Category Archives: News Updates

Board Nominations Open Now

Nominations for the Board of Directors of the Virginia Society for Technology in Education are open now and will be open until  Friday, March 3, 2017.

You are invited to nominate yourself or a colleague to be considered for election to the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE) Board of Directors, for the 2017-2020 Board term (three years).  This is an opportunity to become involved in the key decision-making group for the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.

Learn more about becoming part of the VSTE leadership here.

Gear Up for Advocacy

Keith David Reeves

Members of the VSTE Board of Directors will be taking time to periodically share their ideas and passions with the VSTE membership. In this edition, Board Chair Keith Reeves challenges us to become advocates for quality public education, especially in the area of virtual education.

Happy New Year to each and every one of you, my friends and colleagues in education here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thank you for helping to make our annual conference this year a marvelous success. About 1,200 of you joined me, Dr. Richardson, the Board of Directors, and our exceptionally-talented Conference Committee in Virginia Beach to raise our voices, our awareness, and our skill levels.

As we gear up for the second half of the year, I’d like us to re-spark our interest in paying attention not only to our kids and families in our respective schools, but to the “thirty thousand foot view” of Virginia education. I’d like you to take a moment, in your drive or workout or stroll to the store, to think of what you’d say if you had just a quick opportunity to say something to your local elected officials about educational technology.

If you stepped onto an elevator with your Delegate, what would you say about ed tech?

I think I’d play the role of the “Ghost of House Bills Past” and mention HB8, the failed legislation effort of the past two years that sought to back-door privatization in Virginia’s schools by putting K12, Inc. in control of a mandatory virtual school option in every school system in the Commonwealth. Governor McAuliffe clearly understood this privatization effort, and vetoed the bill in early April 2016. (You may recall that VSTE was ardently against this bill, as we articulated in our February 2016 statement, and I made sure as Chairperson of the Board to be significantly vocal on the subject.)

Why mention it? Because it’s coming back.

Many people hear “K-12” and think we’re only ever referring to “kindergarten through twelfth grade,” but K-12, Incorporated is a for-profit corporation, not an age range. This perilous conflation may lead many to misunderstand the intent of legislation, and we have a role to play in raising our voices in clarity.

The reason VSTE and I stood against HB8 was simple: It put a state-level mandate on schools that put the power in a single corporation’s pocket, siphoning local funding away to fuel the fires of this new private engine.

According to sources who say they have spoken with him, Representative Dickie Bell (R) apparently intends to reintroduce a version of HB8 this year, as a competing measure against Governor Terry McAuliffe’s (D) intended legislation, which would put a local-level mandate on schools and give them choice in how they implement virtual learning. Students who attend such programs have been shown in recent data analysis to underperform students who have the fuller advantages of the ever-more-personalized learning opportunities you, the talented and skilled educators of Virginia, provide in your local schools. While there are places where the Virtual Virginia pilot has been going well, we believe it most appropriate to allow local schools to evaluate programs and to mount pilots consistent with their needs and priorities, rather than create a law that all but guarantees sole-source contracting as the defeated HB8 did.

Let’s be clear about this: It is one thing to say “we want students to have the opportunity to learn online.” It is entirely another thing to say “And a sole-source corporate provider will be that option.” It is important for local school divisions to be able to select innovative, meaningful, and most importantly not-for-profit educational methods to ensure student learning is not commodified. The introduction of market principles into educational policy craft is a mistake, as I write about in my work, and we must take extraordinary care to ensure that we don’t see another back-door attempt to privatize Virginia’s public schools pass muster in the guise of providing good online learning.

Virtual education can do remarkable things for students when done right, such as the extension of supplemental counselor-assisted asynchronous high school instruction in Loudoun County, and the schools of Virginia need such professional educators making pedagogical decisions, not imposed structures of corporate influence.

It is my hope that we educational technology leaders can raise our collective voices to make the clear distinction to our legislators, whenever and wherever we can: Yes to innovative learning opportunities. No to corporatizing public education.

