Friday, November 15, 2013

Backing up your iPad before you update the iOS

You should back up your iPad before you update the iOS. Back up you iPad if you making a major upgrade from iOS6 to iOS7 and also if you are making a minor update from iOS 7.0.3 to 7.0.4.  Each update can cause you to lose settings or data. Back it up first!

The following steps will help most users but are especially useful to students in School District 211.

  1. Back up your data in Notability. To do this you need to open Notability, click on the Settings gearbox at the bottom of the screen, then choose Auto-backup. Choose either Google Drive (you can use your personal Gmail account or the school-issued one) or Dropbox to back up your data. If you want to add a second layer of protection, back your data up to iCloud as well. While you are still in your settings, click on iCloud and then move the slider to On. This will only work if you have enabled iCloud backups which we will cover next.
  2. Back up your iPad. Open the Settings app on your iPad, then click on iCloud, then click on Storage & Backup. Under Backup, move the slider to On for iCloud Backup. Then click on the button that says Back Up Now. This will create a copy of all of the data stored on your iPad. If something goes wrong with your iOS update you will be able to go back to this "copy" of your iPad and start over.
    1. Not enough storage? If you got an error when trying to back up your iPad you either have too many older backups or you are trying to back up too much data. To see if you have older backups, go to Settings, then iCloud, then Manage Storage. It will show you how many backup copies you have, and it will also tell you how much space you will need to make a new backup. If you have older backups go ahead and delete them, then create a new backup. 
    2. Too much data? If you do not have any older backups, that means you are probably backing up too much data. go to Settings, then iCloud to see what is being backed up. Turn off photos - this takes up the most space. You can back up your photos to another location like Google Drive or Dropbox which has much more free storage than Apple offers. Be sure your photos are being backed up elsewhere! Then continue with creating a backup of your iPad.
  3. Update the iOS. Go to Settings, then General, then Software Update. If one is available, then click on Download and Install. It will take anywhere between 5 minutes and an hour depending on the size of the update. You will not be able to use your iPad during the update.
Once the update is complete you will be able to use your iPad again. If you notice missing data or if something went wrong you can go back and restore your iPad using the backup you created earlier. If you need help with any of the above steps please stop by your school technology center and someone will assist you.

NOTE: Once you have iCloud backups turned on, your iPad will back itself up automatically every time it is (a) connected to Wi-Fi, (b) plugged in to a power source, and (c) in sleep mode. Basically, it will back itself up every night when you go to sleep. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Headphone and microphone settings on a desktop computer

Step One: Confirm the USB is in the correct port in the back of the computer

In Lab 222 which is used by the World Language department the computers have six USB ports in the back. Four ports are together on the left and two more are next to them on the right. Plug the headphones in either port on the right side. Those have more power and work with the headphones best. Do not plug your headphones in the front!


Step Two: Check your Playback settings (to play sound through the headphones)

Your audio settings can be found in the tray on the bottom right side of your screen. It is the icon that looks like an audio speaker.

Right click on the audio icon and click on Playback devices.


In Playback devices you will likely see two devices. One is the internal speakers inside the computer. The other will be the headphone which will be labeled "Speakers - USB Audio". Click the speakers labeled "USB Audio" then click on OK.


Step Three: Check your Recording settings (to record with the microphone built into the headphones)

Your audio settings can be found in the tray on the bottom right side of your screen. It is the icon that looks like an audio speaker.  Right click on the audio icon and click on Recording devices. 

In Recording devices you will likely see multiple devices. One or more are for microphones that can plug in through a 3.5 inch connection (what is called a stereo mini connector). Another will be the microphone which will be labeled "Microphone - USB Audio". Click the microphone labeled "USB Audio" then click on OK.


Step Four: Check the properties of your microphone (to improve the volume of your recordings)

If your recordings are too soft, or if you cannot hear your recordings at all, it is possible that your microphone volume level is too low. Right click on the audio settings, choose Recording devices, and then right click on the USB Audio microphone. Click on Levels, and then raise the level of the microphone to 40. If you normally speak quietly you could raise the level to 50. Don't raise it to 100! You will pick up ALL the sound around you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Schoology improved their integration with Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, and Khan Academy

Schoology made another huge improvement to their LMS today by upgrading their integration with Google Drive and by adding integration with Dropbox, Evernote, and Khan Academy. You now have even better access to the cloud-based files you use in class each day, and it opens up the possibility of allowing your students to create, store, and submit their homework using their preferred storage site.

Click on Resources then Apps on the top menu bar to get to your Resource connections. You will have the option of installing four Resources: Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, and Khan Academy. If you have already installed one of these then it will not appear on your list. Click the Resources you want and then click on Install.

Once you have the Resources installed you will be asked for the username and password for each one. Enter them and you will have access to all of your files from within Schoology.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Electronic Recycling Day is October 2 at FHS

The recycling truck is coming back to Fremd High School! If you have electronics that you want to remove from your home you can bring it to the FHS maintenance dock by the end of the day on Wednesday, October 2. A truck from Creative Recycling will arrive the next morning to remove your unwanted electronics.  Creative Recycling is recognized by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency as an official e-waste recycler.

Bring in anything that has a plug on it (as long as it is not hazardous or radioactive) and Creative Recycling will take it. Creative Recycling will wipe out or destroy data on your old computers as well.
For an official list of acceptable material, click here:

You can find other locations to recycle your electronics if you miss the one at Fremd on October 2. SWANCC  (Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County) has a permanent drop off at the Hoffman Estates Village Hall, and they schedule one-day-only recycling events at various locations all year long. Go to the SWANCC web page to learn more:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I downloaded iOS7 but now I lost some of my data

Like millions of other people around the world, you probably decided to upgrade your iPad to iOS7 the day it was released. In your haste, you may have forgotten to back up your data to iCloud before the upgrade and now you have learned that some things are missing.  Your wireless passwords might be gone. Notability may have disappeared. Things look bleak...

