Thursday, April 20, 2017

Time Management Tools -- Google Keep and Tasks

Do you have a problem with time or task management? Do you know a student or colleague that does? Do you have GSuite for education? If you answered yes to either of the first two questions and yes to the third question as well, then you are in luck, because you can actually solve the problem with GSuite. Google Keep is a rather new product from Google and I like to think of it as an Evernote-lite. Tasks exist in your Gmail account and you probably never notice them at all. Either one of these products can help your organize your time and tasks better.
This presentation walks through the basic features of each product and also makes a comparison of the two. The basic choice comes down to what you want to be able to do with your task list. Do you want to share it with others you are collaborating with? Then Keep is best option. Do you want to use it on your own (and possibly sent a list to someone)? Then Task is part of your Gmail account already, so why use another tab?

Monday, April 10, 2017

The 20th Anniversary!

March marked the 20th anniversary of my first trip to Korea. I had graduated from the University of Montana in December of 1996. It was the middle of the school year, so my option were limited. My choices were basically work another job and try to sub when I was available or to sub as much as possible. Neither option really appealed to me. And then it happened... I was walking through the education building and came to the announcement board. Someone had posted some EFL teaching positions available overseas in Korea and Japan. I spent the next few days doing some research with at the computer lab and found several options. The pay in general seemed a little better in Korea when the cost of living was factored in to the situation. I wrote an email to one of the recruiters. Within a week, I had signed a contract with a small language school in Dong-jin and my overseas career essentially began without me even really knowing it. The plan at the time was to get some practical teaching experience and then return for the U of MT job fair the following spring. My hope was still to work in Alaska.

The year passed with some great adventures and wonderful experiences to look back on. I returned to the US in late-March and picked up some volunteer work with the Office of Career Services where I had work in my work-study job. The job fair came in May and I was signed to be dorm advisory and sub in Galena, AK. During the summer, one of the teachers would back out of his/her contract and I switched to full-time teaching and living in the dorm. It was a crazy two years in rural Alaska and the itch to travel and live aboard resurfaced in Galena's -40F temperatures.

I was hired to work in Turkey where I met my wife, Aysem. We decided to leave Turkey together and traveled to Saipan to work at Saipan International School. After four years there, we went to a job fair and got hired to work at Korea International School. I was back in Korea and loving it. After a long run at KIS (seven years), we were offered the opportunity to return to SIS when I was hired to be the Headmaster. I thought for sure that my Korea days were behind me for good, but then the typhoon happened and we changed our minds about island life.

We started looking for work and finally landed at Cheongna Dalton School. We were back in Korea! It was like returning home. We have both been happy to be in Korea again and I strongly doubt that we will consider leaving again. In those 20 years, I've seen some amazing changes on the peninsula, but the basics have stayed the same. Korea is clean and wonderfully efficient; the culture is incredibly unique; and the people are diligent, intelligent, and kind. I've left Korea twice before, I don't think I'll leave a third time.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Innovation Takes Time

There is an old adage that is very true -- if you don't make time for it, it isn't important. Lately I've been seeing a load of articles, blog posts, and tweets about encouraging student innovation. I have nothing against it; in fact, I'm happy to see educators take notice of it. Innovation is a wonderful thing and if we really want students to understand the world of creative thinking, innovation is important... But are you making time for it? It follows all of the other initiatives that get thrown at us in field of education -- reflective practice, rigor, standards, the list could go on and on. We are really good at adding, but not so good at subtracting. It is a major problem. We cannot do it all. We can't. No, seriously, we can't do it all. At some point a quality leader will look at the amount of initiatives and say, "We are going to cut the number in half and do the items we decide to keep really, really well." Or at least that is what a quality leader should do, it doesn't happen too often in my experience. It is so easy to add more.

Which brings me back to innovation. Let me tell you something about innovation that I know is a fact -- it takes time. A lot of time. Innovation doesn't fit into 55 minute or 75 minute blocks very well. It is difficult to plan innovation, because to have novel ideas that can turn in to meaningful and useful products or programs, it requires the mind to be in a state flow. We basically need to be in a state of structured play. Play doesn't really work well without time to engage in it. So, are you planning time for students to play? To explore? To be fascinated by something? If you aren't, then innovation really isn't important to you or your institution and you should focus on something else. If you don't put time in the schedule, the message is that it isn't important. Period. End of story.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

21CLHK9 Take-Aways

I had the pleasure of attending the 9th 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong (#21clhk) during March 8-11 at the Hong Kong Convention Center. I presented my Bling My Blogger session to around 20 educators on Saturday. As a presenter it was nice to hear someone say, "I'm going to go home and begin a blog now." If I only convince one person to begin sharing their professional practice, then I count myself successful; plus, a few other people were seriously considering user Blogger as a digital portfolio tool for students, so another win in my opinion. Enough about me!

