Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The problem with Common Core? No lobbyist...

As the Common Core State Standards take hold of the collective masses, I have come to a realization as to why there is such vehement vocalization about it...

... they don't have a lobbyist. Or social media manager. Or press secretary...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hour of Code - I don't get it...

December 9th starts the big Computer Science Education Week and "Hour of Code," and while I'm not against learning to code per say, I find it ironic, and unnecessary, there is such a push within education for all students to code.

When I tell people I disagree with the notion that all students should learn to code, I generally get confused looks in return. My background is in tech. I worked for Ziff Davis Publishing in the late 90s producing streaming media content in the early days of online video. Back then the big player on the web was the Progressive Networks player, which became Real Player. Who here still has Real installed on their systems...?

No one? Hmmm....

Not exactly my point, but making it's way there...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My first #appsmash (including some OS smashing too)

I have toyed around with the idea of app smashing for a while, but have never made any real attempt at a cohesive piece. This was largely due to the fact I have trouble making things without a distinct purpose. I found a purpose and started smashing...

Monday, November 18, 2013

5th Grade Bloggers

In the ongoing experiment about the best ways to use various tools within the elementary environment I have been letting one class create, design, and curate their own independent blogs via Blogger under our school's Google Apps for Education domain. Ideally we will expand beyond this one class, but at this time a single class is the ideal setting to test the limitations & possibilities of independent student blogging.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Social media in our K-5 school

This post was originally written as a primer for parents on how the staff & students use various "social media" tools as part of the instructional day. It originally appeared on the PS10Tech blog

I am often asked about how we use "social media" here at PS 10. It is a question that is both very simple & easy to answer and one that is also complex and nuanced. Let me elaborate...

Social media as defined by many people includes things like Facebook and Twitter. According to the Department of Education's social media policy for staff, social media is defined as:

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two...

It's an old adage. I'm sure everyone has heard it before. Everything has 3 options; fast, cheap, good. You get to pick any two...

... Fast and good isn't cheap
... Fast and cheap isn't good
... Good and cheap isn't fast

Generally it speaks to products. A computer might be cheap & good, but it won't be fast. A fast computer that is good, won't be cheap. A fast computer that is cheap won't be good.

The same applies in teaching. Especially when working in a project-based setting. No good project was done fast. And any fast project probably wasn't good.

Teaching students to create something, anything, takes time. Especially if it is a new genre, subject, platform or software. If you want students to have a specific item to present to showcase their abilities, you want them to know the nuts & bolts, how to create it from scratch, so they can truly own that work & speak deeply about what they are putting forward.

For a student to have a solid final project, you need time. It takes time to be good. It can't be rushed. If it's rushed, it won't be good (or even worse, it might amount to a glorified worksheet and won't be authentic either).

If you want a project done fast & good, cancel the rest of the day's program and spend the day on the single project. A good product, start to finish, doesn't get produced in 45 minutes. A fast, cheap, project is one that gets done to check a box or satisfy a demand. The final product of a good project is a product the students are invested in, have a connection to, and can speak deeply about.

Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two, pick the right two...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Raise both bars, bottom and top

Takeaway: It's 2013. An educator saying they don't want to use technology because they don't like it or aren't familiar or comfortable with it is a cop out. Basic technology tools have been around so long there is no excuse for not using them. With CCSS & PARCC students are held to tech-specific standards and expectations. Educators should not be allowed to avoid those some expectations. It sets a bad example and is a detriment to our students

It is 2013. 

The arguments "I don't like computers" or "not everyone like to use computers"are invalid.

I will grant you not everyone "likes" using technology, but the idea that it is ok to use "not liking" technology as an excuse for avoidance is dangerous. Would we allow a student to ignore proper spelling because they don't like it or they are more comfortable with inventive spelling? Of course not. The same should be with technology.

Just as we focus on struggling students in an effort to raise them up, improve their learning and understanding, shouldn't we do the same with the adults in the building? It should not be ok to let an adult ignore, or not communicate via, email if we are trying to raise the achievement of every student. Are we not concerned with the achievement of the adults in the building? If a few students preferred inventive spelling are we going to permit spelling errors to be an acceptable measure of writing school-wide?

It's 2013. Should we only focus on the tech savvy adults? Are we only trying the raise the bar of the high-level teachers?  What is going to happen when the CCSS & PARCC testing comes around? Will only the tech savvy teachers need to worry about it? Of course not.