If you are a Fremd High School student and you are using the Symantec Mobile Management (SMM) app then we might be able to help you. Here are the steps you need to follow to try to recover all of your data:

  1. Reset the information inside SMM by going to your Settings, scroll down on the list of settings on the left until you see Mobile MGMT. Click on that, and then move the slider to reset the data.  Close your Settings.
  2. Open the SMM app. You will have to register again by following these directions. You can only register when you are inside Fremd High School so do not try to follow the directions from home. When you are done, the SMM app will close automatically.
  3. Check to see if the registration with SMM worked by opening the SMM app. If the app opens, it worked. If it does not you will have to register again. It might take two tries, but we have not seen anyone have to try it a third time. 
  4. Wait. It could take up to an hour before your wireless keys install themselves and before apps appear inside the SMM.
  5. Reinstall Notability and Explain Everything if they went missing after you upgraded to iOS7. This happened to a small but noticeable number of users. To download them for free you must open the SMM app, click on All at the bottom of the page, and then find Notability and Explain Everything.
  6. Switch your Wi-Fi network from "Guest" to "StudentOne2One" after SMM adds your wireless passwords to your iPad. 
  7. Go back into your Wi-Fi settings, click on the Information button next to the Guest network, and then click on "Forget this Network". This will help to keep you on the StudentOne2One network which has better bandwidth and faster speed.
  8. TURN ON ICLOUD! When you use this free service your iPad will create backups automatically
    every time your iPad is plugged in, locked, and connected to Wi-Fi. Please, please, please turn this on so your data backs up automatically every single day. Go to Settings, then iCloud, then Storage & Backup to turn on iCloud Backup or to create a backup for the first time.
  9. While you are at it, turn on Find My iPad. This will GREATLY improve our ability to help you track down your lost or stolen iPad. Go to Settings, then iCloud, then use the slider to turn on Find My iPad.
After following these directions you might still need assistance. Please stop by the Technology Center at Fremd High School and we will be happy to assist you.

Coming Soon: Schoology will integrate with Dropbox and Evernote (in addition to Google Drive)

This is an exciting message that came directly from Schoology!! They will be expanding your ability to connect to your own personal Ed Tech resources by letting you connect your Schoology account with your Dropbox and Evernote accounts. This is in addition to your Google Drive account which is probably already connected. Khan Academy will also integrate with Schoology as well. 

Read on to get the full message. This has not been posted publicly yet, which is why I added it to my blog. Otherwise I would have just posted a link to this.


We are always looking for new ways to improve your Schoology experience, and this upcoming feature release will be a huge step in the right direction.
Resource Apps are applications that will enable you and your staff to access and use content from third-party vendors and external file repositories directly from the Resource Center. This way all your resources, third-party or not, are always right at your fingertips.
Resource Apps Google Drive screenshot
These integrated resources will behave in the same way as other Schoology resources—you can copy them to courses, distribute them to faculty, align them to standards, and more. In this initial release, you will have access to these four resource apps:
  • Khan Academy
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • Evernote
Our SkyDrive app (Office 365) will be available in a later release soon afterwards. 
Renaming the Assignment Dropbox
We will be renaming the Assignment Dropbox to “Assignment Submissions.” It will be located in the same place and perform the same function, but its new name will make it distinct from our Dropbox Resource App.
We will publish an overview on the Schoology Blog and a step-by-step help article in our Help Center upon the release of these features. And don’t hesitate to email our dedicated Support Team at if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you!
The Schoology Team

Friday, August 30, 2013

AverVision U15: A better document camera that also records flipped lessons

The AverVision U15 document camera is the replacement for our older AverVision 300p document cameras. These new cameras have several distinct advantages:
  1. It is a full HD video camera that records at 30 frames per second
  2. It takes snapshots which you can save to a flash drive built into the camera
  3. It has a built-in microphone for recording your classroom presentations
  4. Its arm is flexible to allow you to adjust the angle and distance of your recordings
  5. It connects through a USB cable which removes some clutter from your workspace

The Sphere software that comes with the U15 document camera allows you to record your lessons and upload them to YouTube or Dropbox which can then be linked to your class in Schoology.  Sphere allows you to record from the document camera or your computer screen, annotate your lessons, and record voice to make compelling videos. (Download Sphere here.)

There is one difference to remember in using the new camera. The U15 runs through the desktop computer in your classroom through a USB cable. To use the camera, turn on the computer and open the Sphere software which is in a folder called AVer Information Inc. You do not have to click the button choosing between the document camera and the computer anymore - simply open the Sphere camera software to begin using the document camera. 

The picture quality going to your classroom projector is much better for two reasons. First, the new cameras have full HD video quality with an auto-focus lens. Second, the shakiness of the image on your projector will go away because the video signal is no longer running from your computer to the document camera to the projector. By eliminating that extra cable the signal is much improved.

Follow this link to the support page for the AverVision U15 document camera: <

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Students and faculty need to register their iPad using SMM

Symantec Mobile Management logo
Symantec Mobile Management (SMM) is an app that allows our school district's technology staff to deliver apps, documents, and even wireless network passcodes to all of our school-owned iPads. It takes less than two minutes for a student or teacher to register their iPad using SMM. Once the iPad is registered, we can wirelessly push out free and paid apps to anyone at any time.

To begin, go to the App Store on your iPad and search for SMM. Look for the icon like this. Download the app to your iPad.

The next steps must be taken while you are in Fremd High School. You cannot complete this process from home. For those of you from one of the other four high schools in the district you can still follow these directions, but you will need to be in your own school.

Open the SMM app. Click OK or Accept to every question it asks of you.

Now you need to enroll yourself with the SMM app.  The first box asks you to enter an email or a URL. Do NOT use your email address. Enter this exactly as it appears: and then click on Enroll. If you are at a different high school, use your school letter code (i.e. phs or chs). Click on Accept to any questions it asks you.

Enter your username and password into the SMM app. The username is d211/ followed by your username. For teachers, it would look like this d211/ksorensen and for students it will look like this d211/sorensen2120 with the four digits being part of your specific computer username. If you do not remember your username you can ask your teacher or visit the technology center. The password for teachers is your usual computer password, and for students it is your six digit ID number. Click on the Enroll button to continue. Click on Accept to any questions it asks you.

Continue installing the app by clicking on Accept, Continue, or Install to every question it asks you.  When you get to the box that says Done you can click on Done and close the app.

