Monday, May 4, 2015

Blast From the Past

Spring Cleaning
Recently I spent some time going through my office filing cabinet. When you take on a task like cleaning out old hanging file folders, or any place with "old stuff", it is best to build in a little nostalgia time. I was surprised however to find the folder consuming all my time was labeled tech agendas. As I started going back through the years, it turned into a great moment to reflect on where we were and how far we have come as a tech team. The successes and failures, the innovative ideas and the not so innovative ideas that didn't work out, but provided direction for the future, all very valuable information. I haven't saved a paper agenda in quite some time now and won't be starting again, but this is one Spring cleaning effort that turned into a great opportunity to reflect on the journey over the years. If we are to continue innovating and moving forward it is important not to forget the past, happy cleaning!  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Full STEM Ahead

New Kid in Town
Courtesy Tech Crunch

The tech industry has been involved with the medical industry for years, however recently there have been a few big announcements that may highlight the future of tech disruption in medical breakthroughs. Google and Johnson & Johnson have announced they will work together to build a robotic surgery assistance platform. Apple is also recently in the news with the release of their research kit, which will basically turn the iPhone into a diagnostic tool with it's data collecting capabilities. Stanford and other universities are already planning to take advantage of the technology for studying the affects of chemotherapy and heart disease patients, and have developed apps to work with the kit. Collaboration between the pharmaceutical companies and the tech industry is important in my opinion as I feel it will be outside industries that will truly push medical breakthroughs and change peoples lives.

Support It
One thing we do know is that it will take scientists, engineers, programmers, and innovators to keep these collaborations happening and progress moving forward. The United States has always been a global leader in this area, however many are worried we do not have the interest from students or teachers necessary to continue being a global leader and focus on STEM is needed. The US Department of Education has provided data to show the increase in STEM related jobs by 2020 and said that "Only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career." These numbers explain the push by the President and the Committee on STEM Education for creating the 5-Year Strategic Plan that guides efforts in improving STEM education. Along with the federal initiative there are many other organizations around the United States dedicated to bringing awareness to the importance of STEM education, a quick search will return valuable STEM resources in your state.

Old News
You may be thinking that STEM is old news, high schools are full of STEM programs and science and math classes are being taught at all levels. The debate is not one for me to dig into here, but exposure to STEM and critical thinking skills are more important now than ever due to the vast amounts of information we have at our fingertips. Providing our students with opportunities and exposure to these skills will help with any path they will travel and should be a priority. 

If you are involved with a particular STEM related program or organization please share in the comment section. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Go Aunt Myrna!

Hi World
I was sitting in my office recently and heard some laughter and then a loud, "Aunt Myrna has a Facebook account" come from our Student Data Technician's office. My curiosity was immediately peaked and further investigation was in order. It turns out that Aunt Myrna is a 94 year old young lady who just opened a Facebook account and her first post was rather refreshing.

New Tricks
Rehashing the same old discussion about change, and why it is so difficult for many, isn't what I necessarily want to get into with this post, but it is hard to ignore. We often hear that young folks like change because they are not afraid of anything and our older population has nothing to lose. Those reasons may be partially true, however our comfort zones become so warm and fuzzy with routine, that stepping outside of them is to risky and this prohibits us from learning new tricks.

Aunt Myrna's actions honesty inspired me to write this post, as simple as it may sound, her asking for patience in her first post makes perfect sense. She's putting it out there that she is trying something new and is gonna need help, but it didn't stop her from making a change to stay in touch with family and friends. If we are going to move forward and continually improve in the workplace, home, and anywhere we are, change is necessary. Thanks Aunt Myrna, happy posting!  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

25 Pound Backpack

My Back!
Have you picked up one of your kiddos backpacks lately and immediately thought, oh my gosh that seems heavy?  I often compare my backpack that contains a laptop, iPad, and miscellaneous cables to theirs that are full of books, binders, and pencils, and there is no comparison. I literally weighed one of them recently and it weighed 25 pounds, which I thought was crazy heavy. After digging into the backpack, I found the culprits to be a math book and a social studies book. The good news is the school provides two sets of books and the students do not have to transport them back and forth on a daily basis, however it leads us back to the conversation about textbooks and where we are at with them as an educational community.

