Wednesday, August 27, 2014

140 characters as checking for understanding

It would seem there was convergence in the force the other night.  I was reminded, during an excellent #musedchat on Twitter (Mondays, 5pm PST), of something I had read just before the school year started.

As part of Edutopia's #BestYearEver campaign, I stumbled upon an excellent resource on checking for understanding.  I remember eyeballing #39 - Twitter Post and thinking, "hmm, how might that be used in a music classroom?"  Little did I know my answer would come 20 days later.

The question was, "What are some of the classroom management tools you most frequently use?" (link)
The conversation that ensued was beneficial and further reinforced my appreciation in the power of Twitter as a professional development opportunity.

I had initially remembered that the CFU list had the students summarize via a tweet but what followed was the gold nugget,

Post-its.  What a great idea.  You don't need tech and you don't even need a Twitter account for your students.   Having students practice the skill of distilling their thoughts into 140 characters is important.  It forces students to evaluate what they want to say while still conveying meaning.

I wonder how others are using Twitter with their students.  Please share!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

5+ tech tools to try this year

Today is the official first day back at school for me (students return on August 11th).  For the first time in 10 years, I will be going back as a music teacher.  A ton has changed since the last time I was in the classroom and I am excited to be able to use some new tools.

Here is a list of 5 tech tools I am going to try this year:

This year I will be working with student from 4th and 5th grade at three different sites. This will be an effective way to communicate concerts and rehearsals as well as reminders to students and their families. Gone are the days of paper notes going home.

Not having to maintain a gradebook for many years has been a blessing. Now that I have to again, I am eager to use this one. Having a portable gradebook to record progress of students on instruments is going to be helpful. The website has extensive 'How To' instructions and it seems as if the tool is well supported and maintained.

Google Drive
I have spent so much time getting others to use Google Drive in their classrooms the past two years I am excited that I finally get to use it for myself.  On a personal note, this summer I removed Office from my desktop and do 95% of my work on Drive.  The other 5% I do on LibreOffice which is free and does what Google Drive doesn't (envelopes!).  I am also looking forward to sharing documents with students and parents.

I currently use Evernote to "remember everything."  From little notes to myself, to planning, to web clippings, and anything else I need to remember, this is the tool.  This tool I use for myself to stay organized and on top of things.  I have a good system right now but I am sure it will improve and adapt to meet the new challenges before me.  I am sure it will be invaluable while I am  at 3 different schools each week.

GarageBand (iOS)
I am a bit rusty on my accompaniment skills with piano and guitar.  This will be my replacement while I beef those up (they were never beefy to begin with).  I will eventually look at ways to have students do the creating (or accompanying).

Bonus: iOS Apps I will be using and trying:
insTuner - Chromatic Tuner
WunderList - hear very great things about this, going to give it a try as my to do list.

Do you have any tech tools that you use or are going to try?  Would love to hear about them below.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Something to do with 43 minutes of your time

Last week I stumbled upon a podcast that just blew me away.  I was intruiged by the trailor that had been created for it.

I clicked the link at the end of the video and was taken to where I discovered a brilliantly produced pilot for a podcast.  For the next 43 minutes, I found myself glued to my comptuer listening to Nick Jaworksi (@JaworskiMusic) and four stories about music education.  The pilot has a very NPR like feel to it.  It very much reminded me of This American Life in it's structure and delivery.

I let Nick know on twitter that I thought he did an outstanding job with the podcast trailer and he replied
Here is hoping you will give it a listen and support Nick in this endeavor. I am looking forward to a second episode.

You can find the podcast on the website or you can also download it onto your favorite podcast app by searching for One Degree of Separation and downloading the latest episode there.  Here is a link to it on iTunes. I imagine Nick will eventually have a dedicated feed for the podcast if it is successful.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why you need a password manager

UPDATE 8/5/14:  I read over at Lifehacker (Hackers reportedly collect over a billion passwords) about how hackers from Russia have stolen a billion passwords.  In the above link they reference Lastpass and link to a few guides to getting started with Lastpass.  Nothing is for sure, of course, but a tool like Lastpass would certainly limit the damage.

I can't tell you how many teachers and educators I know that use simple passwords that are easy to break; I stopped counting.  I, myself, used to be guilty of poor passwords.  For a few years I helped in the management of user credentials for our school district and I realized that passwords generally fell into a combination of three categories.

Once They Unlocked So Many Doors

Too short and limited character space

Most of the passwords that I previously used were all about 8 characters long and used a mixture of numbers and letters.  Back when I started using these passwords technology at the time would probably take years to guess them.  Advancements in technology have all but made that trivial.  Steve Gibson's Password Haystack highlights this fact perfectly.  The 8 character password that I previously used most often would take less than a second to find under ideal circumstances for a hacker.  Steve's site provides a very in depth and easily understandable explanation as to why that is.

Same password

I was guilty of this.  I had 5 passwords that I used over and over.  Here is the problem with using the same password for different sites.  A hacker only needs to find it once and then they will try it everywhere.  This is an issue of a hacker going for the lowest hanging fruit.  It is unlikely (although possible) that a hacker is going to get the password from a bank or other major database.  However, you might have used that password to try out that cool new online tool that also just happened to use OpenSSL to secure communications (i.e., lowest hanging fruit).  With the Heartbleed exploit, it is likely that password is now known and can be used to try at banks and other major databases.

