Friday, August 30, 2013

Who's Not Cutting It?

The start of a new school year is an exciting time. It provides a chance to start fresh, whether you are a teacher, a student, or a parent. It provides the opportunity to correct those things which did not go well last year and strive for a repeat performance of those things which did go well.

On that first day, hallways are freshly waxed, lockers are neatly organized, and notebooks are pristine. On that first day, nobody has failed a test or missed a homework assignment, but  alas, we know this will change. When it does, will we recognize a pattern early enough to prevent a downward spiral?

Some years ago, I listened to a speaker talk about identifying "who's not cutting it" after only 15 days into the school year. While the objective was noble, the speaker gave no specifics as to how the deficient students would be identified. In my mind, I envisioned principals who listened to the speaker going home to create paper forms which would be distributed to all teachers. Teachers would, in turn, examine their grade books and record on the forms the names of the students who were not "cutting it" and then submit those forms to the guidance counselor. The poor guidance counselor would then have yet one more pile of papers on the desk and have to somehow make sense of it all. By the time the data was assimilated, another week would have passed, and the information would now be obsolete.

The more cumbersome the process, the less likely  the process will be sustained. The more cumbersome the process, the less likely  the process will be sustained. The result is a continuation of a pattern where students are well on their way to failure before any intervention happens.

The student information system used in most any school will provide current averages for any subset of students. Examine the options available when printing progress reports in your own system.

Don't make the mistake of thinking a "progress report" can only be run at the mid-point of the grading period, the time when progress reports are normally printed and sent home. A progress report can be run at any time, and using this valuable tool before the first two weeks of school have past sends a message that the school is serious about early intervention.

Look for an option which filters results of the progress report to those students who have a certain maximum average. For example, selecting a maximum average of 70 will yield a list of students who have a current average of 70 or less for the grading period along with the name of the course for which the low grade is occurring and the up-to-the-minute average.

Look for the ability to save the results of the report to a filter. This filter could then be used to print a list of the failing students along with parents' names and phone numbers. It could be used to print schedules of the failing students, or print any other report which would make early intervention easier.

Setting It Up
I am a fan of repeating tasks. No staff member should have to remember each year to identify these students who are not "cutting it" after those first couple of weeks of school. Identification will become one of those scores of repeating tasks to be performed every year.

  1. Choose someone who will be responsible for identifying students who are showing early signs of failure. A guidance counselor is a logical choice. A member of the clerical staff could produce the desired report as well.
  2. Identify exactly what report(s) and exactly what options on the report(s) should be selected. 
  3. The person taking on this assignment should create a new task in his/her electronic to-do list that reads something like, "Identify students who are not cutting it." In the note section of the task, record the details for exactly how to produce the report(s) as well as how to use the results.
  4. Set a due date for when the task needs to be seen and set the task to repeat annually.  

Collecting the data becomes a one-person job. A reminder to do it is generated every year on the prescribed date. The instructions for how to produce the data are included, eliminating the procrastination which accompanies "fuzzy" tasks.

Who's not cutting it? Find out very early in the school year and provide intervention before failure becomes a pattern. The school's student information system makes it easy. A repeating task system makes it automatic.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Get a Phone Call When Your Favorite Team Scores With IFTTT


College football kicks into high gear this weekend, we all want to know how our favorite team is doing, even when we can't watch it on TV. A portable radio has always been a reliable source of updates. In recent years, activity on Facebook and Twitter gives us a flavor of the action. But what if we could actually get a phone call every time our team scores?

This example is just one of the many tasks which can be automated with a free service call "If This Then That," located at In this post, I will walk you through this example.

Go to and create a free account. You will then be ready to create your first "recipe." On the dashboard, click on "Create."


On the next screen, click on the "this" link. You are creating the "trigger."


You will now see a list of "channels." In this case, we are going to choose "ESPN."


You will get a message to "Activate" the channel. Any time you use a channel for the first time, you will be asked to activate it. It takes only a couple of mouse clicks.

Next, you see several options. We are going to choose "New in-game update." You may later wish to create an additional recipe to get breaking news stories for your favorite team or breaking news stories for a sport of your choosing.

Now, we will select our sport and team from the drop-down menus.

I am going to choose "College Football." Being a Jacksonville State graduate, my choice is "Jacksonville State Gamecocks." My trigger is complete, so I choose "Create Trigger."


I have now finished "if this," so I can move to the second part of the recipe, "then that." We will tell the recipe what to do when there is a score in the JSU game. Click "that."


I see another list of channels. My choice is "Phone Call." As you examine the options for channels, you will see that you could choose "email" to receive your update that way. For that matter, you could choose "Facebook" and have IFTTT write a Facebook post with the score update for you. But for now, we will choose for you to get a phone call.


On the next screen, you have only one option. Click on "Call my phone."


