Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: February 2014

Protected: School Climate Survey – Teachers

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Protected: School Climate Survey – Students

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Maps Everywhere

I love maps. Now we have a new resource to find very, very cool maps of all kinds. Google has teamed with National Geographic, the US Geological Survey, World Bank, and many others to digitize and organize maps. More are being added every day. Check out the Google Maps Gallery and see for yourself.

Again, thousands and thousands of maps, all available to you, and all FREE!


My Kids CAN Do That

This year we gave students control over their own passwords for Google Apps. I was a bit worried when we decided this, and we have tools to help teachers manage potential classroom disruptions. I am happy to say this has, for the most part, been a great success. Wherever it has not been a success, I believe we need change some attitudes.

Passwords and user names are not going away just yet. Maybe one day they will. For now, keeping track of these things is a life skill.

Maybe the problem is not in what we want the kids to do, but in how we are framing the conversation. I was reading a blog post by Jennie Magiera in which she addresses a shortcoming in a service she recommends. Her solution is a workaround that requires students to make a selection and remember the name of the group to which they belong. Rather than saying, “kids need to know” where to click, she says students are empowered to make their selection.

Is a word choice really that important? I think so. Kids need to understand the power they will have over their own lives when they know how to do certain things without relying on someone else to give them access.

Teacher Dashboard and Google Passwords

Earlier this month I blogged about passwords, the importance of having strong ones and keeping them safe. It is important for students to learn to manage passwords. The first step is learning to remember passwords.

School is a place to learn with a safety net, and right now we have a safety net that is pretty easy to use. Any teacher can access Teacher Dashboard and reset a student password. The question now becomes how often we want to do this. It is up to you, the classroom teacher, to decide how often you do this for students. If you don’t ever expect them to develop a skill and provide opportunities and incentives, do they learn?

This is a tutorial to help teachers reset passwords for students who forget their Google password.


Teens and Technology

Last week we had to cancel our Social Media Roundtable due to inclement weather. That’s not all bad. Now we have an opportunity to make the event even better.

There is an interesting interview with danah boyd about teens and social media going around Twitter today. Why do teens spend so much time interacting on a screen rather than with the people in the same room? Take a look. It makes a lot of sense.

My favorite passage is at the bottom of the page.

The thing for me is it’s less about focusing on the technology and more about focusing holistically on a particular young person and how they’re doing. There are young people out there who are really doing poorly. Use the technology to figure out who’s not doing okay, and figure out ways to intervene. Because most of the reasons they’re not doing okay are classic–different kinds of stress or pressure, different kinds of family abuse. Mental health issues, peer social insecurities. Peer relationship dynamics, which is all the bullying issues. Let’s not get distracted by the technology, and realize that technology is showing us what’s happening in kids’ lives, and use that as an opportunity to make a difference in their lives, as opposed to thinking that if we make the technology go away we can solve problems. Because that is not at all the way this works.


MediaMaster Server Tutorial

The Math Department at GHS will be working on G21 projects over the next couple of months. Students will be working on iPads to create tutorials for their peers. Rather than using cords to move files from iPads to computers for editing and sharing, we are going to use MediaMaster Server on teacher laptops.

MediaMaster Server is an app that uses WebDAV for transferring documents between devices with very little setup. Here is the tutorial I made for the Math Department.

We’ve come a long way. The last time I blogged about WebDAV in December of 2011, the tutorial I linked to looked a bit scary. Now anyone can do it. So go for it.

Social Media Event – Passwords

A week from today, on February 13, Goochland County Public Schools will be hosting an event at JSarge.  Community members will have the opportunity to learn about social media and how to participate safely. We are working on resources to share with attendees, and I have been writing about passwords this morning.

I have written about passwords before, and I have spoken to almost every GHS student about passwords at some point this year. Here is my advice on passwords.

What’s your password?

