Episode 102 – Dr. Jacie Maslyk

102 - Dr. Jacie Maslyk

Meet Dr. Jacie Maslyk

DR. JACIE MASLYK is an educator, speaker, and author at ISTE, SolutionTree, and Steam-makers.com. She’s an Assistant Superintendent for the Hopewell Area School District just 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, PA, and she brings a passion for #STEM education, makerspaces, literacy, leadership, and creativity in education.

Stonewalled as a Young Administrator

Soon after Jacie became a principal at the age of 30, a veteran teacher approached her and flatly stated that there was nothing she could learn from her. It was an instant realization for Jacie that she was going to need to break down stereotypes and build trust with the teachers in her building.

Eventually, this initial antagonism softened into a mutually beneficial relationship, but it took work to get there. It required demonstrating her commitment to the school, to the staff, to the learners, and the community over the long term.

The Heart and Mission of Unlock Creativity

Unlock Creativity by Dr. Jacie MaslykIn the past, says Jacie, school systems have been focused on data and accountability, a mindset that has led to an overdependence on standardized tests and rigid structures. That mindset seems to be shifting into an era of innovation that is paving the way for creative thinking in classrooms.

It starts with teachers, she points out: when educators believe that they are creative and have the ability to do creative things, that passion and interest spills over into their classrooms and into the imagination of students. Teachers must find more ways to model creativity and vulnerability with and beside their students so that they can see active models of creativity and failure and perseverance in front of them. As a result, students will become more passionate learners and grow to become critical and creative thinkers as adults.

What is your creative outlet? Whatever it is, share it with your students, Jacie says. You never know what might connect in a powerful way with one or more of your learners. 

What’s Setting Jacie on 🔥 in Education Today: Maker Education

Jacie feels like she’s been on fire for maker education for quite some time, but lately she’s seen even more of a resurgence. Maker education is a fantastic way to build full engagement with every learner and provide equitable on-ramps for students who .

When students are given opportunities to learn with their hands, their learning can grow exponentially. On top of that, STEM learning and maker education builds the very skills and dispositions that are so critical in the 21st century economy: flexible thinking, tolerance for ambiguity, problem solving, improvisation, and so on. If you’re looking for practical makerspace ideas, check out Instructables, Maker Maven, and Demco.

Professional Goals and Growth

“I’m always looking to learn and grow from others,” says Jacie, crediting her engagement with social media for her deepened hunger for learning and exposure to new ideas. Among other projects, she’s currently working with Kristen Nan on a new book that will combine views from central office with views from the classroom. The book’s theme will be built around Las Vegas, focusing on the bets that we need to make in education today. Keep an eye out for this one!

Personal Passions and Continued Learning

Jacie’s biggest area of learning at the moment is her sons and their passions, including professional wrestling and American Ninja Warriors. She enjoys the time they’ve spent lately on their own American Ninja obstacle course in the back yard.

Her Tried and True Personal Productivity Hack

When it comes to personal productivity, Jacie says she remains a fan of the old school notebook. Whether it’s a to-do list, some reflections, a quote that resonated, or anything else that grabs her attention, she enjoys the process of physically writing things down and carrying them with her in a tangible way.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Work

Over on Twitter, Jacie recommends following @FroehlichM, guest on episode 51 of the Teachers on Fire podcast and host of the Teachers Aid podcast. Mandy is currently offering a free course based on teachers wellness and self-care.

The one edtech tool that Jacie currently considers indispensable is Voxer, her daily source for real-time professional development. 

One Drop of KindnessWith two young boys in tow, a lot of Jacie’s current reading is in children’s books. Two of her favorites in that category are One Drop of Kindness by Jeff Kubiak and EngiNerds (MAX) by Jarrett Lerner.

Jacie’s got two favorite podcasts, and both are hosted by former guests and friends of the Teachers on Fire podcast: Teach Better Talk, hosted by Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart, and STEM Everyday Podcast, hosted by Chris Woods.

We sign off on this inspiring conversation, and Jacie gives us the best ways to connect with her. See below for details!

