Sunday, August 26, 2018

Technology Student Association

Image result for tsa studentsAnother part of kicking of the year with Career and Technical Education (CTE) at Pinnacle is getting started with a student organization.  We held our first meeting of Technology Student Association (TSA) on Tuesday (8/21).  I am excited about a student led organization with student led projects, and financed by student led financial leadership activities.  It provides the context to all of the learning that happens in the classroom.  I am reading through a book by Mark Perna and as he put it in Answering Why, "The best contextual learning is largely self-directed, giving students ownership of the experience and encouraging them to learn, not just from the instructor, but also from each other."

Learning about TSA

For our first meeting, we brought in Tony Raymond who is the state adviser for TSA ( to provide us with an overview of  the student organization and let us know what is all involved with opening up a chapter.  As an added bonus, Tony brought with him four of the TSA state officers, so our students could learn first hand from other students about the organization and competitions.

We started out learning that we would need to setup a leadership committee of students to take charge and lead our chapter.  Fortunately, a few students have already expressed interest in taking on leadership roles.  We learned about the leadership training events that are coming up, and the Fall Leadership Conference at Coors Field sounds like a great learning experience as well as a lot of fun -- ending with a Rockies game.

Next we learned about holding meetings, keeping track of minutes, advertising the chapter, and maintaining membership.  We also learned about financial leadership activities to raise the funds needed to do the events and completions and community service to share what we are learning with others. There's many things to keep track of, but the students seemed interested and undaunted by the details.  We got this!

Then the fun started as we learned about the 70 different events that are available for students to compete in during the February, 2019 TSA State Conference.  There is an impressive variety of events with something that piqued the interest of everyone attending.  The list was varied and included:

  • A Coding Competition
  • Technical Debate and Topical Speeches
  • Video Production and Animation
  • Photography and Music
  • Design Challenges
  • and more...
All this and more ... everyone left with their fill of ice cream!  Many thanks to Tony Raymond and the state officers that helped kick off our first meeting.

What's Next?

Our next steps will to be to meet as a group of those interested in taking on a leadership position in our TSA chapter and then start planning our first meeting to be run on our own.  One thing I noticed was that most of the students were upperclassmen and an order of business is to start advertising and recruiting more freshmen and sophomores.

I am looking forward to an eventful and fun first year in TSA!

Sunday, August 19, 2018


The first week with students is done, and the 2018-2019 school year is officially started.  All of the busy-ness of the new year is underway and Back-to-School night is in the books.  With a busy start to the school year, I am going to keep this week's blog post short, but I did want to talk about the start of the year and one of the activities the CS students at Pinnacle are taking part in again -- CyberPatriot.

What is CyberPatriot?

CyberPatriot ( is a cyber security competition that is open middle school and high school students nationally.  It is sponsored by the Air Force Association.  Pinnacle students took part in the last couple of days of the practice round and used that to remind themselves of some of the skills they developed during last year's competitions.  Before competing, CyberPatriot provides educational information, so students can learn about the competition and develop the skills they will need.

The competitions are completed at school.  As a teacher/coach I am sent system images that are loaded on machines running VMWare.  Students in teams of six or less take on the role of a system security officer at a small company.  Each of the system images represents a system running either Windows, Windows Server or Ubuntu and contains various security flaws.  Students have the task of identifying the flaws and mitigating them.  Some of the flaws are noted and some they must discover on their own.  There is also a set of security related questions that they can answer. 

With each round there are multiple images.  Each image is worth 100 points and students score points  by fixing security flaws or answering questions.  They can also lose points if they make the system less secure.  Another key point that my students have learned is that they need to keep notes on their actions.  When they reset a password to meet a security requirement and then later need to reboot the system to update software -- they had better have kept track of that new password if they want to get in again!

There are multiple rounds and if a team scores high enough they can advance to later rounds.  One of the aspects that I really like is that students can compete at different levels, so a beginner team such as we fielded last year can still advance in the Silver level.  One of the Pinnacle teams made it to the National Semi Finals in the Silver level last year and we are hoping to do as well if not better this year!

Why CyberPatriot?

I have found that my students really enjoy the competition -- they are learning new skills that are useful in the real world and with future careers, competing with others based on what they have learned, and simply having fun!  With cyber security being one of the fastest growing fields in IT, the skills that students develop in this competition is applicable in general as well as specifically for future careers.  The competition environment is fairly realistic so they get to see what it would be like to be a security officer at a small company.  Not only that, I really appreciate that students are not only securing Windows but they are also working with server environments (Windows Server) as well as Linux (Ubuntu).

