Monday, July 25, 2016

Why Blog? 5 Tips for Getting Started (My 100th Post)

Next Tech Thing Google Blogger stats on July 25, 2016

Two years ago I wrote my first post and began this blog. At the time, my supervisor had asked me to start blogging and I reluctantly agreed. I did not think I had anything of value to write about. I also felt that anything I would share wasn't new and already out there somewhere, written by someone else. I did not consider myself a writer. I didn't think I had time for blogging, either. Perhaps you can relate to these concerns if you are new to blogging or are considering getting started.

Next Tech Thing stats on July 25, 2016
One hundred weekly posts later, I have learned this is not the case. I have been surprised by the number of people who have visited my blog from around the world. Occasionally someone even makes time to leave a comment, and sometimes I receive emails or meet people who have read my posts. It's fascinating to look through Google's Blogger statistics (pictured). I am amazed to think that people take time to read what I write! I can see why students find value when they write for an audience on the web and receive feedback from more than just their teacher.

In addition to writing for an audience, I've learned that I am also writing for myself. Writing my thoughts and reflections on something each week has been really beneficial. Prior to having a blog, I wouldn't have made time to think through a topic as deeply as I have for some of my posts. I wouldn't have taken as much time to reflect on how it affects my job, students, education, family, or my future. Blogging has forced me to do this. I know that some of my posts aren't written as well as they could be, but believe it's important to get my thoughts down and in a semi-coherent enough message to make a weekly post. Blogging has become a great archive for my work, and I frequently can point people with questions about a topic who want to learn what we do in Minnetonka to a past post. Sometimes I actually answer their questions with a new post, too.

If you are thinking of blogging, here are some tips for getting started:
  1. Choose your title wisely. I wish I had fully known what I wanted the scope of my blog to be when I started two years ago. At the time, "The Next Tech Thing" sounded great to me. However, now when I have ideas on blogging about something not related to technology, I question whether or not I should, since it doesn't really fit in my overall theme. If I were to start over, I would choose a more general, all encompassing title.
  2. The title of each post is important, too. Again, choose wisely. I'm not a marketing expert, but I have learned a few things. Catchy posts like "Top 5 Reasons to..." get more views than a vague post about "Parenting..." even though the content might be the same. Farther below is my top ten most popular posts.
  3. Start looking at things you do through a blogger's eyes. I often ask myself in a meeting, at a workshop, or at an event, "Is this bloggable?" In other words, would others find value in learning more about this. How would I describe it to a reader? Would sharing this benefit more than just the students and teachers with whom I work in Minnetonka? Would I benefit from spending more time thinking about this?
  4. Be consistent. Keep a schedule and don't skip posting. Make it a habit. It would be easy to let this slide and quickly move on to other things. Eventually it would be forgotten and the blog outdated.
  5. Leverage social media to advertise your blog. Very few people will simply stumble upon your blog. Help potential readers find it. Tweet out a link to a post each week and choose hashtags carefully. Post links to other social networks and user groups when applicable, too.
Here are my top ten most popular posts over the past two years with the number of views:

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tip #5 for a Successful 1:1 Implementation: Make Classroom Management an Early and Continuous Focus

“Teachers new to 1-to-1... need help with classroom management and technology management issues. 1-to-1 programs can thrive or disintegrate on this one issue alone...” (Livingston, Pamela. 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education, 2006. Print.)
Even room arrangement is important when moving 
in to a 1:1 environment so teachers can freely walk
anywhere in the room to help students as necessary.
This statement from ten years ago still holds true today. When failed 1:1 initiatives make headlines, I often wonder how much was due to the planners' lack of understanding on just how much classroom dynamics change. Managing a room of students with individual screens and the Internet at their fingertips is not something most teachers were ever taught to do in their undergrad preparatory courses. Plus, until recently, very few teachers ever experienced this environment in their own schooling. It is critical to plan for and address classroom management when beginning a 1:1 program and it is also essential to repeatedly revisit classroom management throughout the following years of implementation in order to be most successful. Like almost all professional development, once and done on this topic isn't enough.

Even though we are starting our sixth year of 1:1 for students in grades 5-12, we continue to revisit and discuss best classroom management practices with our teachers during trainings throughout the year. Each year we also have new teachers hired who are also new to a 1:1 environment, so they need this knowledge and benefit from hearing tips and ideas from their more experienced colleagues, too. Some of the best practices we cover include:

  1. Teachers discuss the need to set up class expectations and routines to help students make the best use of a device and make sure they understand expectations and appropriate use. This includes instructions and discussions with students about listening, focusing and staying on task when using a device. It sounds simple, and some may assume that the students will know what to do, but taking time to discuss "My job" and "Your job", expectations using the devices and what focus and attention mean and look like will pay off.
  2. Teachers also use common vocabulary to efficiently communicate iPad use expectations during class time.  This common language allows for smoother and quicker transitions as students switch between the various activities in a given lesson. Statements like "iPads flat" or "Apples up" (the logo on the back of the iPad, meaning the iPad is face down on a desk) are known by all students in our program.
  3. While it may seem obvious, we remind teachers of the benefits of proximity teaching, moving around the room as they teach versus standing up front. We also encourage teachers to evaluate their room arrangement (as pictured) to make sure they have multiple pathways around their classroom, including a way across the back of the room. For a fun take on proximity teaching, check out Carl Hooker's 2Eyes and Feet App.
  4. We also use technology to help with proximity teaching. Teachers utilize Air Play through a desktop computer program called Reflector to mirror the teacher's iPad. We provide teachers with Splashtop, a remote desktop app, that allows teachers who have traditionally taught from the front of the room to be “unchained” and move freely in their classrooms, improving their use of proximity teaching as a classroom management tool. They are able to control their desktop computer and SMARTBoard which are connected to a projector from anywhere in the room. With both of these tools, teachers have the flexibility to instruct from any location in their classroom using whatever tools they want to utilize. As these tools improve, interactive whiteboards will become obsolete. We are discussing plans to not replace them in the future.
  5. When students aren't following the rules, teachers address the misbehavior and not the device. Think of a student who may be playing a game or watching a video; the misbehavior is being off task. Taking away the 1:1 device would be similar to taking away paper and pencil from a student a decade ago if s/he was caught writing a note or reading a different book. Don't take away a student's learning tools as punishment. Instead, students who are off task may be reminded by the teacher to focus. If the student doesn't stop/correct the issue, perhaps a discussion with the student's parents is scheduled, or a visit with a principal after multiple occurrences. For some students, a solution may be to put their device in Guided Access or remove some apps through Restrictions managed by our MDM. After some time, then this is removed.
These are just a few classroom management tips, but there are more. Our teachers are innovative and creative and always coming up with better ways to do things. This is one of the benefits of our continual professional development; they are always sharing and learning new tips and ideas from one another.

Related Posts:

Monday, July 11, 2016

Media Center Redesign at Minnetonka Middle School West

[Note updated information on with a video of this completed project can be found here.]

Photo by Paul Bourgeois
Phase two in the remodel of the media center at Minnetonka Middle School West (MMW) is underway this summer. Currently the old ceiling has been removed and the grid work for the new one is in place. Lights will be installed shortly. Then new carpeting will be put in along with new furniture. The first phase of this work began last summer with new paint, some pendant lights, and some new furniture donated by the PTO. For more on phase one, plus a look at three other remodeled Minnetonka Media Centers, see this previous postSneak Peek at Two Minnetonka Public School Media Center Summer Remodeling Projects.

The planning for this remodel began over two years ago with the school principal, Dr. Paula Hoff, Media Specialist Erin Carcamo, and PTO leaders. The PTO's fundraising efforts this past year all went toward this project. In May they held a 5K Color Run. The Color Run was a big success and the money raised will pay for new shelving and furniture. 

The remodeled space will have multiple areas: collaborative workspaces with mobile furniture, quiet areas for studying and reading, work stations for computers, large panel displays and projectors for group sharing and teaching, small group areas, and flexible shelving for the book collections. Architect drawings of the new media center are below.

Media Specialist Erin Carcamo is genrefying the school's book collection. Approximately one half of the 14,000 titles will be weeded and removed to fit in the new shelving this summer. She is creating a collection to support the curriculum versus having books in all areas of the Dewey Decimal system. For example, she is increasing the collection of global studies topics to match the needs of students for their classes.  This new format along with the new space will be a welcome change for the students and staff at Middle School West this coming year!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Save Time by Using Smartphone Geolocation Reminders

Here is a simple and easy to use, time saving feature that many people haven't set up on their smartphone: use geolocation reminders. Simply put, you can dictate a reminder which will appear on your phone when you arrive at home. For example, "Remind me to take the steak out of the freezer when I get home" or "remind me to water the flowers when I get home." Whatever you want to remember but don't need to think about until you get there, you can use geolocation reminders. You can also set geo reminders for your workplace, and (although I haven't) set them for specific places like your local grocery store. You can find nice, detailed instructions for iPhones here on how to do this. Geolocation reminders work on Droids, too. Note that you can set reminders for times, too, which also are helpful, such as "Remind me to call my wife at four."

The main idea is, of course, to remember something, but the added bonus is that you can task your phone with the work of both recording it and reminding you. Recently I heard about some research that points out we can only keep four things in our brain at a time, so this is a way to help declutter your mind and keep room available for other, bigger things that need your attention. I also have mentioned suffering from Dementia of the Preoccupied, and this helps with that, too. 

I also have written about the Things program in the past, which I use for organized to do lists. One of the many features I like about this program is that any dictated reminders get put in the Things inbox so I can move them to a list later and not forget about them. 

Take time today to get your smartphone set up and take advantage of this helpful feature. I hope you will find it as helpful as I have!