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Friday, September 30, 2011

With Personal Kanban you CAN!

Good morning my friends. This morning I'm tired. Are you?

We've got the Flat Classroom projects - the 3 we are currently running, kicking off right now and it takes a lot of energy and effort to get things going, even though we have fantastic project managers and jam up teachers. It is easy to put names and numbers on  a web page but to aim towards 100% collaboration by all students is a goal that requires quite a bit of work.

My List is a Nightmare
Needless to say, my list was becoming a nightmare. Lists are nightmares anyway. The are consistent reminders of all the things I haven't done.

I'm reading the book Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life and it makes a heck of a lot of sense to me. Attracted by the mention of one of my favorite concepts, Kaizen, or the process of ongoing improvement. I am attracted by a method that is less about the method and more about the tasks at hand.

I used Franklin Covey for years until I had children. When I had children my task list multiplied exponentially. Then, I tried to keep using it only to find that 70 things copied over and over. I found that I was spending 30-45 minutes a day just planning the next day when I could have spent that 30-40 minutes actually doing something. Besides that, everything was an "A."

I've used so many apps that it is ridiculous but right now I just have TOO much to do. I'm a huge Home Routines fan and use that for my routines every day. (See the Routine of Being Amazing.) In fact, that app is top right on my home screen on both my iphone and ipad and now that it syncs I'm thrilled.

But, I need a way to process.

Freeways are Parking Lots when they are at 100% capacity
One of the points made in the book is about freeways. A freeway becomes congested at 65% capacity. Why do we wonder why we are paralyzed when we are running at 100% capacity?

Is 100% capacity an achievement or a death sentence?

Visit Kanban 101 for more about this board.
The biggest thing that has always bothered me about all the task methods out there is this concept of bandwidth.

Sure, I can use your tool and make sure I know what I need to do. But if it isn't humanly possible to do that then why do I bother using your tool. The Getting Things Done method doesn't have a place or way to let things fall of your list.

If I were unmarried and living alone, I might could get everything done but now in a job with lots of gray area in terms of responsibility and a life with three teenagers and Flat Classroom projects and two books -- it can't be done.

Personal Kanban
Head over to the personal kanban site to see how a typical chart looks. My chart has 5 categories. On Deck, Today, in Process (only 3 at a time there), the Pen (a holding pen for what I'm waiting on) and Done. I have one for school on my whiteboard there and the other one is on 2 plastic pages in my circa planner with mini-sticky notes.

At the end of the day, I'm writing every thing that was DONE in my planner and reflecting on how I could have improved the process. I got a lot done yesterday and actually reflecting on how I could have improved it!

I can look back and see what I accomplished yesterday! Imagine that!

Productivity Processes Should Evolve with Us
I got more done yesterday than I have done in ages. I'm still learning, but just wanted you all to know that I think that there are some different ways of planning out there than "everyone" is using. I've designed my own planners for quite some time and use my own personalized planning pages in my circa planner for the last 6 months. But now, I feel I am evolving again in my productivity mechanisms. When I "arrive" - I'll let you know.

Busy Days but Memorable Days

Meanwhile. Time to head to school for Homecoming, the mini parade, to feed to football team at 3:30 pm, help the student who is playing music for the game go over the plan one more time, go to the football game, the "get dressed" party, the after the kids leave party, chaparone the dance and then maybe sometime tonight at 2 am I will go to sleep.

These are the days, but I wouldn't trade these crazy days for anything on this planet. My life is full of laughter, hard work worth doing, and changed lives if I'll just pay attention and love on these kids.

Remember your noble calling, teacher, and remember to look at your routines and how you handle the one-time to do's to make sure that you're focusing on the to-do and not the to-do system.

Have a great day!

Daily Education and Technology News for Schools 09/30/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lifetime Channel Deal; Please Vote for Spring of Hope

Today, I would like to announce that I've signed a contract with the Lifetime Channel and will become one of the bloggers for their morning show, the Balancing Act. Cool Cat Teacher is still here and I'm writing about educational topics and you'll keep getting what you've been getting here. As soon as my blog goes "live" over there, I'll write for a slightly different audience - primarily women - about balancing your life and also pull in my parenting and classroom experience.

Additionally, over here, about once a month, you'll see me share some of the things going on in Lifetime's Balancing Act show that relate to you as they have a whole segment every Friday about the classroom and education, the Parent/ Teacher corner and are part of a campaign called the "war on obesity." Two things which I'm passionate about. This will bring Cool Cat Teacher to a wider audience but also let me write about some other things I've been wanting to share but didn't really feel were appropriate to the context of my blog.

This is exciting for me and has been in the works for some time. It means that the show can call on me as a resource if they wish, but most importantly that my passion of writing can spread past this blog. I can also share YOUR stories with a wider audience that needs to hear about the GREAT things happening in classrooms around the world. 

Vote for a Spring of Hope to Help Drill Wells in Africa
Today, I'd like to share something that is totally in with you all and I hope you'll help me get out the vote for A Spring of Hope. A Spring of hope was founded by Brittany Young when she was just a senior in High School. It raises money to drill wells in rural Africa. This frees the women and children of the community to be able to go to school and work because much of the burden of getting water is literally on their shoulders. (View the documentary and look at their current projects.)

Of course, feel free to donate or let your classroom raise money for a well, but right now, they are up for the Chase American Giving Awards. If they get enough votes, they will win 1 million dollars towards the drilling of wells in Africa.

Could you imagine what this one award could mean to the whole continent of Africa?

So, if you are able and have a Facebook account, please go out and vote for "A Spring of Hope" on their Facebook page and spread the word with your tweets. This is the kind of volunteerism that we can all do as can our students.

