Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I have been Out-Geeked!

3 months into our 1:1 and things have been going really really good.  As the days have worn on student laptop use has slipped a little in being academically focused to student-centric.  One area of concern had become Google Talk through our Google Apps.  Over the past couple days I had been running scenarios through my head of students reaction to the service stopped.

After thinking that I had it mostly figured out, I spoke with faculty and decided that shut off Google Talk this morning and then sent an email to all students explaining the reasoning behind the suspesion of service.

Within 30 minutes of the email I received an email from a student (a wonderful student btw) stating that you are punishing us all for the actions of a few and that those few are just going to continue their ways.


But the point has been received, 2 students that could be grouped into a "questionable usage as of late" group stopped in before lunch to talk to me.  I never once singled out one student as being the bad student, just made general statements based on the data I had.

Ah well, best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Looking Back to Moving Forward

This past week I was able to put the finishing touches on our wireless network upgrade at school.  The project I knew would be a big one to complete on my own.  After 2 months of climbing through ceilings rafters, punching holes, crimping wires I arrived at school this morning with a quiet sense of relief.  In the back of my mind I was planning out my next week and it is going to be mostly focused on Thursday night and the 1:1 Rollout Night.  I have talked about this many times, but what can I say, the project has literally consumed me in the past 8 months, but its has been the culmination of 4 years of planning, studying, coercing, and sometimes armbending to finally get to this point.

I was able to take the afternoon off to come home and spend some overdue time with my two girls and their cousin and after a couple hours of running through the sprinklers, we came in and they quickly fell asleep so I was left with some unusual downtime.  I made some work calls (I can never get away from work!) and soon found myself on the internet and realized that today was a pretty significant day, August 5 was Leadership Day 2012, after reading this article I felt obligated to post something.

I kept on poking around the web and I soon found myself at the Star Wars the Old Republic site (the force is with me!) when my Twitter ping'd a new post from one of my favorite tweeter's @rmbyrne and he linked to a Shift Happens video about Iowa Schools.  After watching this video it made realize that in the past 2 1/2 months was just the beginning.

Watching the video made me realize just how big of a step this is, how big of a challenge it will be, and, in the end how rewarding it will be for the students.  In Riceville, I have had to listen the students and teachers complain in the past couple years about how our computers were not accessible when they needed them.  I had to listen to complaints about 3 classes sharing 1 lab for 45 minutes because that was the only time that the classes could get in the room on that particular day, or this class had to cancel because another class was using the lab.  This teacher wants to do this, but the laptops were so slow, that the website did not work for everyone.  I could continue on this list for a while and I know our equipment was run down, overused and abused.  Abused from overuse, in the past 7 years, in our district, we have had 2 computers broken due to student misuse.  But our laptops were junk, batteries I was told would last 3-4 years with regular use, were dead and needed replacing after 2 years, keys were broken off, not from kids being malicious, but because the plastic springs on them were snapping because of the constant use.

So now the big challenge begins, we have the technology and tools in place to support the technology.  Now the challenge is to make the classrooms engaging for students and to support the teachers in their endeavors.  Tony Wagner (Harvard University) did an interview for Iowa Future and he says "its not what you know, its what you can do with what you know."  He talks about how schools traditionally were set up to teach what he calls Timeless Knowledge, skills and concepts that stand the test of time.  The problem is we are teaching information that is accessible by anyone with an internet connected device.

The challenge is how do we take the Timeless Knowledge and make it relevant and engaging in the classroom for our connected generation of learners.  That is the challenge that I posing to myself and to the teachers at Riceville.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

5o Days into the Summer, how things are going

So tomorrow will be 50 days since the last day with students.  I thought I would take a few moments to sit down and put my thoughts as to the progress of the 1:1 as it stands right now.

First off, Apple has been an pleasure to work with.  So far I have been in contact with 8 different people about all different parts of the project.  Meetings and schedules have been laid out and right now the plan is for August 10th to be the date of our Laptop Night.  I am thinking around 7pm so that most families can have dinner and then come for the show.

The last 6 days I have been running wires for the Airport Extreme Base Stations around the building.  Let me tell you, if you have never worked in the rafters of the 60's era industrial style built building, then give me a call, text, email and you can come over for a day and and enjoy the torture that is working in the rafters.

The supplies have been rolling in.  Right now all the iPad carts are here, and they are really cool.  Take a look at them through the previous link as they are a very smart and solid design and can't thank Bretford enough for making them.

Laptop image is moving along, right now making sure the laptops will work in our environment outta the box is the top priority.  I have 2 laptops coming in the mail that are going to be test machines that the idea behind them is that when I  boot the laptop they are automatically connect to the network.

