People let me tell you ’bout my best friend

If that title brings a melody to your memory and you have visions of Bill Bixby walking on the beach in the early 70s sticom, your where my mind was at Saturday morning. Do you want to ride along with my memory for a moment or two?

I’m walking out the door with my oldest son, on his way to a whole-day, four-game , soccerfest. Clad in cleats and sporting a spray painted coif of yellow and blue, I’m giving him the part-time Dad’s once-over , grilling him on his last couple days in school. These conversations normally morph into rants against the superfluous, ”how can a middle school teacher in his right mind penalize a student for an improper margin on a hand-drawn picture of the solar system”? But this one was different, his book report poster could be crafted with tech tools, it didn’t have to be cotton balls glued to construction paper.

Sometimes, your kids surprise you. But even if it’s blatant pandering, it still warms a parent’s heart.

“Dad, can I use Jott?”

“That might not make sense Nelson, your time would be limited. Besides, why not just type it?”

“Dad, can you Jott to Skype?”


There’s nothing quite like a shared laugh between father and son. Especially when it involves something that sounds as ridiculous as that.

Don’t Return to Sender

Hoping to start a tradition of “social justice” programs every year, our school (with the generous help of the PTO)  hosted Jim Keady of Educating for Justice last Friday.  The presentation, describing the sweatshop conditions under which $200 Nike sneakers are made for less than $18,  was thoroughly engaging.  Jim Keady’s genuine, passionate commitment to workers in Indonesia gave students an example of what one person can do to make a change in the world.  Any teacher would be impressed at how many students were inspired to ask questions, though it was particularly refreshing to see students take issue with Mr Keady’s representation of the issue. Yet, it’s a small detail that shows how our world is changing.

As part of the program, pre-printed postcards addressed to the CEO of Nike are available for students to sign.  There was also one for Tiger Woods asking him to travel to Indonesia to visit the factories where the products he endorsed are made.  He makes more in a round of golf than an average worker in nine years of making sneakers on an assembly line.

As a handful of students crowded the stage after the assembly to fill out the cards a couple asked what they should write on the lines in the top left of the front of the postcard.  Even though their innocent question was met with a chorus of laughter, their ignorance is not a failure of our education system.  How often do you address an envelope?  How often to you click “send”?

Google Calendar wins, hands down

An online class calendar is the best way for high school teachers to take advantage of their web presence and achieve transparency between the classroom and their students’ learning outside of the classroom. Students who can check homework assignments, project requirements and test due dates at home will learn more than those who cannot. Teachers writing assignments on the board, forcing students to use their paper planners are preparing their students for a world that no longer exists. If there are any work environments that still require that skill they will be out of business before these kids graduate. These students, especially hyper-scheduled millennials, need the ability to manage their schedule electronically.

On the teacher side, the maintenance of a calendar is yet another chrono-vampire, ready to suck time out of an already overtaxed schedule. Or is it?

Teachers use a variety of methods to keep track of what they are doing. Some plan their class schedules on napkins, some use desk calendars, and others use picture perfect, graduate school template lesson plans. To eliminate the time drain of an online class calendar, teachers need a tool to direct this planning to a calendar that be used for both planning and announcing. There are many calendars available to teachers, but only Google calendar presents the perfect solution to online class calendars.

Most of the companies that design calendars as part of teacher and school websites seem clueless to the basic workflow of a teacher. Teachers with five sections of two preps often have to duplicate events across five calendars. They don’t have the time to click between five different monthly calendars; they need to see all five class events in one month, toggling on and off each class. They need to copy events from one section to others with less than three clicks. They need to make the class calendar open to both students and parents. It would also help if the calendar could send e-mail reminders that take less than two clicks to activate.

Would it be too much to ask if the calendar generated a feed that could appear in the teacher’s reader, or better yet, their internet home page? It’s probably too much to ask that the calendar allow students to incorporate one teacher’s class schedule with another teacher’s schedule and their athletic team schedule. For every education calendar system available, the answers to these questions is “No”. For Google Calendar, the answer to all is “YES!”

Using a Google account, teachers can create a separate calendar for each of their class sections. They can post and copy events or change dates with ease. There is no other calendar that better fits the workflow of a high school teacher.

