Tech Tools in my Backpack






It won’t be long now until I fly off  to South Africa for three weeks and visit the schools where we send books in our Books to Africa program. In my last post I listed the books that absolutely must go in my suitcase. I hope to read most of them with the students I meet and most of the  books will live in a South African school permanently.

For the past few weeks I have been researching, asking fellow educators and using my experience to decide what technology tools I need to make this trip more efficient and less stressful. I was inspired by Kurt Soser, a Microsoft Expert Educator from Austria, who wrote a post in April “Traveling Geek Style” listing what he was bringing on his trip to the E2 conference in Redmond. I’d never used some of the tools he was bringing and I was curious to learn if I needed to take some of his advice.




A few dollars later, I think I have what I need. I love, love, love my Asus laptop computer. It’s fast, has a touch screen and Win 8.1. When I bought it three years ago, I thought it was a lightweight laptop and perfect for traveling. A few years later, cool tablets running 8.1 arrive on the scene and suddenly my laptop feels like it’s heavier than a boat anchor. I already have an iPad, but I don’t use it for heavy-lifting computing. Thank you Microsoft for timing the arrival of the Surface 3 to coincide with this trip! I now have what I need for presentations, blogging, video creating and reading. I can use my Bluetooth mouse and my digital pen.

JULIESURFACE - WIN_20150701_083558

One frustration I have had traveling and attending conferences is battery life – or the lack thereof. Inevitably my tablet or iPad or iPhone runs out of battery in a place where I have no access to electricity. With a 26 hour travel time between Seattle and Johannesburg, I knew I needed to address this problem next. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a powerbank until I read Kurt’s post. Ta-da! Battery recharging to the rescue. The TechNet Powerbank has 15000 mAh, so if all the reviewers are right on Amazon, this has enough juice to recharge my Surface with no problem. The small RavPower recharger fits in my purse and is perfect for pumping up my phone when I’m on the run.

JULIESURFACE - WIN_20150701_083251

I love to take photos, but prefer to travel light. As much as I would love to use a nice beafy camera with a big lens for super shots, I’m not ready for that stage yet. A camera shoved in a pocket or small purse works just fine for me. Between the Sony, Canon and iPhone, I should be great in the photo department. The Surface and iPad also have cameras, so if I have any photo issues, it’s my own fault. An extra SD card or two and a mini-tripod and I’m all set.

JULIESURFACE - WIN_20150701_083628

Where there are electronics, there are cords. Masses of cords, cables, VGA adapters, plug-adapters, earphones, etc. Why can’t one kind of cord work to recharge everything? Is it really that hard? I understand the need for the country plug-adapter, but do there have to be so many? What works in the US or Europe doesn’t work in Africa or Asia. Go figure.

JULIESURFACE - WIN_20150701_083858

The assortment of electronics opens up the problem of how to travel with it all and not loose something. I’ve lumped everything together in one bag before, but spent too much time sorting through the mess to find what I needed. I don’t know where I saw it, but somewhere in my research I stumbled across bags to organize all the cords, plugs, tablets, powerbanks, etc. Just what I needed! Of course when you call it an electronics accessories travel organizer, the price is $20.00 or more. If you call it a purse organizer, then the price goes down to under $10, it’s lightweight, fits the tablets, all the accessories, and fits inside  one section of a backpack. I’m pretty excited about this solution by Hoxis!

JULIESURFACE - WIN_20150701_084150

Between the books and the tech, I think I’m ready for this travel party to get started! I’d better not forget to charge everything up first. If you have any other suggestions, let me know. I’m still wondering where those clothes are going to fit though!


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Beating Down the Fraud Voice

Gävle library seatsCreative Commons License Wrote via Compfight

It happened to me again yesterday.

I was visiting the middle school when some of my former students walked into the library. They glanced at me as they walked in not giving me much notice. A few steps later, they stopped turned around and said, “Mrs. Hembree, what are you doing here?” I explained that their librarian and I were discussing some things. They nodded and went on their way.

Seeing my former students as they finished 8th grade, was not the problem. It’s awesome to see how they have grown and matured. The problem was that I couldn’t immediately access each person’s name from my memory bank. I wanted to be able to say, “Hey it’s great to see you Jane, Bob, Sue”, but instead I couldn’t fill in the name. I had to live with a generic greeting, which prompted the little voice in my head to begin the “You can’t even remember a student’s name from three years ago, what kind of teacher are you?” mantra.

