My 2013 Edublog Award Noms #eddies13

Awards_350px_02-1dcdiipSo, I know I’m doing this with about 15 minutes to spare, but I really do want to thank those that influence my life via blogs and social media.  I’m hoping this makes it under the wire, but more importantly, I hope these folks know how much I appreciate the time and energy they put into sharing.

2013 Edublog Award Nominees:

Best individual blog: The History 2.0 Classroom - Greg Kulowiec is not only a founding member of the AppSmash Fight Club, but he also knows a thing or two about tech integration, especially when it comes to History.

Best group blog: Edudemic - I had the honor of blogging for Edudemic this year and really felt the pressure to step up my blogging game. Their articles are always clear, concise and timely.

Best new blog: Bobcat blog - Bridgepoint elementary’s blog is a power house of Ed Tech integration ideas, app reviews, and great take-aways for elementary teachers.

Best class blog: Mrs. Kriese’s Class Blog - Mrs. Kriese has been tearing up the blog world, especially in the last few months.  She has all of her students blogging and has really shown a light on the classroom blog in our district.

Best student blog: Andrew Tate - iCrazyTate - Andrew started the year on fire, blogging about apps and different ideas about Ed Tech.  He left our district to attend a rival district last year and posted a recent post about his experience without iPads in schools (having just left a 1:1 school for one without devices).

Best ed tech/resource sharing blog: TechChef4u - Always a wealth of knowledge and resources when it comes to ed tech integration and tools for the classroom teacher it’s apparent that Lisa Johnson never sleeps….And now she’s selling “up-cycled” geek jewelry?!? Seriously??!?

Best teacher blog: MathyCathy’s Blog - A wizard of a math teacher and fellow ADE, Cathy always finds clever ways to make her math lessons, life lessons for kids.  And she’s a Thinglink junkie like Lisa.

Best library/librarian blog: Not So Distant Future – Carolyn Foote is not only an amazing librarian, she was also just named one of the nations “10 Connected Educators” and honored at the White House.

Best administrator blog: Speed of Creativity – Wesley Fryer – A great leader and blogger that I’m finally glad I got to meet in “3D” this year.  (we both were presenting at Mobile2013)

Most influential blog post of the year: For me, it would have to be the 20 Things all Great Organizational leaders Do.  Simple and to the point by the self-proclaimed “Leadership Freak”

Best individual tweeter: Sean Junkins – @sjunkins – There is a not-so-understated dark humor to Sean’s tweets.  When I met him in person, he didn’t disappoint as he proceeded to tweet out pictures of the backs of famous tweeters heads.

Best twitter hashtag: #txed – I have a soft-spot in my heart for this hashtag started by some great Texas educators.  They meet on Wednesday nights at 8:30 CST, and I always go back and follow the stream if I miss it do to one of my many children not going to sleep.

Best free web tool:  Todaysmeet.com – An “oldie” but a goodie.  It’s been around for almost 2 years now, but I still find it as my go-to tool when you don’t know what wireless will be like or what devices students/teachers may have.

Best educational use of audio/video/visual/podcast – iVengers Radio! (hey a little shameless self-promotion, now if only I could get those published at a more timely fashion….)

Best educational wiki – Genius Hour Wiki – I’m admittedly intrigued by the Genius hour movement, and will follow this closely.

Best open PD/unconference/webinar series – Love the free webinars that EdTechTeacher puts out there.  Lots of great free content to be had with oodles of archives for you to peruse.

Best educational use of a social network: Google Hangouts – They keep adding more and more features, including built-in polling and the ability to record straight to the web via hangouts on Air.  Collaborating in the future just got easier.

Best mobile app: Explain Everything - the brainchild of Reshan Richards that keeps getting better and better (I even saw a sneak peek at the new light saber add-ons….)  A must have for any prospective member of the AppSmash Fight club.

Lifetime achievement: Diane Ravitch – She continues to fight for what is right in education and blogs with an edge.

The Power of Social Media for Good: #ATXFloods

A look at the street a couple of days after the flood.

A look at the street a couple of days after the flood.

“We lost everything Carl. It’s all gone…but at least we still have each other.”

Those chilling words were spoken on the phone to me on the morning of October 31st by my dear friend John Casarez. This Halloween morning had been an unsettling one for the people of southeast Austin as the rains that had come in the night before had not subsided and were dumping rain by the gallons into Onion Creek.

My drive into work had been eventful that morning.  A couple of short-cuts to get around flooded roads had been an inconvenience, but I was happy to see that everything seemed to be ok around my fair city.  That all changed when I opened up tweetdeck on my computer and entered a search column for “#ATXfloods”.

While I was catching up on emails on one screen, something caught my eye on the twitter stream.  A picture of a neighborhood that looked very familiar.  It was John’s neighborhood.  Quickly I texted John to ask him if he was alright.  I wasn’t expecting it, but he called back right away.

“I’ve lost Bri and Junior. The last time I spoke to them was 5 am and Sabrina said Junior was having a hard time keeping his head above water.  I told them to get out.  Now I can’t get in touch with her.”  That was around 8:00 am and I could here the fear and helplessness in his voice. I didn’t know what I could do to help.  It was paralyzing for me so I could only imagine what John was going through.

Using social media as my tool, I DM’d a couple of reporters that were in there area.  I relayed John’s story to them in hopes that they could get a boat out to his house quickly.  A few hours later, I finally got the call from John that they had been found and were safe with those chilling words in my intro.  He sent this text the following day:

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My wife and I were relieved that John and his family were ok, but knew that the aftermath and recovery would be the hardest part for them.  Rather than passively offering the suggestion of “let us know if you need help” we decided to act.

