Wednesday, December 12, 2018

4 Factors to Consider When Debating Cell Phones in Schools - Guest Post

4 Factors to Consider When Debating Cell Phones in Schools

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Hilary Bird is a digital journalist who writes about the things that fascinate her the most: relationships, technology, and how they impact each other. As more and more people become more and more reliant on their tech devices, Hilary wants to help them stay safe and understand how these devices will reshape the way we communicate.
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More than ever, cell phone technology shapes our relationships, habits, perspectives, and our learning. But do phones have a place in the classroom?

The debate has been raging for years, and some districts have taken to banning the oft-maligned devices altogether. However, that may not be the right call in every case.

Here are four factors to consider when forming your opinion about phones in the classroom.

The Role of Tech for Education
The appropriateness of cell phones in the classroom depends largely on how well they fit the lessons they�re helping teach. School may be one of the best places to teach technology management skills. In fact, explicit instruction in digital citizenship, online learning, and online safety may benefit students as they prepare for an increasingly digital future.

Unfortunately, screen time does have downsides. Some sources indicate that overexposure could be linked to insomnia and depression in teens, among other issues. As such, curriculum plans that include the use of phones might do well to keep device use moderate and interspersed with face-to-face learning.

Time Saved and Spent
Any teacher who has used technology can attest to its wonders. It can aid understanding and cut time spent on mindless tasks like grading, and provide instant access to class materials. Cell phone tech can even aid in accessibility�students with disabilities who are unable to take notes quickly could save a lot of time by taking pictures of a teacher�s slides, for instance.

The caveat here is that phones will only save time if they can handle the tasks required of them. Schools may need to adjust their internet plans depending on how much data the intended curriculum needs. Likewise, they may need to supply devices for students who aren�t able to use their own, which could be difficult to budget for.


Recent reports indicate that moving learning into the mobile realm could open up pathways to explore new educational content. Phones with internet access connect students to thousands of educational videos, podcasts, games, tutorials, and other supplemental materials that can reinforce classroom objectives and facilitate learning. Teachers can also post assignments and reminders online for students to view before, after, and during class.

However, some inappropriate content is bound to find its way into classrooms using phones. This poses a risk to teachers, students, and administrators. To combat problematic content, staff and educators should remain diligent in monitoring students as they use devices at school, and teach kids online safety.

Social Connections
Cell phones also facilitate social connection, which has its benefits even in a classroom setting. Parents can contact their children with needed information or during emergencies as well. In addition, many teachers use social media to engage students with academic content. Online discussions about class material, outreach to content experts, and other strategies can build a real-world learning network for students.

But cell phones can pose some social risks. The CDC indicated that in 2017, nearly 15% of high-school aged students had been bullied electronically in the past year, and this cyberbullying will undoubtedly find its way into more schools as phones are allowed. Teachers and parents may have to work extra diligently to keep in-person lines of communication open so that kids dealing with cyberbullying feel safe enough to communicate it. Though on the positive side, phones could make it easier to document bullying when it does occur.

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While there�s no single solution that will work for every classroom, educators don�t need to fear phone use in all forms. With proper management, cell phones can be useful teaching tools both inside and outside the classroom.



Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Google for Education Best Practices Resources and Tips

Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks are very popular with education for many reasons, one of which is the ease of management and deployment. The Admin Console allows staff to manage apps, user settings, devices settings and much more. Here are some tips and best practices for settings in the Admin Console.

The Admin Console is relatively easy to use, although some settings can be hard to find. Remember to use the help features by clicking on the question marks throughout the console.

The icons on the console can be moved and arranged via drag-and-drop so you can put the ones you use most up front. Typically, Users, Device Management, and Apps are the most used. 

Here are some excellent resources:
Outside of the Admin Console settings, here are some important things to consider:
  • Backup of data outside of G Suite? There are solutions available to backup your G Suite data. You should also make sure you have Vault enabled for your domain - 
  • Acceptable use policies for G Suite, internet, devices, etc. Lots of schools post theirs online. Take a look at them and make sure you have a strong policy in place. 
  • Training and Professional Development - users (staff, teachers, and students) need training and PD on the proper and effective use of technology, including G Suite and Chromebooks. Look at some of the resources from Google, and find a good PD partner to assist. You can also push out this free add-on from Google that gives in-app support to your users: 

Below are some of the main tips and settings to consider. Most of them are under Device Management. This is not a complete list, but one to help you get started. 

