Saturday, December 16, 2017

Would you like underwear with that lesson?

Yes, Google, Facebook, and others have connected the dots between your work accounts, your personal accounts, and the accounts of your significant others. Recent events unfolded to reinforce that notion last week while using my laptop during a second grade interactive whiteboard faculty CPT.

During the session, while tapping the board and more or less randomly clicking links to demonstrate interactive mode, I landed on the weather channel's home page. There, in a giant banner add, was a graphic for underwear of the brand recently purchased by my significant other. Of course, the add drew snickers, incited crowd ridicule, and a encouraged general guffaw fueled disruption. Once things settled down, one teacher thoughtfully asked, "How can I prevent an advertisement like that from displaying on my screen?"

The simple answer is to use an add blocker. Add blockers are available for most browsers, including Chrome. A quick view of the Chrome Web Store shows at least a few available.
Add Blocker Extensions
One Chrome add blocker which is particularly effective and easy to use is u-block origin. Its five star user rating matches its ease of use and efficacy. U-block origin works wonderfully. It is not, though, without concern. Simply installing the extension requires users to accept to fairly hefty permissions. U-block can Read and change all the data on web sites you visit and Change your privacy related settings. So, one must have a good amount of faith that u-block's publishers don't collect that data or intentionally change privacy settings (both now or in the future) for their gain and your loss.

Would I use u-block for my school account? Probably. It is favorably viewed by the using public. U-block's code is publicly hosted on github, meaning its source code is largely available for review. U-block has, as of this writing, 68 contributors; if there was a problem with data theft or other nefarious activity, such issues would likely be discovered, disclosed, and used to discredit u-block.

Would I use u-block for a personal account through which I conduct online banking or other sensitive material? Not yet. Stay tuned, though, that could change. If it does, I'll provide an update.

Finally, much of what we take for granted as being free on the internet is really not free. Advertisements support much of what we enjoy, what we use, and what we increasingly rely on. Advertising revenue pays the light bills, keeps big server farms cool, and buys more hard drives so you can upload more videos and photos of your holiday gatherings, vacations, and cats. Many sites will force you to reconcile that reality with a plea to your moral sensibilities as they ask you to stop running the ad blocker - which publishers can detect and which they will try to circumvent. Spy versus spy, version 2017...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Aspen Attendance Issues

Some senior high teachers are experiencing problems sending attendance to the office. Simply put, teachers click "Post" to send attendance, and Aspen reports that the attendance was sent to the office. However, the office doesn't actually receive the attendance. The cause of the problem, I imagine, is an Aspen bug. Or, perhaps it's really a feature. Who knows? If you would like to enjoy an increased likelihood that the office actually receives your attendance, use the method described in the accompanying video.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Connect Your Phone to EWG_Staff

There are many reasons for connecting your personal device to the district's network. A few include:

  • Save on your personal data plan.
  • Some rooms have no cell service at all. Connecting to the district's network gives your device a connection.
  • Speed the upload of images and videos to your drive. Your connection to the school's network will greatly improve your upload and download times.
Of course, there are reasons you might not want to connect to the school's network. A few include:
  • Your activity is logged.
  • Your traffic, however unlikely, *could* be intercepted by district personnel.
  • Resources you might ordinarily access like reddit, for example, may be blocked.
In my mind, the benefits of connecting to the district's network outweigh any concerns. The speed, availability, and reliability is simply outstanding.  In the case of lower floor rooms at Metcalf, accessing resources through district wifi may be the only way to connect, period.

To connect to ewg_staff, you will need to know the username and password of your old windows account. That's the account you probably haven't used since receiving your MacBook Air in June, 2014. The username format is first_last with *no* @ewg... following; just first_last. The password is, well, whatever you used back in 2014. Perhaps. What? You forgot that username and account from 2014? Ouch! Take a look at the included video. It shows you how to use your MacBook Air to look up your username and password; the same username and password that you can use to connect to ewg_staff. If, after watching the video, you are still stuck, let me know.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Epson Interactive Whiteboards

The (fantastic!) new projectors in second and third grade classrooms try to install software the first time you connect your MacBook. It's okay to install it; it helps your MacBook connect to the projector.

