Friday, December 30, 2011

Facebook Activity Log

The latest major change to Facebook is the new profile look, called the "Timeline." Being careful about the content you post, and monitoring what others post to your wall, has always been important. The Timeline makes this monitoring process even more important.

On your Timeline, the "Activity Log" is a complete list of your photos and activities you have posted on Facebook. You have the ability to hide content or specify who sees certain items. Going through the Activity Log to tweak what is appearing to others is a good idea, especially for those who are prone to posting pictures they may not want coworkers or potential employers to see.

This video demonstrates how the Activity Log works.




What are your thoughts on the new look brought about by the Timeline?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Change...and Learning to Dial Your Rotary Phone



Wouldn't you love to have heard the comment when this "modern technology" was about to replace the comfortable routine. And how impersonal it is! No longer would Andy pick up the receiver and say, "Sara, would you ring over at Floyd's Barber Shop?"

Looking back allows us to look forward. What practices do we cling to because they are familiar, yet years from now, people can hardly believe how we resisted the change?

In a wonderful book entitled Drumming to the Beat of Different Marchers, author Debbie Silver included the following quote that so eloquently goes to the heart of why change is so difficult:

It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear . . . . It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to.

—Marilyn Ferguson in The Aquarian Conspiracy
 
It's a reminder of one of my favorite quotes:

When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and you are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.
-Richard Bach in Jonathan Livingston Seagull

As a new year approaches for us all, change is a given. There will be those times when you feel you are between trapezes. There will be those times when you feel you about to step off into the darkness. In no time, you have learned to fly!

What worries you about the year ahead? What excites you?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Eye on Education Interviews

As we approach a new year, not to mention "Get Organized Month," today's post recalls a two-part interview with Eye on Education published in March, 2011. Part 1 focuses on the collision between organization and technology in my career. That interview can be read here.

In Part 2, we look at my favorite on-line tool, the battle with procrastination, and student memories from my days as a band director. That interview can be read here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Celtic Woman-"O Come, All Ye Faithful"

Celtic Woman and "O Come, All Ye Faithful."


Play from Your Strengths: The Magic of "Appreciations"

In Making Ideas Happen, Scott Belsky talks about master storyteller Jay O'Callahan and the workshops he would conduct. Following each participant's presentation, the other participants would, in turn, talk about the things they appreciated most about the presentation they had just heard. "Appreciations" provides feedback which focuses on the strengths of the presentation rather than the weaknesses.


Belsky said of his own experience in O'Callahan's workshop, "And I noticed that a natural recalibration happens when you commend someone's strengths: their weaknesses are lessened as their strengths are emphasized. As my storytelling compatriots recounted their stories a second and third time, the points of weakness withered away naturally as the most beautiful parts became stronger." (page 197)

In a post called "Play From Your Strengths," I talk about authors such as John Maxwell and Peter Drucker whose philosophies are much the same as what Belsky articulated. In a society that tends to focus on shoring up weaknesses, here is a philosophy which asks us to focus on taking what is strong and make it stronger.


What would happen if we spent more time focusing on our strengths? Would we be better off? Or, are we escaping reality? What do you think?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O Magnum Mysterium



Here is a rendition of one of the season's more beautiful works performed by a truly spectacular group. Enjoy the King's College Choir.

Latin text

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.

English translation

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Top Four Uses for Vlingo

In November, I posted this information about Vlingo.The best way to describe it to someone who has never heard of it but has been watching the television since the release if iPhone 4S is to say, "It's like Siri." In fact, on December 15 and 16, I posted videos to my Facebook page which provide side-by-side comparisons of Vlingo with Siri. If you would like to visit that page, and hopefully "Like" it while you are there, go to Facebook.com/DrFrankBuck.

Here are the top four ways in which I have been using Vlingo that make increase productivity:
  1. Dial phone numbers through voice commands. I push one button and say, "Call John Doe cell phone," and Vlingo places the call.
  2. Compose e-mail by voice. I can push one key and say,"E-mail [person's name]...subject [I speak my desired subject line]...message [I speak the body of the message]." When I stop talking, Vlingo composes the e-mail and presents it to me for verification. If there is mistake, I can use the keyboard to make corrections and send.
  3. Leave myself a reminder. For a couple of years, I have been a heavy reQall user. Vlingo gives me the same capabilities. I press one key, say "Note to self," and speak my reminder. Vlingo composes an e-mail message to me. I can examine it for accuracy before I hit "send." My reminder is there in my e-mail for me to handle as I am handling other e-mail messages.
  4. Performing searches. Pressing one button and saying, "Pizza" returns a list of pizza parlors in my vicinity along with phone numbers. I can perform similar searches for such things as movies. More importantly, I can perform a Google search by voice. I press one button and speak whatever I would normally type into the Google search window. Vlingo returns the Google search results.
I have described four uses; however, there are quite a few more. You can update Facebook or compose a Tweet through voice commands. You can set Vlingo to read new e-mail messages aloud as you are driving. You can also open allocations on your phone through voice commands.

Vlingo is available for BlackBerry, Android,iPhone, Nokia,and Windows Mobile. If you are a BlackBerry user, you will want to grab this app by December 31, while it is being offered for free! It normally sells for $19.99. On your BlackBerry, go to the BlackBerry App World icon and search for "Vlingo."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Google Mobile App

The advertising surrounding Siri has certainly created interest in the voice recognition capabilities of smartphones. Other apps also use the power of voice recognition. You recently read on the blog about Vlingo, a program which allows you to use voice recognition to do anything from creating e-mails to searching for the nearest pizza parlor. Vlingo is normally a paid app. It is being offered free by RIM for the remainder of December.

Today's post is about Google Mobile App. It is a free program available for BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone. In short, Google Mobile App allows you to speak into your smartphone and have it perform a Google search.

This video shows how the app works.



Personally, I feel if you have Vlingo, you do not a need for Google Mobile App. Vlingo does everything Google Mobile App does plus more. If for some reason you are not using Vlingo, Google Mobile App is a great second-best tool to have on your phone.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Merry Christmas Darling

I have always been a Karen Carpenter fan. As a band director, I closed my first Christmas concert with "Merry Christmas Darling." Little did any of us know that Karen Carpenter would pass away shortly thereafter. Throughout my career as a band director, closing the Christmas concert with this beautiful selection became a tradition.



