Saturday, August 27, 2005

More on "My Documents"

Setting up your “My Documents” folder in a logical way takes some time and some thought (as you have seen if you have done it), but it is a tremendous timesaver from there on. 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 filing system that makes sense is vital.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist 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 “Pareto’s Principle,” or the “80/20 Rule.” It has been applied in many circles. A salesman may find that 80% of his sales are made to 20% of his customers. In your school, you may find 80% of the discipline problems coming from 20% of the students.

The application of the Pareto Principle on your computer is that you will surely have a very few files that you use a great portion of the time. For example, I have our school letterhead on my hard drive. Every time I compose a letter or memo, I use that letterhead. I also have a fax cover with our school information and my name already completed. I use that every time I have to send a fax. I have a spreadsheet where I keep up with expenses and balances in various pots of money. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t consult or update that spreadsheet. I have another spreadsheet that houses various assessment data for all students. I use that data continuously.

All of the documents I mentioned composed “the vital few”—those few documents which are in constant use. I want to have them at my fingertips. For that reason, I have a file right on the desktop in a file called “Fingertip.” With one double-click, I am looking at the contents of that file. Since I use those few files constantly, having them at my fingertips saves considerable time.

Finally, when I am working on a project, I will let that project stay on the desktop until it has been completed. Seeing that file on the desktop serves as a reminder of work still to be done. When the project has been completed, the document must find a home at the appropriate place in the My Documents folder.

All of this means that everything I have created is in one of three places: the vast majority of files are in My Documents, the most commonly used files are in the Finger file and the current projects are on the desktop.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Decreasing the Junk

In an earlier post, I talked about the situation we all face: many sources of incoming stuff. My least favorite has always been the telemarketer (who somehow can always sense when have just sat down to a meal). One solution is to get on the "National Do Not Call Registry." That can be done by going here. Even before this registry came about, one technique that worked extremely well was this letter:
Direct Marketing Assocation
P.O. Box 9014
Farmington, NY 11735-9014

To whom it may concern:

We have become annoyed by the frequent and unsolicited telephone calls to our home from telemarketers. We wish to be placed on your "do not call" list. Various companies selling their mailing lists will have us listed using, perhaps, any of the following names:

(I list here different ways my name or wife's name appear, such as with a middle initial, without middle initial, using my wife's maiden name, etc.)

Other pertinent information is as follows:

(Here I put my home address and phone number, and then close the letter.)

The letter seems to do the trick, reducing the number of calls from daily to almost never.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

E-Mail Makes Us Stupid??

We now have research that shows E-mail makes us stupid! A study released this past April found that e-mail lowers our IQ by 10 points. Hewlett-Packard commissioned the study which found that the constant interruptions of e-mail, instant messages, and cell phones temporarily lower a person’s IQ. The 10 point drop is more than double the IQ dip associated with smoking marijuana—a mere 4 points.

Is it really e-mail that is the culprit? I certainly don’t so, at least not when e-mail is used correctly. E-mail when used properly is one of the best tools we have going for us. We ignore it and take care of other business. At some point in the day, we turn our full attention to our e-mail, handle every message, and get “in” empty.

On the other hand, there are those who check their e-mail constantly to see if anything new has arrived. They read and re-read messages without ever making a decision about what needs to be done with any of them. Their in-box grows with each passing day. I don’t doubt that their IQs drops and their stress levels rise.

Likewise, the cell phone can be a blessing. You can make calls from anywhere. The problem is people can track you down anywhere and at any time. (We have probably all had the experience of being in the restroom and hearing the phone ring in the next stall.) That’s where technology can become a curse.

Our challenge is to be sure that our technology makes our lives easier, reduces our stress levels, and functions as the wonderful servant it can be. Technology can trap those calls in voice mail, quietly hold those e-mails until we choose to handle them all, and beautifully organize our to-do lists so that our minds can engage in creative thought.

