Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Final post of 2013: Google Chrome Omnibox

I stumbled upon this idea on Twitter. This blog post is inspired by Jennie Magiera's post,  Karl Lindgren-Streicher's post, and Robert Pronovost's post. The idea is to type in the letters of the alphabet in the Chrome omnibox and see what comes up! A simple but fun activity!

A: AOKP.co - I'm an Android enthusiast and geek. AOKP is a custom Android ROM!
B: Blogger.com - Need to blog more, but have been doing some!
C: Crosswalk.com - Glad to see my devotional pop up there!
D: Dishanywhere.com - Love being able to watch my Dish TV from anywhere! (geekmode)
E: Educationrethink.com - Actually 1 was ESPN, but @edrethink makes me think more!
F: Facebook.com - I have mixed feelings on this one.
G: Google.com - duh
H: HGTV.com - not sure on this one. Many other "http" recents, so not too interesting.
I: Idahotechtalk.org - Message board community for Idaho Tech Educator leaders,
J: Java.com
K: kelloggschools.org - My school district!
L: learni.st/users/jonsammy - Techlandia boards. See @ipadsammy I check the Learnist boards!
M: maps.google.com - love me some Google Maps!
N: netflix.com - what did we do before streaming movies? Oh yeah, went to a rental store.
O: Nothing... well except games.espn.go.com
P: play.google.com - +1 Google/Chrome/Android
Q: Nothing...
R: runkeeper.com - love this site and app for tracking activity (run, bike, walk etc)
S: starbucks.com - self explanatory
T: teachercast.tv - Awesome Edu PD
U: und.com - I'm a Notre Dame fan.
V: vandalgrads.com - our family blog.
W: warbyparker.com - tried to get glasses there. Couldn't fill my prescription. #bummed
X: xda-developers.com - Full Android #geekmode Custom ROMs galore.
Y: youtube.com - yay youtube.
Z: zite.com - don't use the magazine type app as much as I used to, but still a cool app.

A-Z, I love me some Google Chrome. Happy 2014 Everyone!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Homework for Dean Shareski @shareski

1. How do you feel about pants?
On a seasonal and situational basis, I am a fan of pants. Further, my pet peeve is when people think outdated, or ill fitting "slacks" or "khakis" are more appropriate than stylish jeans.

2. What was the last movie you saw in a theatre?
"Frozen" with my family. We rarely get to go to a theatre, so this was special. It was cold outside, and it is a holiday tradition for us so it was a wonderful time. I highly recommend the movie to anyone. Great music, effects, and message.

3. Where are your car keys?
In my right vest pocket. I'm in a meeting and it's not warm in this room.

4. What time is it?
11:22AM Pacific Time

5. What’s the last tweet you favorited?
Moss Pike @mosspike
+1 #Google #eduGeek RT @msvalois: It's official. #google has changed my life! Amazingness! I am in love. #gafesummit

6. Outside of your immediate family, which relative do you like to spend time with?
My in-laws. Seriously, they are incredible people. I'm very blessed in this area.

7. Have you ever been to Saskatchewan?
No, but I've been to several Canadian cities, most memorable being band/music competition trips when I was in high school.

8. How long did it take you to walk to school as a kid?
10-20 minutes depending on how distracted we got.

9. Besides you,  blogger should I be paying attention to?
You probably already are, but I still recommend, without hesitation, @newfirewithin and @edrethink

10. Name one golf course. 
Pinehurst Golf Course (Idaho version!)

11. What’s your favorite Seinfeld episode or line?
"You put the balm on? Who told you to put the balm on? I didn't tell you to put the balm on. Why'd you put the balm on?" Dedicated to @ZachSnow #lipbalm

Confessions of a Connected Educator

I am a connected educator. No, seriously, I'm super-connected. I own a smartphone, several tablets, a Chromebook, a laptop, and yes a desktop too, among other devices. I am on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and of course Twitter. I have a PLN that is really fantastic, and I even eclipsed 1000 followers a while back. I know followers aren't everything but it was still a cool milestone! I listen to (and watch/interact with) lots of podcasts like Techlandia, Teachercast, Principalcast, and many more. I even listen to educational podcasts while I'm running. Ever since the beginning of 2013, when I decided to use Twitter as a PLN, I've been immersed in so many ubiquitous technological social media offerings (which have completely revolutionized my career btw), that I can hardly remember, or imagine where I would be without them. I love being connected.

As I said previously, Twitter is amazing. The connections I've made, and continue to make are fantastic. I also have an addictive personality. I don't do anything half-speed. So when I decided to give this PLN thing a shot, I went all out. Heck, it took me months before I could allow myself to not read every tweet on my Twitter timeline and just check in when I could. I also had a serious case of FOMO and wanted to reply and connect to every great tweet and idea I came across. The more people I followed (I believe in the unspoken follow back rule for edus) the more amazing thoughts and ideas I read. I could hardly contain my enthusiasm and energy. The information and energy was snowballing each and every day. Twitter chats? YES! So many chats! I was brimming with ideas and information.


I am also a husband to an amazing woman, and a father of 2 pretty special girls, soon to be 3.  I can't lie, lately it has been really tough to keep up. I honestly don't know how some people do it. (This is not a judgment or negative comment) I freely admit, I spend a lot of time on my devices. I feel like I manage it, but I am online and connecting all the time. Even then, it is a challenge to stay "connected," particularly on Twitter, and also keep a balance. I work on a computer most of the day, every day. I have lists on Twitter, and feel as though I'm pretty efficient in how I check in on the myriad of social media offerings. But it is hard... nearly impossible I dare say. I am amazed at the volume and frequency some are able to tweet & interact 7 days/week. It is truly mind boggling to me. I wont' even get into creating a "brand" or trying too hard to be liked. That can be another post. I can't be that person. I love what I do, but I love my family too.

