Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Baby Gates & Web Filters

Raising babies is insane. The complete deprivation of sleep and non-stop decision making causes parents permanent memory loss of the entire experience as if we’ve been flashed with the neuralyzer from Men In Black. I’m convinced this is the only way most of us parents are able to come back for more and have a second / third / fourth / etc… Anything to make the process easier becomes a gift from heaven, especially things like the baby gate! However, in a two story house, raising two children, we never had a baby gate. In full disclosure, it was partly because I was always “too tired” to put them up, but we also believed in house proofing the baby over baby proofing the house, as much as possible.

Fast forward five years and our schools receive those same children, entering a partnership with the parents to keep them safe from internal and external threats. And the easiest way to protect these littles from external digital danger is to throw up the baby gate of the internet...the web filter. However, at some point, kids need to learn how to navigate the web in a safe manner, on their own, without a gate. The longer we shield our kids from reality, the less prepared they will be for it as they move into later years of their lives. 

Our teachers, the classroom warriors, are so great at teaching, and they are mightily capable of teaching more than their content. Although today’s reality of lawyers and litigation looms over every big school or district wide decision, we need to hand over the reigns to our teachers, as early as possible, to teach responsible and safe web behavior. With the gates up, students are deprived of early digital citizenship growth, and teachers are handcuffed to only a fraction of the teaching tools that exist in our wonderful world wide web. 

So, in the holiday spirit of giving… let’s take away this learning barrier and give our students and teachers the freedom to explore and learn. If we take down the internet baby gates, shifting from student proofing the web to web proofing the student, our kids will be more prepared to climb safely out of our nest padded walls and soft gloves to responsibly navigate the entire world of digital opportunities.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

To LMS or Not To LMS: 3 Questions To Consider

Having an official, common Learning Management System for your school community can be a daunting scenario. I’ve worked with a lot of schools who have one, and it feels very natural. I know others for whom it could not feel more strange. I think it’s completely normal to have both sets of feelings exist within one building or even across a district. In the end, an LMS decision is necessary and says a lot about digital management priorities which sets the stage for a very pre-determined educational experience. Before making a decision, which should not be a “one and done” task, we need to recognize that there are three primary prongs that will be impacted and call for consideration. The LMS decision should be re-visited every year asking the following questions:

  1. What will this do to our students?
To LMS: Having an LMS will give students a more uniform experience and a one stop shopping feel. It will eliminate potential confusion from differentiated digital experiences and procedures from one teacher to another.
Not To LMS: With no official system adopted by your institution, the digital management process will feel different for each student. Depending on grade level and number of different teachers a student sees in the day, kids may have up to 6-7 different styles and procedures to follow for managing digital classroom content.
Ultimately: If you feel that having a streamlined process with low variation is more important than giving kids an authentic experience chosen by each teacher, then an LMS is the way to go. However, if it’s important to you to prepare students for future scenarios where they’ll have to adapt their digital management to work with a slew of different settings, then you may want to leave the LMS out of it and let things fall as they fall.

  1. What will this do to our teachers?
To LMS: Having a uniform/common LMS will give teachers another mandated tool (I would not advocate for having one and NOT requiring teachers to use it) on which they’ll need to be trained. However, it will simplify the digital management process for teachers by removing a decision from their plate that they may not want to spend the time on making.
Not To LMS: With no official system adopted by your institution, teachers may be overwhelmed by ways through which they can manage the digital world with their students. However, it will give them freedom to find and decide on what they like and ease into a product at whatever pace is comfortable for them and their students.
Ultimately: If you feel like the “top”  rather than individual teachers will make a stronger decision for the whole about this process, then an LMS is for sure for you. If you are looking to build digital management processes from the ground up and are willing to provide coaching that can adapt to a myriad of different approaches, then leaving this one up to your teachers may be the way to go.

  1. What will this do to our parents?
To LMS: Having an LMS will give parents a “one stop shopping” type of feel with digital engagement in their child’s learning environment. This will allow them to dive in pretty easily without much need to communicate with their child or school about “how.”
Not To LMS: With no official system adopted by your institution, parents will likely have a new learning curve each year their child progresses through the system. Parents will be challenged to work with their children (is this such a bad thing?) and probably the school/teacher in navigating a potentially new process.
Ultimately: If you feel that training the parents is something that the school and teacher is responsible for, and you want to minimize this process, then an LMS will work well here. If you are looking to increase ownership on the parent end and create a true need for parents and their children to work together in the digital learning space, then having a more open approach will give you and your parents great opportunities.

