap Up


Today was the last day of Camp Tech Terra. Susan and Zach jumped in on a daunting list of topics suggested by the participants including grant writing, digital portfolios, and STEM stations. I took typed notes today because I was eating breakfast at the same time. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Check out Bright Bytes (link) for research connecting mobile learning with student learning
  • Dollar Tree will sell their $1 items to teachers for half price online
  • Check out IPEVO Wishpool (link) for monthly tech giveaways
  • When purchasing a 3-D printer, consider that Makerbot is the only vendor of its filament
  • Different STEM stations:
    • deconstruction: no TVs or glass, cut the power cords off
    • construction: Lego, blocks
    • fabrication: cardboard
    • robotics: Ozobots
    • coding: Sphero (can code using Tickle)
    • Tech Explorer: virtual reality, Osmo, making apps
    • Science Explorer: Little bits magnets
  • Susan Wells on STEM: Just getting the curriculum isn’t going to help you, “nothing is better than doing”
  • Then we did a mini edchat on Twitter. We gave out an #oklaed Twitter Cheat Sheet (link) in the morning but I think it might have been better to get everyone set up with an account and introductory text before diving into the edchat. I’m always trying to get new people to take advantage of Twitter so it was interesting to see an edchat with 40 people in the room; I think it’ll adjust how I do PD in the future. (I think I’ll also do an #oklaed #slowchat next week to help ease people into it.) The plan was to do the questions below but due to time constraints, we only did three. I thought it was neat that some non-Camp Tech Terra tweeps participated. If even one person keeps on (and I think they will), I’ll call it time well spent.


Here is the archive of the #camptechterra tweets up until, oh, 8:30 on July 29, 2015:

Here’s a list of recommended people on Twitter to follow:

  • @justintarte
  • @GingerLewman
  • @bridgestyler
  • @mrsveldhuizen
  • @CoachHime57
  • @CommonSense
  • @HeckAwesome
  • @watersenglish
  • @DianaLRendina
  • @venspired
  • @kevinhoneycutt
  • @sjgorman
  • @DrTerriOu
  • @MeghanZigmond
  • @plemmonsa
  • @ShakeUpLearning
  • @HollyClarkEdu
  • @burgessdave
  • @ladywolf2014
  • @iTeachManor
  • @kellianglley
  • @bluecerealeducation
  • @TechNinjaTodd
  • @GwynethJones
  • @RafranzDavis
  • @MrsBeck25
  • @followmolly
  • @mraspinall
  • @joy4ok
  • @wfryer
  • @CathyBenge1
  • @okeducationtruths
  • @Teachfromhere
  • @pernilleripp
  • justinbcoffey
  • @shirky17
  • @misssgtpickles
  • @LauraGilchrist4
  • @TracyClark08
  • yaujauku
  • cogswell_ben
  • @thnorfar
  • @KleinErin
  • @alicekeeler
  • @kylepace
  • @TechChef4U
  • @TheTechRabbi
  • @TheWeirdTeacher
  • Austin_Gagnier8
  • Mr_Ptchr
  • mrjoshflores
  • MPSTechnology
  • @mathycathy
  • iPadWells
  • grendelrick
  • @James408Jason
  • @sylviaduckworth

Camp Tech Terra also inspired additions to my wishlist. I am not aiming for most things class sets because they are expensive and I am going STEM station-style. I keep a spreadsheet with vendors, prices, etc, but I thought it’d be nice to share in an easy format in case a random billionaire stops by and wishes to grace my classroom. Please feel free to give me your feedback if you have something in your classroom or have a suggestion to add:

  • 1 Copernicus Tech Tub Premium (link)
  •  2 Sphero (link)
  • 2 Rolling Spider Mini Drone (linkNote: @micheledanielshenk shared that Brad Gustafson gives out Tickle coding challenges
  • 1 Kano Build Your Own Computer Kit (
  • 3 Ozobots (linkNote: @cathybenge1 says if you put 2 Ozobots alone in your amazon cart, they are buy 2, get 3rd free
  • 1 Makerbot 3-D Printer (link) and all the filament ever Note: Michele also recommends 3DTin to create.
  • 25 Lilypad miniature electronic platform for wearables
  • 1 Squishy Circuits (link)
  • 5 Google Cardboard (link)
  • 1 Osmo Gaming System for iPad (link)

