Digital Zombie Series: “Notifistraction” Disease

Original Image here:

Original Image here:

Since the beginning of time, man has always had an innate sense of alertness.  In our primitive self, that alertness was used to make us aware of dangers around us.  Imagine it – you are hunting and gathering food when all the sudden, you happen upon a pond with fresh water.  You bend over to quench your thirst or possibly fill a jug with water for your family, when all of the sudden you hear a twig…


You turn and look for what blood-crazed beast might be approaching you.  It turns out to be a smaller creature…like a squirrel (Look! Squirrel!).  Following  your expience with the varmint, you travel cautiously back to your cave having survived certain death.  When you arrive home to your wife and kids you discover that you left your jug full of water behind.  “What were you thinking?” she might ask (although back then it might be more like a series of grunts).  Your response would be simply “Ah dunno” (which in modern times still sounds like a series of grunts).

The truth is, you were distracted.  Your brain refocused attention and energy toward survival and alertness.  In that moment, you forgot the water jug and simply returned home.  To set this more in modern times, have you ever gone into a room to look for something and then something else caught your eye or someone asked you a question at which point you forget why you are in the room? You might even travel back into the original room to sort of mentally “retrace” your steps and try and figure out why you were going into a certain room.

I know I’ve probably paid hundreds of dollars in wasted electricity staring into the refrigerator pondering why I went there in the first place.  By our very nature, we are victims of distraction.  Distraction causes our brain to alter their original course of action whenever a new stimulus is produced.  Some of us have become quite acute at managing this and claim to be multitaskers (a theory that is seemingly debunked weekly).  Others have figured out ways to block out distraction when working on a task.

Enter the era of smartphones and notification alerts.  All the sudden, something as small and innocent as a beep or tweet causes us to lose focus on our task at hand.  I’m calling this “Notifistraction” (No-tis-fah-strac-shun) Disease, or the mash up of notifications and the distraction they cause.  Despite our best efforts to focus our brains still revert back to the stone age twig-snapping event whenever our devices alert us about something.

And that’s only part of it.  A local cyber-psychologist  here in Austin, Dr. Mike Brooks, says that we are becoming addicted to our alert notifications.  He states that we get small endorphin rushes to our brain whenever we get an alert notifying us that someone has connected with us.  This can be either mentioning us in a tweet, tagging us in a photo, or commenting on our YouTube video for example.  That connection creates endorphins which is subconsciously associated to the sound or sight of a notification alert.

Think of this rat in B.F. Skinner’s famous rat experiment on Operant Conditioning as a simple example of this conditioning.

A more modern example might be the feeling one gets when walking through a casino and listening to the slot machine make all sorts of bells and whistles to claim we have won something.  That same primitive level of satisfaction combined with our inability to control perfect focus when distracted make Notifistraction Disease another sign that the Digital Zombie Apocalypse is upon us.

Like everything else I’ve written in this series, I have had some level of personal challenges to overcome when it comes to notifistractions.  Recently, I was honored to receive a new Pebble watch as a going away present from my TEC-SIG presidency. Just like any new gizmo, I love the watch.  I can see my running times on it, can bring up the weather, and can even be notified when my washing machine is done with my clothes.  It uses the smartphone as sort of a “main frame” and just relays alerts to the watch.  Now I have notifistractions literally tethered to my body!

Now, as with Digital Yawns, the good news is there are some homeopathic cures out there for those of us suffering from Notifistraction Disease.  Here are some tools I’ve deployed personally to help me get through a project or just simply enjoy time with my kids and family without my attention being drawn else where. It’s already come in handy when we went on a recent family trip and I noticed that the airport had mis-tagged our car seats which would have sent them to a totally different city.  If my nose had been buried in my phone, I wouldn’t have caught that slip-up.

1. Turn Off Notification Alerts -

I have turned off all audio alerts except for text messages and phone calls.  While this might not seem like much of a sacrifice, at one point I was getting Foursquare alerts about how good of mileage Greg Garner made on a recent run.  Do I really need to know that? (he’s fast by the way)  My next step is turning off that little alert icon that appears on my apps as I don’t need to see the 999 unread email messages I might have.

2. Don’t Respond to Everything Right Away – 

I try not to respond or read alerts or social media while sitting in the car.  Notice I didn’t say “while driving”.  This is still a bit of a challenge, because, just like the Skinner rat, I sometimes want to know what someone is sending me.  Of course, with the new watch, I can see the alert on my wrist and just choose not to respond, but that’s still a distraction.

3. Employ the “Pomodoro Technique” -

The Pomodoro Kitchen timer

The Pomodoro Kitchen timer

When working on a project, I employ the “Pomodoro Technique“.  I have to give props to Lisa Johnson for sending this my way, but it’s a simple technique used to maintain focus throughout a project.  Here’s how it works.  You write down a goal or project that you need to work on.  Then you basically turn off all notifications, shut down email, turn off your phone, etc for a period of 25 minutes.  When the 25 minutes is up, you can take a break for 5 minutes to check email, social media, your clothes in the washing machine, etc but then you have to get back to work on the task for another 25 minute period.  I even employed this technique while writing this post!

Let’s face it, we’ve been distracted creatures for thousands of years, but it’s time we started managing those distractions and not letting them rule our lives. Do we really need to know when our washing machine is done?  The next time you suffer from Notifistraction Disease, ask yourself, is it really important that I get this alert on my phone?  You might find yourself being distracted by more pleasant things like nature and birds and…..squirrels!

Now….what was I saying?

 Note: This post is the third installment of a 5-part series on digital zombies, re-animated, if you will, from my SXSW presentation on Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse.

Digital Zombie Series: Can We Ever Be Alone Again?

