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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Five Favorite Chromebook Extensions

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My kids start school in just over a week.  The summer has been busy, fun, and gone way too fast.  Today, I got up early and took my favorite girl shopping.  Spending the day one-on-one with either of my children is one of my favorite things to do.  Now that my daughter is twelve, and almost as tall as I am, we have extra fun shopping because we like many of the same stores.  The best part is the relationship-building time.  I realize that none of this intro has a thing to do with Chrome extensions, but I’m sharing my excuse for not publishing my Five Friday Faves until after 10:30pm on Friday.  Some things (in this case, back-to-school shopping) are more important than blogging…but on with it before it ends up being the wee hours of Saturday morning.

I have been using a Chromebook as my primary digital device for about a year and a half now.  Prior to this, I was a tried and true, longtime-using (and loving) Mac girl.  But guess what, people.  I love my Chromebook!  I have yet to find something I need to do that I can’t accomplish with it.  And as I am traveling a lot for work now, it is a breeze to pack along on airplanes weighing in around 2 whopping pounds!  So, I decided to share five of my favorite Chrome extensions.  You can peruse the Chrome Web Store at your leisure and find pretty much whatever you are looking for (and then some!).  Here are the ones that made my short list:

  1. Google Hangouts – If you are somehow unfamiliar with GHOs, they are video chats.  I have had business meetings with someone in New Zealand, interviewed with a team of three people in Boston (they were all in different locations at the time of the hangout), chatted with colleagues, and caught up with friends all via Google Hangouts.  They couldn’t be easier to use, and I have had much fewer connectivity issues with Hangouts than when I attempt to use Skype.  They are a great way to collaborate, but can also be used in the classroom to talk with experts in the field, other classes around the world for Mystery Hangouts, or even with a teacher who might be home with a sick child.
  2. OneTab – OneTab is fantastic.  It saves up to 95% memory, making your battery last longer, all while reducing tab clutter.  Here is an excerpt from the Chrome store:  “Whenever you find yourself with too many tabs, click the OneTab icon to convert all of your tabs into a list. When you need to access the tabs again, you can either restore them individually or all at once.”  You can use the ‘share as a web page’ feature to upload your list of tabs into a web page in order to share them with others. This is a great way to curate reliable resources that you want your class to use for a specific assignment.  I love it as a way of organizing tabs that I want to reference quickly in the future.
  3. goo.gl URL Shortener – I don’t really need to explain this one.  I use it often when wanting to share to social media.
  4. AdBlock – This does exactly what it sounds like.  Here is what the overview says, “The original AdBlock for Chrome. Block all advertisements on all web pages, even Facebook, Youtube, and Hulu. It works automatically: just click “Add to Chrome,” then visit your favorite website and see the ads disappear!”
  5. Save to Pocket – Pocket is an excellent way to save articles, webpages, videos, etc. to read and/or view later.  It automatically syncs to your phone, tablet or computer so you can view it at any time, even without an internet connection.  This offline capability is fantastic for students who don’t have internet access at home.

There was my quick list.  Which extension is your favorite?  Please share – I’m always on the hunt for ways to make my work easier, or my life more fun.

Five Ways to Increase Innovation

Photo by Celestine Chua

Photo by Celestine Chua

 

“Research shows 52 percent of employees are frustrated at work because leaders don’t support their ideas or empower their creativity.”  This statement was in the beginning of an article written by Michelle Smith.  I know that I have been in that 52% in the past, as I’m sure many of you have been.  The article was more about generating and growing ideas in the workplace.  Most of it, however, translated (in my mind, at least) into educator professional development, and into their classrooms.  How can we foster innovation in ourselves and our students?