On the next screen, click "Create Action." As you create other recipes, you can customize your messages. 


The next screen presents our recipe: "IF a new in-game update for the Jacksonville State University Gamecocks THEN call my phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx." If you wish, write a description in the space provided. Click "Create Recipe."


You're done! When their is a new score involving your favorite team, you get a phone call.

What Else Can You Do With IFTTT?
When the post you are reading now appeared on my blog, an entry appeared on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, letting my connections know this post, complete with the title of the post and a link to it. It all happens without my doing a thing. It's all done with IFTTT. 

One recipe says that IF I post to Blogger, THEN post to Facebook. A second recipe does the same with Twitter, and a third recipe handles LinkedIn. If your business has both a Facebook page and a Twitter account, you could compose a recipe which would allow you to compose something on Twitter and the exact same message post automatically on Facebook.

Other popular uses of IFTTT include alerting you when rain or snow is predicted for your area or even automatically operating WeMo devices.

To become more familiar with the capabilities of IFTTT, click the "Browse" link at the top of the dashboard. When you see one you like, click the arrow to the right of it and then click "Use Recipe." You can also get other ideas for using IFTTT from these articles:
Give "If This Then That" a try. Once you have created a recipe or two, you will get the hang of it. You just may find a recipe that makes your life easier every day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Analyzing "I Have a Dream"

This coming Wednesday marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Excerpts from this speech have been quoted countless times. The reiteration of phrases beginning "Let freedom ring," the reiteration of the phrase "I have a dream," and the challenge that his children "will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" are universally familiar.

In this video, you may listen to the speech in its entirety.

What makes the speech so compelling? One of my favorite TED Talks was given by Nancy Duarte. She outlines what makes a presentations great, and uses "I Have a Dream" and Steve Jobs' introduction of the iPhone as examples.

In the TED Talk, Nancy Duarte argues a great presentation has a beginning, middle , and end. The beginning establishes "what is" and compares it "what could be." Throughout the presentation, the juxtaposition of the "what is" versus "what could be" moves the audience to accept the speaker's ideas. The end includes a "call to action" and paints the "new bliss" of the future.

Nancy Duarte also composed a 5-minute video on her blog where she further analyzes the "I Have a Dream" speech. I think you will enjoy watching her video. Scroll to the second video in the page.

Nancy Duarte's message was that an idea can change the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. proved it can happen.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Using Spare Minutes Constructively

In the last post, we talked about carving out chunks of time, allowing us to focus on something of worth. Drucker talked about being able to accomplish little with "dribs and drabs" of time. Life happens, however, and often leaves our days broken into fragments. Sometimes "dribs and drabs" are the only vehicles through which we can move forward. The ability to use those spare minutes allows us to reclaim time that would otherwise be wasted, sometimes fairly large amounts of time.
time management

This post is one such example. On the day I composed it, our school system was in the midst of a professional development day. My role was to circulate from school to school and observe the training that was happening at each site. I knew ahead of time that my day would be spent sitting and watching. For that reason, I started the day by scanning my to-do list for items which could be done while I watched the various trainings. Writing a post on using spare minutes was actually one if the items. I changed the due date to move it to the top of the list where it would be easily seen. I grabbed a piece of paper, and off I went.

Everyone probably thought I was taking notes on the training being observed. I was, in fact, giving a goodly portion of my attention to the training. At the same time, I was writing this post which I completed in its entirety to later be keyed into this blog.

When life breaks those chunks into tiny fragments, choosing the right tasks can turn "dribs and drabs of time" into productive minutes. Other items I noticed as I scanned my list were phone calls which could be made quickly. I changed those due dates as well to move them to the top of the list. Between visiting schools, I was able to place these several calls from my BlackBerry while in the halls.

Reading material is always a good source for filling spare minutes. I have a section of my brief case reserved for reading materials. When magazines arrive, I throw them in there along with any book I happen to be reading at the time. When there is any chance that I will have down time, I either grab the briefcase or at least pull some of the reading material from it.

Nothing beats chunks of time. When life breaks those chunks into tiny fragments, choosing the right tasks can turn "dribs and drabs of time" into productive minutes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

SwiftKey Cloud Beta Solves Android Problem

I have been using SwiftKey3 as my Android keyboard of choice for over a year. While I find typing with two thumbs on a piece of glass to be less accurate than the physical keyboard on my BlackBerry of days gone by, SwiftKey goes a long way towards making that weakness irrelevant.

