Friday, November 26, 2010

How to Be a Perfect Librarian: Love of Books and Learning Personified

The first time I encountered Ms. Johnson, our school librarian, I was genuinely frightened. She looked the part of “Keeper of the Books” and she lived the part as well. She dressed very conservatively and always wore her hair the same way. I’ll always remember the long dresses she wore, and her gray hair, which she always pulled tightly into a ball at the back of her head. She was “sternness personified.” She could with a look put second graders, the group to which I belonged, in their place.

It was Ms. Johnson who introduced me to world of books and the power of narrative to hold and keep attention. She could read Grimm’s Fairy Tales like no other. She read poetry in way that rattled you and made you instantly want to be a poet. Her reading of “The Princess and the Tin Box” has stayed with me all these years, and even now, when I read a particularly engaging narrative, I remember her.

She truly did take the job of “Keeper of the Books” seriously. On my first official visit I still remember her meticulously reviewing the proper ways to read and treat a book. I remember how she carefully showed us how to read a new book that had never been open so as to keep from damaging its spine. I also remember her strong admonition to avoid cleaning your nose with a finger. She reminded us that such actions were not sanitary, especially if you intended on handling one of the library books afterward. She constantly reprimanded students whose fingers strayed to the nose area. Once I made the mistake of scratching my nose. All it took was a stern stare from Ms. Johnson to remind me that even that was not allowed.

For all of what would be considered her harsh ways today, Ms. Johnson was probably the first lover of reading and books I encountered. She was stern, and expected students to treat both books and the library with respect bordering on reverence. Yet, the delight she took in introducing children to books and reading was evident in how she both read stories to us, and how she would walk around with students making recommendations on what they should read. Once, I wandered out of the elementary section of books to the more challenging junior high section. I expected an immediate reprimand. Instead, I turned to see what Ms. Johnson was doing. She looked up saw me, smiled, and returned to guiding some other student in a book selection. A few days later, I worked up the nerve to ask if I could check out a book from the “big kids” section as I called it. She had me walk over and show her the book. It was some massive tome of geology, complete with hundreds of color photographs. I was fascinated with the pictures of volcanoes, deserts, and prehistoric animals in the book. She took the book from me, turned it over in her hands a few times before saying, “I guess you’re ready to check this out, but you’re going to have to tell me about it when you finish with it.” From then on, Ms. Johnson allowed me to check out books from anywhere in the library. A year later, she even asked me to help her in the afternoons while I waited for my bus to return for its second load.

While the term library seems to have been replaced in most schools with “media center” and the title of the “Keeper of the Books” is no longer librarian, but media specialist, there is still a power to be found in that place. Perhaps that power no longer resides just in books but also in the technology. The “librarian” of today can introduce students to so much more.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder how Ms. Johnson would have reacted to the placement of computers in her library. Perhaps she would have reacted angrily, and considered such actions a demonstration of sacrilege. Or, who knows. she might have embraced technology and saw it as another opportunity to introduce students to a much wider world than the one they were experiencing. Ms. Johnson had a love for the learning that books could bring, and wanted to share that truth with students. I inherited her love of reading and learning from books. In the 21st century, perhaps she would realize that having technology---the web and all of it’s resources---is just one more way to foster that same love for learning, and her position would transform into some kind of “Keeper of Learning.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I Learned about Project-Based Learning in Fourth Grade

Today, as I drove to my parents home in my home town, I had to drive by the old elementary school where I spent the first eight years of my education. That building is now abandoned by progress and time, but seeing it always causes a flood of memories about the many, many days I spent walking its halls. This afternoon I thought of Ms. S- - - -‘s class, fourth grade and my earliest experience with what might today be called project-based learning.

Ms. S - - - -‘s fourth grade class was challenging for me that year. Suddenly, I had a teacher who expected her students to turn in lots of projects, and up to that year, I had not been asked to do much of that. I remember one particular project asked us to use our imagination and create some scene from a story we’d read. In this story, there was a fort, with soldiers and native Americans---all those things that could catch a young boy’s imagination. I decided I was going to create a complete panorama of the scene using a box and cut-outs.