Thank you
Thank you and I look forward to sharing more with you as it fits with the mission of Cool Cat Teacher! The fact is that every one of you who subscribes to my blog, reads what I write, comments, likes me on Facebook, or follows me on Twitter has "voted me up" to let opportunities like this happen.

I am very grateful to all of you reading this for truly you are part of this story. The fact that some anonymous teacher in south Georgia can have the dream of STAYING IN THE CLASSROOM and still be able to reach a wider audience with cool projects, books and blogs and speaking is a dream come  true. I don't have to leave the classroom in order to have my dream and it is my goal to help as many of you and as many good causes as possible to reach their dreams as well. Thank you, my friends.

Now, off to Homecoming week. Today is Geek Day! Guess I don't have to dress up -- much. ;-)

Daily Education and Technology News for Schools 09/29/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


My son has been looking for epic music on youtube and listens to these amazing one hour mixes of music while he is writing papers for his honors English class. I've embedded the video below and played it while writing this post.

(Equally breathtaking are the graphics which the YouTube creator says he made with "alphacoders." )

Do we have epic moments?

I had one Sunday as I ran at the school. I looked over the school, snapped a picture of a tremendously beautiful cloud and posted it to the school's Facebook page.

Listening to this music inspires me to be more. It helps me realize that I am pushing forward towards something excellent.

As I ran 2 miles last night between dropping my son off at Tae Kwon Do and our Flat Classroom Certified Teachers meeting, I was listening to another song, Citizen Soldier, and a line intrigued me because it made me think of so many of you teachers I know:

"The strongest among you may not wear a crown."

Yes! This is you!

We know that teachers are front and center of a debate raging across continents about what a good education looks like and who is going to "find" the magic formula.

The magic formula doesn't exist because I doubt you'll ever be able to mass produce greatness unless....

Unless teachers and parents concentrate their very being on finding the greatness within every child. Concentrate on HOLDING THEM ACCOUNTABLE and teach them self discipline and hard work.

So many people want something for nothing. 
 They want a great education for all students without having to spend money...without having to work hard... something that every person can do.

Greatness isn't easy. Epic isn't manufactured; it is earned one bead of sweat at a time.

I remember two years a go our football team was struggling - we lost all but two games and the ones we lost were less than 3 points a piece. It was a struggle and hard. But the boys and coaches decided to start coming in and working out at 6 am three mornings a week beginning in January. Voluntary choices to become better.

We are now 18-0. We won state football last year and are working hard to go for it this year. It is becoming epic.

Epic doesn't just happen. It is often born out of incredible failure. IN fact, if you're already good or great - getting greater may not be as epic as if you are at the very bottom of everything and fighting merely to stay alive.

We dream of epic. 
We hope for epic. Epic is something we all want to live.

But teachers, listen to me now (and I hope you're listening to that music too) - you have the ability for your career to be epic. You can be a hero. Go into that classroom and teach every period you are assigned to teach. Don't sit down. Never read a magazine.

Stay engaged with your class. Don't go behind your desk while you have students. Your job is your students - TEACH. When you disengage, you zap the life out of the room. Be part of the learning process. IF they are working, you should be working the room. If they are reading, you should be moving through the room seeing if they have questions. Read with them in the circle - the same thing. Be approachable.

At the end of my life, I hope and pray that there will be many students and teachers, educators and parents who have been encouraged to see the nobility in what we are doing every day to raise a new generation to inhabit our world. What can be more epic than that?

Now I must depart, my friends, for hills and vales unknown.
I am not on a battlefield and yet I pray for greatness to be shown
amid the learning, energy, and excitement in my students' minds.
Insurmountable it seems to reach them all, I'll leave none of them behind
but will look within their very heart to find what each does best
I'll contemplate those "showing out" and ponder them as I rest.
I'll love them and give myself until my life is done
if any life can be epic, a teacher's life is the one.

Be noble. Do RIGHT by your students. Be EXCELLENT. Work HARD. Never quit. Be a great teacher. I'm proud of you.

Daily Education and Technology News for Schools 09/28/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How Micromanagement can take a Leader's Eye off the Ball

I couldn't believe my eyes. As I drove up to the stadium for the second time Saturday night, there was our 18-0 state winning football coach grilling hamburgers before the game! SHOCK!

Why would the coach be anywhere but in the locker room? There are tons of us "unimportant" people out here who will grill hamburgers so he can do his important job: coaching the players.

Only one person can be the head coach - him!

Eye on the Ball
Whew! On closer look it wasn't him, but it struck me that I know micromanagers who are the same way.

As I walked into the game, I looked at the two teachers taking the money and pictured the head coach sitting there. As I went to the concession stand, I pictured my shock if he were behind the counter. As I walked up to the press box to help my student who is doing the sound for the games get ready, I pictured him getting ready to call the game and run the clock.

It just wouldn't be possible. Not only would it not be possible but shocks the senses to the point of thinking that if he did this, he'd be fired quickly for not doing the main thing and keeping his eye on the proverbial ball (pun intended.) He wouldn't be focusing on the big picture job of why we are all there.

Details are important. Certainly if someone wasn't taking money or wasn't doing their job in the press box, the head coach would deal with it after the game (he's our headmaster too.) But during the game for him to be anywhere but on the field coaching the players would be coaching malpractice.

Every day those in a leadership position who micromanage and have to "do" everything take their eye off the ball. Certainly a principal might make a good PA announcer or might be the only one who can keep the third grade in line or may be the only reason that Mrs. Robinson can keep her class in order. But if he's on the PA and always in Mrs. Robinson's class is he doing what he needs to be doing?

