Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lucy (???-April 16, 2014)

Lucy’s birthday is a mystery. Like Cabrio, she was picked up as a stray. While the rescue estimated her to be around 3 years old, several vets estimated her age to be much older.

Lucy adapted well to life as an inside dog. Her sweet disposition endeared her to us from the beginning.

Sadly, she was with us for only five months. Without warning, she collapsed. Despite every effort to save her, the emergency animal clinic attributed her death to pancreatitis.

We will miss her sweet personality, the way she would jump around like a puppy, and the way she was content to lay at our feet and simply be near. Most of all, we will miss the way she would wait patiently at the side of our bed for one of us to stir. She would stand on her hind legs and place her head on the bed between her front paws to receive her first petting of the day.

Lucy joins Lassie, Bonnie, and Skipper at Rainbow Bridge. As she talks to them about the last five months, we hope she will say it was her very best five months.
Lucy on the day we adopted her

Monday, April 21, 2014

How to Organize Your Most Commonly-Used Files

The average professional spends a total of six weeks a year looking for things! You don’t want to be part of that statistic, and having a good filing system is vital. The heart of a digital system is the "Documents" folder on the computer, where you construct a logical set of folders.

All documents are not created equal, however. Some, you will file and never access again. Some, you will use multiple times every day.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who lived around the turn of the 20th century. Pareto observed that 80% of the wealth of Italy was held by 20% of the population, and that the remaining 80% of the population accounted for only 20% of the wealth. That observation has become known as the “Pareto Principle,” or the “80/20 Rule.” It has been applied in many circles. A salesman may likely find that 80% of his sales are made to 20% of his customers. In a school, 80% of the discipline problems generally come from about 20% of the students. Likewise, around 80% of absences in the school or workplace come from approximately 20% of the people.

All documents are not created equal, however. Some, you will file and never access again. Some, you will use multiple times every day. The application of the Pareto Principle extends to the files on your computer. Each of us has a few number of files that we use a great portion of the time. For example, the letterhead for your organization, stored digitally, is a document you use every time you compose correspondence. Do you regularly make use of a fax machine? If so, a fax cover, stored digitally is a great time-saver. The information about your organization is already there. You simply add the name and number of the recipient. As a school administrator, I used a single spreadsheet to keep me abreast of expenses and balances in various accounts. Hardly a day would go by that I didn't consult or update that spreadsheet.

All of the documents just mentioned composed “the vital few”—those few items which are in constant use. I want to have them at my fingertips. For that reason, for many years, I have maintained a folder right on my computer desktop called “Fingertip.” Inside are those few files which I use constantly. Instead of working through nested folders to access one of those documents, that set of commonly-used files is one click away.

In today's world of "cloud computing," I am a Dropbox user. Having my commonly-accessed "Fingertip" files accessible from anywhere, via Dropbox, makes sense. One quick technique allows me to have that access. I moved my Fingertip folder into Dropbox. I then created a shortcut to the Fingertip folder, and moved it to the desktop. No matter where I am, I can use Dropbox to access my Fingertip folder from my mobile devices. At my desk, a shortcut to the folder is on the desktop.

What are those few files that you use all the time? Create your own "Fingertip" folder and store them there. You will be surprised at the time you will save every day.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Digital Organization: How to Fit All of the Pieces Together

Time Management

Two decades ago, the solution for our busy lives was one book to house everything. Our calendar, to-do list, address book, and notes were in one place. The Franklin Planner and Day-Timer were the survival tools of that era. Many continue to reply on the one-book method for staying organized. For 10 years, I was a devoted Day-Timer user. The intrigue of being able to put it all in one place was great.

Today, many of us look to digital tools to organize out lives. My transformation came in 2001 when I traded my Day-Timer for a Palm and began syncing it to Outlook. Over the years, the specific tools have changed. The strategy has remained the same. I still need a place to house my calendar, to-do list, contacts, and notes. We can now add email to that list. Respectively, I achieve my aim through following tools:
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Contacts
  • ToodleDo
  • Evernote
  • Gmail
What if you could group these five elements of your productivity suite together? What if the entire set was always available anytime your browser was open? What if each one was only one click away at any time?

Take a look at the screen shot of a portion of my browser's toolbar:


Just under the address bar, you see an icon representing each of the five parts of my productivity suite. Each one is a button. When clicked, that site opens. How did I create those buttons? The techniques is unbelievably simple.

First, be sure that you bookmarks toolbar is showing. Right-click somewhere on the toolbar and be sure there is a check beside the "Show bookmarks bar."