In the coming months, I issue to you the same charge then-Vice Chairperson Karen Streeter offered to you from the dais at the 2016 Conference in December: Find time to engage with your elected officials. Encourage them to scrutinize any bill that says “virtual” on it, and offer to engage with them on the subject. Lend your voice. Lend your ideas. Lend your assistance, so that our students are well-represented and have the opportunity to learn from excellent local professional teachers using locally-selected online materials that best serve the needs of your community. A state-level one-size-fits-all mandate that hands the reins of curricular and implementation powers to for-profit enterprises would jeopardize the state of education in the Commonwealth, and that is a misstep we simply cannot afford.

On behalf of your Board of Directors, thank you for your continued support of quality educational opportunities for our students, and of the mission of your Virginia Society for Technology in Education.

Digital Learning Day, February 23, 2017

VSTE will be partnering with the Virginia Department of Education to provide a full day of virtual events for Digital Learning Day 2017, February 23, 2017.


Throughout the day, VSTE will be featuring students from the Richmond area  talking about how they learn, how they use technology to learn and showing some of the innovative projects they are working on in their classrooms. VSTE is partnering with GRAETC to provide these classroom visits.

The VDOE will host two live webinars to provide updates on current and proposed technology-related initiatives. Join Mark Saunders, Director, Office of Technology & Virtual Learning and Bobby Keener, Chief Technology Innovations Officer for these updates. Specific times will be announced soon.

VSTE will host an evening webinar beginning at 7:30 PM that will highlight the VSTE 2016 award winners talking about educational technology past, present and future.


9:00 AM: Scrum in the Classroom

6th grade students in Mr. Frago's class in Goochland County will talk about their experiences using Scrum, a framework designed to help people work in teams. Jim Frago, Joe Beasley, and Bea Leiderman have adapted the Scrum framework from its original form in the business world to help students learn to work in teams, taking ownership of their own learning. While the school provides an iPad for every child, learning activities are more meaningful when they are collaborative. Scrum teaches students to work together effectively and seamlessly, removing many perceived barriers to project based approaches. Students will share how they have learned to use digital tools for collaboration and media creation.

Archived Recording

9:30 AM Coding with Ozobots

4th grade Hanover County students in Mrs. Yarbrough's class will discuss how they used Ozobots to code with markers on "playgrounds" in order to make the Ozobot travel over mazes and complete various challenges.  The goal of this activity was for students to work in collaborative teams to create a course the Ozobot could complete in a specified time range.  Join the students as they discuss what they learned and how they used perseverance in this innovative lesson.

Archived Recording

10:15 AM Makerspaces

Hear AP Computer Science students from Powhatan High School discuss their leadership roles in division-wide outreach programs that focus on STEM activities (STEM Fair, CS Roadshow, STEM Sisters & Brothers).  The students will showcase the different technologies they have used through computer science courses, STEM outreach activities, and the newly created high school makerspace.  Technology tools include App Inventor,, 3D printers, digital cutters, and green screen technology.  These students have a strong support system with computer science teachers, Blythe Samuels and Sharon Shadrach, along with the division's Science & STEM specialist, Libbey Kitten.

Archived Recording

10:45 AM It's a Blue Bot World
4th grade Hanover County students in Mrs. Gemmill's class read the novel The Gollywopper Games, and then worked to complete a cooperative challenge. The story is all about teamwork and problem solving.  As an extension activity, students were asked to work in teams to create a world for a Blue Bot which included an innovative theme.  Students used measurement to create their own grid on the mat and wrote a story that included four destinations and an obstacle in their bot world.  They then programmed their bot to travel to the four destinations avoiding the obstacle.  The bots visited museums, a picnic, the inside of a computer, and even the Virginia Watershed.   But could someone new read the story and accurately program the bot?  Join the students as they talk about their project and how they introduced the Bluebots to younger students.

