Archive for September, 2015

Websites for Coding @GRACE

Note from Laura: This blog post is from our new Computer Science teacher on the 7th-12th grade campus, Matthew Kirk. Welcome, Matt!

There are so many great websites out there now to learn programming. Before web pages, we had to take a class or get certified in a certain language but now you can do everything online. I am in school at Liberty University and I have had to take several classes for programming, mainly in HTML, Java, and C++. I didn’t feel that 4 classes were enough to learn everything about programming, so it is great that there are many options to continue your studies online.

When teaching the students here at GRACE, I like to use a site called It has everything from C++ to Ruby on Rails, HTML, and Java. I love it because it’s teaching the students their mistakes and how to debug them. Debugging is a big part of programming. Some other great websites include and There are so many out there that it’s hard to choose just one site!

I love websites that teach coding, but I also think an in-person class is great. I highly recommended them to learn programming because there is only so much you can teach your self. At GRACE, the students in computer science electives seem to be picking up on Python and HTML fairly easy. Most classes are learning Python while the advanced middle school is learning HTML and the advanced high school class is learning Java (which is a hard language to learn and teach). They all seem to be picking up on it and enjoying the class!

GRACE loves: SMARTBoards and Google Docs

Note from Laura: This post is written by our new Technology Teacher/Technology Integration Specialist in TK-6th grades, Tomeka Hartsfield. Welcome, Tomeka! We are glad to have you. In her first post for our GRACE IT Department blog, she’s going to discuss two tech tools we love at GRACE.


SMARTboards are a great teaching technology tool to accommodate various learning styles. The SMARTboard allows for classroom collaboration, hands-on activities (tactical learners), and visual enhancement. You can incorporate different forms of media to the SMARTboard such as video, photography, maps, graphs, games, etc. to diversify any curriculum. SMARTboards can be used to take notes, brainstorm, play educational games, and even to “flip” the classroom. There are many free resources to use with the SMARTboard and they really benefit the TK-5 classrooms at GRACE.

Google Documents (Docs)

Google Docs are being used more with the trend toward free Google resources, and we love them in our upper grades. I really love the idea of Google Docs in the classroom for several reasons:

  1. Collaborative writing: students can get and receive immediate feedback from teachers and peers on one document. Students can work on a document together outside the classroom.
  2. Digital Brainstorming: students work in groups and share ideas and suggestions toward one goal.
  3. Digital Templates: students and teachers can be creative with assignments and lesson plans. Students can create surveys, charts, spreadsheets, and many other documents and share with anyone with an email.
  4. Great 21st century tool: the ability to collaborate digitally equips our students with the skills necessary for the 21st century.

Social Media for Students: Build Your Brand!

As I (Daniel) prepare to teach our GRACE students about responsible social media use, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information available on the subject. Teens live in the online world, and the platforms they use to interact are constantly changing; it is essential that we not only teach our students how to use technology, but also how to be responsible and safe in representing themselves in an online environment. We have become comfortable in interacting as online personas, yet many of us (and many teens) do not realize that what you say or do online has an immediate impact on you in the “real” world.

According to statistics in Safe Social 2.0 by Chris Syme, 91% of companies have reported scanning social media to screen potential employees. 69% of those companies have rejected an employee based on what was found on the candidate’s social media profile. What we say and do online is equivalent to what we say and do in person. If young job seekers are angry that employers can be so discriminatory and invasive with their investigation of a potential employee, they need to realize that employers can afford to be so discriminatory. In a job market where there are an incredible amount of applicants for each position, employers have leverage to conduct hiring in a way they see fit – including a check of all social media accounts. And while social media accounts will not show if you are a good hire for the particular duties of a position, they will show if you are a good fit for the company culture. In the words of Chris Syme, “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your employer to see [emphasis mine].”

While careers and job hunting may seem a long way off for our teens, the realities of creating a positive social media presence ring just as true in the present. College admissions officers and athletic program directors can afford to be discriminatory when seeking and evaluating potential candidates for their school. In a world where what individuals tweet can be unearthed and made infamous through tagging, sharing, and going viral, universities and coaches want to be confident that they are accepting students who will not cause their institution a scandal and PR nightmare. More and more colleges are admitting to checking out social media when evaluating candidates.