The major advantages SwiftKey offers are as follows:
  1. Word prediction—As you type, SwiftKey presents several predictions as to the word you may want. Touching the desired word not only inserts it, but also inserts a space between words, eliminating the need to touch the space bar.
  2. Predictions based on past behavior—When I type "Fr," SwiftKey presents "Frank" as one of the predictions, simply because my name is one of the most frequent words beginning with "Fr" that I use in communication.
  3. Next-word prediction—When I complete one word, SwiftKey offers predictions for what the next word will be based on my past behavior. When I enter "Frank," the predictions for the next word include "Buck." You may find yourself able to compose entire sentences simply by selecting the next word predictions SwiftKey offers.
I have experienced one inconvenience. Every time I boot my phone, I would have to select "SwiftKey" as my keyboard. With every re-boot, the device would revert back to the standard Android keyboard. SwiftKey offers this explanation , an explanation which showed this daily ritual was beyond their control.

The solution they are offering is to download SwiftKey Cloud Beta. I clicked that link from my phone, downloaded the keyboard, and installed it with no problem. If you are an Android user and are reading this post from your desktop computer, you will want to go to your phone and/or tablet to access this post from that mobile device. That way, you will be able to click the link taking you to the site for downloading SwiftKey Cloud Beta. The downside is that the beta is only good for 1 month. After that, the best option is the paid app, and that is where you experience the problem with needed to re-select your keyboard each time the phone boots.

SwiftKey is a significant improvement from the standard Android keyboard. If you are not already using it, I highly recommend downloading it today.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What Matters in Presentations

This is a great Slideshare for anyone who gives presentations. The creator is Eric Feng. His suggestions centers around eight key elements.


Friday, August 16, 2013

How Long Does it Take to Be Good at Something?

Want to learn a new skill? It might be playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language, or ice skating. Just how long will it take to get good at it? The often quoted answer is "10,000 hours." The most quoted source is Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell.

In this TEDx Talk, Josh Kaufman points out that the "10,000 Hour Rule" originally referred to the amount of time required to become expert in a highly-specialized skill. Little-by-little, that idea has morphed into, "It takes 10,000 to get good at something."

Kaufman shows this graph in his talk. The diagram is what we call "the learning curve." When we first start, we have no skill in that area. With a little practice, we make improvement quickly. At some point, that improvement begins to level off. More time is required to realize additional improvement.

Kaufman was interested in how much time is required to get to the point where the curve and the orange line intersect. In other words, he wanted to know how much time is required to get "reasonably good"...not "expert"...just "reasonable good" at a new skill.

Kaufman sets the magic number at 20 hours, or about 45 minutes every day for a month. The video provides suggestions on how to make that 20 hours more efficient.

What do you want to learn how to do? You may be only 20 hours away.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How to Merge Scanned Pages

Think about situations we often face, such as these:
  1. You are e-mailed a multi-page form. Your instructions are to complete the form (which must be done by hand), and return it. Your solution is to print the form, complete the pages, scan each page, and email the scanned pages as attachments.
  2. You are submitting copies of receipts. While you may be able to place more than one receipt at a time on the scanner, you still wind up with several pages. You email the scanned pages of receipts.
In both cases, you wind up with multiple one-page attachments. Would it be better if the individual pages could be combined into one document? While some people already have a solution, most people do not. I am glad to find out about a site called "PDF Mergy," which performs this function quickly and for free.

The URL for the site is and requires no registration. Simply drag and drop each page of your PDF onto the screen and click "Merge." You are then prompted to download your completed document.

Seeing this tool as one I want to have handy, I included it as a custom gadget on my igHome homepage. That way, when I want to merge pages, I go to my homepage and drag the pages into the PDF Mergy gadget.

On a related note, if you are not familiar with igHome, it is a great replacement for iGoogle. When you click "Add Gadgets," one of the options at the bottom of the left-hand column is to "Create Your Own Gadget." Here. you can add the URL to any site.

Now, your multiple-page scans can be combined into one document. It's free, and it's easy.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Le Book: New Technology Was a Challenge Then Too

It seems people have always had problems with learning "new" technology!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Syncing Multiple Google Calendars to iPhone

I have been a proponent digital calendars since I made my own transition from paper to digital in 2001. I currently use Google Calendar. Actually, there are three calendars: mine, my wife's, and an "FYI" calendar. Having all three, or any combination of them, display on the computer screen is a plus. Having the same capability on my mobile devices is highly desirable.

I am not an iPhone user, but one of the questions I often hear is how to sync multiple Google Calendars with the iPhone. The scenario I hear is when one opens the Gmail app on the iPhone and logs in, the main calendar appears. The other calendars do not.

A Google search for "syncing multiple Google calendars to iPhone" yields many results, particularly links to bulletin boards where people are asking for help, receiving proposed solutions, and reporting back as to what did and did not work. I have also seen explanations which seemed too complex and knew there had to be an easier way.

One person answered the question with a single link:

The link took me to a screen which listed my calendars with check marks beside each one. I assume you put a check beside each calendar you wish to appear on your iPhone and save. That's a simple solution, and if it indeed works, is almost too good to be true.

