Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tech Incorporated: 5 Transformations for Classrooms

As many of us know, technology has always involved a close relationship between educators and vendor partners. That relationship has evolved over time, from simple software apps and programs to complex learning management systems "connected" to our school's student information systems. This blog entry explores 5 Transformations for Classrooms. I'm grateful to Misti Smith for the inspiration.

Image Source:

As Misti Smith points out in her blog entry, blending technology into classroom instruction today often involves:
Them: I want to try and incorporate more technology into my classroom
Me: What ideas do you have?
Them: Well I saw someone use a tool called [insert any “new” web 2.0 tool here] and I think I want them to have to use that for an assignment.
Me: What is the assignment?
Them: [Insert any regular boring activity] 
This is not in any way shape or form an example of incorporating technology into the classroom, but in my old position, faculty were the end all be all of what happens in the classroom and I was just there to teach them how to use whatever tool it is that they wanted to use.
How do we get past this superficial use? Misti goes onto make some specific recommendations worth reflecting on:

  1. Note-Taking: Use Evernote on iPad and other devices.
  2. Group Work: Take advantage of flipped classroom to maximize classroom collaboration and sharing using iPads, AppleTV and HDMI-enabled television.
  3. Learning Management System: Use a commercial LMS to facilitate assignment sharing and collection as well as virtual discussions.
  4. Engagement: Use technology to engage students through polling, class hashtag in social media (e.g. Twitter)

Misti has a great start on a few simple, straightforward approaches to using technology in the classrooms she is collaborating with. Do you think her efforts will yield the kinds of changes to pedagogy that she is seeking? How do we move from adapting existing learning activities to replacing learning activities?

When I envision changing what is happening in the classroom, I confess that some of the transformations I'd like to see include the following:

  1. Problem-based Learning, or at worst, Project-based Learning: For me, choosing one of these approaches involves rethinking how you approach teaching and learning in the classroom. As a result, far better than any other instructional approach I've seen, PBL engages students not with technology but powerful ideas and learning possibilities that technology usage can only accelerate. Read More about PBL | Visit Professional Learning Site
  2. Collaboration: The hallmark of today's technology-embedded classrooms must be increased communication opportunities, as well as collaboration. In my article on 3 Steps to Leverage Technology for Dual Language, any reader can perceive that these uses transcend technology and enable powerful, interactive activities that can be done at a distance. You're no longer collecting digital stories for classroom consumption, but creating a multimedia anthology of digital stories to be read, viewed, listened to across the wide global spectrum.
  3. Lifelong Electronic Portfolios: As consumers, most of our lives are captured through what we buy and sell. As learners, most of our work disappears at the closing of a grading period, if not sooner. Creating lifelong ePortfolios will enable students, parents, and teachers greater insight into what we learn, how we learn and what impact that has on us as human beings.
    Find out more: ePortfolios | Picture Portfolios
  4. Empower the Previously Impossible or Hopelessly Difficult: Technology should allow us to learn in ways previously impossible. If it doesn't, then we have to overcome the "So what?" factor. For me, this means that Substitution/Augmentation activities benefits are so terrific that it's a "Wow!" moment that leads to Modification, or that the fundamental learning activity has been redefined. Consider technologies like an iPad and Moticonnect, which fellow blogger Richard Byrne highlights through a guest post by Maggie Keeler and EdTechTeacher...I don't know about you, but MotiConnect is pretty incredible augmentation of what may have been done in the past. Communication and Collaboration fall into this, too. Gathering and analyzing data via GoogleSheets with students groups across the Nation is pretty incredible.
  5. Amplify Student Voices: Powerful learning can come when we hear our own voice in the world. Students are, to be obvious, human beings, too. Affirming their ability to impact social justice issues in their community--which goes well with PBL--as well as connect via social media to highlight their burgeoning efforts can help them develop their Voice. "Voice" because crafting a digital presence means recognizing that when we possess and use digital devices, we are on a world stage which can transform our lives in an instant for good or ill.

