Wednesday, October 26, 2016

DropBox Web Server Resync Site

Recently, I described a way to serve exam view test pages from a DropBox web server. Since then, several teachers have had trouble with pages or tests they have uploaded not being served by the droppages (Drop Box) web server. The server responds with a 404 file or page not found. The issue is easily corrected by going to and selecting the reset sync button on the page used to manage your web site. Wait a few minutes, then refresh the  troublesome exam view test or page.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

MASSCUE 2016 Day Two Keynote

A ten year old fifth grader delivered the keynote this morning. He spoke about the stratification of education with an interesting analogy that went something like this:
A well known sports figure Tom Brady is performing at an extremely high level and he plays on a team that performs at an exceptionally high level. People would freak out if he suddenly started quarterbacking a team like the Detroit Lions. Yet, high performing students are typically grouped with students who are the same age, rather than being challenged or expected by their peers to perform at a higher level.
It was surprising insight from a young man who is probably bored, disengaged, and underserved in a traditional, age appropriate classroom.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Printing PDFs From Your MacBook

Everyday Math and many other education sites let you download printable resources as PDF files. Can you print them at school? Yes, you can easily and quickly print PDFs from your MacBook to the school's printers! The video below demonstrates how.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Google Drive Update

Google Drive remains an important feature for teachers still invested in older, traditional word, powerpoint, and excel documents, as well as other files like PDFs. Goggle Drive is their virtual flash drive that backs up its contents to the cloud, averting digital disaster if a Macbook bursts into flames one day. Perhaps it serves a similar purpose for you.

Across the district, teacher MacBooks are popping a Google Drive out of date message. Sadly, the Google Drive app that runs on Macbooks is not integrated into Apple's App Store where updates are easily applied. That bugaboo means that users have to manually update Google Drive, a process that is less than pretty. If you use Google Drive to backup and protect your documents (and you also want to stop the incessant, annoying update Google Drive message), you should update Google Drive. The video below (clumsily) provides enough direction to get started.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Exam View Update Nth


About a year ago,  Google announced the shuttering of drive's built in web server.  I commented about how that might change to your use of old Exam View implementations.  Fast forward to September 2016. Surprise! The day of reckoning is here. After 8/31/2016, you will, reportedly, no longer be able to serve Exam View or other web pages from your Google Drive.

Happily, there are drag and drop solutions which, unlike the kludgy horror show I proposed last October, are easily and freely implemented.

Before you watch the step by step video below, please consider the following:

  • Some versions of exam view are from the mid to late nineties., and they're still in use at EWG! They're nearing 20 years in age!
  • The nineties was a completely different epoch in computing's life span.
  • It's time to upgrade to something newer.
  • Or convert to Socrative, Google Forms (which now has a built in quiz feature), or the formative assessment tool of your choice.
  • Dragging the ancient versions of Exam View into the future has been challenging. The latest workaround will probably work for a while, but future miracles are not guaranteed.
UPDATE 9/8/2016:  The district's content filter blocks Before you go live, contact IT to unlock your droppages domain. For example, if your droppages web site is, you would request that be unblocked for students. Also, as of this update, web pages being served through Google Drive are still available, but that is likely to change soon.
Update 9/28/2016:  And change it did. Google drive web hosting is no more.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Reading Street And Printing; You Can Have Both

Teachers using Reading Street with their students have learned by now that Reading Street contains audio embedded in PDF files. Why embed audio in a proprietary, cumbersome format when html 5 can handle rich media with much more open aplomb? I can't think of any good reason, but parent company Pearson has done just that; embed audio and other rich media in PDF files.

What's the problem? Well, the Chrome browser and Apple MacBooks each have their own built in PDF engines which, unfortunately**, do not support the Reading Street rich media. Each non-Adobe reader can open and view the PDF files, but they can not play the embedded rich media. Hence, no audio in Reading Street.

A simple answer would be to install Adboe's Acrobat Reader on your MacBook, and let it be the default PDF handler. That is a workable solution, except Chrome's default PDF viewer is required to print PDFs to district printers. If you install Acrobat Reader, the installation breaks your ability to print to a district printer. Grr!