Server transfer has been completed, I just need to push the button for everything to go, little reluctant to push the button although the time for the current server has come and it needs to be retired.

With that I am going to cut this post short as I have 2 angels waiting for me at daycare and desperately  want to see them.

Friday, May 20, 2011

300 new units-to soon too panic?

I have had a 5 days to let the happiness subside about the 1:1 proposal being approved.  Things didn't go as smoothly as I had hope, but when it came down to it, the project was approved.  I want to thank Alan Hansen and the handfull of teachers who came out to support this project and understand the importance of this project.

On Wednesday, while I was working on the school website, I had a sudden crash of reality.  I just had 300 new units approved and they will be arriving in the next two months and need to be ready to rock on August 15th-BREATH!

Scary yes, but not nearly as exciting as the prospect.  I have had numerous elementary teacher ask me when they can get their hands on and iPad to "play" with it before school.  I have had phone calls from community members both thanking and scolding me.  For those of you thanking me, your welcome and you are going to see a fundament shift in how we do business in our building.  To those scolding me about the cost, I am sorry about the cost, but you are going to see a fundament shift in how we do business in our building.

We have to change the way we teach our students and also change the environment in which they learn.  The days of preacher teacher were dead 10 years ago, but sadly, today they still exist.  This is not a fault of the teacher, what they did worked, so it will continue to work.  That is not the case anymore, our students have fundamentally changed.  Attention spans of seconds, brains overstimulated with TV, Pop Culture, and music.

What the 1:1 will allow us to to do is give the instant satisfaction that students today need.  I stumbled across a very simple video explanation of what I believe is part of the problem that many students are facing today.  Its not so much the students are bored, we just can't reach them when they have cell phones pinging in the pockets.

Now their are skeptics that say that students with laptops will just play games all day.  Take it from me, computers are more than just glorified game consoles.  Computers can help to engage students, allow them to multi-task at will and engage themselves and all parts of their brain.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nervous and excited, is there really a difference?

The past 7 years I have had to go in front of our board and ask them to spend money on things they are not all quite familiar with.  Technology can be a confusing and complicated discussion when the people you are presenting it to are not familiar with the technology.  I have been fortunate in the past, my 1st year as Tech Coordinator we had a new Superintendent who was a Tech Coordinator before he got his administrative position.  One thing that he taught me was how to present technology to the board.
I would get caught up in explaining what the technology did and not how it enhance instruction or benefit the users.

Here I sit on the day of the 1:1 Laptop Initiative going over my notes, trying to make sure that I focus on the benefits, not the build of the program.  In the pocket I have an Apple rep all equipper with a slideshow and movies to help me and hopefully get this last year of planning to become a reality.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

MacDefender Spyware appears via Website Attacks

I had read about a more sophisticated Malware named MacDefender that was using Safari to attack and infect some Mac machines.  What was interesting was the method that is typically applied to Windows OS.  Typically what would happen is if you used a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing, to name just a few, there are tricks that hackers can use to infect websites without the web sites owner knowing that it has happened.

The way search engines work, is when you type in a search, the most popular and relevant responses are listed first in the order.  In these malicious attacks, hackers can use search engine optimization (SEO) to their advantage to trick search engines into listing the infected sitess at the top of the list.  How they do this is beyond me but serves as a reminder that even if the site is at the top of the list, doesn't mean its the best choice.

What happens next is the user will click on a link to a website and they will be taken to the website.  Typically what will happen is you will see a screen that looks similar to this 
If you notice on this picture, it is the screen that you would typically see if you are taken to a compromised website.  First off, its a web browser, look at the top and we can clearly see its Safar, so this is like a really really sophisticated PopUp Ad.  Typically you can stop the attack here by simply closing the window.  However, in Safari there is a setting that will allow files to be downloaded and run automatically.  If that happens, the installer will run and you can simply quit the installer, delete the installer files, empty the trash and you should be ok.

So what if you installed MacDefender?  Follow the following steps to get rid of the software

1. Open Activity Monitor from the Utilities folder. Set the drop-down too "all processes."

2. Use the search field in Activity Monitor to search for MacDefender.

3. Click on the MacDefender process. Click the "Quit Process" button. Click "Force Quit."

4. Drag the MacDefender program (installed in the Applications folder by default) to the Trash. Empty the Trash.

5. Remove MacDefender from the Login Items for your Account in the OS X System Preferences (if it exists).

That's it for removing the spyware MacDefender from your system.  

