Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Distance Learning Communication

A grocery store in the Soviet Union in 1990, which was common during the
latter years of the USSR, but has become a common scene during the last few
weeks in the United States.  Image courtesy of
I am a big fan of apocalyptic entertainment, whether its books, graphic novels, television shows, movies, you name it.  While the world's current situation is far from something that is straight up out of The Walking Dead, the signs of the apocalypse are around us, or so it seems.  Store shelves are picked over with essentials like water, toilet paper, paper towel, and various foodstuffs hard to come by.  Hand sanitizer is nearly impossible to get and sites like eBay are shutting down listings for it that are attempting to sell it for price gouging markups.   People have been ordered to stay in their homes, only leaving to get groceries, visit the doctor, or other absolutely necessary tasks.  

Schools around the country are shut down, some states even announcing that they will return in the fall.  Other states are closing for a few weeks, hoping to resume when governments deem it to be safe to reopen.  In the meantime, teachers have demonstrated just how resourceful they can be by putting together lessons and activities on short notice and getting them to their students through a variety of means.  But the one aspect of teaching that many of us possibly took for granted before the outbreak of COVID-19 was the ability to communicate with our students, face to face, on a daily or almost daily basis.  So now what do teachers do?  

The obvious ones are phone and email.  Making a call home to check in on students or writing a brief message is an easy way to stay in contact.  But what does one do when they aren't comfortable calling from their personal phone (if you dial *67, then the phone number, you can block your phone number from appearing on the recipients' caller ID)?  What about students that don't know how to log into their email or parents that don't have an email address?  Here are a few tools that could possibly come in handy during these trying times to instill some sense of normalcy in keeping in touch with students.  

Before using any of these tools, be sure to consult with your supervisor or district technology director.  Policies on the use of these tools will vary from district to district and you don't want to violate any of your school or district acceptable use policies.  

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Class Dojo: Used by many teachers as a way to communicate with families, provide positive reinforcement to students, and share news, videos, and images of the happenings of the (typically) elementary classroom, Class Dojo is a wonderful communication tool.  It is free to set up, parents can receive messages through the app that can be downloaded, via text, and via email.  Messages sent to the teacher go only to the teacher, not to the entire class and parents/guardians.  To learn more about Class Dojo, go to!

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Remind: Similar to Class Dojo is Remind.  This is a tool that allows teachers to communicate with students and families via text message.  Teachers do not share their personal phone number, all conversations are saved, and it allows teachers to share links, images, and files with students and families.  While I haven't used Remind in a while, it was a great tool for me to communicate with my classes and even better when I was the advisor for my school's ski and snowboard club.  Not only does it allow teachers to send messages through text, but users can also download the Remind app and send and receive messages through the app or by email if they choose not to use their phone number.  For more information, go to

Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, or Other Learning Management Systems:  Prior to the current situation, many educators may not have realized the potential for communication through their system for distributing classrooms assignments and materials.  Classrooms, Teams, Canvas, Schoology, and others are great tools for providing students with videos, audio, files from Google or Microsoft, and much more, but they also have a variety of ways to communicate with students.  I am more familiar with Google Classroom, but I can assume that others have a similar method of communication.  You can post announcements in Classroom that will reach students when they login, comment on posts, and tag students to answer questions that will notify them through their email account.  If you school has Gmail activated for students, you can email them directly from Google Classroom without having to create a message in Gmail.  Don't want to message or email all students?  You can select specific students!  And if you have parent emails connected to student accounts, you can have summaries sent to parents and email them from Classroom!

Flipgrid: I have mentioned Flipgrid in this blog on a number of occasions.  Flipgrid is a great tool to give students a choice in demonstrating their learning by allowing them to create videos, but especially now, it is a great communication and social-emotional learning tool!  Instead of posting assignments for students in a more traditional method, have students submit their assignments as videos.  But because we are not interacting with students on a daily basis as usual and because they are stuck at home like the rest of us, it's a good idea to check in with them and allow them to interact with one another and you, the teacher, via video! Don't make it about an assignment, just make it about connecting with one another!  And I want to know how YOU are doing! Check out my Flipgrid below or head over to  And learn more about this great program at

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Google Meet/Hangouts:  If you are on a personal Google account, you have access to Google Hangouts, a video, audio, and text conferencing tool.  Business and education accounts have a similar program referred to as Google Meet.  The major difference between the two is that Meet has expanded capacity, allowing for users to meet with more people in a video chat.  The other difference is that while Hangouts has more of a simple video chat, Meet can be scheduled and allow for users to enter the video via phone call in addition to the meeting link.  Teachers can schedule Meet on Google Calendar, they can copy meeting information and post it in Google Classroom, or they can email meeting information to colleagues, students, and family.  In addition to the video and audio feature, Meet allows for users to type questions and comments in the chatbox within a meeting.  The only major downfalls that I have come across are that users can mute one another, remove one another, and the meeting will remain open even after the "leader" has left.  