Admin Accounts: ("Admin Roles")
You can designate users at different levels of admin access. There are preset roles and you can create your own. You should have at least two Super-Admins in case one is out. Help Desk admin can only reset passwords for non-administrators and are good to have in each school. 

User Settings:
Organizational Units (set under Users) - you will want to have at least the following OUs setup: Admin, IT, Faculty, K-8 Students, High School students. This allows you to customize the settings for each one. K-8 students cannot use Google+, so you will want Google+ turned off for them. You can also turn off outside email for them. 

Under Apps, Click on Additional Google Services, click on the three vertical dots next to Google+ and click Turn Off or On for some Organizations and make sure it is off for K-8. 

Device Management > Chrome Management > User Settings
These settings apply to the Chrome Browser also (when a user logs into it)

Force-Installed Apps and Extensions: you can push out apps and extensions to all users. There are a few I recommend, including Office Editing. Here is a list. 

Allow or Block All Apps and Extensions: you can either allow users to install any apps except the ones that you block, or block all apps except the ones that you allow. It is a local decision on how to manage this. Blocking all means your IT staff have to handle requests from staff. Allowing all means that some students might find some unsavory apps to install, but you can block them as you find them. 

If you want to allow all except the ones you block, here is a list of some that you should block

Allowed Apps and Extensions: create a list here if you are blocking users from installing them. Here are some lists of app recommendations. 

Make sure you are saving Browser History if you want to track what users are doing. 

I recommend turning on Safe Browsing, but that is a local decision.

You can also set up web pages to auto-load when a user logs in. Most schools set it up so that the district or school home page loads. 

Another nice feature is the ability to block websites by user OU. You can enter as many URLs as you like. This means that those users cannot get to the site, even if it is allowed through your filter. This can be useful for more granular control. 

You can also push out managed bookmarks, which is a great feature. You can push the district homepage, Google Apps page, student SIS system, etc for quick access by your users. 

Turning off Outside Email for K-8:

Device Management > Chrome Management > Device Settings:

Definitely turn on Forced Re-Enrollment. This will prevent users from factory resetting the Chromebooks and then taking them out of your domain. Even if they do factory reset the device, it will force them to re-enroll it in your domain and not allow them to use it.

Guest Mode - allows a user to access the Chromebook without an account. I recommend against this if you have GAFE accounts for all of your users.

Incognito Mode - turn this off for students also.

Sign-In Restriction: this allows you to restrict which accounts can be used to login to a Chromebook. Most schools do set this to restrict logins to their GAFE accounts only. It is one more feature that makes Chromebooks less attractive to thieves.

Kiosk Apps - this is where you would install testing apps for PARCC and SBAC. Kiosk apps run without a user needing to login to the Chromebook itself.

Auto-Updates - allow this unless you have concerns about a new version of Chrome OS causing an issue with an app. For example, SBAC is only setup for Chrome OS 41, so while auto updates are turned on, you can limit the version to 41 and it won't update to the latest version which is 42. 

Device Reporting - enable this and user tracking so that you can see the device info when you select a device. You can also see who the last user was, which can be helpful in tracking a missing device. 

Do Not Erase Local User Data - this will keep the user account on the Chromebook which speeds up logins. Shared Chromebooks can support a lot of users (I've seen up to 20 different users on a single Chromebook). 

Disabled Device Return Instructions - if you disable a device, it will show a message on the screen asking for it to be returned. You put in the address and contact info. 

Device Management>Network:
Network Settings - you can, and should, put in your network settings here so that the Chromebooks automatically connect to your WiFi. You can even put in a hidden SSID and all of the security and passwords here. Apply to Devices, and then restrict to Chromebooks. 


Google for Education Resources (Google Apps, Chromebooks and more)

Note: I oversaw the successful deployment of over 11,000 Chromebooks and 26,000 G Suite user accounts in my home district as CIO and have assisted over 400 school districts to successfully deploy G Suite and Chromebooks. I am a Google Certified Administrator, Deployment Specialist, Success Manager, Trainer and Educator. 