They key to all of this is paying attention to the websites you are viewing.  There are 2 things that you should do to help prevent this from happening agains.  
  1. Do not allow downloads to run automatically.
  2. If you are searching the web and come across a similar popup.  Simply close the window and cancel any downloads.
If you follow these two steps along with running up to date anti-virus, you should be alright

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Website redesign: a peek into mental

I have used Joomla for the past 4 years for work and for hobby.  I first started with Joomla 1.0.12 and was hooked on the ease of use of the system.  I could, with relative ease, create a custom template and with a few keystrokes be able to change the entire website design.
Not long after I started using Joomla, version 1.5 was released and because I was addicted to using extension, I had to wait for some of my key extension to be updated for version 1.5, although, there was some backward compatibility, it wasn't as smooth as I wanted it in some cases.  It was Joomla 1.5.2 when I was finally able to release my district website for public consumption.
The webpage now currently sits on version 1.5.23 and I have been pleased with it 100%.  Right after the community of great developers release 1.5 they immediately began working on version 1.6.  I read updates, followed developer blogs, listened to community feedback and from what I was reading I was very excited to begin working with 1.6.  I didn't jump on the beta release, which I should have to help with development.
Finally version 1.6 was released.  I downloaded and installed on to a test server.  Installation was easy and painless, just like any installation of Joomla has been for me.  Then, nothing, I did absolutely nothing with for nearly a month while I was busy with work, home, and hobbies I had completely lost all time to work with the new version.
Now here I am 3 months removed from 1 month hiatus and I have been working slowly on developing the template for the new webpage and I have been tediously working on transferring old files and folders that will need to be uploaded on the new website.

So now that I have sat down and been able to work with Joomla 1.6. (currently 1.6.3), what do I think?  I am really happy with the design and the way it works.  It is fast and flexible.  Extension use has gotten more solid, although some developed extensions can leave a lot to be desired, but I am still happy and thankful for those developers who make the extensions.
I would recommend installing the latest version of PHP and MySql when installing, but supported versions should still work ok.

So far I am very happy, I am trying to get it ready for a June 1st debut, but I am already thinking that isn't  going to happen.  I think the actual day of release will be closer to July, but at least that will be before the start of the next school year.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Internet Privacy Act? wait the web is private?

Once again our elected officials are up to their best act about caring what is best for this country.  This time its an Internet Security Act.  Bill sponsors, John Kerry (D-Mass) and John McCain (R-Ariz) are leading the charge to force business to tell people how they collect information about them.

On top this sounds like a great idea, companies have to divulge how they track your movements online.  But what will this bill truly do?  In my mind little except open the door for more government control and regulation of the internet.  No where in the bill does it state that the government will have to follow these guidelines, nor does it do anything to face the real problem, the identity thieves and false front businesses that would not follow the rules anyway.

Nor does it do anything to address threats from overseas.  Instead it is going to put a blanket on that doesn't cover your feet, while you are snuggly warm up top, the cold is still creeping in down below.  The evils of the web will always exist and their is no way we can get rid of them.

All I see this bill really doing is opening up the doors to allow the governments to come in and legally track what we are doing in the name of national security.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Testing on Old Equipment

One of the most stressful times of year for me personally is MAP Testing.  Not because of the usual high stakes testing our kids reason, but because of the fact I have the Map Database existing on the same file server that we use for our authentication, AD, basically everything that the network does.

First shame shame shame on me for allowing the network to be this way, I know, its a very poor job by me on planning and maintaining.  However, in my defense, up until this past year, it was on the newest/best(?) server in my farm.  Not the case anymore and that will be changing this summer as I either put it on my xserve or my server08 box.

What is stressful is that no matter the amount of planning, setting up, going over notes from previous years (I actually have done that for MAP Testing) I woke up this morning with a sense of overall dread and despair that something fatal is going to happen to my server this week.

I arrived at school early this morning to be greeted with, "internet is down."  A palpitation, but nothing to major, its just internet, could be the firewall, ISP, switches,  power or lack there of.  I get to the server, and yep, server is froze up in restart mode.

To quote the great Eugene Levy, "What a week I am having!"

Monday, April 4, 2011

In our backyard

Just one hour from our school there is a nested family of bald eagles.  I first got a hold of this link about a week ago when there was 3 eggs.  I came into work today, and checked the nest and 2 of the eggs have hatched and the last one, according to the website, will hatch in the next day.  So take 5 minutes to watch the amazing looking birds.