Last year, after posting this video and making mention of it on my Facebook page, I received this comment on that Facebook entry:

I love that song. Dawn and I were background singers on that recording, vocals on September 17, 1978 and video for the first Carpenter's Christmas Special on Sept. 24 (four days before Erin was born).

The comment was left by Dr. Brad Logan, a good friend from many years ago when he was choir director at the University of Montevallo. Brad has been the director of the Bemidji State University Choir since 1998. His daughter, Erin, is now grown with children of her own. It's amazing how relationships intertwine. It is also amazing how much time you can spend face-to-face and then learn something new once you are separated by hundreds of miles.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review of BlackBerry PlayBook

Research in Motion's (RIM) First BlackBerry tablet reviewed by Jon Rettinger of TechnoBuffalo.



I have owned a PlayBook since the spring. The smaller size allows me to fit the Playbook in the outside pocket of a sports coat. The BlackBerry Bridge allows me to see all of my Outlook data on the PlayBook. A Bluetooth connection allows the BlackBerry smartphone to communicate with the PlayBook. When I am on the phone and need to access my calendar, this feature is extremely handy.

This review is very extensive and is one I would recommend anyone watch before making a decision to purchase or not purchase a PlayBook. With the reduction in price, we can expect the PlayBook to receive some much-needed attention.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Email++ for Your BlackBerry

During workshops, I routinely talk about getting e-mail from "In" to "Empty" every day. The practice is made easy though the "drag and drop" feature on Outlook. Much of our e-mail contains information about places we have to be or things we need to do. The ability to get calendar-related e-mail on your calendar and to-do-related e-mail on you to-do list is huge. When you drag an e-mail to the Calendar or Task button, Outlook create an appointment or task, and it includes the entire body of the e-mail in the note section of that appointment or task.

I found an app for the BlackBerry that does the same thing. It is called Email++, and it's the best $4.99 I have spent in quite a while. Reading the instructions will help you as you make your decision to purchase and getting started after you download it.

For me, the best thing is the ability to take an e-mail and put it on the calendar or to-do list.

An added bonus of the app is its ability to identify your "free" time. Let's look at that one. An e-mail is from someone trying to set up a meeting. He wants to know what days and times are available for you. With Email++, you simply click "reply." Select the "Location and Availability" icon. Choose a day and indicate whether your interest is in that day or that week. You will see a list of all of the blocks of time during your workday(s) you are free. With one click, you copy that list. Now you can paste it in an e-mail response and send.

Yes, the icon was called "Location and Availability." If you want to e-mail someone to tell them exactly where you are, the GPS function of your BlackBerry, together with this app, makes the task easy.

You can get this app by clicking BlackBerry App World icon on your phone and searching for "Email++."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Straight No Chaser 12 Days of Christmas

Straight No Chaser performs 'The 12 Days of Christmas" at their reunion show at Indiana University!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fantasia on Greensleeves

Enjoy Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughn Williams



For the younger readers, here is an activity which will give you more information on the piece and the composer.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Take Time to Save Time

If you want to "get organized," plan on spending a little extra time now. The time you save comes later. Maybe that's why so many people avoid getting organized. It's easier to leave things in disarray...right now anyway. But, we pay the price later. So many people are so hard pressed to simply get through the day, working a little harder now to make things easier later is not a concept they want to hear.

At this time of year, one small example comes to mind. Our Christmas decorations include the "Sheltie Tree," a metal tree on which we hang a collection of decorative Shetland Sheepdog ornaments. Each ornament fits into its own particular cutout in a Styrofoam container. Putting the ornaments on tree...now that was always a breeze. Taking them down and putting each ornament in the correct place in the Styrofoam holders, now that was a different story! I would spend for what seemed like an eternity turning and trying to fit an ornament into this hole or that until finally I got it right. I always dreaded that part of the process.

One year, I got smart. As I was taking the ornament out of their containers, I took the time to write the description of the ornament beside the spot where it would be returned. When Christmas was over and it was time to pack it all away, the job I had dreaded was a snap. The Sheltie holding Santa's list went here. The Sheltie tangled in the Christmas lights went there. The annual ornament for 2007 goes here and 2009 goes here.

When all was said and done, the Sheltie ornaments were back in their protective boxes in a fraction of the time I normally spent. The time I had spend on labeling had been more than recouped.

Every year when I take those Sheltie ornaments and look at the hand-written description of the ornaments, I smile, knowing that the time I spent on the front end several years ago now saves me time each and every year.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Paper Planner Pages

If you use a paper planner to organize your life and have not found a format you like, this post is for you. The Free Resources page of my website lists four forms you can download, print, and use. And it's all for free.

Paper Planner Daily Page
The layout for this page matches the concepts we teach in my workshops. Items should be worded clearly. Like items should be grouped together. You will find a space to list your "Fab 5" for the day. Of course, the page provides a space for appointments. Finally, you have a dedicated space to answer the all-important question, "How did you make today count?" The page size is 8 1/2 X 5 1/2, meaning you will get two pages per sheet.

Put the pages on a paper cutter, punch holes, and you are ready to go. The back of the page is intentionally left blank. This page is where you take notes from meetings, phone calls, etc. Documentation is easy when you have this space available.

Montly Calendars
Click the tab for each month and print. Put the pages on a paper cutter, hole punch, and insert them into any notebook designed for pages which measure 8 1/2 X 5 1/2. Use the back of each page for additional information related to that month.

Goal Planner 
 Goals or projects are different, in that they are accomplished through a series of tasks. We need a place to house all of the tasks and related information for the projects we undertake. We then "farm out" the specific tasks to specific days. Having some Goal Planner sheets in the back of your book gives you control of the big picture.

Master List
We all have those tasks we want to accomplish "sometime," but do not want to assign a specific date. The "Master List" is just such a parking place. Put some of these sheets in the back of the planner, and you will never be at a loss for a "parking place" for the random tasks which come to mind. You can access any of these forms directly by clicking on the links. You can also check out all of the items on the Free Resource page by clicking here.

You can organize your life a good digital system. You can also organize your life with a good paper system. I long ago realized a person must be comfortable with a system for that system to work. Whichever your preference, this blog strives to be a place whee you can find answers.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Monday, December 05, 2011

Update for Those Who Attended the "Called to Be Exceptional" Conference

I had promised you a document on the subject "Handling Multiple Projects." I have prepared and uploaded that document. You can click here to download. The password is the same as the other handouts from the conference.