My original avatar...very prophetic

My original avatar…very prophetic

Lately I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon that occurs at traffic lights around town.  The light turns green and the first car, after some hesitation, pulls forward.  Then the next one, after another prolongued delay, does the same.  This continues until maybe 4 or 5 cars have traveled through what would normally be a 10-12 car light.   When I look over at the drivers, they are all doing the same thing: checking their phones.

We’ve seen a lot of commentary on the web recently about our addiction to our phones.  Last week I wrote a post about the Digital Yawn, an event that seems to happen more and more in social settings.  This restaurant in Beirut actually gives you a 10% discount if you turn in your phone and socialize a their restaurant.  And for those of us that must remain connected, the city of Philadelphia implemented these texting and walking lanes near city hall so we don’t crash into each other.

NPR has released a couple of thought-provoking materials in recent months including this article that “We Are Just Not Here Anymore.”  In the article, the author Linton Weeks takes us through the concept of the “Severed Self” and asks the question, “how can we ever feel comfortable with others when we don’t even feel comfortable with ourselves?” He mentions a course at the University of Washington where a professor actually teaches his students patience, reflection and meditation by “unplugging” for a few minutes before class.

In September of 2013, NPR’s All Tech Considered site released a short film titled “Forgot My Phone” by videographer Charlene deGuzman.  It was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but actually highlighted the fact that we aren’t really present unless we are connecting and documenting our lives on our devices.  I found myself both laughing and crying during the two minutes of this video.

Lastly, comedian Louis C.K. went on a comedic rant about cell phones on the Conan show. In his interview he mentions the fact that we can’t truly ever be alone and “be ourselves and just sit there.  Being a person.”  He goes on to say that “underneath everything, there’s that thing…you know…that empty.  That knowledge that we are all alone. It’s down there.”  While he’s a comedian, I think he’s waxing poetic about the fact that we can’t  let ourselves ever be truly happy or truly sad because we are constantly connected.

As educators (and parents) we need to work with kids (and ourselves) in balancing our lives in every way. We talk with them about eating right.  We talk with them about manners. We talk with them on how to behave in various situations. I’m going to argue it’s time we talk to them about when it’s ok not to connect.  When it’s ok to just “be”.

I’ve struggled with this personally as I’ve always felt my phone was an extension of my hand. Then, several months ago, one of my daughters told me, “daddy, can you put down your phone and pay attention to me?”  It broke my heart but also alerted me to a larger problem.  The message I was sending her then 4-year old mind was that the phone was more important to me than her.  I also found myself feeding our youngest daughter her bottle at night with one hand with my phone was in the other.  I was missing that magical moment of physical connection with her, because of my need to have a virtual one.

So I decided to change.

I started to enforce these 5 simple rules for myself:

1. When I get home, the phone gets plugged into the charger and that’s where it sits the whole night.

2. While the kids are awake, I don’t work, connect, tweet, blog, etc. I just spend time with my family.

3. When feeding the baby and getting her to go to sleep, no technology whatsoever.

4. After the kids are in bed, unless it’s a major project, I don’t work or tweet or blog.  I spend time with my wife watching a show (lately it’s been House of Cards) or washing dishes or cleaning up toys or just talking.

5. The phone stays downstairs, connected to the charger all night.  It doesn’t go into my bedroom.

Though I haven’t followed these rules every single day, I find them easy enough to maintain and actually find that I’m working a lot more efficiently because of my disconnection.  When feeding our youngest her bottle at night, I take the time to connect with her, but I also use that time as sort of “reflection meditation” if you will.  I reflect and evaluate my day.  I think about creative projects that I need to start or problems that I need to solve.

I discovered that I can just “be alone” digitally and the world will move along regardless.

So the next time you are at that traffic light or in that waiting room, hold off on taking out your phone and checking it even if it hurts. Instead, take a moment to breathe in life.



And just “be”.

Note: This post is the second installment of a 5-part series on digital zombies, re-animated, if you will, from my SXSW presentation on Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse.

Digital Zombie Series: The Digital Yawn

Coming off my SXSWedu presentation on “Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse” and subsequent MindShift article on how our brains are “changing” with societal changes, I thought I’d start a 5-part series of observations and tools to cope with this new digitally instant world.  Today’s post focuses on a trend I’ve been noticing as our phones become more and more smart.

“The Digital Yawn” 

You ever have that moment, where you experience something and are somewhat annoyed by it?  Better yet, have you ever actually participated in something and end up annoyed at yourself?

I’m one of those people that feels naked without their phone.  I used to think I was in the minority, but after my SXSW presentation, I think I’m now just part of the “in” crowd.  I experimented going digitally naked once and felt the experience strangely freeing and refreshing.  It’s kind of like carrying a heavy back pack full of essential things and then putting it down for a moment.  You know you need to pick it back up again but enjoy the break on your back muscles.

The other day, I was amongst a group of colleagues discussing work life and talking some mild business when it happened again.

That moment.

I was witnessing something I sensed was happening more and more in social circles (even in non-social ones). Here’s how it goes:

Everyone is standing or sitting around, having conversation when someone decides it’s time to check his phone.  Maybe it vibrated.  Maybe it flashed or blinked up some sort of notification, but he checked it. Then, almost without fail, someone else in the group decides to do the same thing.  Only, they likely weren’t notified or “pinged” for any reason.  They were merely mimicking the action of a group member doing the same thing.  Or maybe they took his actions as an opportunity to break from normal social maladies to check their own device.

Only it doesn’t stop there.  A third person takes this opportunity to check their device. Then a fourth. Then a fifth.  Eventually everyone is checking their phones.  This experience is what I’m calling the “Digital Yawn”.