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Social Media and Kids - what you should know - guest post

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How Kids Are Using Mainstream Social Apps
What You Should Know About Your Child�s Social Media Platforms
The Most Popular Social Apps Among Teens and How They�re Using Them
What Are the Mainstream Social Apps and How Are Teens Using Them?

Guest Post: Hilary Bird is a digital journalist who writes about the things that fascinate her the most: relationships, technology, and how they impact each other. As more and more people become more and more reliant on their tech devices, Hilary wants to help them stay safe and understand how these devices will reshape the way we communicate.

Image result for social apps

According to new research by the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens say they have access to a smartphone, and 45% indicate that they�re online �almost constantly.� With increasingly easy access to social media via smart devices�and an hour�s worth of social media data being within reach in under two seconds as internet speeds grow�parents and teachers should stay informed and aware of what social media platforms are available to teens and how kids use them.

Read on to learn about four of the most popular social apps among teens and how parents and educators can be proactive in teaching kids to be responsible and respectful on social media.

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According to the above Pew survey, Instagram is the second most popular social platform for teens. It combines photos/videos, likes, and comments. Accounts can be public or private, and users can send direct private messages.

Caregivers and educators should be aware that some public accounts may contain inappropriate images, though the platform�s terms keep offensive content to a minimum. They should also consider how the �like� feature on Instagram can become a comparison tool for teens and a way to measure popularity or self-worth.

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Snapchat is a messaging app that lets users post pictures or videos that vanish after an allotted time. And while most teens use Snapchat to send funny pictures, the nature of the app makes it easy for users to send or view inappropriate content.

Snapchat has recently been under scrutiny for inappropriate ads and 18+ channels. But with a proper understanding of the platform�s privacy settings (and a conversation about what shouldn�t be posted on the app), responsible teens can use this platform safely.

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Twitter allows users to post 280-character messages known as �tweets.� Teens mainly use Twitter to express opinions, share short snippets, and keep up with celebrities and other prominent figures. The platform makes it easy to engage and be engaged with.

While profiles can be private, most accounts are public. Tweets appear immediately once posted, so this platform requires a discussion about posting appropriate content.

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While Facebook seems more popular among adults, it�s still one of the more popular social platforms for teens. It�s sometimes known as the �one-stop shop� for social media. Users are able to share photos and videos, create photo albums, post thoughts or opinions, and more.

Because this app is so network-based, cyberbullying can be a real worry here, so keep communication lines open, and talk with kids who seem like they might be at risk.

What Parents and Educators Can Do

If used appropriately and in moderation, social media can be a positive way to share content and stay connected. However, it can also be a major time-waster�kids can lose hours scrolling through feeds. Social media can also be a means for already-mentioned issues like cyberbullying, self-esteem problems, and exposure to inappropriate content.

Parents and teachers should have frequent conversations with kids about the ramifications of what�s posted. Social media should be used as a platform for sharing uplifting content, not a venue for hurtful material.

As needed, monitor how often kids use social media, observe how it impacts them, and be aware of the content they�re posting. If you notice inappropriate or crude content being posted, take appropriate measures to stop the posting or viewing of such material. Consider putting proper safety measures in place, too, such as installing security software and keeping networks secure.

While adults probably can�t keep kids from feeling the influences of social media, they can empower kids to be positive influencers themselves.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Productivity and Organizing - Resources, Tips and ideas for being more productive and organized

Productivity and Organizing -
Resources, Tips and ideas for being more productive and organized.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People-Outline, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People-Wikipedia

Great for every aspect of your life

Getting Things Done 5 Steps
I use this daily, especially with emails

Ben Franklin�s Daily Schedule
I love his philosophy and organization

Organizing Resources from this blog and some more
Get Organized - tips and resources for students, teachers, admin and more
My Workflow as CIO - includes heavy use of Evernote

Apps, Articles and Resources
Evernote Tips and Tricks Series (updated often)
Yes, I still use Evernote. Because it�s still the best way to get s**t done.
Introducing Templates, A Better Way to Make Notes

