Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Big Switch

Like most people, I rely very heavily on my smartphone.  I use my phone for the obvious things, like phone calls and text messages and I ditched a landline in my house probably 7-8 years ago.  I use my phone for email, tracking food intake and exercise, news and sports updates, social media, work, and so much more.  I also use my phone for music, loading over 11,000 songs onto it so I have my entire collection at my fingertips at any given time (basically, every CD I have ever purchased is loaded onto iTunes, plus anything I have bought from iTunes or Amazon, and the vinyl albums that come with digital download codes, it works out to over 80GB of music), plus the dozen or so podcasts that I subscribe and listen to on a regular basis.  While I don't consider myself to be addicted to my phone, I can go hours at a time without messing with it and I am at peace in places where there isn't any cell coverage, a substantial part of my daily life is tied to my phone.  Clearly, choosing a quality phone is a priority when one will be using it so much.

My first smartphone many years ago was an HTC Evo Shift.  That was the one that had a full keyboard tucked into the back that you slid out.  I clearly remember "needing" to have that keyboard.  My previous phone prior the Evo Shift was a Kyocera that had that full keyboard and I wasn't ready yet to make the transition to the digital keyboard.  My wife also had the Evo, but she made the jump to the digital keyboard before me.  After a couple of years with the Evo Shift and the Android platform, I made the transition to the iPhone 4.  Over the past 6 years, I have gone from the iPhone 4, iPhone 5, and iPhone 6, thinking that I was going to be an iPhone guy for life.

Over the course of the past few months, I started considering switching over to the Google Pixel.  I had heard a lot of great things about it, plus since my life is so incredibly centered around Google apps, I figured it would make a lot of sense to use a device built by the same company whose products dictate my day to day business.  My hesitation came from my several years' relationship with Apple and the App Store, my iTunes account that is chock full of music (plus my apps, podcasts, videos, etc.), and my general familiarity and expertise in the iOS platform; learning the Android platform all over again did not sound too appealing.  Then the iPhone 8 and iPhone X came out, further twisting my thoughts further regarding a new phone.  Ultimately, my decision was to wait since my iPhone 6 was still in good shape and paid off.

Things change when capitalism takes over in late November.  Every company and corporation tries to lure people in to buy their stuff during the holiday season and cell phone companies are no different.  On Thanksgiving Day between the food and family, I perused the different stores deals on phones, finding that the Pixel 2 was going to be 50% off on Black Friday!  iPhones were also going to have deals, but more to the "buy it for full price, get an iPad for $99," which is still a great deal, but I wasn't interested in a $1000+ phone (I wanted at least the 128GB, if not the 256GB), plus dropping another $99 for the iPad, not to mention all of the accessories that you need to get when you buy a new device, such as car chargers, screen protectors, cases, and the like.  So it was back to the "what are the advantages and disadvantages of switching to the Pixel 2 and the Android platform?"  Ultimately, I decided that the pros outweighed the cons and the deal on the Pixel 2 was too good to let pass, so Friday afternoon, I sauntered into the Verizon store and made the switch from iPhone to Google.

My impression thus far is that I couldn't be happier!  There isn't anything about the iPhone that I am missing thus far, but there are many things regarding the Pixel 2 that I am loving in comparison to the iPhone.

I have to have my music! 
One of my biggest hangups was in regards to iTunes, something that is not available on the Android system.  I read several articles on how to transfer iTunes to Google Play, some of them sounding very easy, some of them sounding complicated.  When it was all said and done, I was able to download the Google Play Music Manager to my computer, let the manager search my computer, find everything in iTunes, and transfer it to Google Play.  As of this posting, the manager was still working on it.  I originally started the process on Saturday morning, leting it go for about 24 hours before a 12-hour stoppage on Sunday as I was traveling from Reno back home to Las Vegas. Overall, it's going to take about 3 full days before the process to be finished.  I expected it to take a long time, so I am not upset at all.  As Google Play is uploading from iTunes, the songs that have been uploaded are available on my phone.  On top of that, iTunes charged me $25 a year for iTunes match, essentially Apple's music cloud service for my library; Google Play is 100% free from what I have found thus far!  As for the Google Play app for podcasts, there are a lot of podcasts that I listen to that were not available on Google Play.  However, thanks to a suggestion by Ryan O'Donnell (another happy Pixel user), I downloaded Pocket Casts, a podcast manager that not only had everything that I listen to, but you can share podcasts easily with others, even up to a specific minute!  It did cost $3.99, but well worth the cost to not have to use the Google Play app, Stitcher, NPR One, or all of them.