A few days before it was due, I gathered together my box, scissors, glue, and crayons, and the afternoon before it was due, I settled in the middle of my bedroom and went to work. To make the ground look authentic, I gathered real leaves from the water oak in our back yard to glue on the stage of my panorama. I also gathered some small sticks to include as well. I laid all these things out on the floor and went to work. I used notebook paper and scissors to carefully cut out the silhouette of the stockade fort, then I carefully and meticulously colored each log. I then cut out silhouettes of soldiers and native Americans and added detail and color to them using the crayons. Once I had all of these things created, I began to carefully glue them into place in the box creating a 3-D scene of what I saw in the story. When I finally finished two and a half hours later, I looked upon my work with pride. I was excited about it, and could not wait to share it in class the next day.

The next morning, I arrived in class with my panorama box tucked under my arm. I couldn’t wait to share it with my classmates. I walked over to my table, and a pod of students were gathered pouring over another student’s creation. Everyone was excited. As I walked up, I saw this massive fort built out of popsicle sticks, and real toy soldiers and Indians were placed around it in frozen battle formation. The fort was awesome and I knew it. George, the student who brought it, said, “Check out my project. My Dad and I worked on it all night last night. We had to go to the hobby shop and get the popsicle sticks, then we went to the store and bought the soldiers and Indians. Ain’t it neat?” I muttered, “Sure.”

I suddenly didn’t feel so excited about my panorama. I turned it away, trying to prevent anyone from seeing it. I was too late. George said, “Let me see your’s.” Before I could stop him, he pulled my panorama away from my side and peered into it. He snickered and leaned over to Amy and said something, and they both laughed. By that time, Ms. Steen entered the room and asked us to place our projects on a table at the back of the room and sit down. I placed mine on the table, carefully turning it to the wall so no one could peer inside it.

A few days later, we received our grades on those projects. George got an A of course and made sure we all knew it. Me? I made a C. By the time we received the grades though, I know longer cared about it any more. I had gradually grown accustomed to the fact that many of my classmates were able to create better projects than mine, and the grades they received seemed perfectly fair. They had fathers who could help them with theirs. Mine had just been laid off from one job, and was having to work second shift on another. They also had parents who could go out and buy popsicle sticks and other resources for their projects. My parents struggled to make sure five kids were clothed and fed. Fourth graders know little about equity, and I knew very little then. I just accepted the fact that some people can build better projects than mine.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Top iPad Apps for School Administrators

Any technology device is only as good as the software installed on it. Combined with desktop access and Android phone access, I am able to use these applications just about anywhere. These are my iPad application recommendations to administrators.


In an earlier post, I recommended Evernote as premium app for administrators. For many of the same reasons I listed there, adding Evernote to the iPad is a no-brainer. With Evernote, I can’t foresee ever having to take a legal pad into a meeting ever again. The iPad app is free, and you have all the same functionality found in the Desktop or Android versions. Throw in a premium subscription, and its functionality gets even better. Check out Evernote at their web site.


I also recommended Dropbox as an administrator application in an in an earlier post too. Dropbox is basically a virtual flashdrive that you can access from the web, or from any device on which you have installed the software. It automatically syncs your files to all these devices. It is a fantastic place to store all of those documents you need constant and immediate access to. Adding Dropbox to my iPad just gives me another layer of access, since I have it on all my computers, and my Android phone too. Throw in software like Docs to Go, and I can read all my MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Excel, and PDF documents wherever I’m working on my iPad. Check out Dropbox at their Web site.

Documents to Go

I actually examined several of these so-called “mini-Office” apps before deciding on Documents to Go. I had used Documents to Go a few years back on an old Palm. This application had good ratings as well, so I paid for the iPad version. Documents to Go gives me the ability to read MS Office and PDF documents, and it also gives me the ability to edit them, though I’m not sure how much editing I will do using the iPad. Since I still use MS Office for a great deal of my documents editing, I have found this application invaluable. It even allows me access and edit my Google Docs. For more information about Documents to Go, check out their Web site here.


As a regular Twitter and Tweetdeck for desktop user, I have found Tweedeck for the iPad to be a familiar application. The iPad version is only slightly different from the desktop version. Being able to access my Personal Learning Network with the iPad adds another dimension to connecting to the national education conversation. For more information about Tweetdeck for the iPad, check out the Tweetdeck Web site.