Sadly, that software install lacks the drivers to make your whiteboard's interactive features fly. To make matters worse, it actually messes with and disables the click feature of your trackpad when you are connect to the projector via usb cable. Why does this happen in 2017? I don't know. Built in obstacles are annoying. In this case, though, an easy solution exists. Simply install the Easy Interactive Driver (which Epson should have bundled with the projector's own software install). The Mac version is available from Epson's site. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Stopping Epson Projector Shutoff Hacks

I struggle to imagine a student behavior more egregious than the willful sabotage of teaching and learning through crashing a classroom projector. Yet, sending a shutdown signal to your projector's remote control port is precisely what free apps allow cowards with smartphones to do. An easy, one  minute dive into the settings menu of your projector will help insulate your projector from some punk's untraceable mischief making penchant. The video below provides some basic "remote control disabling" direction.

If you would like help disabling your projector's remote control port, let me know.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Chrome User Profiles

In my travels across the district I see many Google Cloud Print (aka SharpFindMe) issues arising from users being logged into their school Google account and one or more personal Google accounts through a single browser window. Multiple logins in a single Chrome window often give Chrome fits about which printers should be visible. The best way to avoid this problem is to use separate and distinct user profiles within Chrome. Doing so creates a clean demarcation between school based and personal accounts while also allowing concurrent access to multiple accounts. Sounds complicated, but it's not. There's a nerdy writeup on how to establish multiple profiles in Chrome located here, and a longer, rambling video on the same displayed below. Using Chrome profiles will not eliminate every printing gremlin, but will remove one of the peskiest. If you would like help with Chrome profiles, let me know.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Digital Whiteout

A teacher submitting digital artifacts and evidence in support of her team's NEASC self study standard asked, "How can I blur or remove a student name from a screenshot or other image to preserve confidentiality?" Two quick, simple methods are shown below. The first video assumes you are using your MacBook while second assumes you are using a Chromebook or any other computer with Chrome. If you discovered a faster, simpler method, please share it.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Updating Chromebooks

A large number of Metcalf teachers indicated that some students are receiving iReady "Your browser is out of date" error messages, and that the students cannot access iReady. Here's a simple, fast way you or your students may expedite a resolution to that particular problem.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

EWG_Staff WiFi Fix

Recent updates to EWG's wifi may break your ability to connect to EWG_Staff. Here's a potential fix which has restored teachers' connections to EWG_Staff. If you get stuck or my directions do not work for your situation, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Test Security on Chromebooks

Recently, a colleague asked about how to secure Chromebooks during on demand writing prompts and other assessments. Here is an excerpt of her question.

I much prefer to have my students type their essays.  So much easier to grade that way without having to decipher handwriting!
But this time I gave the students the prompts in advance so they could do some preparation, but I still expect the essay to be on-demand.  I'm worried that even though I'll be watching them, I won't be able to catch a kid who already has something typed up and is jumping back and forth to it.  
Do you have any suggestions?
For what it is worth, here is my response.

Enforcing test security is difficult, at best. Soon, it will become more difficult, if not impossible. Sony was recently awarded a patent for a contact lens that captures video. In a short while, students will be wearing and using technology no one can observe or monitor. That makes my first suggestion that much more important.
  • Have frank conversations with your students about ethical considerations, honesty, and integrity (a core value). Students will appreciate the acknowledgment that you know they can burn you on a test, but that you are calling on their sense of responsibility to fair play. Let them know you expect incredible, authentic, honest products.
  • Expand the revision history in Google Docs where you suspect foul play. Did entire paragraphs appear in the span of 1 minute? That's a sure sign of a copy and paste.
  • Distribute writing prompts in a Google Document that has a watermark, colored cell, or other visual cue that lets you easily confirm that students are viewing the appropriate page.
  • Position your students and yourself so that you can view every screen. This might mean temporarily rearranging desks or repositioning yourself during the performance period.
  • Distribute a half dozen additional, potential writing prompts instead of just the actual writing prompts. It will be more difficult to pre-write a solid response for all prompts.
  • Be firm about mobile devices. Have a cell phone jail or similarly effective policy to eliminate their use during the performance period.
  • There are various ways to place a Chromebook into a restricted kiosk test mode. Reach out to your IT department to help implement an option that might work well for you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Blue Whale Challenge

Don't download the Blue Whale App or visit accompanying web sites. Don't be a Blue Whale Victim. Don't let your friends mess with the Blue Whale Challenge. Stay away from the Blue Whale Challenge.

