Sunday, December 1, 2019

Another Round of Chrome Extensions!

Every now and then, I like to reevaluate the Chrome extensions that I have added to my account.  Sometimes I eliminate some of them if I haven't used them in a while, some of them I turn off using the Extensity extension so I still have access to them.  Then I look at the ones that I am either using frequently or I have recently added and see a lot of potential in them.  Since it has been a few months since I have highlighted some extensions, I decided that it was high time to do so once again!

In lieu of linking each extension with the description below, I created a collection in Wakelet with the links to the Chrome Web Store for each one! So to save yourself some time searching for each one, check out my Wakelet with the links!

Immersive Reader & Read Aloud
For the last year and a half, I have been fortunate enough to work in a district that had purchased licenses for TextHelp's Read/Write Chrome extension for every student in the district.  However, after analysis of the district's budget, it was decided that the district could no longer afford to continue licenses for every student.  While some students will still receive full access to all of Read/Write's features, most students will not.  When this announcement was made, I met with a few colleagues to see what we could find that could be a free alternative to Read/Write.

Sample of some of the things you can do with the Use Immersive
Reader on Websites extension. I set it up so it broke down words
by syllable and highlighted verbs in red.  
Recently, my friend Joe Marquez (@joemarquez70 on Twitter, and my co-host of The Podcast by Sons of Technology) discovered the extension "Use Immersive Reader on Websites." If you have ever used Microsoft's Immersive Reader, it is almost exactly the same thing.  However, this extension is not endorsed by Microsoft.  So why should you trust this extension? First off, it was created by Riley Eynon-Lynch, one of the co-creators of Pear Deck.  And how did he create the extension?  He used the open API offered by Microsoft (according to a Twitter thread in which Joe tagged several, including Riley, he created it one night for fun).  By clicking on the extension on a webpage, it will instruct you to select some text and right-click it, then it will open up the text of the page in Immersive Reader where you can change the size and style of the font, the background color, and break down the words by type of word (noun, verb, etc.) and by syllable.  You can change the speed in which it is read and if it is read in a male or female voice.  You can even translate the text to one of the numerous languages and by clicking on individual words, IM will read the word individually and if available, provide an image from its picture dictionary.

Immersive Reader is one of the best free extensions that I have used in a very long time, however, there is one minor catch: it does not work on Google apps like Docs, Sheets, or Slides.  To use IM, you need to be able to right-click.  When you right-click on the text in Google tools, it opens up a menu for options within Google and does not give you the opportunity to use IM.  However, I was able to find another useful text-to-speech tool that works within the Google sphere, an extension called Read Aloud.  While this extension isn't nearly as robust as IM, it does have some features that I find a little better, such as automatic reading simply by clicking on the extension without highlighting and right-clicking, text highlighting, and a variety of languages (some of them are premium and you need to pay for Google's Cloud Text to Speech).  It also opens in a smaller window within the tab instead of taking you away from your main page like Immersive Reader.  However, either way, these are both great tools that are free within the Chrome Web Store.

Mercury Reader
I mentioned this extension in my post after Fall CUE.  Mercury Reader is an extension that eliminates all of the "noise" of a website.  For example, let's say you have an article from a news website that you would like to read but don't want all of the extra ads, video links, and clickbait stories that claim that you can "eliminate belly fat with this one weird trick" and focus just on the story.  With a simple click of the Mercury Reader extension, you can turn off all of that and see just the story! On top of that, you can change the size of the font, switch between Serif or Sans style fonts, and change to a dark or light theme (I prefer dark theme and it's much easier on your screen and battery when you use dark themes).  Once you are ready to move on, you click away from the article and it takes you back to where you left off.

Unfortunately, I was not able to get Immersive Reader or Read Aloud to work when a page was in Mercury Reader mode.  Immersive Reader would not work at all and Read Aloud stated that it could not find any text to read.  Hopefully, in the near future Mercury Reader will support text to speech programs (if you work for Mercury Reader and are reading this with all of the noise on my blog page turned off, of course, this would be a great upgrade!).

Grade Transferer
For many years, I have been using Google Classroom.  While there have been many updates to the grading function in GC, including the ability to weight grades now, there still has been the inability to easily transfer grades from Google Classroom to the gradebook (in my district, as well as all districts in the State of Nevada, that gradebook is Infinite Campus).  In the past, I have done a few things, including printing a roster of each class, writing grades in the rows and columns, and after I had piled up a few, enter them into my gradebook.  Over the past couple of years, I have used the Tab Scissors and Tab Glue extension to split my screen between my gradebook and Google Classroom, typed them in quickly, and "glued" the tabs back together again.

A few weeks ago, my friend Alison Levy sent me a text asking if I had ever heard of Grade Transferer (actually, the text said Grade Transfered, but it looked legit, but realized the typo when I searched for it, she is well known for being a great teacher and a terrible texter as she never proofreads!).  She told me that with a couple of clicks, it took grades from Google Classroom and pasted them into Infinite Campus.  So I added it and gave it a shot and she was right, it really is only a couple of clicks! You simply add your assignment in Infinite Campus (or other gradebook programs, check the details page of the extension to see if yours is supported), click on the extension in the Google Classroom assignment where it copies each student and their score, then click on it again in the gradebook where it will paste the numbers! While I had gotten very astute at typing in the scores (usually about a minute for a class), this takes about 10 seconds!  And while I haven't had any issues yet, it is always a good idea to double-check the copy and transfer.

Small PDF
Do you ever find yourself needing to convert a file from one type to another? Do you ever try to send an email with an attachment but once you press send, get the error message that the file size is too large to be sent?  Small PDF will solve those problems for you in one step! You can convert .pdf to .jpg, .png, .doc, and many other file types and compress .pdf files to make them smaller.  But wait, there's more!

Small PDF will do a variety of other things as well! All of those tools that you can use in a premium Adobe account?  It can do most of them!  You can merge .pdg files, delete pages, edit pages, split a file into multiple files, and much more!  You can upload files from your computer, from Google Drive, or Dropbox.  And there is even an integration with Gmail that allows you to do all of these things right within your email, so you no longer have to open an attachment, download, then find a way to convert it, merge it, etc. I find myself converting files often and this extension has been a life saver for me!

Small PDF does have a premium account that costs about $100/year.  However, in my experience, I have not come across anything that I wanted to do that was a premium feature yet.  And if you'd like to learn a little more about the Gmail integration, the team at Small PDF wrote a very informational blog post on a step-by-step on how to use the tool.  The rest of their website,, is also very informational!

Social Book Post Manager
If you are a Facebook user, you know how hard it is to search for posts in the past.  You may also know how hard it is to bulk delete posts and/or comments from the past.  The Social Book Post Manager makes it a little bit easier to find posts and comments, delete them, and even unlike posts.

While I typically do not get too vulgar or controversial on my Facebook page, I have had my account for over 10 years and I have bound to have said some things that perhaps now with a clearer mind and eye that I don't want on my page.  I was able to do a search for posts that included a specific word and it gave me the option to delete the posts en masse or handpick ones that I wanted to keep while deleting the rest.  While it did take me a while to go through nearly 10 years worth of posts, it did effectively delete the posts that I wanted to get rid of.