You can connect with Dr. Jacie …

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Song Track Credits

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100 – Celebrating 100 Episodes!

TOF100

Marking the Centennial Edition

In this special episode of the pod, long-time supporter of the podcast Bryon Carpenter (@BryonCar) takes over the microphone and interviews me, Tim Cavey, using the same questions I’ve used to interview my 99 previous guests. It’s a fun conversation and a great opportunity for me to reflect back on the Teachers on Fire journey.

My Current Role in Education

I am an 8th grade homeroom teacher at a middle school in Surrey, BC, Canada. I teach most subjects, including elective courses in Entrepreneurship and Media Arts – elective courses that allow me to share my passion for content creation.

House on Fire

Back in December of 2012 I found myself in a very challenging set of personal circumstances. I was renting a basement suite in Vancouver and going through a divorce when I received a text message one day while teaching. My landlord’s instruction simply said “Come home quick – the house is on fire!”

I came home to a burned out house and found myself temporarily homeless, with no family in the area. My colleagues were incredibly supportive during this time and a huge reason why I am where I am today, but I’ll never forget the experience of teaching a class of middle schoolers in the days and weeks that followed with so much emotional turmoil and personal chaos in the background. Teaching felt robotic, and it was hard to conjure up genuine emotion in the classroom.

As much as authenticity and transparency are important in our practice, we also need to be that source of warmth, love, and encouragement for our learners. That isn’t always easy – especially when chaos, pain, or upheaval reigns in our personal lives. The support of my colleagues during this period is a reminder that I need to check in regularly with the people around me, mindful of the fact that my colleagues are fighting battles that I know nothing about.

What Sets Me on 🔥 in Education Today

What really sets me on fire in education today is the opportunity of passing on my passion for content creation with my students. Whether it’s blogging, podcasting, photography, video production, or other forms of expression and communication, the age of the internet gives us all tremendous opportunities to represent our values and share what we are all about.

Our learners are all comfortable consumers, but what are they creating and contributing? How are they adding beauty and utility to the world? How are they launching their projects and learning in authentic ways? These are the questions that motivate me and guide my practice today.

The Teachers on Fire Origin Story

My journey with podcasting began over a decade ago. Some of my first podcasts included The Dave Ramsey Show, The Real Estate Guys, Stuff You Should Know, and Hockey Central at Noon. In more recent years, I also started to listen to business and entrepreneurship podcasts, including figures like Gary Vaynerchuk, Pat Flynn, and John Lee Dumas. These figures spoke regularly about the possibilities for creation and communication afforded by the internet, and as I listened to their conversations with entrepreneurs and business pioneers, I thought about how amazing it would be to feature educators in the same way.

Back in early 2018, I wasn’t seeing a whole lot of education podcasts in the iTunes store, so I decided to give this podcasting thing a try. Inspired by John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneurs on Fire, I launched Teachers on Fire in the spring of 2018. My mission was and continues to be the exposure of tremendous educators who are leading and transforming K-12 education. This passion project is a sweet spot for me, because my passion is at least as strong now as it was when I first launched the podcast.

My Professional Goals

I recently finished my MEdL thesis, bringing a 2-year degree program to a close. That was a huge relief, and now I’m excited to shift my energy into other creative passions, including blogging and eventually vlogging. In my practice, I’m excited to push my 8th grade entrepreneurship students to interview entrepreneurs and business leaders in our community and share their recordings on our Gr8 Expectations student podcast.

Personal Passions Away from Education

Outside of educational settings, I’m passionate about getting out on the ocean on paddleboards and hiking new mountain trails with my beautiful wife. I dream about one day getting a drone that will allow me to document both passions in beautiful ways as well.

My Biggest Productivity Hack

I love productivity hacks of all kinds, but one of my biggest and best is the habit of waking up at 4:30 on school day mornings so that I can get to my neighborhood Starbucks. When I’m on my game and this is happening, it allows me to get after the day before the day gets after me. I do some journaling work, review my calendar, set some goals, complete some prayer and meditation, and then get some work done. It’s an incredible feeling to get to school knowing that the day is already a win because of what I’ve accomplished before 7:00 a.m.