To wrap up the workshop, we had time to work on what we wanted and network. I loved picking the brains around me. I look forward to continuing to keeping in touch with them. I mentioned it in the workshop but I think it bears repeating: Twitter is an excellent way to continue relationships with excellent people you meet at PD.

One of my new friends is Jessica Lightle. She had a great week! She was on the front page of the paper and won the Copernicus Tub today. She is going to be my ISTE alarm clock and make sure I go in 2016. Afterwards, she asked to interview me for her vlog RUCHALLENGED. You can watch the video below.

Camp Tech Terra Days 1-2: Mobile Learning & Frustration

If I had a summer theme song, it’d be Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”. I feel like I’ve hardly been home but the PD (professional development) opportunities have just been too good this year despite my best intentions to stay put. I’ve been to iOS Summit Norcal (California), iPadpalooza  (Texas), edcampOKSDE, Podstock (Kansas), and Recharge in the last two months. This week I returned to East Central University (where I got my Master’s in Ed, Library Media Specialist)  since they are hosting a Camp Tech Terra teacher training and certification workshop. I was drawn to Camp Tech Terra because (according to their site) their mission aligns with my own:

Camp Tech Terra takes two seemingly opposing elements — technology and nature — and brings them together to help children better understand the world around them and the gadgets in their hands. The camp was developed by a leader in mobile-integrated education and veterans of public education. The curriculum is inspired and informed by Maker’s Ed and Project Based Learning.”

How could I pass that up?

I made the two hour drive to Ada, stopped briefly at my hotel, and bopped onto the brand spanking new (well, renovated) Education Building.  Check out this room! I am in love with the Copernicus tech tub (upper right) and the mobile white boards (second row, left). I liked the vibrant orange walls matching the super comfy adjustable chairs and the pop of the magnetic white walls. Visiting new spaces is the reason why my classroom will never ever be finished.


So Day 1 focused on discussion on the value mobile learning and maker ed as well as an introduction to apps. All the other PD I participated in this summer was broken down into sessions where people could choose what they wanted to attend. Here, we were all expected to stay together and I was bit nervous because I don’t sit still well. However, Susan and Zach Wells did a great job engaging users of all different levels and keeping us moving. They’re all cross-platform all the way which is nice with such a big group (and, you know, just full of real world practicality we don’t always get to see employed in education). I was impressed that our group of 37 included teachers, librarians, administrators, and at least one curriculum director. There were people from Oklahoma, Kansas, and even Virginia. I was relieved that I hadn’t thrown away 3 days of precious summer.


For the Day 2 (today), I didn’t sketchnote since we did so much hands-on. To start, we hit Winter Smith Park for a digital storytelling exercise. I cleared out the memory on my devices since we were given a heads up on the assignment via Remind. I have to say I like the way communications were handled. They only released information a bit at time, not out of some super tight need for control, but in a way that spoke of digestible traffic to diminish panic. We were offered a few ideas (micro study, bird count, make-believe) but were also free to make up our own. I tinkered with two ideas: (1) a Bio Blitz and (2) a statement on the need for balance between balance and tech, especially in light of mobile technology. (I am trying to figure out how to explain that without sounding pretentious.)

I MacGyvered a framing device out of a paper folder in case I ran with the Bio Blitz. It’s just a square piece of white cardboard with a square cut of the middle; the white border can help kids focus when making observations. The idea for that came from either the Tulsa Botanical Garden or at art teacher at SenseSational Science.