And just as a disclaimer, the developer of this tool does not work for Facebook and it is not endorsed by Facebook in any way.  They only use Facebook as a reference for the tool.  And unfortunately, this does not work on other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

I am always looking for new extensions that will make my life easier.  And I enjoy putting together a post that highlights some of my favorites every few months.  You can find some of my other posts on Chrome extensions on  Have a favorite that you are using currently?  I'd love to learn more about it!

Until next time... 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Motivating, Entertaining, & Educating

If you read the short description of my blog, part of it reads that my blog consists of "tips, tricks, rants, and wisecracks about life, education, politics, and just about anything in between." Throughout the years, I have most certainly written posts that address all of those things (perhaps you will disagree about the wisecracks part, although I think I'm clever at times 😃).  This post is going to lean more toward the rant category.  It's not going to be a rant about politics (I could definitely do that) or about any one person or thing, it's more of a rant about my own perceived abilities at this time.  Confused?  Read on...

I am generally a positive person.  Of course, I have moments of negativity, we all do, but I usually move on from negativity quickly, trying to instill positivity when confronted with negativity, and if a toxic situation or person starts to bring me down, then I try to remove myself from the situation or person and avoid as much as I can in the future.  Lately, I have had a hard time avoiding some negativity and perceptions that are invading my headspace.  And in the spirit of airing out the not so good as well as the good, here goes!

Disclaimer: this, again, is not directed toward any one person or situation.  This isn't meant for me to call anybody out.  I also am not attempting to generalize any group of people.  This is more of a way for me to vent some frustrations that have been plaguing me as of late.  

This year has been especially tough thus far.  I could identify a multitude of things between the extra class that I am teaching, coteaching economics for the first time, two nights of teaching adult education government, one night of Tech CAFE where I work with teachers on educational technology, an expanded caseload that increased by seven from last year, or the earlier schedule this year compared to last year.  However, when talking to a lot of educators, it sounds like many are in the same boat, exhausted and just trying to keep it afloat.  But it's not just these things.

What I am finding especially tough this year is the reception of my teaching from many of my students.  My co-teachers and I work very hard to design engaging lessons, set expectations for our students, and instill management of our classes, but it feels like we are working extra hard at those things this year "without much in return."  I feel that we have had many more conversations with students regarding the lack of participation in activities and the completion of tasks.  I often feel that regardless of how engaging the lessons we design are, we are fighting the resistance from students (and adults).  To say that I am frustrated is an understatement.

I feel that rather than teaching, I am trying to figure out ways to entertain.  Now don't get me wrong, I want to teach engaging lessons that entertain, but I don't want the entertainment to be the main focus.  I want my content and my goals of learning to be the focus.  Because I feel that I am not motivating or entertaining enough, I am questioning my abilities as an educator.

I am a damn good teacher.  I am confident in my abilities and I have nearly 15 years' worth of success stories of students that did amazing things in my classes and went on to do even greater things.  This is not because of me, I was simply a guide in students' lives.  But I am struggling this year, I am not seeing my hard work guiding students as much this year.  And I don't know what else to think.  Have I lost my touch?  What do I need to do differently?

I am not afraid to be vulnerable through my words.  I have admitted faults and weaknesses in the past, and I am hoping that if you are reading this, perhaps you have some words of wisdom that you can share with me or anybody else that is struggling to motivate your students, feeling overwhelmed, and questions your abilities.  I sincerely hope that my words here can spark a conversation where we can help one another; this isn't an "oh woe is me" tactic, but a way to find a way to be better and be the best that I can for all of my students and my colleagues.

Until next time... 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Joker Through the Lens of Education

Keaton as Batman confronting Nicholson's Joker (1989)
Image courtesy of 
Ever since I was a little kid, I have always loved Batman.  I was 8 years old when Michael Keaton graced the big screen as Batman, with Jack Nicholson as an amazing Joker.  And who could forget the stellar soundtrack by Danny Elfman and multiple masterpieces from Prince (to this day, Batdance and Trust are two of my favorite Prince tracks)?  And while the origin story for Batman is relatively common knowledge, with a young Bruce Wayne growing up to avenge the murder of his parents as the Dark Knight, the story behind the Joker isn't as well known.  So to say that I was excited when a Joker origin story movie was going to be released is an understatement.  What I didn't realize though was how watching Joaquin Phoenix play this iconic character would make so many connections to my career as an educator.  

Disclaimer: A recent episode of The Soundtrack Show covered Danny Elfman and his roots before becoming the acclaimed film score composer that he is today before another episode that covered his music in Batman.  Check them out wherever you get your podcasts.  And while I will do my best not to provide any spoilers of Joker, I will be making references to events in the film, so if you have not seen it yet, this is your warning!  

Arthur helping his sick mother, Penny
Image courtesy of
Arthur Fleck, Phoenix's character that eventually morphs into and becomes the Joker, conjured up multiple potential images of students that we see every day.  As the story about Arthur unfolds, many factors that explain his eccentric behavior, odd mannerisms, and melancholic demeanor are revealed.  And we would be remiss to dismiss the physical and verbal abuse that Arthur suffers as a result of his perceived "freak" or "weirdo" existence.  On top of all of this, Arthur, as a nearly middle-aged man, still lives with his mother, who he as a loving and devoted son, takes care of, as she is in poor health. 

Trying to make a living as a clown advertising a going out of business sale, Arthur is accosted by a group of teenagers who mock him, take his sign and run away through the busy streets of Gotham.  Arthur gives chase, eventually catching up to the teenagers in an alley where they break the sign over his head and savagely beat him before running away and leaving Arthur to fend for himself.  The beating is so severe that Arthur is convinced by a colleague that he should start carrying a weapon to protect himself, a choice that eventually costs Arthur his job when the gun falls out while he is performing at a children's hospital. 

While this kind of bullying is not nearly as prevalent as it once was, there are still students that are bullied to the point that they see no other way out than to protect themselves.  Often times, these are the students, like Arthur, that are the "outcasts" that don't have a circle of friends and are susceptible to severe bullying.  Arthur had no intention of ever using the weapon, it was just meant as a means to protect his ability to make a living.  That is, until his encounter with three more bullies on the subway shortly after losing his job for the incident at the hospital.  Many students are just like this, never intending harm by carrying a weapon, but are suspended/expelled for possession of a weapon (and zero tolerance laws regarding weapons are something that makes my blood boil, I'll save my wrath here), or worse, they end up using the weapon when the bullying becomes too much. 

Phoenix fully evolved from Arthur Fleck to the Joker
Image courtesy of
Several times throughout the film, the scene cuts to Arthur sitting in the office of a social worker.  While the worker attempts to get Arthur to talk about his feelings and struggles, Arthur doesn't reveal much and asks about his medications that he gets through the city office.  Eventually, the social worker reveals that the city has cut her office's funding and that she and Arthur will no longer be able to have their weekly chats and that he will not be able to get his medicine.  It's no surprise that from this point forward, Arthur spirals further away from stability and commits some horrific crimes. 