Technology—a valuable tool or terrible distraction? As technology becomes ever increasingly central in our culture, we had better determine its function.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Feedback for Improved Teaching

As a teacher, one of the best self-help tools for me was to tape record a class every now and then and then simply listen to it. We are always going to be our own worst critics, so if we can get to a point where we are pleased with what we hear on the tape, it will probably come across as GREAT to your kids. Many of my teachers will recall my making this suggestion on an individual basis in a PEPE conference. I never have to ask someone if they have taken me up on that suggestion; it's very obvious in later observations.
I was reminded of this recently in this short essay: In it, author Steve Pavlina suggests going a couple of steps further--video taping yourself and getting feedback from other people.
I will never forget a certain class my junior year in high school. It was the first day for the brand-new student teacher to conduct a class. Within the first few minutes, it was painfully obvious that she had a few verbal "tics." It seemed every sentence started with or ended with "you know." (Some sentences started AND ended that way.) Add to that a bushel of "OK" and a peck of "and-uh," and before you know it, all my friend Darrell and I could do was count the verbal "tics."
The smiles, suppressed laughter, and glances back and forth between Darrell and I did not go unnoticed. And the end of the class period, this student teacher asked us what we were doing, and we showed her the paper with the tally we had been keeping. The use of "OK" numbered over 70 all by itself, and that was just in a 45-minute class period.
What happened next is what makes this story from almost 30 years ago memorable. Rather than being angry or hurt, this student teacher asked us if we would run that same tally each day for a while, and we agreed. Within two days, this young teacher had virtually eliminated all of the vocal tics even without the help of audio or videotape feedback.
For veteran teachers, "routine" becomes "rut" unless there is a guiding force to shape improvement. Without the feedback, we only become more and more like ourselves. As veteran teachers, we also have the ability to step out of a rut and lay new tracks. The feedback we can give ourselves through audio, or as this author suggests--videotape, is an easy and significant step.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Setting Up "My Documents"

I like to use the analogy of a metal filing cabinet when thinking about organizing your computer. If you are going to organize your metal filing cabinet you would need the following:

1) Plenty of file folders

2) The ability to label (or re-label) the folders

3) A logical system in mind for organizing the files

4) Attention to where you are filing papers

When organizing your files on the computer you need the following:

1) Knowing how to create new folders

2) Knowing how to label (or re-label) folders

3) A logical system in mind for organizing your files

4) Attention to where the computer is going to try to save files so that they go where you want them to go

The My Documents folder is the heart of the system. Think of it as the filing cabinet where you are going to store all of the work you create. On the attachment, the first slide shows you how the My Documents folder on my computer looks. There are folders in there just like you would have in your metal filing cabinet. The folders you choose to have will differ from mine, but I think it helps to have an example. Here is what I would suggest you do:

1. Take a good, hard look at the system you have set up in your metal filing cabinet.

2. Tidy up that system.

3. Create a parallel system on your computer. That way, if someone hands you a good lesson plan on the solar system, you have a place in the metal filing cabinet for it. If you see a good lesson plan on the solar system on the internet, you will be able to store it in a similar folder in My Documents.

A couple of skills are essential when trying to set up a digital filing system:

To create a new folder:

If you are going to create a filing system, you are going to need to know how to create new folders. Here’s how to do it:

1. Right-click in the My Documents folder (if that’s where you want it to go).

2. A menu pops up

3. Choose new

4. From the menu, choose “Folder”

To re-label a folder:

1. Right-click on the folder

2. Choose “Rename” from the menu you see

3. The title is now highlighted, and you can type a new name for the folder.

The final skill to mention today is knowing how to save a file where you want it to go. Before the computer saves a file, it will open a box called a “dialogue” box. Whatever is in the title of that box is the folder where your work will be saved. If that is NOT where you want the file to be saved, you job is to navigate so the proper folder name appears in that slot.

A good filing system on your computer is a huge time saver. It’s about time you had a model of how to do it.