Witness a Digital Yawn in captured in action

Witness a Digital Yawn in captured in action

Originally, I wanted to call it something more viral like YouTuberculosis or iFluenza or maybe Cell Phonic Plague.  But since it usually isn’t a permanent or long lasting event, I had to search for something simpler but just as contagious like a yawn.

After some back and forth on ideas with colleague and blogger, Gina Dodd, I settled on the idea of a “Digital Yawn.”  It turns out this isn’t a completely unique idea as research would turn up this article from the Huffington Post mentioning the yawn parallel to cell phone usage back in 2012.  I think something more ubiquitous and device agnostic works better for these situations (especially with the proliferation of tablets in the world).

The second event that usually follows a group digital yawn is a moment of involuntary silence.  This is known as “Nocialization”, or the lack of socialization in a social setting. Again, research shows that this term has started to make appearances in Urban Dictionary in mid-2013.

While I think that as a society we are becoming more and more connected, that connection comes with a cost.  The cost of giving up face to face time with others.  The cost of being fully in the moment.

So what does all this mean?  Are we all becoming Digital Zombies?  Drawn to our phones like those walkers looking for brains? Are more and more of us are ambling about through the world slowly as we check our text messages?

No. I don’t think so. The reality is, like with any innovation or cultural nuance, society is quick to become addicted and latch on.  But eventually we level out.  Check out this picture Jacob Luevano shared with me on twitter.  Apparently there were paper zombies before there were digital ones and we have been nocializing for a while.


No, I think like anything else, this pendulum will swing to center. Becoming aware of these social (or non-social) situations is the first step in balancing out our lives.  So the next time you are in a crowd of friends or trapped in an elevator with a bunch of strangers, resist the temptation to grab for that device and check on it.

Instead, lean back, breathe in the air, and smile.  You are now a member of a new movement.  We are battling the digital walking dead one person at a time. The apocalypse may come one day, but with all of your help, we can at least enjoy each other’s conversation and company as the end comes while our phones vibrate and ping away unsuccessfully trying to gain our attention.

The Best App For Monitoring Students

About a year ago, we decided after much input to open up YouTube Safe Search for students.  While there can be a lot of mind-numbing videos about squirrels on jet-skis, there is also a large amount of instructional content on there.  Want to learn how to do Photoshop?  Or maybe just the right way to carve a turkey? It’s all on there.

Being a 1:1 iPad school district means that anything we enable on the filter side, pretty much goes out to all students since it’s all at their finger tips.  It’s taken some time for teachers to adjust to this new student-centered focused on learning versus the teacher as “disseminator of all information” model.  One thing we’ve noticed throughout this initiative is that a lecture-based, teacher at the front, method of instruction lends itself to more distraction and less educational use of the devices.  As teachers have shifted the knowledge to the students, distraction has decreased and learning with iPads as tools has increased.  This may seem like a simple enough switch, but we are asking some of the best and brightest teachers to change everything they have been doing the past 20-25 years successfully. Which brings me to last January and the opening of YouTube.

Ten full minutes after announcing that YouTube would be open for students, I received the following email: (Name omitted)

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.19.37 AM


I knew the sender of this email very well and for the sake of this article we’ll just refer to him as Jim.  Being a very accomplished teacher, I realized the worry that Jim had with all the distraction and possible off-task behavior.  I had a list of apps that allow some sort of screen-sheltered management.  Apps like Nearpod or “Focus” by JAMF allow some form of screen control and embedded lock-down.  My gut reaction was to seek out one of these apps as a way to help this him with his teaching.  Knowing Jim well though, I decided on a different approach and response:

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.19.44 AM


I made sure to include the all important smiley face on my response so that Jim knew I was being somewhat tongue-in-cheek but also sincere when it came to thinking about shifting the pedagogical practice he was employing. I later regretted not adding the statement that you can also use your “iMouth” to enforce restrictions.


The Infamous “2Eyes” app

While this was done to spark thinking and hopefully garner a bit of a laugh, the overall message has had some affect, even outside of Jim’s classroom.  I mentioned this to some colleagues shortly after this and word spread about the “2Eyes” app.  Before I knew it, people were actually sending me messages asking what the 2 Eyes app was because they couldn’t find it in the app store.  In fact, Jim even responded with “I know that Carl. In fact, any teacher worth their salt knows that.  It’s just that…this is hard!  Having all this distraction pulls their attention away from what I’m trying to teach them.”

We ended the email exchange and opted for a face to face conversation, at which point I offered some assistance.  While I couldn’t ask him to change his entire pedagogical practice, I made him a  promise to work with him on changing some of what he’s currently doing to a more student-centered approach.  A month later, Jim invited me into the classroom to watch an interactive lesson using formative assessment and Socrative.  While this wasn’t a complete shift to student-driven learning, it was a step in the right direction and helped solve two issues:

1. Students felt much more empowered and more engaged in the class and lesson. When I informally asked them what they thought of this new approach many mentioned it made learning fun again.  Some said that normally (even without an iPad), they would just check out and day-dream while the teacher asked the kids questions.  Now they felt like they needed to participate to be a part of the class.

2. The teacher also left feeling empowered.  Jim was able to walk around the room and send out the questions via the app and watch and listen as kids responded.  He was able to instantly show the class data on the screen and have discussion about which points the group did poorly on.  He was able to focus his direct instruction on those weaker areas in future lessons.

The moral of this story is that changing in teaching practice doesn’t happen overnight. You can put new devices in the hands of kids, but without some adjustments by the instructors, they are little more than expensive eReaders. I applaud teachers like Jim who have the courage to reach out and admit that this is hard.  His original email was a call for help and I could have taken the easy way out by just giving him some screen-controlling app and been on my merry way.