Google eclipses all other calendar systems with its ability to be embeded in any other web site. Google earns billions because it is simple to use. With just a click, copy and paste, teachers can throw some gobbly-gook code into their website and voila, their class calendar appears on their teacher page in the school’s website. They can even put it on other learning environments like Moodle. Once the calendar is embedded, the teacher never has to worry about it, all of the work they put on their own calendar, with automatically appear wherever it is embedded, they never have to see the code again.

Students, creating their own Google account, can “add” a teacher’s class calendar to their own. By putting the calendar on their customized iGoogle page, their class assignments are always right in from of them. Students athletes who know what they are doing can grab their team’s schedule from one of those high school sports scheduling sites and put their games and practices right alongside their assignments.

Experienced teachers can grab a csv file from the company that makes the student planner or the school’s web site and throw that into a Google calendar as well. Teachers and students can also add this calendar to their own, schoolwide events can appear alongside their classes and athletic teams.

On the skill side, the sweet spot it students gaining experience navigating different scheduling systems and applications. Of course the ones available to them as adults will be radically different that the ones they use now. But the more they learn, the easier it will be to learn more later.

The Sweet Spot for Class Calendars
The Sweet Spot for Class Calendars

On the pedagogy side, the sweet spot is detailed descriptions for every class period. Why should class objectives and goals be hidden in the teacher’s lesson plan binder when they should be read by the students?

On the education side, every dollar spent by school districts on sterile, inflexible and difficult to manage calendar systems peddled by edtech industry thieves could be donated to rebuilding inner-city schools.

Google calendar wins.


Motivational Tech Tip

Don’t try this at home, really.  Just don’t.

When I first came across one of those sites that allow you to create your own motivational poster, I thought about throwing a screenshot into the picture and adding some pithy remark as a clever way to send out a little “reminder” concerning tech-etiquette and use.  Yesterday, with tongue firmly in cheek, I threw one of these picto-barbs into our shared faculty conference and learned a hard lesson.  It’s almost impossible in this environment to define the difference between sarcasm that’s funny and sarcasm that mean.

motivator9935047I waited long time to use this particular “tech-tip” in a motivational poster because I did not want to make an example of someone “responding to all” in an routine post.  It would be obviously hurtful, making an example of a poor soul who just clicked “respond” and cluttered the mailbox by making as all read their compliment to the mom or dad who shared  photos of their newborn.  So when I saw a thread of banter about plans for a faculty dessert social during lunch I thought it was the perfect opportunity.  This was already a humorous conversation, the original call for teachers to get-together had been followed by joke messages that were “respond”s so everyone could read them.  I thought if I posted my little riposte it would be taken in the same vein of light humor.



Although several teachers thanked me for reminding people (again) that “reply to sender” keeps the conference lean and easy to follow, some took offense.  How could I be so mean?  I have since spoken with the few who voiced their concerns to me directly and it took no more than a minute to clear the air and we are back to making fun of each other.  But who knows how many others did not talk to me about, concluding on their own that  I’m an arrogant tech-bully.

I should have thrown a smiley 🙂 at the bottom of the message, Lightening the collateral damage, that’s my the emoticon was invented.

Still, the motivational tech tip is a great idea.  And for once, it’s original.

Wearing my last nerve

Enough!  I’ve had it, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

There’s been a spate of student complaints about “too much tech” because they have to remember  usernames and passwords for their email and the school’s Moodle site.  In some classes they even have to (gasp!), go to other sites like Turnitin.  How can we expect them to do all this?

Unfortunately, teachers and parents who don’t have enough experience with technology themselves may


think these protests are valid.  They can quickly dismiss student complaints about “too much homework”, but somehow they think student protests about technology are legitimate. Maybe it’s because they agree.  Setting up accounts, logging into websites and remembering  passwords seems like to much trouble to them.

Teachers with technology experience have no trouble for seeing these complaints for what they are, simple student whining.  Students complaining about “tech-fatigue” are not any different from students who try to convince teachers that they shouldn’t do any work on Friday because “it’s almost the weekend!!”  A teacher told me that he quashed these complaints by showing students that on-line banking, medical insurance, paying taxes, renewing driver’s licenses, reserving flights, registering for college classes are all on different systems that they will have to learn and master quickly.

