Trying out the New Flock for Mac Browser

I have used the Flock browser off and on since the Spring of 2008 and have had very good luck with it.  I like the clean lines that it has always had and now that they have converted it to a Chrome type browser for Mac, I wanted to try it out a little bit.

It still has the same interface that I have always liked so well and the built in blogwriter does what it needs to, but is still pretty basic.  I have embedded the Flock Setup Video just give a feel for the new Flock.

Screen shot 2010-10-23 at 9.08.15 AM.png:

Blogged with the Flock Browser

EDUCATION IS BASED ON TRUST

Coffee, designers, and U.S. education reform

Image by opensourceway via Flickr

I was reading It Comes Down to Trust over at “Celia’s reflections” and her blog entry jogged my mind in a different direction

Education is based on trust.

We all need to trust that educators and the educational system are preparing and equipping students to have the opportunity to at least as good or preferably, a better education after leaving K-12 school than the generations before did.

Is this what parents see, hear or believe is happening when their children are attending our schools today?  Sadly I don’t think so, somewhere and somehow along the way we lost their trust.  How many now see teachers to be part of the problem and do not trust them to be a part of the solution? Too many.

The educational reform movements, (there are more than one) loudly proclaim and attempt persuade everyone that our educational system is not and has not performed up to expectations (scores) or teaching to appropriate educational standards. These efforts have eroded and undermined the positive image of public educators and our educational system so much that many no longer trust teachers to properly educate their children.

After all how many students, parents, members of the public or even reformers had one or more “bad” teachers when they were in school and believe that they succeeded in spite of teachers, not because they had good teachers in every class.  Unfortunately, in my opinion that is the case and is at the heart of much of this reform movement.  This is where and why they have focused their reform efforts most recently on  “the war on bad teachers”.

That such a small proportion of people who were and maybe still are teachers, have created such negativity and had it reinforced so ably by the reform movement, that teachers cannot be trusted is a travesty.   I truly believe that the vast majority of teachers do want and are able to teach children, and work very hard for the children in their classroom to be successful learners.  Yet sadly the lingering perception has become that many teachers are not good teachers and need to be replaced.

So what are teachers doing about regaining this trust or battling against the propaganda being put out there by those who want their style of educational reform?  For the most part – we are not doing all that much.

In most instances teachers just sit back and allow others to dictate the direction of education.  Teachers are notorious for being “too busy” to get involved.  We are “trained” and at times intimidated into staying out of the political process and arenas that govern education.

Unfortunately, the educational reform proponents are well funded, placed in influential positions, are well versed in the uses of propaganda and have the ear of the media.  Their message is the one being heard, while other viewpoints are being buried or drowned out, to ensure that their reforms continue to go forward.

So what can we do?

Continue to Listen, Talk, Write, Publish, use Video, or Social Media in other words communicate about the positive things we are doing in education.  Be willing to stand up for what you believe in. Help and support teachers who want to see their students succeed, but are lacking skills to make that a reality.   There are so many other things we can do, but first we need to continue to communicate to others, that there is another side to the story that is not being listened to, much less heard.

In education today, it does come down to trust and unfortunately, education and teachers have apparently lost the trust of too many people out there.  The old saying goes “once you loose someone’s trust, it is almost impossible to get it back, without a doing a hell of a lot of work first.

Well we have a hell of a lot of work ahead of us; so let’s go.

What have you done to make a difference today?

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XTRANORMAL IS FUN AND EASY

Image representing Xtranormal as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

A lot of people in my PLN have been talking about and making videos in something called Xtranormal.  I have watched and chuckled more than a couple of times at what has been created.

From what I can see the Xtranormal videos can be an excellent learning tool, they get your point across and also allow a great deal of creativity.  I was on Twitter the other night and @McTeach was discussing how she was going to make one and I had asked her to send me the link when she finished.

Creating the video was fairly easy, the hardest part was getting the gestures in the right order/timing.  I had a couple of miscues, but kept them in there to show my students that I am not perfect when it comes to creating things.  Sometimes good enough is good enough.

I can see several possibilities for use in the classroom and a couple of my students, I am sure would turn it into an “interesting” parody of Mr. Shaw’s class or something less than appropriate.  But those are challenges that I believe are worth showing my students Xtranormal.  I can see a lesson in our future called Conversations with Mr. Shaw – using Xtranormal as the basis.

One suggestion is to write the script in a word processor like Google Docs or Word first.  While the script editor is fine, it does have some limitations.

I wonder what my next video in Xtranormal will be.

What have you done to make a difference today?

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WEEK IN REVIEW – NOVEMBER 27, 2010

I skipped last week’s top 5 posts because I took the previous week off from blogging and Twitter.  I read my feeds watched Twitter fly by on TweetDeck once in a while, but I didn’t participate very much.  I was busy re-evaluating where my students were and the directions that I needed to go with them (a post for later this weekend).

I went out and bought Office for Mac 2011 and although I have mostly just used Word 2011, I do really love how it works for me.  It has become my goto document creation tool.  I also am trying out Zimbra Desktop for Mac.  I haven’t been happy with all the productivity suites from Apple, Thunderbird, Google, etc. and didn’t opt to get Outlook 2011 (too much $$$$) and so far with all of the recent improvements Zimbra is intriguing to me – more to come on that later.

In some ways it felt kind of weird but good to play hooky from my Blog – usually I feel guilty if I don’t get in 5-6 posts in a week.  This week I haven’t pushed too hard at making meaningless posts, that do not mean all that much anyway and have actually gotten a ton of planning done for my classes.