That would have benefitted me in terms of time and energy saved from having to work with him on those changes.  It would have benefitted Jim because he could have had a quick fix for teaching the kids.  There’s one group though that wouldn’t have benefitted, those students in Jim’s class.  They are the reason we are all here and sometimes it means taking the more difficult road if it’s for the betterment of learning.

If you are a teacher or administrator reading this, you will experience this exact scenario if you haven’t already when it comes to a “mobile device initiative” or BYOD.   While it may seem like that easiest answer is the best answer, take a moment to think to yourself and ask the question: Is this beneficial to student learning?

Teachers Make Good DJs

My first gig

My first gig

On January 16th, 2014 I held a press conference to announce my retirement.    There comes a time in every person’s life when they know it’s time to move on.   I’ve seen some of the most memorable sports retirements and wanted mine to be modeled in the same vain.

Unlike those memorable speeches held in stadiums around the country, mine was held in my kitchen around the table. No microphones or press (unless you include the 3 precocious girls running around at the time).

It was time.

And so, with a heavy heart I told my wife that I was retiring from the DJ business.  Instead of tearful goodbyes and interview questions those athletes face, my exit interview was much more steeped in reality. My wife’s response was, “that’s great honey, can you change the baby’s diaper?”

From a career that had humble beginnings DJing a friend’s wedding as a favor in 2010 to the height of my career in 2012, I had a lot of joy in getting the crowd up and moving during a wedding.  I’m not blessed with much musical talent and I’m notorious for singing the wrong words to songs.  One thing I’ve always been able to do well is motivate an audience to get up and dance.

I realized something those last few wedding gigs – good teachers are essentially classroom DJs.

Think about it.

Performing at TCEA 2012

Performing at TCEA 2012

Your job as a teacher is to motivate the kids to learn.  The good ones know when things are going slow, when the crowd is starting to get bored and they change the song.  Sometimes, you even need to get out into the middle of the room and get the kids up and moving. I mean, if we didn’t do that, we could essentially be replaced by a really good Pandora station for learning.  Here are four traits that really good teachers and DJ’s share:


Just as there are classic songs that we play, there are classic lessons that teachers teach.   However, the same songs don’t always work for the same crowd.  If I tried to play some hip-hop at a predominately country wedding, I’d get a lot of listless, slack-jawed stares.  The same is true for the how we teach.  I used Google Docs with the Bride and Groom to request songs for their ceremony in advance.  This “formative assessment” told me a lot about their styles and tastes and I could tailor the music to fit their needs.  I see teachers doing more and more of this in classrooms as they change the direction of a lesson based on the crowd’s tastes.  Sometimes, you have to remix it, change the style and suit the interests of your audience.

Content -

One other thing I loved about DJing was discovering all the new music the “kids these days” were listening to. Keeping my material fresh and up to date was a big key to my success.  There’s nothing more embarrassing than playing MC Hammer’s 2 Legit 2 Quit to an empty dance floor.  As teachers, we also must make an effort to stay up to date.  The influx of technology and tools available on the web are infinite and sometimes mind-numbing.  However, using these fresh tools can keep your crowd more engaged and often will save you time in your day.

Pacing -

This one was a challenge for me early in my career.  I felt it was so important to keep people dancing non-stop for 4 hours that I never planned for breaks or mixing in slow songs (“drink-getters” we call those in the biz). A good DJ knows when to change things up by reading the audience. With the amount of content we are “forced” to get through in the classroom, it’s easy to put the petal to the metal for 180 days straight.  However, you’ll leave your students exhausted and drained if you went at that pace every day.  Instead, change it up a bit.  Have a “slow dance” from time to time to allow kids to catch their breath, reflect, and then get ready for more.

Participation -

Some of my most memorable moments of being a wedding DJ are when the crowd responds to a song.  (The Isley’s Brother’s “Shout” being the ultimate audience response song) .  Sometimes in the classroom there can be that magical moment where the kids are so engaged you can almost feel them learning together “out loud” as a group.  While you can do you best to anticipate this by judging your audience, adjusting your music and pacing, sometimes, you just have to let it go and let them take control. Pass the mic around and let them sing their rendition of “Sweet Caroline” so they can make those memories.

While I may be retiring in name, I’m not retiring in spirit.  My crowd has shifted from inebriated party-goers to teachers and administrators that are thirsty to learn.  My music is now the infusion of technology and dynamic learning in every day classroom life.  I still need to judge the crowd for interest, avoid the empty dance floors, and allow them time to get a drink every now and then.  So, in a way, this isn’t a retirement, it’s a melding of my previous career with my current one.  I’m teaching like a DJ.

And that is sweet music to my ears….even if I get the words wrong from time to time.

View from the DJ Booth - my last gig

View from the DJ Booth – my last gig




Social Media Diet: The Power of Community for Weight Loss

sfdddfdLast New Year’s I got on the scale and it said a number I wasn’t familiar with.  I was 12 pounds away from hitting the perfect bowling score and knew something had to happen.  I had experimented with various diets, challenges, etc, but they only seemed to work for the short term.  I looked around the web and the Austin area for some sort of group to join, but knew I also do best when facing some sort of competition. When the result of my search for a group quickly became futile, I decided to take action.

I started a Facebook group of friends with similar goals and made a list of rules.  The CenTex Weight Loss challenge was up and running with 15 people throwing $50 dollars into the pool with the top three “biggest losers” percentage-wise wunning a share of the prize pool.  It lasted 12 weeks and the results were amazing! The combination of competition and companionship via the Facebook group motivated me to lose 15% of my 288 pound frame. I was excited by the results but disturbed at the ending when the final 4 people (including myself) went on an unhealthy fast the last week to win 1st place.  (I finished third for the record with my sister-in-law winning 1st)

Out of 15 participants we lost a total of 285.4 pounds.  As incredible as that was, there were some other parts of the competition that didn’t sit well with me.  My sister (yes, the infamous Anita) actually lost 12% of her weight, but because of the rules, didn’t win a dime.  Others who felt like they didn’t have a chance at winning dropped out with a few weeks to go.  I wanted to design a competition that would keep everyone in it.  So a month later I started the “Summer 10 Challenge.”