I did some research and came across a site called YouCaring.com that is a simple way for people to donate money to a cause or those in need.  Then, I used VolunteerSpot to set up a site for people to donate furniture items.  Finally, I posted all this information on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to get the word out there.

The response has been extremely humbling.  Instantly people were retweeting and sharing the story of Casarez family all over social media.  Posting to the #ATXFloods hashtag brought it to the attention to others outside my network and it was immediately picked up by a group coordinating help.

Donations started coming in from all over the United States.  My friend Hank Thiele in Chicago, who had never even met them, passed over $50 bucks.  Gail Ross-McBride from Boston donated $20.  George Kershaw (someone I only know through Fantasy football and have never met in person) donated $50.  You get the idea. Over the course of the last two weeks since we’ve starting the YouCaring page for John and Sabrina, we’ve raised over $4,700 dollars and hope to hit our goal of $10,000 by this Christmas.

Furniture collection was also incredible. In driving around last Saturday with John picking up random furniture from all over Austin, we were floored by the ways people had heard about John’s situation.  One couple saw the tweet on the #ATXFloods site and had decided she could donate her TV and computer desk to the cause.  When we arrived at the porch of one donor, there were items collected from many others in the neighborhood including cash, gift cards and even some toys for Junior.  Apparently, they had set up a Google Group in their neighborhood to get people from all over to donate items to the family.

This past week I was able to cut a check to the Casarez family for the first $4,000 collected. They will use this money to buy new clothes, shoes and hopefully get a down payment on a new home.  John and his family are extremely moved and amazed at the support of people they haven’t even met.  In all the chaos of their lives, they shared with me that this support has given them hope and helped them keep their heads up and stay positive.  While this has been a horrific time in their lives and seemingly difficult to overcome, the power of social media and kindness of strangers has lifted their spirits and let the sun break through the clouds of their day to day lives.

So often we hear just the bad about social media.  Kids getting into trouble.  Celebrities or sports stars saying things they shouldn’t.  While I always felt in my heart of hearts that there is a lot of good in using a tool like Twitter, it wasn’t until this month that I actually saw it in a tangible way.

The Casarez family will recover from this but not because of my help.

They will recover because of you.

Want to help them get to their goal? Click here to donate.  If each of my followers donate $1 we’ll hit our goal!  Let’s unleash the power of social media for good and you too can be a part of this movement!

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Being Digitally Naked – Are We Too Connected?

The Famous Sign

You ever have that heart-stopping feeling of fright when you leave the house without your phone? What about that feeling of exposure when you are the dentist office and realize you don’t have your favorite tablet to help you pass the time while catching up on episodes of Orange is the New Black?  Isn’t amazing how quickly we’ve become attached to our devices?  They’ve become more than an accessory, they’ve become part of our clothes.  You wouldn’t leave the house without clothes on would you?

In September, I attended the Mobile 2013 Experience in Arizona and was faced with quite a conundrum.  My phone was about to die and we were heading into the networking reception part of the event.  I didn’t want to carry an iPad or laptop around with me, but didn’t want to be disconnected.  It dawned on me the irony that I was about to head into a networking event and felt the need the to carry my phone with me to stay connected. Much like Linus of Peanuts fame, my iPhone is my security blanket.    I figured I had two options at that point – Either stay in my room and communicate and connect digitally with folks or actually go into the event without my device.

I decided take the plunge and leave my room without my “clothes” on.  Something amazing happened during my couple of hours of wandering around “digitally naked.”

No one seemed to notice.

I didn’t get any embarrassing looks from people at the event despite the noticeable nervous discomfort on my face.  Not only was anyone aware of my digital nudity, but some other strange things started to happen while I skinny-dipped around the room:

The “uncomfortable pause” became really uncomfortable

We’ve become uncomfortable with the uncomfortable pause (pretty meta don’t you think?).  Louis CK had a brilliant rant on a recent Conan appearance about the very reason we can’t do this even when we are ALONE.  I realized how hard it was to stand there and look around a room without my blanket to save me.  Now I can see where thumb-twiddling became all the rage in the 19th century! Only now we have thumb-texting to past the time.   After virtual streaking through the room and kicking the invisible dirt on the carpet, I realized what I had to do next.

I had to talk to people

I consider myself a very social, extroverted person.  That said, there’s still something uncomfortable about going into a crowd of strangers and engaging in conversation.  Luckily for me, while I was digitally naked, my social-media presence made it easier to make connections with people in “3D”.   Even if I couldn’t show a stranger the clever ecard or cat video from the web on my phone, I could tell them a story about it and laugh at my own inside jokes.  While this was awkward at first, I harkened back to my pre-Smartphone days to pull in some age-old tricks like eye contact and active listening to make it go smoother.   And whenever that didn’t work, I just verbalized “hashtag”* to get my geeky joke across. (*Timberlake, J & Fallon J, 2013)

I experienced “phantom vibration”

Me and my security blanket

Me and my security iBlanket #LinusChat

Crazy as it may sound, I actually felt my leg vibrate right where my phone would normally be in my pocket.  The eerie part about it was that it felt exactly like the amount of pressure and length a “text vibration” would feel like.  Imagine my embarrassment when I would reach down to my empty pocket quickly and discover there isn’t anything there.  I called it a phantom vibration as it reminded me of the stories of people who had lost a limb yet still “felt” its existence.  This happened more often than I would comfortably admit here, but lets just say I’m pretty sure people at this event saw me as some either a crazy person swatting invisible bugs off his leg or a pseudo-athlete with a reoccurring quadriceps cramp.