Next, you will go to each site, one at a time. Navigate to your Google Calendar, for example. Notice the URL in the address bar. Notice that just to the left of that URL is a small icon. In the example above, that icon looks like a blank piece of paper with a corner turned down. The look of that icon will vary according to the website, but you will always see some type of icon.

The trick is to click on that icon and drag it to the bookmarks toolbar. That's it! In just a few minutes, you can have a button for each part of your productivity suite.

What other buttons might you want to have? For me, I have the following additional buttons:

  • Toodledo Bookmarklet Clicking the link will take you to a blog post explaining what this does and why it's so handy.
  • TV Guide. I can see at glance what's coming on in my area. I have this button on the computer in my office.
  • Google Bookmarks. When I am reading an online article I want to add to my bookmarks, one click on this button brings up a box with the name of the site and URL completed. I can amend the information and adds tags and a description.
  • Blogger. When I want to compose a new blog post, one click takes me there.
  • Update website. When I acquire a new speaking engagement, I add the date to my website. I frequently makes small updates to the site, and the URL for where those updates are made is not one I can easily remember. With this button on my toolbar, I am one click away from being able to compose updates.
  • Feedly. Read the post on how Feedly is one of the major source of information to keep me on top of the subjects which are important to me.

In just a few minutes, you can have your own browser toolbar buttons. It's easy enough, you will actually do it!

Does anyone already have a helpful set of browser buttons? Let me know what you have.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why the Principal Should Be a Blogger

This article is an "oldie but a goodie." It's one I wrote for  Principal magazine back in 2010. The article encourages principals to use blogs as a means of communication.

Because blogs have been around for a while, they don't generate the same buzz as some of the newer social media platforms. Make no mistake, the blog is at the center of one's social media life. It's the place on the Internet you own. It's the place where you can express yourself in as many or as few characters as you like.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Heartbleed: What You Need to Know to Protect Yourself

If you are like me, the technical surrounding the Heartbleed virus go right over your head. What we need are simple instructions for what to do about it. From everything I have read over the last few days, protecting yourself boils down to three key points:

  • Determine what sites you use have been impacted by Heartbleed, and if they have patched the vulnerability.
  • If the site has been impacted by Heartbleed and has not been patched, don't change your password yet.
  • If the site has been impacted by Heartbleed and has been patched, change your password.

So, how do you know what sites have been impacted by Heartbleed? How do you know what sites have been patched? To help answer those questions, here are three sources I have found helpful:

  • This article lists major sites which were or were not impacted. It is a good starting point, because it addresses such sites as Paypal, Evernote, Yahoo, Amazon, Twitter, and Google. Virtually everyone will see a listing which either eases their mind or puts them on a heightened state of alert. 
  • This post from is constantly being updated. Visit it daily until there are no more sites labeled as "awaiting response" which you use.
  • LastPass has established a page which allows you to enter any URL and see its Heartbleed status.

As with any other security compromise, changing your password is the way to stay protected. However, wait until the site is patched before doing so.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Memories Fail. Blogs Remember.

Where memory fails, the written word reminds. We write thoughts on our blogs to communicate what is important today. Later, those posts serve as a reliable record of that which is now history.

I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from a teacher with whom I had worked in my former school system. I retired, and her family relocated to another area. In the e-mail, she told me just being named "Teacher of the Year" in her new school system and asked me for a letter of support as her application moved to the next level.

I wanted to be specific enough about her accomplishments, yet careful to be accurate. A hazy memory about events from several years ago made it impossible to accomplish both objectives.

Then, a thought occurred. During my time in that school system, our school started blogging. When I left from the principalship for a position at the central office, we used blogs as our major method of communication with staff and the community. Every school had also started blogging.

I searched through old blog posts from her school and found details about a wonderful science night she had planned. The post gave me the details to give the letter the power this master teacher deserved. I also found a post on the blog the district maintained during my time at the central office. This post chronicled her being named "Teacher of the Year" for our system, confirming the year I had thought she received that award.

We blog for many reasons. Not one of the least of these is to capture the best of the present, so that when memories fade, the reminders are there.

The master thinker knows that ideas are elusive and often quickly forgotten, so he traps them with notebook and pencil. He heeds the Chinese proverb: “The strongest mind is weaker than the palest ink.”
—Wilferd A. Peterson in Adventures in the Art of Living

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Simplicity: Could It Move You to Action?

Several years ago, Fast Company included an article by Dan & Chip Heath entitled, “Analysis of Paralysis.” The essence of the article is captured in the sentence which ended the article’s first paragraph: “Simplicity allows people to act.”