Come on folks!  By forcing students to navigate new environments we are giving them essential experience to survive in the real world.  If they come back with the ‘ol “but you are teaching Social Studies”, hit ’em back with “you can’t learn Social Studies if you are illiterate”.

And don’t think for a second it’s only students experiencing this misunderstanding.  I created a professional network on Ning for social studies supervisors that many of my colleagues complimented.  But those compliments were quickly followed by “maybe we should phase this in slowly”. Translation: “Let’s keep the listserve open”.  The jump from the listserve to the professional network was apparently too much to ask.  These educators are familiar with email and they know how it works so it was claimed that they would need training to create accounts and navigate the site. After six months, thirty member registrations, and no more than five posts made by people other than me, the network is a ghost town.

Two years ago, I readily understood the discomfort that accompanies the first jump into this new world.  Although I still sympathize with those people trying to understand these new environments, I’ve lost my patience with those who claim that it’s too difficult to manage a couple accounts and navigate web sites.

This anger and frustration fueled an analogy that popped into my head last week and I’ve repeated it in at least a half-dozen conversations.  A person in 1990 who could not write a letter, address the envelope and


mail it using the postal service would be considered functionally illiterate.  A person in 2008 who cannot create an account or remember a username and password to access a website is also functionally illiterate.

You might still be able to get by in 2008 without these basic technology skills, you might even think you can become president.  But the clock is running, and it’s running fast.  If you are an educator, it is your responsibility to make sure your students can survive in the real world that they will live in, not the one you grew up in.

Imagine if mail service was invented, would these people complain about the stamps?  Where do I buy these things?  Where do we stick them?  Why do I always have to put in a return address?  Why do I have to remember the zip code?


Growing Faster Every Day

With two maternity leaves, a military leave and a retirement, our Social Studies department faced a human resources Armageddon this September. We’re two weeks into the school year and the four brandy-new replacement teachers are feverishly burrowing into their new careers (and doing quite well, thank you very much). Five years ago, five teachers in the department brought a collective 95 years teaching experience to their classrooms. Today, the total aggregate classroom experience of five teachers is not more than a year and a half. Of all of the implications brought by such a dramatic demographic shift, there is one thing that stands out. These new teachers will grow much faster than the predecessors.

Of all of the challenges facing new teachers, one of the most dreaded is figuring out what to do tomorrow, something one of my mentors called “lonely, lesson-plan-less nights. I distinctly remember hopeless efforts in dark hours, trying to breathe some creativity into an Erie Canal lesson for a Geography class in my first year of teaching. I envied the veterans, who had built a such an extensive inventory of lessons that they did not have to plan much anymore, they only had to schedule. One teacher even had a collection of “observation” lessons, available at an unannounced moment’s notice and categorized to match the reform du jour, guaranteed to impress the administration with a show class. In those days of the early Internet and Windows95, it took from three to five years for a teacher to feel comfortable enough to relax a couple nights a week. Assuming of course, that they taught the same prep, course changes reset the clock to zero.

Today’s teachers collect more course material and lesson plans faster than their predecessors because they work exclusively in a digital environment. They have access to an exponentially larger library of materials. Not just books, but every painting, picture, movie, music and recording ever made. And they can save the material faster; a point and clicker on the Internet will build an inventory faster than a scissor cut and copier with newspapers and magazines. New teachers store their lesson plans, assignment sheets, notes, articles, images, audio and video clips on their own machines, school’s drives and in “the cloud”.

Not only that, new teachers have their materials tagged, organized and cataloged, and therefore more easily accessible than anything their ancestor teachers ever had. Our retiree left six packed file cabinets in his wake, overflowing with materials for a half dozen courses. Although the folders were labeled and organized, only he knew what he had and where he had it. It is non-transferable until we review it folder by folder, scanning and storing the good stuff, organizing it by course and storing it on our shared drive.

Technology has cut the “material-experience” curve of new teachers from five years to perhaps two.

Why isn’t this enough to convince the ten year teachers to abandon their manilla and paper for flash and silicon?

Say What? in Action


These guys are great, check out the rest of their stuff at The Well Agency.  The best illustration of the frustration felt by our teachers is expressed by the antediluvian in this video (almost nsfw) who complains that he “just doesn’t want to learn anymore”.  Teachers may have a similar limit to the amount of new programs, learning environments and tools they can consume in one year.  It’s not always a result of simple recalcitrance.