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#OneWord2018

At the start of each year, we take a step back and think about the goals that we hope to accomplish. I recently came across a quote that helped me get into a positive mindset for 2018 - "Hold the Vision, Trust the Process". This quote is nothing new or extraordinary, but it was such a simple piece of advice. This quote helped me determine that my OneWord for 2018 is  FOCUS! 

FOCUS - the word itself hits you pretty hard. The word alone is a message, a sign, a warning. As we continue through our days, we tend to miss so much because we are distracted. I can guarantee that I am not the only one who feels this way, but as educators, our minds continuously race and almost never are at rest. This seems to sum up my days, and I have to say, I don't like it very much. 

As I set daily and weekly goals for myself, I try to focus on the things that need immediate attention or that are most important to my daily routines. At the top of that list are my wife and two sons! There are times when I am too distracted and I am missing my little guys grow up. My immediate focus is on them, and how I can continue to do things for them - how I can become a better role model, father, and support system for them. 

This idea of focus goes beyond family and work balance. It is also me having an intense focus on the things that will help me get to the point I want to achieve in my career. We all have these passions, goals, and desires that pull us in so many different directions, if you know me, I am no different. I want to make sure that my focus does not waver, and that I continue to push myself to focus on the end goal that I have set for myself (more on that down the road).  

What is your FOCUS going forward? I'd love to hear about it. Please feel free to share in the comments, or drop me a message on twitter @AJBianco. 

This summer, as part of my personal development, I have decided to create a challenge for myself!

I am going to embark on a journey over the break, where I will be reading 10 Books, in 10 Weeks. There have been so many amazing titles that I never got around to reading, so I feel that summer time would be the perfect time to unwind and catch up on the books that I couldn't get to throughout the school year.

Each week I will choose 1 book from the list below and create a post about my thoughts on the book. The post will not be a review of the book, but something more along the lines of what I have learned, and how it will help my students grow in the upcoming school year.

Drive - Daniel Pink
Play Like a Pirate - Quinn Rollins
Learn Like a Pirate - Paul Solarz
Lead Like a Pirate - Shelly Burgess and Beth Houf
Hacking PBL - Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy
Gamify your Classroom - Matthew Farber
How to Personalize Learning - Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey
The Energy Bus - Jon Gordon
Tribes - Seth Godin
You Are a Badass - Jen Sincero
* Disclaimer: Titles are in NO specific order and will be read depending on my mood at the time!

What are you planning on reading this summer? I am looking forward to this journey, and I hope that you will join me for the ride! If you do, please feel free to share your readings and thoughts on social media #10Bks10Wks.

Follow along on InstagramFacebook and Twitter --> #10Bks10Wks
As educators, it is our job to continue to grow, learn and challenge ourselves. One way that I have chosen to not only grow my PLN but to enhance my PD is through monthly meet-ups at our local coffee house. These meet ups are better known in the world of education as CoffeeEDU!  

For those who are not familiar with #CoffeeEDU, here is a brief definition; CoffeeEDU is a one-hour gathering for educators. CoffeeEDU is not about promoting a product or organization, it is about expanding your PLN in a face to face meet up.

This educational "meeting of the minds" has been spreading at a rapid pace and I am proud to be part of it. Over the past year Chrissy Romano, Adam Schoenbart and I have been hosting a CoffeeEDU in Northern New Jersey. Based on the people we have met, the conversations we have had and the growth that we all experienced, I think it was one of the best decisions we have ever made. Here's why: 

1. Connect - At our events, we have met so many amazing people that our PLN is constantly growing. This outstanding CREW of people is always helpful and they are the ones that force me to become a better educator 

2. LearnI walk away from each gathering with new ideas that I can bring to my classroom. One of the newest ideas that I am most excited about is finding ways to use Scratch in my Social Studies class. Stay tuned as this becomes a reality in the coming months!  

3. Grow - One idea that I advocate for with all educators is that they step outside of their comfort zone. CoffeeEDU allows people to do this by just showing up! Taking a leap and sitting with new people allow us to do more than we ever imagined we could.  