I felt exposed and liberated

There was something liberating about not having to check my phone every 12 seconds.  It took some getting used to, don’t get me wrong. At one point I thought I was having a panic attack, which when coupled with my phantom leg slapping probably didn’t help with my approachability.  That said, I almost felt as though reality got a little bit brighter when I didn’t have that tiny screen staring back up at me every so often.

Colors seemed more vibrant.

Smells seemed more acute.

I had gone from panic attack to a euphoric state of being.  I felt myself almost floating around the room.

The world didn’t end 

When I finally did return back to my room where my now fully-charged phone awaited, I was astonished to see that EVERYTHING was ok.  I had told my family what I was doing before heading out of the room and quickly alerted them to my safe return to put their minds at ease.  The district didn’t suffer from any major outages or set-backs.  Sure, I may have missed a couple of emails and tweets, but nothing very pressing.  The world can survive without me being connected to it!

What does all this mean?  Well, you might be saying to yourself, Carl is way too connected.  You’d have a point there.  I mean the very fact that I’m blogging about this is a testament to that need for digital clothing.   However, this brief digital skinny dip taught me something else.  That I can survive, albeit briefly, without that constant connection.

When I returned home after that pilgrimage to the desert of Arizona, I decided that being digitally naked meant being MORE connected with those around me physically.  And when staring down at those 3 little cherubic faces at home, I realized that I’d much rather have them stare back up at me than that tiny screen.

What am I missing out on here?

What am I missing out on here? (p.s. – They are posing for me in this pic, but is it that far-fetched?)

Editor’s Note: October is Connected Educator’s Month

Why Your 1:1 Deployment Will Fail

keep-calm-and-prepare-to-fail-1So your district or school is planning or in the process of implementing some sort of 1:1 device initiative.  Seeing as these are all the rage, seems like it’s a given that your deployment will be a smashing success, right?  Here’s the truth….

…it will fail.

It may not be monumental failure, but parts of your deployment will not work.  Whether it be the MDM that manages them or the rising stack of parent concerns, you will be faced with a choice as a district: retreat or carry on.  In the wake of the LAUSD story and the recent Ft. Bend ISD news here in Texas about ‘re-evaluating’ their deployments, I thought it’d be a good time to reflect on why some deployments work and some don’t work.  I’ll let you know that our deployment was far from flawless, as I’ve listed here, but we had tools in place to overcome issues before they became an “Implementation Killer”.

The Importance of Buy-In

A leader trying to make a splash in student learning can sometimes forget one of the most simple steps — community buy-in.  While giving a device can be a transformative learning experience, without some initial buy-in from teacher leaders and community members, it will ultimately fail.  This buy-in is the foundation by which all programs succeed.  Having a strong foundation based on community buy-in means being able to weather the storm of students breaking restrictions or teachers being frustrated by initial classroom distraction.  In our district we held 27 different meetings/presentations to staff and the community to talk about the program and its expectations over the course of the first couple of years.

Going too Fast

Technology changes by the milli-second, so there is a sense of urgency to go from pilot to full-fledged implementation overnight.  This is a natural instinct, especially from those wanting to make sure that all students are on the same model of device.  Unless your district is on the small-side (less than 1000 students), figure on it taking 2-3 years before you have widespread effective implementation.  Can you deploy all the devices in one year?  Sure, but be prepared for multiple fires to put out and for a very basic level of integration of the devices in the classroom.  It’s much easier to focus you attention on smaller scenarios and fan the flames of its success into a larger implementation, rather than just have the equivalent of widespread panic throughout your buildings due to lack of support, direction and successful pilot scenarios.

Focusing on the Device

Being a part of an “iPad 1:1″ means there’s immediately a label and focus on the device.  If you make your program centered around the type of device you are getting, be it an android or a Chromebook, and not around the “how and why” you are doing the 1:1, you’ll make your program obsolete before it gets going. Focus your 1:1 on district goals and missions with intentional omission of what type of device you’ll use to achieve this transformative learning.  By NOT focusing on a device, you can be nimble with future implementations and not pigeon-hole yourself into one type of device.  It takes lots of different tools/resources to achieve a higher-level of student-driven learning.

Not Letting Instruction Guide Your Pilot 

Everyone is under a time crunch.  The tech department’s main job is to optimize the way devices are deployed.  This usually means that it’ll be disruptive to the classroom in some form or fashion.   If you base your initial deployment on location, demographics, or ease of rollout on the technology department, you’ll have some serious problems.  Rather than do that, focus your initial pilot on those teams or grade levels that are the most ready and open to change.  Not only will you likely have more successes to share from this group of early adopters, they will also be much more understanding when certain things don’t work. Much like the buy-in comment above, they will also be the ones that ultimately decide whether district-wide expansion is a “Must” or just a “nice to have” for all other grade levels.  Choose this group wisely….

failure quote copy

Drive-by Training

Many districts that deploy a certain device to a group also hire built-in trainers from the company that supplied the device.  While this is better than nothing, this training is usually focused on how to use the device technically with a couple of classroom examples thrown into the mix if you are lucky.  A deeper understanding of classroom integration is needed (and repeated).  This doesn’t happen overnight or over the course of a 2-day training seminar.  Districts wanting to reach those lofty goals of transforming instruction need to think about investing in either continual outsourced training from a trusted company (ideally one not tied to a particular device) or hiring staff full-time to provide just-in-time training throughout the year.  One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed my work with EdTechTeacher is that they are focused on this kind of transformational integration in their workshop offerings to schools that can’t afford a full-time person.  In my district, I’m fortunate enough to have a great team of “iVengers” to provide this, but again, where many districts go wrong is mentality that just dropping the devices into classrooms will make magic happen.  These are a gift with a tail and it’s time we made it a priority to pay for that tail.