Nice shot of the Wolf Pack rolling out the
Fremont Cannon after their 23-17 victory
over UNLV!
Photos and photo quality are alsor bright spspotsf the Pixel 2.  I used Google Photos on my iPhone, so every picture I took was backed up to Photos, but it was also in the Apple Photos app, taking up space on the phone's hard drive.  No such problem with the Pixel 2, as photos go directly to Google Photos and are not stored on the phone's hard drive.  On top of that, the photos that the Pixel 2 takes are stunning!  I always thought that the iPhone took great pictures, which it does, but the Pixel 2 takes phone photography to the next level!  Too often when taking photos in low light or taking action photos, the pictures come out blurry or in other ways not as good as what one would hope.  Every photo that I have taken with the Pixel 2 thus far has been crystal clear without any blur, even on the action shots.  I don't take a lot of photos, but with photos this good, I may start taking more!  And bonus features:  you can open the camera app with two clicks of the power button, switch to selfie mode by shaking the phone when the camera app is open, and because the photos go straight to Google Photos, that app will create some stylized, motion, and other cool pics on its own, or you can go into the app and create some amazing images yourself.

The beautiful Sierra Nevada while rolling down US 395, somewhere south of Mammoth Lakes

When I turned on the phone for the first time, I dreaded the thought of having to go through my old iPhone and find all of my apps in Google Play and download them individually.  Once again, I was blown away when all I had to do is plug my Pixel 2 into the iPhone, run a scan of it, and Google Play downloaded and installed the apps that I had on my iPhone as long as they were available in Google Play!  So far, out of well over 100 apps that my phone found, I have only had to download two apps that didn't make it through the scan.  Maybe it is because my iPhone was a couple of years old, but I find the apps to run more smoothly and download more quickly on the Pixel 2.  I also like that on my apps' notifications, you can perform actions a lot quicker without having to open the app.  Many apps like Twitter allow you to do so on the iPhone, but I don't recall seeing that option on Voxer, for example.  And then one of the greatest things I have discovered, and maybe it's available on iPhone and I didn't figure it out, but the split screen on the Pixel 2 that allows you to open two apps and VIEW THEM BOTH at the SAME TIME!  No more bouncing between apps when trying to work with multiple apps!

If you are considering a new phone, I cannot say enough good things about the Google Pixel 2.  I cannot knock iPhone, especially the iPhone 7, 8, X, and variations of each model; they are all high-quality devices.  But for the money, ease of use, and cool little tricks that the Pixel 2 can do, I am very happy with my decision to switch.

Until next time...

Monday, November 20, 2017

Inspire & Be Inspired

Years ago while still in high school, I made my decision that I wanted to go into education.  I was inspired by a lot of great teachers, from Mr. Pintar, my US History teacher and basketball coach, Mr. Caderette, my school's athletic director and my baseball coach, Mr. Linton, my government teacher and football coach, Mr. Bell, my biology teacher, Ms. Wojt, my earth science teacher, Mrs. Dewitt, my chemistry teacher, Mr. Meek, my Latin teacher (yes, Latin!), and Mr. Bennett, my PE teacher and football coach, just to name a few.  While I didn't end up pursuing biology and chemistry as my degree program as I had originally planned, my mind was made up by my sophomore year that education was going to be my career path.  I always told myself that as long as I was in the game, I wanted to be that inspiration to my students.  Over 12 years and thousands of students later, it is always comforting running into former students and hearing their stories and the kinds words that so many of them have in regards to their time with me.

Really, Chipotle?  
At my school, we have periodic releases of students to go back to a comprehensive school.  Students are assigned to my school for various infractions and as long as they take care of business by attending school, performing in the classroom, and staying out of trouble, their assignment to my school comes to an end.  Last Friday was one of the release days, so several of my students will be at a different school when we return from the Thanksgiving holiday break.  As the day progressed, I said goodbye and good luck to several students that will not be returning, with many of them thanking me for their time with me.  One such student shook my hand, thanked me and told me that he was going to miss me.  Another young lady stopped by my room between classes a couple of different times to see me, thank me, and tell me that she was going to miss me. I will definitely miss many of these students, but as I told them throughout the day, "No offense, but I don't want to see you ever again, unless it is randomly at Chipotle or something" (Why I chose Chipotle, I don't know, I like Chipotle, but it is far from my favorite place").

Clearly, throughout my career, I have had some form of inspiration on my students.  But my students have inspired me throughout my career as well.  When students in my classes have struggled, they have inspired me to better my craft so I can better serve them.  In a previous post, I talked about how I was not the innovative, technologically savvy educator that I like to think that I am today; my students were partly the reason as to why I am who I am professionally today.  When I have learned about some of the struggles that so many of my students have had to deal with, socially, economically, psychologically, and physically, it has inspired me to be a more empathetic and compassionate person, not so much of the "tough love" kind of person that I was, and still am to  an extent, early in my career.  More recently, I had a different form of inspiration from my students that has changed my approach some.