When I was general manager at Cellular One, I would answer the front telephone every so often just to see how my front lines were handling things, however, this was not something I did often. If the VP of the East region (my boss) called and I was answering the phone - who was focusing on the big picture? Management by walking around (the 5 minute manager) is great. It is good to be among your people, seeing what they are doing and giving them feedback. My principal is in my room at least 3 times a week and that is GREAT! I love it! (He came in yesterday while we were talking about Google's nGram viewer.)

But he doesn't come in an take over the class. He doesn't have to.

I know a micro-manager right now who has to do everything. This person has to literally control every aspect of her organization. She controls every word in the newsletter, she controls every knob for every piece of equipment in the whole facility. She picks people who will rubber stamp everything she wants. She has a complete inability to trust anyone who might have a different thought than she does.

Her organization is shrinking. She has taken her eye off the ball and is too busy grilling hamburgers and taking up concessions to coach the players in the game of the core mission of the organization.

You Kill Cooperation when You do People's Jobs for Them
The fact is that people who overly micromanage kill innovation and cooperation. What is the point? In the micromanager's organization you can never be the micromanager so why even try. Let them do it.

The organization shrinks and people stop volunteering or doing anything. Why should they? It will just be redone.

We need great teachers in our schools but we also need great leaders. We need leaders who can keep their eye on the ball and focus on the main mission of our schools.

While it is good to know an organization inside and out; if a person thinks he is the organization he is a liar and sadly deceived. The root word of organization is "organ." My son is studying organs in his fourth grade science class and it is amazing how different types of tissues come together to make organs.

Leaders should lead and help us focus our organization on what we need to do as a team to get the job done. A leader cannot do our jobs for us because to move a team ahead it is bigger than just one man or one woman.


Daily Education and Technology News for Schools 09/27/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The New Authentic Research Frontier: Google Books nGram Viewer

Google's nGram viewer lets you search over 5 million books for the instances of words. Imagine it as a search engine into the uses of words since 1800.

To better understand it, view the Tedx Boston talk "A Picture is Worth 500 Billion Words" by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel.

It is quite interesting and still a big imperfect as the uses of words change so dramatically. You can see that in this search (shown in the chart below) I did for the words school, teacher, and principal. Do we now call principals administrators instead? If we do, then administrator is used in many professions and the results won't just show schools.
Comparing Teacher, Principal, and School and the use of these words in books.

I also find it fascinating in the chart belowwhere I searched for educational technology, project based learning, differentiated instruction, classroom management, class size.

Here we can see that as we talked about class size in the 1930's we talked about classroom management. In the 1970's and 80's educational technology and class size were common discussions and now we are beginning to talk more about classroom management than educational technology as we talk about class size.

Differentiated instruction and project based learning are barely a blip. We just aren't talking about this. (Sad.)

Finally, I've been curious about the use of the terms PLN, PLE, PLC - note this is only going through books through the year. When you look at the chart, you think that PLC has been winning out until you look at the types of mentions more closely.

The fact is that PLC are programmable logic controllers and their use has blossomed. Be very careful and look to drill down and understand the meaning of terms.

If you take that chart at face value you will make a WRONG analysis. Instead you have to type the terms themselves. Note that we can only search through 2008 or this number may be different. However, if we look at this, we see that personal learning environment is used more widely with personal learning community and personal learning network not even making a blip.

So, you can't take a search at face value.

We are only at the beginning of our analysis. I would like to know, for example, why William Shakespeare was so incredibly popular between 1940 and 1950.

And when we add William Faulkner why is one favored over the other at different times.

This is a new albeit imperfect literacy but a powerful tool that is now an infant born before your eyes. All types of questions will emerge such as:
  • Can we include all ebooks?
  • Can we opt in new books so they are automatically included in the results?
  • Can you aggregate and compare blogs, news media, and books?
  • Can we drill down and include only one genre?
  • Could we just use this for research in a certain field, for example?
  • Could we aggregate collections?

Researchers, students, teachers, and anyone curious can find all sorts of uses for this incredible new tool. It may challenge your thinking but we are just seeing the beginning of digitization. What happens when paintings are digitized and we can examine trends in the use of color or trends in the use of certain types of materials in art? Topics or themes across art?

The thoughts are limitless but this is a tool I've introduced to my students today. They started by looking up their names and various spellings of their names.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Daily Education and Technology News for Schools 09/24/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rock, Paper, Ebook: The Next Evolution of Reading is Here

School Library Journal had an article yesterday on how Overdrive now is compatible with the Kindle. Overdrive is a popular ebook "check out" service used by many public and some progressive school libraries. As I checked the prices, I found that a license for a US school of up to a certain size is around $4,000 and it includes $2,000 towards 150-200 ebooks a year to add to your collection and you can add more. (This is only available for US schools presently.)

The fascinating thing is that you can have a 24/7 online library for students to check out with a customized book collection set up for just your students.

Rock, Paper, Ebook
Cavemen wrote on rocks in caves. Then, with Egyptian papyrus, paper was born. Now, with Kindles, Ipads and the like, electronic paper is in its infancy.

There are things not perfect about ebooks right now. Earlier this year, Overdrive received quite a bit of negative press for their "use limit" for some books. (Read the Librarian in Black for more information.) The bottom line is that publishers have no idea how the pricing will look for this new model and librarians aren't happy and perhaps cannot afford to pay for each person who reads a title if that is a model that moves ahead.

Many ebooks are check one out only. For example, if you check out a book, you don't return it. It expires and is returned to the library and then next person can check it out. The person who checked it can recheck it if it is available in the library. You can buy multiple copies of a book and let multiple copies be checked out. Textbooks are currently not available through this program from what I'm reading. 