The Summer 10 Challenge wasn’t a competition, it was a goal-driven challenge with 10% loss being the ultimate goal. This time 24-people joined the challenge including a few carry-overs from the Spring challenge. Again, the buy-in was $50 only this time you were guaranteed your money back if you lost 10% of your starting weight by the final weigh-in 12 weeks later.  As a bonus, everyone over the 10% line also won an even share of everyone else’s buy-in. With the competition element out of it and the parody that is summer schedules, I found myself less motivated.  I kept waiting to kick it into high gear and figured I could make 10% without any issue since I had lost 15% before. I was WAY wrong on that assumption.  Interestingly enough, even with more people in the competition, the average weight loss was no where near the spring.  We lost as a group 210 pounds and even more people ended up not participating whatsoever by about the half-way point.

The Summer 10 Challenge being a bust, I decided my days of running these were at an end.  I struggled getting weights from competitors and posting our weekly graph which I think affected the challenge and everyone’s motivation.  In the Fall, a fellow competitor offered to take the reigns and organize a Fall challenge.

We added some more tweaks to the Fall challenge to keep people involved.  We added a “5% clause” for competitors that lost 5% of their weight and remained active in the community, they would get half of their $50 back.  We extended the challenge from 12 weeks to 16 weeks so people could lose their 10% more efficiently and effectively.  We even put in a bonus 10% to whomever lost the most weight.  With 20 competitors, the tweaks seemed to work as we lost a higher average weight than the summer.  I did much better but still couldn’t motivate myself to get up to the 10% line.  It seems that direct competition is the biggest motivator for me when it comes to weight loss.  Here’s a chart of the results of all three challenges:


I’m sharing this story with you because, while the results were mixed, I still lost weight.  I ended the year down 40 pounds from my starting weight and had won a net total of $20 dollars. More importantly than that, 59 people took place in 3 competitions and lost a total of 692.4 pounds.  That’s almost the equivalent of losing this monster 700-pound iPod Dock. It proved to me that with a community of support and a little healthy competition, anyone can be motivated to get into better shape.  I also found tremendous success when I logged my exercise and weight in the MyFitnessPal app religiously.

With 30 pounds to go to my ultimate goal, I’m heading into a new challenge for 2014 (this one run by Summer 10 winner Jennifer Flood) that I hope will get me motivated to lose that remaining weight.  As we continued to struggle with drop-outs, she’s adding some “mini-challenges” throughout the competition to keep people on track.  While 10% is still the goal to winning your money back, she’s added a “Top 5″ group that wins more money based on ranking. She even through in a $25 “In It To WIN it” side-pot built specifically for competitive nuts like me that need that extra edge.   Here are a copy of the rules for anyone that wants to join (deadline Friday, January 10) or if you want to start your own group and don’t know where to start.

The challenge begins today and while I’m not certain what the future holds, I know that leveraging social media to create a community of common goals has had a powerful impact on my health.  Even though I didn’t “win” any of the challenges, I did win by getting in better shape. I hope this post inspires others to create their own groups using whatever social media means necessary and in turn, helps someone else “win” when it comes to personal health.


Before pic (with bad hair and glasses)


After pic – 40 pounds down!

Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2014

crystal-ballMy attempts at predictions last year had mixed results. However, failure has never stopped me from pressing forward so here goes my bold predictions that I’m sure will go wrong in 2014.  While these predictions are focused primarily in the Ed Tech realm, I will throw in a couple of wild cards just for giggles.

MOOCs rebound -

Those Massive Open Online Courses had been through the ringer in 2013  and like with many new ideas, there was some serious questioning about the validity of learning in a MOOC.   Feeling like I needed to be an informed person about the subject before judging it, I took my own MOOC on the social & health impacts of a post-zombie apocalypse society in a course based on the show The Walking Dead.  While the course was interesting to me, I can see that the less motivated might easily be lost in this online learning abyss. That said, anytime you can freely gain knowledge (like how to cure your own meat for the end of days) is a bonus.  I think they’ll continue to grow and expand especially as more credible universities create courses.

Textbooks become obsolete – 

Remember these are BOLD predictions!  Let me clarify a bit on this one. Textbook companies will continue to survive (in the case of the “Big 3“) and many will start to thrive (in the case of the open textbook market).  I see schools being the biggest reason why this change doesn’t happen right away.  There is a mindset that a textbook is required to get through the learning objectives for the year. Until that mindset changes, they won’t go away completely. However, I do think more and more districts are discovering that it might be more powerful to pay their own teachers to make a course/textbook than pay a company a 500% mark-up.

A new social media platform will take off with teens -

I go from one of the more bolder predictions to one of the “no duh” predictions.  Every year there seems tourl be a new space that teens and tweens flock to.   We know Facebook is as ancient as a 45 record to them, but we don’t know where they will end up.  Last year, SnapChat and Instagram were spaces they flocked to and in turn made “selfie” the word of the year.  This trend will likely continue and probably spill into more of the micro-video platforms like Vine.  However, if I’m going to be bold….I say MySpace makes a comeback and I’m being totally serious.  They re-branded themselves and made a snazzy iOS app which allows all the things teens love, an easy space to put stuff about themselves.

Wearable tech makes its way into the classroom -

Yes, the 2013 K-12 Horizon report put wearable technology, like Google’s Glass, on the “3-4 year” horizon.  Although, judging by how quickly trends are starting to take off in educational circles, I predict we’ll start hearing case studies about how Nike Fuel bands helped battle childhood obesity in the classroom or how Melon Headbands helped students with their ADHD.