Archived Recording

1:00 PM Using Spheros for Content Learning

Wilder Middle School students in Henrico County are using the Sphero robots to drive to different calendar dates to practice complex movements and time frames and mark points on a coordinate plane.

Watch Live (YouTube Live)

2:00 PM Bobby Keener, Chief Technology Innovations Officer, VDOE

Bobby will discuss VDOE initiatives including Open Education Resources (OER) and broadband.

Archived Recording

Digital Learning Day Slides

2:45 PM Mark Saunders, Director, Office of Technology and Virtual Learning

Mark will provide updates of digital learning projects in the areas of:

  • Computer Science – Standards development work and teacher training
  • Instructional Technology – Update to state technology plan, TSIPs, and digital content
  • Virtual Learning – New MOP applications and courses received

Archived Recording

7:30 PM VSTE Award Winners: Ed Tech Initiatives

Join our 2016 award winners to learn more about the work they are doing in their school divisions and communities:

  • Matt Caratachea, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, Henrico County Public Schools, Innovative Educator of the Year
  • Dr. Amy Cashwell, Chief Academic Officer, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Outstanding Leader of the Year
  • Ann Nash, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, Henrico County Public Schools, Outstanding Teacher of the Year

Archived Recording

Links from Matt:

Brainstorm 2017: Future Ready Students

A partnership of JMU M. Ed. in Educational Technology, SVTC and VSTE

Reaching out to educators in the Shenandoah Valley and beyond

April 7, 2017

Schedule Available

Register Now


Wild Imaginations, Curious Children, and Stories from Student-Ready Educators
Stephanie Passman & Eric Bredder, Albemarle County Public Schools

Our goal everyday is to make school awesome for students and teachers alike. We will share ways to provide each student with the necessary resources to learn, take meaningful risks, and create physical and digital representations of their original ideas. We will share anecdotes that provide strong evidence of the student learning that occurs while building meaningful relationships, and fostering creativity and collaboration. Student-ready educators are prepared for all students, so they can be prepared for their future.

We are excited to welcome Stephanie Passman and Eric Bredder as keynote speakers. These educators from Albemarle County will talk with us about creating innovative learning environments where students collaborate and create as a natural part of the learning process. Thanks for EN Computers for their support of the keynote.

Memorial Hall,James Madison University, 395 South High Street, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Brainstorm 2017 is held in a public space, therefore we do not prohibit participants, exhibitors, sponsors, or news organizations from photographing conference activities. VSTE, SVTC and James Madison University reserve the right to use images taken at the Conference with your photograph and/or likeness on social media and/or in future marketing materials. We are NOT responsible for individual attendee’s use of your image or likeness.

Parking will be available on campus but it is limited. Consider car pooling.

VE PLN in Minecraft, November 21, 2016, 8 PM

VSTE Virtual Environments PLN will meet in Minecraft on November 21, 2016, at 8 PM. We have a server on Beastnode. All you need is to get a regular Minecraft account and join our multiuser server at Send Kim Harrison ([email protected]) with your Minecraft user name and she will whitelist you. Please don't want until the last minute.

Let's decorate the server for the holidays. Bring an idea for holiday pixel art.

We are using the 1.10.2 version.

We get on discord for voice chat simultaneously. Download it on your computer or mobile device. We can talk about the conference, what we are doing with students in Minecraft, what the new Minecraft Education Edition is like, or whatever you are interested in. We will post the URL to connect in Minecraft.

Let's build community! All educators are welcome.

See you Monday, November 21st at 8 PM<

An Educator in China: Final Post

Members of the VSTE Board of Directors will be taking time to periodically share their ideas and passions with the VSTE membership. In this edition, Terry Lowry from Wakefield School reports on her first day in China as part of an education delegation. 