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Zoom: Similar to Google Meet, Zoom is a video conferencing tool.  A more secure alternative, it allows meetings hosts to set a password for the meeting and once the host ends the meeting, it cannot be accessed.  It features many of the same things as Meet, with video, audio, and chat available for users through a desktop version or through the Zoom app.  Typically, meetings are limited to 40 minutes, but in the current situation of the world, Zoom has waived the 40 minute limit for educator email accounts, essentially giving teachers a free upgrade to their pro account.  Because meetings can be more secure through Zoom, my school has chosen to use it for meetings that include confidential information, such as IEPs.  Check out for more information and to set up your free educator account.  

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Google Voice:  Many of us rely on the phone to communicate with families, however, many, including me, are not comfortable using our personal phones to communicate, not wanting to give out our personal number.  This is where Google Voice comes into play! With Voice, you can create a phone number to use through the desktop platform or the iOS or Android app, make phone calls, and send text messages.  You can choose to receive calls and texts in the app only or have them forwarded to your phone without giving your personal number away.  If you miss a call, callers can leave you a voicemail and you can get an email notification of the missed call/voicemail.  You may have trouble connecting at first since many do not answer calls from numbers they do not recognize but it can be better than the alternative of using your personal number or using *67 to mask your number.  Learn more at  

These are extremely trying times and we are all learning as we go.  These tools only scratch the surface of what is available out there to stay connected with our students and their families.  I would love to hear what you are using, so feel free to comment on this post or tweet me! Stay safe, stay healthy, and take care of your families!

Until next time... 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

#ToTheEdgeEDU: Now Available!

Over the course of the past year, I have been working on perhaps one of the most mindblowing things in my life: I wrote a book!  For over four years, I have been writing this blog and on average, I have posted about once every two weeks or so.  Sometimes, I have posted five or six times in a month, then there have been stints of several weeks where I haven't been able to write a post.  The bottomline: I love to write and my passion for writing is one of the reasons why I wrote a book.  So, what is this book that I speak of? 

In March of 2019, I took an idea that I had been stewing about for a while and with the encouragement and assistance from a handful of amazing people, I created a document that would eventually become my book.  I wrote a blog post titled #ToTheEdgeEDU: The Fruition of an Idea in October 2019 that highlighted the influences, the shaping of my idea, and my writing process more; check it out for more! 

The basic premise of my book is this: throughout my life, I have taken a variety of risks, big and small, with consequences amazing and horrific, and I have learned a great deal from those risks that have shaped me into the person and educator that I am today.  While the book is a memoir of my life, it is much more than that: it is an opportunity for me to analyze the risks that I have taken, glean what I have learned from those risks and how they have affected and shaped me with the goal of inspiring others to become risk-takers themselves. 

I wrote the book through the lens of an educator and it is certainly geared towards educators in general.  However, I believe that my book can be an inspiration to a wider audience.  I especially believe that it would be beneficial for high school students to read.  High schoolers are at a point in their lives where they need to start making decisions that can have an impact on their lives for decades to come.  Many people at that age are afraid to make various decisions, fearing the consequences.  My story is one where not only do I address my frame of mind as a high schooler, but I analyze the various risks that I took during that time and the ramifications of those decisions.

The book was released on March 7, 2020.  It is available through Amazon (print and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (print and Nook), as well as in bulk orders through my publisher, Edumatch Publishing.  You can also learn more about the book and ways to connect with me through the book's website,  And as always, you can connect with me via Twitter, Instagram, and I have also created a Facebook page for the book!  If you read it, please share your thoughts with me and your PLN using #ToTheEdgeEDU and I would love a review on Amazon so others can find the book. 

There are so many people to thank for their support through this process.
I have included many in the book itself.  I cannot begin to thank everybody, but know that if you are reading this and read the book, you are one of those in which I want to express my sincerest gratitude!  If I can have an impact on one reader, I feel that I have accomplished my goal!  And thank you to Adam Juarez for your booksnaps and your support of #ToTheEdgeEDU! 

Until next time...

It's Time for #SpringCUE 2020!