I am fortunate to work at a school that has six counselors and a team of four safe school professionals.  Students at my school have several people that they can turn to, on top of the caring staff of teachers, if they have concerns, are feeling bullied, or if they have suicidal thoughts.  Unfortunately, like Arthur's situation in the movie, many schools and communities do not have the resources to assist students.  But diagnoses of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and many other instances of mental illness are becoming more common.  If students are unable to access counselors or social workers at school, issues with mental illness can become worse.  And these same students often do not have healthcare coverage in which to access services outside of school either. 

And how did Arthur come to have these issues in the first place?  Initially, you are led to believe that it is because he grew up without a father, then finding out that his father is Thomas Wayne who in order to protect his reputation as a Gotham City billionaire, has been ignoring his mother's pleas for years for help. However, it is revealed that Arthur was in fact adopted by his mother, and was then abused by his mother's boyfriend for years before she was eventually committed to a mental hospital.  It's no wonder that Arthur struggled as an adult with such a terrible upbringing. 

Many of our students come to school from similar situations.  They come from single-parent homes that are struggling to make ends meet.  They come from homes with abusive parent figures.  Some have parents that are in prison.  And while not all students that come from tough homes have a tough time at school and in life, these situations certainly do not help children to thrive. 

Be your students Batman!
Image courtesy of
If Todd Phillips, director and co-writer of Joker, was looking to produce a film that was a political and social commentary, he hit the nail on the head.  As educators, we see so many Arthur Flecks in our classes on a daily basis.  Through our hard work, our compassion, our empathy, and our awareness, we will reach more Arthurs and steer them toward a life of success, not a life of the Joker where his childhood, his mental illness, and the constant bullying eventually lead him to become a cold-blooded criminal that terrorizes Gotham City.  And while it is unfair to say that students that come from a similar background are going to become criminals, I would feel better knowing that I have done all that I can for my students instead of risking it. 

Until next time... 

Monday, October 21, 2019

If I Don't Make It... To #FallCUE

Live performing perhaps my
favorite from their catalog,
"White, Discussion"
The alarm clock was set for 5:35 AM.  As I looked at the clock one last time, it was 12:53.  The blare of the clock would start yelling at me in just under five hours.  I dropped the needle on the record, turned down the volume to just above audible and put my head on the pillow.  As I drifted off, a faint ringing in my ears of the show a couple of hours prior competed with the guitar riffs and falsetto vocals of Raine Maida and escorted me to dreamland.  As the alarm roused me from slumber a few hours later, I groggily jumped into the shower, threw on a hat, grabbed a bottle of Coke Zero, and headed out into the crisp 30-degree darkness of Sunday morning to get into the car for the drive over the Sierra Nevada.  

Much to the delight of
especially the ladies in
attendance, Bush frontman
Gavin Rossdale walks the
crowd while performing
"Little Things".
The Fall CUE conference kicked off in Rancho Cordova on Saturday morning, but I wasn't there for the festivities.  While the drive from Reno to the conference was only about 2 hours and I easily could have gone, my priorities were different.  Months prior, a concert that I could say that I had waited 25 years for was announced for Saturday night.  In celebration of the 25th anniversary of their debut album, Sixteen Stone, Bush announced the ALTimate tour, a tour that would bring Live, a band celebrating the 25th anniversary of their most successful album, Throwing Copper, and Our Lady Peace, celebrating 25 years of their debut, Naveed, to Reno as one of the stops.  With my teen years in the mid and late 1990s, this was a show that I would be devastated to miss, especially because I never had the opportunity to see Bush or Live (I saw Our Lady Peace in 2009, and they were hard to see as their tour schedule rarely brought them to the US).  

Closing out the night
with "Comedown"
The show was everything that I expected and more.  Our Lady Peace opened, playing favorites like Clumsy, Superman's Dead, Innocent, Somewhere Out There, and closing with one of my personal favorites, Starseed.  Live was great as well, churning out I Alone, White, Discussion, Pain Lies on the Riverside, a stellar version of The Rollings Stones' Paint It Black, and closing out with Lightning Crashes.  Then Bush closed the night out, opening with Machinehead, a few songs from their upcoming album, then classics like Little Things, Glycerine, The Chemicals Between Us, Everything Zen, and closing out with Comedown.  My voice was a little hoarse after the 3 and a half hours of nearly nonstop rock that defined my high school and college years, but that wasn't even the highlight of the night!

Jason Pierce, Steve Mazur,
Duncan Coutts, Mary,
 Raine Maida, and I 
Of the three bands, Our Lady Peace is by far my favorite.  They are the least well known of the three and many people do not know the group when I talk about them.  That's not the reason why I love them so much, but I do enjoy a lot of bands that aren't as well known.  OLP, as they are also known, is big in their native Canada but only in a few pockets of the United States.  To say I was most excited to see them is an understatement and most people in attendance at the show appreciated their set, but were not nearly as vocal or singing along like my wife, Mary, and I.  In the day or so leading up to the show, my wife participated in a contest in an Our Lady Peace Facebook group.  When it was all said and done, she won a signed copy of their album, Clumsy, that she would be able to pick up at a meet and greet after their set!  

Had to listen to it,
 but this is going into a frame!

As soon as their set was complete, Mary and I left our seats and nearly sprinted to the meet and greet area, happy to see that we were the first ones there!  We not-so-patiently waited for about 15 minutes for the band and chatted with a few others that jumped in line with albums, posters, and shirts to have signed.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Raine, Duncan, Steve, and Jason made their way through the crowd and settled in at the table.  We walked up to the table and introduced ourselves, took a couple of quick pictures and asked about the album.  The band themselves had been running the promotion and were excited that Mary had participated.  They told us that it would be a few minutes but if we would wait nearby, they would get the album.  We waited for about 20 minutes, Mary got her copy of the album and we chatted with them for a few more minutes (Steve, the guitarist, is originally from Michigan and is a big Tigers fan like me, so we chatted about our mutual love for the team and mutual agony over their patch of rough seasons as of late).  In the words of Mary, it was a dream come true to meet one of our favorites bands, one that has had such an impact on both of us over the past 25 years.  

Which brings me back to the early wakeup on Sunday morning.  My ears were no longer ringing, but I was EXHAUSTED!  However, the drive was relatively short and I was excited to get my learn on, see a great keynote, and catch up with a few friends.  So with the GPS set and albums from each other the previous night's bands lined up, I got onto the 80 and set out for Rancho Cordova.  

Maggie Elliot made me take a picture before I was
fully awake... even though this was 3 hours into the day!
Minus a stretch near Truckee and Donner Summit where it was really foggy, I made great time in light traffic.  I pulled into Cordova High School in time for the sticker swap.  I had stickers to swap, but outside of dropping a few of mine on a table and getting a couple of new ones, I didn't have much of an opportunity to swap stickers.  Several people asked me where I had been on Saturday and I spent time explaining that I had been at the concert the night before.  Minutes later, I worked my way to the theater to see Eddie Campos deliver a great keynote about his experiences as a math educator and how CUE and the CUE family has made him a better educator and how he can now make math fun, not the anxiety builder that it is for so many people.  

Before the conference, I had done some research on the sessions and built a schedule.  However, I did not do a great job of reading for whom the sessions were built.  My first session was a great session on tools for special education teachers... if you are elementary.  I sat there for about 15 minutes reviewing some great tools before I realized that the tools were not going to shift to high school.  Luckily, I had a backup plan: a session on universal design for learning (UDL).  

