YOU are a Powerful Educator!

I have been working on a reflective project which has required me to think about the last 6 months of my professional career and the impact I have made in that time period.  With it being a new decade and all, my mind naturally started wandering to the year of 2010 and where I was professionally during that time.  I couldn’t help but think about how my professional life has changed in the past ten years.  If you were to ask me in 2010 where I saw myself in ten years, this is NOT the path I would have thought my journey would have taken me. 

So, It’s the year 2010.  I am 38 years old and have four children, ages 11, 9, 6, and 5.  I am a long term substitute in District 181 trying to get my “foot in the door” as I am needing to pack my Stay at Home Mom bags and go back to teaching full time.  Two years and 4 long term assignments later, I landed a full time teaching job.  Second grade at Madison School with an amazing team (whom I still love dearly today).  Getting back into the classroom was invigorating!  The excitement, the joy, the buzz I got from teaching!!  However, the year was challenging, not only professionally, but personally.  Juggling home life and a career was not easy.  Especially for someone like me who likes give 100% to anything I do.  Not having 200% to split equally between my family and career caused a lot of guilt and heartache.  It was something I knew I had to get a handle on if I was going to continue to be a successful teacher AND a stellar mom/wife. 

The next year I needed to make a move to either third grade or fifth grade because of a change in enrollment.  Never teaching anything higher than 3rd grade, I went totally out of my comfort zone and took the 5th grade position.  For the next five years, I taught 5th grade and LOVED every single minute of it, well, mostly.  In those five years, I grew and developed into an educator that I never dreamed I could become.  I started to realize and quite frankly, didn’t really like what I was noticing about our educational system.  I was quickly getting tired of all of the tests my 5th graders needed to take and I felt there should be more to school than paper and pencil activities.  Especially as we moved through the decade and technology was becoming more and more relevant in our world.  In 2013 I went back to school for Educational Technology and earned my Masters in 2015.  During those years I also made changes to my classroom, all fifth graders in 2014 had 1:1 iPads.  Talk about change!  I was thrilled!  Everything I was learning about in my Master’s classes, I could now actually put to use in my own classroom.  During that year and the few years later, my teaching  and classroom started changing to fit more closely with todays unique world.  I changed to a flexible classroom model, I started this blog, I facilitated a HUGE Shark Tank unit with all fifth graders , I had my students blogging, they were collaborating with architects, and other professionals, they convinced the Village to repair the roads around our school so they could ride their bikes more safely.  My students were learning real world skills by tackling real world problems.  In the thick of it all, each little story of impact didn’t mean much at all.  It was just little old me, mom of four, trying to give my students the educational experience I felt they needed.

Fast forward to 2017, I applied for and became an Apple Distinguished Educator!  Excitement overload!  Again, who would have thought back in 2010 that this stay at home mom, would achieve being recognized by Apple as an innovative educator?  That same year I moved into the library as my love for teaching in the classroom was dwindling each year.  As much as I wanted to “disrupt” the system, I still had rules to follow and curriculum to teach.  More and more time was being taken away by mandatory lessons and tests, less and less time was available to do the activities I felt were most important.  Moving to the library as the Teacher Librarian and weCreate Lab Facilitator (STEAM Lab) allowed me to give ALL of the students a place to tackle those real world problems and learn skills they’ll need for their future.

It seemed like the right fit for me – again, I never saw it coming.  The past three years have included a lot of planning, implementation, and reflecting only to go through the cycle again and again.  As our world is ever changing, I need to change, the space where I “teach” needs to change, my mindset needs to change. 

A new year is a great time to reflect, but a new decade is even better.  So many times we forget the little, tiny impacts we make each year, we never really take the time to see how all of those tiny, little stories of impact add up to the powerful changes you are making in your classroom, school, or district.  I challenge you to add up your stories of impact from the last decade so you can see how powerful you really are!  I’d love to hear all about them in the comments below!

Now that….is Positively Techie!


2020 – Josie 16, Frankie 19, Toni 21, Joey 15

A Few of My Favorite #ISTE18 Things

My eyes start to soak in the scene in front of me.  A lobby FILLED with people walking in all different directions, some chatting with colleagues, some looking down at a device, others standing and looking around trying to figure out where to go.  A smile reaches across my face, my nose scrunches up, my heart starts to beat a little faster and a tiny giggle secretly bellows in my belly.  I want to let out a little scream… My first ISTE Conference and I can’t wait to share a few of my favorite sessions!

