Monday, May 1, 2023

What is your story?

A follow up of sorts to an earlier blog post, Every project is a story

This poster hangs on the wall of my lab....

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Because no one hangs a tv that way...

 A pet peeve is the vertical video. Portrait mode video.

Yes, I know why. It's Instagram's fault. They were the first popular app that didn't allow for device rotation, and they were the first to pioneer app-first media creation.

And no Tik Tok is carrying that mantle (although they do now allow for "full screen" on videos that are able to scale widescreen).

As a television & film major in college I always bang the drum of landscape photography and video recording. We use iMovie and WeVideo to create movies. Movies we share on televisions. 

So I made this...

Is this an uphill battle? Maybe. Will I give up fighting for landscape video? Not until we start hanging the tv above the fireplace that way...

Friday, April 29, 2022

Embrace the dumpster fire...

It hasn't always been this way, like most I began my career with trepidation and caution, learning the ropes and gathering experience. Not taking risks, scripting out my day...

Over the last 10 years, at this point the second decade of my career, a lot has changed. I have taken more risks, tried new things, stepped out of my own comfort zone. I have become more comfortable with uncertainty, more accepting of epic failure as a learning win. And I have tried to instill this in my students and colleagues alike.

In the 8 years since I have been at Heathcote School, I have tried to make "embrace the dumpster fire" a school-wide mantra. That we push limits, try new things, and are comfortable with failing.

Sometimes you need to crash int the brick wall at 1,000 miles an hour to best learn, and understand, how to avoid it next time. Learning is messy and rarely in a straight, clean line. The dumpster fire is the epic fail, the epic fail to figure out how to fail less epically next time, to eventually get that win (epic or otherwise). The dumpster fire is knowing it's ok to not be good, or right, or comfortable the first or second or even third time. The dumpster fire is the start of the process.

Failing is key to learning. 

Learning isn't easy, nor clean, nor instant... sometimes the best way to learn how to do something right is to do it completely wrong the first time. Be bold, take risks, learn from failure.

Embrace the dumpster fire...

I created the below poster to represent the "embrace the dumpster fire" spirit, to use in presentations, at meetings, and so forth... 

I also created an alternate version to print as a poster to hang in my lab...

I began this mindset during my last few years teaching in the New York City Department of Education, taking risks and trying new things, being ok with failure as long as I took something from it. It has fully coalesced during my time at Heathcote School. These last 8 years my colleagues have bought into my crazy and are willing to come along for the ride. The students have also embraced it, they have found it liberating to know their teachers are ok with the epic fail, support the epic fail, as long as it is in pursuit of the goal and we learn and improve from it.

Feel free to print for your lab or classroom, all I ask is you keep the "created by" credit at the bottom and cite me as the source/originator when asked.

Go forth and embrace the dumpster fire!


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Could vs Should

 Could vs Should. Want vs Need

This poster hangs in my lab as a reminder to always create with purpose and to make every choice a choice that adds value to your work, not distract from it.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Chromebooks – Restart to Update

This post also appeared as a reminder to students on my school blog HeathcoteTech

So often technology can be funky. Things work fine one day, and not so fine the next. And often there is no concrete explanation as to why things go wonky.

This is especially true of Chromebooks, but is easily solvable. It is because of an impending update. Google will send out an update to the device, but wait for the user to install it, however, in the meantime that impending update is the cause of the wonkyness…

You should keep your Chromebook up-to-date, and it’s very easy to do so.

If you see a 1 by the clock, that means there is an update available. Click the clock and then click the “Restart to Update” link.

Google sends out updates regularly, and at random times, so any time you see that 1 by the clock, you are welcome to click the “Restart to Update” button.

Think of it as preventative maintenance. Doing something before things go wrong, to prevent things from going wrong…

Monday, September 14, 2020

A Word about Wifi

This piece originally appeared on my @HeathcoteTech class blog


Mesh is the word. A mesh network is a more reliable, stronger home wifi network, and a key asset in 2020.

What is a mesh network?

A mesh network is multiple wifi access points for your home to ensure fewer dead zones, faster connection, and overall better reliability

You mean like a network extender?

No. An extender takes the signal from your modem and extends it out, but at a downgraded level. Think of a ball of dough, pinch a bit and stretch it out. The further you get away from the original mass, the thinner the dough becomes. Same with a wifi extender, yes it will stretch your network range, but as a progressively thinner level.

So how is a mesh network different?

Mesh networks set aside a channel of communication between the access points, that is only for the access points, so the satellite that is far away from the original modem is broadcasting the same strength signal as the original base. No loss of strength.

Are they hard to set up?

Nope. Just plug it in to your existing Verizon/Comcast/etc modem and it's a few steps and you're good to go. Most systems have an app and 3-5 steps to get going, plus you can manage the devices from the app.

But why? If I have crazy fast FIOS, why do I need this thing?

Because your crazy fast FIOS service is being managed by an average piece of hardware. The wifi routers that come for free with service are mediocre at best when it comes to managing traffic. And the further you get from them, physically, the weaker the signal.

But seriously, I have crazy fast FIOS, why do I need this?

Think of your FIOS connection like a smooth, open road, as far as the eye can see. Fast. Your devices are that race-tuned V8 car hungry to tear down the road. Your router is like the like the on-ramp. Specifically a Brooklyn-Queens Expressway type on-ramp. Sometimes closed, sometimes under construction. Pothole filled and a slog to get through. A mesh system is a smoother, more managed on-ramp. In fact, it's like having multiple on-ramps in a system that gets you on the highway fast and smooth.