Google Mobile App and GooTasks

Since our school system uses Google Apps, having access on my iPad to my email, Google Docs, and Calendar are vital. Google Mobile App gives me that access. For more information about this app, check here. I also use the Task List in Google Aps, so I needed a way to access my task list on my iPad. That’s where GooTasks comes in. GooTasks allows me to enter tasks using my iPad, and it syncs very easily. For more information about GooTasks, check here.


As an avid reader, it was only a matter of time that I get an e-reader. One of the reasons I have been reluctant to purchase an e reader is because of my concern regarding not being able to access books from all of the e-book sellers. With the iPad that problem is quickly resolved by downloading each of the major e-readers. I have iBooks, the Nook reader, the Kindle reader, and Free Books reader. The iBooks Reader is Apple’s e-reader, and provides you with access to their e-books. The Nook Reader is Barnes and Noble’s e-reader, while the Kindle Reader gives you access to Amazon’s e-books. These applications are free to download. The Free Books app currently costs $1.99. This application gives you access to over 20,000 classics.

Mobile RSS Pro

Being able to read my Google Reader RSS feeds was a must on my iPad. I tried a few free apps, but none of them gave me the functionality I was looking for, and ease of being able to thumb through my subscriptions quickly. That’s where Mobile RSS Pro does an excellent job. I can thumb through the articles even more quickly than I can on my desktop. I can also share what I’m reading very easily through Twitter or Facebook. This application was well worth the $2.99 I paid for it. For more information on Mobile RSS Pro, check here.

Honestly, I’m only  a week into using my iPad, but I have found it much more useful than I thought I would. It’s easier to carry around than my laptop, and it provides me with an additional layer of access to both my documents, as well as my PLN. But it truly is only as good as the applications I have installed on it.

Is It Reform or Is It Memorex? Nature of True Education Reform

Most of us who have been in education for some time remember the old Memorex cassette tape commercials. The one I remember has Ella Fitzgerald singing, and at the end, the voice over always asks, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” Then a glass shatters. Here’s the video in case you missed or weren’t born yet.

Old Memorex Commercial

After 21 years in education, and hearing the word “reform” tossed around by at least four presidents and who knows how many politicians, I can’t help but sometimes wonder, “Is this finally it? Is this is the reform that’ll work and solve all of our problems in schools and in the classrooms. I don’t how many times as a classroom teacher I encountered the “latest reform” coming down from on high, only to discover a couple of years later that, “No, that’s not it.” Which usually happened when control of the legislature shifted from one party to the next. For example, the Democrats would be in power for a while, and they would promote differentiated pay, which allowed teachers to earn extra money for taking on extra tasks. Then the Republicans would sweep into power, and in a frenzy of budget cutting, wipe the money away for that program. That has happened repeatedly over the years, and it is a reality of our great political system.

Now, as an administrator, I am inclined to believe what Diane Ravitch states in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “School reformers sometimes resemble the characters in Dr. Seuss’s Solla Sollew, who are always searching for that mythical land where they never have troubles, at least very few.” That fantasy keeps being replayed over and over as new policymakers move in, and others move out. The truth is, there is no magical solution or silver bullet that’s going to resolve out education problems. We keep searching for reform like it’s some pot of gold a the end of a rainbow. Like Ravitch states, “We will continue to chase rainbows unless we recognize that they are rainbows and there is no pot of gold at the end of them.”

Right now, our educational policymakers are chasing quite a few rainbows, perhaps not realizing that none of these are going to bring about true reform by themselves. Charters won’t do it. Merit pay won’t do it. Restructuring teacher pay won’t do it. The Common Core Standards won’t do it. STEM won’t do it. Early Colleges won’t do it. In fact, just about any single idea you propose, by itself will not do it. There is no single reform measure that is magically going to place the United States at head of the world achievement line. And to be honest, I’m not even sure that’s a worthy goal.

Then what do we do about reform? First of all, let’s quit chasing rainbows, or searching for silver bullets. Reform is hard work. Let’s roll up our sleeves and honestly look at what’s working and what’s not. Those things that are working and have worked, let’s hold on tight to those things. Secondly, let’s convince policymakers to back off and give us educators some room to experiment and innovate. How many times are we truly unable to try something new because it interferes with state testing, or violates some state board policy? If our leaders are truly for reform, they need to give us, those in the schools, some room to make things happen. And, they need to trust us as educational professionals. Imposing political agendas from on high won’t work.  Finally, let’s move our thinking about teaching and learning beyond what we currently know. We need to be willing to look at every aspect of classroom practice. We need to be willing to explore and try new ways of teaching. We need to move out of our teaching and learning comfort zones. We need to embrace technology. In short, we need to be willing to explore new ways of teaching and learning.