View the insidious details at

Friday, April 28, 2017

Peer Feedback

Often, the rubrics I return to students as part of a project evaluation end up in a digital dust bin, or, they may never even be viewed by the students. There are likely lots of causes for the supposed disinterest in evaluations, but I imagine the arcane nature of rubrics and the well aged evaluator both detract from their appeal. Evidence supports the notion that peer review can be valuable for the reviewer and those reviewed, and I suspect that kids are innately more interested in what their peers think, than in what their middle old aged teacher has to offer.

I wondered how an evaluation process might be simplified for use by peers while evaluating student work in a video production class. Early efforts resulted in a simple form which collected ratings on four three areas; videography, audio quality, and overall video effectiveness. Technically, the process worked. It resulted in a neat table being shared with each students.

Whose video did you just watch?All shots were well composed. (4 is highest)The audio was good. (4 is highest)The video worked. (4 is highest)Constructive feedback
Adam444Good job
Adam443Thought the teacher concept was a little off.
adam 444Music fit very well
Adam 444
Adam 444love this so much
Adam344when the teacher throws phone lighting is too dark
Adam444I liked the title and how Nick was dramatic when the teacher took his phone away. The background music was really appropriate and fit well. 
Sample peer review

The above review is a small sample. When 20-30 students responded, the results were a bit overwhelming. Only a real math nerd would be able to make sense of the raw statistics, and that meant only a few students might ever get to the point of synthesizing the information and acting on it. I really wanted students to wonder, "How would I improve the deficit my friends identified?" I witnessed students glancing quickly at the mass of text, and moving on. That's not what I was hoping for. I was really dissatisfied and wanted to find a solid way to graphically represent the cumulative results in a way that would help students visualize the feedback.

Happily, I was able add a few functions to the form's spreadsheet to make it easy to help students visualize what their peers were seeing, hearing, and thinking. By taking the same results and filtering based on student names, GSheets was able to make a table containing individual's evaluations. From there, charts helping visualize the data were just a click away. Sharing a PDF of the resultant visualization and written feedback with each student was quick and painless. I am looking forward to seeing how students interpret the information and if this graphical format generates greater interest. Stay tuned...

If you would like to use a similar system with your students, you are encouraged to copy this spreadsheet and make it your own and customize it. If you would like help with it let me know.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Reading Street and Printing, Part Two

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about how to toggle your MacBook's Chrome browser between displaying and printing PDF files and playing the media embedded in Reading Street's PDF files. The ability to toggle is still there, but newer versions of Chrome have changed the location of the setting to be adjusted. The good news is you can still have both Reading Street and Printing. The presentation and video below show how:

Monday, February 13, 2017

Social Engineering Bytes

Green is for go! Green is good, right? Not always. Big green download buttons are making their presence felt in EWG, manifesting as browser hijacks, home page redirects, and probably other, more insidious malware.
Beware big, green
download buttons!

A lot of the services and tools we use as educators are of the free variety. And the majority are excellent and respectful of privacy - yours and your students. But not all. Remember, free does not mean without cost. People and companies don't build web sites and services just to dispense excess altruism. The profit motive is always near the surface.

Advertising makes up a sizable portion of income for providers of 'free' services. Getting a click through (getting someone to click on something) on an advertisement adds even greater value to the advertiser and the owners of the service on which the advertisement is displayed. That is one reason why social engineers work so diligently - and craftily - to get you to click on something.

Here's the kicker. Not all advertisements are from companies that offer a service in which you might be interested. Some simply want to mine you for personal information because your information is worth money. So look carefully at what you are about to click. Be skeptical. Question everything, and watch out for big green download buttons.