I have to be honest, I started this post a few weeks back and it has been sitting quietly waiting to be finished. When I read the recent Center for Digital Education article covering the FCC Commissioner's discussion in San Francisco, the timing seemed appropriate. Jessica Rosenworcel addressed an audience of tech industry professionals, updating them on the recent FCC initiatives, encouraging "digital disruption within the teaching and textbook industry." Rosenworcel pointed out a few things that I feel are worth sharing here.

  • “In the rest of the world, we have an infinite array of digital tools to change our civic and commercial lives. Yet somehow we’ve put up some barriers at the school doors, It’s time we started inviting them in and wrestling with them and doing some good things”
  • "As a market estimated at $17 billion and with price increases in the last decade at 800 percent, the textbook industry’s services burden educators and students alike — average school districts only able to afford textbook purchases every seven to 10 years"
  • “I just think it’s crazy if we keep on doing what we’ve done before because the world and the job opportunities that are out there look remarkably different"

These statements have all been said before in a number of ways by others looking to lighten up backpacks and promote change in a system that has been relatively unchanged for a number of years. I applaud anyone who takes the initiative to start these conversations as a way to reflect on the education we are providing our students. We must provide a relevant experience and not allow a $17 billion industry to give us what we have always had because that is what we have always done. Industry will provide what the educational community wants, so the conversation is important to have at the school, district, and community level. Listen to our teachers and students and allow their ideas, thoughts and needs, drive the industry to develop the disruption that will keep our classrooms moving forward.

I want to make it clear that I am not a book snob by any means and would never advocate for throwing all classroom texts in a big bonfire. Going to the extreme in any direction is what has kept technology a conversation piece, big shiny object, instead of just an everyday part of our classroom environment. But, providing our students with something other than the same basic textbooks like we have always done, is a conversation that is very necessary for today's classroom.   

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

Want One
Every time I see a Tesla driving down the road, I want one. They look great, go fast, are environmentally friendly (don't worry I am not giving up my gas lawn mower just yet :-), and the technology in these cars is cutting edge. I occasionally construct my order online and arrive at checkout, which is where I am brought back down to earth, then go outside and sit in my Prius. Some of the things I find interesting with this company is the process that is used to construct their vehicles and the importance of man and machine working together to make it happen.

 Image: CNET / CBS Interactive
I recently came across a Tech Republic article, which after reading I found the title to be a bit silly, but it caught my attention because of a podcast I listened to recently about robot automation. Basically the podcast was stating there are not enough skilled workers who can actually work on the robots to keep them running, and a few big companies were starting programs to train their people for these skilled positions. The "boring" reference in the article title was pointing out how the introduction of bots could increase the "drudgery" of the 9-5 job in some cases. The example was centered around the Amazon Kiva bots that are used in some of their US fulfillment centers, which Amazon recently has been discussing with the holiday season upon us. You can read the article for yourself and determine the message that the writer has intended, but for myself I tend to reflect on the discussion that has been going on for years about the ever changing careers that technology influences.

Skilled Workforce
We have been hearing and reading about the shortage of skilled workers for some time now and how the 21st Century Learner is going to need different skills for the modern workplace. With automation and jobs that require a different skill set, it is important we don't lose focus on the solid foundation needed for our students to be able to leave the K-12 and higher education system ready for the ever changing workplace, on the job training and new careers. The question remains are we preparing them for such a world? I came across this very interesting article about Toyota and the Bluegrass Community Technical College, who have partnered to create the AMT program. A statement that caught my attention was from Dennis Dio Parker, an assistant manager at Toyota, "Parker says high schools and colleges in the U.S. are failing to turn out graduates with the mix of technical expertise, problem-solving ability and communication skills that companies like Toyota needs." Technical fields may not be for every student, but shouldn't all students have the ability to communicate and problem solve? If our students simply master the 4 c's, they will be prepared to adapt to any situation including technologies influence on the world and careers.  