I find that when I look at my to-do list, I gravitate to the tasks which are easy to do, and you probably do as well. We are human, and we like to find easy ways to do things. When a task presents complexity and ambiguity, we procrastinate. We choose instead which presents more clarity, even if the task provides less payoff.

Perhaps the answer is to make everything simple and make everything clear. The paradox is that some work is required in order to make things easy. The work consists of thinking a project all the way through from beginning to end. The work consists of figuring out all of the steps as well as knowing when it may not be possible to know all of them. Furthermore, keeping all of the notes and documents related to that project neatly organized takes some thought.

The good news is once we have structured a system and are willing to spend a little time keeping it clear, the rest becomes easy, incredibly easy.

Imagine looking at your list and knowing in which order to tackle the items and exactly how to proceed on each one. How simple that would make your day. Simple enough, you would actually act.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Gene Hackman Talking About Basketball...and Life

Tonight, the NCAA will crown a new men's basketball champion. It seems particularly appropriate to feature this clip at this time.

From my favorite movie of all time. Listen to what Gene Hackman is saying. While he’s talking about basketball, his message is just as applicable regardless of the task at hand.

Friday, April 04, 2014

6 Survival Strategies for Ending "May Madness"

I enjoyed creating this segment for the School Leadership Briefing. I hope it helps you solve "May Madness."

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

How Can I Convert My Files?

Ever have a document, spreadsheet, presentation, ebook, audio file, video file, image, or anything else that is in one format, and you need it in another? Sure the "Save as" menu in your program probably includes a number of options. But what if you need more?

In this post, you will get links to sites which will convert, for free, your desired file from one format to another:

  • CloudConvert supports archive, audio, cad, document, ebook, image, presentations, spreadsheet, vector, and video conversion.
  • CometDocs supports conversion of PDF files to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The service also supports conversion of various file formats to PDF.
  • Have a PDF and need it converted to Kindle, mobi, or azw? Try this site.
  • This site convert a CSV file to XML.
  • Scanning a document and having it save as PDF is easy. Depending of what type of scanner is being used, the result could leave you with a set of one-page scans rather than one document which scrolls from page to page. PDF Mergy allows you to upload those individual PDF pages and have them combined into one document.
  • I have found that while PDF mergy does a great job of combining individual pages into one document, the resulting file size is large. Compress PDF allows you to upload your PDF and it returns to you the same PDF in a much smaller size.
  • If you have an image whose file size you would like to reduce, is a great site. Upload your document, and the service removes unnecessary bytes.
  • Zamzar supports over 1,200 different conversions, including video, music, ebooks, images, and CAD.

Tweet: Need a file converted for free? via @DrFrankBuck #productivityHow else needs to know about these file-conversion services? Click the image to send a Tweet.

Do you already use one or more of these services? What comments would you like to add?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mr. Holland's Opus: A Cautionary Tale

One of the great "school" movies of all times is Mr. Holland's Opus. Those who have seen it cannot  cannot forget the finale. Budget cuts were scheduled to eliminate the program this man had worked his whole career to build. A defeated Glenn Holland walked into an auditorium filled with supporters and a stage teaming with students from days gone by. All had come to pay tribute to a man and a program who had meant much to them.

Earlier in the movie, we see Mr. Holland as he provides hope to a struggling young clarinet player.

Fast forward years later to Mr. Holland's surprise retirement celebration. At one dramatic moment, the doors to the auditorium fling wide and in walks that same clarinet player. Only now, she is the governor. She takes the podium and begins a stirring tribute to her teacher:

I kept waiting for the moment the governor would announce that under no circumstances would funding for a program which had done so much for so many be cut. I waited...and waited...but that proclamation never came. After all was said and done, Glenn Holland began his retirement, and the music program became history.

What a poor ending! What were the writers thinking? What kind of message does it send when the governor praises the teacher and the program, yet does nothing to save it?

I was expecting the governor to make everything right. I was expecting the "good guys" to win. And I was expecting it all to happen while I sat comfortably in my chair and watched. Surely I would be walking out of the theater affirmed that as long as music programs offer quality and help children grow up whole, those music programs have nothing to fear. Someone will look out for them. 

Little by little, I began to realize that this movie ended correctly. The message was clear. As long as good people sit back and do nothing, quality programs will perish with little thought given as to the void which will be left. The challenge clearly issued to every one of us in that movie theater was the challenge to make sure that what happened on that screen would not repeat itself in our communities.

Richard Dreyfuss played the starring role of Glenn Holland. An Academy Award nominee for his performance, these are the remarks that he made at the 38th Anuual Grammy Awards:

This evening is a celebration of music, the artists who create it, and the phenomenon of creativity itself. Now, there are two realities in this movie (Mr. Holland's Opus). One is the life of a teacher, a reality of defeats and victories, like all of our lives, --but one that ends as a celebration. The other reality is the loss of music in the schools in the same America and that is hardly a celebration.