Being a educational veteran of 21 years, I naturally have a healthy level of skepticism when someone starts tossing the “r” word around. Questions explode across my mind when that happens and I am reminded of a variation of the Memorex commercial statement, “Is this real reform, or is it the latest political agenda?”

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nominations for the 2010 Edublog Awards

Being a neophyte in blogging, this is my first year attempting to nominate Edublog winners, but I am going to give it a try because these are blogs I read religiously. Thank you for the wonderful year of information and resources.

My nominations for the 2010 Edublog Awards are:

Best Individual Blog: Michael Smith’s

Best Individual Tweeter: Steven Anderson @web20classroom

Best Group Blog: Connected Principals

Best Resource Sharing Blog: Free Technology for Teachers

Best Teacher Blog: The Innovative Educator

Best School Administrator Blog: The Principal of Change

Best Educational Tech Support Blog: The Education Technology Blog

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OK I’m Hooked on My iPad E-Readers, So What?

My iPad arrived on Monday, and I have spent the last week taking it through the paces, and testing applications. It has settled the question of whether I am going to buy a Nook, Kindle, or Sony E-reader. I don’t need either one of these. What I have discovered is that I can download the Nook E-reader, Kindle E-Reader, and others and not have to worry whether the one I bought is going to be out of business in several months. Because I am an avid reader, I will confess that I have spent quite a bit time this week browsing in the online bookstores, but losing myself in the aisles of the local Barnes and Noble is still one of my favorite pastimes. It’s just that now I can do it 24 hours a day while lying in my bed.  While I have said many times, there’s just something about holding a book in my hands and the smell of the pages that’s hard to give up, I am finding it way too easy to obtain books, and I love the fact that I don’t need a reading lamp any more. I’ll have more to say about specific e-readers in coming posts.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

New Web 2.0 Anti-Cyber-Bullying Tool:

Here’s a Web site where students and others can provide anonymous tips when they have encountered bullying or abuse. I briefly looked over the site and it is a legitimate site. You can check it out here. My questions are many at this point, like who protects the data and information that students enter into the Web site. As an administrator I would be concerned regarding who also might have access to what my students report. But the idea is interesting and worth some more thought. What do you think? Could we use something like this instead of that anonymous box sitting in our schools?

Update: I received an email from the creators of and they assured me that they have security measures in place that would prevent abuse. I plan to give this web site a try beginning on Monday. I’ll keep everyone posted regarding the outcome of its use.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Blame Game for US Low Achievement Continues

Jay Matthews’ post here entitled “Even Our Best Kids Lag in Math—Middle Schools to Blame” quotes a study done by Eric A Hanushek and Paul E. Peterson which blames the decline of US student math scores in comparison to other countries to “failure to raise standards for teaching and learning.” Matthews himself says he “blames middle schools.”

This looking-for-blame game is definitely in vogue today because our United States is suffering through an economic depression that is proving difficult to climb out of, and Americans have suddenly awakened to the fact that there are countries who can score higher on tests than our students. I think the immediate danger is accepting the word of some charlatan or salesman selling snake oil. Instead, there’s a whole lot of finger pointing happening, and blaming happening. The free-market reformers are saying that “just a little competition will fix it.” The pro-charter reformers suggest converting our public schools to charters will fix it. The “Waiting for Superman” reformers blame teacher unions and getting rid of them will fix it. The  blame game list is currently very lengthy, and as researchers keep digging, I’m sure there will be others added to the list.

Ultimately, a great deal of time and energy is expended trying to fight all these battles. I have said time and again that teacher and education organizations need to take back the reform conversation from those pushing their own private agendas. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and find solutions to the problems we face in our schools. Those of us who are in the schools every day know that there are no easy solutions. It honestly takes a lot of hard work to teach today’s students. We can best solve our education system problems disengaging from the blame-game and start working to make reform happen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Texting and Social Networking: The New Boogeymen!