It can take up to an hour for your wireless keys to download.  In the meantime, continue to use the guest network.  If the school is pushing out apps then the apps will appear in a self-service portal in SMM but it can take up to an hour for those to appear as well.

Go to Symantec's website to learn more about their Symantec Mobile Management software.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Back up your data to iCloud before you turn in your old iPad or set up your new iPad

iCloud is a service from Apple that lets you back up 5GB of data to their servers. Backing up your iPad to iCloud allows you to do two very valuable things: you can recover your data in case your iPad is lost, stolen, or broken; and you can copy nearly everything from your old iPad to your new iPad in a matter of minutes.

Specifically, teachers or students who sometimes turn in their ipads at some point and then have a new iPad issued to them later should use iCloud. Back up your old iPad and then turn it in. When you get your new iPad, you can restore all your apps and settings on the new iPad. Your new iPad will look and act much like your old one. 

This will also work if you own your own iPad at home, but then you are issued another one through school. You can "copy" your personal iPad's data, apps, and settings to your school-issued iPad very easily.

What exactly gets backed up? Photos, videos, and all of your purchased apps are among the most important things. There are others, of course, but these are the big three. The entire list of things that get backed up can be found on a different Apple page called "iCloud Backup." 

Photos and videos take up a lot of space. You could easily exceed your free 5GB of space in photos alone. If you exceed your free 5GB you only have two viable options: move your data to another location like Google or Dropbox which offer much more free storage than Apple, or you can buy more space through Apple's iCloud service. 

Do you need directions on how to back up your iPad? Read Apple's KB article called "iOS: How to back up and restore your content." You can find the backup feature by going to Settings -> iCloud -> Storage & Backup on your iPad 2, 3, or 4. 

Advanced users might be using iTunes Backup instead of iCloud. Some of you might be using BOTH at the same time. If you want to learn which one is best, or if you are interested in why you would use both at the same time, read the Apple article called, "Choosing an iOS backup method (Should I use iTunes or iCloud to back up my iOS device?)."

iPad distribution to Fremd High School students (2013)

Students can pick up their iPads on Monday, August 19 from 1:30pm to 8:00pm and on Tuesday, August 20 from 9:30 to 3:30.  Both of these dates are before the first day of school. If a student cannot pick up his/ her iPad on August 19 or 20 then once school begins the technology center will be open from 7am to 4pm each day. Students will be able to pick up their iPads before school, after school or during a free period.

Students and parents were notified of the iPad distribution dates through a physical letter mailed to their homes and through an update posted to all FHS students via Schoology.  Students will turn in their iPad Loan Agreement Form and their Insurance Form if they are choosing to purchase insurance (it is highly recommended, and the cost has been reduced this year).

Once those forms are turned in, students will be given their iPad, protective case, power block and Lightning cable. They will be able to set up their iPads by following the directions posted to Schoology and also by following along with videos that will be playing in the Media Center.

It is highly recommended that students know their usernames and passwords for Google, Apple ID, and Schoology before they arrive. It will make the process go much faster. If they do not know their usernames or passwords or if they do not have accounts set up ahead of time we will be able to help them.

The overall purpose of distributing iPads before school begins is to avoid using classroom time to set up iPads. Classroom time is extremely valuable, and one thing we heard loud and clear last year is that teachers do not want to waste a single day of instruction.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Update your contact info in Outlook

If you have switched schools, switched departments, been promoted, or entered into matrimony in the last five years then it is quite possible that your contact information in our email system is incorrect. It could also be incorrect in Schoology, Infinite Campus, Mastery Manager, or some other location. We'll get to that in just a moment.

Outlook contact information
Check the information listed in Outlook and submit a Help Desk request under the heading "Email -> Other" if a correction is needed. Check the information by following the directions below.

  1. Open a new message in Outlook, and put your own name in the "To..." field
  2. Right click on your name and choose Contact Card
  3. Check the information in the Contact tab. Your department, office (school initials - FHS), and office phone number are in this field. 
  4. Check the information in "Member of" field. This is a list of the email groups you belong to. Be careful when you request to leave an email group because your boss might think otherwise!
Outlook Contact Card

Outlook contact information

Outlook email groups

If you have recently begun or ended a marriage then a name change might be in order. Be sure to file the Change of Status paperwork with the district Human Resource department to begin the process. Once you receive notification that HR has processed the paperwork then we can help change your name for your network account (computer logon), email address, and all the other software based on your name or email address.

Schoology, Infinite Campus and Mastery Manager
Your username or contact information might also be incorrect in the major software suites we use in our school. We can correct most issues related to names and email addresses. We can also fix your home school in Schoology if it is incorrect. File a Help Desk ticket under the "Other" category for any name change-related requests. Be sure to file the paperwork with HR if it is needed!

New printer names, new printers, color printers, and printing to the Xerox

New printer names
The printers will be renamed using the room number where the printer is located. The printer name will usually end with a 1 but if there is more than one printer in the room then the name might end in a 2 or a 3. For example, a printer in room 2 where there is only one printer will be named FHS-002-1. In room 178 there are three printers which are named FHS-178-1, FHS-178-2, and FHS-178-3. 

Every printer will be labeled on its front panel with its new name. If you want to add a printer, you can see the printer name right on the front of the printer and then add it to your computer by following this link <http://fhsvhprint1/Printers/>. 

New printers
HP 525dn - scan and email documents

The last few outdated printers have been replaced with three different printer models. Nearly all monochrome printers are now four years old or newer.  

The HP 401dn is a small printer than prints 35 pages per minute and can handle up to 50,000 pages per month. 

The HP 601dn is a larger printer than prints 45 pages per minute and can handle up to 175,000 pages per month. 

The HP 525dn is a multi-function printer that can be used to scan documents and email them as PDFs to any email address. There are several in the building including in the technology office. Feel free to use the 525dn any time our doors our open.

Color printers
Color printing has been declining for several years due to the increase in posting presentations and materials online. Students provide a color-rich presentation when using a projector in front of their peers, and they submit their work to the teacher through Schoology, Google, Dropbox, or the school shared drive.

The number of color printers will begin to decrease over time. They will not go away entirely, but some color printers will not be replaced once they pass their life cycle. 

