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Time for Some Digital Spring Cleaning?

It’s that time of year when the snow finally melts (well, at least for those of us south of the Mason-Dixon line), the school year is wrapping up, and we’re all planning for summer. This is also traditionally the time when households go through “spring cleaning” as we clean out our closets or kids’ closets, re-arrange the jars of random screws in the garage, and finally knock out some items on our to-do list.

More and more, I feel like we need to do the same practices when it comes to our digital lives. We now spend hours of our day online, slowly building a digital version of ourselves. Our digital selves need a place to live, work, eat, share, and surf as well. Unfortunately, in this day and age of “check out this new app” or “sign-up here for more…” we are continually cluttering our phones and our amount of accounts to keep track of.  Data privacy has been in the news heavily lately, and having many different accounts out there opens you up for more risk.

It’s time we start a “digital spring cleaning” along-side the physical one, and you don’t have to wait until spring to do this. I like to use New Year’s Day as a benchmark to clean up my digital life, but found that doing it twice a year makes it much more manageable.  What follows are some tips that I’ve used over the years to keep my digital self from becoming a virtual hoarder.

Email Accounts for Different Purposes 

Somedays, email can feel like a never ending stream of junk mail. Ads about a funny t-shirt that went on sale to a product that will greatly enhance my…well you get the idea. One thing I started several years ago was the use of 3 email accounts. One is for personal information (I use this with friends and family) but not for signing up for things. The second is for signing up for things to try out or to set up accounts to some sort of online service. The third is solely for work-related items.

While this separation can help up the amount of junk you get in your work and personal email accounts, there are times when your email will still be used for spam, so you’ll need to remain diligent in which account you use to sign up for things. If this still doesn’t work, below is a plan B.

Unsubscribe and Purge Quickly

One service that has made my life much easier and my inbox much less cluttered is Unroll.me. This free service instantly lets you go through and identify messages that are spam and others that you may still want to receive but not in your inbox. It creates a list of all your subscription emails easily in a daily digest form. Quick bit of advice, you’ll want to update this yearly as it’s amazing how many other emails have found their way in my inbox since setting this up. (I just took a detour while writing this post and found I had over 300 emails coming into my inbox without my permission since the beginning of the year!)

Delete Some Apps 

Some apps you only use occasionally. Others you added and tried out, but never use any more. Besides taking up valuable space on your phone, these apps can clutter your screen or folders. On the iPhone you can check battery usage settings to see what you’ve used the past 7 days. Besides discovering that you spend way too much of your screen time on Facebook, this can also help you determine which apps are used heavily and which ones never appear in the list.

Review your security settings

When looking through the location services section of my phone, I was surprised by the amount of apps that were tracking me even when I wasn’t using them.  When it comes to social media like Facebook and Twitter, you might be surprised at the sheer number of 3rd party applications that are using some portion of your data. Go to your account settings on all your heavily used social media platforms and purge any 3rd party app connections you won’t need or maybe didn’t even intend to approve.

Manage “Notifistractions”

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the amount of notification distractions or “notifistractions” we get on our devices. Many of these are not necessary and can cause you anxiety, stress, or worse-yet, distract you when operating a motor vehicle. I always recommend turning off all alerts with the exception of reminders or calendar events. That email or text message can wait, but also know that on most phones you can give some folks in your contact list “VIP” access.  This means you will get an alert from them if they send you a text or message.

Google Search Yourself

You never know what’s been posted out there about you. Maybe a friend posted a photo of you without your permission or maybe you are giving people access to your personal documents without knowing it. At any rate, it’s always a good idea to “Google Yourself” fairly regularly to see what information is out there on you. A couple of quick notes to be most effective:  1 – Make sure you are not logged into your Google account or in “incognito” mode. This is what the outside world sees when they search you, if you are logged into Google, you’ll get different results. Also make sure search your full name is in “quotes” to get the most accurate results.

Back-up any important videos or photos

Every year, I do an “end of the year” family video that encapsulates much of what we did as a family throughout the previous year. While doing this to reflect on the year gone by is fun and heart-warming, it also reminds me to back up all my photos into either a physical hard drive or some sort of long term cloud storage like Dropbox. After all – you never know when your phone might break, and it would be good to have all your photo roll data backed up regularly.

Clear Those Cookies and Empty Your Trashcan

If you are like me, you use your trash can on your computer as sort of a temporary folder for items. At some point, you have to “empty” your trashcan, else you run the risk of your garbage chewing up most of your storage. The same can be said for the cookies contained within your browsers. These can be used for tracking your data and search queries and should be purged fairly regularly. Take a moment to look at and empty these on your laptop and desktop and you might find that the performance may improve on your computer when you do this.