Investing in Parents 

Parents can be an X-factor in any deployment.  They can either be supportive or drive your deployment into the ground by strumming up enough negative support.  It’s important to realize that these devices are not only disruptive to learning in the classroom but also to the rules and guidelines set-up in the home.  While many students that take these devices home likely have their own device, supplying a device from the district means that it doesn’t belong to the family and some parents may feel uncomfortable putting rules and restrictions on this device.  It’s imperative that parents have options to control these devices in some format while under their roof.  This can be as simple as not letting little Junior install his own apps or requiring the student complete a list of choirs prior to having the WiFi password for the day.  As painful as it can be at the moment, some of the most valuable conversations I’ve had during our deployment has come from parents not pleased with what we were doing initially.   Giving them the digital tools and reinforcing their ability to “be a parent” go a long way in turning those most ardent critics into supporters of your program.  In many cases, the conversations around digital wellness need to be happening before their child goes off to college.  Your 1:1 deployment just brought that necessity to light so both the school and the parents should take advantage of the opportunity to dialogue with students on what’s right or wrong in the digital world.

giftoftimeHave Patience and Give the Gift of Time

If you are spearheading a 1:1 deployment or a teacher on the leading edge of it, you might be frustrated by the lack of others to get on the bus right away.  In order to make the shift to a student-centered instructional model with the device and teacher supporting the learning, it takes time and patience.  In some cases you are dealing with accomplished teachers that have been highly successful with they way they have been teaching for the past 30 some odd years. This new disruption could be an affront to their pedagogical ideals if they weren’t involved in the process (see first point on buy-in).   While you’ll always have early adopters and innovators with a new device, it’s getting the next group on board that will create a tipping point of momentum towards your goals. This group of accomplished teachers makes up about 80% of your staff and for them, they need to see how this technology will not only make their lives easier, but also will make learning more meaningful for students.  In some cases, this may only take one “aha” moment.  In the case of the skeptical teacher it could take months or years to convince them there might be a better way. At any rate, have patience and give staff time together to plan and share their integration strategies.  Giving the gift of time (in our case common-planning periods) for a team of teachers allows them freedom to think and try out new ideas in a safe environment.   Some of the most powerful teaching and learning strategies come from this informal get togethers.  If at all possible, build this time into the schedule of those in your pilot or full deployment.  It’ll be a gift that keeps on giving.

Bottom line – If you follow all this advice, will parts of your deployment still fail?  Yes.  There’s no way to account for every single variable that will come your way on this adventure.  However, if you have invested in these areas before, during and after deployment, you’ll find that your recovery from little failures are not only possible, you’ll become a much stronger team of teachers and learners as a result of it.

Editor’s Note: For those of you that enjoyed this post, please check out its companion post on 7 Ways to Sabotage a Device Initiative posted in Edudemic. 

Leap Motion: My Non-Minority Report

After months of waiting and anticipation, my Leap Motion finally arrived last week.   I was eager to get started “playing” with it and see if it really is as cool as their promo video makes it out to be and what educational benefits it might have.  What follows is my review of their product and some ideas for potential educational use.

It's finally here!

It’s finally here!

Packaging, Presentation and Set-up: 

From the get go, the box and packaging has a very “Apple” feel to it.  It’s a simple white box with the Leap controller reflected on the cover.  Inside, you’ll discover the Leap controller, two USB cords of different lengths and a simple getting started guide.  The sticker on the Leap controller advises you to go to a set-up site first and download the driver for your computer and the AirSpace store.  This is the app store for the device and it surprisingly already has quite a few apps in there.  Following a brief set-up and orientation, the Leap is configured and ready to go in a matter of minutes.

Early Glitches and Perceptions:

Running through the orientation on my Macbook Air didn’t seem to cause many problems.  I noticed once I launched it my screen resolution changed,(much like when you plug in an A/V adapter)  but didn’t think much about it.  As I was in a meeting when I set this up, I tried not to draw much attention to myself, but I found that next to impossible.  Some people across the room thought I was waving and pointing at them.  Another person asked if I was feeling ok because it looked like I was conducting an invisible orchestra with music in my head.  I could tell right away that the very act of physical motion with this device is new and distracting to others around the room.  Sitting in a board meeting, I can’t imagine my Superintendent using this to look at her computer as it might appear like she’s swatting at invisible gnats.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 2.57.29 PM

Orientating my hands on the screen

Besides the physical nuances, I noticed some glitches when I installed it on my 27″ iMac.  The orientation didn’t seem to go well and it was very jerky, almost like it was having a hard time processing.  I shut down all other programs and had the same issue, but discovered that my screen resolution was causing problems.  I changed it to 1920X1080 and it started working with little to no issues.  Unlike my MacBook, my iMac didn’t detect and automatically change resolution.  I’m guessing those folks with PCs and Macs will need to adjust this a bit before really taking off with it.

AirSpace Store:

Being a cheapskate when it comes to apps, I created my AirSpace account and immediately dove into the Free App section.   As of this post there were 28 free apps in the AirSpace store. The store seemed evenly split when it came apps for various platforms (78 for MacOS and 82 for Windows) although I was disappointed to see there were no Android or iOS options. One glitch I noticed on my iMac was the lack of icons in the AirSpace program.  I could see the names of the apps I had downloaded but no icons for them. (they do appear on my MacBook which is strange)

Games:

While the AirSpace program (which is downloaded on your computer before use) had some pre-installed apps, I decided to try out a few freebies too.  Boom Ball was by far the most interactive and least glitchy.  Imagine the 80′s game “Breakout” only with a 3D element and you use your finger at various angles to control where the ball will go next.  Another game I tried was Roshambo.  Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is: Rock-paper-scissors with a computer generated contestant (in this case a pirate in a bar it would seem). Being a new store, they have “Free App Fridays” where an app will go free for 24 hours on Fridays.  Since there are only so many apps, I could probably get most of the apps in the next few months for free.