Easily guessable

Thankfully I was not guilty of this.  If you have one of these as your password, you have big problems and need to change them immediately.

Password Manager and other tricks

The solution to my own password problem was Lastpass.  I manage and store unique and complex passwords for almost 200 sites.  My passwords all look something like this,


According to Steve Gibson's Password Haystack it would take "1.04 hundred million trillion centuries" under ideal conditions for a hacker to crack that password.

Yesterday, Lifehacker ran an article on the very subject of passwords that is very good.  In it they highlight four great methods to create better passwords.  It is definitely worth the quick read.

Do yourself a favor and strengthen your passwords so that they that are unique, lengthy, and complex.

Photo Credit:  Once They Unlocked So Many Doors by Viewminder used under Creative Commons


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Automating 2014

At the beginning of the year, I saw a Facebook post from a friend that mentioned putting little pieces of paper in a jar with thoughts and memories for each day of the year.  At the end of 2014 you would take them out and read them for a look back at your year.

23 Reasons

I am not very interested in keeping little pieces of paper in a jar for a whole year so I thought about a different way of doing this project that was simpler and automated.  Enter Evernote (whose motto is Remember Everything) and IFTTT (If This Then That).

Since I tend to put random thoughts and events from my life on Facebook, I created IFTTT recipes that would  append a note to essentially create a Facebook history in Evernote.  Automatically.

If you have never used IFTTT you should give it a try.  It has connections to over a 100 services and it is easy to use.  All you do is create a recipe to get started:

IFTTT Screenshot

You can see in the above example that this particular recipe has triggered 29 times.  All I have to do is make the post in Facebook and it is automatically sent to Evernote without any further actions on my part.  I have a similar recipe for photo posts and for links that I share with friends.  It has worked quite nicely and I will end up with a complete summary for the year.

On a side note, Facebook has "Year in Review" but it filters based on Facebook's criteria and I wasn't satisfied with what I got for 2013.  I am interested in getting a complete list of all things that I posted. I have been happy with the results so far and look forward to looking back at 2014.

Photo Credit:  23 Reasons by Shawn McCullough used under Creative Commons

Friday, June 27, 2014

It's been awhile

It has been a stressful 5 months since I last posted here goes.

I said to my wife yesterday that I finally felt balanced again.  I have been productive around the house and begun re-losing some of the weight I had put on since the marathon. When you keep eating like you are training for a marathon without actually training for a marathon, you are going to put some pounds on. Recently (February), I resigned my position as a site administrator in order to go back to teaching.  This was key in bringing myself into balance.  There are many reasons why I did this, but the biggest and most important was that I need to be doing something that I find fulfilling.

balance scale
My best days as a site administrator were the days I worked with kids.  Whatever the reasons, they were the best moments of my days, weeks, and months.  Even working with kids who had broken a rule (i.e., discipline) and helping them to improve was fulfilling.  I had posted that I was going to provide time to teachers by taking their class and teach music to the students.  The first time I did this, I was awful.  It had been 12 years since I taught a music lesson and it showed.  The next time was significantly better and by the third time I was on a roll.  I also scared myself.  For the first time in quite a long time, I felt fulfilled by what I was doing.  This had a great influence in my decision to go back to teaching music.

As I shared my decision to go back to teaching, I received a tremendous outpouring of support and words of encouragement.  I joked with some friends and coworkers about how I wondered if I had been a teacher of a different subject (other than music), would the reaction be the same.  "Hey everyone, I am going back to teaching grammar," doesn't quite have the same heartfelt warmth to it as "Hey everyone, I am going back to teaching music!" (No offense to grammar teachers, I had to pick something.)

I am excited for the new year and for the first time in a long time I feel balanced.  You can expect to see some regular posts starting again.  I know I will be looking forward to posting on how I use  technology in music and the classroom. (wow has technology changed for the classroom and music in 12 years, so many cool things!).

Photo Credit:  balance scale by winnifredxoxo used under Creative Commons

Thursday, January 23, 2014

On the Path to 26.2

Three months ago, I started on the journey to complete the Modesto Marathon.  Many of the things I have learned throughout the training can be applied to life.

Surround yourself with others like you
Everyone that I spoke to about committing to the marathon said that I should join a running group.  I joined ShadowChase Running Club, who happen to be the organizer of the marathon.  This has become my PLC for running.  We share tips, advice, frustrations, and successes during our training.  This has been essential to my success so far.

A goal without a plan is just a dream
ShadowChase put out an excellent training schedule that started back in October.  I have made 90% of these trainings and it has kept me on track to be successful.  I have avoided injury and been able to do things that I never thought possible.

Use the correct tools
"Cotton is rotten."  Those words echo in my mind from that first day of training.  Getting socks, under-gear, and shirts that are moisture wicking have saved me from uncomfortable and painful runner's rash/chafing (do a Google image's bad).  The other item that has saved me has been band aides. Without them my nipples would be rubbed raw (again, a Google image search if you really need any convincing).

Current Progress
Since October, I have logged almost 275 miles running.  In the last month I have run 2 half marathons and a 16 mile run.  I am anxious for the upcoming 18, 20, and 22 mile runs.  However, back in October I was anxious for the 10, 12, and 13 mile runs that just occurred and I know I can do that now.  I also thought I would never say, "It's only 10 miles this week."