Trio of "Must-Haves"

This post rounds out the spotlight on the BlackBerry apps I use. The three apps in this post are all free.

Quick Pull

Simply rebooting your computer is often the answer to a host of problems. Likewise, restarting your BlackBerry recaptures memory. Restarting can be accomplished in several ways. One way is to physically remove the battery. If your BlackBerry is in a protective case, removing it from the case may be a hassle. You can also reset the device by holding down the "ALT" key, the right shift key, and holding the "Delete" key at the same time.

If that combination is tough to remember or tough to perform, try "Quick Pull." You can schedule this app to automatically perform a reset at a certain time each day. I prefer to simply run the app manually one each week.

On your BlackBerry, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Quick Pull." It is a free download..


QR Scanner Pro

Everyone needs a good QR code reader, and "QR Scanner Pro" is quick and easy. Open the app, point, and click "Scan QR Code." When the software has recognized the code, it vibrates and shows your results. That's it! On your BlackBerry, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "QR Scanner Pro." It is a free download currently with an average rating of 4 1/2 stars.

Air Browser

The PlayBook does not allow for a good file structure. Air Browser lets you to cut, copy, and paste files. You can create, rename, and delete files and folders. On your PlayBook, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Air Browser." It is a free download currently with an average rating of 4 stars.

Create Your Own Apps

During November, we looked at the apps I use on my BlackBerry and PlayBook. You can, however, take any website and turn it into an app.

You must be running OS6 or OS7 on your BlackBerry for this procedure to work. On your BlackBerry, open your browser and navigate to the desired website. Look just to the right of the URL window. There will be a circular icon. When you click it, select "Add to Home Screen." That's it! You will now see an icon on your home screen. When you click it, you are at your desired website.

You can do the same thing on the PlayBook. While at your desired website, click on the white star to the right of the URL. Select "Add to Home Screen."



Similar techniques will work for turning URLs into apps on other platforms.

On my devices, I have an icon for TV Guide online, a Classroom Walkthrough, and a group of math calculators

What websites do you use so often that you have created icons on your device that make them "apps"?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Sleigh Ride

Enjoy this rendition of the Sleigh Ride performed by the Boston Pops.

Friday, December 02, 2011

JSU Follow-Up

Welcome to the JSU students that are visiting after the SETS (Special Education Tracking System) training! This post is the perfect example of why I started this blog over 6 years ago...when the face-to-face workshop is over, the contact does not have to be over. The learning does not have to be over. In fact, it may be just beginning.

As we came to the end of our session, I wanted to be able to give you some way to obtain documentation on the SETS program. While all of you took good notes, this documentation will take you beyond what we discussed. The screen shots will further clarify much of yesterday's learning. The following two links will open documents which you can in turn save on your own computers:

SETS Student Desktop

SETS Processes and Forms

While you are here, I invite you to look around at over 6 years worth of posts. If you would like to bring new posts straight to your e-mail, you can subscribe by clicking here.

For those with Twitter accounts, I invite you to follow me on Twitter. For those on Facebook, I hope you will "Like" my Facebook page. (When we reach 200 "Likes," I will be giving away a copy of one of my books.)

Now that you have had an introduction to SETS, I would welcome your thoughts. Feel free to leave me a comment.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

During the Christmas season, you will find a mixture of stuff about being productive along with some of my favorite Christmas music. To start things off, folks my age remember when Andy Williams had his own variety show. Nobody sings this one like he does.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Drawing on the PlayBook

Need to sketch a diagram or demonstrate how to work a math problem? Using the keyboard just isn't an option. You need to write freehand on the screen. This post illustrates two apps I have downloaded.

Wet Paint

"Wet Paint" is a drawing program for the PlayBook. Tap the pencil or paint brush icons and write on the screen with your finger. Tapping the eraser icon allows you to erase any portion of your creation with your finger. Think of it as a miniature chalkboard. Swipe from the top bezel and you see options to play a game of tic-tac-toe or dots!



On your PlayBook, search BlackBerry App World for "Wet Paint." The app currently has an average rating of 4 1/2 stars. The price is free.

Letter Tracer

This app is great for young children who are learning their letters and numbers. Select from print, cursive, or numbers. The Playbook displays a large, dashed figure the child can trace with a finger. The app is very basic. When I downloaded it, I was hoping it would guide a child with the correct direction of the strokes. Children can often produce an end result which looks correct, yet if you look at the manner in which they arrived it, you see some bad habits forming. This app does not address that sort of thing, but its still a nice tool for little ones.

On your PlayBook, search BlackBerry App World for "Letter Tracer." The cost is 99 cents.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Need a "Cheat Sheet?"

I know you never used a "cheat sheet" in school. At least we'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let's just say you at least know someone else who did. The art of composing a cheat sheet was efficiency and economy of words. A good cheat sheet packed the best information in a small space. I stumbled on two free download for my PlayBook that provide great resource information in a pinch whether you are a student, a teacher, or just someone trying to blow the dust off what you learned in high school.

Cheat Sheet...Your Math Refresher

On your PlayBook, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Cheat Sheet." It's a free download, currently with a 4 1/2 star average review. 

You are presented with a menu of four options: Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Calculus. Tap on a menu and one of the sub-menus to reveal a sheet of formulas. They even look like they are written on notebook paper. The app makes no attempt to teach you the concepts. You simply get a refresher on the formulas you learned in the course.

Student Notes

On your PlayBook, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Student Notes." It's also a free download, currently with a 4 1/2 star average review. Choose a subject from a wide array of courses. Whether you are interested in French, Physics, Biology, or a dozen others, this app is equal to the test. The information you are probably searching for is right at your fingertips. Grab it today!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chess Clock Mobile and ScoreMobile

Today's post combines a great reference site for current sporting events with a great tool when you need a pair of timers. Both apps are available for the BlackBerry PlayBook.


ScoreMobile

Nothing beats being able to tap this icon and see up-to-the-minute college football scores. Tap on a game and see a wide variety of stats right down to how much time is left in the game, who has the ball, and on what yard line. But you can get more than NCAA football. Choose from NFL, CFL, NBA, PGA, NHL, NASCAR, and more.

Go to BlackBerry App World on your PlayBook and search for "ScoreMobile." It's a free download with an average review of 4 1/2 stars.