Google Keep and more tips

Outlook Tips from Microsoft, 13 Outlook Productivity & Organization Tips

10 Tips and Tricks That Will Make You a OneNote Ninja
11 Tips for Improving Productivity using OneNote
How to Master Microsoft Office OneNote

7-Step Prep: Make a Weekly Plan for YOU! Planning sheet under #3 is great

Project Management Guide for Beginners

Take a Moment and Assess Your Workspace for Productivity

My First Month Using A Paper Planner After A Decade Drowning In Apps
Full Focus Paper Planner
Weekly Momentum Planner (free printable download)
The Basics Notebook
Franklin Planner (I used these for years before moving to digital)

15 Habits That Will Totally Transform Your Productivity

How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the �Eisenhower Box�

Find a system that works for you - paper based, digital, combination, etc.

Set reminders in digital apps - Calendar, Keep, Evernote, etc. to make sure you don't forget things.

Focus on your priorities.

Read and learn.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Guest Post: The Best Tech for Your Back-to-School Shopping List

The Best Tech for Your Back-to-School Shopping List

It�s back-to-school time, and for many of you that means it�s time to refresh your gear. Whether you�re buying for yourself or your children, there are plenty of deals on tech out there for students. Check out these useful gadgets to help your semester go as smoothly as possible.

1. MacBook Air
The MacBook Air remains one of the most popular Apple laptops. The lightweight, slim design makes it perfect for slipping into a backpack, and the keyboard and trackpad are comfortable and responsive, so you can use it for long study sessions with no problem. Throw in the relatively low price (starting at $999) and Apple�s education deals, like a free pair of Beats headphones, and this laptop makes a ton of sense for both students and their parents looking to get a long-lasting computer for a good price.

As a side note, don�t forget to make sure your internet connection is fast enough to keep up with schoolwork demands and match your shiny new computer. You can check your download and upload speeds with a free online tool to make sure everything is working the way it�s supposed to.

2. Vulcan Classic Backpack
The Vulcan Classic is the perfect bag for high school students that need to stay connected. This sturdy backpack can take a beating and keep on ticking, and it can also help your phone keep ticking too, thanks to a built-in USB charging port. You do have to supply your own power bank, but the built-in port allows you to keep the battery tucked away in the bag while you charge. Just plug your device in and you�re good to go. It comes in several colors, and at less than $50, the price is right too.

3. Rocketbook Everlast
If you�re used to handwriting your notes and don�t want to mess with Apple Pencils and iPads, you can try the Rocketbook. This unique notebook lets you handwrite your notes on actual paper with an actual pen. You can then scan them, upload them to various cloud storage services, and wipe the pages clean to start fresh. It works surprisingly well and offers a great bridge between analog and digital.

4. ViewSonic PA503S Projector
If you�re looking for a projector for your classroom on a budget, look no further than the ViewSonic PA503S. Having the right tech in your classroom is becoming a must, and a projector can help you share useful media with your students, like videos, websites, and apps. The ViewSonic boasts a commendable brightness and contrast for its price range ($299.99), and while it doesn�t support 1080p resolution, it will work fine for most classroom media needs.

Whether it�s freshman year and you�ve got nothing or you�re looking to outfit your classroom with useful tech that won�t break the budget, these gadgets can help start your next semester off on the right foot.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Free Guide to support Students' Social-Emotional Health

Social Emotional Learning and Well Being is very important to students and schools. Teachers and Administrators are starting to do more with this, but free resources are always nice. 

Aperture Education has created a free guide to help schools support Social Emotional learning and well being. 

You can download it here: 
  • 6 stages of a successful SEL implementation plan
  • How to meet the needs of all students with SEL and MTSS
  • 6 bite-size SEL activities to start today
  • 3 strategies to build relationships with students

See below for more info.