You can have both worlds though; a working Reading Street, and your ability to print PDFs to district printers. All you have to do is toggle between which PDF engine you want to handle PDFs. Assuming you have Adobe's Acrobat Reader installed and Chrome on your MacBook, you can quickly switch between printing ability and Reading Street functionality. Here's how:

  • With your Chrome browser, go to chrome://plugins. Bookmarking this page will make it easier to find later.
  • Look for the Chrome PDF Viewer section.
  • Click the disable link. See image below. The link will turn into an 'Enable' link. At this point, you are in Reading Street mode and the rich media embedded in Reading Street's PDFs will play through Adobe Acrobat Reader. 

  • To restore your ability to print PDFs to district printers, return to chrome://plugins.
  • Look for and click the Enable link underneath the Chrome PDF Viewer section.
  • The link will change to a 'Disable' link. At this point, you will be able to print PDFs to district printers.

** Your measure of fortune is dependent on your perspective. Your MacBook's preview feature and Chrome's built in PDF viewer can't deal with the rich media so thoughtlessly jammed into the PDFs, but their inability to deal with the media ultimately makes them faster, more nimble, and certainly more secure.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Create A Google Drive Folder On Your Desktop

Earlier in EWG's MacBook rollout, I wrote about the need to save important documents to Google Drive or another cloud based storage. Remember, files on the desktop and documents folder of your school issued MacBook are likely to suffer a digital oblivion if the device fails, breaks, frisbees from the roof of your truck, or otherwise lets its smoke out. Despite the data loss risk,  I still see a surprising number of people saving files in folders on local devices, including desktop and documents folders. Speaking with a colleague about why he would risk data loss, I learned that the desktop and its folders offers a level of convenience and comfort that burrowing into Finder just can't match. That ease of use issue got me thinking about ways to make Google Drive easier to use and, more importantly, how you can enjoy the security of Google Drive's sync and backup without changing your work habits.

The answer is to create an alias of a Google Drive folder. An alias is just a pointer to the 'real' file or folder. Windows users would liken a Mac alias to a shortcut. Creating an alias takes mere seconds. The video below demonstrates the process. If you would like to create a Google Drive alias on your desktop or would otherwise like to review file storage strategies that reduce data loss potential, contact me. I would be happy to help.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Form Ranger

Occasionally, helping others takes a decidedly nerdy turn. Such was the case recently when Mr. Anthony asked if there is a way to populate a Google Form's answer choices from a spreadsheet range. Taking a deeper dive into the esoteric oddities of a technology is great fun; a mind candy that keeps me smiling.

The answer is yes. Google Forms has a most useful add on called Form Ranger which populates answer choices from a Google Spreadsheet range. Form Ranger really shines if you are planning to create a Google Form with lots of answer choices, especially if the answers are in digital format like a class roster, comma separated value, or some other text document. Form Ranger is easily configured and its use is transparent. If you would like to use Form Ranger, the video below might be enough to get you started, or you may contact me for a demo.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Google Docs Offline

Did you know you and your students can use Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Slides without a network connection?

Before I ramble too far, let me be clear about my thoughts on EWG's network. EWG's computer network is something special. Really, the bandwidth is phenomenal, and the amount of data that actually moves through the pipes is astounding. I have been in classes at Metcalf where a doubled class resulted in over forty concurrent connections through one room and kids pummeling the bandwidth meter. That's a lot of devices to handle with the efficiency and ease typically enjoyed by users.

I also know firsthand what happens when a network connection drops mid stream. Kids get restless and sometimes angry. Recently, a colleague and I had students rearing to move on a video project only to have the network blink out as they started working. I offer the following video as encouragement to get your students and yourself on board with Google Docs offline. Google Docs offline won't replace network connectivity, and it might not dovetail into the planned activity, but it does offer options for continuing meaningful progress on many projects. In the case of our online video editing session, my colleague and I might have redirected students to refine their projects' scripts which were created a few days earlier in Google Docs. You are likely to encounter many similar uses for Google Docs offline.

Google Docs Offline is super easy to setup. It takes a couple of mouse clicks, and you're device - and the devices of your students if they follow your lead - may hum smoothly throughout the next network interruption. In fact, when Google Docs Offline is setup, you might not even notice when your network connection fails if writing a document, editing a presentation, or considering a spreadsheet. The video below offers directions on enabling Google Docs offline and a glimpse at using Google Docs offline.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Cloudready - First Glance

Over the last four weeks of 20% time, I've been dabbling with Cloudready, a product made by Neverware. Cloudready is a Debian Linux based operating system that installs on older desktops and laptops to create a Chromebook-like experience. I deployed it on some older Dells in several schools in the district, and for a number of reasons, the results have been outstanding.