What kind of teacher am I? If I can’t immediately recall every student’s name I’ve ever had over 28 years of teaching, does that mean I am less of a teacher than others? Am I a fraud?

The end of the school year is a vulnerable time for teachers. We’re almost to the finish line, yet the challenge in the last few weeks is like running the 50 yard dash every single day. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I know I’m reviewing the year’s library lessons and wondering if I have taught the topics the students need this year. Could I have done better? How can I change things to improve my program?

At the same time, I’m trying to get grades done, collect all the library books, finish the inventory, hold the summer used book sale and generally get the library ready for the summer. Once one item on the to-do list is crossed off, another takes its place. May and June should be named the time of the never ending task list.

I was meeting with a colleague recently and we were talking about the ups and downs of the school year. It doesn’t really matter what subject or grade you teach, we all feel the same way. We are tired and our positive energy barely measures on any scale. For me, this is when I beat myself up the most and begin feeling like I’ve been deceiving my students because I can see my weaknesses more than my strengths.

What if someone finds out that I know a lot about technology, but don’t have near the skillset of someone else? Numerous librarians post book reviews long before the book has even been officially published. Others have makerspaces or create book trailers that earn national acclaim. If it’s not happening the same way for me, what does that mean?

The answer is absolutely nothing.

What I do is good enough and in some circumstances,  may borderline on really good. I cherish those moments when a student walks into the library and announces that she has finished her third complete book series this year. I think I can take some credit on helping her become a passionate reader. We are our own worst critics and comparisons to others isn’t healthy…ever.

When I shared my fears with my colleague, she quickly reminded me that we all have gifts. None of us are perfect. We each need to look inside ourselves to find our gifts and celebrate the positive. She’s right. When we are vulnerable and worn down, it’s time to find the brightness in ourselves and not let the muck take us down.

So, to answer my question, “Am I a fraud?” the answer is no for me and for every other teacher who is feeling the weight of the school year. While it’s easy to sink down in the hole, now is the time to re-acquaint ourselves with what we do well. We need to remind ourselves of our purpose for being teachers. We are making a difference for our students, and really, that’s all that matters.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Skype Visit with Dan Gemeinhart

coverWe are huge fans of the Wenatchee, Washington based author and school librarian Dan Gemeinhart and his first novel The Honest Truth. In late February Josa and his Mom gave me a copy of The Honest Truth with the message,“You have to read it Julie. Josa and I loved it. We think you will too.” So, I took it home and put it to the top of my book pile.

That was the beginning of our love fest with this book. I wrote a review and published it in early March. I couldn’t put the story out of my mind and it didn’t take long until I made a book trailer to show my students. It never gets old when an author tells you they like a book trailer you have made for them. He even embedded it on his website . Now our four copies are always checked out with a long list of fans waiting not-so-patiently for their turn. It’s become the norm to hear the students talking about the book and discussing their favorite parts. So say we are avid fans is probably an understatement.

When I asked Dan if he could Skype with us,  he willingly agreed. The students wrote down their questions on the white board so they could reference them during our Skype session. We had about a dozen students give up their recess to talk with Dan virtually.

gemeinhart 2

Gemeinhart skype1

We learned that The Honest Truth is not a true story, but he did know someone who had cancer and that influenced his story.  He dreamed of being an author from second grade, but it’s only been in the last eight or nine years that he got serious about writing. He wrote four books before this one, but was rejected 99 times! The Honest Truth was his 100th submission to a publisher and it was accepted immediately. Thank you Scholastic Publishing! Apparently 100 is his lucky number. He emphasized that you have to keep trying to achieve your goals, and not stop because you fail once or twice. Use what you learned and move forward. Don’t give up and believe in yourself.

He and the students talked about their favorite characters. He did share that Beau and Wesley are his favorites in. He spoke about the importance of naming characters in a story and how the name Beau (the dog) came to him immediately. It’s not always like that, and right now he’s wondering if he has found the right name for the horse in his next book.

His new book Some Kind of Courage is coming out next winter, but it is not a sequel to The Honest Truth. The book is set in Washington again, but in the late 1890’s. It sounds like it’s a mixture of western realism, historical fiction and adventure.

Twenty minutes flew by in record time. After we finished the call, the students were so excited about their visit. They couldn’t believe they had just had the chance to talk virtually with a REAL author! Many told me they prefer Skype author visits over large in-person author visits because they are  so much more personal. The conversation evolves naturally and is controlled primarily by the students. I love how technology can bring the world into our library! Thank you Dan!