So what? So, I’m gonna wave the Switzerland flag on this one and say that I truly think the “right” decision just depends. I believe that the age of students plays a HUGE factor in this. With younger students, making this process smoother and more straightforward is probably going to be more desireable. With older, more capable (which could be arguable though) students, allowing them to navigate through less streamlined waters could benefit them in the long term. I also think that the experience level of the parents and teachers, and their comfort with digital learning will also contribute to one side or the other when deciding “To LMS or Not To LMS?”

Friday, October 20, 2017

3 Ways to Find Comfort With Discomfort

I’ve had several recent conversations with friends, educators and non-educators, about discomfort. Many of them were driven bt the news of a school pulling “To Kill A Mockingbird” because it made kids uncomfortable. My Goodness! And, all of these conversations revolved around today’s students and how education treats them in regards to their discomfort. For whatever reason, fear of lawsuits, not enough resources to deal with the parent complaints, wanting desperately to be “short term liked” by the student, or whatever else it may be… education has fallen down the slippery slope of helping students avoid discomfort. It’s not the students’ fault...they’re kids! We cannot expect them to know how good discomfort is for them and their future self. Yet we help them avoid discomfort as if THEY know what they need. We allow them to blame outside forces all too often by turning verbiage into a perpetrator that we call a “trigger word”. Our focus has shifted to the outside force instead of building capability to deal with it inside the impacted person.

We are the adults and WE should know that real life will make us uncomfortable, no matter how smart we are or how well our intentions may be. Life WILL force us into uncomfortable situations and the only way to better deal with it is to engage with discomfort as often as possible when we are young and DO have support to help us learn how to deal with it instead of avoiding it. As educators, we need to model this for our kids. We have amazing opportunities for improving our craft, all around us. Implementing new instructional models, technology, structures, grading practices, etc.. can be scary and will be uncomfortable. Being able to model this for our students is a huge teaching tool we can and should leverage to help them prepare for real world discomfort as opposed to assisting avoidance.

So, how do we help kids “deal with it” once we commit to refraining from helping them avoid it? I think there are a ton of different frameworks that can work. Different people have different ways of talking about facing discomfort and tackling it head on. But, I don’t think this is a “one and done” topic for anyone. Like staying healthy, it’s a lifestyle approach that needs to be constantly fed. I feed my skill in dealing with discomfort with these three simple (it has to be simple if it’s gonna work for me) moves that I believe are simple enough to use with kids as well:

Find The Funny
There is comedy in discomfort! Having the ability to laugh at reality is a crucial life skill, even though sometimes the laughing is at one’s own self. One of my biggest areas of discomfort used to be the “awkward silence”, especially when in groups. For me, I spent a LOT of my life uncomfortable with the absence of sound. About 10 years ago, I was attending regular meetings led by someone who was magnificent at creating awkward silence. I absolutely hated it at first. Then a co-worker (also in regular attendance of those meetings) said to me, “You ever look around the room during the awkward silences? It’s hysterical.” That right there cured my discomfort with awkward silence...for good. If we can help kids find the funny in discomfort, we can help them laugh and laughing cures quite a bit of things...even discomfort.

Own The Squirm
A good chunk of my discomfort comes from trying to hide it from others. I’ve found that I can usually cut (if not eliminate) discomfort in half if I can conjure up the energy to make it known, to everyone involved, that I’m uncomfortable with something. Simply pushing out the words, “Holy cow, I’m so not comfortable with this right now” does wonders for me and the anxiety that buddies around with discomfort. If we can help kids own what makes them squirm, we can help them rid some of their nervousness that hinders their performance during uncomfortable situations.

Go Alone
Finally, the coach in me wraps up with “Practice Practice Practice”. Getting better will not just happen, especially when under pressure, even if we know about tips and tricks. Les Brown says “If you do what’s hard, life will be easy.” So, I do things that are hard to get better at doing things that are hard. I am constantly finding ways to put myself into uncomfortable scenarios that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t truly matter. I do triathlons for two equal reasons: 1. To stay healthy  2. Because it makes me better at being uncomfortable. Triathlons and the associated training are my way of practicing being uncomfortable, by myself, in low stakes settings. If I suck at it, nobody knows or really cares. It allows me to find the funny by laughing at myself when I vomit in the middle of a run. It allows me to own the squirm by talking to other racers about how nervous I get at the start line. I’m not saying that we should all be long distance racers. But we can all help kids find something to do on their own that initiates the practice of getting better with discomfort in situations where screwing up won’t have life altering impacts.