Printing to the Xerox
You can send any of your printed work to the Xerox which allows you to print double-sided, collate, and staple your work. It can handle large print jobs, too. You can skip the faculty services line and print it directly to the Xerox yourself. If you are printing off old files that are not saved to your computer, take that stack of files to the technology office and scan them as PDFs. Then print them on the Xerox.

Add the Xerox to your printer list by going to <http://fhsvhprint1/Printers/> and add the last printer on the list Xerox Teachers HOLD.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bring your laptop in for a check up

Have you brought your computer in for a check-up lately? Drop it off in the technology department so we can get it running as good as new!

I know what you're going to say: "I don't want my computer re-imaged!" It's a valid statement. 
So there are two options for you that will be available starting August 12, 2013.

Option one: the check-up
We will simply run updates and check your laptop for viruses. We will also clean your keyboard and screen, replace your battery to give your computer longer life, and label your power cord so your coworkers stop "borrowing" yours. That's it! We promise.

Option two: full re-image
All of your software will be updated when your computer is re-imaged. This helps to guarantee that your computer is running best, but it also means that you need to back up all your data (files, photos, songs, etc.) before you turn it in. You should keep your files online anyway (Google Docs, Dropbox, or H Drive) but if you leave something on your computer then it will be erased. So be careful! Your computer will still get a nice cleaning and a new laptop battery, too.

Option three: Office 2013 AND Windows 8
Wait, there were only supposed to be two options. Where did this magical third choice come from? Well, FHS teachers, you are in for an amazing year. Option three is the installation of Office 2013 on your laptop. This will NOT require a re-imaging of your computer. (Don't forget, you can buy Office 2013 for your home computer for about $10.)

Windows 8 is also coming to your laptop. Lenovo tablet users will be especially interested in Windows 8. Get more from your touch-screen computer with Windows 8.  This will not be available until late September as Microsoft has not officially released a major update to Windows 8. Your computer WILL need to be re-imaged if you want Windows 8, so back it up accordingly.

Rules and Terms
Yes, there are rules to this amazing offer. First, you need to bring your computer in before 9 am if you want it back by the end of the day. Second, we will NOT be able to update any computers on August 19, 20 or 21 due to last-minute requests related to the first day of school. I don't think there is a third condition, but I reserve the right to add one later if needed.

One-to-one teachers can pick up their iPad 4s

FHS teachers in the one-to-one program can trade in their iPad 2s for their iPad 4s beginning Tuesday, August 6, 2013.  Please bring your iPad 2, power cord, and case when you are ready to turn it in.

The technology office's summer hours are 8am to 3pm.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gamifying your own cancer treatment: how playing a video game actually helps patients get healthier

Video games have great potential to be powerful learning tools by providing instruction, keeping students engaged or interested in a subject, or even simply by helping students stay active using Microsoft's Kinect. A new game featured in an article on CNN Tech has shown me that there is a new way that video games can teach: they can provide the motivation to fight cancer.

Re-Mission 2 is a new game created by the non-profit group HopeLab. In Re-Mission 2 the player
uses chemotherapy, cancer drugs and the body's own natural defenses to fight off cancer. In that sense, the game simply teaches the player about the science behind fighting cancer.

But something unexpected happened to the patients who played the game: they became more diligent in taking their medicine. By seeing what happens inside their bodies, patients understood the importance of receiving their treatments and had a much higher rate of sticking to their treatment schedule. Any parent knows how hard it is to get children to take their medicine or go to the doctor.  By playing the video game it helped give patients the knowledge and the will to do what it takes to get better. The video game provided willpower to a cancer patient. Doctors and patients alike have said that playing the game provides a psychological advantage to fighting cancer by giving the patient a sense of control over the disease. How extraordinary is that?  Playing the game showed patients the effect of their medicine on cancer which gave them the confidence and the will to keep fighting for their lives.

Currently the game is only available on the PC as a Flash-based game but HopeLab plans on making a version that can be played on Android and Apple devices in the near future.

Friday, May 24, 2013

WiFi is a necessity, not a luxury: use this app to find free WiFi

Just how important is the Internet to you?  I am not one to say, “I can’t function without the Internet!” If I were to honestly evaluate how much the Internet means to me, I would say that having Internet in the home is more important than having cable TV or a land-line phone. The Internet keeps us connected to the world in ways that grow every day. It brings us local and national news. It provides us with information that educates and informs us. But mostly, it keeps us connected to the people that matter the most to us.

A better question might be this: how often do you connect to the Internet each day? To this question I bet most of us would simply say “a lot” or “all the time”. There are two things I do most often when I first get on a computer – get on the Internet or check my email. Everything I want from a computer is on the Internet. On my cell phone I check Facebook and read the news on almost any time I have a few spare minutes. Yes, I’m the guy who will read an article or two while waiting in line at the grocery store. I also use Google Drive regularly to update documents and share them with others when I do not have access to a computer. The Internet keeps me connected in ways that traditional means cannot.

Name one person you know who is not connected to the Internet today. Who comes to mind? I can name just two – my 87 year old grandfather and my 86 year old grandmother. They are the sweetest couple who simply do not believe that they need to be on the Internet. Yet they have a son who lives in Florida; grandchildren in Boston, New York, and Busan (South Korea); and a great-granddaughter in Chicago. All of these family members are on Facebook, could be reached via email or +Skype, and can connect through Google Hangouts. My grandparents are missing out on the social interactions that the Internet provides.

Unfortunately, many homes in America still do not have an Internet connection. The website Internet World Stats says that only 78% of Americans are connected to the Internet, which places us 27th in the world.  Did you know that Niue ranks ahead of us?  I've never even heard of Niue!

But how does this relate to students? 
They have the same needs that adults do: be productive, stay connected, and to communicate with others. Students probably have a greater need to be on the Internet than we do as adults. I mean that: they NEED the Internet. Students are not the ones who decide whether or not they can have Internet access, though. Their parents make the decision to provide Internet in the home or to purchase a cell phone plan with Internet access. Our district is projected to provide every student with an iPad starting in August of 2014, but it will be the responsibility of the family to get Internet in the home. What if parents choose not to have home Internet service? Then the students will need to find it elsewhere.