4. Be Inspired - The stories that people share have been so powerful. Listening to other educators share the work of their students, or discuss their passions about teaching and learning, has been fantastic. When I see that look from other educators, it pushes me and inspires me to do more, or become "better". There have been many times where I walked away from these gatherings with a newfound love of teaching. 

5. COFFEE!!! - I mean honestly, who doesn't love to sit back and have a cup of coffee while discussing relevant topics to you? 
Our #CoffeeEDU North New Jersey Crew, such an awesome PLN! 
Want to join this great Crew for our next #CoffeeEdu??? Contact me for more information! 

Get Involved --> Find a CoffeeEDU near you or start your own! Please feel free to share your #CoffeeEDU experiences and PD story in the comments section.

Connect with us: 
AJ Bianco - @AJBianco
Chrissy Romano - @TheConnectedEdu
Adam Schoenbart - @MrSchoenbart


The "WHAT IF?" question is such a powerful thinking tool. We are all trying to improve in some way, whether it is the sports teams we follow, our personal life, or our profession. As an educator, we are always trying to determine what changes we can make within our schools and classrooms to make the learning experience relevant, meaningful and exciting for our students.

After taking part in Week 3 of #IMMOOC and reading The Innovator's Mindset, "What If" questions have come to the forefront of my mind. There isn't just one topic that I am focusing on, but more about what I would answer when it comes to my classroom and my teaching. Here are a few things that are on my mind.

What If in Schools: 
* We allowed students to create the school of their dreams?
* We gave students a VOICE where they record, share and tell their story to the public?
* We changed how our students learn on a daily basis!?
* We had the resources to redesign our learning spaces to create an unreal classroom experience?
* We gave up control and created a REAL student-centered learning environment!?
* We allowed students to follow their passions and not have to be tied down to a curriculum that doesn't interest them!!!!

What keeps you up at night? What makes you think? What are your "What If" questions?
I'd love if you would share them with me in the comments section or through social media.

#IMMOOCB2
SCHOOL vs. LEARNING...
When we think about school, we usually think that students come to school ready to learn. We imagine that students walk through the doors, sit in class and learn what is being taught. I think that today, schools are no longer set up to help students learn, school is set up to feed and deliver information to students. This information may not be important, interesting or make an impact on our students lives, but for some reason they HAVE to learn it.

Today, amazingly enough, our students DON'T NEED SCHOOL TO LEARN! There are so many different, MORE EXCITING ways for students to learn where they are able to find something that is personal to them and can help them reach their personal goals. I reflect on my classroom often and it hits me every day - my students just don't have a passion to learn about early American History! This has to change! I need to find their passions and find ways for them to bring their passions into our daily learning.

After studying and agonizing this image, my charge for this post hit me. As educators, we need to step up and create a school or classroom environment that allows for personal, individualized blended learning! This is more important now than ever before. When we allow for our students to come to an environment where they can LEARN something that they are passionate about, we will change how our students view school and we can bring their passions into the classroom.

#IMMOOC
 #IMMOOCB1

After another week of #IMMOOC, again I find myself inspired by the chat, blogs of other educators, the dialogue throughout social media and of course the book that started it all! It has been outstanding to see so many educators share their passions, fears, questions and ideas about what Innovation is and how they plan to bring this thoughts into their classrooms and schools. 


I decided to use the "8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset" as my reflection for Week 2, with my major area of focus on taking RISKS!! I chose this because I feel like this topic is something that we all want to do, but so many of us are filled some type of fear when it comes to taking a risk. I wrote a post 2 years ago about Leaving Your Comfort Zone, where I discuss the different ways I had taken risks at that time. When I reread that post I remember how afraid I was to take those risks and try new things, but I do not plan to stop anytime soon. 

As defined, Risk Taking means: To be willing to take risky action in the hope of a desired result. In our classrooms it is important for us to be able to take risks. As educators we should be taking risks with the content that we teach, the lessons that we deliver to our students but most importantly, we should be modeling the risks that we take so that our students follow our lead. In our classrooms and schools, we are their role models, we are the ones that have to show students what taking risks lead to and what the benefit will be when we do take specific risks. By teaching our students how to take risks, we will see them open up more, try new things and build a new trust with other educators. 