As a PE teacher, I get to work with students each day in some form of physical activity.  In my class, I give students a great deal of choice in what activities that they would like to do during class.  Basketball is popular, as is table tennis, and so is weightlifting.  One day a few weeks ago, some of my students were working on the bench press and asked if I could lift what they were working on, which was 135 pounds.  I told them that during my college football days and a couple of years ago when I was heavy into weightlifting (see what I did there?), I was bench pressing well over 300 pounds.  One of the boys challenged me to see if I still had it.  They set the bar up with 225 pounds and I told them that I hoped I could still get it at least 5 times.  When it was all said and done, I pressed the weight 10 times, something that I fully did not expect.  Word started getting around school that I had lifted that weight and kids were asking me in the hallway if I really did.  Since that day, I have been regularly lifting weights 2-3 times a week.  I am still working on motivating myself to start getting up early to get a cardio workout in, something that I have gotten away from since I hurt my knee a year or so ago.

Bottomline, my students inspired me to do something that I wasn't doing before.  Had it not been for those boys challenging me on the bench press, I probably would not be pursuing a regular weight training schedule.  My goal for the Thanksgiving holiday is to start getting back into the habit of not only weight training, but cardio training as well.  While I will most likely never be jacked like I was during my football days, it would be nice to cut weight, get stronger and more fit, and be a piece of eye candy for Mrs. Anderson.

Strive every day to be an inspiration to your students, your colleagues, your family, and your community.  At the same time, take inspiration from them as well and we will all work together to make our world a better place.

Until next time...

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Expanding Horizons

Image courtesy of
If you are reading this, first of all, thank a teacher.  Also, you must think that my post has something meaningful to say or something that you can learn about, whether it is from past experience in reading my posts or somebody has recommended my blog to you.  If the latter is the case, please pass along my thanks to your colleague for the recommendation.  Maybe you are a first time reader that happened to stumble upon my blog.  I hope that you can glean something useful from this post or others that I have written and will return for future posts.  The bottom line is that I write this blog for several reasons, including my love for writing, my love of sharing my knowledge and skills, and to contribute to the many professional learning networks in which I am proud to be a member.  

This love of sharing isn't limited to just my blog, tweeting ideas (and my blog), and participating in chats on various Voxer groups.  I also love to share at trainings and conferences, which is also one of the main reasons why I choose to volunteer so much of my times working with CUE-NV.  Over the course of my first few years of teaching, I didn't do a lot of presenting to staff and I certainly never had presented at a district level professional development day or at a regional or national conference.  I was too wrapped up in coaching football and working on my master's to sacrifice any more time and, regrettably, I didn't think that my voice was worth hearing at the time.  

Finally, a few years ago (the exact year is lost on me at this point), I started to come out of that shell.  I started to become more involved at my school on various committees and I was tasked with presenting to staff on various things on professional development days and during our "house meetings" after school once a month.  Then the million dollar question was asked of me:  "Would you be willing to present to educators during a Google Mini-Conference offered by the district?"  I was definitely stunned by the question, but without hesitation, I agreed to do so.  

At one of my previous schools, we were a pilot for the rollout for Google Apps for Education accounts.  Each teacher and student was given a GAFE account, along with everything that comes with that account.  While I already had been relatively tech-savvy and had incorporated a great deal of technology into my curriculum, I really took off with the account.  My classroom was incorporating aspects of the flipped classroom and I was nearly paperless, with a few exceptions.  When Google Classroom came out, the transition to paperless was complete.  Did I have access to one-to-one devices in my classroom?  By no means, but I was lucky enough to work at a school where students could and would bring their own devices, even if it was a simple flip phone that had access to the Internet (I am still amazed by the resiliency of a student that did not have any access to a device outside of her flip phone and wrote all of her assignments and even papers on that phone for me and her other classes).  Over the course of a couple of years, I became very savvy using the various Google tools, as well as other tools that I had delved into and had started making a name for myself.  My supervisor at the time had mentioned my name to some district-level educators, hence why I was asked.  

Fast forward a few years, and I cannot even begin to think about how many presentations I have made at various district conference, EdTech Team Google and Apple Summits, and CUE-NV events.  It occurred to me a few days ago that while I have presented dozens of times, I have never presented outside of Las Vegas.  I mentioned this to my wife, and she was surprised as well (she has this really unique "Really?"  when something confuses or surprises her, this was one of those moments).  I decided that it was high time to start looking into presenting in other areas to a new audience.  