Fostering Creativity through Visual Storytelling with Keynote delivered by fellow ADE’s Wes Molyneaux @WesMolyneaux and Ben Mountz @BenMountz
This session on using Keynote for storytelling was awesome! Not only did you get to use a new iPad with Apple Pencil, you also had many ADEs around to help you if you got stuck.  Participants were led through a series of activities to try on the iPad.  We were able to choose from all of the new shapes and manipulate the size, color, and direction of the shape.  We also got rid of the unwanted background in photos using instant alpha, animated the shapes and photos using magic move and my favorite, using the drawing tool and animating the drawing.  (I will be posting about another Apple session and share some fun ideas that I will be trying for the beginning of the school year, so come back soon!) Everyone Can Create Curriculum
My takeaway from the session: You can use Keynote to tell a variety of different stories using animation, audio, video, drawing and more ALL created IN Keynote.  Oh, and a big game changer, you can export your keynote creation AS A MOVIE!!


One STEM Chicago: Building a Digital STEM Community delivered by Michael Kosko @mrkosko
This presentation highlighted the program developed at CPS “One STEM Chicago” which uses the hashtag #cpsSTEM to help build communication, collaboration, and showcase all of the wonderful things students and teachers are doing in the classroom.  Three times last school year, teachers were asked to participate in a STEM related challenge/activity.  If a teacher was interested in participating, they filled out a Google form providing information such as school, grade level, and most importantly, a time that is good for the class to Skype or Google Hangout with another classroom.  Within a specific timeline in the fall, classrooms set time aside during recess, choice time, or whenever the teacher could find about 30 – 60 minutes in the schedule to let the students create a film canister rocket.  As the students create their rockets, they document EVERYTHING; steps in creation process, photos and videos, data collected from the rocket taking off, changes they had to make after testing, etc.  Students also spent time watching a video of an actual rocket scientist who shared information about rockets.  The last part of the activity was the time to Skype with the other classroom.  During this visit, students shared their creations, answered specific questions, and had meaningful conversations around the topic of the rocket building.  This whole process happened two more times throughout the school year with different STEM challenges.
My takeaway: This is definitely something I am going to try and duplicate within my district.  I think it will help build community around the topic of STEM which is needed right now.

#BookSnaps: Snapchat for Annotation and Digital Visualization delivered by creator Tara Martin @TaraMartinEdu
If you are looking for a way to get your students excited about sharing their thoughts on what they are reading, then you should give #BookSnaps a try!  Basically, you take a picture of a page in a book you are reading and annotate it “Snapchat” style. There are only two rules, include the title of the book and the author in your snap.  That is it, the rest is up to your student’s creativity.  Students can make #MathSnaps out of math problems, #Historysnaps, or #Sciencesnaps.   Whatever subject you teach, you can use this idea! My favorite #snap for the beginning of the year: #REALyouSnaps where the student takes a selfie and adds emojis, stickers, words, etc. showing who they are.  You can put them all together in the Clips app to make a movie and have it playing during Open House Night at the beginning of the year.
My takeaway: Tara’s story of how #BookSnaps became a huge sensation really hit home for me as her story is a perfect real life example of the message I share with my students ALL THE TIME.  Don’t be afraid to take risks, share your ideas with the world beacause your voice matters and you never know who will be listening.


I “heard” the same message over and over at ISTE, and I am so glad I did.  This message is what I try to do each day as I work with students in our weCreate Lab and it makes me smile, scrunch up my nose, and giggle secretly to myself: The job of a teacher is to help students become curators of ideas, creators, change makers, and global partners.

Now that… is Positively Techie!

Is the weCreate Lab Creating “Better” Students?

Three years ago, my principal asked our staff to think of something BIG that our PTO can fund.  Since I already acquired flexible seating and 1:1 iPads for 5th grade through the PTO, I needed to find something else that I was passionate about and that I knew the PTO could help me bring to life.  Over the next two years I slowly integrated using STEAM materials (purchased by the PTO) into my classroom and during an after school club for all 1st – 5th grade students at our school.  Finally this year, our school opened the first STEAM Lab in the District.  This video is a snapshot of what it looks like. 