I hope some of these tips help….Now get to cleaning!

Creating Time for Your Inner-Genius

I had a major problem in my last year as a first grade teacher. I had been teaching for several years and the students were so far ahead with two months to go that I had to figure out what to do with them. The year before, I decided to give them a head start on second grade curriculum thinking they would lose some during the summer break. I discovered that this was a major no-no and akin to taking a teacher’s personal parking space. Following a pretty good tongue-lashing by the second grade teachers, I was entering April with a choice, do I do it again?  Or do I figure out something else to do for our final 2 months together?

One thing that always bothered me as a teacher was the curriculum. The school I was teaching at and the team I was teaching with would rarely stray from it. The Teacher’s Edition was like a Holy Bible for a newer teacher as it provided the scope, sequence and pacing of delivery of content. There was one MAJOR problem with this….it didn’t take into account the kids. I was forcing them to learn math through fake story problems involving trains moving in opposite directions and learn history of whatever the textbook or standard dictated and never any more than that.

So with almost all the first grade content covered and a couple months of school left, I decided to consult the most important people in the school about what to do with the time….the students. I asked them what they wanted to learn about for the remainder of our time together. I had hoped for maybe one or two ideas but instead I got 22 different ideas for 22 different kids. It makes sense when you think about it. They each are unique and have different passions, so why wouldn’t they come up with things they are interested in?  The choices ranged from tornadoes to the actress Rachel Weisz (yes, a little boy named Sean was obsessed with her).

After gathering their list of ideas I presented them with a challenge – tie in all the core areas of curriculum – writing, science, reading, math and social studies into their passion and present a final project the represents all of these areas. While the school day was still fairly structured with centers and finishing up the final pieces of first grade curriculum, I started giving them an hour or more each day to work on their “passion project”.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is exactly the way companies like Google work with their 20% time. It’s also the basis behind the concept of “Genius hour” in schools. Spend the majority of your time working on the “work” but then carve out pockets of time to explore your passions and inner genius. I’ve also heard it referred to as “Interest-based Learning.”  Whatever you want to call it, I stumbled into it my last year of teaching and immediately had regret. Not regret for doing it, but regret for not doing it sooner.

The content of our COWs – Apple’s iBook

The classroom bubbled with energy whenever the students had time to work on their projects. With only 4 computers in the room (do you remember Compaq computers?), they had limited research time and time to create. I ended up locating the one COW (Computers on Wheels) at the time which was full of a dozen pearl-white Apple iBooks (image left). I told the rest of the school that I would be the computer “farmer” in charge of the COW until the end of the year as my kids were using it heavily to wrap up their projects.

The amount of creativity energy flowing out of room 52 that year was breath-taking. During the last week of school, each of the students presented their passion project. I invited their parents in to see the final outcomes. Mary’s project on horses involved a history of horse migration to North America, an original poem on horses, and even math story problems on horses (“If two horses leave a barn at the same time heading in opposite directions…”).  Every student rose to the challenge and while it was hard for some to tie in the core content areas (Rachel Weisz was particularly challenging), they each accomplished the goals on the rubric.

So how do we make the time in schools for students to follow their inner-genius or passion? Some schools create Genius Hour time one day a week or one class period a week. Others, like one of our elementary campuses, creates something called “Enrichment Clusters” (based on the work of Joseph Renzulli) where not only do the students get to explore their passions, but the teachers get to teach their passions as well. Courses range from coding to yoga to golf in these clusters where students learn and ultimately present their project at the end of a 9-week time period.

As the students in my class wrapped up their projects that year, I felt extremely rewarded for making the choice I had for our time together those final weeks.They had the time to explore their inner-genius and had rewarded me by showing their learning. Thusly, I wanted to reward them for taking on this idea with such fervor. I tried to find some sort of trinket or object for each of them associated with their project. The boy who’s passion was Harry Potter got a stuff-three headed dog named Fluffy. The girl who was passionate about surfing got a charm bracelet full of different surf boards.

Oh, and in case you are wondering what happened with the student who created the Rachel Weisz project, I decided to reach out to the actress’ handlers but didn’t get a response. I ended up asking Sean to present on the last day just in case she decided to send a note or something. On the last day of school, his reward arrived:

It’s amazing what students can accomplish if you give them some voice and some choice. As a teacher, we need to figure out how to make this time for our students. We all have an inner-genius, we just need the time to explore it.