Voices & Resources That Shape My Thinking & Inspire My Practice

Over on Twitter, I recommend following the dynamic Nina Pak Lui, my guest on episode 97 of the podcast. You’ll find her @NPakLui. A former middle school teacher, Nina now teaches pre-service teachers at the university level. She’s a whirlwind of intensity when it comes to the issues that matter in education today, including equity, diversity, and assessment for learning. She’s also just launched a blog and is beginning her own graduate level research, and I know big things are ahead for her.

My pick for edtech tools is WeVideo, simply the best cloud-based video editing solution available today. Get to know this company on Twitter @WeVideo

Big Magic by Elizabeth GilbertI’ve always got a bunch of books on the go, but one that has kept me laughing and inspired lately is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. As the title says, this book is essential reading for those looking to flex their creativity, particularly in the writing and blogging spaces.

My podcast pick has to be the one hosted by the delightful Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart, Teach Better Talk. These two have a passion for education and a playful back and forth that is simply unmatched in the podcast space. Follow them on Twitter @TeachBetterTeam

On YouTube, you need to subscribe to C. J. Reynolds at his channel, Real Rap with Reynolds. There’s not much rap involved, but C. J. brings it every episode, tackling the very real challenges that teachers face in their classrooms. He’s inspiring. Get to know him on Twitter @RealRapReynolds

My family enjoyed The Office and Brooklyn 99 on Netflix, but lately we’ve been checking out Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime (although we’ve had to skip a few scenes when our boys are watching). If you like spy flicks and can handle John Krasinski in a serious role, this might be a series to check out. 

We sign off on this milestone conversation, and I thank Bryon for hosting this centennial edition. If you’re new to the podcast, make sure you connect with me on the platforms below!

Connect with the Teachers on Fire podcast on social media!

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 87 – Kristen Nan

87 - Kristen Nan.png

Meet Kristen Nan

KRISTEN NAN is a blogger, presenter, and award-winning educator for innovative practices. She’s also a believer in goodness, an idea generator, a risk taker, and a disruptor in education!

Kristen just completed another year as a third grade teacher at Hopewell Elementary, a school located in a tight-knit suburban community outside of Pittsburgh, PA. The area is a melting pot of Europe built on a strong work ethic, a steel mill, and an industrial revolution way of life. Kristen entered the profession 22 years ago, with the last 20 of those years spent in third grade.

Idea Tsunamis

Kristen is by nature a risk-taker, and her constant tsunami of new ideas can feel overwhelming for others at times. She’s the kind of person that says, “What’s the worst that can happen here?” while others are saying “Let me list all the ways this can go wrong!”

Although she can get rattled when not everyone is on board, she overcomes this weight by finding her people, her fellow risk-takers, and her supporters. Some of these people are within her district, and others can be found across her global PLN. That’s one of the reasons she finds it so essential to be connected with other educators around the world.

True Grit

Kristen’s blog prominently displays a header that reads “Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation for success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic of student achievement.”

When asked why the development of grit is such a passion for her, Kristen observes that she’s relied on this competency ever since childhood. Her experiences have taught her first-hand how important this trait is, and that’s part of what fuels her mission to promote grit for educators and learners today.

On her site and in her writing, Kristen uses GRIT to represent goal setting, responsibility, imagining excellence, and a tough mindset to back it all up. This mix of heart, soul, and mind is what life is all about!

The starting point for building grit in kids is LOVE – when kids feel loved, known, and safe, they will be more willing to take risks and persevere through adversity. Building grit in our learners is also about not rescuing too quickly, allowing them those times of productive struggle, and making sure we don’t rob them of opportunities to conquer difficult challenges or solve problems through their own efforts.

Perfectionism can be an enemy to risk-taking and grit, which is something both educators and parents must recognize. When our students feel pressured to be perfect and not miss a single thing, they’ll be less likely to take risks or think creatively.