First, Cloudready lets a machine running unsupported windows xp but with otherwise good hardware enjoy an extended service life. Second, even machines running windows 7 can benefit. Our students no longer have access to active directory (Microsoft) accounts, so even if the windows 7 machines were accessible, students are locked out and unable to use the machines. Third, the machines are much zippier than when running windows. Given the age of the hardware on which test are being run, boot times and login times are all excellent. In the video below, a machine nearing seven years in age is usable from a cold boot in about 60 seconds. That is a major leap in performance over its windows tied to active directory iteration.

Cloudready is not perfect. Updates do not seem to be as quick to arrive as updates for ChromeOS or the Chrome browser. And, flash must be updated manually by clicking an update button in Cloudready settings. Consequently, it is fair to say that Cloudready does not provide the same incredible level of security as a genuine Chromebook or Chromebox. Still, if you are working on education related issues and not F-35 fighters, Cloudready probably offers a level of security that can work well enough for your needs. Bookmarks, extensions, docs, sheets, and drive all seamlessly follow. It certainly offers a level of performance that will please most. If you are invested in the Chrome and Google Drive experience, you will like Cloudready a lot.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Access Your School Account From Home

Over the last few weeks, a number of Metcalf students have asked if they can access their school computer based projects from home. The answer is, yes they can easily do so. The video below demonstrates how a student might sign in to their school account from a home based computer.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Devices Need Electricity

Last October, I spent about a half hour troubleshooting the audio on one of
Wawalaom's Eno Board projectors to determine why the projector's audio was not working. Yesterday, I spent another twenty minutes troubleshooting the same projector for the same reason; no audio. The culprit both times? Lack of electricity. One might think that after my "Duh" moment last October, the lesson would have stayed with me. I wish I had filed a simple 'note to self' that asked, "Hey, does the device your troubleshooting have electricity?" I didn't then, but did this time!

Applying this lesson in your classroom.
Before calling IT, submitting a ticket, or wielding a screwdriver, do the easy stuff first. Make sure the device has electrical power.


Friday, April 15, 2016

New Open Tab Record

Today, a student's Chromebook set a new EWG open tab record. Austin J. had 111 (one hundred eleven) tabs open across six different windows. Despite playing audio from multiple tabs - and who knows what else was running or how much memory and processing power background tabs were consuming - the Chromebook was still functioning well. Don't try this at home...

Browser window with 39 tabs open.

EWG IT Department Uses ESP

Deb Bannon was experiencing a boatload of trouble with the WiFi in her resource room Wednesday, and she caught me in the corridor seeking help. Using a WiFi analyzer on my phone, I was able to determine that the WiFi signal in her area was toggling on and off, much like a slow motion strobe light. I used another app to create this cheesy video to help document the issue for submission to EWG's IT department. In another room down the corridor (where the WiFi was working well), I began to write up a help ticket. About the time my laptop awoke, I heard familiar voices across the corridor in a storage room / wiring closet. Relieved to see EWG IT in the building, I interrupted their work, and was happy to learn that they were already aware of the problem and were implementing a solution. We've seen a few IT trouble ticket systems over the years, from Email to School Dude, and most recently, ZenDesk. Now we have EWG IT by ESP.  Happy vacation!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Surprise! It works with a Chromebook!

Early this morning, Jenn Rose asked if the library scanner would work on a Chromebook. I doubted it. I mean, seriously, it is hard enough to get it to run on XP; special drivers, updates, reboots, no administrative rights, and other tech gremlins. I tried to keep an open mind but quietly thought, "There's no chance." Jenn said she was going to try it, and I blurted, "Good luck! Let me know how it works."

Before I could escape, Jenn logged into a Chromebook, connected the scanner, and completed signout transactions for a student's books. No software install, no mess, and no hassle. It just worked, and worked well. Incredibly awesome.

Two years after Microsoft's XP retirement, there's one more XP workstation which can be mercifully unplugged. That workstation is in the Metcalf Library.