On March 8th, there were Job-A-Like sessions offered. And although I would have loved to attend the Technology Coaches group lead by Robert Appino (@rappin01), because I know he is amazing, I really needed to join the Tech Directors group with Dr. Matt Harris (@mattharrisedd). Dr. Harris did an outstanding job facilitating a whole-day discussion. It could have been a tragically long and tedious affair, but instead it was very engaging and informative. As Dr. Harris stated, "It isn't often that Directors of EdTech get to be in a room together." We discussed a variety of topics, but the things that hit me the hardest were the topics of evaluating the IT side of the office as well as changing the culture of the IT staff of be a service based approach with accountability and incentives. In my current role, I don't really have a say in those matters, but I took away several good ideas for the future and possible ways to push our community in a new direction as we grow and change.

 March 9th was a half-day session on EdTech Leadership lead by Dr. Harris. The entire session was useful, but the best take-away for me was about knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. The comment that hit me the most was, "As an EdTech leader, I need to play to my strengths, but be accountable for my weaknesses." Dr. Harris took this idea further with talking about how he knows his personal and professional strengths, so he looks to hire team members that will balance his weaknesses. As a former Headmaster, I could really appreciate this perspective. Too many leaders want to run out and hire their buddies, or people just like them, but the point is to make the leadership team stronger. If everybody is the same, how do you grow? How do you see your blind spots? The team needs to have a variety of skills and abilities and they need to know those strengths and weaknesses of other team members. Gold!

My big session from Friday, March 10 was with Dr. Matthew Savage (@savageeducation [also gets the award for BEST Twitter handle of the conference, IMO]). The session was entitled -- What Lies Beneath: Data Stories from Across the Globe. I had two big take-aways from this session. The first was the amazing data that can be gathered about students using the CAT4 and PASS and the second the analogies about data that Dr. Savage used throughout the session. Those of you who have followed my blog know about how much I love good analogies, so this appealed to me for obvious reasons. He showed a photo of a man using a metal detector on a large beach and then said, "Think if we took the metal detector away, but placed flags on the beach where treasure could be found. It would be much simpler for the man to go to these flags and dig. Sure, he wouldn't find something very valuable at each flag, but something would be there none the less. That is how data works. It is like a flag on a large beach pointing to something interesting and potentially useful to us." Pure genius!

I also attended Craig Kemp's (@mrkempnz) session on Change Management & the Culture of Innovation, which provided me an opportunity to have some short but important discussions with colleagues who were new to the videos and concepts that Craig shared. Although I was familiar with the content of the presentation, it was good to be reminded that schools and professionals are on different points on a continuum and we are all there to help and support each other with learning and change. Insightful!

Rob Newberry's session "What are we really doing online?" was amazing and powerful. It involved a personal story that was intriguing that lead to the title question, which changed to a discussion about how were are living these new online lives and how we are helping students navigate that world. Although I didn't leave the session with answers, I did leave the session with some incredible questions that administrators, teachers, parents, and students are struggling to understand. Thought-provoking!

However, the best part of being back at 21CLHK after four years away was having a chance to see some old friends and meet some amazing new ones and I believe that is the real power of this conference. One major event to occur because of this synergy of 21CLHK is the first ever #isedcoach chat which will happen on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 3:00pm Seoul time and continue on the last Wednesday of the month. Look what happens when EdTech folks get together and hang out -- we build stuff! Thanks to the team that puts it all together... You know who you are! (I love the photo.) And to the boat crew, thanks for some great memories. Mad respect and deep love to you all.

New Templates in Blogger!

New Blogger Templates! Woot! Woot! After several years of Blogger just sort of being the ignored step-child of Google, there have suddenly been a few updates. AMAZING! Thank you, Google! First was the update to the User Interface (UI) to make it more clean. It was a subtle, but very good update. I mentioned a few of those on this post. The new templates are a welcome improvement and I'm excited to see where Google takes Blogger next. Of course, as I
have mentioned in many posts about Blogger, one downside to some of the more tailored templates is that the HTML/JAVA script Gadget doesn't always work so well with them. The Simple templates take more modification/manipulation than the tailored templates. I'm hoping to experiment with the new templates during my spring break and see if they are able to deal with a large amount of Gadgets.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Canva -- Graphic Design Made Easy
If you are like me, you generally lack the skill set of the typical graphic designer. And, if you also a poor teacher (like me) you can't really afford to have a professional graphic designer help you with everything you need to do (even when I can find some affordable help on Fiverr). In the last month alone, I have had to design four different ads for school events and then three ads for my professional development offerings. Thank goodness I discovered Canva, because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to deal with all of the work. It is free with a Google account, so if you are working at a Gsuite for Education school -- you are in luck!

Do you need to create a poster to promote an event? Want design a banner for your website? Need to make a greeting card? Do you desire an attractive way to promote your Instagram or Twitter account? Canva can help you do these things and it can do a whole lot more. The .png file to the left was created in less than 15 minutes with Canva. I know my friends who do graphic design are probably thinking, "It looks like it took 15 minutes, too" but for me -- this work is way better than I could ever hope to do on my own. Canva really is graphic design made easy for the totally helpless, but if can also work for someone with professional level skills in graphic design. There are a ton of layout ideas for a huge assortment of different projects. You can add and subtract elements easily and color schemes are done for you, which is a giant help when you are trouble a matching colors. You can upload your own photos to add to your projects to provide that personal touch from your own life or school. Give it a try!