Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Spaces -- Google's new group work space

When I saw a Tweet from Larry Ferlazzo (@larryferlazzo) talking about a new product from Google, I quickly jumped in the water to try it out with the members of the old KIS EdTech team: Ben Summerton (@bensummerton), Steve Katz (@stevekatz), Art Shultz (@artshultz13), and Chris Bernhardi (@chrisbernhardi). The first few minutes of use was enough to convince me that it would be a very useful collaboration tool. Imagine that Wikispaces and Ning got married and had a child together -- that would be Spaces. The UI is very clean and dead simple to use. I have included two screen shots to help show what Spaces can do. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

18 Months of Free Energy -- Thanks Best Sunshine!

We still have $64.20 in credit with the CUC thanks to Best Sunshine.
When Best Sunshine wanted to received the blessing of the people of the CNMI to open an casino on Saipan, they were promising to make a positive difference in the lives of the people and the island. Many people were opposed to the casino and it was placed on the ballot. Before that important election, Best Sunshine gave the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation $10 million dollars to distribute to residential customers. At the time, our share was $635.71. It was placed in our account back in October, 2014 and the election was in November the same year. Since that time, we have not had to pay for our power and we still have some credit left. We are leaving island in June and I'm actually not sure we will finish the $64.20 we have left in our account. We rarely use the air conditioner (known as aircon on the island) and we shower at Club Elan in the Hyatt because we are members. We basically run two fans and a couple of lights in the evening, which translates to not much power usage as you can see in the photo of our bill. Some people said that the money was a bribe to buy the election. They could be right; they could be wrong; all I know is that we haven't paid for power in 18 months. Will the casino ultimately be a positive impact on the island? Only time will tell us that story.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Twitter in Educator Professional Development

First, a short historical perspective on this survey. Back in 2011, while part of the EdTech Team that developed the Fish Bowl, I wrote a blog post on the same topic. Unfortunately, Posterous shut down and that particular blog post was lost in an internet blackhole. I do, however, roughly remember the data gathered, but not exactly. What I do clearly recall from 2011 is that I received about the same number of responses (30), but the percentage of educators who felt that Twitter was a part of their professional development (70% in 2011) and the percentage of educators who felt that Twitter was a useful tool for professional development (50% in 2011) have both jumped in 2016. Second, there is an obvious bias that should be mentioned up front. Bias: I sent this survey on Twitter, which automatically means people who use Twitter are going to respond more than anyone esle. I did also post it on Facebook to an educational group I'm part of (Apple Educators), on LinkedIn, and on Google+, so other nets were cast into the vast ocean of the internet, but Twitter users were clearly more likely to respond.

With those items out of the way, here are the results of the survey.
Question one: I use Twitter as part of my professional development. Of the 30 respondents, 93.4% chose Agree or Strongly Agree.

Question two: I find Twitter useful as a professional development tool. Of the 30 respondents, 93.3% chose Agree or Strongly Agree. Although this question is similar to the first one, there is a subtle difference between the two questions. Question one asks if it is used by the person in professional development and the second question asks if the person finds it useful. This points to the users not doing it because they are being told to use Twitter, but because they personally find it useful. This once again help us to understand that Twitter is a grassroots form of professional development that educators use and enjoy, as opposed to a mandated form of professional development.

Question three: The third question didn't exist on my original survey back in 2011, but I thought it would be good to begin to understand exactly what educators do with Twitter that makes them feel that Twitter helps and/or empowers them with their professional development. The results showed that most (96.7%) share links to content. 80% engage in discussions and following hashtags on topics of interest. 70% use Twitter as a tool to curate content and 43.3% answer surveys (thanks to those people). 13.3% engage in "other" activities. Next survey, I will begin to catalog what "other" activities educators do on Twitter.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Educational Leadership: 5 (Good) Ways to Talk About Data

The November issue of Educational Leadership was titled Doing Data Right. Of course, as educators we should be doing our best to improve instruction and assessment with data informing our choices, but it is a much easier thing to say than to do. One of the featured articles (5 (Good) Ways to Talk About Data) in the issues dealt specifically with how to move a school in the right direction with regard to working with data. The research that has been conducted about professional learning communities suggests that this five components are necessary to have data drive instruction and assessment of student learning.

  • Component 1: Students are the shared responsibility of everyone.
    • All of the students go to the same school, no matter the age -- take ownership and be involved. In my experience, this matter can be dealt with by vertical teams. The more teachers from various grade levels know each other, the more they seem to feel joint responsibility over all students. In the article, it was specifically pointed out that a team should take responsibility for everyones success and failure. This helps build trust.
  • Component 2: Conversations about data include healthy disagreement.
    • The key word is healthy. People need to be able to talk about what the data means and how it should be used. These discussions will involve differing opinions, but everyone must act professionally and with trust. 
  • Component 3: Conversations about data engender trust rather than suspicion.
    • Principals and teachers need to work together. The data shouldn't be used to point the finger, but to better understand how improvements can be made.
  • Component 4: Data teams take a solution-oriented process.
    • Focusing on the solution, rather than the problem. Looking at the data and asking, "What can we do better?" "How can we teach or assess better?"
  • Component 5: Data teams know what they're expected to accomplish.
    • Clear guidelines for what needs to be accomplished, but also room to explore the data and the conclusions. The article pointed out some examples where they witnessed teams trying to complete all the questions, rather than really thinking about the answers/solutions. On the other extreme, there were some teams that didn't seem to have any clear guidelines on what should be done. You need to have structure, but not so much that it becomes busy work for teachers.
Datnow, Amanda, and Vicki Park. "5 (Good) Ways to Talk About Data."Educational Leadership Nov.     2015: 10-15. Web.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Run Away Train -- The Second Semester