UDL is something that I had heard of but honestly did not know much about.  Even after walking into the session nearly 20 minutes late, I was able to gain a better understanding of UDL and how I can implement UDL into my classroom.  I really like how UDL breaks down lesson design into three things: engagement (the why), representation (the what), and action and expression (the how).  To dive deeper into the basics of UDL, we were given some time to explore a variety of resources, then we were paired up with another attendee in two circles where we each had 30 seconds to share something that stood out to us.  After we each had a chance to share, we shifted to another person and shared again, and shared a third time with another person (I'll be doing this with students in my classes very soon!).  And the presenters, Kristina Allison and Trisha Sanchez, built a Padlet where attendees could add resources for helping others implement UDL.  Check out their website for more information on UDL and the shared resources! 

To the left, a news story without
Mercury Reader.  This is the same story
with Mercury Reader!
This is a great story about
rural Nevada counties getting
a grant to put wi-fi on busses.
Check it out here!
The next session that I attended was another geared toward closing the accessibility gaps for students with special needs.  Shannon Tabaldo (of the My Tech Toolbelt podcast) and Amanda Johnston presented a variety of tools for accessibility.  Many of the tools were ones in which I was already aware of or that I am using with my students, however, my goal is to always learn at least one new thing from a session and this session did not disappoint.  While voice typing, the Explore button in Google, screencasting, closed captioning, Google Keep and Grammarly are already part of my repertoire, I was really excited to learn about Mercury Reader.  This Chrome extension takes webpages and eliminates all of the extras like ads, spam, and other items not related to the text.  A great example is an article on a news website.  Not only does it open the text in a "quieter" window, but it also allows users to change the font style and size and share it out to a Kindle! There are a lot of distractions on the Internet and Mercury Reader allows students to read without those distractions.  I loved it so much that I installed it for my personal Google profile in addition to my school profile!

After lunch, I headed to a session on social-emotional learning (SEL) hosted by Dr. Todd Schmidt.  His session highlighted a lot of the research behind the importance of incorporating SEL into schools, such as decreased incidents of behavioral issues, bullying, and other issues and different ways he has incorporated SEL into his school as the principal.  Perhaps my favorite thing that he did was two-fold: when it was time notify students and their families which teacher they would have for the school year, each teacher in the school wrote a handwritten postcard for each student and mailed them home, but included on the postcard was a link to a Flipgrid video where the teacher introduced themself (if they chose to do so) and gave a tour of their classroom for students, easing the anxiety of wondering who their teacher was going to be and what their classroom was going to look like.  Dr. Schmidt stated that since incorporating this "hack", he did not get any phone calls from concerned parents regarding their child's teacher.  I also enjoyed his story about hosting a national play day event at his school but inviting parents to come to school and bring games, participate in events with students, and make it more of a community event instead of simply a school event.  I so enjoyed his session that afterward, I introduced myself (while we have interacted on Twitter previously, we had never met in person) and asked if he would like to share his story on The BeerEDU Podcast.  He readily agreed, especially since he has interacted with my partner, Ben Dickson, through various leadership chats on Twitter.  Look for an episode of The BeerEDU Podcast in the near future featuring Todd!

To close out my day, I walked into a session, but I wasn't feeling it, so about five minutes in, I left and headed over to the common area of the school's campus.  I was meeting up with a couple of friends after sessions were done so I figured I would relax for about an hour.  I had a great conversation with a couple of people and Kristina Mattis and Bill Selek had me come on to CUE Live to talk about my (limited) Fall CUE experience and to share a little bit about my upcoming book.  After a couple of quick conversations with Rebekah Remkiewicz, Ryan O'Donnell, and Tom Covington (plus I had a gift of some local Reno beer that I had promised Tom), I got in the car, had a quick pit stop for food, then headed home.  Between the long day on Saturday with the show and the great day of learning, I was in bed and asleep by about 8:30.  And even though I got a solid 9 hours of sleep, it was still tough getting up for school on Monday!  

Whenever I write a blog post, strangely, I name it first.  This time, I wanted to tie the concert and the conference together in the title.  One of Our Lady Peace's early songs is one titled 4 AM and one of the lines of the chorus is, "If I don't make it, know that I've loved you all along."  I felt that it was very fitting to the weekend because I love my CUE family and getting to spend days learning and interacting with so many dedicated educators.  Had I not made it to Fall CUE at all, I still would have learned a ton just from following the hashtag during and after the event.  So if you were at Fall CUE, whether we spoke or not, whether we have known each other for years or if we have never met, just like OLP says, I've loved you all along! 

As for the song, it's more about an estranged father and son, but that line really stuck with me while writing this post, check out this video for the song!

Until next time... 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sliding Down the Sierra Nevada to #FallCUE

It's that glorious time of the year once again: fall!  Perhaps you prefer to refer to the season as autumn.  Regardless, this is my favorite time of year.  Crisp mornings call for my favorite article of clothing, the hooded sweatshirt.  Especially crisp mornings call for a beanie, a toque, a winter cap or hat, whichever your preferred nomenclature (I personally am a beanie or toque kind of a guy). The leaves are changing colors and dropping to the ground.  College football season is in full swing (so are the pros, but I have my reasons for not caring about pro football), and hockey season, my favorite, is in its early few games.  Then there are the fall foods, especially soups, stews, roasted meats, and if you fancy it, just about anything pumpkin (I like pumpkin and I like pumpkin spice in moderation, a little bit of that spice goes a LONG way!).  But what fall also brings is one of my favorite events of the year, Fall CUE!  

Late-night Wing Stop with Jason,
Ben, & Martin at FallCUE 2018!
I didn't attend my first Fall CUE until 2016.  At the time, I was a learning strategist and technology coordinator and my principal gave me a budget to fly from Las Vegas to Oakland, rent a car, check into a hotel, and attend the conference in American Canyon, just outside of Napa, California.  It was there that I met a lot of the people that I had been interacting with on social media for over a year or more, people like Ryan O'Donnell, Ann Kozma, Laurie Wong Roberts, Tom Covington, Michael Jephcott, and many more.  It was there that Jon Corippo taught me how to present like a rockstar and Dave Burgess taught me how to teach like a pirate, and Edward Simoneau taught me how to be an effective instructional coach.  I wrote a post about it three years ago and shared what I had learned on that weekend titled Fall CUE 2016: Reflection & Review (unfortunately, the pictures that I embedded no longer show up, I have switched email accounts since I began this blog and the images must have been tied to that account that no longer exists).

More fun and games from Fall CUE 2018!
I missed Fall CUE in 2017 during my transition from administration back to the classroom.  On top of that, I was in the middle of planning my move to Reno, even though I didn't realize that it was going to be Reno at that point, as my wife hadn't been accepted to any schools yet.  But I made the return to Fall CUE last year and even presented.  And while the American Canyon location was amazing and a relatively short drive from Reno at about 3 hours, I am really happy that it is even closer to me this year in Rancho Cordova, just outside of Sacramento.    While I originally would have only needed a room for one night since I would have driven the hour and 45 minutes on Saturday morning, some special circumstances are limiting me to only one day.