This blog post is not meant to be scary. Even though social media can have negative consequences when used irresponsibly, the responsible use of social media is just as frequently rewarded. Considering those 91% of companies that screen potential candidates, 68% have also reported that they have hired a potential candidate because of something they saw on social media (Syme, 2013). Social media can be a powerful tool when used to build the brand of Yourself in a positive manner. Post congratulatory remarks, build others up, celebrate the good events and accomplishments in life, be appreciative, and give thanks and give back; not only will these actions frame your mindset in a positive attitude, but via social media have the power to communicate this attitude with the rest of the world. Remember, “Social media is not a platform, it is a strategy.” (Syme, 2013)

Note from Laura Warmke: Please welcome Daniel O’Brien, the author of this post, to the GRACE family! He is GRACE’s new 7th-12th Media Specialist. We are so excited to have him on board!

Technology, Memory, & Writing

If you have been following 21st Century GRACE for awhile, you know that I (Laura) love to write posts analyzing something I’ve read. Our communications director at GRACE sent me an article titled “Why Your Memory Sucks: The Science of Remembering in the Internet Age” by Lindsay Kolowich and it made me think. In fact, it was so engaging I could probably write many blog posts on this article. I want to write about how reading on paper isn’t going away completely but will complement digital access, technology coaches should not push technology in every situation, or the ethics of living in an age where we know so much about the world (e.g. through technology I know about blood diamonds from Africa. 100 years ago I might never have known about these diamonds. Have my ethical obligations to Africans changed because I know about this issue? Is technology greatly increasing our moral responsibility? How should Christians respond?).

Instead, I will restrain myself and write about a practical issue at GRACE, and I imagine everywhere: encouraging students to interact deeply with sources and write rich, engaging, original work. The very best student papers manipulate and play with ideas, mashing them together, drawing conclusions from their interactions, and noting gaps and suggesting ways to fill them.

How does technology affect this process? Kolowich writes that our brains are trained to trivialize online information, which means we have a hard time converting it to long term memory. The problem with this? Long-term memory is where we “weave [ideas] into more complex, big-pictures ideas,” just the type of thinking we want our students to do to produce quality writing. Thus, using online information in the writing process may be counterproductive to our goals.

I have seen this happen. At a 1:1 school, the students have access to their laptops all the time and sometimes we find them writing papers like this:

  1. Find a source online (almost always through searching Google).
  2. Open a document in a word processor or open a Google doc.
  3. Read part of article, copying quotes and writing sections of the paper.
  4. Find another source.
  5. Put parts of this source into the paper as well.
  6. Repeat until paper is completed.

The problem with doing research and writing this way is that students don’t interact with all of their sources until the end. By then, they’ve “written” much of their paper, which can’t have a deep level of analysis or synthesis because they didn’t even know all the sources they were analyzing and synthesizing until the end. In addition, their interaction with each source was (most likely) superficial and not converted to long-term memory. In this case, while technology made the research phrase exponentially easier and broader, it seems to have harmed the writing phrase from the teacher’s perspective.

How to get around this? It’s not by going backward and getting rid of technology. Not only does technology allow students to interact with sources they never would have had access to before, but does anyone really want to go back to writing long papers by hand or on a typewriter? The ability to cleanly edit while composing on a computer is unmatched by any previous technologies. Students and teachers can also collaborate online in exciting ways using tools like Kaizena and Google Docs. So the answer is not getting rid of technology.

The answer appears to be usual one: use technology only when it makes sense. In this case, it might be wise to have students print out at least some of their sources to fight the “if I see it online, I trivialize it” problem. This also has the useful side effects of slowing students down a bit on the writing and making plagiarism less likely since copying and pasting is harder. Kolowich notes that repetition also fights the trivialization impulse, so having students re-read a really important source might be useful, especially if students didn’t or can’t print the source. Most importantly, perhaps teachers need to clearly delineate the research and the writing phases of the process. It’s fine to jot notes (even substantial ones) while reading one’s research, but combining the researching and writing phases doesn’t allow information to sink into long-term memory and produce deep thought. Making students turn in their (highlighted and annotated) research for a checkpoint might help with this problem.