CyberPatriot is also a great competition because it truly is student run.  The teams last year figured out how they would educate themselves, did the education, and then figured out where the holes in their education were based on the competition.  They also quickly identified that the machines we were competing on were not powerful enough to do many of the tasks efficiently or quickly.  Students took on the challenge and discovered settings in VMWare that would help with the environment, although not totally address it.  This year we will be getting some new laptops that should address the latter problem, and allow the students to learn more about server and Linux environments and compete better.

Finally, I have found that the students have developed good relationships with each other and enjoyed the competitions for the competition as well as simply for spending time together.  The fact that competitions are six hours long, means students compete into the evening on Fridays which lets them order (and argue about) what food they need to get to help them compete effectively.  I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoy listening to the discussions about what food they will need.

CyberPatriot has helped my students develop real world cyber security skills while building community and learning content that is not covered in any of the classes that we offer at Pinnacle and have fun doing it.  Golden!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Starting the Year - Fall 2018

Borrowed and re-purposed materials are in my plans for the start of this year with two main steps.  First, as an introduction to the year I am showing the connection between high school classes and creating an adult lifestyle.  I hope students can use this to choose with foresight and planning a career and lifestyle as opposed to falling into a lifestyle based on letting the circumstances in the world around make that determination.  The second part is introducing students to the computer lab and how to take classes in it safely and in community.

Starting with lifestyle

Over the summer I attended the CACTE 18 conference and heard an excellent speaker, Mark C Perna, discussing his book Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations (  As part of his presentation he discussed starting the year answering that "why" question by walking students through an exercise of looking at a future lifestyle and discussing how their current education can get them to that lifestyle.  I am planning on a variation on this theme.

I typically start day 1 with a class survey on paper before walking students through logging in to the computers.  The survey typically covers some student interest questions so that I can get to know students a bit and then questions that will help me understand the students technology use at home and what is available after school.  I like the paper survey as it gives students something to do while I wait for students having difficulty finding the classroom; and something that is helpful to me long term.

The plan for this year is to expand and use the first section.  The survey includes questions about a concert students attended this summer or that they want to attend; a movie seen this summer or one they want to see; favorite musician or musical group; a summer vacation or a dream vacation.  I typically just collect the surveys and use these as starting points for conversations with students as the year progresses.  This year I plan to have a class discussion with them and have students offer up some of their responses so that we can all learn what interests students outside of school as well as letting students know what some of my interests are.  Then I will use that discussion to let students know that these things are what makes a "lifestyle".  Based on the lifestyle that each student wants, that will help determine what kind of career a student will need in order to afford the lifestyle they want.  Perna did an excellent job of presenting this discussion, and I hope that I can use it to motivate my students towards looking at classes as steps towards a career and lifestyle that they choose.


The computer science classes are all part of Career and Technical Education (CTE) and therefore my computer lab now needs to follow CTE safety guidelines which means educating students about safety in the computer lab.  I have my first year Computer Lab Safety discussion created.  I am quite sure that there are changes I will want to make in upcoming years, but this is my "Minimum Viable Product" that covers the topics that I think students need to know to be safe in the lab and to behave safely around their classmates.  Most of these topics I borrowed from a presentation and lesson plan that I found on the California CTE website.  My initial internal debate was whether or not I should attach consequences for not following the guidelines.  In the end I decided that I wanted to put these in place now rather than wish they were there later on. 

When students have finished listening to, reading, and reviewing the lab safety guidelines they will take a quiz regarding them.  I build most of my quizzes with the online quizzing tool Quia (  Although my school has switched to Google for mail, classroom, and apps, I have found that some of the Google tools don't meet with my expectations.  Quizzing is one of these areas.  Using Google Forms and turning the form into a quiz is nice, but in the end the types of questions that can be asked and the formats for delivering the form is too limiting.  I really like the power of creating a bank of questions which I can either select from or have Quia randomly select from to create a specific quiz or a unique quiz per student.  It also gives me the option of allowing students to review with the full question bank so that they can be completely prepared for a quiz.

This will take me to Friday of the first week and let me dive into specific material by class and the good things that will come with the 2018-2019 school year!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Goals for Fall 2018

The 2018-2019 school year is here already!  After ten weeks of rest, relaxation, and some prep work, I am ready for the upcoming year to start.  Looking ahead to the new year, I am teaching two classes that are repeats from last year that I want to make some changes to; and two classes that are new; and also looking to make some changes to my teaching life.  Keeping in line with the title of my blog -- here is the set of goals for my upcoming semester...