  1. Own your fears, so they can’t own your classroom. Change is inevitable in the world of education, but never so much so as in the last few years.  It has left teachers overwhelmed, underfunded (nothing new there), and a bit fearful.  They are expected to raise standardized test scores, integrate technology, adapt curriculum to new standards, teach character education, make learning engaging, and oh yeah, remember to love the kids. We’ve all heard that we can’t keep doing something just because it’s the way we’ve always done it.  The problem is, it’s fear of change that often keeps us locked into the current routines.  Let’s take technology integration.  A big fear is that the students will know more than the teachers about technology.  This might be true, but it might not.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is that teachers need to accept the fact that their students really might know more.  And that’s perfectly okay.  It’s great even, because then those students can be given a leadership role in showing the teacher how to do something.  They will take more ownership in the classroom, and the teacher will show that she/he values student-centered learning.
  2. Set goals to try something new on a regular basis. If you just say that you will try something new, chances are that it won’t happen.  Set short term goals, and long term goals, and don’t be afraid to change them.  And then, here is one of the most important parts.  Schedule a time to work towards that goal.  Actually put it on your calendar, and stick to it.  Even if you only devote thirty minutes a week toward a goal, just do it.  Any activity is better than no activity.
  3. Be a team player.  “Innovations are typically team efforts that are best led by passionate improvement co-champions.” (6 Ways The Best Leaders Innovate And Bring Great Ideas To Life By Michelle Smith)  I foster my own personal and professional development through collaborating with other people.  Twitter and LinkedIn are two of my favorite (and easiest) places to connect.  I can ask questions, discuss ideas, and gain knowledge all while building a powerful network.  Smith also encourages us to “Reach across functional boundaries and tap into the talent of others.”  This works in the classroom, as well when you allow students to collaborate, and make passion-based learning a norm. The students will become more innovative through working with their peers.
  4. Facilitate learning to enhance critical and creative thinking skills.  We can all increase our level of critical thinking and creativity.  These aren’t isolated skills that we can test our students on a standardized test.  They are, however, the best skills we can nurture to help them be successful after high school.  I have heard, “I’m just not creative” often from other adults. I think that is false.  We all contain the ability to be creative, we just need to find where that creativity takes root. I like to create in the kitchen.  I have almost no home decorating skills, but I can create some pretty tasty dishes.  This is where 20% time, genius hour, passion projects, etc. come into play in the classroom.  Not only are students driving their own learning, but it is in an area where they can allow their creative thinking skills to bloom.
  5. Smile.  I understand that this last one might sound a bit hokey, but stick with me.  It really is part of  Be open-minded, take risks, embrace failure as progress, and have fun doing it.  And if you can do all of these things, you will smile as you become more innovative.  Life is just better when you are having fun living it.

 

Five Friday Faves (Travel edition)

I’m loving this new gig where I get to go to new places, meet new people, teach educators some cool stuff that will make their lives (and the students!) a bit more fun.  With it, however, has come learning the ways of the road.  I was in a hotel room in Texas earlier this week, and was thinking through the little things that make traveling a little easier and this blog idea was formed.  I realize that it’s not really education-related, but it’s my blog, so I can write what I want to.  🙂

So, here are my top five travel favorites:

  1. My Incipio Stowaway iPhone case.  It has a trap door in the back to stash credit cards, cash, or a driver’s license.  This way, when I am going through security at the airport, I can just have my photo ID in the phone case.  My phone has my digital boarding pass on it, so I have everything I need right in one little place.  (Which brings me to #2Screenshot 2015-07-23 at 8.28.45 PM
  2. Airline apps (I have Delta and American) – So this one may seem a little boring, but I can’t tell you how nice it is to check-in, receive my digital boarding pass (via QR code), go through security, and board the plane all from  my phone.  Couple it with #1 and I feel like a seasoned road warrior already (well, at least, I got this part down).Screenshot 2015-07-23 at 8.48.30 PM
  3. Coffeemate Creamer 2Go – I wish I liked my coffee black – I really do.  But, I much prefer a little bit of flavored creamer in it to reach full enjoyment.  The problem is, if you rely on the hotel room coffee in the morning like I do, it’s typically plain creamer.  If it’s plain creamer, then I also need to add sugar, which I prefer not to do, and it’s still not so yummy.  So, you can imagine my delight to find a little 2Go creamer that doesn’t need refrigerated, is a concentrated-strength, AND is only 3 oz., which means (oh yes, my friends) it can go in my carry-on 1-qt. baggie.  Totally worth the space it occupies in that bag.Screenshot 2015-07-23 at 8.40.50 PM
  4. The Stream via SolopianoMatthew Mayer, a very gifted composer, created solopiano.com years ago and hosts over 300 solo piano artists online today. What I love the most about this site (besides the “free” factor) is the radio station featuring those artists that you can listen to via a link to The Stream.  Every morning in the hotel room, as soon as I get up, I open The Stream and enjoy the music as I get ready for the day ahead.  My two favorite pianists featured are Matthew Mayer, himself, and Michelle McLaughlin (and, no, we aren’t related, and I don’t just like alliteration in names). Here are links to one of Matthew’s albums that I love, and one of Michelle’s. Screenshot 2015-07-23 at 8.51.09 PM
  5. FaceTime – I have two amazing kids that I miss terribly when I am away for work.  FaceTime makes it so much easier.  Yes, we could talk on the phone, but there is something about seeing their smiling faces while we talk that helps us all feel a bit closer together.  facetime icon

These are just a few products, apps, and websites that make me more efficient, and more pleasant to be around (not that I need that coffee each morning, or anything).  As always, I would love to hear feedback. What travel tips do you have?  And let me know what you think about Solopiano (I bet you’ll get hooked).