We love technology at GRACE, and I know teachers everywhere are rightly thrilled with the ways it has changed education. Researching and writing have been deeply impacted, and mostly for the good. Taking into account Kolowich’s findings will continue this positive process. [author: Laura Warmke]

Transitional K at GRACE

The GRACE Transitional Kindergarten class is a place where children are learning about the world around them and preparing for their future academic careers.  Education happens no matter what is going on and we are grateful to our amazing TK staff for the way they engage our youngest students on a daily basis.  A small glimpse into the transitional kindergarten world shows a week where students participated in centers that covered fine motor skills (eye droppers with water), science (leaf art project), and pre-handwriting skills (learning the motions to make circles).  Our young students are eager to explore the world around them and in a loving and safe environment are gaining foundational academic skills.

Fine Motor Skills


0915 TK Fine Motor
0915 TK Science
0915 TK Handwriting

School IT Survival (at its best and worst)

The start of this school year has been phenomenally busy. The craziness began in June when we switched out our phone system to VOIP. That was just the beginning. In July we switched out our firewalls to pfSense. Then we switched our school web-filtering system to Lightspeed. Then we ended up receiving a shipment of 310 Macbooks in late July and school starts the second week of August. AAAHHHH!!!

How does one manage so many changes all at once? With great difficulty. Here are my top tips for making a series of significant changes.

HAVE A GREAT TEAM (or make one!)

Certainly, there were mistakes along the way. We probably could have been better at communication (even within our team), but pouring time and energy into team members is critical. As an IT Director, my job is to keep everyone moving forward when sometimes we don’t know where forward really is. Regardless, your team needs positive reinforcement and leadership. Though I am sure I made some mistakes along the way, I am also sure that I took various opportunities to encourage my team.


These resources are not simply help support from service providers, but also the incredibly vast internet knowledge-base. Of course, coupled with these resources had better be the wits about who to contact for what problem.

When you change so many systems at once, things can get a bit messy. I asked myself on numerous occasions, “Is this problem being caused by my firewall or my filtering system?” Then I would find myself questioning, “I wonder how many users this problem is affecting right now?” It is unnerving to have issues going on that you can’t pin down to exact systems.

Power searching on Google helped many times. Two systems we use, Filewave and Lightspeed, both have community pages. I would Google for something like “mobilefilter.pkg help” or “kiosk installation” to only yield results from a particular site. Once I was armed with the facts I was looking for, I would call the tech support and reference the articles I found online. Not only is it helpful, but I think it bodes well with tech support when they find that people actually use their online support pages.


I must be patient as an IT Director when everyone wants instant results. My team must be patient as they face the numerous people that say things like, “did you know there was an issue with…” Administration and end-users must be patient with the IT department and give space to solve problems.

It’s hard. So many changes all at once can be a most troublesome situation, bring lots of stress, and bring tension. Patience is so important.


It is easier to solve problems one at a time without disturbance than to spread thin and try to handle multiple challenges at the same time. Teamwork and communication is key. When addressing issues, keep priorities on the problems that affect the largest groups of users, then work down to smaller issues.

Sometimes it is best to gather your IT Team together, pick one big challenge, and work on it as a team. Team communication and feedback can be incredibly valuable. Sometimes even unrelated questions can spawn thoughts that you may not have had if you weren’t getting feedback.


Remember your successes. If you dig out of one problem only to be faced with another, things can become discouraging and the successes will quickly shadowed by other challenges. Don’t let this happen. Remember the success and give credit back to your team, since they are the ones on the front line of issues.

So, here’s my thank you! Daniel, Carol, Laura, Diane, Anthony, and Matt, you have all been very patient and now that we are coming out of the woods, I want you all to know that you’ve done a top notch job in the face of countless issues and support tickets! You are a great team and I look forward to the coming months as we use our skills and abilities to glorify the Lord at GRACE Christian. [author: Dana Morrison, IT Director]