If we commit to these 5 transformations in our classrooms, we will have achieved the often-unrealized promise of technology in our children's lives. . .and, they will have learned much of what we hoped they would.

What transformations would you include in this list to achieve the future you would want for your own child(ren)?

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CTOs Role: 5 Tips +1 to Grow On--If You Survive #sony #hacked CTO

At the risk of incurring the ire of the hackers and vandals who took down Sony, allegedly over Rogen and Franco's The Interview, I want to say plainly--my family and I want to see this movie and I'm willing to stand in line at the movie theater to pay for it, +Regal Cinemas and +Santikos Theatres . Though I seldom find Rogen's humor funny, the movie preview piqued my curiosity and tickled my funny bone.

Aside: As an American, I am astonished that any business would cave into the demands of cyber-attackers' demands. Although Sony has made its mis-steps in privacy over the years, America should rally around Sony and proudly display The Interview everywhere simply for what it is--an act of comedy in a free society, free to succeed or fail. Rather than cheering from the sidelines or watching the censorship spectacle, let's demand this movie air in every theatre in the U.S. to send the message--Comedy, no matter how silly, is an expression of a free people. 
Regrettably, the backdrop for Sony's hack highlights a critical error that Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and the organizations they serve can make--to exchange network security/integrity for political expediency and short-term financial benefits.
Sony failed to secure its computer systems, servers, and databases(“Network”), despite weaknesses that it has know about for years because Sony made a ‘business decision to accept the risk',” the suit claimed...some of the emails released by the attackers show that the company's top lawyer as well as its IT department viewed its security setup as vulnerable to attack but the company didn't take steps to plug worrisome holes. 
Source: Former Employees Sue Sony via SC Magazine

This is a wake-up call to all those people in suits--listen to your network engineers and internet security folks when they say to you, "We have some big holes in our network. We need to close them up."

In K-12 public schools, based on my observations, some common problems that arise include:

  1. A failure to create and verify that backups for critical data exist. Disaster recovery is but a part of this problem.
  2. Data encryption is the BIG hole in the work educators are involved in. . .
    1. How many unencrypted files are on USB flash drives, stored in the cloud (e.g. Dropbox, Drive)? 
    2. How many unencrypted files are sent via "postcard" email, their only safeguard that no one is looking?
    3. How many of your staff are saving their passwords for critical operations unencrypted in text files or in a GoogleDoc?
  3. Unnecessary "holes" in the firewall that allow incoming, inappropriate intrusions.
  4. Failure to maintain anti-virus/malware software or to invest in quality solutions.
  5. Failure to conduct periodic security audits--get someone outside the organization to do it--ensure nothing "creepy" has cyber-crawled into your environment.
  6. And, finally, have a plan ready to go in case of a breach or hack.

What would you add?

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Power of Reflection and Tech: 3 Questions @drvcourt @misti227

Source: Wikipedia
David Vaillancourt shares this perspective in his blog, tech-know, article, Why are you doing it?
Teaching becomes more focused and effective when we encourage students to be meta-cognitive and reflective about what they have achieved in relation to their intended goals. We should explicitly explain to students, "we're doing this because... and we're learning this because...", otherwise any intended sense of relevance is lost. 
At the end of his blog post, he suggests a few questions to capture the idea of reflection:
  • What are [you] doing?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • What does this help you do that's important?
As much as I like these questions as a way to foster reflection, one question that I would add is a question that makes connections between life and the task at hand. I often see this in regards to blogging. How does what I'm reading mean something in the context of my professional life?

When I reflect on Misti Smith's discussion of incorporating technology into classroom, I see us asking different questions:
  1. How is technology enabling what you are doing?
  2. How has technology helped you gain a deeper understanding of why you are doing this?
  3. How can technology make doing what's important a collaborative venture rather than a solitary one?

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Friday, December 12, 2014

3 Steps to Leverage Technology for Language Learners

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Technology can change the way students communicate in the classroom. It can create new patterns of discourse. 