We might be 27th in home Internet access worldwide, but Americans have two advantages over many other countries when it comes to WiFi: McDonalds and +Starbucks Coffee.  We have LOTS of McDonald's and Starbucks locations which offer free WiFi.  In fact, many businesses offer free WiFi.  When we rolled out our first batch of iPads to 1,500 students I created a digital map of the local businesses that offer free WiFi to help show our school board that even if our students do not have the Internet at home that they would still have many options for staying connected.  That map was small, it only covered part of our geographical borders, and it only included locations that I knew for a fact had wi-fi.  It simply was not accurate. Our five high schools serve towns with a combined population of over 200,000 which makes creating and maintaining a WiFi map very labor intensive.

Free WiFi Finder
An app called Free Wi-Fi Finder has replaced that small, outdated map.  You can search for free WiFi by entering an address into the search box or by letting it search based on your current location.  It produces a map with the location of free WiFi locations marked with green arrows.  Each location lists the name, address, and phone number of the business where WiFi can be found for free.

A 26MB download of its database will allow you to search for free WiFi even when you are not connected to the Internet. This allows students to go home where there is not Internet but use the app to find the closest free WiFi location to his house

The Free Wi-Fi Finder app claims to work in other counties, but my colleague's search for free WiFi in Jamaica, his spring break destination, yielded zero results.  The app relies on its users to enter new locations, so it looks like when he arrives he is going to have to tag the free WiFi zones for the rest of us.

Now if only I could get my grandparents on the Internet. Since they won’t be leaving the house, the Free Wi-Fi Finder app will not help them very much. It looks like I will have to buy them an Xbox One to keep them connected to the rest of the family. 

(This article is an update on an earlier one. Click here to see the original.)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Addressing the negative student behaviors in a one-to-one classroom

I strongly believe that technology is going to completely revolutionize the classroom. But when are we going to start addressing the negative aspects of the one-to-one classroom? When are we going to acknowledge the fact that just because every student has a device it does not mean that they will get a 36 on the ACT? I have seen videos of babies that can play with an iPad, but that does not mean that high school students intuitively know how to use one to effectively collaborate and communicate in the classroom. Let's be honest: using technology in the classroom is harder than teaching the "old way". It takes a whole new skill set, and it requires a lot of work to get ourselves over the new barriers caused by the technology. We can overcome the obstacles, but we need to acknowledge that the obstacles are there. A hurdler does not run down the track blindfolded - he has to see the hurdles in front of him if he is going to clear them and win the race.

There are SO MANY well-documented positive results of using technology in the classroom. There are major studies that will tell you that technology improves a child's education in very specific ways. Read Project Red's study of nearly one thousand schools in Revolutionizing Education Through Technology to learn about 13 specific areas where schools will see benefits from a strong one-to-one program. The key to making progress is to implement it PROPERLY, and that is where many schools fail. They throw technology in the classroom and expect benefits to appear. But they don't always appear - some benefits do not reveal themselves right away, and some never appear at all. Not only do you have use technology the right way, but you also have to be prepared to identify and overcome the problems. 

Besides just documenting the positive aspects of using technology, schools also need to be on the lookout for the negatives. It's still early in the one-to-one era, but a surprising number of schools are simply not prepared for the question of, "What do we do when things aren't working quite right?" As classrooms change with the addition of technology, we need to celebrate the positives but also realistically deal with the distinct negatives that were not present before. So what are the negatives?

Student behaviors, actions and attitudes
  1. Technology becomes the distraction. Students can find it hard to resist the temptations of all the iPad has to offer. They are easily distracted by the games, videos, chatting, and social media sites.  They're much more fun than listening to a teacher, right? Classroom management can be very difficult when thirty students have iPads in front of them, and it's not always easy to see what they are doing. Distracted students who are  not paying attention in class is probably the number one gripe from teachers. 
  2. Distracting other students.  Many students are perfectly capable of paying attention in class and using their tablet or cell phone effectively - unless they are sitting next to another student who is not so disciplined. It's hard for other students to ignore one who is watching videos or playing games in class. When one student is distracted, he becomes a distraction to others. 
  3. Difficulty evaluating information. Students think that when they "Google" a question that they will get the right answer. They are not naturally adept at discerning the difference between "good" information and "bad" information. Students need practice to hone their skills in information literacy which is one of the six national educational technology standards for students (NETS-S).
  4. Less interest in the class. It is generally accepted that student interest and engagement increase when they are in a one-to-one classroom. But what happens when a teacher is not prepared to use technology effectively? Students will actually lose interest in the class if the teacher does not provide lessons that take advantage of the technology or use the same boring technology over and over again. Keynote presentations everyday? Boring! 
  5. Loss of sleep. When students are well-rested they are more capable of processing information, concentrating, making decisions, and interacting with others. Losing sleep can have negative consequences academically for a student. An unanticipated consequence of our one-to-one program is that our kids take their iPads to bed with them where they check Facebook, Instant Message and video chat with each other, or simply watch Harlem Shake videos for hours on end. Some students are not accustomed to having Internet access 24 hours a day, and consequently they lose sleep for the first few weeks (or months or longer) while they explore the wonders of the Internet.
  6. Increased incidences of bullying. Administrators often anticipate that there will be an increase in anonymous attacks on other students over the Internet. What we found is that many students are not afraid to use their actual names and accounts to launch attacks on each other. You can easily find students from your own school who post horrible comments and photos about other students on Twitter and Facebook by doing a simple Internet search. Bullying in person is damaging, but when bullies use technology it's amplified a hundred times over. I will not recount for you the number of incidences where online bullying resulted in suicide for the victim. Use the term "facebook bullying suicide" in a search engine and see for yourself. Online bullying is devastating. Unfortunately, only one in ten students will tell an adult that they are being bullied online.
Technology has changed the behavior of our students, but we as educators can help address those issues. In the long run, these problems will be resolved. You will find the solution to these problems much faster if you can identify them and address them. The six I listed were chosen based on my personal observation and from research I did on the subject. I am sure there are others. 