Chess Clock Mobile

This app is a free download and is currently rated at 5 stars. If you play chess, you can expect to pay $20 to $40 for a chess clock. Being able to get one for free and always with you on your PlayBook is a neat addition.

If you are not familiar with a chess clock, the idea is in tournament chess, each player has a specified time in which to complete a certain number of moves. When one player makes a move, his timer stops and his opponent's timer starts. A chess clock, therefore, is a pair of clocks where at any one time, one clock is ticking towards zero while the other clock is paused. If you have a need for this type of dual timer, even if it's not for chess, this app is for you.

Go to BlackBerry App World on your PlayBook and search for "Chess Clock Mobile."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Linus' Thanksgiving Prayer

Charles Schultz gave us some wonderful holidays specials to be enjoyed one generation after another. Here is one of the classic scenes, Linus' Thanksgiving Prayer:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Called to Be Exceptional"


Thanks to everyone who came to one or more of my sessions yesterday. You were an exceptional group. I am glad you took the time to visit this post. We covered a great deal of ground in a short amount of time, so this post gives us the chance to step back, catch our breath, and decide how to move forward from here.

Dropbox
Southern Division Teachers' Conference 2011
If you were in one of the sessions, this photo is a practical example of its use. I snapped the photo on my smartphone yesterday morning. I used Dropbox on my phone to upload the photo "into the cloud." That meant when I got back to the hotel and booted my laptop, there was the photo in the "My Dropbox" folder on my laptop. No flash drive, no cables!

Sunday night I made a few little changes to my presentations. No need to remember to make those same changes on the presentation back home on my desktop computer. Because I had saved the presentations in My Dropbox, the changes I made here in Louisiana have already been made on my computer back in Alabama.

To sign up for your own Dropbox account, click here. This link will also both you and me 250MB of additional storage!

iGoogle
Once you have created your iGoogle page and want to start adding gadgets, this post will give you a list of ideas. Each is a clickable link and will let you easily add any of the gadgets to your own iGoogle page.

Handouts
Digital handouts from each session are available on the Free Resources page of my website.Remember the password which will be required to open each one. You will notice clickable links in the handouts, so you will probably want to save them to your computer rather than print them out.

Handling Multiple Projects
We were unable to get to the section on handling multiple projects. That's the beauty of the blog, and the very reason it was created over six years ago..so that when the workshop is over, the contact and the learning can just be beginning. Click here for a document explaining the concepts for handling multiple projects. There is a password, and it is the same password as what you used for the other handouts.


Drawing for Organization Made Easy
Congratulations to Lonnie Jones, who was the winner in the drawing for a free copy of Organization Made Easy!:Tools for Today's Teachers.

Staying in Contact
If you gave me your e-mail address, you should receive something by this weekend. School servers sometimes block e-mails, so if you run into a problem, you can always subscribe with a different e-mail address. On the sidebar, you see a button where anyone can click and sign up for this free newsletter.

Are you are Twitter? You will find me @DrFrankBuck.
Are you on Facebook? This is your invitation to "Like" my Facebook page.

Thanks again for being such an exceptional group!

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's That Tune...Shazam!

How many times have you listened to a song and just couldn't think of the name of it? What if you could hold your smartphone up to the radio and have the title and album from which it came displayed on your device a few seconds later? That's exactly what Shazam Encore does.

Shazam listens to song and identifies it
On your BlackBerry, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Shazam Encore." Normally, this app costs $5.99, but it is one of the apps being offered for free as a result of the BlackBerry outage back in October. The complimentary status runs, from what I understand, through December.

In addition to identifying the song, Shazam Encore will allow you to buy a track, read reviews, search for songs, and watch YoutTube results for your search. 



Shazam is also available for the iPhone and Android.

Has anyone used this program extensively? What are your thoughts?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dropbox and BlueBox: Access Your Data From Anywhere

If you are not familiar with Dropbox, I highly recommend this free service. Dropbox allows you to store up to 2GB on their server which you can access from anywhere. I am planning a complete post for later on exactly how I have set up Dropbox and how I use it. For now, if you do not have a Dropbox account, go to this site and create one. Not only will you get the 2GB of free storage, but by using that link, you and I will each get an additional 250MB of free storage.

One of the capabilities you have is anything stored in Dropbox can be accessed from your smartphone. All you have to do, once you have a Dropbox account, is download the app on your smartphone. This page will take you to links for any of the devices. For BlackBerry users, the easiest route is to go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Dropbox."

For BlackBerry PlayBook owners, there is not a Dropbox app, although hopefully that will come. Until then, there is a great free app called "BlueBox." BlueBox will allow you to download files from Dropbox to your PlayBook. It will also allow to upload files from the PlayBook to Dropbox. The missing element is the ability to sync with Dropbox.

I use BlueBox as the way to get files from my PlayBook to my computer. If I take a picture on my PlayBook, all I have to do is upload that picture with BlueBox. In a few seconds, it is available in the Dropbox folder on my computer.

While having Dropbox on my BlackBerry is a great convenience, the real productivity boost comes from BlueBox on my PlayBook. It is an essential piece in allowing the PlayBook to become a laptop substitute.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Live, Laugh, Love...That's American Education

Michael McBride of Plano Senior High School (Plano, Texas Independent School District) provided this speech for a gathering of Plano teachers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

You Want Heroes?



This article is now several years old, yet it's message is eternal. In the world of journalism, there is perhaps no truer friend of education than Frosty Troy. His message is that if we are truly looking for heroes in our society, the classroom is an awfully good place to start. His article can be read here.

As we begin this American Education Week, there is perhaps no more appropriate time to remind ourselves of how essential teacher are to the prosperity of this nation--past, present, and future.

Is there a teacher, past or present, who has made a significant impact on you or a loved one? Have you taken the time to tell that teacher how much he or she has meant? What are you waiting for?

Friday, November 11, 2011

On This Veteran's Day...

Veteran's Day is called by various names and celebrated in various ways by friends around the world. In England, they call it Remembrance Day. The playing of Nimrod, one of the movements of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations, is a tradition on this day.

Veterans Day is an opportunity not only to carve out time from our lives to remember those who gave their own, but to celebrate all that we enjoy. Today is also my Davonia's birthday, my wife of 22 years. Nimrod happens to be one of her favorites.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Your BlackBerry Can Talk!