For some strange reason, when it comes to music and the arts, our world view has led us to believe they are easily expendable. Well, I believe that a nation that allows music to be expendable is in danger of becoming expendable itself.

Perhaps we've all misunderstood the reason we learn music, and all the arts, in the first place. It is not only so a student can learn the clarinet, or another student can take an acting lesson. It is that for hundreds of years it has been known that teaching the arts, along with history and math and biology, helps to create The Well Rounded Mind that western civilization, and America, have been grounded on. America's greatest achievements -- in science, in business, in popular culture, would simply not be attainable without an education that encourages achievement in all fields. It is from that creativity and imagination that the solutions to our political and social problems will come. We need that Well Rounded Mind, now. Without it, we simply make more difficult the problems we face.

There's a general feeling growing in this country lately that we simply spend too much money ... that we can't afford to give our children the education we grew up with. This is an insane anxiety that allows us to forget that we are, after all, the richest country on Earth, and that the real question is not what we can't pay for, but rather how can we efficiently pay for the kind of public education we all want and need.

Cutting these programs, then, is like tying our children's hands behind their backs, and I don't think anyone really wants to do that ... we hope for too much for our kids, and for our country. We are parents, most of us, and we are citizens, all of us. Don't let this happen, I urge you."

As "Music in Our Schools Month" draws to a close, the challenge before us is not only to sustain, but expand the kinds of programs which will allow our country and its citizens to thrive in the decades ahead. All around us are people who owe much of what they have accomplished to the creativity, discipline, imagination, appreciation of quality, and preference for quality they learned in a music program somewhere along the way. Whether or not those opportunities will be there in the years to come will be up to us.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Following Your Dreams

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Are We Abandoning Cursive Too Soon?

Those from my generation recall vividly learning cursive writing. Cursive, along with learning multiplication and the memorization of our multiplication tables, provided the focus for 3rd grade. We spent considerable time not just on the formation of the letters, but on the elements which comprised them. We practiced those loops over and over and over again.

The rise of computers spawned an emphasis on keyboarding skills and a decreased interest in cursive writing. The emphasis on preparation for the annual high-stakes test meant less time would be devoted to what was not tested, and cursive was one of those victims.

My wife and I have administered the ACT several times a year for more years than I can remember. Reading verbatim a set of instructions is part of the drill. One such example is the instruction to the students to "copy the certification" and then date and sign the answer document. What struck me is the change to that part of the instructions. Several years ago, two words had been omitted..."in cursive." For years, students were instructed to "copy the certification in cursive." I must admit, the final two words in that sentence would produce its share of "deer-in-the-headlights" looks from those in the room. Clearly, cursive was not something they had used in a very long time. Likewise, when it came time for the students to write their essays, out a group of 25 students, no more than one student ever composed the essay in cursive.

Education, however, is a very cyclic business. Trends come and go. Wait long enough, and what went out of vogue years ago will become the cutting-edge trend. Will we see the same with cursive writing?

A year ago, a bill came before the Illinois legislature mandating the teaching of cursive writing.

Tennessee is proposing similar legislation.
The use of tablets just may be the trigger which causes the return to cursive. Software such as Penultimate allows the user to write on the tablet with a stylus. Users may print or use cursive. If the Penultimate user exports the handwritten notes to Evernote, Evernote will search the handwriting for any desired term. If handwritten notes are scanned as jpeg and added to Evernote, Evernote will also search the handwritten notes.

The latest release of Evernote for Android support handwriting straight into Evernote.

For additional information on this app, here is a post I wrote on the subject.

It's just a matter of time before conversion of handwriting to text will be a standard. Google allows you search on mobiles devices using handwriting now.

Needless to say, one caveat for your handwriting to be interpreted correctly is for your handwriting to be legible. Do you see where this argument is going?

Keyboarding on our mobile devices is no piece of cake. Tablet users purchase external keyboards. But, the use of the keyboard means something else to buy, something else to transport, and makes necessary some flat surface on which to sit the device. With the popularity of mobile devices, we have an increased interest on an easier mode of input than keyboarding.

Cursive writing has been a part of our culture for centuries. For it to become a lost art in a mere decade or two is something I think would be a shame. What do you think?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Making Musicians with iPads

In this last post, you read about my first experience playing a musical instrument, an unforgettable experience from 4th grade. You also read about my thoughts for how we can use available technology to give every student the kind of experience I had. In this guest post, you hear from Dr. Sara Womack who provides her suggestions for specific software.