If we don't push those at the bottom of the technology ladder to move up the gap between the users and non-users will only grow wider. The disparity of knowledge & comfort between those two groups will only become more overwhelming.

I'm not saying every teacher has to blog or tweet, but the argument "we need to print paper memos because not everyone likes email" is dangerous and the antithesis of what we do as educators. Is there any other profession, or role, in 2013 were an employee can say "don't bother emailing me, I don't like email so I don't check it" and get away with it? Of course not. Would you let a 4th grader get away with inventive spelling because they don't like spelling correctly?

It's 2013. People bank online. Shop online. Have some form of social media account (even if it's just Facebook to look at pictures of grandkids).  Email has been around since the 1990s. Email is so old & common it's almost antiquated. To be an educator and say you don't check your email is a disservice not only to yourself, but to the students in your building. How can we raise the instructional bar for students if we don't raise the knowledge bar for ourselves?

Your highest level will only get so high and your overall achievement will only go so far if you never bring the bottom up. Allowing the educators at the bottom of the tech ladder to stay there is a detriment to them and school communities as a whole...

Friday, October 25, 2013

The only two questions when asking for technology buying recommendations

I get asked rather frequently:
"I need a new computer, what do you recommend?"

The related, but alternate, is:
"I want to buy a bunch of computers and such for my school, what do you recommend?"

Either way, I always respond with two questions:

  1. "What are your goals?"
  2. "Exactly how much do you have/want to spend?"

I always tell people I can't remotely answer their question before they answer my two...

To elaborate...

When someone asks me what I recommend and I ask why they want it for, they always look at me confused.

What are your goals?

"I need it for stuff, like internet and word processing and stuff."

Well, if all you need is the internet, Word, and "stuff" then get a Chromebook. Solid, inexpensive, Google Drive handles all common formats. Simple. Easy.

"No, the cloud thing scares me. I want a regular laptop. What would you buy?"

I'd buy a Mac. Hands down, no hesitation. Yes, they are more generally more expensive than Windows systems, but in my experience far more durable, reliable, and user friendly. I'm on my second MacBook in 11 years of teaching. Got 7 years out of the first. I am rather hard on computers, lots of wear & tear,travel, and so forth. My MacBooks rarely let me down.
(caveat: Yes, I acknowledge that there are millions of people who love Windows and think Apple is the antiChrist, and it works for them. You asked for my opinion, my opinion is Apple is the best and Windows is irrelevant and isn't worth the time to even call it the antiChrist)

If you're a huge gamer, or your kids are, I can't help you. True gaming PCs are often very customized and highly expensive. The average person asking me for my opinion probably hasn't even used a CD in years, let alone requires major computing power.

So, if you don't want a Chromebook because the cloud scares you, and you don't want a Mac because they're expensive/Apple is evil/etc, then here is my second question...

Exactly how much do you want to spend?

Why does this matter? Because if you only want to spend $500, and you don't want a Chromebook, you're going to get $500 worth of computer. And odds are, in six months, you'll be asking me again and looking at another, "better", $500 option.

Here's the thing, you get what you pay for. You want the cheapest laptop? Guess what, it's made with the cheapest parts. You want a computer to last? Spend the money to get the biggest, fastest one you can. That way, in two years, while it may not be the biggest and fastest it also wont be on the verge of obsolesce.

In terms of large scale?  What I would recommend for a $5,000 budget for a Library might be vastly different than $5,000 to get a 1:1 program started. If you just want a laptop for yourself, the same applies. Are you in the $300-$500 budget range or the $1,000-$1,500 range?

Budget specificity goes a long way to a quality recommendation

So, you want a recommendation? Be specific with your wants/desire/goals and be specific with your budget. The more specific you are with those two point the more specific the recommendation can be...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Programming" as a Curriculum Choice

These days I seem to get this question a lot. The question being "do you teach programming?" I also get "why don't you teach programming?" A few "you should teach programming" and "it's disappointing you don't teach programming" comments also pop up. I get it, programming is on the forefront of a lot of minds. Unfortunately you cant teach all things all the time.

As with anything, it's a choice. Curriculum is less prescribed for a computer teacher than it is for a classroom teacher with, for instance, math. In fact, by "less prescribed" I mean not at all. As a computer teacher there is no set curriculum, we essentially get to make it up as we see fit.

The choice I've made, the choice made on behalf of PS 10, is a choice to support areas of core curriculum such as writing & research

As with my explanation on typing I thought it best to lay it out here...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Backlash to the (Bammy) Backlash - Respect

The Bammy Awards have generated a lot of discussion online these days.