I set out with my square, water, Enduracool cloth, iPad, iPhone, and a seed of an idea. We only had an hour but it went by fast. When we got back, we had about another hour (with the option to work through lunch.) I found a little corner to lay out in, put on my headphones, and built a force field out of my devices. I realized that I never get to make videos just because I want to so this was refreshing. I was also determined to create the video using an app I never used before. I settled on Wevideo.

I really wanted to like Wevideo. I liked the ease of trimming video but was soon irritated by other things like the tediousness of setting duration for each object. On iOS, you can’t add text but you can on Android. (I guess that makes sense since I remember there being a close relationship between Wevideo and Google.) I was able to pick music from my iTunes account but I couldn’t tweak how I wanted and mix with narration. I initially hoped I could app smash to get better results but export options are limited to Youtube and Wevideo so I went with Youtube but it took hours to actually publish. When it finally did publish, it wasn’t true to the preview. I ended up trying to publish three times and reached my limit of “minutes” so then I couldn’t do anything with my file at all. No bueno! People all around me were turning in work and I was sitting on nada. Now, to be clear, I was putting more pressure on myself than anyone else was. There were other people who weren’t finished and we were informed that we could finish at home, and turn it in tomorrow.

Edited 7/29 to add: How would you deal with this as a teacher? This is how I think of it: did I turn in the completed product on time? No. Was I learning? Yes. I would venture to say my troubles made me think more than I would have if everything had gone smooth. Would I punish a student in a similar situation with a zero grade? No! I’d talk to the student and see what was up or as Susan Wells says, “take a temperature check.” This is why I grade by objectives – but that’s a whole ‘nother post.

In any case:  it’s a great testament to the program that I completely forgot about the video until I got back to the hotel because it was STEM TOYS TIME! There were several stations with the following products:

  • Cubetto
  • Ozobots
  • Hummingbird Finch Robotics
  • Osmo
  • Makey Makey
  • MakerBot 3D printer
  • Kano Build Your Own Computer Kit
  • DAQRI (Elements, Anatomy)
  • Google Cardboard

I have a class set of Makey Makeys, but I really would like 1 Kano, to learn how to make DAQRI triggers, and at least 5 sets Google Cardboard. I’d like to get Ozobots and think they’d go great with Spheros. I remember someone saying they’d set up mazes for the two robots to race. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a 3D printer either. The rest were cool but didn’t jump at me.

Somewhere in there, we also talked about beginning coding and used Lightbot (site) . At the end, we got to model sharing by showing some of the finished videos. I was a little frustrated since I had nothing to share but I tried to act the way I would want one of my students to act. I tried really hard not to think all about “my need” to finish (restart) and pay attention. There were some fantastic videos! My favorites were an elementary reader on the letter “E” using Book Creator and another app smashing iMovie and a doodling app on shapes found in nature.

It was a long day, man. After a bit of a nap and decompression, I finally got to work on my video. Have to say, iMovie remains my go-to app. I’d still rather edit videos on a computer, but for mobile learning, iMovie all the way. Here’s what I ended up with:

Now for a bit of bonus self-reflection: I prefer not to attend PD by myself. I don’t have an issue with meeting new people or going new places, but I like to have a buddy to bounce ideas off. I like to have a partner in crime, or two. I was pleasantly surprised on Monday to walk in and see twitter friends Jennifer Reyher (@jenniferreyher) and Cathy Benge (@cathybenge1) as well as Kaylee, who went through the LMS program at the same time as me. She actually found out that “our” wine bar is having trivia tonight but I had to tap out. I’d hate to be too sleepy to enjoy my last day.

It’s really been such a fun experience – but a lot! Big shout to the good doctors Mark Jones and Shelli Sharber for setting this workshop up. They’ve almost got me talked into pursuing an ed tech masters, especially if they keep offering such high quality PD.

Okay, I Have a Dream. Now How Do I Fund It? Tips for the Beginning Classroom Grant Writer

I started grant writing out of the ugly desperation of a $9 budget versus my students’ expectations of technological glory. We had floppy drives in 21st century and they wanted to make stuff. For awhile, I brought in a lot of my own personal equipment but there comes a time when you have to stop that or quit teaching. After a few years, it was pretty much, “Well, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like we’re gonna lose money.”