A few months ago after I had registered for the conference, a concert for the ages (at least to me) was announced in Reno.  The ALTimate Tour featuring Bush and Live with special guests Our Lady Peace was announced for Saturday, October 19.  I saw Our Lady Peace about 10 years ago poolside at the Rio Las Vegas, and a free show to boot!  OLP is one of my favorite bands of all time and I have been itching to see them ever since, but they rarely tour America and when they do, they usually stick to cities near the Canadian border or only got to a few select large cities.  As for Bush and Live, I have never seen either one.  Live's Throwing Copper album was one of the first CDs I ever purchased and Bush's Sixteen Stone wasn't far behind.  Going to concerts was a rarity for me growing up in my small town of Alpena, Michigan; I didn't go to my first show that wasn't a country act at the county fair until the summer before my junior year (Third Eye Blind and Eve 6, and 3EB is going to be in Reno at the end of November, I may need to get to that one too!).  So whenever Bush and Live toured, I wasn't able to go.  I told myself when this tour was announced that there wasn't going to be anything that would stop me from going!

#CUEBald in all of its glory withTom, myself, and Matt
My plan shifted from heading down Saturday morning and staying Saturday night to drive down Saturday, head back to Reno for the show, then head back down on Sunday morning for the rest of the conference.  But as I began to write this post, I got a call from my parents that they would be coming to Reno for the weekend.  Since they only live about 3 hours away, normally I would say, "I'll see you in a couple of weeks" as we see each other at least a couple of times a month.  However, when they told me that they were coming over this weekend because they would be leaving for a couple of weeks for Hawai'i, I decided that I would stick around on Saturday to hang out with them.  So now I am only going to be going down for the Sunday.

I have a limited number of
 round yellow sticker...
I built a schedule for Saturday, but since I will not be going, my focus has certainly shifted to Sunday.  I will be leaving my house in Reno early to get there, but I cannot miss the Sticker Swap at 8:00 AM!  The first one last year was a lot of fun and there was a slight underestimation as to how successful and popular it was going to be.  The Spring CUE swap was more organized, so I expect this one to be awesome, and of course, I will have some of my sticker swag to share, from my standard Anderson EdTech stickers and buttons to some colorful ones, and some BeerEDU Podcast stickers, buttons, and more!

I cannot miss the keynote on Sunday morning, a man that has become a good friend over the years, Ed Campos, the de facto leader of the Orange Sauce Mafia and the #CUETangClan.  And in his words, the beneficiary of several hundred Twitter followers as a result of his handle, @edcampOSjr, closely resembling the account for the EdCamp Foundation, @EdcampUSA.  Eddie is an eloquent, engaging, and entertaining dude, so I have no doubt that his keynote is going to be absolutely epic. 

After the keynote, I have narrowed down my choices for sessions to ones geared toward special education, universal design for learning (UDL), social-emotional learning (SEL), and self-care.  I am always looking for more ways to reach my students, especially those on my caseload and in my classes with special needs and there are several sessions on Sunday that are exactly what I am looking for.  I am looking forward to learning about techniques to bridge the achievement gap, make education more accessible for my students, all while learning to better address students' emotional needs, as well as take care of myself in the process. 

So as I make the trek from Reno to Truckee and Donner Pass, then slide down the 80 to the northern reaches of the Central Valley, I'll be looking forward to the day of learning with my CUE family and taking what I learn back to my school on Monday.  If you are going to be at Fall CUE, I would love to say hello, pick your brain for a bit, exchange some stickers, maybe take a picture, and make the connections that Fall CUE and other events have given me for the last several years.  Expect another post after the conference with my reflections and connections. 

Until next time... 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

#ToTheEdgeEDU: The Fruition of an Idea

Writing has always been something that I have enjoyed.  I can remember being a little kid and "writing books", creating them out of paper and cardboard.  My artistic skills were limited at best, but I could always get a story down on paper.  As I grew older, book reports, research papers, and essays were something that I never really dreaded.  And while I have always been a good test taker as well, I would much rather write an extensive paper for an assessment rather than a 100 question multiple-choice test.  At some point, I don't remember exactly when, I told myself that someday, I would write a book.

A couple of years ago, an idea came into my mind about what I could write about. The idea was born out of this blog that I have been plugging away at for nearly four years.  My initial thought was, "Why don't I compile my blog posts, maybe clean them up a little bit, and publish an anthology of my blog posts?" I quickly dismissed the idea because if somebody can just go to, why would they bother to buy a copy of a book when they could get everything for free?  I decided that any idea that I would have needed to be an original idea.   So the idea of writing anything for publication was put on the back burner for the time being.

Fast forward to the fall of 2017.  I helped put together the Silver State Technology Conference with my CUE-Nevada colleagues (an incredible group of educators and leaders, I am a lucky man to be able to get to work with them on a regular basis).  At this conference, a gentleman by the name of Dr. Randall Sampson was there.  Over the course of the two days of the conference, we learned a lot about each other, including how we had both played college football for the same head coach, Doug Sams, just at different times and at different universities (Randall played at Fairmont State in West Virginia while I played at Northern Michigan University).  I also had the opportunity to pick his brain about the writing and publication process of his book, Welcome to the Grind! How Educators Achieve Exponential Results.  During our conversations, I mentioned to him how I wanted to write a book, but how I had moved on from my original idea and was working on another idea that was more of a memoir of my experiences in education.  Randall told me to keep in touch and to share my ideas with him and that he would do whatever he could to assist me in the process in the future.

I had set one of my goals for 2017 as writing a book.  It didn't happen.  I set that goal again for 2018, and again, it didn't happen.  It wasn't that I didn't want to, obviously, but finding the time to do it was tough, not to mention some career and personal issues that I was experiencing throughout that time and a move from Las Vegas to Reno.  This year when I thought about my goals, I decided that 2019 was probably not going to be the time to write a book either, so I didn't even address it.  I figured that once I met some other goals and settled into a better routine, I would be able to set aside time to write.

At CUE19 in Palm Springs, I saw Randall yet again, and like always, it was a blast hanging out with him and talking about anything and everything.  The subject of my book came up, to which I responded that I had refined my idea and now I just needed to find time to write it.  I also saw Sarah Thomas, the founder of Edumatch and their publishing wing, Edumatch Publishing.  I mentioned to her that I had been tossing about an idea but still hadn't written anything, but she told me to keep in touch because she liked the idea that I had and that she would love to look into it further once I had refined it and began the writing process.

However, the person that probably had the biggest influence on me at CUE19 regarding writing a book was Brent Coley.  Brent had recently published his book, Stories of EDUInfluence.  At various points throughout the weekend, I asked him a few questions about his process and the publishing process and got some really great info, but I need to know more.  So I contacted Brent via Voxer and asked if we could do a video chat for a few minutes so I could pick his brain about everything.  Because Brent is one of the most giving and gracious people on the planet, not only did he agree, but he took over an hour out of a Saturday to answer every question that I had about everything.  It was at this point in late March that I decided to get going with my outline and start writing my book.