Aperture Education Releases 2018 Back to School Guide to Support Students� Social-Emotional Health

Downloadable guide provides helpful articles, strategies and activities for school and district leaders, instructors and support staff

Charlotte N.C. (Aug. 29, 2018) � It takes a village to educate students. That�s why social-emotional learning company Aperture Education has created a free, downloadable back-to-school guide to help district and school leaders, teachers, counselors, and staff at out-of-school-time organizations implement and integrate SEL programs and activities in schools and classrooms this year. The 2018 Back to School Guide: Strategies for a Successful School Year provides articles, resources, strategies and activities that support the social-emotional health of students. The guide can be downloaded at:

Among the free resources:

� Resources for setting social and emotional goals for IEPs

� Examples of how SEL supports schools in resolving conflicts through restorative justice

� Tips for school and district leaders on implementing a district-wide SEL plan and increasing SEL buy-in through effective professional development

� Ideas to connect SEL to your local community

� Tips to connect in-school and out-of-school instruction with SEL

� Videos to help educators practice mindfulness and de-stress

� SEL activities to help students overcome back-to-school anxiety

�A strong social-emotional learning program helps create a healthy, productive school environment and there are many things that teachers and school or district leaders can do now to get the school year off to a strong start,� said Jessica Adamson, CEO of Aperture Education. �Going back to school can be stressful for both students and staff. We wanted to take �researching SEL strategies� off of their to-do lists. This guide provides some great tips and resources that they can use now, and all year long.�

The 2018 Back to School Guide is part of Aperture Education�s ongoing work to support educators, administrators and out-of-school-time providers in implementing social and emotional learning programs within their schools or programs. Aperture Education also provides a comprehensive SEL assessment and intervention system for schools and out-of-school-time providers.

About Aperture Education
Aperture Education specializes in social and emotional learning (SEL) solutions. Our flagship product, the DESSA Comprehensive SEL System, allows educators to measure, strengthen, and support social-emotional competence in youth in grades K-12. The DESSA System includes a suite of strength-based assessments, a universal screener that can be administered in less than a minute, and growth strategies and foundational practices to strengthen social and emotional competence. The DESSA System is lauded by researchers because it meets high standards for reliability and validity and is appreciated by educators for its ability to easily and quickly identify each student�s personal SEL strengths and provide practical supports that result in improved student outcomes. For more information, go to


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

9-11-01 Seventeen Years later and still remembered

I was in EMS for 22 years before retiring due to a back injury. One of my most memorable experiences was responding to New York City as a Paramedic in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I will never forget that experience. What I saw and did are still with me, as is a type of asthma from breathing the dust. My Experience as a Paramedic on 9-11-01 

I still vividly remember where I was (at Sikorsky Aircraft) when it happened, responding down there as a paramedic, the sights, the smells, the people. I was at Ground Zero for the last part of my shift down there on 9/12. It was sobering to see the pile, knowing there were people in there. 

As the years have gone by, we have lost first responders to 9/11 related diseases, many struggle with PTSD or other medical issues. The current generation doesn't know this as anything but history. The worst part for many of us was not being able to save people and the many days and weeks hoping against all odds that we would find people alive. 

I went to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in NYC in 2012. It was an amazing, heartbreaking experience. I recommend that every American go there and see it, remember those who were lost, and pray something like this never happens again.

9/11 still haunts me to this day, as it does most of us who responded. But we persevere and move on, not letting the terrorists win. 

As the years have gone by, I've noticed that people are not remembering this terrible event like they did the first few years after. I know that my EMS, Fire and Police colleagues all do, as do the brave men and women of our armed forces who fight every day against terrorism.

I've also noticed less being done in schools lately. Most of today's students weren't even born when 9/11 occurred. Please teach them about it (facts only please) and make sure they understand what it means.

This photo was taken on 9/10/07 showing a rainbow leading right to the WTC site and the Freedom Tower!

United We Stood, United We Stand

Today is a day Americans will never forget.
It is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection and a day to be proud.
It is a day we honor and remember the thousands of lives lost, the survivors, and those who rose up in service in response to the attacks on 9-11-2001.
It is a day we pay tribute to and reflect on the sacrifices of the public safety workers and the men and women in our military who serve us and protect us 365 days a year.
It is a day Americans can be proud of the way we came together following the attacks on 9-11.
United We Stood. United We Stand.

Here are some more resources about my experience on 9/11 and 9/11 in general:

My Experience as a Paramedic on 9-11-01

Remembering 9/11 (from 2009)

Great collection of sites about Osama bin Laden, terrorism, and the wars in the Middle East from Larry Ferlazzo.,29307,1921566_1932073,00.html