The benefits of music education, and particularly keyboard studies, are well known. In addition to cognitive benefits, a strong link exists between piano playing and the development of skills needed to be successful in life, including patience, discipline, and coordination. Playing the piano can also reduce stress and anxiety prevalent in adults, as well as children.

Traditionally, to offer piano in a school setting, a piano lab outfitted with full size keyboards and instructional materials must be available for each student. Now, technology has opened additional avenues for piano instruction. Students can utilize classroom sets of iPads, available in many schools, as an instrument and as an instructional tool.

Utilizing the iPad as a piano does not come without drawbacks. The spacing of the piano keys on the iPad may not match the spacing on a traditional instrument. The 88 keys of a full size keyboard will not fit on the iPad screen without stacking the keyboards. Some people solve that issue by playing on two iPads, like this performer on YouTube. Additionally, the touch sensitivity on the iPad is not comparable to a traditional instrument, no matter how lightly or heavily the key is played. Nevertheless, with restricted funding and space, utilizing iPads for a piano lab is a viable option to expose students to the world of keyboard music.

In schools, keyboard classes could be structured, so that all students master concepts at the same pace or the class could be differentiated to meet individual student’s needs. Students could also be grouped together by ability level to help each other follow the sequence of concepts to be mastered. iPads offer a wealth of options to meet each school’s needs. An iPad piano concert is also a great way to showcase the talents of the students! How about this version of “Happy Birthday?”

Below, I have listed a brief selection of iPad apps that could be helpful in class keyboard instruction. Many of the apps offer in-app purchases to expand the song offerings or lesson content.

  • Virtuoso Piano (Free) – This is a basic piano that students can play. Students have the option of labeling the note names on the keys. 
  • Piano (Free) – Students will play the piano to 32 accompanied songs, while the notation scrolls across the top of the screen. The practice mode allows students to set their own tempo. Additionally, the keys highlight to show students which key should be played for each note. 
  • PianoMan (Free) – This game allows students to play music from various classical composers on the accompanying touch piano. You can set the difficulty level to differentiate for each learner and students can have a Piano Battle with up to four players. 

  • Learn Piano HD ($1.99) – Follow along with Peter Darling, an expert piano instructor, as he teaches private lessons that students can master at their own pace. Videos and instructional text are included in the app.
  • Piano Dust Buster 2 (Free) – Students will help Granny dust off her piano by playing the correct notes of familiar tunes when germs touch the rhythm line to earn points and bonuses. This app can utilize the touch piano included in the app or can sync with a real piano. 

  • 50in1 Piano ($1.99) – Lessons on how to play 200 songs on the piano are included in this app, as well as a piano keyboard with option note labels and 50 instruments, covering a variety of musical styles. Students can compose and record their own songs with 100 different drumbeats. 
  • Nota ($2.99) – This app includes a four-octave piano that allows students to see where each note on the piano is located on the staff, in addition to a chord and scale browser and a reference library with over 100 symbols. The interactive quiz section of the app measures each student’s ability to recognize notes on the staff. 

  • Piano Notes! ($0.99) – Test the students’ knowledge of reading notation in treble and bass clef with this app. Three game modes, Arcade, Count-down, and Endless, encourage students to associate notes with the correct piano keys. 
  • Piano Genius (Free) – Students will learn how to play more than 400 songs including classical, traditional, and modern hits. While the notation scrolls at the top of the screen, students will follow the dots on the keyboard to play the song. Songs are available in easy, medium, and hard levels and points reward accurate playing. 

  • If you have a small amount of additional funding, you can purchase the ION Piano Apprentice (Amazon, $49.95), a lighted 25-key touch-sensitive keyboard with built-in speakers. When connected to your iPad, iPod, or iPhone, the accompanying Piano Apprentice app shows students how to play and lights up the keyboard. 

Technology offers a multitude of ways to expose students to keyboard studies. With the equipment already available in most schools, a little organization and time will afford students with the invaluable benefits of music education. But it’s not just the equipment that is needed to provide these benefits, music teachers that inspire and engage students are essential. Steve Jobs said, “The most important things is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can.” The technology is only a tool utilized by those teachers that motivate students to realize their potential as musicians. Inspire your students’ musicianship with iPad pianos!

Dr. Sara Womack is the music teacher at Greystone Elementary School in Hoover, Alabama. Dr. Womack is Past-President of the Alabama Music Educators Association and President-Elect for the Southern Division of the National Association for Music Education. In additional to the doctorate in the field of music education, Dr. Womack also holds a Master's degree in school administration.