Teaching Life

Working in reverse order, my first goal for the school year is to work more efficiently and effectively.  During my time at IBM, I found it easy and natural to get work done quickly and effectively.  Meeting deadlines sometimes meant overtime, but I felt totally in control and naturally knew when I needed to press hard and when I could slow down and take a breath.  During my first four years as a teacher, I have often felt surprised by unexpected demands, and many times was behind and scrambling to get things done at the last minute, in spite of putting in many hours of over time.  This is one area that I want to address in my fifth year of teaching.

Over the summer I started listening to some of the podcasts of Angela Watson at Truth for Teachers (  She offers common sense approaches to many of the problems and frustrations of teachers.  "Wow that was obvious...why didn't I think of that", was a common response to so much of what she had to offer.  Those were obvious responses from an experienced and wise teacher who also honestly admitted to running into the same problems and frustrations, and then sharing how she addressed them.  I listened to these podcasts while walking my dogs and found myself coming back home and trying to jot a few notes to myself.

Instead of taking on the new school year with a bunch of jotted down notes, I decided to pay for and join her year long group call the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week (  Groups start every six months and I started in July so the next group will start in Jaunuary, 2019.  There are so many great ideas, but I have chosen to take on a few initially, and then re-evaluate and add more as I get into the school year:

  • First is a list making system.  In IT, there are large long range goals with some day-to-day meetings.  In teaching, I have many small short term things that need attention and prioritization.  My scattering of unorganized sticky notes that had no priorities attached was not working well for me.  I found myself taking care of low priority things losing track of other things altogether.  I have modified the list making to use it with Google Keep and have been following it over the summer.
  • Second is setting up a system of classroom jobs.  As someone who has always enjoyed helping others, I found myself taking on many jobs that my students could do and I suspect are more than willing to do.  As a side benefit, I hope that this will mean that students take more pride and ownership of their classroom and work space.
  • Third is putting in place a system for organizing all of the paper that comes with teaching.  As a computer science teacher I strive to have most of my assignments come to me electronically.  But I still find that my desk has a stack of papers that eventually reaches 3-4 inches in height at which time I tackle it and sort through all of it.  
Although there are many other wonderful ideas offered weekly, I have decided to initially tackle these three and then add more after I feel confident with these.

New Classes

For AP Computer Science A, I feel ready to start the year.  It will begin as I typically started my Java class.  I start the students with using Notepad++ and compiling from the command line.  It's old school but I want to make sure students know the fundamentals of declaring a class and the main() method before we dive into Eclipse and have so much of this done for them.  Then I will fall in line with the APlus computer science curriculum that I will be following for the year.  This will be a small class which I like for a new course.  I blogged about this last month while I was at the AP Summer Institute so I won't repeat it here (

Game Design and Development is the class for which I feel least prepared.  I have the first three units setup and ready to go, but I have the last amount of experience in this area, so I feel a bit exposed.  My plan is to be up front with the students and let them know that we will be learning about this topic together.  I have a full class of students, and the work I have done with the Unity game engine over the summer tells me that this should be a fun class for the students and me.  I also discussed my plans for teaching this class in July (

Returning Classes

I am back for year two with Business and Consumer Math and have a full class of students.  I really enjoy how this class is structured -- students earn money for completing assignments.  At the end of the week they receive a paycheck and then need to pay bills and balance their checking account.  After that they reconcile with the bank.  It's an innovative way to get students learning about money and putting it into a real world context.  Last year I went straight through the material.  This year I hope to bring in some outside speakers and even plan a field trip to a local bank.  Last year I really struggled with classroom management with this group of students and found it very difficult to keep them motivated.  Most were content to make sure they passed the class but not particularly motivated to excel in it.  Making it more realistic with outside speakers (selected as those recently graduated and near the same age) will hopefully show them that these topics have value.

Finally, I will be teaching two full sections of Exploring Computer Science.  I am using the pre-built curriculum, but this year will take things in a different order.  I want to start the students blogging right away to show them the value of developing a voice, beginning to deliberately build an online presence and brand, and learning about what it means to be an audience member of a blog and from there how to develop an audience.  They will do this while initially learning what is a computer (hardware, software, internet); learning HTML and CSS and how to design a web site; problem solving with computers; coding with Python; and finally robotics with Edison.  This is a fun class to teach and the students seem to enjoy it as well.

So that's my first semester!  Along with that I will be helping our students startup a TSA (Technology Student Association) chapter and competing in Cyber Patriots and preparing for the winter and spring coding competitions.  Lots of fun and I think so good, challenging goals for myself.