The fact of the matter is that the second semester of school is filled with too many things to do. It is a simple truth that has been made worse this year because of typhoon Soudelor. Yes, I said it! The typhoon from August is still having an impact on the school year. Some activities that were usually in the fall have now found themselves located in the spring semester and the spring semester was already over booked. It is amazing to me that something that happened clear back in August is still lingering in the background of our lives on Saipan. Although some activities got move to a full spring semester, some other things simply got canceled for the year. The MISO Soccer season has apparently fell victim to Soudelor; they have canceled it for the year. Many seasons for sports have been reduced or cut for the year.

Our spring semester at SIS looks like the following list of activities:

  • January: Beginning of the second semester
  • February: Health Heart Walk and NHS/NJHS Induction Ceremony
  • March: End of the 3rd Quarter and Spring Break
  • April: Prance (prom) and the Spring Musical
  • May: AP Exams, SAT10 Exams, Graduation
  • June: Grade 8 Promotion and End of the 4th Quarter.

During these months there is also middle school girls' and boys' basketball, high school girls' and boys' basketball, (usually) soccer, and Track & Field. Also the academic competitions of Mock Trial, NFL/NJFL, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Math Court, and Junior Achievement are happening. And to top it all off, we are heading into an accreditation cycle with WASC.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Little Vacation Time

Standing by the fire after the sleigh ride.
Being the Headmaster of a small international school is a difficult task. There is a load of work to do -- discipline cases, organizing meetings, observing teachers, organizing events, writing recommendation letters for seniors, uploading transcripts for seniors, processing student visas, WASC accreditation work, and the list goes on and on. It is very easy to overwhelm yourself by not getting rest, but it is important to recharge your batteries because being completely exhausted doesn't help anybody (including yourself). This winter we decided to visit my family for the first time during the winter holiday. It is the first time in 14 years together. Aysem has never been with my family during the holidays before, so not only was this a chance to rest, it was also a chance for her to experience something new. It was also an opportunity for her to see a "normal" Christmas in Montana.

We stopped at the railroad tracks for a photo.
The highlight so far from the trip has definitely been our sleigh ride in Trego. The Cripple Creek Horse Ranch offers a sleigh ride plus dinner and the experience is simply amazing. We were lucky because my mother read about the sleigh ride in the Mountain Trader and booked the event for us while we were still on Saipan. The whole affair feels like something out of a movie or a novel. The stillness of the forest after a snowfall was beyond explanation. Two different herds of deer watched us as we rode along through the silence. Everything was covered in a blanket of white with only the sound of the bells on the horses as they trotted along following the trial in some areas and breaking trial in others.

The Cripple Creek Horse Ranch offers four sleigh rides a day. You can arrange a simple sleigh ride or a sleigh ride with dinner. The
The mountains looked blue in the snowy sunset.
owners of the ranch are incredibly nice people and helped to make the experience even more memorable for us. If you visit western Montana in the winter, this is one event you simple must experience. You will not regret the time and money you spend!

Spending time doing these type of activities and enjoying our family and friends in Montana is definitely recharging my batteries. By the time January 5 rolls around, I will be ready to start the second semester with all of its events -- NHS/NJHS Induction, WASC accreditation work, the Spring Musical, SAT10 testing, Graduation, and 8th Grade Promotion. This was the vacation I needed to get me through until June 2016.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hey Admin, Make a Real Connection!

International Thanksgiving Feast
Hey admin, if you want to really make a difference in the lives of your students and teachers, make a real connection with them. Students and teachers both need to know that you actually do care about them. It is difficult to get out from behind the desk sometimes, but walking around campus during lunch and having simple real discussions with students and teachers can work miracles. Especially for students or teachers who are struggling, knowing that you are seriously committed to them and what is important to them means the world. I was reminded of this fact once more during our Saipan International School International Thanksgiving Feast. The parents, students, and teachers enjoyed sharing their cultures with others the whole day. Every booth from each cultural group displayed their love for their culture, but also their openness to everyone else through sharing. It was a day filled with conversations and each one of them was important, even if they were simple. Each discussion demonstrated concern and care for someone. Those moments define administrators, because they allow people to see you as a real, genuine person. I have announced my departure from SIS at the end of the year, but it didn't change my willingness to engage in conversations with people about the school, the island, their children, their jobs, their lives. It was care they witnessed, and care they felt. It is genuine care that makes a difference in someones life, because they see that you are invested in their future. When someone else invests in your future, you feel compelled to invest in your own future as well. Real connections, real conversations, real care -- them make a difference.