Yes, not only can your BlackBerry talk, it can speak a variety of languages. The speech capabilities of the BlackBerry provide the subject for today's post.

iSpeech Translator

This app allows you to choose the language to translate "from" and "to." You can type a phrase and see the translated text displayed. By tapping on the speaker icon, you will hear the translation read. By tapping on the microphone, you can speak your text. iSpeech will provide you the written translation, or you can tap the speaker and listen to the translation.

iSpeech Translator is available for the BlackBerry and the BlackBerry PlayBook. Go to BlackBery App World on either device to download this free app.

DriveSafe.ly

How many times do you find yourself driving along andyour smartphone starts vibrating? New e-mail is arriving! What do you do? Do you look down and read it while still trying to concentrate on the road? Or, do you resist the temptation until you arrive at your destination?

DriveSafe.ly eliminates the dilemma. Turn in on, and when new e-mail arrives, DriveSafe.ly reads it aloud to you. Earlier, we reviewed Vlingo, which also has the capability to read your e-mail, plus much more. So, you may not find the need for this DriveSafe.ly. On the other hand, if you weren't crazy about Vlingo, but like the read-aloud feature for e-mail, DriveSafe.ly may be for you.

If you want DriveSafe.ly, you should waste no time in going to BlackBerry App World on your handheld and downloading it. Search for "Compliments of BlackBerry." DriveSafe.ly comes in two versions. The free version reads the e-mails. The Pro version allows you to respond to e-mails by voice. RIM has make the Pro version free for a limited time (until the end of December from what I know).

Next Posts

The next three posts will deviate from this month's theme of great apps for your smartphone. Salutes to Veteran's Day and American Education Week will provide an "intermission" from talk about apps. Starting with the November 18 post, we will continue the discussion of some must-haves for your smartphone and tablet.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Apps for Musicians

When I was a teenager and learning a musical instrument, there were several essential tools for practice. First and foremost was the metronome, that unforgiving "tick-tock" that forced one to keep a steady tempo. Without it, you were prone to rush or drag without knowing it. As I remember, a basic metronome in those days set you back about $50.

A tuner was essential. Being able to look at a tuner as you play and see which notes are sliding sharp or flat develops the ear and allow ones playing to be much more pleasing to the listener, especially when playing with others. I felt pretty lucky that technology had advanced to the point that when I started teaching (in 1982), I could purchase a battery-operated tuner for slightly over $100.

Having a piano nearby always comes in handy. Being able to check yourself when practicing sight-singing is just one example. Of course, pianos take up a good bit of room and cost a good chunk of change.

Times have changed. I have all three tools on my BlackBerry PlayBook. If fits in the pocket of a sports coat, and the total cost for those three tools combined is 99 cents.

Metronome

On your PlayBook, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Steady-Tick Metronome." The cost for this app is 99 cents. The image on the screen looks just like the old-fashioned metronome from my childhood.

On your BlackBerry, go to App World and search for "Classic Metronome." This app is also 99 cents and presents the same old-fashioned look. This version gives you several options, including the normal metronome click, the sounds of a cowbell, the sound of clapping, or no sound at all. In the no-sound mode, you see the pendulum action of the metronome along with the BlackBerry displaying a flashing red light on each beat. The app will even emit an A-440 pitch for purposes of tuning.

Tuner

On your PlayBook, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Instrument Tuner." As you play your instrument or sing, the app will display the name of the note you are playing and give you a reading on whether the pitch is in tune, sharp, or flat (and to what degree). This app is free, which sure beats the $100+ I paid in the early 80's for a stand-alone tool that did the same thing.

Piano

What would you think about having a miniature piano keyboard in your pocket, and for free? On your Playbook, go to BlackBerry App World and search for "Piano." You will find several. This one is free, is currently rated at 4 1/2 stars, and has a range of two full octaves. You can play single notes or chords, and the sound is remarkably good. For a child, this app would prove a great introduction to the piano keyboard.


While these apps are available on BlackBerry App World, you will probably find comparable apps for other platforms.

For those using an iPad, Honeycomb, Galaxy, or any other tablet currently on the market, have you found an app that does what is described here? If so, leave a comment to let me and other readers know about it.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Vlingo: Your Personal Assistant

The most notable and publicized feature of the iPhone 4S has been "Siri." Vlingo is its parallel for the BlackBerry and other devices.

This video provides a great demonstration of Vlingo:



Here is a video explaining the "in car" capabilities of Vlingo. The demonstration is on an Android, so i am not sure about all of the capabilities you see here for other platforms.



Here you see a person using Vlingo while driving:



Finally, this cartoon video expands on the capabilities shown in the other videos. It's hard whether all of this capability is present now, or whether some is plans for future releases.



A free version of Vlingo is available. You can find it by selecting the BlackBerry App World icon on your handheld and searching for Vlingo. Versions are also available for Android, iPhone, Nokia, and Windows Mobile.

Another reason for exploring BlackBerry apps during this month is the current offer from RIM, the makers of BlackBerry. BlackBerry e-mail services were down for several days during October. For this reason, RIM is offering to its customers approximately a dozen apps paid apps for free. The apps are being released one at a time during November and will remain free through December. The full-fledged version of Vlingo is one of those apps. On my Facebook page, I am posting about the apps as each is released. Come on over and "Like" that Facebook page to stay up on the latest about the free apps.

Is anyone already using Vlingo? Are you using something similar? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

There's an App for That

Commercials are great for leaving us with catchy phrases that remain with us. A generation ago, we had the unforgettable, "Try it, you'll like it" and "I can't believe I ate the whole thing!" One of the memorable ones of late is, "There's an app for that."




The leading makers of smartphones vie for our attention with the apps available for them. This month, I will be presenting my favorite apps for BlackBerry and BlackBerry PlayBook. If I write about an app you already use, let me know what you think about it. Let me know about any features I may be missing. If you use another smartphone, do what I do. When I read about a great app for another smartphone, I look to see if there is a BlackBerry app that does much the same thing. One of the statements often made about BlackBerry is that there are few apps available compared to the Apple and Android. This chart illustrates the disparity.

Only 20, 000 apps, but just how many do you need?

BlackBerry has a mere 20,000 apps written for it, while Apple tops the list at 350,000. But just how many apps do I need anyway? The surprise for me has been how many apps I see promoted in commercials which I later find are also available for the BlackBerry. I must admit, when it comes to putting ones best foot forward, RIM has not been doing such a good job. They make good stuff, but lack in the marketing department. I guess this month is my attempt to help them out a little.