In my classroom this year, my students took a risk by embracing technology in their learning. Our 8th graders have gone 1:1 with the use of Chromebooks and while this doesn't seem like something that is so tough for students today, my students, had never really used much technology prior to this year. My 8th graders did not took a risk by trying new things such as Google Classroom, GSuite and other tech tools, but they took a risk by becoming more creative, opening their minds to new ways of learning and working collaboratively with their classmates. My students don't think anything of this, but when I look at how they are changing their learning and trying new things, I am proud of their achievements. It is my hope that this one small change in their learning has opened up a newfound love of learning and something that they will take with them as they move throughout High School and College. 
" Risk does not equal danger, Risk equals reward!"  


"Change is an opportunity to do something amazing." 

For many people change is an extremely scary word however, the idea of change is something that has always been fascinating to me. Change is something that allows us to reflect on our practice, improve our actions and make us become something that we never thought we could become. I am excited by change and try to bring that excitement to my classroom each and every day. 

In our schools and classrooms, change may not be something that many educators are willing to embrace, but as connected educators it is our duty to show others how much change can improve us. We must be able to push others so that they break out of our their comfort zones and embrace new ideas. We are the teachers, leaders and change agents that must show the power of opening new doors for our colleagues and most importantly our students. 

Our students come to school and not only do they need to learn, but they need to be entertained. We need to be able to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary and give our students something that they never expected. We can incorporate all the technology tools and websites into our lessons, and if our students are not excited or walking away wanting to learn more, we are not doing what we need to do to bring about positive change. We have to continue to ask ourselves two things every day; First, what do we expect of ourselves as educators? Second, if we had the ability would we want to be part of our classroom?  With these questions in mind, we can change our classrooms for the better and create an amazing experience for our students. 

There is a scene in The Incredibles, where a kid on a bike watches "Mr. Incredible" every day. Mr. Incredible asks "Well, what are you waiting for?", and the little guy replies "I don't know, something AMAZING I guess!". Each and every day, I think about that interaction between these characters as my students come through my door. I want their experiences in my class to be amazing, and for me the only way for that to happen is to continue to change, learn new methods and allow them to explore. I reflect on my practice often and I think about when I first started teaching, if I never made the change from year 1 to today, I would not have found the things that I am so passionate about today.  

#IMMOOC


Formative Assessment That Works!
A Post by AJ and Jamie Bianco 

In a time where our students are constantly being assessed, teachers and students often times avoid the new “A” word at all costs. It takes up valuable class time and often the results come too late to provide intervention to students in need. However, Formative Assessment is valuable, does provide timely feedback and is fun and easy for students and teachers.


What is Formative Assessment?
Formative Assessment is one of those “buzzwords” in education that cannot be ignored. When used as a tool, Formative Assessment provides teachers with valuable feedback and allows the teacher to assess the understanding of their students before the final test. These tools gives students the opportunity to show what they know before it’s too late to receive intervention. As teachers, it drives us to do better for our students and, if used correctly, will help our students have fun in class while still effectively learning the content that is being delivered. It has the ability to turn a mundane classroom into a class full of intrigue, excitement, and of course a little competition.


Why is Formative Assessment important?
While we constantly throw this term around, many people are still not exactly sure what Formative Assessment is and how we should use it in our classrooms. Formative Assessment should take place during the learning process so that teachers are able to monitor their students’ learning, and to provide feedback that will not only improve how they teach, but also how their students learn. When used correctly, teachers are able to work with their students so that they can take time to answer questions, review content that is hard to understand or to add new concepts on top of what was previously learned.


Educators have to understand that Formative Assessment focuses on our students’ at various points throughout the learning process, and because of this, the results often times should not be graded. By using Formative Assessment tools, we are allowing students the opportunity to show what they know, and have the confidence to say they don’t understand before the consequences of a final grade or project. When we show our students that we are interested in what they know early on, we give them the power to ask for help and place value on their effort throughout the learning process. Summative Assessments are to be used at the end of topics, chapters, or units, when teachers want an overall view of how well their students understand something as a whole.