Augmented Reality becomes reality -

Just like we can’t imagine a world without internet, augmented reality is quickly shifting from “nice to have” to a powerful tool we need. Last year, apps like Aurasma and ColAR made big splashes in the classroom.  I see this trend growing exponentially as more and more schools go with BYOD or 1:1 initiatives to get devices in students’ hands.  While I still think it’s a couple of years away, my dream app that I want invented would allow the teacher to hold up his/her device and “see” what the kids are thinking with thought bubble floating over their heads.  That could be both powerful and scary.

DZA image_edited-1My SXSW presentation on “Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse” will make someone sick -

While I don’t plan to have all the gore of a typical zombie movie in my presentation, I do plan to disseminate some scary information about our brains and our relationships with technology (all while in full zombie make-up of course).  This might prove troubling to some, so I’ll have a disclaimer for all of those attending the session -

“Warning: Graphic Content.  Some of the information presented here may be disturbing for some audience members.”

The classroom desk will truly die -

I got a lot of mileage on my post on “The Obituary of the Student Desk” last year.  It was inspired by visiting one of our new flexible classrooms that a third grade teacher was testing out.  After visiting a high school version of a similarly adaptable classroom, I realized learning no longer should be bound by an uncomfortable, immovable chair/desk combo.  My hope for 2014, is that students’ posteriors everywhere are given a break from those medieval torture devices of yesteryear.

My “Giving Up Google” for lent experiment will be the stuff of legends -

Last year, following an exchange with some teenage students about how they “don’t do email” anymore, I search_engine_marketing-e1338944845384decided that I would give up email for Lent.  While that experiment only lasted 19 days, it forced myself and others to think about all the different ways we communicate. Ultimately it failed because people couldn’t get in touch with me and while I wanted them to know why I was doing this, forcing them to give up email as well wasn’t an intended outcome. This year, I’m going to do something that should only affect me.  I’m giving up Google.  To clarify, I’m not giving up Gmail, Hangouts, or Google Drive, but the ability to search.  And to be sure I don’t cheat with another search engine like Bing or Alta Vista (does that even exist?), I’ll widen the challenge to include any search engine.  That’s right.  If I want information in those 40 days, I’ll have to either type in the URL of a specific site or “phone a friend” that knows the answer.  It’s like living in 1995 all over again.  Regardless if I make it or not, like the email challenge, I should have some interesting data about how dependent we have become on search engines.

Let the future begin!

Reviewing My 10 Ed Tech Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2013

Last December I decided to join the many prognosticators out there and try to predict what changes were ahead in the realm of educational technology. I made 10 bold predictions that I hoped would come to pass in 2013, but knew in reality were still too far out of reach.  In order to keep myself in check, I will now go over my predictions and how I think they turned out.

1. The “21st Century Skills” will be renamed something more appropriate and clever 

Outcome – Not yet

It appears that we are still holding onto this crutch phrase for another year.  I heard more references to “digital learning” and “immersive learning”, but it seems our default for technology related learning is still “21st Century Skills”.  That said, I see us using terms like “soft skills” much more often, like Tracy Clark‘s clever bingo card shows here: Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 2.05.14 PM


2. The Flipped Classroom will become commonplace 

Outcome – Still pending

While true flipping isn’t happening wide-spread, there seems to be an exponential increase of teachers using a hybrid approach to extending learning.  Flip-teaching advocates got a boost when flipper Todd Nelsoney was honored with 10 others at the White House as a Champion of Change.

3. The PC will make a comeback!

Outcome – WRONG

Ok, so in my original prediction, I threw this in there to see who was paying attention.  PC sales have now had 6 quarters of decrease in sales and shipments according to this Gartner study in October.

4. A Non-Apple tablet will rule them all -

Outcome – No, but the playing field is leveling

I’d say a non-tablet like Google’s Chromebook seem to be making the biggest dent in this space.  The Windows Surface tablet was given away to the first 10,000 attendees at ISTE and word on the street is they couldn’t give them all away.  Apple is still ahead, but there are many more choices out there now than those that start with a little “i”.

5. More districts will  realize there needs to be more  instructional technology support staff 

Outcome – Looking better

There has been a lot of movement in the educational/instructional technology support space for the better.  While this is purely anecdotal, it seems that there are more positions being created and opened up in districts around the US.  If I wanted to use a number, I’d say the amount of people asking me for the Eanes version of the Ed Tech Job description have tripled in the last year.  As devices become less technical to use, this will only continue to increase as teachers need support more with ideas for integration rather than technical challenges.

6. Someone will finally name their child “#” -

Outcome – TRUE (or a hoax)

I probably should have researched this one a little better before posting the prediction.  In late November of 2012 a couple  reportedly announced the birth of their daughter “Hashtag Jameson”.  While there is debate about whether or not this actually happened, it follows a trend.  A Parisian couple actually named their kid “Like” after the Facebook interaction in 2011. Next up for 2014….a child named “Selfie”.

7. We will finally break away from accountability ratings based on high-stakes assessment

Outcome – Still a ways to go

Here in Texas our plans for an alternative accountability system were shot down when HB 2824 was vetoed by our “forward thinking” Governor. However, there are many more national rumblings about a shift away from a one-size-decimates-all test even in the wake of Common Core’s PARRC assessment planning to be field tested next year.