Fortunately, I've been blessed and inspired by some very powerful blogs written by some fellow educators whom I have grown to respect greatly.  They have moved me to not only regulate and moderate my time connecting online, but also encouraged me to write about it. Because of great posts like this one by @msvictoriaolsen, I am not going to chase follower counts, nor will I only engage with users who have lots of followers. Instead I'll seek out those who interact regularly & also challenge me. Thank you Victoria.

Because of authentic and real posts like this one, or this one (or a myriad of others) by @newfirewithin, I will constantly remind myself to take a deep breath and not get to consumed by all of this. My job is ... well, a job. I love it, but I won't let it define me. I also won't let others' words define me. Thank you Justin. I don't think you understand how profoundly you have impacted my life.

Additionally, posts like this one by @mcleod will inspire me to focus my time and energy on my daughters and find their interests. I will then advocate for their education and learning, but will also support and encourage them at home. They too are makers, and I want to ensure they continue with that youthful passion, energy, and creativity, despite the educational "system" challenges that they will face.  We can work tirelessly to change/improve the system, but we also have to make a difference where we are. As parents and educators, we need to make an impact where we are, because that will make all the difference!Thank you Scott.

Last, but not least, a long, long overdue mention and credit for inspiration goes to this post, by @RafranzDavis. Thank you for reminding me that we need to have balance! It is OK to not attend every Twitter chat, or watch that video/podcast. It's OK not to attend every conference. Life is short, and we can't get time back with family. It is OK to work hard and do our very best for our staff and students. But the most important thing is family. Thank you Rafranz! I'm honored to connect with you.

I could go on and on about great educators and great blog posts that inspire me every day, but there are too many to list! This also isn't one of those knee jerk "I'm quitting Twitter" posts, or anything like that. Twitter is an invaluable tool. More importantly, it is a reminder for me, and hopefully some of you, to unplug and be present to our families. Everything else will still be there when we reconnect. Authentic connections will persist regardless of how often we post. Opportunities will continue to abound.

I'll end with a quote by Ferris Bueller and inspired by @theprofspage : "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Thanks Melinda. I'm blessed to know you.

Merry Christmas everyone. Don't be afraid to unplug...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's In A Name?

Go Vandals! Came a tribe from the North brave and bold...

I wasn't an early adopter, but I joined Twitter early enough that I probably could have had some form of my name. Unfortunately I didn't have the vision to snag any variation of my name. I instead used a form of my original family domain and blog, which is still active and can be found here. My wife and I are both proud graduates of the University of Idaho... the Vandals.  so @vandalgrad it was. Nothing overly creative, but it matched our blog.

By the time I was really using Twitter as a place to connect, communicate, collaborate, and grow, I was unable to find a variation of my name that 1. Represented me effectively, 2. Didn't take up 20 characters, and 3 is easy to remember. A little over a month or so ago, before #isf13, which was amazing by the way, I decided to make a change. With some encouragement  from some eduawesome tweeps like @LS_Karl and @WokkaPatue I quickly selected something that had some of the qualities above, but was actually available. It is petty slim pickings these days. (Side note: Hey Twitter, you should really be more proactive/aggressive about pruning unused accounts!) Hence @jeditechsm was created. jedi (duh, Star Wars) + tech (I am an edtech enthusiast and tech leader), and sm (my initials). I still like this name but I don't love it. I love Star Wars. In fact, this blog post by David Theriault, is probably my favorite educational blog post of all time.

Inactive people with this as their avatar should be deleted!

But the more I think about it, and the more I connect with such incredibly talented and creative educators and administrators, I realize I'm no Jedi. I could pass as a Padawan, maybe, but probably more of a Youngling. So I’m thinking of a change... even though Star Wars is probably my all time favorite movie, and I've been able to rediscover this with my 10 year old daughter! Nonetheless, while I wait for Twitter (Come on Twitter, sheesh!) to free up names that haven't tweeted for over a year and follow 3 people and still have an egg avatar, I think I need something that represents me better.

I grew up in the shadows of these smelter stacks!

The name of this blog is LeadEDTech. It has a couple meanings, and it can be read and interpreted two ways. First, Lead (as in leader) +  EDTech (Educational Technology). I am a teacher, turned Technology Coordinator, so this works. It can also be said Leaded (think mining) + Tech (Technology enthusiast!) I'll blog more about the rich mining history and how I grew up in the shadows (and smelter smoke) of one of the largest Silver/Ore producers in the USA, Bunker Hill. There has been much controversy and research about residents of my hometown having elevated lead counts in our blood. So I'm "leaded." There is much more to share about this! (maybe later) The third, and serendipitous aspect of the name is that "Leaded" can sometimes mean caffeinated! And we all know how much I love coffee. Also, a shoutout to Amy Mayer @friEdTechnology for the inspiration!

So, until Twitter cleans house, I am making one more change. I'm going back to my roots and matching up with my EdTech Blog space. @jeditechsm is now going to be @LeadEDTech I hope you continue to follow me, and that I can blog, tweet, and share all things leadED and EdTech. Oh and May the Force be with you.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Still finding my way....

I don't hate writing as much as I used to. Which is why I just can't figure out why it is so hard for me to blog. When I do blog, I always feel better. It forces me to share things that are happening personally and professionally. It's a great experience to share with others that I respect and admire. Maybe it is also the gratification of getting something done. But even then, I think it is more than that. Reflecting and sharing is always good, it's just not always easy. But even given all those things I think the biggest reason I don't blog is because I constantly feel like someone else already wrote it, shared it, or invented it, and probably did it much better than I could ever have done. This is the worst thing we can do when it comes to reflecting and sharing. I was reminded of this while reading a great post by Dean Shareski titled, "Stop Me If You've Heard This Before" in which post Dean states, why we should share:
"And that’s why we share and reflect because although on the surface our stories, insights and ideas may not be new, they come with our personal context and perspectives and it’s those aspects of sharing that to me are most interesting and meaningful. It’s the reason that your 'research' matters."
So I'm going to reflect and share. Maybe because I'm inspired by Dean's blog post, or maybe because it's my birthday, and I'm feeling particularly brave. I'm not even sure what the focus of this blog post is. Heck, I'm not even sure if I like the title of my blog. I am still not convinced I've found my niche in this social media ecosystem.  But that is OK.