With the month of March comes many things. Trees are beginning to bud, temperatures are creeping up, the sun is sticking around longer each day, and one of my favorite things, baseball, is back and ramping up for the regular season!  But perhaps one of the best things about March for me and for many others is the annual sojourn to Palm Springs, California for three days of learning, connecting, and shenanigans at Spring CUE!  This year, for the most part, promises to be as amazing or even better than years past.  But why "for the most part?"
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Over the past few months, unless you were holed up in a remote cave somewhere in the Sierra Nevada, you have been inundated almost non-stop with news, information, and emergency declarations about Covid-19, or the coronavirus.  As the virus has spread from China to other areas of the world, more and more governments and organizations have been employing a variety of tactics to stop the spread of the virus.  Now that there have been confirmed cases in the United States, these tactics are starting to take effect. 

Sporting events have been postponed, canceled, or played before empty arenas.  Concerts and conventions have also been canceled.  People have made runs on stores, stocking up on masks, hand sanitizer, water, and toilet paper.  The stock market has tanked in recent days and there are signs that prices on various goods, especially gasoline, or going to plummet as demand falls (and with oil, a large supply release from Saudi Arabia has also contributed to the dip in prices). As of this writing, there have been less than one thousand confirmed cases in the United States, but the fear of a mass epidemic has certainly gripped the nation and the world.  

The question for many has been, "Will Spring CUE continue, even as other events throughout California and the rest of the country are put off?"  Again, as of this writing, the event is still on.  CUE has been urging extra caution for the event, such as avoiding physical interactions with attendees like handshakes and hugs, washing thoroughly and carrying hand sanitizer, and staying home if you feel sick.  However, many people have already announced that due to restrictions from their schools and districts, they will not be attending the event this year.  And CUE has even gone as far as stating that if a person cannot attend, they will be able to redeem their registration for another CUE event within the next three years!  

I for one will still be attending the event.  I look forward to this event every year, I have not had any directives issued toward me about attending or not attending, and I have a lot of things on my agenda for the three days of the conference.

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First will be a live recording of The BeerEDU Podcast on Thursday, March 19 at 3:00 PM.  This will be an extension of the Meet the Podcasters event (more on that in a moment).  While my partner, Ben Dickson, will not be there, he is planning to join remotely. Those that are walking by can stop and introduce themselves and chat with us about their conference experience and what they are taking away from the conference.  And we will have various podcast swag to give away!

Then on Friday morning, I will be back in the "booth" to record another episode, this time with my friend Joe Marquez and The Podcast by Sons of Technology.  Like the Thursday recording, those that are passing by can chat with us about what they are doing to buck the status quo and take risks in their teaching. 

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After we are done recording, perhaps the event I am most excited for, Meet the Authors, will take place in the exhibit hall!  When planning the final details on To The Edge: Successes & Failures Through Risk-Taking, I expressed that I wanted the book to be released prior to Spring CUE so I had a great opportunity to share my story with the world.  I will have a limited number of copies of the book for sale at the event and will also have stickers!  So come by the exhibit hall on Friday from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM, grab a copy of the book and learn more about my story and the stories of the other great authors that will be there!

After a quick break, I'll be back in the exhibit hall for Meet the Podcasters.  Like Meet the Authors, this one will give attendees an opportunity to mingle with some of their favorite shows, talk a little bit about some of the technical aspects of podcasting, and of course, there will be swag from most, if not all, of the shows that are there!  There may even be an opportunity to arrange to be a guest on some of your favorite shows!

Find me during the conference to purchase
a copy of #ToTheEdgeEDU! I have stickers...
Then lastly, literally lastly, I will be presenting a session to close out the conference.  At 3:30 on Saturday, Joe and I will be presenting a session called Changing the World by Building a Brand.  This session will cover the importance of branding for students and educators and some of the various ways that you can build a brand and start making a presence online and in your community.

Because of the hectic schedule that I have on my agenda, my opportunities for sessions are very limited.  Many of the events that I am a part of overlap sessions, so I would miss a great deal of the material presented.  However, I have been looking at the schedule and there are a ton of great sessions, not to mention other awesome events, such as CUE Boom (an event that I opened in 2019), the Kids CUE Boom, LeRoy's Big Idea, and the many keynote speakers sprinkled throughout the conference.  Then it's getting to see all of those that have become friends over the years.  Between sessions, over coffee in the morning, over beers at night, it's going to be great to see so many awesome people that are passionate about teaching!   And then meeting new people, some of which I have interacted with virtually and those that I have never had a connection, building up my PLN even further!

If you are going to be Spring CUE, I look forward to seeing you!  If not, be sure to follow #SpringCUE and #NotatCUE over the course of the conference and get your learn on remotely!

Until next time...