Have you tried Pear Deck yet?  If not, you should...
Image courtesy of peardeck.com
One of the requirements of the Pear Deck Certified Coaches cohort is that you present sessions on Pear Deck at a Google Summit.  This is easy; we have a Google Summit in Las Vegas every year, one that I have attended and/or presented at for several years now.  However, as much fun as I have had presenting at the Summit in Las Vegas, and submitted my presentations on Pear Deck and Google Keep for it, this was a great opportunity to present somewhere else.  I also submitted presentations for a Google Summit near Los Angeles in February.  Then a couple of days later, I noticed that there was going to be an event in January in Visalia that was organized by some of my virtual colleagues, Adam Juarez and Katherine Goyette.  I asked if they were looking for presentations, to which they said yes, so I submitted some presentations for their Tech Rodeo.  Now, just because I submitted doesn't mean that any of them will be accepted; however, if accepted, I look forward to expanding my reach a little bit more.  

My next step: completing my Google Certified Trainer requirements and application again (my last submission was rejected, but I know why and haven't had the time to go back to correct it).  I will need to recertify my Google Certified Educator Level 2 first, as well as redo the requirements for the trainer application, but I am not worried about that. I also need to consider submitting proposals for future events like Fall CUE and CUE National.  I think I am ready for that kind of an audience, something that I would have never said as early as 5 years ago.  

Until next time... 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What Scares Me

I love this time of year.  The weather is getting cooler, the (limited number of) leaves are changing, football and hockey seasons are in full swing, and Halloween (need I say more?).  While I don't get into the Halloween spirit of dressing up, going to parties, and watching marathons of scary movies as much as I would like to anymore, I still enjoy the occasional movie that I can squeeze in (I watched Hellraiser last week, and how about Stranger Things?), getting my kids fired up for the holiday, crushing a bunch of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and carving pumpkins, like my tribute to the Vegas Golden Knights to the right.  When it is all said and done, the only things that truly scare me are snakes and clowns, or worse, a clown with snakes for fingers.  Zombies, ghosts, ghouls, and gore may startle me in the moment, but I get over it, and frankly, I enjoy the quick scare!  However, in the spirit of Halloween, I want to highlight a few things in the world of education that scare me.  Not just scare me for a moment and I am over it, no, I'm talking about things that scare me to the core and if not addressed, will ruin many a student and education as a whole.

At risk of beating a dead horse here, but funding is the number one thing that scares me.  I get that government budgets are tight.  However, what I don't get is how education takes such a low priority when said budgets are negotiated.  The State of Nevada is one of the lowest funded states in the nation when it comes to education.  But miraculously, when the Oakland Raiders expressed interested in pulling up stakes in Oakland to move the team to Las Vegas, the governor called an EMERGENCY session of the state legislature to negotiate and ultimately approve a $750 million incentive package that would not only help bring the team to Las Vegas, but it would help pay for a stadium.  Sure, the legislature and governor worked together to increase education funding in the last session, but not to the tune of $750 million.  And has that money trickled down to districts throughout Nevada?  Hard to say, and in the case of my district, who is facing a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, teacher pay has been frozen (again), positions are being cut, and schools' individual budgets that could buy supplies, provide professional development, and fund programs to help underachieving students are being slashed significantly.  And it is not just Nevada; education budgets are being cut everywhere at the federal, state, and district levels, with a few exceptions.

Closemindedness is another thing that scares me.  All around me, there are educators that are doing some amazing things.  Teachers are trying new things without fear of failure, going out of their way during weekends, after school, summer vacations to attend trainings and conferences to expand their toolbox, and overall, going to work every day with a positive attitude.  However, it only takes one person to ruin a lot of positive.  Too often, I see or hear about educators that refuse to grow, insist that "it won't work in my classroom" or "we have always done it this way, why should we change?", are comfortable with teaching how they were taught years ago, or the worst, "my students can't do this".  When educators are closeminded, it can wear on others around that are trying their best to improve. 

The next thing that scares me is a closemindedness version 2.0 of sorts.  It relates to the political and social fabric that the United States and many parts of the world have embraced in recent months and years.  As a former history teacher, I struggled mightily each year to present the history of slavery, racism, segregation, apartheid, persecution, etc. to my students.  It is a very uncomfortable subject to address, but a necessary one.  Over the course of hundreds of years, numerous atrocities were committed in the name of superiority and empire building.  What I am seeing, and what I am sure many are seeing, is a return to "comfortable racism" and a lack of empathy and compassion.  Prior to a few months ago, our world was far from perfect, with plenty of problems regarding race and equality that still needed to be addressed.  However, our nation has been set back decades as a result of numerous events, including the white supremacist rallies, allegations of sexual abuse by people of influence and power, and so much more.  What scares me most is how this is going to affect our students.  We as educators need to be even more diligent in embracing and promoting diversity and equality; let's flood our schools with positivity! 

I have so much to be happy and hopeful about in our schools.  If we all continue to fight the good fight and do it with a smile on our faces, we as educators will be the difference makers.  We will overcome the negativity, the hatred, and the violence in our world.  We will be the positive influence in our students' lives. 

Until next time...