Looking for some ways to leverage technology to enhance dual language instruction? While the first impulse may be to buy content that has technology components, often materials aren't readily available for purchase. District and campus staff can leverage technology to enhance dual language instruction by using it to create content, facilitate communication between classes, and, then, facilitate sharing.

Some ways to leverage technology include the following:
  1. Students and teachers can use digital devices as tools for authentic communication and for accomplishing intellectually challenging, nonremedial tasks in the context of culturally appropriate whole activities. 
  2. Students can use technology to produce theme-centered, multimedia slide shows, electronic hypermedia books, and publish their poetry and written pieces. 
  3. Students can use technology to graph real life data and explore--with audio recordings--the relationships between data and their graphical representations.
  4. Students begin to learn the words for the graphics they wish to incorporate in their slide show, as well as the processes of modifying, saving and retrieving their work. Students learn to interweave audio narration using the microphone on their digital device, with some experimenting in the target language by reading or translating their work

Here are 3 easy steps you can follow in any classroom, but especially, a language learning class:

Step 1 - Create Content:
The tools for creating content have never been easier to use. Consider the following:
  • Narrated Audio Slideshows  - (read more)
  • Create eBooks - Students can create ebooks that incorporate audio, video, and text. (read more)
    • On iPad/Android tablets, use Book Creator app ($4.99)
    • On Chromebook and/or laptops/desktop computers, create ebook with GoogleDocs and/or LibreOffice, respectively.
  • Digital Storytelling - Students can approach storytelling from two perspectives - oral composition or written composition. Remember digital storytelling approach can be used for any content area, not just text. And students reading peers' context while listening to audio is powerful and supported in the research.
    • Oral Storytelling - Focus is on audio recording. Take pictures and then add audio narration. Or, simply record audio of a child's story, then have them prepare text to match it.
    • Written Composition Approach - Students write a script, match pictures to main events in the script, then narrate it, combining all the components into a narrated slideshow.
Step 2 - Publish Content
If your district doesn't have an its own online space where staff and students can publish video, audio and images, you can take advantage of GoogleApps for Education with its unlimited storage to house content and/or YouTube. There really isn't any reason why you can't share content with a global audience!

Step 3 - Share, Share, Share
Once content is shared online, consider creating a district clearinghouse for awesome content in a GoogleSite (web site). This can be organized by grade level, reading level, etc.

The main benefit of these 3 steps is that it removes the some of the pressure of finding dual language materials, and instead helps students and staff create content that is relevant, appropriate, and engaging, while building on students' key learning experiences. 

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When You Fall Out of "the Box"

What's it take for you to think "out of the box?" For me, it's the juxtaposition of two ideas (or activities) that force me to compare something I hadn't previously considered. It happened to me yesterday and I keep having that "V8 moment" when you slap your hand to your forehead and say, Why didn't I think of this sooner? 
Image Source:
While I often think of screencasting to showcase how to use technology in instructional settings, I found myself stepping over the imaginary boundaries of screencast usage yesterday. I know, it wasn't that big of a step but mentally, it was. That bothered me because I should have thought of how to use screencasting to showcase for Transportation staff how to accomplish a simple thing--using GreenShot snapshot program on Windows to capture a screen then print it.

Here's my write-up on the situation, which featured two people involved. I suppose what was pretty "duh!" for me was, "Why didn't I think of using Screencastify to do this for non-instructional staff earlier?"

With that in mind, a new question I'm asking myself is, "How can you use screencasting in situations other than what you've typically used it for?"

And, in fact, how can I use technology in my role as a tech director in ways I haven't imagined before? For me, that's "out of the box" thinking.

  1. Find two disparate ideas or ways of doing cognitively different tasks and then put them next to each other. What does one way of doing things teach you about accomplishing the other?
  2. While working on one task, switch to another. Is there a way you can do the new, unrelated task similar to the way you did the first?
  3. Be open to possibilities via your professional learning network (PLN). How are they doing things that you can push yourself to try?