A real-world example...

I've had a mesh network for years. I moved into a new apartment 1 week before the March 9th Covid lockdown. The apartment had Verizon FIOS. On the first day of remote learning our router got jammed. Only 1 person could be on a Zoom at a time. I dug my mesh system out of the moving box and plugged it in to the Verizon modem, and instantly all four of us could Zoom, watch Netflix, etc.

Why? Because mesh wifi systems do a much better job at managing the data traffic and balancing the signal

Home WiFi and Mesh WiFi filled house

So, if last Spring you experienced difficulty with Zoom, slow connections, inability to connect, and so forth, it wasn't Google, or the Chromebook, or Zoom. It was most likely the generic wifi router getting jammed with data.

What do I actually know about mesh systems?

I have the Netgear Orbi RBK 50. This summer I installed the Netgear RBK 753 system for an Inn in Maine. The Inn is in the western Maine mountains and only has a DSL connection. After installing the RBK 753 device connections speeds were faster, more people could be on the Inn's wifi without it jamming, and we didn't nee to reboot the router anymore. All we did was plug it in to the DSL modem and configure the Orbi name. That's it. Took us less than 1 hour to set up.

Mesh network options are:

Netgear Orbi

Linksys Velop

Google Nest Wifi

Points of note

First point of note, if you buy one of these, don't unplug your VerizonComcast/etc modem/router. Those power your tv's on-screen channel guide. Just plug the mesh system into your existing hardware, give the mesh system a new name, and then move your devices over to it. It takes about an hour to do it all from opening the box to adding the new network to your devices, but you'll be amazed at the difference.

Second point of note, the apps that you use to set these systems up are free ad awesome. With my Orbi I can see every device connected to my network and I can turn off an individual device's access with a single tap. So when my kids aren't listening to me, and wont get off YouTube, I just launch the app and turn off their wifi access... the subtle joys of parenting in 2020...


Mesh. It will change your hybrid, virtual, and e-learning experience. The expense is paid for in far fewer headaches. Not to mention it'll make your streaming services run better too.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Create Editable Worksheets out of PDF Files

This piece originally appeared on my @HeathcoteTech class blog

In this era of e-learning there is the difficulty of students using PDF worksheets. 

In the past we would print those out, Xerox them in bulk, and have the students write directly on them. That isn't possible right now. 

So, lately, the solution has been to give students the PDFs, have them print at home, work on them, then take a picture of the finished sheet, or scan it, and send it back to the teacher... 

... that is laborious and has many spots for failure along the way. 

So, how do we use PDF worksheets in a paperless environment? Make the PDFs into Google Slides files so the students can add annotations like arrow, lines and shapes, as well as type answers directly onto the pages. shapes, text boxes. By doing this you can turn your PDF inso a Slides file, share it with students, and they can fill it out directly in the Slides file which you already have access too! No downloading, no printing, no scanning, no sending back... 

Below are two versions of the same tutorial, one a step-by-step visual, the other is a video screencast of the steps. Take a look and give it a try... 

Step-by-step tutorial

Video screencast of the steps

Please remember that the original PDF files you are working with are most likely copyrighted, so you can not re-create an entire book, can can convert select pages. The 10% rule is good to remember, meaning you can print/share 10% of a total piece of copyrighted material. If the book has 100 pages, you can print/share 10.   

Let me know if you have any problems or questions.   


Thursday, March 26, 2020

iOS Document Camera

If you have a Mac and you have a iPad or iPhone you have a document camera!

Here is a quick tutorial on how to set it up...

And a 1-page poster with the same steps...

You can also download the Stage app to have some annotation features, but it is not necessary.

Happy document camera-ing!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Fall 2019 Chromebook Buyers Guide

I originally wrote this for my class blog @HeathcoteTech. After receiving multiple emails from parents with personal device/Chromebook questions I figured I'd turn my email replies into a more structured "buyers guide" of sorts. The thoughts and opinions in this post are my own and crafted with 2nd-5th graders in mind, as that is the population I teach. This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive list of the "best" Chromebooks on the market.

This is the second annual Chromebook Buyers Guide. Chromebooks are great devices for elementary school students and beyond. There are lots of options and hopefully this guide will give you a sense of why go Chromebook and which models(s) to check out. Enjoy...

As the years have progressed there has been an ever increasing interest from parents to purchase Chromebooks for home use. Awesome!
I think it's an excellent idea and a great investment, we use them every day at school and I have four in my home.
Before I get into some device specifics I want to touch on a few common points of interest from parents...
By Koman90 [BSD (, CC BY 2.5  ( or GPL (], from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Interactive Whiteboard Alternatives

One of the biggest, literally, things in edtech is the interactive whiteboard. Smartboards, Promethean, there are a few manufacturers.

My district uses Smartboards. I'm not a fan. This post isn't a rant on why I don't like them, the purpose of this post is to outline an alternative, but to give some context, here is why I'm not a fan, and never have been, of interactive whiteboards...
  • they are expensive. $3k+ is a lot to spend on a single item
  • they are a central focal point... but classes should be flexible and fluid, a large fixed object like an interactive white board take up a lot of classroom real estate and are only used a small portion of the day
  • most users only use a fraction of capabilities
    • that may be due to lack of training, or that those features are bells and whistles and don't fit seamlessly into a teacher's workflow.. either way it's an issue
  • they only do one thing
    • ok, so not literally one thing, but a large, fixed object, no matter how "flexible" or "versatile" it's still a piece of furniture

So, what's the alternative?