Tools:

While the games were interesting I also wanted to see what kind of tools and learning apps were available.  The Molecules and CyberScience 3D app have some serious potential, especially for kinesthetic learners.  Imagine being able to move an item around with your hands?  It’s almost like we are living in the Minority Report!

One tool that I was most interested in, was the most basic: Touchless for Mac.  This allows me to turn my finger into a mouse.  I know, it doesn’t sound that exciting, but I wondered how this could help my productivity by being able to move windows out of the way and open and close things without the cumbersome need to move a mouse around.  Unfortunately, this was not as great as I thought at first as it does take quite a bit of time to get use to moving your finger around (keeping your hand very still is the key).  Alas, my dreams for Minority Report like control will have to wait, as I wasn’t able to “grab” and move windows around or zoom in and out with this tool.

Pros & Cons:

Cons: As this was a first generation device, I knew there would be some negatives with being the first of its kind.  Here are a few items that I hope will improve with future generations:

  • General glitches and the need to be used at certain screen resolutions.
  • Not a lot of choices in the App store, but I know this is just starting.
  • The device is limited to just two platforms for use.  I’m hoping they think to expand that in the future.
  • The games were fun but I was hoping for more in the educational realm, but I imagine that will expand as well.  One major thing I wish was different was the fact that it connects via usb.  I was hopeful it would have a bluetooth connection so I could really stretch the limits of where I’m using it.  There might still be a way to rig that, but I’m thinking they should make second generation bluetooth capable. (like my keyboard and mouse)

Pros: Being the first of its kind does have merit.  Here are a few items I particularly like:

  • Setup is very easy.  Just launch the site, download the necessary software and the orientation starts. 
  • The AirSpace store is web-based, has a clean design and very easy to navigate.
  • The early apps really highlight the potential of the device.  Between the games and the educational apps, there is some serious creative potential here and you feel it when you interact with the various apps.
  • It’s new.  I know that seems cheesy, but the fact that I’m doing something different, moving things with my hands, it feels different and exciting.  That newness will wear off which is why the app store needs to continue to grow.

Overall Experience:

I will definitely say that the interaction with the Leap Motion is the closest I’ve ever come to the feeling I had when I first interacted with the iPad.  That sci-fi feeling and the newness of maneuvering items through the air around your computer without a mouse, keyboard or screen-touch is pretty unique.   I think the potential educational benefits of this device are great, assuming the address some of the cons listed.  Being in a 1:1 environment, it would be very strange to walk into a classroom with each kid using this device.  It would look like some weird combination of Grease’s hand-jive and “the wave”, but eventually I can really see the kinesthetic learner loving this.  We ask our kids to sit in the same spot for hours on end, and this could really open up the mind through movement.  The potential for this device and the many knock-offs to come is potentially powerful.  I think the early price point is a little steep ($79.99 at BestBuy), but to be expected with a new device.  (For frame of reference a bluetooth mouse is about a 1/4th of the price) That said I’m excited to see where and how this potential fits in our educational space.

Tom Cruise? Maybe not...

Tom Cruise? Maybe not…

The Obituary of the Student Desk 1887-2013

StudentDeskThe Student Desk (known by several aliases, most notably the Classroom Desk) died today when teachers at Bridge Point Elementary school in Austin, TX discovered that learning could happen in a variety of spaces that no longer necessitated their use. “We just feel like kids in this new mobile age don’t need to be confined to a small, uncomfortable desk.” said one teacher who chose to remain nameless for the purposes of this obituary

Student Desks had a rich history in public education. Descended from its “parent” Anna Breadin, who is credited with “birthing” (designing and patenting) the student desk in the late 1880′s, the Student Desk really found a moment of growth and boom during the 1940′s. In this Industrial Age, when the need to put things in neat rows was prevalent, learning needed to take place in much the same way as factory assembly lines. Why would students need to move around the classroom? The only time students needed to move was to go to the bathroom and you better really had to go because it entailed carrying around a large wooden keychain that said, “Hall Pass”. Much like the ballyhooed and unrelated bell curve chart, it seemed that the Student Desk’s middle age was a time of great dominance in the classroom of America.

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The Student Desk had a life-long fascination with putting students’ rear-ends to sleep, a trait it mastered by the mid-1950′s. The 50′s were a time of transformation for the Student Desk’s life as it became a tool for protecting students during the “Duck and cover” days of cold war-era America. The Student Desk came in all shapes in sizes, especially by the 1960′s, a time of cultural change in our country. Tie-dye models and desks made from hemp would be built and later destroyed during this time, but one thing remained constant – their severe lack of mobility and comfort.

Through the decades the Student Desk persevered through tough times, like the “Pencil graffiti” years of the 1970′s when students felt like its top was their own personal canvas. The 1980′s were no easier for the life of the Student Desk as numerous spit-puddles attacked their tops by sleeping, drooling teens (a trend made popular as witnessed at the :52 second mark in this scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.)

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“Pencil Graffiti”

Despite these rough times, the Student Desk maintained its dominance in the American school system. Indeed, it seemed like nothing could stop the proliferation of the standard Student Desk in our school systems until the dreaded 2010′s. This was the beginning of the end for the Student Desk. This dark time in the Desk’s life began innocently enough. Schools were looking for ways to get more access to learning in the hands of kids. While this seemed like a novel idea to the Desk, one that would pass in time (like those 1:1 Lava Lamp days of 1968-69), this concept seemed to have staying power. The last few years of the Desk’s life would be a blur. Students began to come to class with some smartphone thingy and schools were even issuing tablets to kids. The Student Desk was no longer needed for physical support as it was in the past.