But there is room for progressive authors and publishers who want to open up new markets to create "unlimited" check out books, so that possibility exists.

Are there other ways paper is better?
In fact, I had this conversation with my teenage daughter who has my old Kindle (which I gave up unhappily as I do prefer reading on it to my ipad but she does love it.) I asked her why she didn't want all of her novels on Kindle and her answer was,
The Skiff ebook reader was announced at CES 2010 and looks more like paper.

"Mom, when I have a book and the teacher has me underline and take notes, it is just a lot easier to take those notes and make those underlines in the book so I can have it to study for easily. I keep it on a shelf so when I'm a senior it will be easier to review for AP Literature."

OK, valid point. Since we had that discussion, I'm finding this to be true.

A Lesson from Cell Phone Days
I remember when cell phones first came out and I got in the business in 1992. Everyone said,
"NO one is going to use cell phones, they are too big and bulky and we will never want to have a bag on our hip."

Yes, they were right. Cell phones as they WERE didn't have mass market appeal. (Anyone remember "bag phones" and "brick phones?")

The problem was that people didn't see the cell phone as what it would become.

The same with ebooks.

Do you realize that we are sitting upon the biggest innovation in the MEDIA upon which we read since Egyptian papyrus. Sure, Guttenberg's printing press made a big difference in the mass scalability of paper. Take a look at the youtube video from Cairo showing the making of papyrus paper in 4,000 BC.

But paper was paper.

We are literally evolving: Rock, Paper, eBook

There are librarians digging in to defend their media. They think they are about paper. Really, a good library isn't about paper: it is about learning. Whether a student reads on a rock, paper, or ebook, I don't think a librarian should really care as long as that student is reading.

I'm not a librarian (obviously) but have a tremendous amount of respect for librarians. (See Librarians Teach us to Swim; Social media Builds Islands and Bandwidth is the Library Card of the Modern Age.)

In the ebook model we still need librarians as curators. Instead of teaching the card catalog system or electronic look up system, you'll teach people how to navigate a website. Instead of teaching students how to find it on a shelf, we'll teach them how to find it on a website and download it into their ebook reader.

Tired and Retire?
You have an opportunity, librarian. Some of you are close to retirement and you might choose to say:

"This is too much, I'm just going to go how it is for now and let the next person worry about this."

Well, they aren't building any more libraries in the physical world but in the online world, they are just beginning. You have a legacy. Your legacy is built in a generation of learners who came to you for advice that you have helped. You've poured your life into these walls and these learners. Open the walls and reach new learners.

Look at the chairs that surround you now. Think of the hundreds and maybe even thousands that have sat in those chairs studying or taking wild adventures that took them beyond the world in which they live. You've been opening a frontier to these students for your entire life.

If your heart is still beating and you still have a desk in your current library, you have the opportunity to make a difference and leave a legacy. Others are looking at you and if you decide that you're going to learn something new and try it, then you are setting the stage for everyone younger than you. They can say:

"If Mrs. Librarian-Close-To-Retirement can do it. So can I."

In fact, your behavior is setting the stage for the new person who will replace you. It is hard for new people to innovate because they aren't trusted (yet) and they don't have the asking power. You do. You know that you can ask for the money for an ebook lending system (I'm sure there are some besides Overdrive out there) and you could get it.

Why put off for someone else to do what is clearly your opportunity to do?

The question is: are you willing to learn so you can leave a legacy of learning?

Picture this: the library chairs are no longer chairs in your library but beds, floors, recliners, couches, car seats and even the fields around the world. Wherever your students are, you can be too.

There are obvious benefits:
  • check in is automated, 
  • students can find and download what they want, 
  • no heavy backpacks
  • wear and tear on books,
  • eventually you can perhaps even see how many pages they read and how they interacted with the book - things we can't even imagine yet. 

There are drawbacks:
  • something new to learn, 
  • publishers bumbling through the process of trying to make this happen,
  • you can't write in the book (is that really a drawback for libraries?), 
  • can you save the notes even when you don't have the book?

The point is that this evolution is happening. Some will always like paper and no one is making you get rid of your  paper books. No one is asking anyone to read on something that they don't want to read upon.

The only thing that is being asked is by students and people like me who want the opportunity to be able to read in the media that we prefer: the ebook.

I get 10-15 books to review a month. NONE of the publishers will send it to me via ebook. How crazy is that? Publishers don't want this to happen - at least those who have warehouses full of printing presses, paper, and personnell who do nothing but print books.

Remember all of those people who used to stamp CD's? Albums? They just aren't there because people wanted to download music.

Change happens whether we like it or not. Change can be done by us to or us. We have a choice. With your many years of experience, the future library will be better if our most seasoned veterans are involved. I think we should look at libraries like the King County Library System (which won the busiest and Best Library of the Year.)

We need our veteran librarians more than ever
I'm just reaching out and asking the heroes among us to continue to be our heroes. We need our librarian leaders to help us move into the next evolution of paper. And with Kindle now on Overdrive, the evolution of books and libraries has just moved into overdrive. Expect major disruption to happen to the publishing industry - it has begun and now libraries are feeling the nudge along the path to our electronic future.

Remember your noble calling, librarian. Same to you, parent and teacher. We've got a new generation to reach and teach. Let's get started.

When we launched Kindle Kids Corner with Stephen Windwalker and I saw just how our students love the ebook format, I realized that it was time. Let's move ahead.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Little Things Mean a Lot

This is the view from where I sit right now. I am taking up money at the softball gate in 90 something degree weather in the hot blazing sun. Or I was a minute a go.