Scanner connected to a Chromebook

Presentations 101

I enjoyed a wonderful morning with Mrs. Orzechowicz's fourth graders. We considered the elements of a solid presentation, and practiced by making a brief presentation about Recess. It was a blast to watch kids get engaged, fired up, and passionate about their work.

Update:  Another great afternoon session despite the distraction of the world's largest snowflakes landing a few feet outside the window. There is true merit to activities where students create and build. Their passion can beat back some pretty powerful diversions.

Students collaborating on a presentation

Friday, March 18, 2016

Broken Print Preview

Some incompatibility between recently updated versions of Chrome and MacBooks with the old Mavericks operating system are causing print preview to show a black or blank screen. If print preview is broken on your MacBook, you may be interested in the short video below. The fix highlighted therein has restored print preview for many EWG MacBook users.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Early Morning Metcalf Tech PD

What does early morning Tech PD look like at Metcalf? Watch the video below.

50 minutes of PD in 30 seconds!

Stop motion video could be a great way to show parents what indoor recess or a group project looks like in your classroom. All you need is an iPhone, iPad, or any Android device and an object to prop your phone against. Are your students working on a hands on project? Capture it using the time lapse feature and show it off to your students and their parents.

Update, 3/3.
Okay, it is a boring video that doesn't show much movement.  Select a livelier subject than three teachers sedately poking their laptops. You'll have fun. Your kids will like it, and parents will appreciate the glimpse into their child's classroom.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Contacting IT

"How do I contact IT?" is a question I am frequently asked. EWG's IT department recently deployed a new help desk and trouble ticket system called Zendesk. Recently, I discovered a feature of Zendesk that makes submitting a trouble ticket super easy. Simply send an email to Include a descriptive subject and concise message. Sending email to ensures it will be seen by Jeff, Chris, and Max, and your request will enter Zendesk's queue. Conveniently, the entire trouble ticket conversation can take place through your email, not in a system whose name and address you've forgotten. Additionally, if you CC people when you send the email - perhaps a colleague for whom the tech issue is also relevant - Zendesk will automatically include them in the IT ticket conversation. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Appreciation For Cloud Printing

When Google introduced cloud printing for Chrome OS in 2010, I loudly scoffed at the idea asking, "Why send a document all the way to Google so it can be printed to a local printer?" The entire process seemed ludicrous.
Label printer networked via Cloud Print

Since the 'early days' of cloud printing and my initial disdain, I've watched it seamlessly fill some important roles. As a matter of convenience, a few teachers shared personal printers with students for critical projects, obviating a long trek to a library or other distant network printer. And, EWG's Tech Crew enabled cloud printing on the district's Sharp copiers so any authorized user can print from any device. That bears repeating; anybody that has rights to the school's printers can print from any device. To print from a Chromebook, iPad, iPhone, Android, or Windows machine and enjoy real platform neutral printing is pretty remarkable.

What really changed my perception of cloud printing, though, was the request to network a label printer. It turns out that several people in the administration building print a number of 'one off' labels for a variety of mailings and other labeling chores. They had been told that the label printer could not be networked, and they lacked the basic ability to share a printer through their managed desktops, so they physically moved the label maker from computer to computer to print. The absurdity of disconnecting, relocating, and reconnecting a printer just to print a single label grew old quickly. In what must have been an office space moment of desperation, the people using the label printer reached out, and also threw me the 'can't be done' challenge. I really like can't be done challenges.

In short order, the printer was networked, shared, the users were smiling and labeling, and I gave a rejuvenated nod to Google's cloud printing service. Sharing a printer through cloud print is easier and more useful than I ever imagined. Let me know if networking your oddball/legacy/spare printer is something you need to do. I would be happy to help.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Locating the RTI Metcalf folder

There has been some confusion about how to find the RTI Metcalf folder. I hope this video can help bring some clarity. If it doesn't, feel free to contact me. I'd be happy to help you find the RTI Metcalf folder.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Aspen Documentation and Support Videos

Aspen Help Video Tutorial Page
Today, a colleague inquired about Aspen support and documentation. There are actually several good options, including some useful videos accessible through Aspen's help menu. The videos are concise quick hitters you might find useful for that nagging Aspen question. Here's the direct link.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Cloud Vs. Flash Vs. Other

A few weeks ago, several colleagues imbued with an abundance of cloud storage skepticism grilled me about cloud storage. It was clear from the start that they did not (knowingly) use cloud storage, and wanted to steer clear of anything cloud related. Later, I thought it important to share a summary of our conversation. Here it is.
Typical Data Center
Image:  Wikieditor234

What is the cloud?
The cloud has long been a colloquial term for a bunch of computers and servers connected by equipment and software to store, process, and transmit information. When nerds refer to 'the cloud', they do so because lumping all that 'stuff' into a single term is convenient. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Dropbox, Apple and a bunch of other companies provide a variety of cloud storage and related services.