For those who use an iPhone, what has been your experience? What did you have to do to get multiple Google calendars to appear on your iPhone?

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Are You Ready?

The first day of school is just around the corner for most of us. Are you ready? If the lists are hung by the door with care, desks neatly arranged, and hallways shining, those are at least good signs that we are ready for the first day. But being ready for the first day was not the question. Twenty youngsters, tons of forms, notes from parents, requests from other teachers, and the “gotta’ do it now” messages from downtown can turn the ready-for-the-first-day enthusiasm into thoughts of, “It’s going to be a long week year” pretty quickly.

Are you ready?” refers to having a system in place that will take whatever is thrown at it and turn straw into gold day after day, month after month, year after year. The kind of system I am talking about has five parts:

Handle the paper 
Tickler files keep your desk clean and trigger papers to be placed in front of you when you need them. Your inbox holds all of the new, untouched papers. “Pending” holds the papers you will need later today. Your outbox holds what needs to go somewhere else in the world to be handled by somebody else.

Trap everything in one place 
Your signature tool, be it paper or digital, holds all of your appointments, to-dos, delegated items, documentation, and projects. When it’s all in one place, there is only one place to look. For some, the tool is a paper planner. For others, it’s a smartphone. For others, it’s a system using a single legal pad. But when you get right down to it, it’s not the tool; it’s the person behind the tool, and the well-thought-out system they have for how to use it.

Put repeating tasks on “autopilot”
When time is limited and the demands on it are enormous, we cannot afford to make ourselves mentally re-create all of the tasks we perform every year about this time. The amount of stress created is too great. The chances we will actually remember and happen to think of them all at the right time is too small.

Manage the flood of incoming information 
E-mail is going to continue to pour in, the phone will ring, you will attend meetings and parent conferences, and you will be held responsible for knowing what was said and what was promised. We can curse the source of the flood, or we can craft tools that allow us to surf the wave. One little technique on Outlook called “drag and drop” is my secret to getting my e-mail inbox back to empty every single day and the commitments embedded in those e-mails into their proper places on my calendar and to-do list. For those of us who organize digitally, nothing beats having a paper journal to trap notes from meetings, phone calls, and workshops. Not one journal for parent conferences, one for faculty meetings, one for departmental meetings, etc. One journal, period, which simply flows chronologically from day to day. Trap the notes during the day. At the end of the day, decide what to-dos need to be extracted from them.

Handle multiple projects 
Jugglers are able to keep multiple balls in the air by knowing how many they have, the position of each one, and give each one a little attention on a regular basis. The same is true with our projects. Define what the finished product looks like, exactly what needs to be done next, and have a place for all of the information that supports that project, and you have it handled. Now you simply do the same with each project you have. It’s amazing how much can be going on at one time and you be on top of it all.

Are you ready? It’s a pretty good place to be, and when you get there, you’ll never want to settle for less.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Stop Rewriting All of Those Names

I am always in favor of automating mindless tasks. Today's post looks at one such tool, one which will be perfect for teachers from pre-kindergarten through around second grade.
Time Management

If you are a teacher, think about how many times you write and re-write student names. You label the desks. You label cubby holes. You make name tags for field trips. The list goes on and on.

Yes, if a teacher is good at navigating the school's student information system, she could export the names to a spreadsheet and mail merge them to a Word document created for that particular purpose. Most teachers do not have that facility. In addition, creating the Word documents is time-consuming.

I found a spreadsheet simply called Classroom Management Tool which automates just the kinds of tasks I mentioned. It is a free download. What you find is an Excel spreadsheet where you list student names and other desired information one time. You also enter once your own name, school, and school phone. Tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet present you with printer-ready tags for various purposes.

Imagine being able to to hit "print" and produce names tags for the entire class displaying each student's first name in large letters, with the teacher's name, and the school's phone number. This tool will do that.

One of my favorite tabs is intended for the kindergarten teacher working with students on printing their names. Click on a name, and then click the "Print Name Writing" square. Or, click the "Print All Name Writing" button. The result is a page for each student displaying his or her name eight times in light gray print. The students are able to practicing tracing over the letters of their names.

Time is too precious to spend it on mindless repetitive tasks. Let this tool help put you back in charge of your time.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Comparing Toodledo With the Competition

I am a fan of Toodledo, and have written about it in this series of posts:

There is no shortage of available electronic to-do lists on the market. Toodledo maintains a chart which compares it to several other popular options. For me, the ability to import tasks from an Excel spreadsheet was huge. When I transitioned from Outlook to a cloud-based suite including Toodledo for my tasks, not having to rekey tasks and manually copy and paste each one saved hours. I can also export my tasks to an Excel spreadsheet if I ever wanted to more to another platform.

Click on the image below to see the full comparison between Toodledo and some competitors.

time management