On my fourth day here in China, we traveled from Xuzhou to Taizhou to attend the Jiangsu International Forum. I traveled with Grace, Madame Chen, and another visiting educator from the UK, Geraldine. I learned that principals in China are held in even higher regard than I originally thought – Madame Chen is provided a car and a personal driver which she kindly offered to us for the trip.

Our arrival to the forum was marked by a flurry of international introductions and networking. As everywhere I have visited, everyone was very welcoming. We arrived in the afternoon, giving us time to rest up before dinner. The hotel is amazing – incredibly well-appointed and luxurious. Dinner was yet another incredible spread. I’m not always sure exactly what everything is, but I’ve enjoyed the adventure of trying it all. I will be lucky if I am able to still fit into my clothes after this trip. During and after dinner, I met more amazing educators from California, Australia, the UK, Canada, The Netherlands, and Finland, just to name a few!

The actual forum was held the next day. It was a very impressive affair. I was expecting something like an educational conference. That was NOT what this was. It felt more like something one might experience at the United Nations, complete with our own earpieces for translation purposes. There were many speeches from local and regional officials, everything was carefully orchestrated, and all was well documented by dozens of official cameramen. The only active participation piece of it was during our assigned panel discussions. We were broken into four groups and assigned various topics for discussion. My group’s topic was “Cultivating Key Competencies in the Internet-Age.” The discussion was, again, well-orchestrated, somber, and well-documented, but I truly enjoyed hearing the opinions of other educators from throughout the world.

I think my key takeaway from the forum was that there are many more similarities between all our educational systems than there are differences. Initially my discussions with other educators from around the world led me to believe that our educational goals varied greatly, primarily regarding rote memorization and testing vs. higher level thinking. As the forum progressed, however, it became increasingly apparent to me that our underlying goals were virtually indistinguishable. I was delighted to discover that the overwhelming emphasis amongst all of us was on the importance of teaching higher level thinking and problem solving in our ever changing world. We all recognized that, with information just a click away, what you know is every bit as important as how you came to have that knowledge as well as what you plan to do with it. As Alvin Toffler stated, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” And that was a common theme at the forum—making sure our students acquired the skills they needed to be successful in today’s world.

This is my last entry for my trip. Tomorrow I head back to the airport and then on to home. I hope you have enjoyed traveling along with me. It has been an amazing ride and I am grateful to have had this opportunity!

Terry Lowry | Wakefield School Director

Board director Terry Lowry is Director of Technology Integration and Curriculum Coordination at Wakefield School located in The Plains, Virginia.  Terry serves as the chair of the VSTE Awards Committee. Find her on Twitter @tekkieteacher.

Connected Educators: Keep the #CE16 Momentum Going

Many of us spent the month of October celebrating Connected Educator Month.  Over the last four years, the grassroots push for educators to engage in professional learning opportunities on their own – outside of school requirements – has increased. Last month, many organizations organized and sponsored professional learning opportunities including webinars, virtual conferences, book studies, virtual field trips  and twitter chats. All were designed to help educators learn from each other and engage in collaborative activities that have the potential to transform teaching practice and change what education looks like in classrooms around the world. Now that October's flurry of activity is over, you may be asking "what next?" Or "how do those who have just begun connecting continue to move forward?"

Here are a few tips inspired by the book The Relevant Educator by Tom Whitby and Steven W. Anderson. I read the book with a group of teachers last month as part of the TeachersFirst #CE16 celebration:

  • Get in the habit of reflection. Consider starting an online journal where you can reflect on your learning experiences. Penzu is a great tool for this. With a free account you can make an unlimited number of entries and share selected entries by creating a public link. Use the public link when you want to share your reflection via twitter, Facebook or Google+.
  • Envision your PLN. Use a drawing program (such as Google draw) to create an image of what you would like your PLN to look like. Include as many details as you can – names of blogs or podcasts, communities, twitter chats, people or hashtags to follow, etc. Once you've mapped out what you have or would like to have, you'll have a better idea of how to move forward making connections and building out your PLN.
  • Find and attend an Edcamp near you. Edcamps are a great place to get involved in teacher-to- teacher collaboration. There is no pressure to remain in a session that doesn't meet your needs, and best of all you can attend for free.
  • Join an educator community. There are a number of free professional learning communities you can join. The EdWeb platform has a number of free communities where educators actively share with each other. Classroom 2.0, English Companion, and Flipped Learning Community are a few free communities that you can find on the NING platform. In addition, a number of  professional organizations, including NSTA and ISTE, now sponsor free educator communities on their websites.
  • Create a plan. Recognize that building a PLN is a process and not a race. Decide when and how you will continue the process. Plan to spend 15-20 minutes a day engaged in reading blogs, listening to podcasts, or searching twitter. Create a schedule of activities for the next month, and see how it works out for you.  You can always revamp as needed.

As you continue your connected educator journey, be sure to follow @SFLOK2Ask to learn about free  professional learning opportunities sponsored by The Source for Learning.

Ruth Okoye
[email protected]


VE PLN Upcoming Events

The VSTE Virtual Environments PLN continues its tradition of Monday night professional development with two upcoming events: 

Monday, November 7, 2016, 8 PM:
Book Study: Insurrection, Keith Reeves

We will meet on VSTE Island to discuss section 1 of Keith David Reeves' book, Insurrection: A Teacher Revolution in Defense of Children. This proves to be a lively discussion. Reeves is chair of the board of directors. Get your copy and start reading NOW but feel free to attend even if you haven't read the book! Learn more about the book and the author here.

Monday, November 14, 2016, 7:45 PM:
Swing Dancing

We will meet a little early on VSTE Island and plan to be at Carlyle's Swing Dance Studio by 8 PM (5 PM SLT) for some great 40's music and swing dancing. The animations are great! Carlyle has put together several levels of swing dance class that teach you about many styles enjoyed through the years. Sounds fun.

If you don't have a Second Life account, get one, it's free, at Download and install the software. While your Second Life viewer (software) is open, click this link and voila! Look for an avatar on VSTE Island and say, "Hey, I'm new!" We will take care of the rest.

An Educator in China: Days Two and Three

Members of the VSTE Board of Directors will be taking time to periodically share their ideas and passions with the VSTE membership. In this edition, Terry Lowry from Wakefield School reports on her first day in China as part of an education delegation. 

These past two days in China have been spent traveling to and visiting our sister school, Xuzhou No. 1 Middle School. The trip from Nanjing to Xuzhou was long – just over 4 hours – but I took advantage of the time to ward of jetlag and slept for most of the trip. Driving in China involves a lot of horn blowing and serious courage on behalf of the driver. I have determined that the lane dividers are really just a suggestion and by no means indicative of where one should consistently stay. I don’t think this is a distinctly Chinese characteristic – I experienced much the same thing in London last summer. In any case, I am happy to say we made it to Xuzhou safe and sound.

Upon arrival, I was graciously greeted by Grace, one of the teachers from the school, who whisked me off to my hotel. After settling in, she and one of her colleagues treated me to one of the most amazing meals I have ever had. The dishes just kept coming out and each one was wonderful! I am proud to say I did fine with the chopsticks and did not embarrass myself. I ended the day by rolling off to bed and sleeping soundly.

The highlight of my visit, though, was definitely the classroom visits I was fortunate to experience the next day. In one class, an American teacher, Kyle, was teaching the children about the US presidential election and the differences between the parties. What an amazing experience to listen to their perceptions regarding the election. They examined the experience of the two candidates and, understandably, how the election of either would affect China. In my next class, an English class, I was able to help students with their grammar assignment (it was surprisingly difficult) and then answered any questions they might have about Wakefield or the US. I think their questions were very interesting, so here are some of them (the ones I can remember, anyway)

  • Are we allowed to have boyfriend/girlfriend relationships in school?
  • If a student’s test scores indicate they should go to university, but he/she really wants to do something else, like be a bus driver, is that allowed in the US – would his/her parents be supportive?
  • If I want to be a film maker, how can I get Americans to watch my movies?
  • If a student wants to travel to the US to attend school, what is it they might have the most difficulty with?
  • If Hillary or Trump won, how did I think that would affect America?
  • What do American students have to do to be accepted into college?