The popularity of the lab is growing and now the District is working on a plan to guide in the opening of STEAM Labs in all of the other 6 elementary schools. We host tours for not only our fellow district members, but other districts have come for visits to see how they can implement a STEAM Lab in their buildings as well. 

The true success of this story is not the fact that this is the first in our district or that others want to follow suit.  The real success is seeing the growth of my students from the first day they stepped foot into the lab to now. It is amazing how quickly the students are changing right before my eyes.  I can’t even imagine how much influence this lab will have on the students who are in kindergarten and will have the opportunity to participate in the lab until they “graduate” from 5th grade.  Will they be better prepared for what future jobs hold for them?  Will they be better problem solvers and critical thinkers?  Will they be more flexible and self directed?   Will they be more willing to take risks and fail?  Will more girls become interested in a STEM career path?  

One can only guess what the the future holds. Our job as educators is to prepare students for that unknown.  We can never lose sight that the reason we do what we do, is for the students.  We need to keep dreaming BIG and find ways to make those dreams happen.  If we don’t do it, who will?

Now that …is Positively Techie!

Making Changes as an Apple Distinguished Educator

April 3,2017. The lunch bell rings and my students hurry to their lockers to grab their lunches and head to the lunch room. Some of the girls are hanging back because we are eating together today. I grab my phone and quickly check emails before heading down to grab my lunch. I stand there, shocked, tears start welling up in my eyes. One of my students notices and asks me, “Mrs. Gadzala, what is wrong?”. I reply, “Nothing is wrong, I can’t believe it! Remember our video for Apple? I got it!!”. The girls hug me and congratulate me. As I head down to grab my lunch, I am numb with disbelief. I will never forget that moment.

Apple Academy, Class of 2017 (Best class ever 😉) what an honor to spend meaningful time to collaborate, learn, share, and connect with this group of talented and innovative educators. The connections I made and stories I heard confirmed for me that we have a long way to go in education to get us moving forward. Here we are, The Class of 2017 and all the alumni before us, leading the way by being advocates, authors, ambassadors, and advisors. The group is growing, yet there are still so many educators resistant to the change that needs to take place in our classrooms. I am excited to be in a new position this school year that will allow me to focus on creating that change in many classrooms. I am going to start with my own, which is the library.

This fall I will be the new MRC Director and the facilitator of our new weCreate Studio. This new role will allow me to change the purpose of the library and the role in which I play. The library will be the new hub of the school community. It will be a space not only for students to come and check out books, but a place where THEY can be advocates, authors, ambassadors, and advisors with their peers. As I lead the way with my students, I will also be traveling through my journey with the staff and hopefully gaining passengers along the way.

The Academy gave me the tools, like minded peers, and inspiration to follow my heart and passion for what I believe is necessary in education today. Thank you Apple Education Team for believing in me and giving me the BEST 4 days of professional development I have ever experienced!

Now that…Is Positively Techie!

Summer Learning Part 3: Circuit Design

The last hour of a 4 hour summer school day was Circuit Design.  I knew I needed to make this class fun, educational, and challenging to win my students attention.  I had again, acquired several STEM materials from our generous PTO.  I had Snap Circuits, LittleBits, and Makey Makey kits to use in the next three weeks.  It only seemed natural to dedicate a week to each kit.  Below you can see the break down of what I did each day…

Day 1-2 Discuss Electricity

Day 3-5
  • Students work in groups to explore Snap Circuits
    • Start with no directions (used mini kits)
    • Give student guide with experiments to choose from
Day 6
  • Students work in partners to explore LittleBits
    • Start with no directions – let students discover how things work
    • Give task cards to use
Day 7-8
  • Partners develop idea
    • Brainstorm ideas of something to make that will solve an everyday problem
    • Draw a model of idea
    • Make a list of materials needed
Day 9-10
  • Use LittleBits to create a prototype of idea
Day 11
  • Share prototype
  • Make positive comments on paper
Day 12-13
  • Play around with Makey Makey
Day 14-15
  • Play Breakout Edu

As you can see, I started off the three weeks discussing and discovering what electricity is and how it works.  My favorite part of the three weeks was the week we used LittleBits.  I gave partners the challenge to design a prototype of something that would solve a problem thy encounter.  With limited supplies and LittleBits, the students amazed me…

One student made a night light/fan for her little brother, other partnerships created a mosquito repellent hat, a disco light, and a bubble maker.  When students shared their prototypes, the audience wrote positive notes on post-its for each other to read.