A Little Umbrella 
Another teacher came by and she gave me her umbrella.  It means a lot because now I can read, grade papers on my iPad, and blog!

 You can see the umbrella there in the picture looking out on the field where our 16-0 football team is practicing. (3-0 on this season) If you look hard, you might just see our headmaster / head football coach, Ross Worsham, out there working.

I mention him because he did a little thing on Monday in our faculty meeting. Except it meant a lot.

A Little Question that was a Big Deal
Ross read our devotional made 3 announcements and then he said,
"I want to hear from you. Is there anything I need to notice or be aware of even if it is little, I want to know."
So the teachers told him a few little things - noise in the hall after middle school lunch and small things that if left unchecked could have grown.

The fact that he asked, listened and acted meant so much! In fact this may just be a little thing that means everything. I wish every school could be gifted with a man as good as Ross Worsham and a woman as good as our curriculum director, Betty Shiver. They are in our rooms, they work hard, they love us and the students. We love them.

It is the little things that mean a lot. 
If you are a principal or administrator out there, I hope you'll ask and care about the little things. If you are afraid to ask, you have problems.

If you are a teacher, you can do little things that mean a lot too! Loaning an umbrella is just the beginning.

 If you are a parent, you can encourage. I used to buy my son chocolate milk and put a sticky note one it and say " Love, Mom." The way to my son's heart is his stomach and beef jerky, gum, chocolate milk, and Big Macs all help him know I love him. (I did draw the line last week when he asked me to bring him 4 Big Macs after football practice- I told him 3 was enough. But you get the point!)

 Will you take a minute today, right now and do something little?  It might just mean a lot!

 Due to a blogger API problem this could not be posted live from my iPad. I have found that both Diigo (they fixed it in less than 24 hours after I emailed them) and Blog Press on my iPad wouldn't link to my blogger account!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thanks for Teaching Us: Share and Join In

Take time to thank a teacher...publicly. Now you can.

The website www.thanksforteaching.us lets us thank our teachers publicly. I just love this website and wept as I perused the first page.

Even if your students don't write on this page, just a glimpse lets you be inspired that there are GREAT teachers out there... tons of them.

"Thank you for dedicating your life to this hard profession and managing to make it look simple."


"...thanks for reading my reflection papers word per word. You're the only person who spent time to figure out what was wrong with me during those years."

or this poingnant one from a ninth grader:

"Dear Prev,
Thanks for Being the Man (Or Mentor, if you want to get Classical) You inspired me to interact with others as a human being, wielding charisma and humilty in equal, devastating measure."


Thanks for all the times you made me understand, and not memorize. You inspired me to learn more about not only the world, but the people in it."


"Mrs McGrath,Thanks for caring so much about your students. You are the reason that kids grow up to be successful, caring and well-rounded. Thank you for your hard work…it is definitely noticed. You inspired me to be more thoughtful and think of the good things in life."

And on and on.

For those of you who have lost faith in the profession, take time to read these. Even better, go on this website and thank someone who has meant a lot to you. I just took time to submit my own thank you to the amazing teacher who is now in the next room, inspiring me every day!

I love that this site will tweet you when your thank you goes live and will also let you email to the teacher what you have written.

What if all of us took time to thank a teacher?

Daily Education and Technology News for Schools 09/20/2011

  • With more than 30% of high school students now taking at least one class online and almost 20% of middle schoolers, it is time to understand the nuances of engaging in online classrooms and presenting online. As part of the Flat Classroom project, co-founder, Vicki Davis, has helped thousands of students learn how to present online. Learn the tips and tricks to help students engage quickly and be successful in online spaces (and make it easier for you to manage as well.)

    This free webinar is Tuesday, September 19, 2011 at 3pm Eastern Time. Register now and join us.

    tags: education flatclassroom online blackboard elluminate edu_news edu_trends bestpractices

  • Some very interesting trends in mobile and online learning from Project Tomorrow's 2010 survey. I'll be citing some of this material in my presentation at 3pm EAstern on Tuesday, September 20th as part of the Blackboard Distinguished Lecture series - free webinar.

    tags: education learning online bestpractices

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

This Page is Mine

I had to smile as I saw this on a wiki page tonight as I am entering final grades for progress reports tomorrow:

Students want to have their own place on the Net. A place that is theirs. Every time I bring these digital natives into a place where they can create a full-blown page of their own making I'm overwhelmed by their desire to own and create things. They don't just want networks of friends - certain kids like that and others don't really get into it. They want to create.

You won't know you're a good swimmer until you get in the water
Students don't just "know" the Net and how to use it. They don't just automatically "get" collaboration. Yes, their certainly take to it quickly but a person may just "know" how to swim but will never know he knows until he comes in contact with water.

There is a whole world of experience out there that students will not get just on Facebook and in email. (And students without access at home aren't even getting this.) They need exposure to professional collaboration (in academic spaces,) wikis, blogs, and should graduate with a personal website in hand ready to meet the world.

Can they get around the wall and keep their digital creations?
You just can't do that behind a walled garden unless someone teaches you or allows you to take that digital "property" with you. I see lots of schools deleting and starting over every year. We use dropbox now in my classroom so they can take anything with them.

This page is mine. This photo is mine. This project is mine. This app is mine.

It is my goal as an effective 21st century technology teacher to have them graduate from my class with meaningful projects indelibly stamped with their name as a collaborator or creator. That is my mission. You can't do this if you delete your student work every year, don't allow them to bring jump drives or access personal email to send it to themselves. Think about their learning legacy and let them build and keep it.