EdTech Innovation and Learning in Education

The excitement of learning something new never gets old for Kristen. One day after her last day of school this year, the ideas had already started cooking for the next year.

New apps and edtech resources energize her, and she gets a thrill out of the collaboration and connections that can result. She finished the year with an app smackdown in her third grade class, and her students blew her mind with their creativity and engagement.

Professional Goals and Self-Reflection

Kristen’s immediate focus is the process of self-reflection and learning that takes place after every school year, and this interview has been helpful in terms of engaging more deeply in this process. What should I be doing differently? How can I be better? These are the questions she asks herself while she sets goals and learns from other progressive educators in her PLN.

She’s also a big reader – she’s read over 50 books in the last two years – and she also loves to write about education when the opportunities present themselves. She doesn’t regret breaks in her blogging activities, because those breaks simply speak to other priorities and realities in her life.

She’s also working on a book at the moment, but she expects it to come out later this year. It will be co-authored by Jacie Maslyk. The title will be “ALL IN: Taking a Gamble in Education.”

Personal Passions Away From Education

The things that really bring life and energy back to Kristen start with the simplest: people, music, and laughter. She also loves to camp, kayak, take photos, and even draw, but none of it fills her soul without meaningful people and relationships in the picture.

Productivity Starts with Emotional Health

Kristen is a glass half full kind of person. She’s certainly seen her share of adversity and difficult times, but her orientation continually brings her back to finding the good in others and situations. “I’m a forgiver,” she says, noting that as we forgive others, it allows us to forgive ourselves. It also helps to give us the joy to ride above the critics or the unfair judgments of others.

Voices and Resources That Inspire Kristen’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, Kristen recommends following @BethHill2829, founder of #JoyfulLeaders and a source of continual inspiration.

Kristen’s favorite edtech tools at the moment are the Sphero Specdrums, which allowed her students to create some amazing things this year.

As a big time reader herself, it wasn’t easy for Kristen to pick out just one book. She settled on the recently released In Other Words: Quotes that Push Our Thinking by Rachelle Dene Poth. If you want to broaden your perspectives, give this book a read, and get to know the author on Twitter @RDene915.

Kristen has two educational podcasts to share. The first is Teach Better Talk with hosts Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart (both former guests of the Teachers on Fire podcast) and Dr. Sam Fecich’s EduMagic podcast for pre-service teachers. Sam is also a former Teachers on Fire guest and is part of the Teachers on Fire Magazine writing team! You won’t go wrong by adding these podcasts to your podcast app subscriptions.

Kristen’s pick for channels on YouTube is ISTE. With the 2019 conference fast approaching, she’s been gobbling up everything this channel has to offer.

Connect with Kristen:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 70 – AJ Juliani

70 - AJ Juliani

Meet Our Guest

AJ JULIANI is a dad, a sought-after speaker, and prolific author of several education books, including The PBL Playbook, Empower and Launch. He is a recognized authority on design thinking, genius hour, growth mindset, IBL, PBL, and all things innovation in education. Read more from AJ at http://ajjuliani.com/ and follow him on Twitter @AJJuliani.

AJ is currently the Director of Learning and Innovation for Centennial School District, located near Philadelphia. He and his team serve about 6,000 learners. In addition to his work there, AJ writes frequently on education and speaks at schools and districts across the country.

Frustrated by the Game of School

Teaching in 2011, AJ was starting to get discouraged by the climate of his classes. His students were intent on playing the game of school, navigating their way through assignments in ways that they thought would earn them the best grades for the least work. Frustrated by what he saw, AJ started reading more widely and searching for better solutions in his practice.

He eventually found Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, and it led him down the rabbit hole of intrinsic motivation, inquiry and passion-based learning, genius hour, and much more. It was the beginning of a huge paradigm shift, and he’s never been the same. He now sees student choice as a sort of secret sauce when it comes to inspiring student engagement and empowerment.