Pernille's post was spot on and very thoughtful (some of the comments maybe not so much).
I had my own $0.02 to put in.
There were the awards posts, the humorous posts, open letters, and the acceptance speech never to be said...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Our living (hashtag) bulletin board

It is 2013. Almost 2014. The Pope tweets. Facebook has a billion users. Sticking with just the old standby of paper bulletin boards outside, and inside, your classroom no longer cuts it.

Now, I'm not trying to undercut the value of hanging student work on the walls, or reference materials crated on chart paper to help guide students during lessons. Creating paper artifacts in the classroom will always have value. What I'm talking about is truly showcasing the work. Hanging it up in the hall isn't showcasing beyond whom ever might walk by. It's time to showcase to the world, and never have to change it...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bammy Awards: A Reflection

Last night was the Bammy Awards and today was the hangover, so to speak.

I must start by saying I had a lot of fun being involved in the process. I think it's great the Academy of Education Arts & Sciences has taken it upon themselves to bring together an event like this. There are varying degrees of opinions for and against giving educators awards in a setting like this, but that's not where my head is at. I don't see a problem with giving the opportunity to stand out from time to time. Plus, politics are not really my thing...

A man among giants

Last night was the Bammy Awards.
I was a finalist in the School Technologist category.
I am but a man among giants. There were 5 of us in the category. Four people of amazing skills, knowledge, and reputation. And me. A more self-effacing person might say I bring down the bell curve, so to speak. That's not what I'm driving at. I just think its amazing to see my name listed among those four others, those four that I look to on a daily basis for ideas, inspiration, and knowledge...

Monday, September 16, 2013

Google Chrome - setting up multiple users

Whether you are a Google Apps for education user or not Chrome is an amazing tool for educators...

Why Chrome? The basics:

  • free
  • supported on Windows, Mac, and Linux (full specs here)
  • Google suite fully integrate (ie: search from address bar, sign in to all services once, etc)
  • Multiple users

To paint a picture...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Day 1 is in the books!

Preface: I am beginning the school year making a concerted effort to blog most days. Every day is daunting with my various after-school commitments, but I'm giving it the ol' college try...

The 2013-2014 school year is officially underway!

Yes, we start late. Here in New York City we always begin in September, and go until the end of June.

Good first day, saw one class on each grade, 2-5. I see all classes in grades 2-5 but not all days do I get one of each (tomorrow, for instance, is a 3, 4, & 5 day).

This year teachers came back on Tuesday, September 3rd. We had Tuesday & Wednesday for staff development, classroom environment building, and general preparations. All without students. Thursday and Friday were days off for Rosh Hashanah. Students began today.

Why do I point this out? Because I think it made a world of difference.

This is my 11th September and I think it was one of the smoothest overall. Classrooms were set, rosters were 99% in order, hallways were clear. It just seemed like those two prep days really payed off. I think starting students on a Monday helps too, give a clean feel to the start of the year (unlike starting on a Wednesday or Thursday and only being in for a day or two, starting the year a bit jerky).

Updating server data & Google Apps login info now, gearing up for tomorrow... Day 2...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Google Drive Gradebook Experiment...

Tomorrow is the first day of school, with students, here in New York City. Since it is that time of year it is also the time of year for dusting off the ol' grade book (and plan book).

A little background:

  • I am the computer teacher
  • I see 22 classes a week
  • Roughly 700 students
  • No school-wide grading platform
  • Our central NYCDOE registration/attendance/data system generates Excel sheets with all student information so any platform I use I think about the data originating from Excel as I'd rather copy & paste as opposed to manually entering 700 names...

Each year I try to test out different ways of managing my grade book, efficiently. I'm always looking for ways to improve. In the past I have used:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The best teachers on film...

I've been thinking about this for a long time. There are lots of movies about teachers, teaching, working with students... and as we all know a lot of them are, respectfully, garbage (The Substitute, I'm looking at you).

And yes, there are the "inspired by true events" films like Freedom Writers, but even those, I feel, take far to many liberties with reality and are more nuanced marketing machines than actual depictions of the majority of teaching. Don't get me wrong, Freedom Writers is a great story, and I have no doubt Erin Gruwell made a lasting impact on her students, but she only taught for 4 years and then moved on. Yes, she is helping educate future teachers and working on her foundation, but lets be honest, how many of us teach for 4 years and then continue a career as a "teacher"? Not many. For many of us 4 years is just the beginning.