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

MyScratchNotes: Screencasting Linux on #Chromebook

Next week, we'll be giving out laptops--considered obsolete in school settings, but that work fine with a copy of LubuntuLinux running on them--to students. After giving a quick tour of Lubuntu on the laptops, I suddenly had 6 "how to" videos to create. Of course, I could have made the videos on a Lubuntu laptop but I wondered, What if you installed Lubuntu on your Chromebook, then made the videos there? Could I use something like Screencastify (which has "picture in a picture," BTW) to get the job done?

Naturally, the question going around in my head required some fun experimentation. As you might guess from the picture below, yes, it worked.

Running LXDE on an Acer C720 Chromebook
Although I've loaded GNU/Linux on a Chromebook twice before, I have to admit that this was the easiest and most pain-free. That is due in large part to the instructions provided online here, and which I've customized below (these are my scratch notes)...the customization involves LXDE in lieu of KDE or XFCE (neither of which I like much) AND loading the right audio drivers to ensure I can record.
Read the Original - How to Easily Install Ubuntu on Chromebook with Crouton |
As mentioned in the article above, one of the main benefits:
Some of the advantages of Crouton are that unlike other methods, you don’t have to reboot your machine to switch operating systems; you can switch between them using keyboard shortcuts as if you are switching between two apps.
Here are the relevant excerpts that I followed...again, you may want to read the whole thing. These are just my notes should I have to go through this again.

Part 1 - Install Ubuntu with LXDE GUI interface on Chromebook with Crouton

1. "Install Chromebook recovery utility from the Chrome web store. Open the app and follow the instructions to create a recovery drive." This is an important step in case you mess it all up.

2. Enable the developer mode by holding Esc + Refresh keys and then push the ‘power’ button. The recovery screen will show a scary warning. Just ignore it and let Chrome OS wipe your data. The process can take up to 15 minutes, so don’t turn off your Chromebook.

3. Log into your Chromebook and open the GitHub page of Crouton and download the latest script.

Check the download folder to see if crouton is downloaded.

4- Open the terminal in Chromebook  by hitting Alt+Ctrl+t

5 -Type this command to open shell: shell

6 - Install Ubuntu with LXDE GUI (the -e option will encrypt your drive, which is good)
sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t lxde
This process will take about 15-20 minutes depending on the speed of your Internet connection.

7 - Type sudo startlxde
This will start LXDE GUI interface to Linux.

8 - Update Your Linux installation. At the command line (Go to the START button in the bottom left-hand corner, then Accessories, then LXTerminal), type the following, pressing ENTER after each command:
(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get update

(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get upgrade
9 - Install your favorite are a few of my favorites:
(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get install shutter firefox keepassx mc 
Of course, you don't have to install these programs at all. I usually also install Google Chrome browser, and Dropbox.

Part 2 - Setup Audio
One of the things I noticed when I installed Screencastify in GoogleChrome on Linux on Chromebook was that the microphone wasn't detected. To get it working, I followed these steps at the Terminal (LXTerminal):

1 - Install pulseaudio
sudo apt-get install pulseaudio

2 - Install pavucontrol and pavumeter
sudo apt-get install pavucontrol pavumeter

Restart to get pulseaudio running

3 - Start pavucontrol, setting input/output is set to Audio Stereo Duplex

That's pretty much it! Now I have a Chromebook that can switch to LXDE (LubuntuLinux) for audio editing when I need it using Audacity, as well as access my Keepass password file. And, I can record the video tutorials for getting around in LXDE! The video quality--and sound--is actually better than doing the recording on my Macbook Air...still haven't figured that one out!

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

#Chromebook WebCam Recording - App Roundup (Updated 12/10/14)

Welcome! Want to do some screencasting for flipped classroom or video tutorials on your Chromebook? Then you've come to the right place. The following are screencasting/webcam recording apps worth checking out.

Here's a quick list of the rest in order of preference:
  1. My Pick: Screencastify 
  2. TechSmith's Snagit app and extension combo
  3. ClipChamp
  4. MediaCore Capture
You can read the rest of this blog entry for more details....

It was only yesterday that a colleague asked, "How do you record video on the Chromebook?" While I have always tested video recording with WeVideo, I found myself looking for an app that would record video locally. . .I just hadn't made the time to search.