Short and sweet: The differences between a PLN and PLC

“Seek out knowledge, inspiration, and great connections.”  By Marla Tabaka of Inc.

 

I love this quote mostly because it is through my connections that I gain knowledge and inspiration. And due to our ever-evolving digital society, it has never been easier to meet, connect, and collaborate with other professionals.  Most people today have heard the terms Professional Learning Network (PLN) and/or Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  Some people like to substitute the word “Personal” for “Professional”. To me, that is a moot point.  If I’m developing myself professionally, then I am also developing myself personally. Some people use the two phrases interchangeably, while others are unsure of which to use. While I don’t consider myself an expert, I do have and utilize, both a PLN, and PLCs, and will define them as I see them.

PLCs:

  • More personal
    • I collaborate with these people face-to-face, via email, video chat, and/or social media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Voxer
  • More defined
    • I have people that I would consider in my leadership PLC.  I have those that I go to with technology integration questions or ideas.  Other people are in my ELL PLC.  Get the picture?
  • My first “go-to” with questions or for clarification

PLN:

  • Broader and more encompassing
    • My PLN is made up of my PLCs.
  • Utilized for more general professional development
    • I connect with my PLN by reading their posts, tweets, updates, and links via social media sites.

Learning with/from my PLCs and PLN is one of the easiest ways to grow.  Overall, I think learning should be fun and beneficial.  Will it always be fun?  Of course not.  But when it is, I’m more likely to continue it.  Will it always be beneficial?  Yes.  I either learned something from the experience, or learned that I won’t have that kind of experience again.  All learning should produce some type of change.  It could be major or minor, but some thoughts and/or actions should be challenged, affirmed, or stretched based on every learning experience.  And we know that generally change is hard to prepare for.  I think the most we can do to prepare is to be open-minded, attentive, and in a constant state of learning and growth.  My PLN and PLCs are critical to my learning and growth, both professionally and personally.

 

Women in the Work Place – the post is more interesting than the title…

Here are some basic facts: It is 2015.  I am a woman.  I work outside the home.

Here are some things that bother me: The title of this post – have you ever read a post called, “Men in the Work Place”?  The fact that I have to even specify that I work outside the home (again – not something typical fathers have to clarify).  And the fact that women have still not achieved full equality in the professional world.

Parker Beauchamp recently published a post discussing this very topic, and he inspired me to address it, as well.  If you have read any of my writing in the past, you know that it is almost entirely made up of posts regarding education.  When Parker shared his article with me, I first wondered why (since it’s not specifically about education).  Then, it hit me – Oh yeah, I’m a working woman.  That alone is a reason why I would want to read his post on “Taking Down Inequality.”  After that realization, there was that little bit of frustration I mentioned above that this is even still an issue. And in the 21st century!  I really appreciate the fact that a man wrote about this, and paid tribute to the incredible women in his life, as well.

So here is my background in a nutshell.  I am a mom, a wife, and a professional.  I am all of these things by my choice.  I grew up in a house with a working mother.  My mom has her master’s degree, and worked up until three years ago.  I had an incredibly blessed childhood.  I had many opportunities, happy family time, and parents who supported me in my endeavors.  Never, not once, did I suffer because I had a mother who worked full time.  Education was viewed as very important in my house.  My mother put herself through college, as did my father after serving his term in the US Navy.  Both of my siblings graduated from college, as well.  I never even considered the possiblity of staying at home once I had children.  Not because there is anything wrong with that, and not because I didn’t think it was an option, but because that wasn’t the choice I wanted to make for my life.