Why should I save my files in the cloud?
Several good reasons come to mind. The convenience of being able to access your files from any device and any location with a network connection is powerful. Sharing your files with others is also a good reason to use cloud storage. Say goodbye to tacky email attachments forever; share via cloud storage. With cloud storage, backups happen automatically. Most companies provide an uptime guarantee and store data in multiple, geographically disparate locations to protect your data against fire, bombs, or natural disasters. Jeff B., our district's IT Director reports that in the event that you trash a Google Drive file and then empty your trash can the school's IT department can recover those trashed files for about thirty days after you empty your trash. Trashed file recovery is a nice security blanket.

Is storing files in the cloud safe or secure?
First, if the NSA, a persistent hacker in Connecticut, or a nation-state backed group wants any of your data -- stuff on your iPad, iPhone, Windows desktop, MacBook -- chances are high they already own it. But relax. As an individual, you're not an attractive target. Further, we need to get over the notion that our flawed home routers, venetian blinds, and deadbolts can do a better job of securing our data than corporations who have the talent and ability to build and deploy fortress like solutions. Cloud storage providers have elaborate security policies for physical site access, and they also have the brightest geeks on the planet securing logical access to your stuff. Combined with two factor authentication and strong passwords, your encrypted cloud data is pretty tough to steal.

But I like my flash drive.
I am not sure if the washer or dryer causes the most damage. Flash drives do not reliably tolerate laundry cycles, though. And, they fall out of pockets, are susceptible to static shock, mechanical failure, theft, loss, and ingestion by your curious Newfoundland puppy. Flash drives can be an okay storage and backup solution, but don't count on them for primary, working storage. Some of our colleagues have already been burned by flash drive failure and loss. Don't be the next multi-year data loser. Every flash drive will, at some point, break. Back yours up (to the cloud) before the drive fails.

But what about the documents and desktop folders on my MacBook?
Great! Are you backing the documents and desktop folders up on a regular and frequent basis? See the flash drive rant above. If your MacBook breaks and all its smoke escapes, and you don't have a backup, you lost your data.

I'm still not convinced. Has anyone ever seen one of these cloud things?
Well, sure. The data centers really exist. Here are a couple of videos that summarize what cloud storage buildings and equipment look like. EWG is primarily using Google's cloud storage, so the included videos are of Google data centers, but the representations made in the videos are typical of the data centers of other service providers.

If you would like to have a conversation about cloud storage, how you might get iCloud, Google Drive, One Drive, or Dropbox to play nicely together, or if you would like to double check your storage practices with a goal of preventing data loss, let me know. I'd be happy to work with you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Email Help And Organization

Today, I saw a teacher's school email drafts folder with over two hundred draft emails. That's over two hundred emails that got started, but were never sent! She refused to let me take a screen shot. We both had a good laugh.

There are some solid options built into our district's email system to keep email from being a scourge. If you would like help establishing email filters and organizing your email or wonder if Priority Inbox could lighten your email burden, let me know.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Display Cable Failures

Mini display port to HDMI adapter binding on a stack of paper. Ouch!
A recent rash of mini display port to HDMI adapter failures got me thinking about suggestions for prolonging the useful service life of the adapters. First and foremost, treat the adapters like fragile, thin shelled eggs. They are barely that rugged. Second, be aware of and avoid any impact, strain and stress you might inadvertently place on the adapters. Be sure adapters are not bearing any laptop weight by ensuring that the adapters do not bind on anything, like a stack of paper. Finally, if your mini display port to HDMI adapter broke, you can get a replacement mini display port to HDMI adapter for less than $4.00. Let's hope Apple drops its maddening proprietary adapter policy during future product releases.