BlackBerry App World
Look for App World icon on your BlackBerry

If you are new to finding and downloading apps, BlackBerry App World is the place to go. Look for the App World icon on your handheld. If may be hidden in a folder, so don't forget to check there. If you don't see one, use your BlackBerry's browser to go here and get it.


Poynt
First up is Poynt. It provides information about things in your location (if your device has GPS capabilities) or any location you enter:

  • Business- Poynt is like the yellow pages. Enter the name of a business or the type of business ad Poynt provides the information for businesses in your area.
  • People- Poynt is also like the white pages. Enter the name of a person and see the phone number, address, and map to the location for any person in your area with that name.
  • Movies- Tap on the "Movies" icon and see a list of recent releases. You can see where movies are playing, get directions to theaters, view trailers, or read reveiws.
  • Restaurants- See a list of restaurants in your area. Search by cuisine. Read restaurant reviews and get directions. Planning a trip? Enter the zip code and view restaurants there.
  • Gas- When you are looking for a gas station, Poynt shows you locations and prices of all stations in the area.
  • Events- Looking for something to do? Poynt shows a list of events along with ticket information, directions, and available photos.

Poynt is a must-have, and is available for BlackBerry, Android, iPhone, WIndows, and Nokia.To get it for your BlackBerry, click the BlackBerry App World icon on your handheld and search the site for "Poynt." You can also download Poynt on the PlayBook by tapping on the BlackBerry App World icon on your PlayBook and searching for Poynt.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Catch-22 That Allows the Digital Divide

I was a college student when the move from LP records to CDs began. I must admit that I was one of the late adopters. That statement seems strange coming from one who both embraces the ways in which technology makes our lives easier and also one who is a musician. Why was my collection still on LPs and cassette tapes when the rest of the world had moved to CDs?

The reason is really quite simple. I did not buy CDs because I had no CD player. What good are CDs if there is nothing to play them on?

I did not have a CD player because I had no CDs. What good would a CD player be if there were no CDs to play on it?

That "Catch-22" rocked on for years until one day someone innocently gave me a CD. Now I have a CD, but can't play it. What wold it take to resolve the dilemma? "I know," I thought. "I will buy a CD player!"

And so I did. Problem solved!

Once the CD player was set up, there was a need for CDs. CDs started showing up. A CD player with but a single CD created a void. CDs filled that void.

Many communities face this same Catch-22 when it comes to Internet access in the home. Since not all students have Internet access, we make allowances so that students can get by perfectly well without it. Because they can get by without it, parents fail to see it as a priority. We continue to dance this Catch-22 dance while the digital divide widens.

How can we move past a situation which has been in place far too long? For five years, I have argued we must re-frame the question from, "Do you have the Internet?" to "How do you have the Internet?" Once Internet access at home becomes a priority, this great resource we have come to depend on becomes available to a population which didn't know what it was missing.

Create the need. Allow the void to exist. See how quickly others will fill that void.

Friday, October 28, 2011

How Good to You Want to Be?

A week from tomorrow, an undefeated LSU team and an undefeated Alabama team will play in what may be, for all practical purposes, the national championship game. The teams have much in common. They are both from the SEC. They have both won national championships in recent years. Finally, they both won national championships under Nick Saban (with LSU winning another under Les Miles).

A year and a half ago, I posted about Saban's book, How Good Do You Want to Be?  The book was interesting for two reasons. First, Alabama just won a national championship, and therefore the team and its coach were news.

Secondly, even though the cover pictured 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 seven years and two coaching stints ago relate to the present Alabama team? How does the book relate to a blog about organization and time management?

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 the coach has been saying each season since arriving 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).

A year ago, much talk centered around a possible repeat national title for Alabama. As we know, Alabama wound up losing three games, and in retrospect, graduation left a large hole that would have made a repeat national championship a long shot. 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)

How Good Do You Want to Be? is a good read whether you are pulling for the team Saban coaches now or for the team he coached when he wrote the book. You have time to pick up or copy and read it before the game. It might not only give you a better insight into the game, but also how you can come closer to achieving your own goals.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Improving Reading Fluency With an iPad and Fry Phrases

Fry Phrases are short combinations of words which come from Dr. Edward Fry’s "Instant Word List" (High Frequency Words). According to Fry, the words in the list represent the majority of all the words students encounter in their reading. Practicing these Fry Phrases with some emphasis on speed increases reading fluency.


A long-standing practice has been to put these phrases on flash cards and let students practice, with the goal being not only to call words correctly, but call them quickly. With today's technology, we can easily make a PowerPoint presentation with each Fry Phrase appearing on its own slide. With a set of tablets, each child can practice fluency independently.

Click to download a free set of Fry Phrases. The file can be saved on each tablet so that the set can be used regardless of the availability of an Internet connection.

As an additional resource, I ran across this excellent resource compiled by New Park Elementary School in Harlan, IA. Here, you will find an assortment of PowerPoint decks with slides that automatically advance, ensuring that students acquire some degree of speed.These resources will require an Internet connection.

"I have tablets for my classroom, now what?" These resources help provide some answers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Look at the BlackBerry Bold Touch

BlackBerry Bold Touch (9900 and 9930) are two of the latest BlackBerry releases. I like having a full keyboard, but the idea of being able to open applications by touching them on the screen, swiping, enlarging by pinching, etc. is also appealing.

The Bold Touch combines both. Unlike the Torch, your keyboard is always available without having to slide part of the device to get to it.

This video is about 12 minutes long, and discusses the new features in OS7 and the "touch" feature.




For those who are using OS7, what are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

BlackBerry OS6 Tips (Non-Touch Models)

For BlackBerry users running OS6, here are a few tips I have picked up along the way. These apply to non-touch models:
  • Zoom In--Hold the "Alt" key and scroll upward on the trackpad
  • Save a webpage to your home screen--While you are on the desired page, click on the Globe icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Choose "Add To Home Screen" from the menu that appears.
  • Press and hold the trackpad from anywhere on the screen. You will see a menu of popular actions. (Reminds me of right-clicking the mouse.)
  • View recent messages from peple in your Contacts--Go to that person in your Contacts. Open their record and scroll down to "Recent Activity."
  • If you have several programs open at one time, you an move quickly between them by pressing and holding the Menu key. 
BlackBerry users, anybody want to jump in with your favorite shortcuts?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Happiness Project

For as long as I can remember, Davonia and I have devoted several Saturday mornings a year to administering the ACT to eager college-bound students. Reading scripted instructions and watching kids bubble multiple choice tests provides a large supply of time for mental planning, day dreaming, and reading interesting things posted on the classroom wall.