I used to have a stool that I loved and didn't get rid of until I was a teenager. It said:

"This little stool is mine,
I use it all the time,
to reach the things I couldn't
and lots of things I shouldn't."

It was mine. It had my name on it. I loved that little stool.

So, this generation loves their digital creations. I want to help them think twice, do better, understand privacy, and be excellent right out of the starting gate.

Do you let your students own their own digital creations? Do you encourage them to take these items "with" them? Is it even possible?

Daily Education and Technology News for Schools 09/19/2011

  • This handy firefox add on lets you hold down the right mouse button and draw a square over a set of links. Then, it will open each of those links into its own tab. This is useful if you have students placing links on a page and need to open each link to assess them. This is the only firefox extension that I found compatible with the newest version of firefox, although it is preliminary, I've found it to work fine for me.

    tags: education assessment firefox edu_newapp techintegrator web2 technology

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Daily Education and Technology News for Schools 09/17/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Roundup of Reading Research

Get the facts when you're teaching a child how to read.

I have a child with dyslexia and one of my biggest ambitions is to help my children love reading. Mrs. Grace Adkins in our learning lab is an invaluable help in this way and sent me some links to current research on the topic. I may not be an official "reading" teacher but I am my child's reading teacher.

I cried this summer when my fourth grader became so fluent that he's poured through one of the Chroncile of Narnia books and is now on his second book. He reads every night with me - we take turns and he's nailing it. I really wondered if I'd ever see the day. We've done multisensory everything, spent summers, extra help, whatever it takes. Reading opens up the world and is dear to my heart. I love it and I want my children to love it too!

A book recommendation from Mrs. Adkins
Mrs. Adkins just sent me a note recommending this book: Ready to Read: A Multisensory Approach to Language-based Comprehension Instruction  and also sent some other resources across my desk for looking at the research behind teaching reading.

Read up on Reading Research
You don't have to be the expert to read what the experts say and break it down into practice. As I"ve shared before, it is appalling that so few people like to read and how many never pick up another book after high school or college. (See my post Time to Get Angry About Reading.)

I've got a whole list of reading resources I've pulled from the web in a Diigo list, so please take a look, but here is a list of some great PDF's that you'll want to read.

Round Up of Reading Research

Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading International Dyslexia Association

This guide is from Dr. Louisa C. Moats and the International Dyslexia Association. It bridges research into practice to create a "research-based tool for practitioners." These are the standards used by the IDI to guide teachers of reading, spelling, and writing.

the Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read

The updated 2006 copy of the National Reading Panel teacher's guide to give a framework for using the findings of the 200 national Reading Panel in the classroom. This is another guidebook for teachers and curriculum directors.

Teaching Reading: Report and Recommendations, National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy

This December 2005 report talks about best practices in teaching literacy. For those of you who like to review best practices from around the world, this came in from the International Dyslexia Association in their Summer 2011 Perspectives on Language and Literacy "Global Perspectives" column.

Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading : The Department for Education

Here is another study for literacy people. This report from the UK talks about effective teacher training and good teaching methods but interestingly talks about early reading instruction and the debates surrounding whole language and constructivism.

Remember your noble calling, teacher. Take time to read and learn -- you expect your students to do it too!

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Death, Taxes, and the Poison Pen

Don't write when you're tired. Don't write when you're upset. Don't write when you'll regret what you said later.

I'm all of those things.

  • September 11th makes us all sad.
  • Business taxes are due Thursday and the headache is unbelievable this year w/ Flat Classroom, Cool Cat Teacher and my old hosting business.
  • The Flat Classroom book is so close and in final copy editing mode but a last minute glitch with some important graphics has me ready to jump.
  • I haven't been still or really rested in days.

I'm tired. More than tired.

Last night, my son's football team which has been blessed to win 15 straight games (state champs last year) won 43-0. There was a poor boy on the other team who was so tired and played the whole game. He kept falling to his knees after every play gasping for air and then he'd pull up again to go play again. He didn't quit but I kept pointing him out to my husband but inwardly I admired his tenacity. He didn't quit and he was an important part of his team, even though last night they had a tough fight.

Right now I feel like that boy.

But I know this. The feeling of hopeless exhaustion won't last forever. I felt that just before I had each of my children. They almost killed me -- especially my daughter - all 10 pounds 3 ounces of her (she's now 6'1".) I felt like I couldn't do it. Like it would kill me. Like I couldn't make it one more minute.

The biggest pain comes just before the last push.

The biggest scream before the greatest accomplishments are born.

The toughest roads are up mountains.

I take comfort in the thought of Winston Churchill bunkered underground during World War 2 telling the people of the world:

"Never, never, never, give up."

It is on my fridge on a magnet.

As I pour a glass of milk I lean my check on the freezer door soaking in the coolness and contemplating these things.

"Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life."

I'm called here. I'm doing what I'm called to do by One who loves me. All is not lost. Hope is not gone.

Joy comes in the morning.

Night y'all.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Picking the Perfect Font for Beautiful Designs Every Time

If it doesn't look good it isn't going to get a good grade. No longer in the age of the typewriter, we are now able to choose from many different fonts and sizes. In the case of fonts, less is more sometimes but picking the perfect size and type can be tricky.

A font is a

"set of type."

When writing my graphic design curriculum, I turned to my sister, Sarah Adams, who has three degrees in the subject, is an online professor for a major art university, and owns her own firm. (If you've seen a magazine in the US, you've seen her ads - designed right down the road here in Camilla, Ga.)

There are two basic decisions that you have to make about a font: the font face itself, and the font size.

I'm going to come back to font face and font families in a later post, but first lets assume you're using ONE font family and look at selecting font size.