High-Tech vs Low-Tech
While we always are looking for the newest and greatest tech available to use in our classrooms, we have to remember that not every school has the technology available to students on a daily basis. In addition, the technology based Formative Assessment tools often take time to setup and Formative Assessment can, and often should be a quick tool. It is because of this that we have included some incredible and easy-to-use non-tech tools, which are just as effective as any technology you can use.


Our Favorite Tools
Poll Everywhere - A great tool where you can set up different questions for students or participants to answer about a topic. This is an excellent way to start or end class. Participants can text in their responses or enter their answers via a user specific website, which is through Poll Everywhere. The results show up on the screen in real time and students get excited when they see their responses pop up on the screen.


Readiness Cups - This is a great low-tech tool to use with any age group. As students are working in groups, using Readiness Cups allows teachers to see how students are progressing through the given activity. All that is needed for this to be incorporated in your classroom is three different colored solo cups. The three cups will help you identify whether students are working well, have a question or are struggling.


Google Forms - We love Google Forms! Creating a form is easy and it can be used in so many different ways. Teachers can create surveys, exit cards, short answer responses or multiple choice questions. Using Google Forms helps teachers gather specific information about what their students know and where they need improvement.


Doodle It - Have students take a few minutes to draw what they know about the topic that you are learning about. Students can get specific, in depth or can be very basic. By having your students “doodle” what they know, they are able to open their minds and enhance their creativity.  


Kahoot! - This high-tech tool is a favorite among many teachers. By using Kahoot, students are able to compete against each other to show what they know. Students will answer the questions, and the quicker they answer, the more points that they receive. Teachers can create their own questions, or feel free to dip into the public Kahoots that are available.


Heads-Down, Eyes Closed - One of the fastest tools and most honest! Students put their heads down and close their eyes. The teacher asks students, “If I were to give you a quiz right now, how would you do? One finger = A, two fingers = B, etc. This FA tool asks students to evaluate themselves without the pressure of other students seeing their responses.


Think-Pair-Share - An oldie but goodie. Students have the chance to think about a question that is asked, turn to a partner or partners, and share what they are thinking. This is great for collaboration and allows students to listen to different points of view about different ideas. Teachers can use this to start their classes or after a concept has been learned, to check understanding and give students time to hold a small group discussion.


In Closing
Not all Formative Assessment tools work for all teachers, students or subjects, but each of these tools mentioned can become a valuable part of your teacher toolbox. They can add variety to your typical day and assist you in making informed decisions about what to do next. They are the “diamond in the assessment rough” and should be used to help benefit teachers and students alike. So now, thumbs up, thumbs down - Are you ready to make Formative Assessments fun?

There is such a wide array of educational conferences available that you never know what to expect when you walk through the door. Some conferences are filled with "Sit and Get" PD for educators, some are un-conferences where you can choose what you want to learn throughout the day, and some highlight best practices in schools.

On Friday, February 26th, teacher leaders, school leaders and superintendents from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, gathered together at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ. At this event, we were able to look at educational technology that could immediately benefit our students, classrooms and schools.

As educators, we want to be on the cutting edge of what is best for our students. Over the past few years, the focus has been on technology integration and the tools that we can use to allow our students to find success. The problem however becomes filtering out what is best for our students since there are so many amazing tools available.

At the Tech for Schools Summit, we had the opportunity to meet a variety of vendors and choose tools we were most interested in. This is different from other conferences because the vendors were there for us to meet with, explore their product and learn about what makes them standout from the crowd.

Here are some highlights from this outstanding day of learning:

1. Tech for Schools - While other EdTech conferences have a lot of technology represented throughout the day, many attendees don't choose to meet with the vendors. At the Tech for Schools Summit, the goal was to walk around and find the tech that best fits your classrooms and your schools. As attendees of the conference, we chose the technology that we were interested in and had the opportunity to meet with vendors to hear more about their product.