Yesterday, researchers at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine released a study declaring that texting and social networking are the boogeymen we’ve always thought them to be. They described a whole list of “bad things” that can happen to teenagers who engage in what they call “hyper-texting” or “hyper-networking.” They chose to define hyper-texting as sending more than 120 messages a day, and hyper-networking as spending more than three hours per school day on social networking sites like Facebook. I won’t go into their entire list of evils brought on by hyper-texting and hyper-networking because you can read that for yourself here at CNN’s story. But basically the implication is that students who engage in their idea of hyper-texting and hyper-networking become smokers, illicit drug-users, binge drinkers, and the list goes on. CNN throws in for good measure that these activities have also been blamed for car accidents and for promoting bad grammar. (Never mind that CNN might be promoting bad grammar themselves by their own misspelling of the word “language” in the second to last paragraph) which reads:

And educators have long decried electronic forms of communication for gutting written launguage skills in students, starting with emails, expanding to instant messaging and continuing with text messaging and social networking. (Misspelling Theirs Not Mine)”

They do acknowledge that “teachers complained about poor grammar before the Internet too,” thereby pointing out that these complaints are not new. CNN just reminded us again, that scapegoating is again live and well, and those who are foes to social media now have a Case Western Research study that backs up their belief in “evils of texting and social networking.”

When are we going to stop looking for something to blame for the ills of our societry? Texting and social networking are just like anything else: when used in an excessive or obsessive manner, there’s going to be problems. Researchers promoting these kinds of studies aren’t helping by looking for these“boogeymen.” As an educator and technology advocate, I bristle each time these kinds of studies are released. I can just picture some parent or teacher using this kind of research to support not using technology in the classroom which we know is of benefit. I’m sure if the lives of each subject in this study were examined more closely, there would be additional factors that led them to engage in the “evils” described. Let’s quit looking for boogeymen and single causes. Instead, let’s look at how we can help them be more responsible in their choices in the use of technology.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Top 5 Premium Web 2.0 Administrator Must Haves: Xmind Mindmapping Software

I began using Xmind with the free version about a year and a half ago. It is one of the simplest mind mapping tools you can find, with a very shallow learning curve. Even with the free version you can create excellent mind maps. But for $49 a year or $44 per year for educators, you can download the Xmind Pro version which gives you the following features.

Feature Description
Brainstorming and Presentation Mode In the brainstorming mode use a full screen editor and timer to record responses or ideas. With presentation mode, you can present your ideas to an audience.
Security Set a password to protect access to your Xmind mind map.
Gantt View A tool for managing project tasks in a single view. It can help you organize your project plan.
Export Export Xmind maps to PDF, Text, Word, PowerPoint, other map formats.
Search Allows searching of mind maps, but also searching of the web. You can use this search feature to find images from the web. You can then drag and drop them onto your map.
Privately Share Users can share their maps privately with users they designate.
MapShot Using the MapShot feature, you can take snapshots of parts of your map to save for pasting into other applications.
Map Merge Allows users to merge smaller maps together into a single map.
TaskInfo With TaskInfo view users can define specific task elements in a map.
Gallery Users get hundreds of high-quality images to use in their maps.
Design Your Own Theme Users can give their maps a custom look with this feature.

Mind mapping software can be quite expensive. You can easily spend anywhere from $100 to $300 on a high quality, business-grade product. With Xmind Pro, users can get a mind mapping tool that has a wide variety of features for only $44 per year. That’s even cheaper than Inspiration, the mapping software for students. To get more information about Xmind, or to download the free version of Xmind, you can access it here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Top 5 Premium Web 2.0 Administrator Must-Haves: Evernote

Evernote is an excellent application for anyone who copiously takes notes of all kinds from a variety of web sources. I am an avid reader of blogs and web sites, and Evernote provides me with just the right tools to capture information and graphics from the Internet. With this software, I can capture anything I find. I can make a text note, snap a photo, or grab a screenshot and keep all of these in one place. I also use the program to take notes from my book reading. With Evernote, I can also organize my notes, and it makes anything I place there fully searchable. This means when I make a note of an article I read on a blog, whether it is two or ten months later, I can search to find that very article. Evernote is a powerful, simple notetaking tool, which brings me to my reasons for making it a must-have premium Web 2.o tool.