Pick the Perfect Font Size Using The Font Formula


Yes, this is called the "Font Formula" by many graphic designers but the rest of us know it as the Fibonnaci sequence. This series of numbers always starts with 0 and 1 and then becomes the sum of the 2 numbers before it. 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5... and so forth.

The interesting thing about this sequence is that you can take the ratios of two numbers in line 3/5 or 55/89 for example and you get closer and closer to the Golden ratio (also called the "divine proportion.") No one can really explain it, but the Golden ratio is found in many things including geometric patterns.

In this case, I picked 3 Fibonnaci numbers in order.

Here is how it works. When you want to select two font sizes, pick two of the numbers from the sequence. So, a 34 and a 13 would look very nice together.

But we know that the "ideal" font sizes for 'body' text run between 10 and 12, so, say we wanted to have a 12 as a font size. Then, we would pick numbers from the font formula to help us pick our other one or two sizes.

So, If I have 12, I could add 8 and go with 20 and add another 13 and have 33. So, my body would be 12, my headings may be 20 and my title may be 33.

Picking font sizes using interpolation.

But what if I don't want to have that big of a difference? I could pick numbers lower in the sequence and interpolate in this case. So, I could say, OK, my body text is going to be 12, I'm going to add 5 and use 17 for my headers and add 8 and use 25 for my title.

There is still a place for "eyeballing it." 
Since my sister taught me this formula, I use it quite a bit and teach it to my students. I have the Fibonnaci sequence on a piece of paper right on my keyboard so I can just grab it.

You DO have to learn to type the font size manually in most programs because most programs don't use the odd numbers required to pull from the sequence. As for blogging, you can barely pick the size at all.

I've also found that there is also a place for eyeballing it. I've found that the higher up in the numbers I go, the better the differences between the fonts looks. (I guess that would make sense because you get closer to the golden ratio as you go higher.) But I've also found that sometimes I really have to eyeball it.

Some fonts are just different and I have to play with the numbers using different intervals from the Fibonnaci sequence to get what I'm looking for. But overall, I've found that this method of selecting font sizes (especially when in the same font face) is usually dead on.

The Books to Teach Graphic Design
Never use a software book to learn graphic design principles. I believe you should be concept focused, not tool focused. Know the principles and then you can use them anywhere.

If you want to teach graphic design in your classroom, there are two INCREDIBLE books that Sarah had me use for my graphic design curriculum. Every technology teacher should have these two books.

Williams also has a book that I plan on getting called The Non-Designer's Web Book, 3rd Edition but I would still get the graphic design book first. It is probably my next read on this topic.

Other Books I use to Teach Graphic Design
By the way, if you have a course where you also have the students take photographs, Sarah got me hooked on this The Digital Photography Book series by Scott Kelby

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
By the way, did you know Garr Reynolds has a new Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition) (Voices That Matter) coming out. I'd have to see this one to figure out which one I'd use, but knowing Garr's work, I'd use the newer one.

This post is dedicated to Sarah Adams, tied for best sister in the world. You aren't a baby sister any more, you are one of my best friends in the world and I cherish your wisdom, intelligence and perseverance. You are the first person who taught me how technology could unlock the greatness of a person and I'm so proud of your accomplishments.

She is tied up with some big jobs or probably would have written this post. She did agree to look over this post and let me know if there are any clarifications I need to share with you. I'll not corrections when I make them.

Hat tip, also, to my Twitter friends @datruss @nesticos @dkuropatwa @prlowe91 who got after me on Twitter and asked me to write this blog post. There are so many things like this that I just teach and don't realize that they are special. 

One benefit of tweeting is that others can tell you when something is important enough to birth into a post. Expect more from me (and Sarah) on this topic. She's spent hours infusing concepts into my brain in a way simple enough for me and my students to understand.

I have to almost admit that I was afraid to write this post, I had someone who got after me for a grammar mistake not too long a go and I added and re-added my math here. Is that silly? I guess that is what criticism does sometimes. But we share ANYWAY.

Photo Credits:
iStock Photo

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Failure to Communicate: When it is time to abandon the Betas.

"What we have is a failure to communicate,"
says the warden to Cool Hand Luke in the movie by the same name.


Between Firefox 7 Beta, the add ons for the browser, my free antivirus software Avast, and the upgrade to Blogger, something is wrong.

I have several computers that I work on: my Vista PC at home, my large Win 7 Lenovo Think Center m90z at home, and my HP Win 7 64 bit laptop at school. All nice, well tended machines.

But there are times when NOTHING works right and I've been having them for the past three or four weeks with this blog.

It came to a head on Monday when I wrote an excellent post responding to a New York Times article that I dare not link to. Not because I don't want to give you the link, but because, I've found if I open a different window and go there and copy the link, that somehow blogger will stop responding as it tries to save a draft and I'll lose this post too. I lost that post. I hope to write it again -- when I have time.

I try Firefox and Chrome and sometimes it happens in both, so it might actually be Blogger. But sometimes I'm not on blogger or anything like it and suddenly the new windows I open in Firefox or Chrome suddenly stop responding at all. The little circle just turning around and around.

It just isn't anything I can put my finger on, nothing I can really point to. I have Avast at home and AVG at school - nothing there. I use a heavy duty firewall at home and a gateway firewall at school - again a disconnect. I typically crash in Blogger and the one time I opened a post to resurrect it at school, it crashed on me there too.

Technology is an ecosystem. It is becoming harder to troubleshoot - at least for me.