Thoughts on How to Approach Project-Based Learning

AJ’s practical advice about project-based learning is to start small. Try to avoid massive projects that simply follow exhaustive requirement checklists, which really amount to recipe-based learning. Instead, start with small class activities that help students embrace greater amounts of control and direction in the classroom.

Secondly, treat the project itself as a source of continual formative assessment instead of simply using it as a piece of summative assessment at the end. It’s the main course, not the dessert. Students should be able to demonstrate their evolving understanding of concepts throughout.

The Professional Benefits of Blogging

In many other professions and industries, it’s normal and expected for practitioners to write about their work and share it broadly. In K-12 education, this work is often left to researchers, when in fact the teachers in the trenches have important and valuable perspectives worth sharing as well.

AJ sees three primary benefits in blogging about educational practice:

  1. It helps us reflect on and learn from our own practice.
  2. We’re sharing the highs and lows of our practice in a way that others can learn and benefit from.
  3. As we reflect and write, you start to see your profession differently. You start to see the growth that is possible as you track your evolution as a professional, engaging with other educators, and sharing other perspectives. Blogs and PLN activities can inspire us and give us the encourage.

Be More Chef

Most students – and many educators – approach education as cooks. We want to follow a given recipe, and follow it well, hoping to find the success and learning that the formulas promise.

The chef’s approach is different. She takes a look at available resources and asks “What can I make with this?” And that’s AJ’s call to educators.

As you think about your practice and even your life, ask yourself “Am I just following recipes?” AJ’s late brother was a fine example of someone committed to leaving the beaten path and writing his own recipes. Yes, there will always be economic opportunities for people who prefer to follow and be compliant. But there are far more opportunities in today’s economy for people who are go-getters, strong self-starters, creators, makers, designers, and dreamers.

Building Empathy Through Design Thinking and Story

Design thinking always starts with awareness of one’s surroundings. It helps learners learn to take note of the needs of others. It helps young learners to ask critical questions to better understand their context and the needs of others. These are important skills.

Another way we can build empathy is through stories. Brain researchers tell us that the brain processes stories in a different way than it does other information – it activates more resources in order to gain a deeper appreciation for the needs of others. Telling and sharing stories is by far the best way to build empathy.

One recent example of a design product that came from AJ’s district was the creation of reflector socks for cyclists from MIT. The students didn’t enter the design process thinking they were going to engineer a new sock design, but after getting a clearer understanding of the needs of the cyclists, that’s where they ended up. The socks continue to sell today! In another case, some elementary students designed an artificial insect that could evade exterminators effectively. These second graders had to pitch their product design to some actual exterminators – another authentic learning experience.

Goals, Interests, and Passions

At the moment, AJ is working with a company called Next Lesson to develop PBL lessons and units for elementary classes. These are resources that will help educators take their first steps into PBL without jumping straight into Genius Hour.

From a larger perspective, though, the thing that is really exciting AJ about education is how many people are doing things differently. Most educators have moved past the initial stages of integrating technology in their practices, and now so many educators are thinking more deeply and differently about the learning process itself.

AJ derives tremendous joy and fulfillment from sports, but the thing that he’s really been diving deep into lately is AI. He’s reading and watching as much as he can, and he feels like today we’re boiling the frog – things are already drastically changing around us, often in ways we don’t notice or are not aware of. For him, AI isn’t something to fear but instead something to be cognizant of and recognize.

Voices & Resources That Inspire AJ’s Professional Practice

On Twitter, AJ recommends following @CultofPedagogy. He learns a lot from Jennifer Gonzales and describes her as his pedagogical North Star.

AJ just finished reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari, and considers it a fascinating read. Follow the author on Twitter @Harari_Yuval.

AJ’s podcast pick right now is The Knowledge Project Podcast with Shane Parrish. Follow the host on Twitter @FarnamStreet.

Over on YouTube, AJ suggests subscribing to his co-author, John Spencer. Follow John on Twitter @SpencerIdeas.

In terms of non-educational viewing, AJ and his wife are enjoying The Americans on Amazon Prime right now. It’s making him suspect everyone around him of being a spy!