Jobs will continually change and become more technical. Some jobs may be eliminated, while new ones will take their place, creating different skill requirements. Gilbert Passin VP of Manufacturing for Tesla made a comment in Tesla Motors Part 2, "Robots are extremely good at repeatability and accuracy of motion, humans are more intelligent than robots therefore we need to use them where there is a lot of value for that intelligence." The future only has to be boring if that is the way we view it.   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Many Times?

Just Ask
How many times have you heard an adult say "just ask the students how to do it" when talking technology in the classroom or anywhere for that matter? I will admit that when I need a tip about making my Instagram posts look better I ask my 11 year old daughter, and when my son rolls his eyes at me and says "you just don't understand", about what kids are watching on YouTube, I ask him to explain. I have experienced a few situations lately that have reinforced the notion that just because kids are kids, doesn't mean they understand technology.

Here's an Idea
Recently at home I upgraded our video editing software and it had been awhile, so it jumped a few versions. My son's passion right now is creating videos of his friends video game activity, which prompted the "you just don't understand" when I asked him why. At any rate, I knew he would spin out when he realized how different the suite now looked. He took it in stride though and worked through the changes with one issue, the software was horribly slow. I gave the standard answer, Google the problem and see if others are experiencing the same thing. That was met with resistance and why don't we just go back to the old version. The real issue however wasn't that he was trying to avoid the problem, but he didn't understand where to begin or how to intelligently "Google" the problem. I assumed he had already opened up task manager to check how much processing power was being used, what percentage of memory was available, was the program producing any error messages, etc. Once we sat down together and started looking closer, we found the program was scanning the entire my documents folders for pictures and videos, and slowing things down. Problem solved and valuable lesson learned about trouble shooting a software issue.

Don't Assume

We must be careful not to assume just because kids are kids they know everything about technology. I see students struggle to access their Google Apps account and create a document, share it with their peers and collaborate efficiently. These skills seem simple on the surface and any student should be able to do this, but many can not. As educators we must find ways to have these teachable moments in our classrooms. As administrators we must make sure that our teachers have the training, devices and resources to make this happen. Our students today are as just as smart and motivated as any generation has ever been, they just need that little bit of guidance and then they will go and make it even better for tomorrow.

Monday, September 1, 2014

E-rate Reality

Anyone who is familiar with the E-rate program has hopefully stayed on top of the modernization efforts and countless opinions, informational webinars, and meetings with E-rate consultants concerning the changes. E-rate works in the past, present, and future and during this time of year is when we prepare for the filing of next year's funding requests. Even though I personally have stayed abreast of the changes, the reality of the phase down and elimination of services gives me mixed emotions about some of the modernization efforts.

The E-rate program has been around for the last 17 years and it is true that during this time the program has remained relatively unchanged. With any program, change must be a part of the road map to insure you are keeping up with the ever changing landscape that is necessary to remain relevant. The overall goals of the modernization do make sense and I applaud their acknowledgement, but they do come at the expense of existing areas of the program that school districts for better or worse have come to rely upon. A few of the affected areas for phasing down and elimination for 2015 include; support for voice services, certain phone features, e-mail, web hosting, voicemail and data plans.

Category 2
Priority 2 services, now known as Category 2, will focus on internal connections to provide wi-fi connectivity within your buildings. As a district we have not seen Priority 2 funding for many years due to our eligible rate falling under the percentage awarded, so the per student formula is a bright spot. However much of the controversy surrounding the modernization effort revolves around how funding will be sustainable in this area. At this time, the Category 2 funding plan is based on a 5 year budget and depending on who you speak with, only the first two years of funding is guaranteed. If you have not begun to review your existing network infrastructure or plan to implement wireless, now is the time. 

Reach Out
There are so many things to discuss concerning the modernization plan, both on a political and philosophical level, that could continue on for pages. I feel there is valid argument for the continued funding of a couple of the services being eliminated and the importance of having a long range plan for Category 2. The conversation about phaseouts and elimination is over, but there is still time to ask questions and advocate for a more solid long range plan for infrastructure hardware. At any rate, if you do not work with an E-rate consultant or do not have a strong group of peers that can assist you through the filing process in this time of change, I would suggest reaching out so that your district can best plan your approach for 2015. Good luck!