I do want to share that I am very inspired since attending an exceptional conference #isf13 IntegratED San Fransisco, by OETC, led by Darren Hudgins. This event was easily the best conference experience I've ever had, including multiple NSTA conferences, NMSA conferences, and NCCE too. #ipdx14 countdown anyone?

Since shifting my Twitter use from a purely recreational purpose, to a more focused effort involving connections with other educators, I have found myself experiencing this roller coaster of both personal and professional emotions and thoughts that have inspired and challenged me in many ways. There are so many great ideas, connections, resources, and opportunities that take my motivation and energy to new levels, but there are also an equal amount of  opinions shared that makes me examine and wrestle with everything I believe in and do. I need to learn that this is not necessarily bad. It is good to challenge, reflect, and reevaluate our visions and philosophies. I just need to figure out how to do just that, and not get too caught up in dwelling on feeling inadequate.

While engaging in the PLN Twitterverse, I've learned that fellow educators are very passionate about what they do and this is good. I am too. They can also very quick to judge different teaching philosophies and methods, which I sometimes find frustrating. I've read lots of things related to Education and Educational Technology such as but not limited to: Worksheets are horrible! Grades are killing creativity. Khan Academy isn't real teaching! Tablets aren't creation devices! Public schools are outdated and unnecessary. Lecturing isn't teaching. Real teaching looks this way. -- The list goes on and on. Sometimes the comments make me reflect and evaluate. Sometimes they do nothing but upset me. I need to learn to let go of things that aren't helpful, and use things that can make me better at what I do.

I'm not here to say K12 Education is perfect. I'm not here to say I have all the answers. Heck, I'm not even sure what my educational philosophy is, nor could I express it adequately. I struggle. I doubt. I get frustrated. I wonder if I'm really making a difference. I wonder if our education system can thrive again. But I do know one thing. I love being an educator and I love working tirelessly to try to find ways to help teachers and students use technology to transform teaching and learning. I haven't written a book, or given a keynote, and my school district is tiny by most standards, but I love what I do and love seeing teachers and students grow, learn, and experience the journey together. I also work with some fantastic educators!

Have I made decisions or tried things that didn't work that I look back on now and wonder "what was I thinking?" Absolutely, but they have only made the journey that much more interesting. I guess I'll keep reading the opinions of the "experts" in Educational Technology, but at the end of the day, I only have to answer to myself to the question "Did I give my best and build up others today?"

Well, several paragraphs later and I'm still not sure what I'm trying to say other than, I'm still finding my way. I'm sure that's probably already been written or shared... but that's not the point.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Look Like Love

OK, I'm still trying to find my "niche" for this blog. I'm also trying to blog to share thoughts and feelings, rather than treat it like each post must be a well-polished, finished product. So this will be my first attempt at a "just blog it" type entry.

This week, while loading up the car to take my daughters to school, I had a thought. Hey, the girls are big enough, they can put their backpacks at their feet in the car and just get out on their own when I drop them off rather than the usual stop, get out, get their bags from the back hatch and off they go. My initial feeling was that it would be easier and quicker. But then it hit me, in that "back to school" nostalgia sort of way. You know, that feeling you get when your kids are starting another school year already, and Summer zoomed by, and they seem so grown up. I needed that moment, in more ways than one. So I decided to put the backpacks in the back, in our traditional spot, because in doing so, I was strategically manufacturing an opportunity to give both of the girls a big hug before sending them into the their school. That moment started much more.

Once in the car for our 2 car caravan (My wife teaches at our district's only HS a half-mile from my office and the girls' school and drives herself) we hit the road for our 3 mile, 6 minute commute. OK it's 7 minutes if traffic (school buses and a few cars) is heavy. Anyway, we were listening to music an singing, which is another tradition for me and the girls, when the lyrics of the song went straight to my heart. 
I wanna look like love
Be more than just enough
For the hearts that are broken, coming undone
It's up to you and me 
To leave a legacy
If we're all they ever see
I wanna look like, look like love
I wanna look like, look like love

All of a sudden, I began to really examine my attitude and how I interacted with others.  By others I mean my family,  coworkers, and even other people I encountered during our commute. You see, the first week "back to school" wasn't my first week because I have a longer contract, but it's always the busiest and most stressful. I must confess that I had several moments of bitterness and frustrations, but at this moment I was being made aware of how I was missing one big piece, and I was so amazed at how directly applicable this piece was to both my life, and my job, and yes, even education.

That piece that I was missing... true empathy. We all have struggles, stresses, and difficulties that we encounter. Heck, this week I had several moments of "can I do this?" and "How am I going to make it work?" Life is kinda cruel that way at times. So why not take our own worries and challenges and consider the other people we encounter? That person that cut you off at the 4 way stop? They might be losing their job. The co-worker that ignored your email? They might be facing incredible sadness due to illness or hardship in their family. The student who doesn't seem to care? Maybe his parents are fighting nonstop and verbally abusing each other. But what if we made an effort to consider these possibilities every time we were "wronged" or wanted to lash out or be bitter? What if we showed genuine kindness and grace? What if we "looked like love?"

I had a hard time formulating this post because the "look like love" concept isn't just a family or friend thing. It's more than that. It is a recipe that will work anywhere. I am an educator, as is my wife and other family members and friends too. "Look like love" will never fall void. Look like love to your students. Really find out what makes them tick and what may be affecting them daily. You want to see achievement go up? Look like love. You want fewer discipline problems? Look like love. You want students to engage and show ownership in learning? Look like love.