My favorite wall posting of all time is one from John Lennon. It goes as follows:

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. 
When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. 
I wrote down “happy.” 
They told me I didn't understand the assignment. 
I told them they didn't understand life. 

When you get to the bottom of it all, the five-year-old got it right, he just realized it a lot sooner than most of us.

I recently read The Happiness Project at the suggestion of a dear friend who had just done the same. While I enjoyed the book, my biggest takeaway was that I was already there, and have been for a very long time. My favorite quote is:

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.”
- L P. Jacks

What do you think? Is happiness the key? How do we get there? How do we know when we have arrived?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Patience is Doing Something Else in the Process

We live in a world of “hurry up and wait.” It happens when we show up for the medical appointment on time, only to realize the doctor is running an hour behind. It happens when we arrive at the airport with plenty of time to navigate security, and find out the flight has been delayed.

Wait time” is a real force in our lives. Add it all together, and it amounts to a huge time sink which can turn a good day sour. On the other hand, wait time provides pockets on unexpected discretionary time. How we use it is determined by how we prepare for it.

I am actually writing this post at a national conference waiting for the next session to begin. I fully expect to wait for the shuttle that will take me from the hotel to the airport, and then more wait time before boarding the plane. Without a doubt, I will have an hour and a half on the plane. Add it all together, and I am looking at three to four hours of wasted time...or I am looking at three to four hours where I can accomplish something of value. What determines which of the outcomes will be true?

Reading Material at Hand 

When magazines arrive at my house, they go in a wooden letter tray beside my desk. I maintain a list of books I want to read and check them out from the library. They also go in that letter tray.

Before I leave my house, if there is any chance I will have wait time, I grab a book or several magazines. The spare minutes are plugged with reading I wanted to do anyway. People ask me, “How do you stay on top of all of the reading material?” Now you have my answer.

Build the List 

While reading material is great for filling the gaps, it is by no means the only option. As subjects for future blog posts come to mind, they are trapped on a list. When I have wait time, I can choose a topic from the list and compose a new blog post. What you are reading now is a good example. The BlackBerry task list holds URLs for websites I want to examine in further detail. In fact, everything I have to do, no matter how large of small, regardless of how urgent or how far in the future, is trapped on that list.

In a later post, I will talk about how I organize that list and search it. For now, the point is that when waiting time presents itself, I can quickly find those things I wanted to do anyway and could be doing right then. I turn potentially wasted time into productive time.


Do you do much the same thing? What would you like to add to the discussion?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Choir Creates Quite a "Storm"

With your eyes closed, you would think you hear rain followed by a real thunderstorm.



The group is Perpetuum Jazzile. Just a little something to brighten your day!

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Facebook Page


After a great deal of thought, I have started a Facebook page for the professional side of my life. I am always looking for easier ways to do things and trying to make life easier for others. Since so many people are already familiar with Facebook, starting this page will make it easier to access content.

To visit the page, click the button above. You can also enter the URL http://facebook.com/DrFrankBuck (which makes my username here the same as on Twitter).

What can you expect to find on this Facebook page?

Notification of new blog posts. Each time I post on this blog, i will let you know about it on the Facebook page. I know many of you receive notification by being followers of this blog, subscribing through Feedburner, subscribing through RSS, or following me on Twitter. At the same time, some of these terms may be "Greek" to many others. If Facebook is a familiar friend, letting you know about new posts in this manner is a step forward.

Follow-up and discussion. I always like to get comments on blog posts, and I am pretty good about responding to them. In general, people tend not to comment on blog posts. Again, we seem comfortable with commenting on Facebook. I hope to get your reaction to posts...what you like, what you don't like, where you may agree or disagree, and what thoughts you have which will take the discussion to a deeper level.

New discussion. In addition, you can post on the wall to start an entirely new discussion, something the blog does not allow you to do.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, come on over to the Facebook page and say hello. See you there!

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Light Bulb Comes On

When we put a new practice in, we must let it replace something else. "One in—one out." In the world of the tech-savvy leader, it's more like "one in—one dozen out." In the world of those who are barely hanging on, it's "one in—one more in—here's another—and another." When we don't fully understand the new, we hang on to the old. We do double-duty.

As a starter, here are three quick practices which make changing the light bulb a one-person job:

1. Take teachers out of the receipt-writing business

As an elementary principal, our school stopped issuing receipt books to teachers. Any student with money brought it in a sealed envelope with his name, homeroom, amount of money, and purpose written on the outside. Students went to one designated place in the school and turned their envelopes in to two designated people. These two staff members received the money. When the tardy bell rang, they  would count the money, enter the information into a database, print receipts, and print a record of the transactions which was submitted to the office with the money.

The practice worked like a charm. Teachers had more time at the start of the day to teach, rather than practice their accounting skills. With a new procedure planned, I began making the needed changes in the faculty handbook. I was amazed at how much we had been asking of teachers in order to satisfy auditors.Entire pages came out of the handbook as we took this burden and its regulations off the back of our teachers. What went into the handbook instead was a simple paragraph explaining where to send students who have money and what information each student was to have on his/her envelope.

The procedure meant freeing up two people to handle the load of receipting money for the entire school. The larger the school, the more time required. However, the larger the school, the more time is already spent on receipting money. The light bulb is simply being turned by 100 people instead of 20. Since that time, the software to handle the job has gotten better. Let's take teachers out of the receipt-writing business.

2. Never ask a teacher to produce a report from the computer when one person can run the same report for the entire school.

Progress reports and report cards should be printed by one person in the front office, not by every teacher in the school. Ditto for award certificates. On my website is an all-purpose certificate and companion spreadsheet. When it comes time to print certificates for perfect attendance, honor roll, or membership in any school organization, the entire job can be printed in one huge batch. Let's get away from the antiquated model of dividing work amongst an entire faculty. Instead, let's use our technology efficiently.