My first step was to outline the premise of my book and how I wanted to set it up.  I turned to my tried and true friend, Google Keep, to get the process going.  I created a note that had ideas for my title, a basic outline, themes and potential titles for chapters, and other ideas.  Then, I dove in. I opened up a new Google Doc, created a header and footer that simply said, "DRAFT" in big, bold letters, and started typing.  I didn't set aside specific times to write, I wrote when I had time and when I had the itch to write.  I didn't have a specific thing I wanted to write each time.  Sometimes I would write for five minutes, sometimes I would write for an hour.  Either way, over the course of about two months, I got about three or four chapters written, or in the case of my document, about 60 pages in a standard 12 point font, double spaced.

Very early on, I realized that my book was going to be a first-person story.  However, since I am most likely not that interesting of a person, I knew that it was going to need to be more than an autobiography.  There had to be a theme that tied people back to their careers in education, even if I could tell a compelling story.  I decided that the theme of my book was going to be a story of times in which I have been a risktaker in my life and the results of those experiences.  This wasn't going to be simply a story of my successes, I needed to tell the tough stories as well and deep dive into times where my risks made me fall on my face and look and feel rather foolish.  And without giving too much away, there were going to be some stories and risks that were going to be very hard to write about and were going to conjure up some demons and feelings that were hard to cope with at the time and revisiting in order to get them down into words.  But I knew that if I was going to write a compelling story that was going to inspire people to become risk-takers themselves, I knew I was going to need to dig deep into the depths of my soul.

In late May, I submitted my idea and what I had for a draft to EduMatch Publishing.  I explained my vision for the book, my intended audience of educators, the book's format, etc., and received a response back that the publishing team would review my proposal and get back with me soon.  A few days later, I got my response: they were interested in my idea, but there were a few things that I needed to address in my draft before they would make a decision.  A few edits and additions, I resubmitted my draft and "forgot about it", finishing off my school year, getting into the groove of the first few weeks of summer vacation, and pecking away at the draft a little bit more when I made time to write.  I figured the best thing to do was not to worry about any decision on my draft but to try to avoid thinking about it and hope for the best.

Just after the 4th of July, I received a message from the publisher's panel that was reviewing my proposal.  After careful consideration, the team decided that they liked my idea enough to offer me a publishing contract!  To say that I was stunned and ecstatic is an understatement.  But what it also did was give me some motivation to finish my draft.  I likened the contract offer to the finish line of a race.  If you go out for a run with no set goal or distance in mind, you may not have the motivation to try very hard to achieve a personal distance or speed record.  However, with a set distance in mind, such as a half marathon (a distance that I have personally run on a few occasions), it gives you something to shoot for and the motivation to strive for personal bests.  The book contract was my finish line.  Now I had reason to set aside time to write on a regular basis, not just "when I felt like it" or "when an idea came into my head."

Over the course of the next week and a half, I made time every day to write.  Sometimes it was early in the morning.  Sometimes, it was afternoon.  Sometimes, it was into the night hours.  Or in one case, it was ALL NIGHT! One Saturday evening, I was struggling to fall asleep, so I got out of bed around 10:30 and got behind my keyboard with the intention of writing for a bit, hopefully, to tire myself out and get back to bed.  The next thing I knew, it was about 4:30 AM! Knowing I had somewhere to be at 8:30, four hours later, I put on some coffee and went for a quick walk, determined to write for the next few hours since sleep at that juncture was going to be almost pointless.  It was during this writing session that I wrote the most difficult chapter of the book.  It makes me wonder how that chapter would have turned out had I written it at another time or had broken up the writing into several sessions instead of the marathon all-night session in which it was written.

As of this writing, I do not have a release date for the book.  It has made it through its first round of edits and it is currently in the focus group state where a handful of people have read through the draft and will provide feedback on what they like, what they believe can be improved, and what really stood out to them in the draft.  From here, I'll make a few more edits before it moves on to the official editor.  In the meantime, other details are getting attention, such as cover design, my bio for the back cover, design of the script, and other items that one typically doesn't give too much thought to when looking at a book.

What I will reveal is that my working title for the book is To The Edge: Successes & Failures Through Risk-Taking.  My goal is that those that read my book will analyze my life story and glean inspiration to take risks that perhaps they wouldn't have taken before.  If I can inspire one person to try something crazy, then my words have done their job.  So in the coming weeks and months, watch for my story to be released through Edumatch Publishing.  Following my social media feeds (@AndersonEdTech on Twitter, @andersonedtech on Instagram, and my book Instagram, @totheedgeedu, plus #ToTheEdgeEDU) will be the best way to stay up to date on the book's progress.  I cannot wait to share this story with you!

Until next time...

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Clearing My Plate, Figuratively & Literally

We don't get many nights out, but we did manage to
sneak away for a while the night before my birthday!
I am a busy man.  For as long as I can remember, I have always been a busy man.  I thrive on routine and love to rise to challenges, personally and professionally.  Never have I been busier in my life than I am currently.  On top of my position as a special education teacher, I also teach government two nights a week to students working to earn their adult education high school diploma, I work with my district's technology office to provide training to teachers one night a week, then I have my two podcasts, this blog, and a host of other things.  On top of that, my principal asked if I would co-teach another class last spring for a prep buyout, so I extended my school day by an hour and a half to a nine-hour day instead of the typical seven and a half.  All of this along with being a husband and a father.  While I love being busy, the grind has become really crazy this year and about 6 weeks into the new year, there aren't any signs of slowing down.  

Part of the busy can be contributed to my wife's graduate program.  While she isn't taking as many classes this semester, she is conducting her clinical hours and it has taken some getting used to over the past few weeks.  Before, we were able to split pick up duty for the kids a lot easier, but her hours have made it more of a challenge.  On top of that, the kids are getting older so they are starting to get involved in various activities.  My daughter is part of a cheerleading club with the University of Nevada cheerleaders where she practices with them and gets to cheer at select football, basketball, soccer, and volleyball games.  However, my wife and I both realize that it's only for another 8 months until she graduates and this part of the crazy will be over and we can establish a better routine for our family.  

I am so incredibly proud of my wife and all of this is going be worth it when she is done.  We joke that once she is working again and is pulling in a paycheck that we can start buying name brand groceries again!  I also joke that I am going to take a year off and do nothing but fish, but I know that will never happen!

Ultimately, in order to relieve some of the busy, I had to evaluate what I have been doing.  Different aspects of my life have been sacrificed as a result of my busy, so I took a long look at everything and made some decisions to scale back or completely eliminate some things.  These decisions were made easily but in the long run, I think I am going to better off.

While I love to present at conferences and learn from the great people I meet, I realized that I need to spend more time at home on weekends.  In past years from late August until early November, I have been at an event nearly every weekend.  This year, I have scaled back significantly.  I decided to select only events in which I was directly involved and/or committed to already or have brought me great benefit in the past.  That said, I have narrowed down my conferences to five events instead of the nearly double-digit events that I have typically done in a school year in the past.  Most of the reason is the time and stress factor, but also monetarily, being I am the sole income earner in my house and I plan to go to ISTE for the first time next summer.

At my last CUE-Nevada event as a board member,
I raffled off a copy of my upcoming book. Angela
Barnett was the lucky winner and will be one of
the first to get a copy in a few months!