I've been seeing a lot on social media and on the news all the polarizing and mind numbing mud slinging about education and what's good, terrible, and who is to blame. But there is one thing that cannot be argued. Showing love, compassion, and empathy to others... really caring about students and giving all that you have will do more than any "reform," pedagogy, technology, theory, or style. It's simple... Look like love. Our homes, workplaces, and communities will be better exponentially. We will still have "off" days or times when we fall short. But I think that will be the time someone else might "look like love" for us.

Are you ready to look like love?

Monday, July 22, 2013

More Than A Platform

If you haven't known me for an extended period of time and haven't read my blog post "A Cold Day In.... Boise," you would't know how narrow minded and stubborn I was when it came to operating systems and technology options. (sports teams too) I was not a Windows "fanboy," by any means but I refused to use or even acknowledge Apple products. It is true. I was an Android enthusiast (still am) and was determined to use my Android based tablets no matter how far they fell short in the area of apps and functionality in K12, and home too. My windows laptops and desktops didn't wow me, but they worked just fine for what I needed them to do.

OK, so I've come clean and admitted my stubborn biases, but please let me explain. As a Windows user, I never really doubted that Apple products like Macbooks or iPads were powerful pieces of technology, but the attitudes of a lot of Apple users really turned me off to all things Apple. Seriously, the words "It just works," or "Macs don't get viruses," were like nails on chalkboard while chewing on tin foil to me. Both online and in person some of the people I knew were so pompous when it came to talking about their precious Macs and iPhones that I would rather learn Linux or rock Windows Vista rather than succumb to caving to such haughtiness. Not only was I obstinate about not using anything Apple, but I  adamantly found ways to perform tasks both personally and in the educational environment even if it took hours of pain and anguish. I was pretty hardcore.

As I blogged previously here I've been learning extensively about all the fantastic educational technologies that are available for students and teachers. Additionally I've been reminded that it is not the device or technology that should be the primary focus but the learning process and desired outcomes we want as educators that is of utmost importance. I've also done pervasive reflecting and self evaluating in all that I believe and do in my career as a teacher-turned-technology-coordinator. It really was on that "Cold Day In.... Boise" that many things began to manifest and evolve for me both personally and professionally. Thanks to attending a great conference, and meeting a dear and long lost friend, my heart and mind were changed in many ways.

Some of my friends and family members will be shocked by what I'm about to write next. I'd say it started when traveling to China 2 years ago, to meet our 2nd daughter, Gemma, we bought an iPad2. Honestly, I loved it. It was thin, light, fast, and extremely easy to use. I still refused to let myself believe I could actually embrace it, however. But it only took a few months to see how value of a tool it was for not only our ELL daughter, but our 7 year old as well. I begun to see the thousands of ways this device could be used in a classroom by both students and teachers. OK, nothing Earth shattering so far right?

After buying our family the iPad2 and then returning from China, I had to experiment and learn more about this device and platform. I got an iPad at work. Slowly the demand and popularity for iPads grew in our district and this year after a few trips to conferences and connecting with many fantastic educators and administrators both in person and online, I was convinced we needed to deploy these in areas where they would transform teaching and learning. We purchased a few iPads here and there and then it happened. We took a leap of faith and purchased 3 classroom sets of iPads instead of textbooks in our high school. This required a more intensive model of deployment that was most efficient when using Apple's configurator (along with an MDM we would evaluate and learn later) which was easiest to run from a Mac. Yes, a Mac! What was happening to me?!

As part of the learning curve we purchased some Macbook Air laptops to help manage the growing population of iPads as well as to learn more about all things Mac. I took ownership of one of the Macbooks and I have to say I liked it much more than I wanted to. It was simple, easy to use, and very fast. Additionally, battery life was fantastic and this thing went into sleep mode and woke up like nothing I had ever used. It. Just. Worked. Ahhhh. I didn't say it but I thought it, which is just as bad! I found so many tasks that were agonizing on a PC were smooth as butter on the Mac. I made a birthday greeting video compilation by using my iPad and the webcam on the Macbook Air and had them combined and rendered in under an hour. I later made a slide show for my golf team and it was exponentially more pleasant and easy than the previous 10+ slideshows I had made on a PC.

So, enough tech mumbo jumbo. What is the point of this blog post? Well, I guess primarily (see I still can't believe it) my point is that I really like my Mac. In fact, when my laptop refresh is up, I will strongly consider a Macbook Air or Pro for my portable device. I also really like iPads. I love Google Chromebooks too! But it's more important than that. I'm not anti-Windows or anything like that. But I'm realizing that it is important to identify what outcomes we want as well as what we want to do with a particular device or devices, when we consider what we will use. Some environments, like Education have unique needs that can be met more effectively by one platform or another. Further, as technology continues to evolve the OS platform becomes less and less important.

So I have a Windows 7 desktop (don't care for Win8 at the moment), a Macbook Air laptop, iPad, Chromebook, and an Android Phone (Samsung Galaxy Note II). I am a technology enthusiast and I am proud of it! I'm excited to learn about more ways different platforms and devices can impact how we teach and how students and teachers learn together. It's an exciting time!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

What just happened?!

Something indescribably edu-amazing happened today, and I almost missed it. I've blogged previously about actually using Twitter for something other than pure entertainment and growing a PLN without even realizing it was happening. I also blogged about how this flood of professional educational collaborative awesomeness was a bit overwhelming and how I  was now unable to turn off the avalanche of ideas and concepts that were overloading my brain. As I've previously stated, my Twitter timeline is not a firehose anymore, it's a river. I still treat it like a Facebook timeline, or a DVR however and think I am going to miss something if I don't read every single tweet! (more on that later)

So "why the rehash?" you ask. Well, with several non-work, non-computer projects that I had to do, coupled with a family and other duties, my ability to keep up with my Twitter timeline of spectacular educators was lagging at best. I had seen some references and hashtags to this #edcamphome concept but honestly, I thought it was a sarcastic way of saying that people would be at home and not at a conference. I passed it off as some "inside" joke that I wasn't privy to since I hadn't been attending ISTE or ADE13 or GAFESUMMIT. So I really never looked it up or did any research, not that I would have had time to do so anyway.