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Showcasing Creativity


I’d like to end the 2014 school year on a super high note by showcasing three students who have been doing some incredibly creative activities at home. It’s one thing to learn how to use a tool. It’s another to take that skill and push the boundaries to make something new and different. These students show creativity, innovation and dedication to their craft.
Meet Kayla

Kayla began coding two weeks ago with the Hour of Code week. She worked through the ice-skating with Anna and Elsa activities on  first.

kayla example

Next she figured out how to create these drawings. Talk about incredible! What impresses me about these pieces is the colorful patterning. They are works of art!


Meet Kaito
Many of our students participated in the PTSA sponsored art contest this year. The theme was “The world would be a better place if….. ” Kaito decided the world would be a better place if we had a clean earth. Using his Legos, iPad and the Lego stop-motion movie making app, he wrote, set up and filmed this movie. He inspired other students at our school to try creating a stop motion movie too.  Here’s a Clean Earth:

Meet Logan
The last student I would like to feature is the Rubics Cube King. Logan can solve a Rubics cube in record time. Hand him one and before you can say, “How did you do that?” – he is finished and the puzzle is solved. I just found out that he helps other people solve these puzzles by making videos. Thanks Logan for making this understandable!

If you know someone at school that I need to feature because they are doing something on their own time that uses technology or literacy (books), please let me know in a comment! Absolutely NO LAST NAMES!
Happy Holidays! See you in 2015!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Scuba Diver Skype

Do you love the ocean?

Our first graders have been learning about the oceans and sea life in their science unit. It’s magical to watch their excitement as they learn about the amazing animals that live in the sea. Luckily for us in the Seattle area, we have lots of opportunities to see sealife in the Puget Sound.


The students will be visiting the Seattle Aquarium on Monday. To get them even more interested in sea life in the oceans, we skyped last week with Karen Zammitti and her father, Sal Zammitti, scuba diver and owner of BambooReef Enterprises, Inc in San Francisco, California. He and his wife Lou have been diving since the 1960’s. They can even read underwater!

sal and lou

I knew the Zammitti family when I lived in the San Francisco area of California as a teenager. In fact, Karen and I went to high school together! I spent many, many hours at the Zammitti house. That’s why I knew he would be the perfect expert for the first grade ocean unit.


Mr. Zammitti is a very experienced scuba diver has over the last 50+ years been instrumental in certifying over 10,000 people how to scuba dive. In 2011, he was awarded the California Scuba Service Award for his significant and long lasting contributions to the California diving community. He has been on several episodes of Mythbusters, including the Jaws episode. 

Mr. Zammitti talked to us via Skype from his main store in San Francisco. He told us about diving all over the world and showed us some of the equipment he uses on his dives. The students asked him if he ever sees sharks in the ocean and they were shocked to hear that he takes divers on shark divers! The divers go inside a large metal cage to keep them safe and the cage is lowered into the ocean. He said he loves sharks, even great white sharks! He does a lot of underwater photography and showed us the large waterproof case he uses to place is camera inside.

Sal Skype

Our students are still too young to scuba dive yet, but they are the perfect age to learn how to swim and snorkel in the wonderful lakes in our area. There are great dive shops in the Puget Sound, and if you are ever in San Francisco, stop by Bamboo Reef Enterprises and say hello to Mr. Zammitti and his daughter Karen! Here is a video he created when he dove in Raja Ampat in Indonesia.

Can you identify any of the sealife in the video? Here is a link to coral reef books available at the Kirkland and Kingsgate branches of the King County libraries. Take a trip there this summer and check them out! Coral Reef Books

 If you would like to learn more about BambooReef they can be found on Twitter @bambooreefscuba or on Facebook Bamboo Reef Diving Centers

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Where in the World?

Where is Mrs. Hembree this week?


On November 7th, I learned that I was one of the 250 educators chosen to participate in the 2014 Microsoft Expert educator program. One of the opportunities I have with this program is to attend the Microsoft in Education Global Forum in Barcelona, Spain from March 11-14, 2014.


I will be presenting our Books to Africa program and the various activities the students completed last year, as well as the progress we have been making with out global outreach program this year. This is my second opportunity to participate in the Global Forum. In November 2012, I traveled to Prague, Czech Republic and presented our 4th grade book trailer project.