The last two days I tried out something new and well,  SUPER exciting :))  I recently received the Breakout EDU  kits for our school and could NOT wait until the Fall to try it out with students.  So, I gave it a try with my Circuit Design class and WE ALL LOVED IT!!!

Breakout EDU is  a game where students need to work together to solve clues in order to unlock locks.  When all locks are unlocked within a certain time, the box can be opened and you win!  Games are based on all types of curricular areas and teachers and students can even create their own games using the template provided by the company.  If you have never heard of Breakout EDU or have but wasn’t sure if you should get it, I highly recommend that you do purchase it for your classroom/school.

The beginning of this summer was filled with learning not only for my students, but for me as well.  I am now filling my days reading the Launch Book by AJ Juliani and John Spencer, preparing for two presentations on Flexible Learning Spaces and the Shark Tank project I did with my class this year.  I am also finding the time to relax, spend time with my family and friends, and reflect on changes for the upcoming year.

How are you spending your final days of summer?

Now that…is Positively Techie !


My favorite communication tool Remind wants to hear from teachers about the small things they do to make a big impact on students.

#TeachSmall Movement

Below is my story, feel free to share your story in the comments below or on your own platform…Be sure to use #TeachSmall.

My story isn’t about how the small things I do make an impact on my students.  I’d rather share about the teacher who inspires me everyday to be the best at what I do.  The small things she did, has shaped me to be the teacher I strive to be everyday, because I want to be THAT special teacher for my students too.

Mrs. Glynn was my fourth grade teacher.  The things I remember most about her is that she was young, athletic, had long blonde hair, and drove the coolest car in the parking lot.  I loved her from day one.  She was so  beautiful, nice, caring, and fun.  I knew since I was born I wanted to be a teacher, but when I got to fourth grade – I wanted to be just like her.  I don’t have a lot of memories from my childhood, but this one particular moment I will never forget.  The details are foggy, but I know the way she made me feel is something that has stuck with me my whole life.  Some 35 years later – when I think of this moment – love fills my heart for my fourth grade teacher.

We were sitting on the bleachers in the gym.  I was upset about something (I can’t remember – something about home or possibly girl drama). Mrs. Glynn sat beside me because she noticed something was wrong.  She looked me in the eyes and basically told me everything was going to be okay.  I don’t remember the conversation, I just remember how I felt in that moment.   She showed me that I was important, that I mattered, that she cared about me.  It is an amazing feeling to know that someone you look up to so much thinks you are important.  I make it a point everyday to show my students that they are important, that they matter, that I care about them.  I want them to know I will always be there for them even when they walk out my classroom door on the last day of school.

Mrs. Glynn, thank you for simply being you.  I think about you ALL the time – I will never forget you!


Why I LOVE to Share…

I have been presenting tech ideas to teachers in my building for the past couple of years.  These presentations were small lunch sessions consisting of how to use specific apps, integrate technology into the classroom, and other technology uses.  I recently gave my first presentation (on student blogging) to a group of teachers outside of my building.  This is something I have always wanted to do, but never felt confident enough to go for it.  I am so glad I did!   It was amazing!  The energy I felt as I presented was electrifying.  It felt natural, easy, and comfortable.  It was exactly what I should be doing and I want to do it more.

I am a reflective person, I like to reflect and think about how I can make things different/better.  As I reflected on my first “real” presentation, I was excited to think about all the teachers who will be starting their school year trying new things (like student blogging) and making their student’s educational experience that much better, because of me!  Then I thought, how can I reach even MORE educators?  (Because reaching more educators = reaching more students)  Of course blogging came to mind :))  Thoughts keep rushing through my mind: “Why would anyone read my blog?, What do I have to share that isn’t already out there?, Will this blog really make a difference in the way we educate our students?”.   And the thoughts keep coming, but the challenge I face and the risk I am taking to put myself out there feels – right.

I have a busy school year planned ahead of me.  I teach 5th grade and this will be my second year with 1:1 iPads in my classroom.  I will have a new innovative, flexible classroom space that I am super excited about,  I am trying new Global activities as well as continuing with ones I’ve used in the past, and I am planning on giving more presentations.  I will use this space to share all of the ideas, risks, fun, failures, and accomplishments I encounter this year in hopes to inspire educators to become innovative in their own classroom.

Now that is Positively Techie…