So, here is my list of the movies and teachers I feel are the most true to the profession. These are the roles I feel get at the core of what we do, most often through nuanced subtly most audiences probably don't even notice...

Monday, August 12, 2013

So many passwords, so little time....

Takeaway: There are lots of platforms that will require a password, figure out a system for yourself to keep them all straight, and use single-sign in options when possible...

Facebook, Twitter, personal email, work email, online banking.... The amount of digital accounts we seem to have these days is at times overwhelming. How do we keep track of all the accounts and passwords and stay safe and secure?

Here are a few things I do, and often recommend to colleagues...

Going Google - An Overview of Google's iOS Apps

Just because Google & Apple are public competitors doesn't mean their platforms & services don't play nicely on your devices...

Google and Apple have a very contentious public relationship. Apple even went as far as to announce Bing as the search engine for the iOS 7 version of Siri at the World Wide Developer Conference back in June (for those who know Apple's history with Microsoft, a switch to Bing, owned by Microsoft, is a big deal - Google is still Safari's default search engine, so Apple is hedging a bit...).

All this public contention doesn't mean Apple's iOS devices aren't great platforms for accessing & running Google's app offering. I work in a Google Apps for Education school and every teacher has an iPad. We mix & match Google & the iPad on a daily basis to get the most out of each.

The best part of the Google iOS app suite is they are all free!

Here is a quick primer on a few of the Google apps I use the most on my iPad...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

School Technology Summit 2013 Presentations - #NYCSTS13

Welcome to my portion of the School Technology Summit 2013, presented by the Division of Instructional & Information Technology of the New York City Department of Education!

In this post you will find links & embeds of my three session slide decks. The day looks to be an amazing day of learning with a lot of great session opportunities. I am putting all my presentation resources here, in this one post, to make it easy for everyone to have access to my content, even if you are unable to attend in person.

I hope you find my material & presentation valuable.
Enjoy the conference!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My students do my tweeting...

Recently, I decided to create a Twitter account for my classroom (the computer lab @PS10Tech).

I was inspired to do this by Ms. Glembocki, a 2nd grade teacher here at PS 10. Ms. Glembocki tweets fairly regularly, sharing news and information about her class with her followers, many of whom are parents. Recently, Ms. Glembocki decided to assign a student tweeter for every day. It's a new classroom role for the students. One student a day is in charge of her twitter account, and the student uses an iPad designed specifically for classroom use to tweet the happenings of the day. Students introduce themselves and sign each tweet. In addition, she uses the hashtag #2310st to designate the tweet is coming from a "student tweeter of class 2-310." Her 2nd graders "live blog" the day. It's a fantastic idea and I wanted to do it for my lab...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Twitter @PS10Brooklyn - Our Hashtags!

This is cross-posted from http://ps10tech.blogspot.com/

In the previous post, Twitter @10, I wrote about Twitter as a platform and offered a solution for following Twitter users without actually have a Twitter account, or even a smartphone.

The previous post also listed all the teachers with Twitter accounts at PS 10.

This post is more geared toward people with a Twitter account looking to get a more streamlined PS 10 experience out of the Twitter platform...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Old dog, same trick, new name...

This morning I handed a teacher her re-imaged & updated MacBook. She was running an old OS and having problems. I upgraded her, installed all her Smartboard software, Dropbox, etc, etc, etc...

When I gave it to her we had this exchange:
Teacher: "so all my old documents are erased, right?"
Me:  "no, they were in Dropbox, weren't they?."
Teacher: "No, I know you told me to do that but I didn't."
Me: "Why not?"
Teacher: "Because you can't teach an old dog new tricks and I only know how to use my Documents folder."

That exchange synthesized the core stumbling block most teachers encounter when it comes to technology and technology integration. They assume it's difficult and confusing, and they can't learn it, just because it is something new or different. Most often, new technology is exactly what they've always done, just called something different, or looked at from a different angle.

When we logged in to Dropbox and set up her folder I showed her how easy it was to navigate & save to it. She looked at me and said "so, it's just a folder that's everywhere?"


"And I should install it at home too, so I have everything I need?"


"Oh, that's easy"

What I left her with was the idea of "don't over think technology." She was wary of Dropbox because she didn't know what it was. She assumed it was a complex technological thing thrust upon her just to drive her batty. She realized all she needed to know was it was a folder. A folder like any other, but by a different name. A folder that now existed wherever she wanted it to be.