The video below shows two examples of the big green download button.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

I know what I'm going to do when I get home...

Sue Millar starting investigating Skype in the Classroom last fall. Skype in the Classroom contains a pile of resources to bring experts into your classroom, take students on virtual field trips, and engage kids in geography rich Mystery
Video conference with Margo Sorenson and
Mrs. Millar's students
Skypes, among other activities through which a classroom might be reinvented.

Getting started can tax one's courage reserves. As Sue pointed out, "I scheduled a number of Mystery Skypes which, for one reason or another, never materialized."  "I got stood up a few times." she added. It is probable that teachers got busy, fire drills happened, or assessments won out. I thought she had given up, and was surprised to hear that she connected to a second grade classroom from Michigan for a Mystery Skype, a park ranger from Yellowstone who spoke in front of Old Faithful as it geysered, and author Anika Denise.

Learning that Sue and her students had just read Ambrose and the Cathedral Dream by Margo Sorenson, I invited myself to observe the upcoming conversation with author Sorenson. Here are some takeaways.

  • The tech worked well. Really. Everything just worked - without a nerd's intervention.
  • Our district's bandwidth rocks. While it was snowing outside Wawaloam, author Sorenson conferenced with us from sunny California. Her voice and video feed were of high quality and without buffering issues. She may as well have been seated at the front of the classroom.
  • Practice made perfect as evidenced by Sue's comfort with and mastery of the tech used for the video conference. 
  • The format was excellent. Author Sorenson gave a brief overview, showed students the original manuscript (including scribbled notes), and opened the floor for about 20 minutes of Q&A. Students asked all sorts of questions about her books, writing habits, favorite stories, and much more.
  • Writing was the core theme. Students had to write their questions prior to the video conference, and also had to write about what they learned as a result of the conference.
  • Her students are in to writing in a big way. After an earlier author conference, Sue remarked that, "My kids want to write all the time now." I mused, "That luster will fade." but learned that weeks after the first author conference, her students want to keep writing.
  • The early morning PD, learning Skype, figuring out a new tech and developing new classroom activities did not happen with finger snapping expediency. Students' enthusiasm for writing has proven the effort worthwhile, though.
  • The fire to write has staying power. After author Sorenson's Skype session, one student exclaimed, "I know what I'm going to do when I get home." "Write a book!"
If you would like help connecting through Skype in the Classroom or something like Connected Classrooms on G+, or can imagine reinventing your classroom with tech in way that goes beyond what you could normally expect to do with your students, let me know. I would be happy to help.

Monday, January 30, 2017

WeVideo Projects And Usage Stats

Students from many disciplines are exercising their digital storytelling voices through Wevideo. Recently, Mrs. Wilmot's AP US History students' created documentaries as part of a major course assessment. A few are included below.

If you would like help creating similar projects with your students, let me know. I would be happy to facilitate a project.

Several times over the last year, I was asked how the district uses Wevideo. From a tech standpoint, the included image shows usage statistics for the month of January, 2017.

Wevideo usage stats for January 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

Aspen Course Recommendation Columns

Senior high teachers are enduring a bug in Aspen's latest version that causes the course recommendation columns to increase in width each time a grade is entered. After entering just a few grades, the course recommendation columns become so wide, the gradebook is unusable. The folks at Aspen are, reportedly, working on the issue. In the meantime, you can disable the display of course recommendation columns to prevent the columns from clobbering your gradebook. The included video illustrates the process.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Please Stop Emailing Attachments

CC0 Public Domain
After working with faculty and staff at one of our district schools this week, I am compelled to once again address a pet peeve.  With options such as dropbox, one drive, google drive, google docs, or office 365 for real time collaboration and file sharing, it makes absolutely zero sense to email anything as an attachment. Emailing attachments spreads confusion about the 'real' or current document, where the document might be saved (Is it my downloads or some hidden folder?) while introducing a bevy of additional hassles including file size limits, reduced quality images or pixelated videos. Emailing attachments was great in the early 90s. Today, emailing attachments is a bad practice that needs to stop. If you would like explore alternatives to sending documents and files as email attachments, please contact me.