As preposterous as it sounds, this new idea of learning with mobile devices also meant that the Desk’s other primary strength (its ability to create neat rows) was no longer a necessity. Students needed to be able to move around and work in a variety of ways; individually, in small groups, or as a whole. The teacher no longer need to relay information down the rows, instead learning could happen anywhere and everywhere in the classroom.

Depressed and no longer needed, the Student Desk ended its life by throwing itself into a giant wood-chipper behind the school. The Desk is survived by aged relatives like the pencil, the paper notebook, daylight savings time, and as of this writing, the paper textbook (which is currently on life-support in a Santa Monica area hospital). In lieu of flowers the Desk asks that you plant a tree in its honor for the wood that was used to make the desk and offer a donation to the Chiropractors Helping Ailing Inflamed Rears Society (C.H.A.I.R.S.).

Finally, the family asks that in honor of the Student Desk that you write your school board and administration to rid classrooms of its kind. It’s time to move on people.

For more in depth ideas of what the classroom sans Student Desk looks like, see this post on the BPE Bobcat blog. Also see pictures below classrooms by two Bridge Point elementary teachers and watch this news clip recently released following the demise of the Student Desk.

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Top 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Read Top 10 Blog Post Lists

1. While they are meant to be just quick little informative lists, they fail to put together a whole story, especially when they start out with point number 1 and no real lead in paragraph, just a lengthy title that takes up too many twitter characters. (I will admit there are exceptions to this rule)

2. Often times a point will be repetitive of a previous point just stated differently.

3. Sometimes the points repeat themselves.

4. They can be written just to drive traffic to a site like this post some joker made on iPad 1:1′s: Top 10 Things NOT to do in a 1:1 implementation

6. At times the poster will cheat and skip numbers to make it to a complete list.

7. There is often a clever one-liner or analogy as point that has nothing to do with the list. A clever blogger will include a photo with a clever caption just for effect.

8. Lists are generally a go-to tool when a blogger is short on creativity or has returned from a series of long trips and doesn’t really have anything to write about so he/she decides to be clever and create a list.

9. As a culture we crave lists.  Almost as much as we crave broad generalizations about our society based on nothing more than the opinion of the writer.

10.  Some points are just there for filler to make it to a nice round number like “10″.

11. The person making the list forgets their title and posts too many points or a “bonus” point just for powerful effect.

Any points I’m missing? Comment below.  And be sure to share so I can get some more traffic.

Managing a blog is a bit like driving on water

Managing a blog is a bit like driving on water

Cultivating Excellence Through Contagious Passion – My #ADE2013 Recap

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ADE Launch Day

My brain hurts.

It’s not a head ache from lack of hydration or sleep. It’s more like a muscle pain.  Like when you work out for a long time and wake up the next day all sore. That’s how my brain feels.  It just had the work-out of its life.

Apple Distinguished Educator Institute (#ADE2013) ended this past Friday and my brain still hasn’t recovered.  I consider the 5-day institute the best professional development I’ve ever had.  My mind was attacked from all different angles, forcing it to grow and interact like never before. It wasn’t just the sessions (which were extraordinary), it was the people.

Applying to be an ADE is not an easy process.  It includes some lengthy essays about work you have been doing and a 2-minute video showcasing how you’ve used Apple products to help further educational excellence. Thousands of educators across the country apply and only 75 of the best of the best are selected. I described it to friends as being chosen as an ADE is like being knighted in the world of Ed Tech.  This year’s institute got turned it up a notch by including Canada and Mexico for an all-encompassing North American Institute here in Austin,TX.

After you include the Apple employees, past ADEs, and several app designers, there were around 400 people at this year’s event. The amount of amazing educators across our continent was palpable from the the opening ceremony to the wrap-up party.   While I can’t share much of what I’ve learned on this blog for privacy reasons, I do know my district will directly benefit from the material I’ve learned and the connections I’ve made.  Add to the mix that 3 of us from Eanes made this year’s class (Cathy Yenca – @mathycathy & Lisa Johnson -@techchef4u) and I think our district will truly reap some rewards of our time at the institute.

Aside from the amazing sessions, this institute really focused on stretching and expanding your Professional Learning Network (PLN).  One thing I worried about when arriving here were the amount of Type-A personalities being in the same room.  You might think that could lead to some level of competitiveness or showmanship.  While there was a lot of pride in the work we are all doing, I never got the sense that anyone was trying to show-off.  If anything, the opposite was true.  We were all there to share and learn from each other.  As I wrote earlier in the week, excuses were the only thing missing from this event, which was refreshing.

Contagious Passion

The energy and enthusiasm for education here was truly a one-of-a-kind feeling.  I’ve been at other major Ed Tech conferences, but none of them had this level of what I call “contagious passion.”  You could see attendees eyes lighting up everywhere, whether it be a brief lunch discussion or during a passing moment waiting for the next session.  It turns out that much of this doesn’t happen by accident.

Apple designed this event to give the attendees multiple opportunities to collaborate over shared passions.  While our main PLN was given a task, I found myself also gravitating toward others that didn’t necessarily share the same interests, but the same passion for educational progress and transformation.