Admittedly, after I had my children there were times I wished I could stay home.  Fortunately, I was able to take a semester off of teaching after each was born.  That was a huge blessing.  And while I love my children more than myself, I am not sorry that I am working now.  I do not feel like they are suffering in the least.  On the contrary, I am showing them that women deserve to be treated equally in the workplace.  That we should be given the same salary for the same job, promoted an equal amount as their male counterparts, and given the respect they have worked for and earned.  I am showing them what a strong, successful woman and mother looks like.

I had a colleague, who I greatly respect and view as a mentor, once tell me that she has to look at herself in the mirror every day and determine if there is anything about her professional outfit that could be deemed as “sexy”.  What?!  She wears business sutis to work every single day.  She is in the highest position in her field, and is excellent at what she does.  How many men have to look at their appearance the same way each day in order to garner the same respect?

I’ve worked for a boss (he needs that label because he definitely didn’t deserve the title “leader”) who would make comments that women are too emotional to do a great job in leadership roles.  It is people like him and those types of comments that need to be changed.

It’s time for the double-standard to end.  I enjoy working with both men and women.  I have learned much from both genders.  I have seen both genders make bad calls, as well.  This isn’t about whether you are female or male.  It’s about who is best for the role.

I welcome thoughs, questions, and extended conversation on this matter (or anything to do with education – can never talk about that too much).

One Educator’s Take on Personal Development

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I love to learn.  Twitter has been my go-to learning platform for the past few years.  My favorite part about it is that I can jump on for a few minutes and instantly find great blog posts, resource ideas, or encouraging words from other educational leaders and professionals.  It is the easiest way for me to get my learning fix.  The wonderful side-benefit is the Personal Learning Network (PLN) I’ve established through social media.  I use other sites (LinkedIn being one of my most successful for making professional connections), but Twitter is my favorite for professional learning.  The best part is that social media allows us to enlarge our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and PLN beyond school walls and city limits.  And I have yet to find someone not willing to help.  It’s great to work, learn, and discuss together.

Learning with/from my PLCs and PLN is one of the easiest ways to grow.  I think people typically have more than one PLC.  I have people that I would consider in my leadership PLC.  I have those that I go to with technology integration questions or ideas.  Other people are in my ELL PLC.  Get the picture?  All of these combined make up my PLN.  I know there are well-known education gurus who have coined their own definitions for PLC and PLN, but this is how it makes sense to me.

I also greatly appreciate my Personal Learning Network (PLN).  I typically think of this group as being broader, less personal, and more encompassing.  I am pretty focused on following people on Twitter, and connecting with people on LinkedIn that I feel I can learn from and/or with

I can’t really describe the emotion I have after walking away from discussing something I’m passionate about with a like-minded individual.  The thought I have is generally, “Wow.  She actually gets it.”  I’m energized, I’m excited, and I’m typically eager to take another step.  This is what happens when I collaborate with my Professional Learning Community (PLC).  It is pretty easy to find someone who “gets it” and is willing to talk, tweet, message, or email – leaving me happier and more adept in my professional life.

I’m one of those (possibly strange) people who usually like meetings, thrive at professional conferences, and am energized after an impromptu conversation with a like-minded professional.  Because of these face-to-face learning tendencies, it might appear that this how I learn best.  On top of these, however, I love to read.  I don’t read much “self-help” types of books for enjoyment (Give me a novel and a beach and I’m set!), but I am reading two right now.  One is in digital format that I read through my Kindle app.  The other is a good, old-fashioned hard copy of Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger.  I am only about forty pages into this one, but it’s already highlighted and tabbed all over the place.  I tend to read these types of books slowly, because I want to get as much out of them as I can.

I think growth can, and should, take on more forms than just “learning” in the traditional sense, too.  I learned how to play laser tag a couple of months ago (so much fun!), and got to enjoy my kids at the same time.  I couldn’t know how to play this game by listening to someone tell me about it, or reading the directions in a book.  I had to have first-hand experiences to really grasp it.

Overall, I think learning should be fun and beneficial.  Will it always be fun?  Of course not.  But when it is, I’m more likely to continue it.  Will it always be beneficial?  Yes.  I either learned something from the experience, or learned that I won’t have that kind of experience again.  All learning should produce some type of change.  It could be major or minor, but some thoughts and/or actions should be challenged, affirmed, or stretched based on every learning experience.  And we know that generally change is hard to prepare for.  I think the most we can do to prepare is to be open-minded, attentive, and in a constant state of learning and growth.

“Seek out knowledge, inspiration, and great connections.”  By Marla Tabaka of Inc.