  • In comparison to Microsoft OneNote, Evernote is simple and very user-friendly. While OneNote is loaded with many more features, for the “not-so” experienced user, the sheer number of those features is overwhelming. Evernote is extremely user-friendly, and even the most technophobic administrator or educator can learn to use it.
  • You can post notes and access notes from anywhere. I have the client version of Evernote on my work laptop and my personal laptop. I also have Evernote on my Droid phone. When all these are synced, my notes are accessible in any where I might be. And if I do not have the client installed, I can access my notes through the Web. While Microsoft’s OneNote also has the potential of being accessible any where, currently there is no Droid app that I am aware of, and its web version has sometimes not worked well in my Chrome browser.
  • Evernote is relatively inexpensive. You can currently purchase a premium account for $45 per year. The premium account gives you 500 MB of notes per month along with the following features.
Premium Feature Description
Note Allowance Uploads are unlimited to 500 MB per month in premium account compared to 40 MB per month for free account.
File Synchronization Any file type can be synchronized in the premium account while in free account this synchronization is limited to images, audio, ink, and PDF files.
Search within PDFs In premium account, you have the ability to search within any PDF files placed in a notebook.
Access to Note History For premium users, you have the ability to access various versions of your notes through the note history feature.
Offline Notebooks Premium account users have offline access to notebooks using iPhone, iPad, or iPod.
Notebook Sharing via Web Premium account users can allow others to read and edit notes in Evernote.
Maximum Note Size Premium account users have a maximum note size of 50 MB while free account users only have 25 MB.
Support Premium users get premium support.
Security Features Premium users get SSL encryption which means notes are more secure.
Hide Advertisement Premium users can hide the advertisement in the client software.

I honestly like Microsoft OneNote’s power, but it currently fails to meet my notetaking needs for three reasons. First of all, Evernote’s desktop software can be installed on any computer I use, and I can easily sync my notes all these computers. OneNote only allows me to install on one desktop. Secondly, Evernote is much simpler to use. Much of my notetaking just doesn’t require all the power tools found in OneNote. Evernote is so easy, most administrators with the least experience with technology can learn to use it. Finally, I have access to Evernote on my Droid phone. I can access notes I have in Evernote, or I can even add notes to Evernote right from my Droid phone. Currently, to my knowledge, that is not available in OneNote. For more information regarding Eevernote, check here.


This morning I downloaded Evernote 2.0 for Android, and it is a much better app. It works faster, and the main screen is much more accessible. I can access all my notes, or a specific notebook. I can access any of my notes much more quickly with this update. The upgrades on this app make having a premium account even more desirable. For Lifehacker’s take on Evernote 2.0 for Android, check here.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Top 5 Premium Web 2.0 Administrator Must-Haves: Dropbox

Another must have web tool for administrators is Dropbox. With this tool, I basically have both a virtual briefcase and document library that I can access from any where. I have Dropbox installed on my laptop at work, my personal laptop, and my Droid phone, which means I have access to it from any where. The files I place in it include: working documents, school handbooks, and any other file that I might need at any time. For example, a parent once caught me outside the office with a question about our curriculum. I have an electronic version of our school curriculum guide in my Dropbox. Since I have access to Dropbox on my Droid phone, I pulled up the document, and immediately found what I needed to answer the parent’s question. Add the fact that you can access these documents from a web account as well, and the files can be accessed from any place with a Web connection.

Currently Dropbox basic with 2 GB is free, with the ability to add more space by recommending others to use the product. I currently have a basic account, but as soon as use my free space, I will upgrade to the 50 GB account which is currently priced at $9.99 per month. Here’s the big pluses for using Dropbox.

  • Dropbox allows you to sync your files online and across multiple computers automatically. This means that any files I am working on at the office are saved to my Dropbox folder where I have access on any computer either with Internet access or with the Dropbox client program.  You can sync files of any type too, which allows me to sync specific program file types. For example, I was recently working on an Xmind map. I saved it to my Dropbox folder, and I continued working on it at home.
  • Dropbox allows you to share files with others. You can collaborate on specific documents or presentations through Dropbox. You control who has access to these folders, and you can see their changes to these files immediately. I plan to use Dropbox when our school begins working on our new school improvement plan next spring.
  • Dropbox automatically backs up the files online. That means I don’t need to worry about making sure there is a backup of these files. No need to worry about backing them up on a flashdrive. I simply save them to my Dropbox folder, and the software takes care of the rest.
  • Dropbox has what it calls “military grade” encryption. That means that I can be fairly confident that the files are safe. Only those I want to have access, do.
  • Dropbox has mobile access through the Android, iPhone, iPad, and Blackberry devices. Like I said earlier, you can place those files in a place where you can immediately find them.