Since the fall of 2015, I have served on the board of directors for CUE-Nevada, first as a board member then elected as vice president in 2016 and again in 2018.  As an all-volunteer organization, I worked with a dedicated team to grow the organization and provide educators from Nevada and beyond with high-quality professional development opportunities.  The hours are long and especially when an event is approaching, it can be stressful.  That's why as of September 30, I resigned from my role as vice president with the organization.  The commitment to CUE-Nevada was something that I could not continue to promise, and the organization deserves somebody that can be fully committed.  I look back fondly on the time I spent as a board member and the relationships I forged with my fellow board members and the educators that attended our events.  While I am no longer a CUE-Nevada board member, it doesn't mean that I won't be involved; it just means that I won't be part of the planning side of the organization.

Another thing that has suffered has been this blog.  While I love to get a post out every week or two, as of this writing, it has been nearly a month and a half since I last posted.  It doesn't mean that I have run out of ideas and have stopped writing though.  I currently have four other posts created in Blogger that I have started (when I have an idea for a post, I try to create it and at least put down some bullet points so I can revisit later).  Some of it is because of my busy schedule as of late and some of it has been redirecting my writing focus to edits on my book as they come in.  Because I write these for pleasure, I don't feel a commitment to write all of the time, but at the same time, I really do need to make time to write as it is a form of therapy for me.  So while I am scaling back a bit in my posting schedule, I am looking to set aside time on weekend mornings to write so I don't completely get away from it.

While clearing out some clutter, I found these Wakelet shirts.
They are a size smaller than my current size, so I'm
hoping to fit into them in the next few months!
And while I have been trying to trim away nonessential activities in my life, I have also been committed to trimming away at my food intake.  Various health ailments like high cholesterol and diabetes run in my family, so I have been seeing a doctor regularly for the past few years to monitor my vitals.  As expected, my cholesterol is elevated, but for now, my blood pressure, blood sugar, and other stats are in good shape.  However, I am carrying more weight than I really should be and a recent doctor's appointment put me on alert.  My doctor directed me to commit to a meal plan that involves lean meats and vegetables and limit to eliminate all wheat and rice products.  I most certainly have my struggles to avoid bread, rice and rice noodles (I've only had two bowls of pho in the last 4 months, I used to be a several bowls a month eater of that delectable Vietnamese staple), but so far, it is paying off and I have lost about 15 pounds.  I have made goals for weight loss before, but it was more of a vanity goal before; this time, it's about extending my life and avoiding the health issues so many in my family have been stricken with.

In a sense, I have been trying to clear my plate, figuratively with everything that I have committed myself to, and literally, eating less to achieve a healthier body weight and vitals.  Perhaps you are in a similar situation.  I encourage you to take a hard look at your commitments and make the tough decisions to commit to less, learn to say no so you aren't stretching yourself so thin, and if you are looking to lose a few pounds, whether it's to improve your vitals or look better for a vacation or something, know that I am here to support you in your journey!

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Podcast on a Budget Part II

About a year ago, my friend Ben Dickson and I launched The BeerEDU Podcast.  We didn't know whether it was going to something that was going to take off,  if anybody was going to listen, or frankly, if we were going to enjoy doing the show.  Fast forward to now and our show has far exceeded our expectations!  While not on the same level as Serial or The Joe Rogan Podcast in terms of listenership, we feel that we reach a decent-sized audience and we have a lot of fun recording it and meeting people from all over the nation (and even the world, we have had guests from Canada) and listening to their stories and passions. 

When we first began recording, our setup was simple: we used a laptop (sometimes my Windows PC, sometimes my Chromebook), a Blue Ice Snowball microphone, and Soundtrap.  In fact, not long after our show went live, I published a blog post titled Podcast on a Budget to highlight the tools that we were using to produce our show.  Some things have changed since those early episodes, such as the length of the show, we have incorporated guests to join the conversation, and have implemented some more advanced tools into the mix to improve our show.  Let's take a look at some of the tools that we use that may cost a little more money but are still feasible for those looking to podcast on a budget.  

Before, it did not matter what device Ben and I would record from, as Soundtrap was accessible on any device.  However, what we discovered when we tried to record remotely for the first time was that while live recording when we were miles apart was possible in Soundtrap, it was very hard to get everything in sync and we struggled.  We decided that if we were to record remotely, we had to try a different program.  This is where a program that I had received as a presenter gift from a Google Summit a few years ago came into play:  Camtasia.  

I understand that the creator said it's a soft G,
but I'm not going to argue with the Jedi Master! 
As a thank you for presenting at a summit, I was given a license to TechSmith's SnagIt and Camtasia.  SnagIt is a program in which you can take screenshots, record short videos and create GIFs (with a hard G 😛😀😁).  Camtasia is a video creation program that is similar to iMovie, but accessible on PCs and, in my opinion, more robust and easier to use.  SnagIt is something that I used on a regular basis when creating content for my classes, presentations for conferences, and much more.  However, Camtasia was something that I only had dabbled with a few times, creating a few short videos for class.  I was more familiar with WeVideo, but when looking at that, I didn't see how I would be able to record remotely with Ben.  Camtasia looked like a great way to record my screen while Ben and I (and eventually guests) chatted via video.  If any edits needed to be made, Camtasia allowed tons of way to edit the recordings.  After everything was done, I would be able to extract the audio from the video and save it to upload into Anchor, the program we decided to use to publish the podcast.

Since that day that Soundtrap "failed" us (Soundtrap is a great program, it simply wasn't right for what we were trying to do; the music for our podcast was created in Soundtrap and it's great for a lot of other things), Google Hangouts and Camtasia have been our method of recording madness.  Ben and I and our guest will arrange our time to meet, join the Hangout link and I record the session through Camtasia, making any edits and adding in our music before exporting the audio.  When we were using Soundtrap, it was a free program, and my license of Camtasia was also free, but I was given the license.  If you want to buy Camtasia, it is $249 for a license, plus an extra $49 to guarantee the next release.  However, an educator can buy it for $169 plus $42.25 for the next release.  You aren't required to buy the release, but it is nice when TechSmith releases new updates.    While the price may seem a bit steep, I cannot say enough good things about the things you can do with Camtasia and the ease of use.  While I don't record a lot of videos, it does a fantastic job of video creation (I created my Google Certified Trainer video in Camtasia).

The Blue Yeti in midnight blue
I have also since upgraded my microphone for recording.  When we began the podcast, I would use a Blue Ice Snowball microphone, a very good and very affordable microphone that did the job very well.  But as great as recordings sounded through the Snowball, I kept hearing from numerous individuals that Blue's Yeti microphone was even better.  So I invested!  And I was not disappointed! The Yeti has four different recording settings:

  1. Stereo: records sounds from the front and the sides
  2. Cardioid: records sounds from the front of the microphone only (this is the setting that I use when recording on my own)
  3. Omnidirectional: records sounds from all directions (great for recording with multiple people around a table)
  4. Bidirectional: records sounds from the front and the back of the microphone (great for one-on-one speaking with another person sitting across from you)
In addition to the various settings (the Snowball only offers stereo recording), there are many other features of the Yeti.  It has a headphone jack so you can hear yourself when you speak and you can run the computer's sound through your headphones as well (great when recording via video chat!).  The gain knob allows you to sit further away from the mic and still have it pick up your voice clearly and record your voice at a higher volume.  There is also a volume knob for the headphones.  But perhaps my favorite feature it the mute button.  This comes in handy if you need to cough, if there is a lot of background noise, or if any other unexpected sounds are present in your recording environment.  You simply press the button and the microphone stops picking up sound.  The microphone is a little bulky, but not so much that you can't take it with you.  Plus, you can remove the mic from the stand if you have a microphone boom. 