I was impressed with a variety of the ideas that were shared between the vendors. There were a number of vendors at the conference who were demonstrating technology for the math classroom, improving the writing process, bringing an interest to reading with new techniques, and individualized professional development. As I walked around, I wanted to make sure that I met with a variety of the tech vendors so that I could find something that I would use in my classroom, or find ideas that I think would benefit other teachers within my building, district and online learning community.

My favorites for the day: Kids Discover - teachers can find and share non-fiction reading materials to use in their classroom. The best part about this service is that you can find a number of great titles and change the reading levels based on your grade or student needs. Kyte Learning - an online service where you can find Professional Development that is interesting to you. Kyte Learning is adding new material quickly and the best part is, you can complete different programs at your own pace. Turnitin:Revision Assistant - students are given a writing prompt through Turnitin and as students write, they can turn in their work and have the revision assistant check over their work to match it to specialized rubrics for the prompts they are working with.

2. Student Involvement - The best part of the day was absolutely the Student Panel. We had the opportunity to listen to a variety of high school students from various Bergen County schools discuss their passion for tech, how they use technology in their lives and what is happening within their classrooms. The students were taking questions from the crowd and were very truthful and straightforward with their responses.

What made this special was the fact that the students were helping the teachers and school leaders better understand what they expect with technology. As educators, we think that just by putting technology in our students hands they are happy, however what our students want is for us to use the technology better. Students don't want the tech to replace the teacher and they don't want the tech to be the center of the lesson. Students were saying how much they enjoy using the tech for different learning experiences, but there are too many times when the tech becomes too much of the focus and the content is missing.

3. Creative Conversations - As an educator, we need to be able to meet, collaborate and share ideas about what we do in our classrooms and schools. We had several opportunities throughout the conference to meet with people from different districts to discuss what works for our teachers and what we could do to better support them. It was the amazing conversations that left people excited to get back to their schools, and share the new ideas that they learned.

While technology is great and will help improve instruction, it is the collaboration that occurs between educators that makes the tech integration more meaningful for our students. Putting technology in their fingertips is only half of the excitement. The other half is seeing what our teachers can do with it. It is the passions that our teachers are sharing and their new experiences with the technology that makes their teaching more effective.

I am already looking forward to next year's Tech for Schools Summit, where we will have the opportunity to learn about more technology and listening to the success stories from our students and teachers.  Additionally, the opportunity to collaborate with teachers and school leaders, so that I can learn new and exciting ways to bring innovation to my students and school has me counting down the days.

What is your Why? This is a question that has been asked so often lately, and it is something that I think about on a daily basis. For me, I have had my WHY since I was a kid. I knew I always wanted to part of the education profession, but lately the WHY has been changing. My thoughts, passion, motivation and desire has been different as of late. 

Ask any teacher, why they teach and they will tell that they are passionate about what they do; the content they teach, the students' lives they touch daily and their love of being in front of a class, making a difference in so many lives. 

Many of us find something that we are passionate about and start to chase this passion and find a way to incorporate it into our lives. Some of us may chase a passion, and when we find it, many of us want to grab it by the horns and make it our own. However, sometimes that thing we are passionate about, doesn't always last when we start to follow it. 

I leave you with this... What's your WHY? Take time and think about this. It's a simple question with a tremendous impact on our daily lives. 

** I recently was recommended that book Start With WHY by Simon Sinek and immediately ordered it. I can't wait to give it a read! If you have read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts! ** 





Be Careful... Amazing change lies ahead!

As teachers we get stuck into our own ways. We stick to the same routines and traditions that we are used to. We figure out what works and we do it because it's what fits us best. I think it's time that we get away from our comfort zone and start doing something new and exciting.Shake things and up! I think that it's time that we all take a look at ourselves and take a few risks.

I knew from a very young age that I was going to be a teacher and the competitive spirit inside me always made me want to be the best teacher in the school where I would be. Then, when I first got into the teaching profession, my goal was to educate my students, so that they would enjoy my class the way that I did when I was a student. I want to find a team that I would coach since sports have always been a major part of my life. Most importantly I wanted to have fun while doing it all. Now, my view of the future is completely different.