After a morning attending classes we went to the school cantina and were joined by their school principal, Madam Chen, for another amazing meal. Everyone went out of their way to make me feel very welcome and special. Later, Grace and I explored the second campus and then took a tour of the city, the highlight of which was traveling down a willow tree lined boulevard beside an extremely large man-made lake. The rain that started couldn’t dampen my spirits but rather made the day feel fresh and new. All in all, the visit was incredibly memorable and definitely a highlight of my educational career.

Terry Lowry | Wakefield School Director

Board director Terry Lowry is Director of Technology Integration and Curriculum Coordination at Wakefield School located in The Plains, Virginia.  Terry serves as the chair of the VSTE Awards Committee. Find her on Twitter @tekkieteacher.

An Educator In China: Day One

Members of the VSTE Board of Directors will be taking time to periodically share their ideas and passions with the VSTE membership. In this edition, Terry Lowry from Wakefield School reports on her first day in China as part of an education delegation. 

Holy crap! I’m in China! Back in my IT consulting days, I thought it was glamorous that I got to travel to California or Louisiana on my company’s dime. When I decided to return to the world of education back in 2004, I assumed that my days of travel, other than the occasional cheese-wagon field trip to DC, were over. But here I am, in friggin’ CHINA! I am so incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity.

Why me? (Great question – even though I ask it of myself) I am blessed to work at an independent school that emphasizes global awareness and involvement as one of its strategic initiatives. Having said that, the international educator’s forum that I am participating in is not just for independent schools. It is open to school leaders throughout the world. Yep – that’s right – THE WORLD! And here is another crazy thought (at least to me) – I’m visiting here as a school LEADER. While I am part of my school’s leadership team, I consider my primary role as that of a classroom teacher. While my direct teaching time is limited, nothing makes my happier nor do I find anything more rewarding than the time I spend working one-on-one with children. I do not consider myself an administrator, even though I make administrative decisions. I am fortunate to have a blended role where I can both directly interact with children while also guiding and leading the school in its vision and goals. I am hoping that, given that I am most comfortable advocating for the child and teacher, I fit in with all the other “school leaders” in attendance. I have been labeled a bit of a rebel in the past.....just ask our VSTE chairman of the board, Keith Reeves.

Tomorrow I visit our partner school, Xuzhou No. 1 Middle School. I have gifts to bring from one of our teachers who visited last spring and other gifts from our school to theirs. I couldn’t be more excited, but at the same time nervous. I am embarrassed that I do not know any Mandarin while most of the folks I have come in to contact with speak at least rudimentary English. My knowledge of the Romance languages is fairly good. Put me anywhere in Europe and I can figure things out fairly well. Here, however, is a totally different story. I encourage all schools, parents, and their children, to expand their language offerings and skills beyond those that may be typically available. Today’s world is much smaller (figuratively) than the world that we or our forefather’s knew. It is to our advantage to know as much about it as possible.

Last thoughts (before jet lag overcomes me):

  • The Chinese are incredibly kind and gracious.
  • The cities I have seen (Beijing and Nanjing) are crazy polluted. I was literally smogged in on my connecting flight.
  • The jet lag one experiences from traveling from the east coast of the US to China is killer.

NOTE: Check back here for updates as Terry continues to share her insights. 

Terry Lowry | Wakefield School Director

Board director Terry Lowry is Director of Technology Integration and Curriculum Coordination at Wakefield School located in The Plains, Virginia.  Terry serves as the chair of the VSTE Awards Committee. Find her on Twitter @tekkieteacher.