This has to be one of the best tools I began using this year. In fact, because of it, I haven’t even picked up a flash drive in a month or so. It’s just too easy to use, and I am positive when I get to the end of my 2 GB storage limit, I’ll purchase the 50 GB storage. This is my second administrator must-have web tool. For more information or to download the software check it out here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Top Five Premium Web 2.0 Tools Administrator-Must Haves: Diigo

With all the free Web 2.0 options available, it is sometimes tempting to totally rely on these tools. Yet, there are some of these tools that are well worth the cost of the upgrade so that you can fully utilize the product. In the past several months, I have been trying out quite a few of these tools, and I have come to the conclusion that there are currently 5 that I believe are worth the cost of upgrading. For the next few days, I am going to post my top five Web 2.0 tools I’m willing to pay for. Today’s tool is Diigo, the social bookmarking site.


The social bookmarking site has expanded to the point that it now does so much more. The ability to bookmark Web pages, highlight text, and annotate that text makes it a fantastic tool for anyone collecting information from the Internet. I use the Chrome Diigo extension which gives me immediate access to these tools, and it allows me to quickly share these resources using Twitter and Facebook. The cost to upgrade to premium is only $40 per year. I will admit that I have not yet upgraded. my plans are to do so when some of the premium features are available for the Chrome web browser, my browser of choice. Here are some features you get by upgrading to premium.

Feature Description
Full Text Search With this feature, all cached pages are indexed and become fully searchable. Any time a feature allows searches, the functionality of digital information expands enormously. For complete description of this feature check here.
Cached Pages This feature allows users to fully archive pages forever, which allows for the first feature. For more information on this feature check this help page.
Capture With this premium feature, users can click a “Capture” button on the browser toolbar, and store an image of a webpage, then annotate it with shapes and text. Currently this feature is only available for users of Internet Explorer and Firefox. The web site says it will be available for Chrome users soon. Check out the help page for a more complete description of this feature.
Collect Images This feature allows users to collect images from Web pages by simply saving those images to Diigo. This is an excellent feature for those collecting specific images, and for providing a place to organize those images. For more information, check out the help page here.
Text View This premium feature allows users to read their cached Web pages in a straightforward, uncluttered manner. This feature works especially well with longer articles. For a more detailed description of this feature, check here.

As I indicated earlier, I do not currently have a premium account with Diigo, but I will add this to my paid-for Web 2.0 tools as soon as these features are available for the Chrome browser.

One additional feature of note that adds functionality for Diigo is the Android app, Power Note. This app is free. It allows users to add text notes, bookmarks, cached pages, pictures, and text messages to your Diigo My Library. You also gain access to your Diigo library and to your “Read Later” bookmarks. To get additional information about Power Note, check this web page.

 Next Premium tool to review: Dropbox.

Obama Administration: Too Much Prescribing of Education Policy-Not Enough Enlisting

Several months ago, I wrote to the North Carolina Democratic Party, the National Democratic Party, and even the Whitehouse to express my concern of the heavy-handed rhetoric coming from the administration regarding teachers. This was just after Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama applauded the firings of the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. The kind of response I received from all three of these entities is demonstrative of why the Democratic Party suffered the great election losses this past Tuesday. They have lost touch with those who voted for them. I received not a single response regarding my concerns, except for requests for campaign contributions. Some would say, “What do you expect? They can’t write every single person who sends them correspondence.” Then how is it that the Republican Party so responsive to those who express concerns?

Over the years, I have written a number of politicians at the state and national level, and I always received some kind of acknowledgement about the concerns I expressed. What’s more, those who have always responded have been Republicans. Republican officer holders from the state level to the US Senate have always responded to any correspondence I sent to them. I wrote to my state representatives, both are Republicans, and I received a personal email from one and a letter from the other. I wrote to the Congressman who represents my district at least three times, and every single time, I received a response. I even wrote our two state US Senators, and both sent a letter acknowledging my concern. What party did all of these belong to? Republican.