To be selected, I had to go through a rigorous application process – I had to fill out an online application, create a learning activity, prepare a 2-3 minute video that describes my project and how it uses technology and innovative teaching practices to impact student outcomes. The winners were selected by a worldwide group of judges who used a broad set of criteria to assess the educators’ evidence of learning, collaboration, knowledge construction, and critical thinking. In Barcelona, each of the 250 educators will go through another judging process. We had to prepare a 3 digtal story outlining our project and then we will explain this to different judges who will assess our project again based the 21st century learning criteria. The Microsoft photos below show the judging room and conference center at the forum in Prague.



It’s not all judging in Barcelona. I will also have the chance to learn about different Microsoft products, participate in a team project and meet teachers from all across the globe. I will be in Barcelona on March 9th and I am going to spend the day sightseeing as much as possible.



My first stop is going to  see La Sagrada Familia.  This is a giant basilica (church) that began construction in 1882 and it’s still not complete! The architect Antonio Gaudi designed the structure and the building is not expected to be completed for another 30+ years. After that a group of us are going to Park Guell, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. Gaudi also designed this park and it features a beautiful view of the city of Barcelona and brightly colored mosaic tile seats. I will post photos   as much as I can.

I will also be using a translator program. I can speak some basic German because I lived there many years ago. However,  I don’t know many words in Spanish. Did you know different languages are spoken in Spain? Yes, the people speak Spanish. However, in Barcelona, many people prefer to speak Catalan. You all know I love dogs. The Spanish word for dog is perro. Can you investigate and find the Catalan word for dog? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Fins a la propera vegada…

Mrs. Hembree

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Protect Your Online Privacy

How well are you keeping your personal information private?

Creative Common Photo: Flickr

Creative Common Photo: Flickr

Are you keeping your private information secure with strong passwords? This is the question we have been talking about in 4th and 5th grade as part of our digital citizenship unit.


Year after year, two passwords stay at the top as the most used passwords for online accounts. Do you know what they are?

#1 = Password

#2 = 123456

While easy to remember, these passwords open you up to easy access by hackers. A better idea is to choose a password that is easy for you to remember, but hard for hackers to figure out. Here are some suggestions:

  • more than 5 characters – best is at least 8
  • a combination of UPper and LOwer letters, numbers and symbols
  • AmSt$@Nd
  • initial letters of a sentence with meaning for you.
  • For example: Jane Smith runs at Juanita Beach Park in 2013  === JAsmR@JbP13
  • stay away from using personal information like your address, name, phone number, pet names, etc.

 Using computers is now a part of everyday life. Protecting your privacy and digital footprint are important rules to stay safe when you are online. Be Smart, Be Safe!


What do you think is another popular password?

Do you use an app to store your passwords? Which one?




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Thinking about Digital Footprints

What does your digital footprint look like?


There is no better time to think about your digital footprint than at the beginning of the school year. This fall we are concentrating our intermediate library lessons on the themes of digital citizenship. In 2007 the International Society of Technology Educators (ISTE) published their National Educational Technology Standards for Students.

These are basic rules for using technology appropriately (Etiquette), communicating effectively (Communication), and protecting student safety (Rights and Responsibilities).

A person’s Digital Footprint is the digital trail they leave each time any electronic or computer device is used. Just sent an email?   Played an online video game? Sent a photo to a friend? You left a digital footprint in each of these situations. You have the choice on whether your digital trailer is positive or negative depending on how you manage it. (CommonSenseMedia)

We watched a video introducing the concept  of person’s digital footprint.


The vital lesson to be learned is that a person’s digital footprint LASTS! It’s actually more like a digital tattoo than a footprint.  Like tattoos, your digital footprint is extremely difficult to remove.

When we learn about the importance of digital citizenship and the mark we are making on the world, it’s not a time to be scared. It’s an opportunity to make that mark thoughtfully knowing you are creating a digital legacy for yourself.

 We also talked about not sharing your “YAPPY”.

What is YAPPY you ask?
This acronym is a trick to remember what to NEVER post online.
Y = Your full name
A = Address
P = Phone number
P = Passwords
Y = Your plans

The next time to get online you might even want to find out what your digital footprint looks like already. Get together with your family and make a game of it. Simply go to your favorite search engine and type your name. See what pops up! Who has the most hits?


What does your digital footprint look like?

How do you leave your digital mark the most?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email