Fast forward to this Saturday morning. After sleeping in, or at least sleeping in as long as a parent of 6 and 9 year olds are afforded, I went for my Saturday run. Upon returning, I poured a cup of coffee and planned to watch some of the Open Championship on ESPN. I check my Twitter timeline and see this #edcamphome hashtag going crazy. I follow a few links and lo and behold Edcamp Home was not only a real event but it was going on! I tweeted  Karl Lindgren-Streicher to inquire, and he tweeted back immediately, which I would learn later was even more impressive because of all the awesomeness he was facilitating simultaneously!

Two hours later, my mind was not only blown, but I was so fired up that I couldn't contain my excitement. How did I almost miss this?! Thankfully for me, I'm an uber-dedicated (some say obsessive, but who's counting?) tech nerd, so that learning curve didn't phase me. I was able to use my GAFE/GHO experience to get up to speed immediately. I navigated through Google+, Twitter, Google Docs, and Youtube and instantly joined the event. OK, I probably didn't register correctly and I also didn't shorten my Google+ Profile URL, but this community of unbelievably amazing educators welcomed me with open arms hangouts. I first watched what I called "Command Central," as  David Theriault, Karl Lindgren-Streicher, Kelly Kermode, and Shawn White facilitated the whole thing. Curt Rees tweeted something to the effect that it looked like NASA or mission control. It was a perfect description. These 4 individuals tied this all together with inspirational improvisation and persistence. Additionally, in the Minecraft session, Jo-Ann Fox and a bunch of us were wowed by Jo-Ann's daughter's fearless sharing with us, while unknowingly epitomizing what learning/teaching should look like. It was this amazing (I'm overusing that word I know!) experience that I am not ashamed to admit was life changing.

The slam session at the closing was equally as mind-blowing-ly awesome as people shared and highlighted things they were using or learning about. It was all I could do to contain my excitement and energy and manage to get a coherent stream of consciousness across the hangout for my portion. I could go on and on about how inspirational this experience was for me. Getting to hangout (pun intended) with such amazing, caring, passionate, knowledgable people was career impacting edu-domination! Where there glitches? Yes, but it is not whether or not there were glitches/challenges but how we responded to them. Thanks to the fearless and courageous leaders the glitches were turned into learning opportunities and when everyone showed patience and grace, it was even more powerful. Learning at its purest form. Again... amazing.

I apologize if this blog is more like a mind-dump/ramble mashup, but it's the best I can do at the moment. I'm still processing and reflecting on all that happened and hoping to increase connections with all who participated directly and indirectly.  Additionally I just got back from a few hours of analog family time at our local pool with my daughters. My mind is still racing with excitement!

Thank you to everyone for allowing me to participate in such an amazing, inspiring event. I was already an advocate of Education and Technology but I'm even more passionate after being a part of this!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Drinking From the Firehose & Reflecting

Thanks to some encouragement from some of my awesome Twitter PLN, including Rafranz Davis, I managed to bust out a blog post a couple days ago. So as I blogged in "How I Grew My Twitter PLN Without Even Knowing It" a few days ago, it kind of took on a life of its own. For as long as I can remember, I have not particularly enjoyed writing, nor do I consider myself a good writer. But once I reflected and cranked out a blog, I felt immediate gratification and validation upon getting a few comments. It was amazing to feel that sense of community as I read responses and comments. It was one of those "lightbulb" moments where I immediately thought about how authentic and beneficial this sort of activity/process is for our students! I was so moved, that I've decided to reflect and blog again. The writing part is getting a little easier, but there are still some struggles for me as I wrestle with my reflections and thoughts and formulate a coherent plan to share them. 

I presented at a conference a few weeks ago and I compared using Twitter as a PLN to drinking from a firehose. The past few weeks I've learned that a firehose was perhaps an underestimation. It's more like a river!  I'm getting so much from my Twitter experience, I still can't make myself organize lists and "dip into the river," and I have been taking it all in as much as I possibly can. Now, I do have a few things going for me that allow me to do this. I have a whack sack of devices (that was for you @shareski) that I can use to stay connected. It is also my few weeks of Summer Vacation, where I force myself to stay away from the office for a little bit. 

While I continue to learn and grow with my PLN, the overwhelming flood if information and resources have caused me to want, and need, to reflect on successes, failures, and areas for improvement in my district. It has also both helped and forced me to set aside some of the larger items that I cannot control, and instead focus on what will help teachers and students and administrators be even better at what they do. To keep this post a reasonable length, and to focus things down for simplicity, I'll outline my thoughts. Likewise, I have to take the wealth of information I'm seeing daily and narrow it down to a few areas and then prioritize. 

Priorities/Things to improve:
  • Ed Tech Focus: Due to varying circumstances and limitations, the first few years of my tenure as Tech Coordinator were focused on the "IT" side of things and I'll readily admit that the "Ed Tech" side of things suffered.  A few years of survival mode prevented me from encouraging effective Ed Tech proactively to staff. I was definitely not "glass half empty," but was forced to have tunnel vision. I'll re-read this post  by George Couros and this post by Tom Murray and do as much as I can to promote Ed Tech daily.
  • Digital Citizenship: Again, due to limitations, and maybe even fear, we've blocked all social media for students and in some cases staff as well. I think we need to dispel the taboo/myth status of social networking and instead focus on showing how to use them responsibly. We will need to place a priority on Digital Citizenship K-12 and involve parents and community as well.
  • Pedagogy, not Shiny Gadgets: Everyone, including myself loves a shiny gadget. But I want to emphasize and encourage Teachers to identify the things they want their students to learn, and then find technology to fit and engage and make the learning even more relevant.
  • Build on Success: Hey, we've done some great things too. Ubiquitous WiFi in all schools, and we are 4 years into our Google Apps For Education (GAFE) suite. It is time to dive in 100% and commit to our strengths and maximize the limitless benefits of our Google solutions. We can use the SAMR model and transform how our kids are learning and creating/sharing.
  • Professional Development: Continue to find ways to make teachers and staff want to learn more! Gamify? Be creative. Organize our social media presence and give staff lots of resources they can explore on their own. Identify tech users/leaders and let them lead their buildings and departments. 