Several thousand dollars and a truly epic room makeover later, my students’ dreams have only grown in glory (kids are crazy like that) so we’re still writing and we seem to be winning more often than not. Dr. Terri Cullen (@DrTerriOU) described it as “snowballing”; I like think it’s because we are improving with practice.

I am pretty sure there are people who are better at grant writing than me; I go for grants that are $10,000 or less. Maybe one day I’ll tackle a biggie but, for now, I am happy with how the smaller size ones add up. (2010 me’s jaw just dropped thinking of $10,000 as small potatoes.) I’ve been getting asked for tips lately. In fact, I presented beginning grant writing at Podstock (resource) in Kansas last week so it seemed the right time to put it all out there and blog. While I can’t guarantee that what works for me will work for everyone, it’s not going to stop me from sharing my top 10 in hopes that it might.

10. Dream, in parts

The overall vision for “The @ction Lab” (yes, I named my classroom) is to put the “laboratory” back into computer lab by turning it into a creative space for collaboration, experimentation, and discovery. It’s an awesome vision, right? But expensive. Rather than put all my eggs into a basket and tackle a big grant, we were able to break our dream down into discrete parts and then write small grants for each project. It’s good to write them as standalone projects because they are easier for you to describe and the grant readers to digest (just because you have the whole big picture doesn’t mean you have to tell all about on every grant). If your district has a foundation, I would recommend writing for them since your competition is limited.

I like small grants. When you start small, you get a chance to really build up your confidence and skills. For example, you learn how to manage your grant money. It’s important to learn the particular ins and outs of money in your district: Is there someone you need permission from before you can apply for a grant? Are you allowed to write for matching funds? (Matching funds is when you win a grant for a certain amount of money, but your district needs to come up with an equal amount in order to fund the project.) Are there limitations on items you are allowed to include in your budget? Find out and be sure to keep documentation. I once almost lost $7500 because my budget approval got lost somewhere in the chain. Luckily, I never delete emails.

Some grants give you a lot of freedom while others only allow you to spend the money on field trips or professional development. Having your big picture/vision/dream is important in order for you to spend your money strategically.

9. Sell it

I am not great at self-promotion but I realize that you have to sell the project. If you can’t explain why your project is significant then why should people give you money? I would emphasize the significance and not your Tale of Woe. Most schools are struggling right now so you can’t depend on that to make a grant organization pick you; you have to make your project/school/class stand out and especially stand out as an entity that will succeed.

I’d also like you to consider The Cute Name. It is a truth that I tried to deny, but I can fight no longer: Giving your project a catchy, even pun-y, title is worth it. I’m not sure if it’s simply something that sticks in the head of grant readers but if you can come up with a good title, do it.

8. Read the directions

This one seemed pretty obvious to me, but then I started reading grant applications and was stunned by the sheer amount of recklessness. I have read fourth grade essays with a better grasp of parameters and appropriateness. If you are applying for a grant, read the directions. Read ALL the directions because every grant is different. I admit I keep a list of projects (and a wishlist of items with prices) and try to fit grants to them, but you still have follow the directions and adjust accordingly. You may want to look for things like budget. Is there a budget or are they just giving you product? If there is a budget, are you allowed to change it later? If something goes on sale, can you spend the difference on more stuff? Are there limits on vendors? Can you spend the money on stipends? If you have questions, I would not hesitate to contact the grant organization. I call and email frequently and no one’s blocked me yet. In fact, I sometimes get great unasked for advice.

7. Research the grant and grantees

Most organizations are getting good karma for giving away their money so there should be a lot of promotional material for you to review from past winners. Sometimes you get really lucky and they even give you a case study. I recommend reading everything you can about the grant and grant winners. Look for patterns and try to reflect specific terms used in the grant documentation.