Excellence Around Every Corner

I quickly abandoned a majority of my assignment for the academy (which isn’t due until next month) when I

realized that working individually would take time away from the brilliant educators walking all around me. I could work on the project later, but for this event, I wanted to make the most out of every minute of conversation.  Besides the lack of excuses, it seemed that all the attendees shared some sort of other talent, whether it be music or art or understated humor (Yes, I’m talking about you Sean Junkins!)

Here is a small sample of some of the amazing folks I had the pleasure of interacting with this past week: (Apologies in advance for all the name-dropping)

Reshan Richards (@reshanrichards @explainevrything)- I first learned about Reshan from Lisa Johnson. She mentioned this charismatic app-creator that I simply had to meet.  He is the creator of the Explain Everything app, but more importantly than that, he’s an educator.  I didn’t get near enough time with Reshan but his enthusiasm is electric.  Not only did he make a remarkable app, but he’s also getting his PhD this November.  Talk about a life-long learner!

Paul Yip (@DarthMacGoogle) – Paul was one of many Canadians I came to know and appreciate.  He’s working on stretching the boundaries of a mobile classroom through Apple TVs. The power of having teachers and students untethered in his classrooms further his vision of student-centered learning.

Rebecca Stockley (@RebeccaStockley) - One of the things I loved about the institute was the opportunity for attendees and presenters to intermingle.  Rebecca is an ADE alumni who also writes on the site ImprovLady.com.  She was magical in getting the energy up in a room full of 400 weary travelers and I made a point of making most of her improv sessions.  I loved the mix of non-tech in an event like this as it really comes down to making connections.  If you ever get a chance to see her in action at an event, don’t miss it. Trust me.

Don Orth (@finddonorth) – Don and I both recently joined up with the EdTechTeacher team.  Don couples his California laid-back style with some serious educational edge. Walking around in flip-flops and discussing classroom design, he’s a bit like the “Moses for Learning Spaces” in education.

James Richardson (@PrincipalJRich) – James is the principal of a “No Excuses” middle school in Maryland. He’s working long and hard at make Fullan’s Implementation Dip non-existent and is a passionate advocate for personalized learning.  We would all benefit from having a campus leader like him in our districts.

Michelle Cordy (@cordym) – I could write an entire post about the Canadians at this event, but I need to mention Michelle.  She has unmatched energy.  I used to fancy myself a “beacon of Ed Tech light” until I ran into her at ISTE last month.  She has no filter and no excuses when it comes to education and I truly feel she could accomplish anything she puts her mind to.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she became the first Canadian female president of the US. (and I’m not kidding, she’s that persuasive)

Patrick Fogarty (@fogarty22) – Patrick came to the event from the great state of Brooklyn.  Yes, I called Brooklyn a state.  His knowledge of one-to-one deployments in schools is unparalleled. He actually beat me to the punch and published a book on one-to-one deployments last April which I can’t wait to read.  Besides being a writer, he’s also a remarkable visual storyteller, as witness by his “3-in-1” presentation to close out day 4. I’m excited to connect with him and discuss the power of one-to-one in schools going forward.

How many ADEs can you fit in the back of a pickup? #ADEBustOut

How many ADEs can you fit in the back of a pickup? #ADEBustOut

Antonio Manriquez (@ajmanx) – I’ll end with another Californian and a class of 2011 alumni.  Tony is video production teacher at Hollywood High School.  I mean, how cool is that first of all?  I was lucky enough to hijack some time with him via our #ADEBustouts for BBQ, bats, and donuts.  While I fancy myself an amateur film-producer, a few minutes with Tony told me I have a lot to learn. I’m hoping to discuss future film projects with him and want him to be a part of our next iPadpalooza event (where we’ll introduce a film festival portion).

There are dozens of others I enjoyed my time with and could probably write a blog just on Chris McGee’s somersaults or Jon Patry’s bow ties and “Vader Glare”, but I’m thinking you get the point.  One message I’ll end with was brought up by fellow Texan and 2013 class member Troy Bagwell (@troybagwell). At our wrap-up meeting, he asked the question – What would happen if all the ADEs were in one school?

I think the answer to that is simple.

Pure magic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go stretch my brain.

Why We Should Stop Doing THAT

Stop it.  no-excuses-e1272580171400

You.

Yes you.

You know what you are doing.  You are making excuses.

“We don’t have enough time for THAT.”

“We don’t have any money for THAT.”

“State-testing is too…yada yada yada…for THAT.”

“My Tech Director won’t let me do THAT.”

“My community doesn’t support THAT.”

“Teachers have too much on their plate to do THAT.”

THAT.

Whatever your THAT is, hiding behind a layer of excuses is a cop out.  If you truly feel passionate about your THAT, you need to figure out a way to make THAT happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I said “We” in the title.  I’m just as guilty of making excuses in my mind.  However, I never verbalize them.  The second you give your excuses a verbal road to travel, you’ve started laying cement for the road-bumps along your journey.

Now you may say, “Yeah that’s great Carl. Way to be positive, but you are not a realist.”

I am a realist, but I also believe enough in my THAT to not let any of the above excuses stop me.  Does it mean long hours, tons of work, and lots of set-backs?  YES.  But that’s part of making THAT happen.

I’m at an event with some of the most brilliant minds in all of education. Hearing those excuses in the hallways here is rare when it comes to THAT.  As a member of the class of 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator class, I find that every one here is passionate about their THAT and their looking for more.  Instead of excuses, I hear the attendees saying things like, “I want to do THAT!” or “I would love to try THAT in my classroom!”

I’ll be honest, it’s easy to get a little optimistic in this crowd.  The passion amongst the 400 or so attendees is electric.  While we were all brought here because of our passion behind integrating Apple products in our schools, what I’ve noticed is all of our minds go way beyond THAT.