Over the past 10 years in this amazing profession my view of my job has changed. Lately I have been trying to do new things to really help make a difference in the lives of my students and to help my colleagues to grow to become the best educators they can be. I have taken steps to become a leader in my school, I have become a technology coach where I have the ability to work with my colleagues and discuss ideas with them about how to incorporate different technology into their lessons. I have taken responsibility in some of the different roles being offered to teacher leaders and it is something that I am embracing and getting excited about.

While some of these thing will be scary, I am trying to get out of my comfort zone, while I am preparing myself for a career as an Educational Leader in some way. Over the next few weeks and months, I am going to be taking some chances on myself. I am going to be doing some things that I have never done before and I am very excited for the things that I am attempting.

  • I am presenting at four different educational conferences!

  • Become part of the #EdCampLdr (NJ) Planning committee.

  • Creating and Moderating new Twitter chats.

  • Taking more of a leadership role within my school.

  • Enrolling in an Educational Leadership Masters Program.

  • Experimenting with new lessons and new techniques with my students.

If you're still reading this, Thank You! I believe that reflection is the key to growth, so I want you all to sit back and think. Think about why you become an educator. What do you do one a daily basis and how can you do more to take risks? What are some of the things that you are doing to get out of your comfort zone? How scared are you to try something new? Now.. Get out there and try something new. This isn't a pool, don't just put one foot in to test the water, jump in with both feet!


As a teacher, It is obvious that collaboration is more important AND more accessible than it ever has been before. If that is the case, why are there still so many teachers that keep their doors closed during the school day, refuse to even try to use Twitter as a professional development tool and only ask questions when they are in dire need?

My district is finally a GAFE district, and with that comes new chromebooks (1:1 in the HS, carts throughout MS and Elem) for our students to use. This is the first year with GAFE and many teachers are trying really hard to integrate this new technology into their classes. Some are doing really extravagant things, while others are using it as an extension of a notebook (using docs to write papers, slides to create presentations, etc.).

As a tech coach in my district, I want the teachers in my building to come to me with questions, concerns or new ideas that they want help implementing. I want these teachers to come visit my classroom and see how I use technology. I want to be able to sit with my colleagues during our free periods to discuss how to create amazing lessons that use some outstanding technology. While this is what I want, many people don't take advantage of our services. Teachers don't want to use their time for this. That's what gets me upset about collaboration... It's almost non-existent.

Maybe I am different than a lot of people within my school and district. I have embraced Twitter and the amazing educators that are there on a daily basis. Without Twitter, I really don't think I would be teaching today. Over the past 7 years that I have been using Twitter as part of my Professional Development, I have been rejuvenated by great conversations with people through a variety of chats and personal connections. I have tried to get educators involved in these chats but there is still a stigma that surrounds Twitter. I am going to change that stigma soon as I have a PD class ready to go in February with another colleague. I hope that people take a chance and come to the workshop to see how Twitter could benefit them, both personally and in their classroom.

What are your thoughts on collaboration? What have you noticed in your school with teachers that are not as connected as they could be? How do you help those teachers? Please feel free to leave your comments below. Let's continue this conversation.
With the change in the year, comes a change in my mindset. I look at 2015 with a new perspective, new goal setting both personally and professionally and new challenges that I am ready to take on.

One goal that I have set for myself is to blog more and blog often. While I would love to challenge myself to a 365 day blog, I know that it won't work. I decided to keep it simple. One post, once a week for one month. Hopefully that will excite me and push me to do more in the weeks and months that follow.

The first post is something that I have been following on Twitter over the past few days... One Word for 2015. Thinking of One Word to define this year is difficult, but not something that I can't live by. I've decided that my word for 2015 is: DETERMINED. I am determined to be the best educator, father, husband, son and friend. I am determined to challenge myself daily and to reach for and surpass the goals that I have set for myself. I am determined to Be More Awesome!

What's YOUR One Word? Leave a comment below or start your blog with that idea!