Thank goodness for my Twitter PLN! Where else can you ask a question and get responses back in a short time period?

Fortunately, since Chromebooks are smashing the Education Market in the U.S.A., LOTS of folks are asking great questions, sharing them via Twitter.
As of the third quarter of 2014, Chromebooks have displaced iPads as the most popular new devices shipping to U.S. schools. This is a huge win for Google in a market historically dominated by Apple and Microsoft. According to the Financial Times and IDC, “Google shipped 715,500 of the low-cost laptops into US schools in the third quarter, compared with 702,000 iPads.” Even more striking, the $199 and up Chromebooks have gone from zero to a quarter of the educational market in only two years...While Apple has been pumping iPads into schools, Google has gotten many of the same schools hooked on its free Google Apps for Education Suite. 
Source: Article
TIP - Quick Chrome App Management: Before we get started adding a whole bunch of extensions/apps to your Chromebook, you might want to first install Simple Extension Manager...that way, you can easily manage/disable extensions or apps you don't want instead of digging around the innards of Chrome browser tools.
Some solutions for the webcam recording app question that involves saving directly to your Chromebook:

  1. My Pick: Screencastify - This remains an easy choice to depend on and I keep coming back to it, even after having tried all the rest. It features picture in a picture as well.
  2. ClipChamp - This was an easy to use webcam capture tool.  Read this great blog entry that walks you through the whole process of using the end of the process, you end up with these options shown right. As you can see, the video you get is an MP4 that is viewable and sharable on most devices and web sites.
  3. MediaCore Capture - I really liked MediaCore recorded not only my screen, but also included a video feed of me in the bottom right hand-corner! The only fly in the ointment is that the video format it creates is webm (a.k.a. HTML5 video), which you would have to convert--maybe use WebM to MP4--before uploading to a video sharing site. I can really see using MediaCore Capture as a screencasting alternative to Screencastify and TechSmith's Snagit app and extension combo, which (as far I know) only offers screencasting.
  4. Zamzar Video Conversion needed for MediaCore Capture
  5. TechSmith's Snagit app and extension combo

If you are looking for quick captures using the WebCam, consider these apps as well:
  • WebCam - Relies on a web site to "turn on your webcam" on your Chromebook.
  • WebCamToy - This app will work while offline to capture pictures. Features 80 special effects for pictures taken.
WebM to MP4 Video Converters
Here are a few tools you can use to convert from WebM to MP4, but if you're putting the WebM videos in YouTube, it won't be a problem...YouTube can handle WebM/HTML5 videos!

Final Selection: What's my recommendation? Of these tools, I'd have to go with Screencastify. I know how to convert WebM to MP4, so that wouldn't be an impediment for me. I also like the fact I can record the presenter in the bottom right-hand corner. That's not to say I would cast away other tools like ClipChamp and TechSmith (since it offers image capture and other features) but for quick recommendations, Screencastify is my favorite.

And, while I have used WeVideo to "test out" webcam recording, it's probably "too much" since I have little interest in video editing for most work is often done in "1-take."

What are your thoughts?

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

File Commander for Mac - FastCommander

Earlier today I saw something quite frightening--a messy desktop on a Mac. The thought of clicking and dragging a few hundred documents and folders to their appropriate location gave me chills. But what to do? I immediately looked to my gold standard solution--some kind of File Commander for Mac.
Midnight Commander

I've grown accustomed to using Midnight Commander on GNU/Linux machines when handling more than 10 files/folders, that I can't imagine having to click-n-drag. Unfortunately, I needed something a bit more GUI for my end user's machine.

While I looked for various solutions, including revisiting an old favorite--muCommander, which works on Windows and Linux but not Mac OS 10 Yosemite anymore apparently--I ended up investing in Fast Commander, which cost less than $6 (I'll forego a donut and coffee later this week).

Works like a charm!