Dropbox, as with most new technology, isn't dramatically changing the way things are done, it just calling it something new and giving you greater access. If you can save to a Documents folder you can save to a Dropbox folder.

What was once just your computer became portable with your floppy disc. What was once your floppy disc became greater with your thumb/flash drive. What was once your thumb drive has now become your ubiquitous "cloud" storage...

Saving is saving is saving...

...Old dog, same tricks, new name...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Twitter @PS10Brooklyn

This is cross posted from http://ps10tech.blogspot.com/

Twitter is a great resource. It is no longer just Ashton Kutcher talking about what he ate for breakfast (although, I'm sure there is probably still a lot of that going on).

These days teachers are using Twitter as another method of communicating with parents. There is a PS 10 Twitter account that posts school announcements, shares classroom work, and in general acts as another way to connect the school with the community. A lot of parents have signed up for Twitter (its free) just to follow their child's classroom feed or the PS 10 feed. There are many teachers who speak highly of the home-school connecting Twitter fosters and the instructional engagement it supports.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

iPad vs iPad mini (vs the MacBookAir, sort of...)

Takeaway: in a mobile world, is it a fair fight between the iPad/iPad mini & the MacBook...? The iPad stands tall, the beloved Air stays home...

I just spent three days at the annual ACSD conference, this year held in Chicago. As I was packing, I was staring at my devices, trying to decide which to pack. Do I take the MacBookAir, the iPad, the iPad mini...? In the end, I couldn't decide, so I took all three. Here's how that shook out...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tech Reflections from ASCD 2013

I just finished my first trip to the yearly ASCD conference. It was a lot of fun experiencing a conference of that size from an attendee perspective (in a former life I worked tech conferences such as COMDEX and PC Expo for eWeek). More importantly, it was great to get out of the bubble, so to speak, and see and hear what others are doing...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The paperless bulletin board...

As someone immersed in technology I find it very difficult to maintain a traditional bulletin board outside the computer lab.

I hate printing.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Free Apps for free apps...

One of the best ways to get use to the wide variety of possibilities of the iPad is to take advantage of free apps.

Here are a few free apps that alert you to when other, paid apps, are on sale. Once you "purchase" an app, free or paid, you get all future updates for free too. So, if you find a $4.99 app has gone free one day, download it, it's free, and you'll get all future updates for free too. Any app is worth a test run if it doesn't cost you anything...

Monday, March 4, 2013

My #edtech mantra...

In preparing for a professional development session I wanted to come up with a parting thought, an attempt at wisdom to bestow upon the attendees at the end of the session. I thought long and hard about where I am, where I've come from, what I know, what I've learned, and what tomorrow might bring. I came up with this...

Don't be afraid to fail, don't be afraid to start over, don't be afraid to ask for help... it's technology, it'll change tomorrow anyway....

Mantra is a strong word, but I feel it sums up how I approach technology. The iPad didn't exist 4 years ago. Who knows what what we'll be using 4 years from now.

Try, break, fail, fix, try again, succeed. Rinse and repeat. It'll all be new again soon anyway...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Flash is the Printed Worksheet of #edtech

I will preface this by saying what you are about to read is a bit of a rant...

... being concerned about using Flash is like worrying the photocopier wont print all your student worksheets...

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The UFT's Standardized Test

I will preface this post by saying this is not intended to be a pro vs anti teachers’ union piece. The intention is to get some feedback on some things that dawned on me recently, during the New York City/United Federation of Teachers negotiations regarding teacher evaluations....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Crowdsource Your Professional Development

One of the biggest dilemmas facing all teachers, administrators, and the field of k-12 educational education in general is how to provide enough professional development, frequently enough, to truly benefit your staff.

As with everything in education there are no easy answers, there is no perfect solution, and of course, there is often no funding. All that said, none of those are reasons to not provide professional development opportunities; the key is to think of professional development a little differently...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The #edtech Platform Wars - iOS vs Andoid, Mac vs Windows

I’m a Mac guy. I make no bones about it and absolutely no apologies. I am a fan-boy, a geek, a Kool-Aid drinker -- whatever it is you feel like calling me, I freely admit to it. However, when it comes to spending technology money in my school, and evaluating technology for the educational setting, I put those feelings aside and look for the best, most efficient and cost effective strategy possible. And the one that fits within our purchasing guidelines... Nothing kills innovation faster than bureaucracy...