8. There will be a record turnout (and heat) for ISTE in San Antonio in June

Outcome – False (and false…barely)

According to ISTE’s blog there were approximately 13,100 attendees for this year’s ISTE conference.  That would indicate a slight decline from the 13,212 attendees from San Diego the previous year.  My sub-prediction that iPadpalooza would increase did come true as our attendance more than doubled.  As for the record heat prediction, the hottest day in all of San Antonio happened on June 29th.  Unfortunately for this prediction, that was 2 days after all the vendors, mariachis, and Surface tablets had left the Henry B. Gonzalez convention center. (well…maybe not all the Surface tablets)

9. Internet Memes will become the hieroglyphics of our culture

Outcome – On track

Just days after posting these predictions, a professor from Kansas State University posted in the comments section that he is now teaching the “science of memetics” in his digital media course.

10. My “Giving up email for Lent” experiment will be an epic success

Outcome – Fail, but lessons learned

While the experiment only lasted for 19 days, I learned a great deal about how we communicate and how our kids communicate.  We are on the verge of a communication explosion.  One prediction already coming true is how all our other forms of communication are being monitored and monetized.  Keeping our youth educated on this will be an increasing challenge!

Well, that wraps up 2013.  Looks like I was pretty far off on some of my predictions and close in others. I’ve got my work cut out for me in predicting Ed Tech in 2014, especially as articles like this are already coming out.

One thing is for certain, the future is unpredictable.

11 Random Facts & Breaking My Own Rule

I have to admit, I’m honored to be connected to so many people in my PLN.  When this 11 Random facts thing (aka “Sunshine Nominations) started going around a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was a neat way of getting to know other things about your network than you might not of otherwise known.  The concept is simple: Tell 11-relatively unknown facts about yourself, then post 11-questions for 11 bloggers to answer.  One great problem to have with this project is that I’ve been “tagged” by multiple bloggers (#humblebrag)  so at this point, I’d have to do this 6 times to honor the tag.  Instead, I’m going to call out those that have tagged me, how I know them, and then answer a mix of my favorite questions they have asked.

1. I first got tagged by math wunderkind Cathy Yenca (@mathycathy) and realized this might be a serious thing.

2. Then, I got tagged first by Kristy Vincent (@bigpurplehat) but as she cyberstalks me, I immediately dismissed it. :)

3. A few days later, I got tagged by Dean Shareski (@shareski) and thought maybe I should take this more seriously as he’s a Canadian & a social media guru.

4. But a few minutes later, Amy Mayer (pronounced MAY-ER – @friedTechnology) tagged me, and as she’s friends with Kristy, I dismissed it again.

5. Then yesterday, fellow ADE Kyle Pearce (@MathletePearce) tagged me, so I had to take it serious again because he’s Canadian (see #3).

6. Finally, today, dear friend and self-designated “Wrecking ball” Joel Adkins (@mradkins) tagged me so I figured, I better do this ASAP to stop the sunshine.

So here goes.  First up, my 11 random facts

1. I hate numbered lists for blog posts. (see the title of this post)  Or numbered lists of any kind even though I try and avoid them, I’m guilty of doing them and even blogged about why you shouldn’t do them.

2. I went to UT as an Architectural Engineering major as it was a childhood dream of mine to be an architect.  Now, like George Constanza, I find myself wanting the title “Digital Learning Architect” just so my dreams can come true.

3. In between that major and my eventual major of elementary education, I majored in drama…for one semester.  (hard to believe, I know)

4. I’ve been on a not-so-secret mission to get my entire family caught up on the 21st century.  First it was getting my wife a  Facebook page, then my parents an iPad.

5. I have a phobia of feet.  I don’t like to look at them, talk about them or touch them.

6. Despite what people think, I don’t hate paper.  I just don’t like using it for the wrong reasons.

7. I have a pet peeve that I can’t order the same food as anyone else at the table in a restaurant.  As such, if I’m ordering last, I usually have to have several options in mind should someone else choose them.

8. Speaking of restaurants, I drink a lot of iced tea.  In fact, I set my average at 6 glasses and base my tip percentage on the over/under of that amount of refills.

9. I’ve had a life-long dream of playing in the World Series of Poker and have tried to play my way in since I can’t afford the $10K buy-in.

10. I have a fascination with survivalists and doomsday-preppers. It’s not healthy.

11. I’ve lost nearly 50lbs this year because of social media and will post those findings soon (just not in a numbered list!)

Ok, so now to the questions that need answers.  I’ll list my answers alongside who asked it -

1. How do you feel about pants? (Dean) – I find them utilitarian.  Fashion-wise, I vary between jeans and dockers.  However, going without pants is only acceptable when doing workshops in Hawaii.

2. What’s your favorite movie of all time? (Joel) – The Godfather

3. Proudest moment? (Cathy) – It happens everyday when I come home and my girls shout out “Daddy!! Daddy’s home!!”

4. What was your very first tweet? (Kristy) – “Ok, I’m going to try this twitter thing out”

5. What’s your embarrassing childhood nickname? (Amy) – With my last name, it’s not too hard to think of a bunch.  I was actually called “Mad Dog” when I was little,  because I had a hair trigger temper and my face would also turn bright red.

6. How did you come up with your Twitter/online name? (Amy) – MrHooker – It was available in 2007 and how I have been known by the thousands of youths I’ve taught over the years.

7. What was the last movie you saw in a theatre? (Dean) – posted this because of Dean’s spelling of “theatre” but also to say I saw the latest Hobbit and was a little disappointed. (this coming from someone who lives on a street called “Mordor”)

8. Funniest thing you ever said in front of a group of students/educators? (Cathy) –  Answer – [Censored] – but in reality, probably something to do with my last name….

9. What tweet would you leave in a time capsule for 50 years from now? (Kristy) – “My life is an open book that no one wants to read.”