The beauty is everyone has a THAT.  What people decide to do with it is the difference between those that have a real desire to learn and those that are just working for a  monthly paycheck. But even those paycheck-to-paycheck workers have some THAT that sparks their interest and motivation, it might just not be in their work life.

I’m truly blessed to be working in a district on making  THAT better. Where all the teachers and admin believe in THAT. So you might be thinking…what is THAT?

THAT is for you to ultimately decide, but when you figure it out, don’t make excuses.  Don’t relax on your mission.  Commit.  Go all in.

After all, THAT is what makes us great.

THAT is why you get up in the morning.

THAT is what stimulates your brain on a daily basis.

THAT is why you fight for something.

THAT is the legacy you will leave behind.

Are you ready?

GO!

Making the Butterfly Flap its Wings

You’ve all heard the analogy of a butterfly flapping its wings causes some legislator to cut educational funding. Ok, so maybe that’s my own take on that analogy. Fate is an interesting thing. My wife often says I’m one of the luckiest people she knows.  She claims that great opportunities tend to find me, almost magically.  While there’s a lot of hard work that goes into that “luck”, I won’t dismiss the fact that timing and decisions also play a big part of it.

My last two trips to the great city of Boston reminded me of how timing and decision-making really have a tremendous affect on fate.

My most recent trip, I was co-leading my first EdTechTeacher Workshop (more on that later).  During the visit, a group of fellow ed colleagues decided to gather for dinner at a Texas BBQ restaurant called “Sweet Cheeks Q” near Fenway park.  Now, ignoring the irony that I traveled all the way to Boston to have Texas Q, fate and timing played a role on my trip to and from the restaurant it would turn out.

When my friend, who I’ll call “Theo” to protect his identity, came to pick me up to take me to Sweet Cheeks, I could almost hear the “Flap, flap flap” of the butterfly’s wings. Traffic had delayed his arrival and when Theo finally did appear, he had to remove a car seat from his truck for me.  In his haste to get out, say hello, and remove the carseat, he left his keys running in the car and somehow his car doors locked.  After an awkward challenge that involved cracking open his back window and me using a pole and my monkey arms to unlock the truck, we were finally on our way.  Or so we thought. The GPS on our phones had us going the wrong way! We quickly changed course and got turned in the right direction.  Five minutes later, it happened.

CRASH!!

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You should see the other guy’s car

We were rear-ended when a pedestrian cut-off a cab driver, who slammed his brakes, causing us to do the same.  The valet driver in the Mercedes behind us was not so lucky.  He crashed right into the tailgate of Theo’s pick-up. Aside from some sore necks and frustration, we were all fine.  However, we were obviously going to be late for dinner.

I started thinking, what if he hadn’t been late to pick me up? What if he hadn’t locked his keys in his car?  What if the GPS had us going the right direction from the get-go?  Would the accident have happened?

Flap. Flap. Flap.

Rather than dwell on those what-ifs we went to the restaurant, an hour late, and had a nice late dinner of Texas BBQ.  After some inspiring conversation and the usual debate about which John Cusack movies are his top 5, one of my colleagues offered to take me back to my hotel. This would require a 20 minute walk through Boston to get to his car, but feeling stuffed and needing the exercise, I accepted.  And again, I heard the flapping butterfly wings, this time in the form of a Beatles tune.  Turned out that Paul McCartney was playing in Fenway park and we could hear “Day Tripper” playing as clear as a bell from the stadium walls.  Rather than continue to the car, we stood and enjoyed some tunes from one of the greatest musicians of all time. What a magical moment that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had been delayed by the car accident.

Flap. Flap. Flap.

In April, I was asked to present at Tech & Learning’s Tech Forum Boston.  I was honored to be one of the few presenters that they like to bring in from out of state.  I love the opportunity to share the successes and mistakes we’ve made on our road to 1:1, but I also enjoy learning what others have done. During this event, as fate would have it, Tom Daccord was in the crowd in my first presentation.

Flap. Flap. Flap.

Tom heads a great company called EdTechTeacher (ETT). After spending the day together sharing ideas and goals, Tom asked me to be a part-time consultant/trainer for the EdTechTeacher team. I was humbled by his request, but also wanted to learn more about his company before joining forces. I’ve had the good fortune of being approached by a few companies lately trying to hire my services, but all of those were based on a product, an app, or a sales pitch of some sort.  This was different.  Tom’s company does something that I truly believe is important in transforming education.  ETT trains teachers and administrators on the concept of student-driven learning.  It’s not about the tools, a certain app, or a certain state-mandated assessment.  It’s about authentic learning for kids. For the first time in my life, I felt like this opportunity worked with my ideals and allowed me to remain grounded and based in a school district that I love working for.

One could say it was luck that Tom happened to be in the crowd that morning or that maybe fate brought us together to share ideas and goals.  While I can’t disagree completely with either of those concepts, I do feel it was a combination of hard work, measured risk, and really good timing. Risk is a funny thing too.  Sometimes not taking a risk on an opportunity is the right move to make. Out of the half-dozen or so opportunities laid before me prior to my trip to Boston, had I accepted any of those, my life would have changed. While there are still several hands that need to be played out in my career, I feel like I’m finally starting to see clearly what this is all about for me.

I can see that a combination of judgment, experience, and “gut” feelings can be powerful.

I can see that saying “no” in the short term could mean a big “yes” in the long run.

I can see that there are times when you really need to control your environment and other times when you need to kick back and enjoy the ride.

It took me so long….to find out….and I found out.

Maybe it’s time I start flapping the butterfly’s wings rather than wait for them to flap.

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Hanging with some brilliant educational minds at Fenway back in April

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