Thursday, April 29, 2010

"A" is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution

The use of technology in the classroom is the ultimate moving target. None is us has the complete answer, and staying on top of the latest thought regarding best practice is a challenge. This post is simply a reference to an article in Fast Company. I personally believe that when an educational topic occupies significant real estate in a major business magazine, educators need to know about it. We tend to be good at reading what our profession is saying. We tend to not be as good at reading what other professions have to say about educational trends.

The April issue of Fast Company includes an article entitled "A" is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution. I recommend this thought-provoking article for your reading pleasure.

The idea of 1-to-1 computing is certainly a popular topic in education. How to address the cost, however, is an issue. The ability of hardware to stand up under the constant use of young children, the cost of maintenance in terms of dollars, and the man hours required for maintenance are also key questions. It is a conversation which impacts us all. It is a conversation we should be able to enter comfortably, confidently, and knowledgeably.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

I recently read The Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni. Those who enjoy business fables in the spirit of The One Minute Manager or Fish will enjoy this story, although at 259 pages, it is considerable longer.

In the book, we follow Brian, a retired business executive. Brian buys into a struggling mom-and-pop restaurant and strives to improve the business by improving the morale of the workers. Through his journey, Brian reveals three factors that spell a miserable job:

Immeasurability--"A job is bound to be miserable if it doesn't involve measurement." (p.128) The lesson is that if one has no way to gauge whether or not he/she is doing a good job and whether or not progress is being made, there can be little joy in the job.

Irrelevance--"Every human being that works has to know that what they do matters to another human being." (p.133)

Anonymity--"How can a person feel good about going to work where they don't feel anybody there knows who they are? Or cares?" (p. 140)
    I found the book to be an enjoyable story that should cause any manager to think about how the morale of employees impacts thee effectiveness, and hence, the effectiveness of the organization.

    Sunday, April 25, 2010

    How Good Do You Want to Be?

    I recently borrowed from the local library How Good Do You Want to Be? by Nick Saban. The book was interesting for two reasons. First, Alabama just won a national championship, and therefore the team and its coach are news.

    Secondly, even though the cover pictures Saban dressed in Alabama crimson, the book was clearly written just after his LSU team won the 2003 BCS National Championship. How does what Coach Saban wrote six years and two coaching stints ago relate to this year's Alabama team? How does a book written just after a national championship provide clues to how another championship team will be built?

    Chapter 2, entitled "The Competitive Spirit," opens with the subheading "Don't look at the scoreboard." Saban argues that the focus should be on the process not the product. If the process is solid, the product takes care of itself. That thinking is very much in line with what we were hearing during this past season at Alabama. In the book, Saban goes on to say," It is natural to be affected by where you are in life, but looking at the score and results can only take you away from your competitive spirit. Not only should you not concern yourself with the score, you should also avoid setting the bar or establishing benchmarks for success" (p. 58).

    With a strong team returning for Alabama next year, much talk is already centering around a repeat national title. In the book, Saban says, "One of the hardest things to do in sports is to repeat as a champion. It is exceedingly rare in college or pro sports these days. Part of the reason is parity, but part of it is champions lose focus because of the distractions that success brings. The championship becomes the focus--not what it takes to be a champion" (pp. 68-69). Furthermore, he says, "We don't talk about repeating as national champions and we don't spend time thinking about the targets that are on our backs" (pp.71-72).

    Writing a blog whose focus is time management and organization, I am particularly interested in the three-page subheading in the "Being a Great Leader" chapter entitled "Organization." Saban says, "And to be the most effective leader, you have to be organized." Saban offers these examples of what he does to stay organized (pp.129-130):
    • Every practice plan and set of game notes, going back as far as I can remember, I organize into huge binders that I can refer to when I need to.
    • I keep a pen and paper with me at all times during practice to quickly write down items we need to correct.
    • Our pregame routine is organized down to the minute, and areas of the field are assigned for position groups. For example, no matter where we are playing, the running backs are always warming up at the 20-yard line opposite our bench.
    • I prepare an agenda and a list of items to cover the day before all daily staff meetings so nothing is left out.
    Saban goes on to say, "Organization is critical to efficiency. If I have a pet peeve (and I have a few), it's wasted time..." (p. 130)

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    Be Careful About Who You "Friend" on Facebook

    This study shows that many people are far to willing to share personal information with total strangers on Facebook.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Project-Based Learning at Winterboro High School

    Last week, I spent half a day at Winterboro High School, located about half an hour from my house in rural Talladega County. The school has immersed itself in project-based learning with technology being a central part of the initiative.

    Absent were the traditional desks. They had been replaced with tables, each supporting four desktop computers. Each class was rich enough with computers that a true 1-to-1 ratio was present. Because student work is saved on a central server rather the hard drive of each computer, logging in to the computer puts at each student's fingertips the material he or she needs, even though someone else will be using that computer the next period.