3. Data data everywhere, but that doesn't mean we have to hand-copy.

Every year, the "high-stakes test" results arrive. Every year, in all-too-many schools, principals pass out computer-generated reports and ask teachers to copy figures from those printouts to paper grids. They call it "analyzing data." I call it copying numbers. The tech-savvy leader figures a way to deliver those figures in their final form to the teacher. The teacher's time is then spent making meaning of the data, not mechanically copying it.

How many of your co-workers does it take to screw in a light bulb?  What can you do to end the madness?
 

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Three Stories from Steve Jobs

In 2005, Steve Jobs delivered the Commencement Address at Stanford University. It has often been recognized as one of the best such addresses every delivered. It's message seems even more relevant today.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

New Circumstances and Old Procedures

Consider the story of the mother and her young daughter preparing Easter dinner. Before placing the ham in the oven for baking, the mother cut both ends off the ham.

“Why did you cut off the ends of the ham?” asked the daughter.

“That’s the way my mother always did it,” replied the mother.

The daughter quickly got on the telephone to the grandmother and posed the question. The grandmother replied that she does, indeed, always cut the ends off the ham before placing it in the over. When asked why, the grandmother replied, “That’s the way my mother always did it.”

It just so happened the next week brought about a visit from great-grandmother. Overcome with curiosity, as young children often are, nothing would do but to pose this same question.

“Great Grandmother, Mommy always cuts the ends off her ham before she puts it in the oven. Mommy says she does it because that’s the way Grandmother always did it. Grandmother says she did it because that’s the way you always did it. Is it true, Great Grandmother? Did you always cut the ends off of the ham?”

“Yes, indeed, my child,” replied the elderly woman.

“But why?” asked the young girl.

Holding her hands about 12 inches apart, she replied, “Because my pan was only this big.”

The point of the story is that when we as humans are faced with a set of circumstances, we come up with procedures to handle those circumstances. So often, our circumstances change…but our procedures stay the same.

Monday, October 03, 2011

How Many of Your Colleagues Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?

How many (fill in the blank yourself) does to take to change a light bulb? The original answer to the joke is “Three,” with the punch line being “…one to hold the bulb the bulb and two to turn the ladder.” Other variations tell us that the task requires 5 trumpet players, one to change the bulb and four to stand around and tell how they could have done it better. In the case of the movie star, it only takes one…she holds the bulb and the world revolves around her. You can find pages and pages of “light bulb” jokes. It’s a favorite way to poke fun at the students from a rival college or different ideology.

We all know it should take one person to change a light bulb, but we wait for the ridiculous answer and the even more absurd explanation.

The really absurd thing, however, are the real-life “light bulb” jokes. They are those tasks that could and should be handled by one person, yet we wind up involving far more. Our time is wasted, our patience is tried, and we neglect the important work we could be doing in favor of the one-person job someone has seen fit to turn into a twenty-person job.

In my years of experience in education, I saw all too many times when someone at every school was running a report to submit to the central office. The pitiful truth of it all was that one person could have run have the report for the entire school system in less time than it took to give every school instructions on what to do, track who had submitted the report, and then compile the results.

The same scenario happens on a daily basis at the schools every day when principals ask dozens of teachers to each run reports which could just have easily been handled by one person in the office.

Time and time again, I see teachers do this to themselves as they do things by hand that a computer could do far better and 10 faster. Is it any wonder so many feel exhausted at the end of the day and also feel little has been accomplished?

Wednesday, we will examine the root of the problem. Friday, let’s look at solving it.

What are the “light bulb” situations you have come across?


Friday, September 30, 2011

Overwhelmed

One principal who helped mentor me described the end of the school year as “…like being on a sled going down a steep, snow-covered hill. Things just get faster and faster and there’s nothing you can do about it. You just try to avoid running into a tree.” We forget just how much hits us until it arrives. The end of the year just seems the logical time to bring closure to just about any activity you can name. Everyone is trying to clear up everything all at the same time. Work shows up faster than we can possibly get it done. Without intervention, this year will be no different.

As the year comes to a close, we would actually like to enjoy it. Everything we have worked for all year long blooms! How nice it would be to savor the moment instead of feeling the stress of so much to do in so little time!

It doesn’t all have to be done right now.
Some of what is on our plates could wait until the dust settles. Our fear is that by the time we actually have the time, those good ideas will have been forgotten, so we try to cram it all in while things are fresh on our minds. Two simple tools allow us to take those worthy tasks and carve a place for them in our future. One more gives hope that we could prevent this onslaught next year.

The Tickler File
There are the physical things which are lying around in the form of papers and files. Their physical presence serves as reminder of the work to be done with them. Every time we look at them, we are distracted from the task at hand. That’s where the tickler file comes to the rescue. We have a pretty good idea of when the dust will settle and life as normal will resume. Drop those papers in the tickler file for that time. They will resurface exactly when you have decided you wanted to see them.

The Signature Tool
There are the mental things rolling around in our heads. Every one of them screams “Don’t forget to…!” yet still we forget. Those things which could be done later compete for our limited attention with those things which much be done now. Our signature tool, be it paper or digital, is the answer. Pick a date when things will be more settled. Write it down or key it in depending upon whether you system is paper or digital. Either way, you have earned the right to forget about it. It will come back on its own, and it will do so on exactly on the date you had chosen.

The Repeating Task List
Some of the avalanche is caused by other people. Some of it, we likely have nobody to blame but ourselves. It seems as soon as life settles down in June, we forget the feeling of overwhelm and what we might have done to minimize it.

The world of education is a cyclic world in which many of the same tasks and same projects repeat every year. Some of what we are doing in May could have been done in March, if only we had thought of it in March. You can structure a system which will cause you to think of it in March, or at any time you choose. I have spoken often of the value of the repeating task list, a simple tool which allows us to think of something one time and then let our system remind us at just the right instant.

Finishing teacher observations, scheduling next year’s dates, grading mountains of make-up work, or taking inventory of our equipment are just a few examples of the tasks which need not be able to left for the mad rush of mid-May. If all of what we are trying to fit into a small window of time was actually written down in one place, we would instantly realize that we have set ourselves up for failure and begin to do something about it.

Master these three tools and watch your productivity go up and your stress level go down:
1. Tickler File
2. Signature Tool
3. Repeating Task List

End the Insanity
Mid-May is a terrible time to fix the problems of mid-May. Now is a perfect time to lay the plans and implement the procedures that will make this May the perfect end of a perfect year.


Our two greatest problems are gravity and paperwork. We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.
— Dr. Wernher Von Braun