Wow, I could really go crazy on this post and keep going but I don't want to lose my potential readers and learning community. I value the feedback tremendously. But I do know that I'm passionate about focusing on Educational Technology. Yes the IT stuff and nuts/bolts are important, and Laws and Mandates must be understood and respected. But those things will always be changing and evolving. I want to focus my energy on helping Teachers and students use technology for authentic, meaningful teaching and learning. Thanks for reading! Feedback is encouraged!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How I Grew My Twitter PLN Without Even Knowing It

So far 2013 has been quite a journey for me, both personally and professionally. But in the context of this blog, I'm going to focus on the professional/career side of things. (But hey, if you are interested in the personal side of things, my wife and I have a blog here.)

In my tenure as a Technology Coordinator, I've been to a few educational technology conferences such as NCCE and IETA, but due to several circumstances over the last few years, I have not attended many such events. Before January of 2013, I had not attended a conference in roughly 3 years, just long enough to believe I wasn't missing anything important. Boy was I mistaken!

Thankfully in January I attended my state educational technology conference in Boise. Little did I know it would be an event that would re-ignite and invigorate my energy to learn more about EdTech and reflect and evaluate all areas of how we do things in my district. The sessions at the IETA 2013 Conference were fantastic, but I'd say that the keynote, given by Dean Shareski, was the spark that got things going for me. It is funny because looking back, I distinctly remember seeing Dean in the Hotel lobby the first morning of the conference, but not knowing who he was, I did not say hello. A short time later, he gave a great keynote and got me thinking. Additionally, I got to attend some awesome breakout sessions by Zac Chase, Bud Hunt, Tim Chase, and Jennifer Gingerich. 

Up until that day, I used Twitter for entertainment only, and I really enjoyed it. But at that conference in late January, I decided to follow and tweet with some of the presenters. I was starting a PLN and I didn't even realize it. I continued to interact with those few mentioned above, and then started to naturally add Twitter users from their PLNs and slowly the network grew! If I could go back and trace the follows and Twitter interactions, it would point back to that 2 day conference in Boise. Thanks Dean!

Later, I would attend NCCE 2013 in Portland. Once again, I continued to grow my PLN, without really knowing that is what I was doing. That is the cool part. I was building a PLN without even knowing what a PLN was! A few great days and informative breakout sessions later, Portland came and went, and I had an even bigger Twitter PLN than before. I was learning so much I couldn't contain it. All I could think about was how I could go so long without knowing this!

By this time, my PLN was approaching "firehose" level of information and I was soaking as much in as I could muster. Through these new connections I soon learned of another conference called iPDX IntegratED in Portland. Unfortunately I was unable to make arrangements in time to make the conference. Later, I'd learn of this little gathering called ISTE13, and I wanted to attend that as well, but it was not meant to be. I did however discover a fantastic EdTech podcast called Techlandia by Jon Samuelson, Curt Rees, and Alison Anderson and became instantly hooked. Shortly thereafter I discovered EdTrends and another Idahoan, Dave Guymon. So, even though I didn't attend either of those conferences, I was able to continue to grow my PLN and learn more than I ever imagined. 

Along the way I've met and collaborated with too many awesome people to even begin to name them all. But I've learned more about EdTech in 6 months on Twitter than I have in 6 years as a Technology Coordinator. I hope to blog about that in my next post, as that was the original plan for this post, but it didn't turn out that way! Blogging and reflecting is not something I'm particularly strong at, but another #educhampion Twitter user named Rafranz Davis  motivated me to reflect and share. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weighing the Costs of Being Connected

Anyone who is acquainted with me, knows that I am a technology enthusiast. I not only work directly with technology every day, and love it, but I also use technology in most of my personal endeavors as well. So when I made the decision to pull the plug on my Facebook account, it may have surprised a few people.

I still remember the moment I made the decision to quit Facebook. It was November, election week and the polarizing political banter had finally pushed me over the edge. I had been struggling with my Facebook experience off and on for a while and had entertained the thought of quitting multiple times, but this time I had had enough, so I deleted my account.

Up until a few weeks ago, I've had many mixed emotions since my decision to delete my FB account, and I've even created a new account from scratch, mainly to (re)establish communications with some dear friends, who for some reason or another use FB as their primary way of staying connected. But other than checking my new and very limited account 1 or 2 times every couple of weeks, I have not rejoined the masses and reached out to any "friends."

If I could go back and redo any of this, I would probably have explained my reasons for quitting and posted it for all of my original FB Friends to read, because many of them still don't know why I quit. Further complicating things was my creation of a new FB account. A great deal of my FB Friends list didn't know I deleted my old account, so when they discovered my new account (very similar name) they could only assume that I had "unfriended" them. In reality, as I look back, not even I knew why I quit. But I recently read a blog post I discovered from my Twitter feed that really explained a lot of what I had been feeling. That blog post by Adam Brault, titled "I quit Twitter for a month and it completely changed my thinking about mostly everything," had so many points that I directly identified with, it was scary.