I am something of a persistent stalker (ask my principal) and have also been known to contact grant winners for their proposals and/or advice. Everyone has been cool about it. If you ask me about a specific grant, I will usually give you a copy of my proposal. I don’t think that anyone is looking to copy proposals, it’s just comforting to see what has been accepted.

6. Don’t be afraid to go sideways

STEM and physical fitness seem to be the main grant “hooks” I see lately. I teach computers but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to apply for a physical fitness grant. An art teacher can apply for a math grant; a math teacher can apply for an art grant as long as the project fits the grant. If you can make it work, do it.

5. Sustainability

I’m dying to do a wearables project with kids making bracelets with LEDs. Unfortunately, most of the STEM grants I find want projects that will be sustainable. The wearables project is all consumables; I could do the project for one year and then I’d be out of material. So even though the bracelets are #1 on my list, I wrote the grant for a drone because the drone will be used for years. I’m still looking for the right grant for wearables.

4. Know who’s judging you

Some grants go through several rounds. For example, the first round might be grants read by teachers and other volunteers scoring by rubrics. The second round might be foundation members arguing without a rubric. Sometimes the grant organization tells you how you are being judged; if they don’t tell you, ask.

We all know that there are buzz words in education: PBL, STEM, active learning, and so on. If your grant is being read by educators and you are using buzz words, you better know what they mean and use them correctly. If your grant is being read by non-educators, you need to stay away from the jargon and explain yourself clearly. Remember, you are writing for understanding not to prove how clever you are.

3. Give options

I learned this from another grant writer. Imagine you have an organization that gives away its yearly bucket of money until its gone and they only have $2000 left at the end of the day. They throw out all the grant applications over $2000. There’s two grants left and you wrote for $3000 because they said you could write up to $5000. Boo! If the grant application allows for it, write budgets for different levels and make sure that each level is a complete project in itself. Last year, I wrote a grant with options for $1,500 and $4,000 and got $3,000.

Voya Unsung Heroes actually requires you to write for different tiers of $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, and $25,000.

2. Cold reader + 1

I usually have a lot of people read my grants before applying but I recommend a minimum of 2: a cold reader and a non-educator. To me, a cold reader is someone who is reading it cold. They have never heard you talk about it before so they aren’t filling in information you didn’t actually write. If you are lucky enough to have a rubric, give your cold reader the rubric and have them score you.

I would also suggest you have one person read for content and another for writing. Several grant organizations have stated that if it is between two grants of equal merit, they are going to the one with better writing.

Frankly, I have students read through my grants (this is probably why I switch between singular and plural possessive). They are the most honest readers you will ever have. For serious.

1. Follow through

Many moons ago, when I was fresh and new, I won a Donors Choose grant. It was the year that Stephen Colbert promised to sing Rebecca Black’s “Friday” if so many Donors Choose projects were funded by his fans (Video). Well, I was one of the lucky beneficiaries and got Flip cameras (RIP). However, I didn’t send all my thank you letters to my awesome donors. I was young. It was the end of the year. I was moving classrooms. Wah, wah, wah. I didn’t do it. Now I am unable to ever use Donors Choose and let me tell you I am sorry about that. Learn from my mistakes!

Now I make duplicates, I keep receipts, I have thank you cards -the whole shebang. I know better. You must follow through, especially because it can sometimes have consequences. For instance, if you do not complete the post-fellowship reporting for Fund for Teachers, they will tell the IRS that the money is income and then you have to pay taxes on it.

On the bright side, if you follow through spectacularly, it can lead to more money! The money could be from the same organization because you’ve proven yourself trustworthy. The money could come from a new organization because you have a proven track record. Either way, you win.

I’m at the point where I can juggle a few grants at a time and still follow through on my obligations. It helps that I keep a 3-year plan of grant cycles and when I want to apply for certain ones (#listersgottalist) to help stay balanced.

Okay, phew, I’m done now. I hope someone actually reads this and I hope you get to do something awesome with grant money this year. If you do and I helped, drop me a line!