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Job Posting: Systems Interface Specialist

Note: The East Central ISD has shared the following job announcement for a Systems Interface Specialist. Read more below and apply online at

Job Announcement – December 2, 2014

Systems Interface Specialist

The position for Systems Interface Specialist will be available in the East Central Independent School District for the 2014-2015 school year. Employees of the District may apply in writing to the Personnel Office. Others who are interested in this position may apply online at and then contact the Personnel Office at 210-648-7861 to express interest. The position will remain posted until it is filled.

Primary Purpose: The Systems Interface Specialist will be responsible for working with a variety of technology systems, specializing in database interfaces between student or business information systems and third party vendors.

  1. Support the interface of cloud based hosted applications, single sign-on technologies, and curriculum and software vendors systems.
  2. Support Student Information System (e.g. iTCCS) and data management systems, including the ECISD mirror copy of ITCCS data.
  3. Actively learn and apply knowledge of SQL, MySQL, VBScript, Windows Batch Scripting, etc.
  4. Create and maintain project plans that identify expectations, deliverables, tasks, milestone dates, status, and resource
  5. Apply appropriate project management techniques to minimize risk and ensure the success of all projects.
  6. Establish and maintain regular written and in-person communication.
  7. Develop and maintain technical documentation related to assigned functions and responsibilities.
  8. Ensure that an exceptional level of customer service is provided.
  9. Complete post-project evaluations to determine how results were achieved.
  10. Understand and apply client/server applications architecture and management.
  11. Understand and offer input on growing the District’s network and server architecture.
  12. Display strong communication and organizational skills.
  13. Facilitate complex, cross-functional projects to successful completion with multiple departments and vendor partners.
  14. Produce high quality work in a dynamic environment.
  15. Exhibit efficient communication to stakeholders with excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  16. Display the ability to work under pressure and remain calm in the midst of changing circumstances.
  17. Exhibit the ability to rapidly adapt and respond to changes in the environment and priorities.
Note: Not all applicants will be interviewed. Each applicant’s resume, application, and other available information will be considered in the screening process. Only those persons currently meeting all of the minimum requirements will be screened.

1. Bachelor’s degree (preferred)
2. Experience developing, implementing, and refining systems, processes, and/or protocols
3. Ability to identify an issue, structure and implement a problem-solving approach
4. Ability to engage and inspire a wide range of audiences
5. Experience developing Gantt charts and using other common project management techniques/tools

EQUIPMENT USED: Computer, printer, digital cameras, video equipment, scanners, service tools, software programs

WORKING CONDITIONS: Mental Demands/Physical Demands/Environmental Factors: Maintain emotional control under stress and work with frequent interruptions. Frequent standing, stooping, bending, kneeling, pushing, and pulling. Repetitive hand motions, frequent keyboarding and use of mouse; occasional reaching. Occasional light lifting and carrying (less than 45 pounds). Frequent districtwide travel.

PERIOD OF EMPLOYMENT: 226 days SALARY: Based on experience

Roland Toscano - Superintendent of Schools

*An Equal Opportunity Employer*

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Securing Your Passwords: Chromebook

In previous blog entries, I've shared how much I appreciate the wonderful work the free, open source password protection/tracking solution community has done for Keepass. I literally work on Android, GNU/Linux, iOS, and Mac every day (occasionally Windows), and being able to access my passwords across all those platforms is a fantastic!


Unfortunately, I was finding myself spending a lot of time on a Chromebook, so I needed a quick way to access my passwords via the Chromebook. Since you can't install Windows/Mac/Linux software on a Chromebook--I've installed GNU/Linux OS on Chromebook, but switched back to ChromeOS--I needed something to interface with Keepass.

The solution I ran across is "BrowsePass," which was developed in 2013 and is still under development. You can install it in any Chrome browser, but it also works fine on Chromebooks (get it as an add-on).
BrowsePass reads KeePass ( password database file (only version 2). It can open both remote and local files. You'd use BrowsePass when you cannot install or download KeePass locally. BrowsePass runs entirely in your browser, no additional software is needed. BrowsePass DOES NOT support files created with KeePass version 1 (KDB files)!
This solution works great, and I encourage you to give it a try.

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