Decorah Eagles

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Easy Mobile Photo Editing

I had to Tweet about Adobe showing off their Photoshop for iPad.  I am in no way a serious photoshop user, in fact I often retreat to the much friendlier Fireworks.  It has a lot less to offer than Photoshop, but for what I do, webish stuff, it does the trick.

I was trolling the Droid Marketplace a while back and came across Photoshop Express for Droid (there is also an iPhone/iPad App available, iTunes it!) and this little app is quite powerful.  It helps me when I am posting pictures that I capture with my droid and make it look like I might almost have a clue to taking a picture, which I admittedly don't, but its nice feel like I know what I am doing.

If you haven't tried it out yet, I highly recommend giving it a look, it is Free, yes Free, which any photoshop user would appreciate that price, and most everyone would approve of a quality free app.

Simple Expectations on impossible demands

One of the coolest things about being in my position.  I get to experiment with new technology before I deploy it for district use.  I love being able to install new software and check if its even worth taking to the technology committee and from there rolling out a test phase and finally full implementation.

On the opposite side of a new rollout is the crowd of resistance.  I understand that people like to feel comfortable, don't like surprises, and enjoy know the expectations.  That being said, it drives me crazy beyond belief how the crowd of resistance will on some issues fight until the bitter end.

Three years we transitioned from an Exchange Server to using Google Apps free solutions for 2 major reasons, costs and maintenance.  I stood in front of my staff of 42 and there were a handful of people who were dismayed and just didn't know how they could make the switch.  I had one who had over 13,000 saved email's and believed that everyone needed to be saved.  Now thankfully his computer was an iMac running OS 8 so there was no way(I know there is) I could upload his email to the Google Apps account.  So the compromise was that he could keep his old iMac and access it as he needed, the machine has sat motionless, turned off for the past 2 years, I approached him about removing the Mac and got chased out of the room saying he may need to check those old emails....

I guess my point is that I am not trying to be impossible, yes I know its an inconvenience when people have been doing one thing for 5 years and it is working just fine, why fix what isn't broken.

At the same time, 3 years later, I am having the same battle with Google Docs.  I am not trying to get my staff to transfer everything to Google Docs, the opposite is true, I instead want the students to use Google Docs cause it would give them the ability to have there work with them at all times there is an internet connection.  But after doing trainings with students, teachers turn around and tell them to use Office.  Why, oh why do you fight me logic.  All I want is to go to sleep knowing my students are uploading their misspelled, over-plagiarized work to the Cloud.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ok, my one simple internet rule

The internet is vast sea of knowledge and lies.  If there is one thing that I have learned from my use of the interweb over the years is that there is one simple rule to follow:

"Everything you read on the internet is true, if you don't believe everything you read."

Now I am not saying we shouldn't read, the opposite is quite true, we need to read more critically.  Anyone with a computer and by hacking their neighbors internet connection can publish a blog.  Which is scary, but I could make a blog post about how growing a mullet will make you do better in school with no more work.  Give you some fake numbers and say its the truth.

Thats the problem and the reason we need to read more critically.  A critical reader would check the proof, look for evidence to either validate or refute my claims.

Any logical person can sit back and say that makes a heck of a lot of sense, but how much are we actually fact checking.  But Andrew Wakefield and the entire Vaccinations cause Autism contingent sure didn't do any fact checking.

The New York Times and The Lancet didn't do their homework when they published and then supported the findings of the 1998 study and now a mere 13 years later and millions (I made that number up!) of unvaccinated children here the papers sit calling Andrew Wakefield the only guilty party.

Anyone who had done any construction, knows the saying "Measure twice, cut once."  When will the day come when we say, "Read Twice, Fact Check Once?"

One of the negatives and positives of being the Director of Technology (sounds much more special than Technology Coordinator) is the phone calls that I get from vendors offering their products and services.  Most of the time these products are just outside the scope of a small K-12 district.  The other day I got a phone call from a sales rep from and I immediately was ready to give the standard reply of, "send me your information and I will get back to you."  So I got the information in about 5 minutes, first part of the puzzle that made me think this may be legit.  Meaning that the sales rep actually took the time at least create the email and send it to me, normally, I would guess they have a spam list of phone numbers to call and just go down the list.

I went over to the website and I have to say I was impressed.  The website is a learning module, standards based website designed for Grades Pre-K through 6th Grade.  I went home that night and showed my 7 year old daughter, she was actively engaged for about 40 minutes and I knew I was on to something.  I came back to school the next day and made a video for my staff, in the next two my teachers were asking how they can use it more.

Needless to say, it was a nice little phone call that I received and it has worked out very well so far.  So head on over to and take a look and see if it is something that you could integrate for 21st century skills