    In each classroom I observed, the teacher had two computers. One was connected to a ceiling-mounted LCD projector and projected onto a SMART Board. The other was connected to a large-screen television mounted on the wall. Document cameras were in plentiful supply.

    Through the approach being used at Winterboro, subjects are taught in tandem. Students work together on projects rather than learning facts in isolation. The statistics are showing discipline problems are down significantly. Attendance for teachers and students is up, as is the enthusiasm for learning.

    One of the notable side-benefits of this approach is the development of interpersonal skills within the students. They are poised when greeting visitors and easily able to articulate the tasks at hand. Students are viewed more like workers in a real-world job with real-world expectations and are treated as such.

    Principal Craig Bates combines this innovative approach to education with a simple, yet well-developed student behavior system using "trust cards."

    Below is a short television segment spotlighting the school's project-based program.

    Many places take small steps with technology, yet the steps are too small to move them from the ruts they are in. At this school, all of the equipment was installed in one summer and ready on the first day of school. The change in the curriculum was major and immediate. As we ponder what the future of education will look like, part of the answer may well be right here in this rural Alabama school.

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Creative Commons: What Every Teacher Needs to Know

    So much of what is created today is built upon the works of yesterday. That statement rung true for centuries. Copyright protects our creations, yet there are times when copyright is overly-restricted. Creative Commons is a tool designed to protect the intentions of the creator while making it easier for his or her ideas to be used and shared. This presentation is designed specifically for educators and pretty thoroughly explores the subject.

    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    Bring Your Own Shoes

    We are almost upon that time in the school year when retirements happen and shoes must be filled by other people. The events of the past week have reminded me of how those entering new positions can handle this situation, especially when the shoes left vacant are large.  

    In my last post, I wrote about a recent trip to St. Martin's Episcopal Church and the many coincidences that exist between me and that Houston church. The story, however, goes a little further.

    When I moved the Birmingham area in 1985, I attended the Cathedral Church of the Advent, under the leadership of The Very Rev. Larry Gipson. Gipson was a seasoned and powerful figure in the pulpit. Several years later, I found myself at St. Luke's, another large parish in a Birmingham suburb. At that time, one member of the clergy was Russell Levenson, a young and enthusiastic minister with a thirst for knowledge.

    Fast forward several more years, and we see Larry Gipson receive the call to become Rector of St. Martin's, at that time the 3rd largest Episcopal Church in United States. That was the first I had ever heard of that parish. Over the years, St. Martin's became the largest Episcopal Church in America through the leadership of the one I had known at Advent. Around this same time, the much younger Levenson also moved to lead churches of his own.

    It was about two years ago that I visited St. Martin's website and learned quite by accident that Larry Gipson had retired. His successor was none other than Russell Levenson, the young minister I had known 20 years earlier. "How in the world could anyone follow Larry Gipson?" I thought.

    I found recordings at the website of past sermons and came upon Russell's first sermon to the St. Martin's congregation. What would he say? How would be begin to follow someone of the stature of Larry Gipson? That sermon answered my questions.

    In the sermon, Russell Levenson acknowledged openly that he realized the congregation was grieving over the retirement of Larry Gipson after 13 years at the helm of St. Martin's. He went on to point out the importance of Gipson's ministry to his own life.

    Then, he turned to advice offered in a phone call from a bishop and former Rector of St. Martin's. “Russell, let me give you the most helpful advice I received when I came to St. Martin’s. Someone said to me, ‘Don’t worry about trying to fill anyone’s shoes, because you need to bring your own.’" Levenson followed by asking the congregation, "If I can, let me ask you to let me bring my own."

    This summer will see new leadership in schools, school systems, bands, athletic teams, classrooms, and many other activities across our country. Many of us have been in those positions and been uneasy about how we would handle the transition and how well those we lead would accept us. I would encourage anyone who is about to fill some big shoes to listen carefully to Russell Levenson's words in that first sermon to his congregation. It can be found here. I think it provides a thoughtful approach that bridges the past to the present, and charts the beginnings of a successful course towards the future.

    About to fill some big shoes? Don't try. Instead, bring your own shoes.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    It Felt Like "Alabama Day" in Texas

    While in Houston for the NAESP Convention, we attended a service at St. Martin's Episcopal Church. St. Martin's is the largest Episcopal church in the United States both in terms of baptized members and average weekly attendance. We had been looking forward to our visit here for months, particularly because of all of the Alabama ties.

    Over 20 years ago when I sang in the choir at St. Luke's Episcopal Church (Mountain Brook, Alabama), one of the young priests on staff was a fellow by the name of Russell Levenson. His wife, Laura, also sang in the choir. Today, Dr. Russell Levenson is the Rector (the name given to the head cleric in an Episcopal church) of St. Martin's.

    The Rev. Ken Fields served as Rector of Canterbury Episcopal Chapel on the campus of the University of Alabama. Two of my sisters attended church regularly there while Ken was Rector. Today, Ken Fields is the Vice-Rector of St. Martin's.