10. You can snap your fingers and create an online tool that does whatever you want instantly. What does it do? (Amy) – I’ve actually blogged about this in 2012.  Would love a “Smart Refrigerator” that knows what’s inside of it, what’s almost empty, what’s about to expire, etc.  This weekend, my wife and I added that we’d love to be able to shout things at it to put on our shopping list. (think Google Glass) – “Ok Fridge – Out of milk!”

11. Who is your go-to concert experience? What band or artist do you have to see if they come to your town? (Joel) – Metallica, I try never to miss a show even though they’ve softened over the years.

Here are my 11 bloggers I’m nominating:

1. Greg Garner (classroom_tech) – because I know he hates these sort of things

2. Jake Duncan (@duncanbilingual)

3. Beth Holland(@brholland)

4. Brad McEachern (@bradmceachern)

5. Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08)

6. Felix Jacomino(@felixjacomino)

7. Sandy Kendell (@Edtechsandyk)

8. Carrie Ross (@msrossenglish)

9. Diane Doersch (@DoerDi)

10. Chris Parker (@kreyus)

11. my wild card here: Sir Ken Robinson (@sirkenrobinson) mostly because I want to see his answers.

Here are my 11 questions that need answers:

1. Who was your best boss EVER and why?

2. If you could go to any event in the world, what would it be and why?

3. Have you ever cried at a YouTube video? If so, which one?

4. What’s your most guilty pleasure?

5. What’s the biggest prize/money you’ve ever won?

6. What makes you nervous?

7. How do you explain your job to people?

8. What software/program needs to go away forever?

9. What is your secret super-power?

10. How many devices do you have in your home that connect to the internet?

11. What’s your proudest moment?

Please post your link to these answers in the comment section below so others can enjoy!!

Taking a Dip in the SAMR Swimming Pool

Dr. Ruben Puentadura in Boston - Nov 2013

Dr. Ruben Puentedura in Boston – Nov 2013

I recently got to watch the SAMR master himself, Dr. Ruben Puentedura take the stage at iPad Summit Boston.  His SAMR model research is based on years of observing one-to-one technology integration in Maine’s Student Laptop initiative (now called MLTI as we love acronyms in education).  At it’s simplest form, the SAMR model states that when you introduce technology to an environment, like a classroom, generally the first thing the user will do is figure out a way to use technology as a Substitute for an existing task.  As you “climb up the SAMR ladder” you see a shift of pedagogical practice from teacher-centered to student-driven.  This is exemplified by the “R” in SAMR which stands for Redefinition – or, simply put, when technology allows for a creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

SAMR Ladder

SAMR “Ladder” Model

When researching our own 1:1, I kept running into this research and the more I delved into it, the more I understood and realized that in reality, it’s not a ladder at all that we are trying to climb, but something a little more nebulous and fluid.  The problem with the “ladder” visual is  teachers may think they have accomplished all they need to once they reach the “R” in SAMR and don’t know what to do next. This part of the visual really troubled me when talking with parents, teachers and administrators. Enter our middle school Ed Tech, Greg Garner (@classroom_tech).  His approach to SAMR was simple: It isn’t a ladder that we should try to climb, but instead a pool that we need to be swimming in.

I loved his analogy because I felt it provided a better reality of what happens with SAMR in a classroom on a day-to-day basis. It even inspired me to make this clever graphic (see below).

So with full credit to Greg, here’s a quick overview of what I think it means to swim in the SAMR Swimming Pool:

Enhancement Shallow End -

You have to be comfortable wading in the water before you can venture into the deep.  The ideas behind Substitution and Augmentation are that you are swimming in the pool of technology integration, but you don’t have to wear yourself out treading water. As a teacher, you know you can always just stand up and breathe.  These tasks are simply technological extensions of your everyday teaching and if things get really messy, you can always step out of the pool and still get a majority of your goals accomplished.  Sure, it won’t be as stimulating or engaging, but learning and traditional teaching can still happen around the edges. (just NO running!)

Similarly, like when entering a pool that’s not at the ideal temperature, teachers sometimes need to walk in slowly, allowing their bodies to adjust to this shift.  Some can just jump right in, knowing their bodies will eventually adjust, and at the same time knowing they can just stand up and jump out if they need to.  Others need time, going in step by step slowly and at times gasping when their body enters the depths of new pedagogical practice.

This idea of touching their toe in the water of technology integration is not new.  A majority of our teachers want to test the water several times before fully submerging in it.  If something should go wrong and they get water up their nose, it could be weeks before they are comfortable venturing back in.  Eventually, they will get comfortable wading in the shallow end and want to venture out past the rope into the depths beyond basic technology integration.

Transformative Deep End – 

Once you cross the rope, you will not be able to stand up (except maybe hopping on your tiptoes for  a little while).  Someone venturing into this end of the pool, must have confidence in their teaching and know that they can tread water at times, but when things are going right and redefinition is happening, it’s almost like you can walk on water.

This doesn’t happen everyday, but without the practice of stumbling around in the shallow end of the pool, teachers can drown by trying to go into the deep end too quickly. They need to think about the purpose of swimming there.  Some may decide to jump off the diving board straight into the deep end and learn how to integrate from day one with a particular learning objective.  Others, elect to take swimming lessons (Professional Development) and use the occasional swim noodle (instructional technology integrators) to help them stay afloat.   In addition, they will want to make sure that a lifeguard (Principal) is on hand should they begin to really struggle and possibly blow the whistle when they need to take a break.

The bottom line is without time, practice, support, and motivation, rarely would a teacher elect to venture into that deep end of SAMR.  The amazing thing is, once a teacher does enter that realm, they may realize that they aren’t swimming alone.  Swimming in the transformative deep end doesn’t mean the students are on the side of the pool cheering you on. It means they are in the pool with you – working, collaborating, problem-solving, and creating their future with you at their side.



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