Just because students behave differently when using technology does not mean that only students have to change. Teachers and administrators also have to change their attitudes, behaviors, and professional practices if your one-to-one program is going to be successful. I will address that aspect in another article.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Increased parental engagement will help your one-to-one program succeed

Communicating with parents can lead to better relationships between parents and the school, and it can also decrease negative behaviors in students.  Better communication can also lead to academic gains for the students.  If your school is building a one-to-one program, one often-neglected aspect is the focus on improving your communication with parents.

The research on school-parent communication can be grouped into five different categories:
  1. Communication flows from the teacher to the parents in an effort to keep the parents informed of school and classroom activities.
  2. Communication flows from parents to the teacher to educate the teacher as to how to best reach their children.
  3. Communication helps to build strong relationships between the parents and the school.
  4. Using one communication method is not effective, especially when using technology.
  5. Students have fewer instances of negative behaviors when their parents are involved in their schoolwork.
The most common form of parent-teacher communication is when information is sent to parents by the teacher, usually in the form of a newsletter or an email.  This type of information is important to parents because they want to stay connected.  Nora Carr wrote, “they [parents] greatly appreciate frequent updates about their children’s progress—as well as online access to homework assignments, grades, attendance, discipline reports, teacher notes, and student portfolios.”

One aspect of communication that is often ignored by teachers is the information that can be gained from listening to a parent.  Teachers are often seen as the expert who knows what is best for the child, and they offer advice to the parent on how to best help their child learn.  A great deal can be learned from the parent if the teacher only knew to ask.  Parents will become truly engaged in their child’s learning if they are treated like a partner in their education.  Kevin Mixon wrote, “when working on National Board certification ... two-way communication is an area of weakness for most teachers.”  Larry Ferlazzo wrote this:
“In involvement, the teacher might be akin to a social worker, doing things for parents or tending to tell them what they should be doing with their children. In engagement, the teacher is more of an organizer who helps parents do things for themselves. He or she would elicit ideas from parents about what everyone (parents and school staff) could do differently to support students and their community.”
Building strong relationships helps build trust and helps facilitate meaningful conversations between parents and teachers.  This can be done by having conversations unrelated to specific children and instead everyone can discuss education and/ or parenting as a whole.  David Ruenzel wrote that his school holds potluck dinners where parents and teachers can just sit and talk in a less formal setting, and while misunderstanding still occur it happens less frequently.

Different technology should be used in different situations and to reach different audiences.  Due to a wide variety of conditions that affect families - socioeconomic status, technology skill level, personal preference related to communication - there is a need to utilize technology that can be accessed through multiple means to meet everyone’s needs.  Schoology offers teachers the ability to connect via email, a website, or through an app that is accessible on Android and iOS phones and tablets.  The increase in smartphone adoption has greatly assisted in reaching parents of all types.  Nora Carr wrote, “America’s smartphone obsession cuts across gender lines as well as racial and ethnic groups. Women are about as likely as men to own smart phones (45 percent versus 46 percent, respectively), while smartphone ownership rates among blacks (47 percent) and Hispanics (49 percent) surpasses those of whites (42 percent).”  Teachers also need to be trained on how to best utilize technology to communicate, and school policies often have to change to match the changes in technology.  The state of Illinois' rule requiring one instance of making contact with a parent per year is outdated, especially in this era of hyper-communication.

Increased participation by a parent in their children’s lives has been shown to have a positive effect on the child’s behavior.  It can help reduce the number of Fs students receive and the number of discipline problems that are documented by the school administration.  One related study by Michelle Molnar reported, “Higher parental involvement in schools may reduce rebellious behavior because parents have more time or are more committed to being involved in their kids' lives. It may also be that schools where most of the parents are involved increase parental network ties, which helps them keep better track of their adolescents.”

Your one-to-one program will focus on changing the way teachers teach and students learn. Increased student engagement will probably be one of your measurements of success. Increased parent engagement is also important, measurable, and attainable. One of the goals for you one-to-one program should include parent engagement, if for the sole reason that increased parent interaction will help you reach your other goals.


Carr, Nora. "Smart Phones Require Smart Communication Strategies." Smart Phones Require Smart Communication Strategies. ESchoolNews, 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. <>.

Cavanagh, Sean. "Parental Engagement Proves No Easy Goal." Education Week. Education Week, 28 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. <>.

Epstein, Joyce Levy. School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2011.

Ferlazzo, Larry. "'Back To The Future' For Parent Engagement." Education Week. Education Week, 17 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. <>.

Ferlazzo, Larry. "Follow-Up: Parent Engagement vs. Parent Involvement." Education Week. Education Week, 23 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. <>.

Johnson, Graham. "Teachers: Involve Parents in the Flipped Classroom, Too." Teachers: Involve Parents in the Flipped Classroom, Too. ESchoolNews, 26 Oct. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. <>.

Mixon, Kevin. "Making Parent Involvement a Two-Way Street." Education Week Teacher. Education Week, 7 Dec. 2011. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. <>.

Molnar, Michelle. "More Parental Involvement Means Fewer Runaways." Education Week. Education Week, 1 Apr. 2012. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. <>.

Molnar, Michelle. "Va. Superintendent Initiates a System-Wide Involvement Approach."Education Week. Education Week, 24 Sept. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. <>.

Ruenzel, David. "Just What Do We Mean By 'Parent Involvement'?" Education Week. Education Week, 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. <>.

Stansbury, Meris. "Strong Communication Key to Online Learning." Strong Communication Key to Online Learning. ESchoolNews, 6 Oct. 2009. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. <>.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We need more stinkin' badges (or, how to increase student participation without using grades as a reward)

What encourages students to do well in school? Often, it comes down to grades. Many students will work harder in order to earn a higher grade. Colleges want to see good grades. Parents want to see good grades.  Grades are good, right? Of course they are, but the grades should not be the only goal. Learning for the sake of it should be a goal, including what they learned, how long they remembered it, and how they applied it to new situations.

Unfortunately, some students are not motivated by grades. Yes, this includes your brightest kids. Some kids could get an A on any test you give them, so they do not see the need for homework. Why do an hour of work every night when they know they are going to get an A on the test? Now you have a student who gets Fs on all his homework and As on all his tests. It turns into a C average, and he doesn't care. How do you motivate him to do more or do better? The old-fashioned way - you give him a badge.

Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts
Boy Scout advancement patches
Boys and girls in the scouting program earn patches for three things: progressing through the scouting program, attending a special event, or accomplishing a specific goal.  They are given a badge, patch, or pin to wear on their uniform to show others what they have achieved.

The patches are a source of pride to the scout who earned them, and they are a way to show off what they have accomplished to others. Scouts have to meet certain criteria before advancing to the next level, but they are not expected to earn every single patch. The Scouting Organizations choose what they feel is important to the development of a child, and the scouts then can choose the ones that are interesting to them and start working towards earning that badge.

The values of every organization change, and when that happens new badges are created to encourage members to gain those skills. While camping or gardening might have been important in the past, computer skills are now considered important to a child. The Girl Scouts recently announced that they were creating a new badge in video game development.

The use of badges in the military
The Scouts' use of badges was borrowed from the military which has been utilizing badges for hundreds of years. Military uniforms display a soldier's pins and patches to display their accomplishments. You can tell at a glance those who have served the longest, accomplished the most, or have high marks in certain skills. The military awards those pins and patches for things that are valuable to the organization. Each pin or patch is created with the belief that soldiers with those skills can serve the military better.

Video Game Achievements
Video games award badges, too, in a very similar way to the Scouts and the military. But why? Video games are fun to play, so why provide extra incentive for playing games? It is because every video game loses its excitement over time. People lose interest even in the most popular games and eventually walk away. So how do game designers keep people playing once the game has been solved? By building in challenges that provide you with a reward for completing them. They are called achievements. If you play a video game through to the end you will earn anywhere between 200 to 500 points, but if you keep playing all the way through and complete every challenge you will earn 1,000 points. Those extra achievement points are specifically designed to keep you playing the game over and over.

Some of the achievements are very specific. Bowl a turkey? That's an achievement. Hit three triple-20s in darts? Achievement. Kick the ball over the net in volleyball instead of using your hands to score a point? Achievement. Those types of achievements encourage you to try harder and to keep working towards a goal.

Some achievements are really random, though. Why should you get an achievement for giving a high five to a robot hiding in an alley? Because it's funny and unexpected. It encourages the player to keep looking, to keep trying, but most importantly, to keep playing the game and to communicate with others when they find an achievement. It keeps people engaged in the game, and it keeps them engaged in the community of gamers who like to talk about their success.

Achievements can also be extremely challenging or encourage people to try things totally out of the ordinary. Win a game of table tennis with your left hand and then win the next game with you right hand in Kinect Sports. Yep, I did that one. It was easy, but I never would have tried it until I found out it was worth 15 points. Play all 80 songs in a row without pausing the game on Rock Band 2. It is called "The Bladder of Steel" Award, and it is named appropriately. It takes about six hours to finish and you CANNOT PAUSE THE GAME OR FAIL A SINGLE SONG. It was worth 25 points. Why would I spend six hours trying to earn a small handful of points? Because it was one of the hardest achievements to get, and no one I knew had that achievement. It was worth every minute of it.

Applying video game achievements to your classroom
Educators can learn a lesson from the video game industry.  Every game gives the player an achievement (like a badge) for completing certain missions or for finishing the game. But they also give achievements for doing something really, really hard - or really, really cool! It gives players something to strive for other than just the typical goal of finishing the game which is similar to a student who wants to do more than just earn an A.  Students WANT specific goals in class to push them to try harder. It gives students direction instead of just telling them to "go learn on your own and report back to me". The teacher sets precise targets which are important to the class, and the students earn a reward for hitting that target. What do they earn? A badge.

How to begin awarding Class Badges
The two things you need to start awarding badges to your students are (1) a list of targets you want your students to meet, and (2) a way to give out badges.

There are three things you should reward in your class in order to push your students to try harder.

  1. Specific targets. List specific activities you want your students to pursue. You can ask your students to simply complete a task like watching three additional videos on how a bill becomes a law (Schoolhouse Rock, anyone?), or they can be based on an accomplishment like writing a letter to your Congressman and getting a response to the letter.  The targets should be aligned to your course objectives, and by completing them the students will gain something they would not have gained in class.
  2. Random targets. You can create a few badges for doing something completely random but still in line with the class activities. Take a photo outside of your Congressman's local office to earn a 15 point badge. Take a photo shaking hands with your Congressman to get 25 points. Do those increase knowledge of the course? They might, and they might not, but they will increase interest and they will likely lead to increased learning. If your student is shaking hands with the Congressman, don't you expect them to spend five minutes talking about government? I hope so!
  3. Challenging or extraordinary targets. Some targets can be easy to accomplish, but some need to be really hard. REALLY HARD. By earning these badges, the student will know they accomplished something extraordinary, especially if they are the only one in the class who earned it.  What if your student started an online petition on and actually got 100,000 signatures? That would be amazing. How about starting a blog on your town's history and getting 100 followers? That would be really cool, too. Both of those push a student to work harder and to do things in really unconventional ways.

Giving out badges

After creating your list of accomplishments, now you have to find a way to actually hand them out. You can do it physically by actually giving them a real badge or patch, but that is extremely unrealistic. You could use a sticker chart, but then it can only be used in class. The best way to do this is to provide them electronically. The best site at this moment is ClassBadges.

ClassBadges is "a free online tool where teachers can award badges to students for accomplishments or academic mastery. Through your teacher account, you can award badges customized for your classroom or school. Badges can easily be aligned to academic goals or associated with existing school awards." As a teacher you set the learning targets for each badge, give the badge a name and choose a logo for it, and then award the badge to each student once they accomplish it. Students can track their results, compare their results to others, and work towards earning their next badge.
Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!
Where did the title of this blog entry come from? It's a quote that has been used in at least three different movies (most famously in Blazing Saddles in 1974) where the lawmen are asked for their badges, to which they respond, "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!" It's silly, but people my age will quote it to you any time they hear the word "badges".

But we do need badges, though. Badges encourage our students to try harder, do things differently, and think outside the box. Badges are a reward, and doesn't everyone want something to show for the work they did? There is no other explanation for spending six hours on one silly achievement other than to say that I did it.