    In addition to Ken having been close to our family, I had known his wife, Mary Alice Fields even longer. I started my teaching career in Montgomery, Alabama. During that time, Mary Alice and I sang in the same church choir, St. John's Episcopal Church.

    We have to go back further still for ties to yet another member of the St. Martin's clergy. During my days as a student at Jacksonville State University, I was friends with Jerald Hyche. Who would have suspected that these many years later, The Rev. Jerald Hyche would be Associate Rector for Outreach and Spiritual Formation at St. Martin's.

    We went to St. Martin's this past Sunday expecting to see several Alabama friends, yet there were more surprises. the sermon that morning was being delivered by Ken Fields. The content of that sermon made us feel like we were right back home. As a lead-in to his discussion of St. Thomas, Rev. Fields spoke of the parish he was called to establish from scratch. the church came to be named St. Thomas Episcopal Church, located in Birmingham.

    To add to the wonderful set of coincidences surrounding this day, the regular organist was not at the console on this Sunday morning. Substituting was Mary Alice Fields, my friend from Montgomery, Alabama almost 30 years ago. And the offertory selection? It was written by Dr. Harald Rohlig, who was then and is today the organist and choirmaster at St. John's in Montgomery.

    Despite being in Texas, it felt like it was Alabama Day! Enjoy some of the sights we experienced during our visit to St. Martin's Episcopal Church.

    The pictures go by quickly on this Animoto presentations. To view them as still photos, go to my Facebook page.

    Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    Great Time at NAESP

    Davonia and I had a great 5 days in Houston as we attended the National Association of Elementary School Principals Convention. There are a few I would especially like to thank for making our time so enjoyable:

    Vanessa Herman and everyone involved with planning this convention. As a presenter, the new setup could not have gone smoother. My room was already set up with a projector, computer, remote mouse, podium mic, lavalier mic, and water cooler, not to mention a tech person who came around to check on things. All I had to do was double-click a folder on the desktop, and there was all of the stuff I had uploaded a couple of weeks earlier.

    Bill Miller Photography. When Alabama principals go somewhere, they are never alone. Glen Frederick and Nick Campanotta were great hosts for the "Alabama gang," sponsoring a delicious dinner at Massa's Seafood on Friday and a breakfast buffet Saturday morning.

    Lindsay Foster, Product Manager for School Specialty. Davonia and I had a wonderful Italian dinner with Lindsay Saturday evening. Little did we know, she is a native Canadian. With us planning a trip to Montreal this coming January, the information and advice Lindsay gave us is extremely valuable.

    Bob Sickles and Steve Melis of Eye on Education. Steve took care of printing flyers and making sure everyone in attendance at my session had a flyer and my card. Both Bob and Steve took care of all of the details surrounding the book signing following my session.

    Most importantly, thanks to the approximately 100 people who turned out bright and early on a Saturday morning to hear about the 5 keys to organization and time management!!! I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. The handout for the session is located here. Just use the password we gave out during the session. If you did not leave me an e-mail address but want me to add you to the monthly e-mail newsletter list, click here to sign up.

    Below are pictures from our trip:

    Sunday, April 11, 2010

    The Art of Control Without Controlling

    TED talks are lectures of 18 minutes or less heralded as "ideas worth sharing" in the areas of technology, entertainment, or design. For a little more background on the series, you may want to read this entry on Wikipedia. This particular talk should be of interest to the musicians reading this blog. The speaker and former conductor Itay Talgam uses video of six twentieth-century orchestral conductors to illustrate the concepts of control and collaboration. I found it to be a very interesting piece.

    Friday, April 09, 2010

    Need to Print Name Tags?

    If you need to print name tags for a special occasion, you can choose from a number of templates at

    Choose a category in the left-hand column and then choose from the selections that appear. You will be asked to check the "Terms of Use " box. You can either download the template as a pdf or as a Word document. Selecting Word will allow you to type the names directly on the screen and print the completed name tags.

    Wednesday, April 07, 2010

    Skype Explained

    This short video explains the basics of Skype.

    Monday, April 05, 2010

    Gene Hackman on 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.

    Saturday, April 03, 2010

    Problems with Windows 7?

    Probably none of us expected the roll-out of a new operating system void of any problems. Identifying the common problems and their solutions is a pretty significant contribution. That's exactly what Mike Williams did with this post entitled 22 Common Windows 7 Problems Solved.

    Thursday, April 01, 2010

    Jaime Escalante Dies at Age 79

    We all knew him as the one who taught Calculus in the toughest of circumstances and succeeded. For over 20 years, the movie "Stand and Deliver" has served as an inspiration for what can be done.

    Jaime Escalante passed away Tuesday after a battle with cancer. What he did in the classroom will live on as a shining example of the difference a talented teacher makes. Here is news clip remembering his life:

    Below are scenes from "Stand and Deliver."