I am by no means trying to sell one political party over the other, but the Democratic Party has a serious problem to overcome. It is certainly more complicated than providing a simple response to those who express concern over the direction of their policies. Simply put, “They need to get back in touch with people.” Over the past two years, especially in education policy, there has been too much “prescribing” and not enough “enlisting” of stakeholders in the discussion. You can’t simply dismiss those who disagree with you as “supporting the status quo.” You have a responsibility to try every means necessary to convince them to get on board with your reform. Innovation is not something done to people. According to researchers Peter J. Denning and Robert Dunham in their new book The Innovator’s Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation, “Innovation is the adoption of new practice in a community.” Without allowing deliberation and discussion, there is going to be little true adoption and by default no innovation.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

5 Guidelines to Keep from Making Unwise Software Purchases

One of the most important decisions administrators can do is regarding what software is purchased. I have know many well-meaning administrators who have spend hundreds of dollars on software, only to have it sit idly on some lab computer or laptop on a teacher’s desk. I’ve often wondered how many schools have expensive software packages installed in their schools, and no one is using them. That is a tremendous waste of money and resources. What exactly can an administrator do to maximize the purchase of software for schools? Of course, the easiest way is to pass this task to someone who knows and then trust them to do the right thing. But it is a much better solution to have administrators who neither foist unwanted software on teachers, and who can be involved in making sure scarce technology money is spent wisely. Here’s six things administrators can do to be more involved in making decisions about software purchases in his or her building.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Who will be using it? For what purpose? What kind of licensing options do we have? These are only a few questions an administrator can ask. There are certainly more. Administrators can both protect their schools from getting scammed from great sounding sales pitches, and also make sure their teachers are getting the appropriate tools for their classrooms by not being afraid to ask the hard questions.

2. Be wary of salesman bearing major promises and benefits. I am a skeptic through and through, and that means when someone tells me a benefit for a product, they had better show me the money. For example, saying a software program is user-friendly is one of the most common sales pitches. User friendly to whom? Let’s face it, the word “user-friendly” is meaningless. The only way to find out if something is user-friendly is by allowing the users who will be using it to try it out. They’ll tell you whether it is user friendly or not. Sales pitches make a large of boasts. Before I will buy hundreds of dollars of software, the salesman better be able to demonstrate those boasts.

3. Consider the software from the users perspective, not your own. How many times have we seen a piece of software demonstrated, and thought to ourselves, “That’s fantastic!” The temptation is to go ahead and sign on the bottom line and make that purchase based on our personal experience. It might look useful from an administrator’s perspective, but if you are purchasing it for classroom teachers, you need to get their take as well. You may find yourself either having thousands of dollars of software sitting on computers without users, or forcing teachers to use it, which is never an effective practice. Still worse, you may find yourself with thousands of dollars of software and some teachers in a lab somewhere are forcefully subjecting students to a product that is actually killing their desire to learn rather than enhancing it. Both are good reasons to get the end user’s perspective before making that investment.

4. If salesmen is making promises about things such as increased academic gains, ask him or her to show you the studies. If they are making such claims, then there should be peer-reviewed independent studies backing those claims. If they offer testimonials to support their claims, check with those testimonials and ask to see the data. Never purchase software based on testimonial alone, especially when a software company is making boisterous claims of academic achievement increases. If their product raises student achievement, then make them prove it to your satisfaction. Remember, your school is the customer. They need to convince you.

5. Test the software’s utilitarian use versus the amount of labor and training it will take to utilize it. How many times is software purchased without any consideration regarding hours of extra work it adds to an already busy schedule? (And I would be skeptical of promises too!) Any software you purchase should not force users to become inefficient and expend greater energy in its use. If its use can’t be seamlessly integrated into the school’s routine, then perhaps it’s utilitarian value is not greater than the headaches and labor that must be expended to use it. Software should enhance the school environment not complicate it.

There are quite a few companies trying to get us to purchase their product, and they may actually have something that will help us raise the academic achievement of our students, or help make our jobs easier. But in these very tight budget times, we need to be very careful on the products we purchase. I provide these 5 guidelines in the context of software purchases, they could, just as well, be used for purchases of any instructional product or program.