Although he was talking about another Social Network, Twitter, Adam made some really powerful points throughout his post, and I can say I have experienced nearly all the emotions he described, but mostly with my Facebook experiences. Throughout all of my struggles with my emotions and experiences with Facebook, I was never quite able to pinpoint why I was feeling this way. But I witnessed the results of those struggles daily with interactions both directly and indirectly with what I read on my timeline. I wrestled with frustration and anger regularly when seeing what was posted, and how people acted. I constantly fought with who to "friend," and also who to "unfriend," and it taxed me emotionally, more than I knew.

One of the points I identified with from Adam's blog post, was the concept of "Dunbar's Number," which basically is is a theory that humans have a mental limit (approx 150) of how many people we can fully empathize with. Now, I'm not here to prove or disprove the concept of "Dunbar's Number," but I can certainly see how this can impact how we deal with our new method of connecting with hundreds of others using Social Networks and other technologies. Basically, our ability to truly empathize with others is different and much more taxing than sympathizing. So as we connect with hundreds (or thousands) of people the toll this can take on us emotionally can be significant as stated by Adam.

"But the problem that occurs is that it can be a huge mental lease we’re signing when we invite a few hundred people into our Twitter life. To some degree, it is choosing to subject ourselves to thousands of ads throughout the day, but ones that come from trusted sources we care about, so they’re actually impactful." Read more here. 

Facebook was a valuable network for me, but it taxed me emotionally to no end. It stressed me out considerably to see people saying very hurtful things about things that I believed in and/or that were very important to me. Living in a small community also magnified things considerably. It really upset me to see people posting extremely negative and disrespectful things such as my school district, and also my community. On a larger scale, I took things personally when my FB Friends would post something about a political issue or other similar hot button topics. If I only knew why I was struggling with all of this. Again, it was not until reading Adam's blog that things really became clearer for me, and helped me work through a lot of my feelings. Another of Adam's thoughts that I really identified with is below: (Get out of my head Adam!)

"I’ll admit: I’m an annoyingly oversensitive person. I do believe this is both a strength and a weakeness [sic]. I have a tendency to go with my gut more often that not because it yells very, very loudly. 
I also have a tendency to listen carefully to any criticism or disagreement I hear, internalize it, reflect on it, and evaluate it, then conclude some thought on it. Until I do that, it just sort of hangs there in my head. The degree to which it dominates my headspace is largely a question of how much it impacts me." Read more here

This is me word for word, and as I said, it is scary how much it hits home for me. I'm "annoyingly oversensitive," and have been this way my entire life. I, like Adam, also listen carefully to criticisms and disagreements I hear and continually wrestle with things. I struggle with unresolved thoughts and/or feelings and I let it impact my well being and how I interact with others, including my close family members. I don't want this to be something that detracts from my outlook personally or professionally, in person, or online.

Now that I am able to piece together some of what may have been causing me angst on Facebook, I can understand why I was feeling stressed and frustrated with my online experiences. I mean, I still really struggle with certain behaviors on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and others. For example, in my opinion, Facebook (and other social networks) can really be a narcissistic activity, and there are other online behaviors that really bug me to no end. But I think I can deal with my experiences differently, knowing how I am wired (pun intended), allowing me to approach these connections with a different frame of reference.

For me, being connect is a really valuable tool. I love how technology gives us a myriad of ways to experience relationships both personally and professionally. My Twitter PLN (Personal Learning Network) has been invaluable in helping me to examine how I feel about education, technology, and my role in these areas. But thanks to Adam's blog post, I not only understand why I hit my limit with Facebook in November, but I can also be mindful going forward and strive to find a balance that will be productive and enjoyable going forward. If I can do those things and model activities both professionally and personally I think the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Thanks to an amazing team of co-workers in our IT Dept, I have been able to attend two technology conferences recently, after several years of not being able to go at all. Having attended both the IETA (Idaho Education Technology Association) Conference and the NCCE (Northwest Council for Computer Education) Conference in the past, I had some expectations of what I might learn and encounter. What I didn't expect, was to have my educational technology philosophies, practices, and beliefs rocked to the core as I wrestled with new and fresh concepts and discussions resulting from the many sessions, presentations, and conversations.

As I think through and process all these powerful concepts and philosophies, I am immediately thankful for my current position as the Technology Coordinator for the Kellogg School District, as well as the path I followed leading up to where I am. While there are a great deal of people in my position across the state and nation that were in the public sector IT field and then entered K12 and educational technology, there are also many who, like me, started out in K12 education first and then moved into the K12 IT field. I was a classroom teacher for 9 years and enjoyed every minute of it. I had no interest in pursuing administration because I had too much fun teaching. But I entered the profession at the time when computers and technology were really emerging into the classrooms, rather than just in administration, and my love for technology matched my love for teaching. 

That brings me to where I am today. I'm now in my 6th year as the Technology Coordinator for the Kellogg SD, and it has been a challenging yet rewarding experience that has always been accompanied with a pretty steep learning curve. Interestingly, because I entered the position from the classroom teacher side, I found myself wanting to learn as much technical information as possible, not only for survival, but because it was fun and interesting. Whether it was tearing apart computers and servers, or crawling in tight spaces to run category 5 data cable, it was all fun and fascinating. I outline that process because it really illustrates where I was so I can describe how I'm wrestling with where I believe I'm going. It is as though I've gone from teacher, to tech administration, and am now gravitating in my position back to the teacher/classroom focus of things. Now, I feel it is important to explain that in reality it wasn't as though I had nothing to do with teachers or classrooms the last 6 years. But there were times when we were short on personnel, and handling the technology part of my job was overwhelming and demanded every minute of my day. It was still fun and exciting, but it seemed like just keeping things afloat consumed all resources at my disposal. 