We sign off on the conversation, and AJ gives us the very best place to connect with him and receive more of his thoughts on education: AJJuliani.com. Visit him there and subscribe!

Other Places to Connect with AJ

Subscribe to the Teachers on Fire podcast on your mobile device.

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Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 59 – Dr. Sam Fecich

59 - Dr. Sam Fecich.png

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DR. SAMANTHA FECICH is a former special education teacher and now a professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. She’s also a mom, edtech innovator, and most recently, the author of EduMagic: A Guide for Pre-Service Teachers.

Follow Dr. Sam online here:

Episode Summary

Dr. Sam Fecich is a professor of education at Grove City College in Grove City PA, just north of Pittsburgh. A former special education teacher herself, she teaches about educational technology integration and special education.

Sam recalls the crushing disappointment of applying to a PhD program in special education, only to have her application rejected. After cycling through discouragement, self-doubt, questioning her future, etc., she called her parents and spent some time reconsidering her passions in education.  She eventually applied for a PhD program in Learning Design and Technology, and she was accepted. Something we can all take away from Sam’s story: when one door is closed, keep trying more doors! The one that opens may just be the best fit.

EduMagic challenges the thought that your teaching career starts when you receive your teaching diploma. In it, Dr. Sam argues that the journey actually begins in your freshman year of college, and she shares authentic stories of innovation in education that will inspire educators today. EduMagic is also an acronym that forms the structure of her book:

  • E = Educate and Engage. Learning to take something from every learning experience.
  • D = Digital Presence. Start building a positive professional presence through digital portfolios of work, on LinkedIn, and other platforms.
  • U = Unite your PLN. Reaching out and building a professional network provides mutual benefits.
  • M = Megapixels. These are the bits of magic, flavor, and excitement into learning.
  • A = Always Be. Always advocate, be grateful, be mindful, and contribute to the learning of others.
  • G = Get Out. Get out of the classroom, go to edcamps, go to workshops, volunteer to present your learning to others.
  • I = Inconceivable. Use education technology to create original learning experiences.
  • C = Cooperative Teaching Gone Virtual. Use technology to build real-time partnerships between preservice teachers and teachers in the field in different locations.

Dr. Sam is passionate about the ways that Twitter and other social media platforms can connect educators and allow them to share innovative teaching practices around the world. It’s about showing process, progress, and product — in our professional learning and in the learning of our students. She’s seen first-hand the power and ability of Twitter to build a professional resume, and she shares a story of how Twitter helped earn one preservice teacher multiple job offers by the time she graduated.

Her professional goal for this year is to do a better job of meeting students where they are. In order to embrace this goal, she plans to master and utilize Snapchat better.

In terms of other learning and personal passions outside of the classroom, Sam enjoys spending time with her daughter, Summer, and watching her grow, learn, and try new things.

She tries to live by a simple rule: “Wherever you are, be there.” Among other things, she tries to leave her work at work as much as she can.

Her recommendation on Twitter is @NanKr1120, someone who does fantastic and imaginative work and gives Sam goosebumps every time she speaks.

Sam’s pick for edtech tools is Microsoft Teams. She touts the power of Teams to improve collaboration and accessibility for all learners and stakeholders. Follow Teams on Twitter @MicrosoftTeams.

One of the books she recommends most often to her preservice teachers is Dave Burgess’s Teach Like a Pirate. Follow the author on Twitter @BurgessDave.

Dr. Sam’s educational podcast pick is House of EdTech, hosted by Chris Nesi. Follow the podcast on Twitter @HouseofEdTech.

When she’s got no time left for anything productive, Dr. Sam is enjoying House of Cards on Netflix or Manifest on Hulu.

For more from Dr. Sam Fecich, follow her online here:

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Song Track Credits

  • Intro: Relax (by Simon More)
  • Outtro: Starley – Call on Me Remix (by DJ Zhorik)

Listen to this episode on YouTube and subscribe for more episodes!