I find it hard to believe that all three of my systems have problems - in fact, I'm pretty sure that they don't. Unless I just attracted unwanted interest on that post about Kevin Mitnick's new book that my sister berated me for even writing: Dumb, Dumb, Dumb,

"Vicki, never write anything about hackers lest they turn on you." she said.

Yes, but still. I guess there is a person in me that wanted to speak up for those people hurt by the book that will never even know I wrote the post - OK, so I guess I'm a bit dumb. Or perhaps just idealistic.

So, I've just written a dead, linkless post just for the sake of writing one, I guess. I may have to fire up Windows Live Writer and start blogging in there again - it is a nice offline blog post editor. I love using the Zemanta add in and have it on Firefox although there are problems in Chrome where I don't have the add in.

Something's just not quite right. I'm still here. I have an epic post I'm working on about parenting and another one as well.

The other problem is that I've had to disable my Diigo plug in on Firefox 7 and that is what I use to send you your daily spotlight. So, the question is - What is going on? I'm going to figure this out. It isn't that I'm not writing - I'm writing more than ever with the final proofs for the Flat Classroom Book due this week and the new book on collaborative writing's first deadline this past Tuesday.

I've got lots to write about and share with you. It is just somehow when I open this trusty blogger window, I always get hung.

Maybe it is time to un-beta everything and just go back to what works. Maybe that is what I will try next. There is a time when Beta products are in beta for a reason and now may be one of them.

Until then, remember your noble calling, teacher. Remember that great work often has great obstacles and that we have to keep on plugging ahead anyway.

Remember your noble calling, teacher. I will.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The One Habit that Will Immediately Reduce Your Stress

One of the most unbelievably annoying things in my house is to run out of cat food. We have two cats and they just go crazy.

"Good morning, Boots."


"Morning, Crispy."

"Reow" (Yes, he has an "r" sound instead of the "m")

Then all I hear is

"Meow. Reow. Meow. Reow."

It escalates until it is is unbelievable.

You can't get anything done. Don't pass Go. Don't collect $200. Don't even breathe.


This Saturday I jumped up out of bed at 7am ready to write and there they were with eager paws and whiskers twitching.

They descended in feline fury upon me and, you guessed it, I ended up going to Wal-Mart before being able to fire up my computer and start writing. Then, I saw I needed toothpaste and Cascade and several other things. I went ahead and started laundry while I was at it. So, I started at 9:30 am after one thing that led to another.

That is what happens when a little thing is allowed to slip until it becomes a big thing. The cats will nag when they aren't fed. It is a law of nature. Then, you will lose focus. It is a habit of humans who have let the urgent usurp the important.

Avoiding the Cat Nag
This is what we call the "cat nag" in my house.

It means that we haven't taken care of business and have let something get to a critical state so that everything else comes to a stand still until that one need is met.

Paper in the printer. Ink in the printer. Getting behind on grading. Running out of Milk.

I"ve blogged about these things before when I talked about applying the Pareto principle to your life but this is sort of different.

What are the things that bring your life to a standstill? Index cards for the kids? Pens. Pencils?

What about in your classroom? Dry erase markers? An eraser? What are the things that bring your life to a halt?

These things should go on a checklist.

Step 1: Prepare Your Punchlist
Sit down at your table now and make two lists. Make a list at home of the things that "bring the cats running."

What things bring everything to a standstill forcing you to go to the store or interrupt your schedule?

Do the same for your classroom. What are the things that bring the classroom to a standstill and force you to attend to that problem? (And we know what happens when the students know you're distracted or you have to go to the copy room to get more paper!)

It is tough enough to teach but when a small thing keeps you from teaching, that small thing is a big thing.

Look at your two lists and work to figure out how much of those things you need a week. If you're not sure (like dry erase markers) then your list would say:

"Clean board. Check dry erase supplies."

Step 2: Make a Weekly Appointment to Punch Out Your Punchlist
Now, make an appointment with yourself where you will do the items on your punchlist. For me, at school I do my list every Wednesday at 11 am and at home, I do it every Saturday morning. My goal is to handle those items once a week.

So, at school this punchlist looks sort of like this:

  • Check ink in printers (If I'm below 50% in ink, I go ahead and order more.)
  • Get paper from copy room (I keep 4 reams of paper which is more than enough now that my student work doesn't require paper.)
  • Wash and clean board. (I throw away dry erase markers that don't work as I find duds and keep a certain number at my board.)
  • Check my dropbox and make a list of all things I have to have graded by Friday (Grades are due Monday and my goal is to not grade on the weekends)
My "Home" (Saturday) punchlist includes:
  • Restocking my fridge at school (after I get groceries I drive straight to the school and put the bottled water in my small fridge.)
  • Check toilet paper and make sure there is enough for the week everywhere.
  • Buy enough milk for the week (OK, this is a problem. On a good week it is 3 gallons - some weeks I admit the kids have had 8 gallons - I have three very tall kids who are growing a lot!)
  • Making a list of chores for the kids to do that day based upon a run through of the house.
  • Check cat food and dog food and buy more if needed.
  • Check pens, pencils, and paper by the telephones.
  • Check laundry detergent, check dishwashing detergent, shampoos, etc.
Not a lot of things. Just the things that will add to stress in my life. Who wants to leave the house at 9:30 pm to go get one thing at the store?

This one thing has helped me a lot. I know that stress will happen, but why waste my time and anxiety on the doggone cats?

I had that epiphany on Saturday and thought I'd share it with you. Sounds like I need to follow my own guidelines more closely or just realize that my cats may have started eating like my kids and I need to buy a little more. ;-)

Remember your noble calling, teacher. Do what you can to plan ahead so you have less stress in your life and can focus on the most important thing in your classroom: your students.

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