If you are a beginning podcaster or you are trying to podcast in your classroom with students, this may be too much of an investment.  There are definitely great products available for recording and editing that are much cheaper.  In fact, especially when recording with students, built-in microphones on Chromebooks, iPads, and other devices will do the trick.  Someday, I would love to have a room dedicated to podcasting in my home with a professional mixing board, microphone, etc., but for now, both The BeerEDU Podcast and The Podcast by Sons of Technology sound good (in my opinion) with the equipment that we have been using.  Someday when Stitcher or NPR calls us to produce our shows, perhaps we will upgrade!  

Podcasting is a great way for you and your students to share your voice and it is becoming easier each day.  Share your recordings to the world!  Exchange ideas with other podcasters on recording!  And expose your students to the wonderful world of podcasting, both as producers and as consumers!  

Until next time...

Jake Miller, the #edugif guy, host of the EduDuctTape Podcast,
host of, and overall cool dude knows what's up...
(Sorry, I had to take one more swipe!)  

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Rainbows & Unicorns It Is Not!

Two things: this is exactly my opinion of social media at times
lately and I love! You can find ANYTHING there!
Social media has been a life-changing phenomenon for me as a professional.  Without (mainly) Twitter, Facebook, and more recently, Instagram, I am not sure where I would be at this point in my career.  I have learned so much from so many people, many of whom have become great friends, and have found an outlet of positivity for educators when traditional media, internet trolls, and people in our communities have bashed education and educators for far too long.  However, over the past few weeks, I have begun to notice something: social media has morphed into something else and I do not like the direction that it has taken.  

Internet trolls thrive on anonymity.  By sitting behind a screen, trolls believe they can say whatever they want without consequence, oftentimes things that they would never say to somebody's face.  And many trolls doing only to get a rise out of people, trying to bait people into a conversation so they can continue to humiliate and antagonize people.  I don't engage trolls, and most of the time I block them if I see them, even when I am not their intended target (come to think of it, I can't think of a time in recent memory where I was the target of a troll, thankfully).  I also do not engage online in political, religious, or debate on current events, even with those that I know because it is not worth the hassle when (not if) it turns ugly.  I would rather focus my energies on the positives and scroll onward in my feed.  

While my Twitter account is normally a positive place, as my list of those I follow is all educators save for about 10 sports teams and a comedy podcast that I listen to, lately, my feed has not been immune to troll-like behavior and belittlement by others.  What I have noticed in recent months is that civil discussion about topics in education is becoming more of a virtual shouting match, or even a group of people "ganging up" on somebody when they express an opinion.  For example's sake, let's say that somebody tweets an idea about taking steps to reduce homework in their classes this year.  Rather than encouraging the person, sharing ideas on how to do so, etc., individuals will often attack the person, pointing out that reducing homework is not enough, that anything but zero homework is unacceptable.  Now, instead of motivated by their goal of reducing homework, now this person feels deflated because of the vicious attacks by the social media saviors of education and humanity. 

Another thing I am noticing is the number of accounts that have abandoned sharing ideas and interacting with other educators in favor of trying to post "viral" quotes and stances on various issues, especially what I have always referred to as "chair throwing issues".  These are the ones that are controversial and if you watch long enough, eventually, the debate will become so heated that somebody will throw a chair (in our political climate, gun control is definitely one of those, and right to life versus pro-choice is another that has its moments in the spotlight).  Those behind these accounts will post their position or quote and sit back waiting for the likes and shares.  After a while, somebody will comment with their position, sometimes agreeing, sometimes respectfully disagreeing.  At this point, the original poster jumps in and attacks those that are not 100% behind their tweet.  Homework is another great example of this.  

In one such exchange I saw recently on a post regarding a zero homework policy, an AP teacher commented that they assign some reading homework for their class because there is so much material to cover.  Right away, the author of the post and their following ripped this poor teacher for "destroying these students" self-esteem, family time, etc.  I honestly felt terrible for this teacher that simply shared their thoughts and reasons why they assign reading for homework.  I don't know how much reading this teacher assigned, what subject it was, I just saw this person destroyed by strangers when these strangers easily could have sparked a discussion on how to cover material without having to assign students reading to complete at home.  Instead, many people have an all or nothing mentality, where one must agree with 100% of a thought without question, or they are 100% against them.  And unfortunately, many of those guilty of these attacks, whether blatant or passive-aggressively, are the "educelebrities" of social media, those that have a ton of followers and significant influence through their contributions to education, their expertise, and their opinions. 

And while there has been more negativity lately, it doesn't stop there.  There is also an overabundance of the "perfect" classrooms, lessons, etc.  Very rarely do I see people posting about their struggles with something, it's always the polished and beautiful result.  Pinterest inspired classrooms, sketchnotes that no average person would ever be able to create, and handpicked student projects that make one look better flood the streams.  And while I could be sharing more of my failures and struggles, it's rather discouraging when I see things like this because it's something that the average educator now feels that they need to "live up to", myself included.  I have never done much with sketchnoting because of this, even after hearing multiple people say, "it's whatever you make of it, don't worry about how it looks".  But even then, encouraging people to draw their thinking instead of writing it while displaying borderline Da Vincis to the world isn't a great way to inspire others to try sketchnoting. 

And I have to give Ryan O'Donnell a shout out for this next thought: when replying to a message in which several people have been tagged, if it is something that enriches the conversation and moves it forward, by all means, reply to everybody.  However, too often messages are sent to everybody that pertain to only one in the thread (think email reply all).  This can often lead to a series of notifications that are meaningless to many, as they do not apply to anything regarding the original message. 

I get especially irritated by some of the "Follow Friday" or other random tags of people in messages that eventually result in a lot of "irrelevant to my mission of social media" notifications.  I have turned more and more to muting conversations or even individuals as a result of these types of messages overrunning my feed and notifications.  I wholeheartedly agree that we should follow other educators and that we are better when working and communicating together, but must we announce that to every person that we follow, follows us, or we happen to meet at a conference?  A lot of times, I feel like many of these types of posts are simply ploys to gain likes and followers rather than an authentic method of connecting educators to one another. 

And I don't want to come across as some ungrateful jerk, but there are many reasons why I am not on social media. I'm not on social media to be force-fed opinions masqueraded as fact.  I'm not on social media to be attacked or witness others being attacked, especially if trying to participate in civilized discussion.  I'm not on social media to earn followers, likes, retweets, and saccharine-laced messages of how my mere presence or the presence of others somehow makes the world go round.   I appreciate civil discourse, words of encouragement, and opinions so long as they are supported by fact and presented respectfully. 

There is enough negativity on social media, especially outside of the educators that have embraced social media.  I understand that toxicity is like cancer and can spread quickly and easily, that is why it is important for educators to stay positive in the face of negativity.  But at the same time, positivity needs to be authentic and needs to celebrate the struggles as much as the successes.  I know that many are going to have issues with my thoughts here and I welcome you to disagree, respectfully. 

Until next time...