So, next time a kid (someone else’s or our own child) starts squirming, complains of discomfort, let’s help them through it instead of getting them out of it!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Consolidating Docs

This time of year has us in a spot where we’ve got a LOT of stuff. Most teachers AND students are looking to consolidate and clean up before we head out for the summer. There’s a great tool from Alice Keeler that will automatically consolidate Google Doc work into one spreadsheet for us and our students. Just click here to get the template tool and check it out!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Drawing For Learning With AutoDraw

Illustrating is such a great way to demonstrate a concept. Sometimes I want to draw and show something & sometimes I want my kiddos to draw a concept to show how they are picturing it. However, I draw pictures as well as United Airlines draws passenger names “randomly”. Luckily, our friends at Google have tapped into some awesome artists to make a super simple, magical drawing tool that can make anyone look like DaVinci. Just go to and start drawing. Your task options are in the bottom left corner, color options are located in the bottom right and the smart images from which you can choose are located in a row along the top. Once you’re done with your masterpiece, just click the 3 hot dogs in the upper left to get action options where you can download it or share it through a variety of ways, including the simple “copy / paste” move. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

ClipArt For Google Docs

I love free stuff, and one thing I miss the most about using Microsoft Office is clipart and the ability to grab any of its amazing, royalty free images while staying INSIDE the document. I know, kind of weird...but it’s one of those things where “you don’t know what you got 'til it’s gone.” There are definitely ways to get clip art for Google Docs, but here’s a cool way for you and your students to quickly get it, for FREE, WHILE staying INSIDE the doc. Check this out...just go into any Google Doc and click “Add-ons” up top. From there, choose “Get Add-ons” and type in “Open Clipart” in the search bar. Choose the Add-on and it will install. To use it, just choose this Add-on anytime you need to use it, and it will pop up on the right hand side for you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Survive & Advance: March Madness Class Tourney

It’s that time of year when I can’t remember winter break break, and I can’t see spring break. It’s the dog days of winter, just trying each day to survive and advance. Luckily, “survive & advance” is right around the corner w/ the NCAA tourney. I enjoy using this tourney to have a little competition in class with our content. Let me show you an example of a contest activity and tool I use in my classes to create our own tourney and spice it up a bit to help get us through this second half of winter. Click here for a link to the spreadsheet that you can make a copy of and use for yourself.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Download & Save Files To Chromebooks

Sometimes when our students are on their Chromebooks, trying to get creative and build a digital masterpiece, they face challenges with file downloading and saving because they are on a Chromebook and not a “normal” computer. Their Chromebooks actually DO have the capability to handle some file downloading and transferring, which can be used as a work-around if need be. Check out this little trick you can use with your kids to help them get past this stumbling block.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Google Classroom Individual Assignments

A new feature in Google Classroom has made it fantastically convenient for us teachers to individualize instruction. We can now assign tasks / projects / challenges to individual students within a class, instead of being locked into assigning everything to the entire class. I’ve also found that this gives us a great work around with group projects. In group projects, I am now picking one kid per group to be the “digital point person” and only those students receive the assignment. They share their copy with their partners for working purposes and then they turn it in when the task is completed. This keeps them and me more organized throughout the course. I love this new feature, and I hope you find it useful for yourself as well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Gift Yourself A PLN This Holiday Season

The best gifts are the ones we give ourselves! The time for teaching on an island is over and education has so much to give and share. But, we can’t receive these gifts unless we open them up for ourselves. Twitter is a fantastic box to open for our professional growth and development as educators. No longer can we rely on others and “In-Service” days to solely help us get better...we need a Professional Learning Network of our own. If you’re not on Twitter, get yourself signed up and just follow. You don’t need to post or interact...just read and take and grow. Here are a few people and groups that I’d recommend following to start out with:
People - @alicekeeler  @gcouros  @rmbyrne  @mickie_mueller  @plugusin  @ cybraryman
Groups - @ice_il  @isteconnects  @googleforedu  @edtechteam