Watch +Ramsey Musallam explain +ClassBadges 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

NSBA highlights six innovative technology companies that will improve education

The National School Boards Association has chosen six companies to feature at their first-ever Technology Innovation Showcase at their national conference in San Diego April 13-15, 2013.

There are two really positive things I'm taking away from this announcement.  First, it's great to see school boards recognizing the importance of technology in the classroom.  School boards approve the vision and mission statements written by the schools, they approve the technology budgets, and they hire the top administrators in the district who in turn hire good principals who in turn hire technology-savvy teachers. As educators and as technology integration specialists we need the support of our school boards.  Seeing the NSBA showcase technology is a clear sign of their support.

Two, I love seeing technology that can help improve education but is not necessarily a classroom technology.  I love classroom technology.  I love +Nearpod. I love one-to-one devices.  We need more than just content, though. BloomBoard provides technology to improve the teacher evaluation and feedback cycle. Rather than fear evaluations, how amazing would it be if teachers actually looked forward to getting feedback from multiple points of view - principals, department heads, and colleagues - in addition to creating their own personalized professional learning plan? Improving our teaching practices will have an impact on classroom learning just as much as providing better resources and devices, and honestly I believe it will have more of an impact. So I really appreciate the NSBA recognizing that the focus should not solely by on classroom technology use.

Here is the list of the 2013 NSBA Technology Innovation Showcase companies:
  1. BloomBoard – Helping educators grow by providing a free platform to manage the entire feedback cycle for improving educator effectiveness (e.g.: observations, coaching, and individualized learning plans, etc.), connected to recommendations from an open marketplace of professional development resources.
  2. Guide K12 – Using the power of geovisual analytics, districts can look at student data in new ways for the purpose of forecasting, capacity planning, and boundary discussions and get immediate answers to “what if” questions.
  3. Nearpod – An all-in-one solution for the synchronized use of iPads (and other mobile devices) in the classroom that is helping redefine the traditional classroom lecture through interactive presentations and real-time assessments.
  4. TenMarks – An engaging web-based learning environment that super-charges math instruction by delivering contextual help, automatic interventions, real-time assessments, and a personalized curriculum for every student.
  5. VizZle – District Edition / Monarch Teaching Technologies – Committed to providing technology-enhanced solutions that offer districts more effective, yet cost-efficient data-driven tools that support children with autism and other special learning needs.
  6. World Wide Workshop, Globaloria – A blended-learning platform with a results-proven curriculum and educator support system to teach youth to produce STEM games with industry-standard methods and tools to increase digital literacy and global citizenship skills, and promote engagement in STEM and Computing.

Monday, March 11, 2013

OERs vs. online content

Online content is crucial to teachers.  It does not matter if you have just one computer in the back of your classroom or if every student has an iPad 24 hours a day - online content will enhance the teaching and learning in your classroom.

+Edudemic  "How to Find Open Educational Resources"

There are several types of content.  The most common is, put simply, educational content which includes anything you would give to your students to read, watch or listen to.  This will include books/ textbooks, videos, audio recordings, maps, graphs, photographs and historical documents. This group could also include courseware which is typically an all-encompassing, pre-packaged set of instructional materials created by textbook companies like Pearson.  If Apple's iBooks ever hit their stride they will probably the best example of courseware where one iBook focused on a particular topic will include all the text, photos, videos and interactive animations in one tidy location.

(related article: Edudemic: The 100 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools)

Teaching isn't just about providing educational resources to read and watch - good teachers design activities that go along with the resources.  This is why teachers should never feel threatened by technology.  Technology will not take away teaching jobs; it will help good teachers become even better teachers.  Some online resources that will help teachers design their lessons include teaching guides that have been written and tested by other teachers or professors.  Google has a lesson plan search that is still a little sparse but it is growing rapidly.  You can also find practice work which are the activities that your students will complete once after they have viewed the educational content.  You'll have to search a little deeper to find practice work that goes beyond typical review questions and worksheets, but it is out there.

Of course, teachers need a way to distribute the educational resources to their students in a logical and searchable format.  Using a Learning Management System is the best way to gather and present your materials, and LMSs also provide calendars, discussion boards, grade books and online assessments on top of it.  There are many free LMSs you can try, and I recommend you start by trying out +Schoology which is the best overall LMS package available - and it's free.

Curating your material by placing them in folders (by chapters or topics) in an LMS is effective, but it isn't very eye-catching.  Combine other methods of curation with your LMS to keep your students' interest.  A playlist on YouTube, a photo collection on Flickr, or a magazine-like collection on Flipboard are all ways to curate a collection of materials that look great - and hopefully they inspire your students to do the same on a future project.

What is the difference between OERs and online content?

Online content covers all the materials you pull from the Internet to use with your class.  You can use the material yourself and you can link to it so that your students can use it.  However, you do not automatically have the right to copy that material, make changes to it, or distribute it to others without permission of the person who created it.  YouTube is the best example of online content.  It has millions of videos you can watch or ask your students to watch, but most of those videos expressly prohibit you from copying them, editing them, or using them in any other manner.  Of course, there are even some videos that have been posted illegally and as a classroom teacher you are not permitted to use materials that break copyright laws.

Open Educational Resources, or OERs, are materials that are written by educators (or educational non-profits) for the specific purpose of using them in the classroom, and the materials are often aligned to Common Core standards.  Most OER providers have a mission of providing high-quality resources for free so that all students in all cities and nations can improve their education. You see the same desire to improve education for all people in places like Harvard, Stanford, and Penn State. Professors in those universities are offering all of the course materials for free. (Check out a list of 700 free courses listed on OpenCulture.)

This is the mission statement of +CK-12 Foundation, a company that provides OER textbooks:

"CK-12 Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to high quality educational materials for K-12 students all over the world. We offer free high-quality, standards-aligned, open content in the STEM subjects. By providing these free resources, CK-12 is working toward educational equity for all."

I've listed about some OERs on my Delicious social bookmarking page.  Do you like my not-so-subtle use of a curation site to list the resources? It looks much nicer than a bulleted list inside this blog.