This current school year, I have a fantastic team to work with. I think that we are really getting a lot accomplished and in turn I am able to start to take a look at how we can better serve our teachers and students. Most importantly, since I attended the IETA and NCCE conferences I've really learned a great deal and heard some wonderful presentations of how technology is really revolutionizing education. There are so many great educational technology minds and leaders out there and connecting with them at these conferences and also on Twitter has really energized me and got me thinking. In particular, one of the most impactful experience and thought provoking articles I read as a result of the conference and Twitter PLN I have created is by George Couros, Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning with Parkland School Division, located in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada. In addition to speaking at the NCCE Conference in Portland, George also blogged this post titled 4 Guiding Questions For Your IT Dept. That blog post alone has really ignited the teacher in me and has really energized me and motivated me to take a hard look at what my dept is doing and how we can alter our focus and do a much better job for teachers and students. It won't happen overnight, but we are already excited about the process. One thing we have done already is to have a Technology Committee meeting  and collaborate and share ideas and information. We are already launching a renewed push for better profesional development. Additionally we are also looking at what devices and technology access models we currently use and finding new and more cost efficient ways to get technology in the hands of teachers and students. 

The road ahead is not going to be easy. We are facing critical decisions and possible budget cuts yet again, and our district continues to lose students. Standardized tests and the systemic educational mandates make it even more challenging to allow true creativity. But we are determined to look forward and keep doing our best every day. Our district mission statement is "Building our future, one student at at time," and I feel that my job as the Technology Leader is to equip our students and teachers with the technology tools that will all them to engage, create, collaborate, individualize instruction and create an environment that makes learning meaningful and relevant. I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

A cold day in ..... Boise

Vandal Bilers reunited... My great friend Eric and I.
For those who know me, my Twitter username and profile say it all: @vandalgrad:  Husband, Father, Musician, Educator, Runner, Cyclist, Swimmer, Golfer, Blogger, Tech Geek. Further, those who know me, also know of my stubborn disdain for certain things such as Apple Computer marketing, pretentious Apple users, and even certain sports teams, specifically, Boise State University Broncos. I've made no bones about it repeatedly, ensuring that my stubborn and polarizing opinions were well known by all, even going so far as to make it a point of pride wherever I went. "Who do we hate?? Boise State!" was one of my mottos and I often made it a point to let people know that my 2nd favorite team ever was anyone playing Boise State. But rather than elaborate further on the hate, I'll move on.

Recently, a few events have drastically changed my feelings and opinions in these areas and I think you'll probably be shocked to learn. First, I have been seeing some significant gains by my daughter, Gemma, due in large part to the myriad of iPad applications available on her refurbished iPad (1st generation). Seeing that progress has prompted me to encourage, foster, and implement iPads throughout our school district. This was further reinforced by a presentation I gave to an elementary staff on the iPad and Apple TV in the classroom.  Unlike many presentations I have given in various settings, the Apple TV and iPad performed flawlessly. No, seriously, I don't think I can emphasize this enough. I have never given a presentation where every piece of technology worked as intended and advertised. After that moment, I began to value and appreciate how well those things worked and vowed to have an open mind for future possibilities. Now, parts of Apple's marketing and attitude still really makes my skin crawl, and some very condescending Apple users still bother me to no end, but I really think there are some wonderful benefits that Apple products can provide. I also began using a Macbook Air that we bought to manage the increasing amount of iPads throughout the district and I didn't hate it! In fact, I rather enjoyed the simplicity and efficiency. More on that later. 

Move forward to January 28-30. A group of teachers, administrators, and some of my IT Staff made a trip to Boise for the IETA Conference, which was held at... wait for it.... Boise State University. I kid you not, when I disclose that one of the primary reasons for me not attending the last 2 years was due to  them moving the conference from downtown Boise, to the BSU campus. Yeah, I was pretty intense that way. On the 2nd day of the conference, I decided to pay a surprise visit to a very good friend of mine, whom I met at THE University of Idaho, and now works in the Athletic Academic Advising Dept at BSU. My wandering miraculously took me directly to his office and the look on his face was worth the trip in itself. It felt good to reunite after many years of not seeing each other. Schedules were tight, so we snapped a quick picture and went on our way. But the story does not end there. 

The next day, we had some time to kill. So I contacted my friend again. I told him I'd love to see him again, and although lunch didn't work out, he came and picked us up (my wife and one of my co-workers were with me) and proceeded to take us on a full tour of his dept and the BSU athletic complexes, including Bronco Stadium (Yes, the smurf turf) and the Stueckle Sky Center. The entire time we visited and toured, I kept remembering how great of a friend this was, and how he also was a Vandal. We even visited about some of the hateful comments I had made on Facebook and Twitter about BSU. All of this caused me to really examine how juvenile my attitude had been. Although I'm far from a BSU fan, I did gain a tremendous respect for what they have accomplished over the past decade or so. Knowing the exceptional character of my friend, and his attitude, really forced me to rethink my feelings. Actually, when it came down to it, I realized that most of my negative attitude towards BSU was caused by my disappointment in my own Alma Mater, and their decade plus of sub mediocrity. I'll stop there, as I could elaborate on the failings of my mighty Vandals for paragraphs. 
Yep, that's me, on the blue turf. Shattering stereotypes every day!

So, to summarize, a lot has changed over the past few weeks, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm vowing to put away my harsh attitude towards things such as Apple and BSU. Where I'm not ready to proclaim Apple the best thing ever or adopt their motto "It just works," I'm very interested in learning more about how iPads etc can enhance our teaching and learning. Similarly where I still may not root for the Broncos when they play out of state foes such as Georgia, Washington, or TCU, I'm definitely going to appreciate and respect what they have done and enjoy and respect what they have done for the State of Idaho. 
Eric and I  pose on the blue turf. Great experience. Impressive facility! 

As a co-worker commented this week, as I set foot on the blue turf and even jokingly donned a camouflage BSU Bronco hat, "is hell freezing over?" Another friend commented "I have renewed hope for world peace." I'm sure I'll get my share of ribbing from friends. But I'm simply choosing to stop spending energy on juvenile hate, and rather appreciate and respect things that are worthy. Life is too short to let bitterness and negativity consume us. Heck, if I can take that step, surely others can.