Most of the time, your answer should be silence. Passwords have become increasingly important as our lives have moved online in so many ways. From email, to bank accounts, to Facebook and Instagram, our passwords are the only thing standing between a possible hacker and our reputation.
Creating secure passwords and safeguarding them requires some effort. Not expending that effort can lead to huge headaches. Here are a few rules to follow when creating passwords.
  • Use at least 8 different characters
  • Use at least one upper case letter, one number, and one special character
  • If you are allowed, change your password regularly
  • Don’t use incremental passwords such as superman1, superman2, superman3 when changing your password
  • Don’t use the same password everywhere
With all this in mind, how do you create passwords you can remember? Here is one example of how to create a good set of passwords.
Think of something you like and words related to it. Let’s say you like music, and one band in particular. Here is how to make passwords out of that:
The Beatles – fab4Beatles!
You could make other passwords for other accounts related to the same theme.
Of course, no matter how good your passwords are, they are only effective if you keep them to yourself. Author Clifford Stoll‘s famous quote is a great piece of advice when thinking about passwords: Treat your password like your toothbrush: Don’t let anyone else use it and get a new one every six months. Sometimes it is not possible to change your password, but if you keep it safe, you don’t have to.
Here are a few tips for safeguarding your password:
  • Do not say it aloud as you type it
  • Do not write it down, especially anywhere near the word “password”
  • Do not share it
  • Be aware of who is watching as you type your password
  • If you are using a shared computer, make sure “save my password” is not checked
Keep in mind all these strategies reduce the risk that your accounts may be compromised, but it might still happen. If you suspect any account has been accessed by someone other than you, change your password immediately, and alert people who need to know (network administrators, parents, teachers). If you are not allowed to change the password yourself, make sure you contact the appropriate person immediately.

Learning Through Photography

With all the talk about 1:1 computing coming to Goochland, there has been a lot of talk about inquiry-based approaches to teaching and creativity. We have moved away from discussing what apps to use and towards how to use every feature of every device for the benefit of the students. One of the features I believe is a bit underused is the camera.

Some of you know I have been interested in photography since I was in elementary school, and I devote much of my free time to macro photography with my iPhone. If I had had this as a kid… Ah… The pleasure of having a camera within reach all the time, of taking pictures and seeing them immediately still makes me smile. Our students have this now. Every student in our 1:1 pilot has outstanding photographic tools right there, every day, all day. The iPad is a camera, a darkroom, a photo-editing light table, a portable gallery. We have so many opportunities for teaching students to use photography as art, for communication, and most of all, for exploration.

Of course, having a great tool does not mean we will have 100% beautiful pictures from all kids. We must guide students, and we must learn with them.

Nicole Dalesio has been incorporating photography into her teaching practice for a long time, and she has very helpful advice for all of us in this article published in THE Journal last year.

Dalesio wants her students to learn how to take effective photographs, so she teaches them the “SCARE” principles in a little checklist:
  • Simplify: Get rid of excess objects — the water bottle on the picnic table, the junky papers — that clutter up the background; make the canvas as “blank” as possible.
  • Close/closer: “A lot of times people take pictures too far away,” explains Dalesio. Get close and closer to your subject. That doesn’t mean using the zoom option; it means “Zoom with your feet.”
  • Angle: Be creative as you’re taking your picture. Try to find an unusual angle from which to shoot. That could mean standing on a picnic table or tree stump and looking down or lying on the grass and shooting up.
  • Rule of thirds: The best compositions are often the ones where the main subject is either in the right third or left third of the image. So shift the image that way.
  • Even lighting. “You want even lighting,” says Dalesio. If there’s some kind of shadow across the face, move the camera or the subject around to eliminate that. “Usually the best time to take pictures is early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the lighting isn’t as harsh,” she notes. “Foggy days are great for taking pictures — or overcast or even rainy days.”

Here is my own advice:

  • Start small. Take pictures inside your classroom. Have kids share their pictures and discuss them in small groups.
  • Look at pictures students see regularly in posters, books, and magazines and discuss what makes them good. Also discuss how they could be better, or more to the kids’ taste.
  • Discuss how different types of photography are intended for different purposes: artistic versus scientific research, documentation versus marketing, etc.
  • Build a collection of student-created images to use in class projects.
  • Give your students an audience. Use your blog, use Edmodo, organize a photo exposition for Back to School Night, share student photographs with the team assembling the school and county newsletters.
  • Most of all, have fun. Let kids follow their own interests and curiosity and feel good about the images they capture.

Of course, as always, I’d love to help. Just email or drop in for a visit.

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