1.  I AM IN THE PROCESS OF RE-POSTING OLD POSTS TO BLO…
Oct 27, 2010
2.  Office for Mac 2011 Review
Nov 20, 2010
3.  BLOGGER – MANUALLY IMPORTING BLOG POST PROJECT
Oct 31, 2010
4.  WE NEEDED A STORY MAP
Nov 24, 2010
5.  SPECIAL EDUCATION DOES HAVE A POSITIVE SIDE
Nov 24, 2010, 2 comments

This is the first week since I published my Paper Airplane Lesson Plan that it hasn’t appeared in my weekly Top 5, it had good long run.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read my blog and who mentioned me in their #FF yesterday.

What have you done to make a difference today?

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REFOCUSING-HOW AM I DOING?

Refocusing excercies May2007

Image by jameschilds2010 via Flickr

Thanksgiving break is giving me a chance to look at what kind of progress I am making in my attempts to re-focus and reduce what I am doing, after reading Focus and The Power of Less by Leo Babauta.
November has been my month of reflection, planning and acceptance.
Looking back September and October were extremely tough months personally and professionally for me.  There were several circumstances that I had to get through and think about how I was going to handle them.
Then there always seemed to be something going on at school that just added to my feelings of being completely overwhelmed.  Going through these challenges forced me to view what was going on from multiple perspectives, which in turn caused me to have a few “aha” moments.
The biggest lessons that I learned during this short time were to accept the things that can’t be changed and how to view things differently than I may have in the past.  Yes I am being purposely vague here, but the issues were very significant and I had to come to grips with how I will react to them in an ongoing manner.
At work, I have figured out that I can’t solve every problem or do everything, that it is okay to let things go and just move on. Instead of continuing to dwell on an issue, after I can do nothing more that will make any difference, other than tilting at windmills.  This is difficult for me, because I am so used to attempting to resolve every problem right here, right now.  I have to be able to accept this limitation on when to bring forth my inner Don Quixote and save him only for situations that are really important to me.
I have simplified and refocused my professional life wherever I was able, in order to achieve more of a balance between work and home by:
  •  Using the touch-it/read-it/file-it/trash it method of processing work whenever possible.
  •  Going back to OmniFocus to keep track of what I do need to get done and when.
  • Minimizing visual distractions on both my laptop and around my desk.
  • Doing more single-tasking, instead of multi-tasking, which results in me getting less done at a lower quality, than when I am focused on what I am doing.
  • Using fewer software/applications and learning those that I use more in-depth.  Versus the way I have been over the past four years, jumping to the next new thing, even if it really didn’t do anything better than what I used before, just because it was new.
  • Going to the newest version of Mac for Office 2011, I liked the Microsoft Ribbon when it first came out back in 2007 and missed it when I moved to my Mac.  Since I got Word 2011 last Friday, it has become my primary document creation tool.  I just feel very comfortable with using it.
My online presence was beginning to dominate too many hours of my life and was negatively affecting what I was accomplishing for school and at home.  I recognized that I needed to take control of simplifying my online presence.
Instead of having Twitter open as a Sidebar, which permitted me to constantly check, read or look at Tweets and go to links while I am working I now close/hide it and check it at normal break points in things I am working on.  I do the same thing with checking my email or Facebook page.  Also I have eliminated the visual notifications of the number of messages or emails that I have waiting for me to reduce the feeling that I have to check them as soon as a number pops up.
I have stopped trying to write a blog post every day.  I was worrying so much about the number of blog posts that I wrote, that I felt guilty if I didn’t post at least once a day.  I am now trying to get in between 1-3 a week and if I don’t get any over the course of a week or two, that it is okay too.  I not a professional blogger trying to make a living writing, I am an educator making a living teaching.
Another thing that I really enjoyed and learned so much doing was the numerous Twitter chats such as:  #edchat #spedchat #ntchat and all the other ones that have been created.  I was spending too much time participating in those sessions and not enough on things that I had to get done for school or at home. I have reduced my participation to mainly #spedchat and an occasional #edchat (i.e. when the topic is really pertinent to my development as an educator).
These changes and strategies have made a positive difference in changing my outlook towards my position as a Special Educator and in my personal life.  I feel more at ease, less pressured and not overwhelmed by attempting to do everything.
I really believe that as a result of this deliberate effort to refocus and reduce what I do, that I have gone back to being the person, who looks for the positive side of a situation. Instead of the path filled with negativity I had started down and is not who I want to be.
I have always been a fairly upbeat and positive person and I want that to be what people talk about when they talk about me.

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THANK YOU – THANKSGIVING 2010

This was made in about 10 min.

Image via Wikipedia

Today is Thanksgiving and I have so much to be thankful for – family, friends, my PLN (yes I include you in this), being able to work in a profession that I love being a part of and the opportunity it gives me to make a difference.
I have the pleasure of living in a time of relative plenty and through the power of technology have been able to talk and learn from people from different corners of our world.  At any other point in history, I never would have been able to communicate directly with them, much less meet so many face-to-face.
So here is to being thankful for the patience, support and guidance that my family, friends, co-workers and PLN have given me over the past year.
I really want to thank my wife, who’s patience with all the time I spend doing education related work and play is vital for me to continue onward in this profession.  Without her support and love, I certainly wouldn’t be able to do as much as I do on a daily basis.

What have you done to make a difference today?

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WE NEEDED A STORY MAP

The last month or so, I have been using a couple of different books and movies during class to introduce/teach various elements of literature, along with reviewing meta-cognition strategies. This week in class we used a Story Map graphic organizer as part of the activity.

When I was looking for a Story Map organizer to use, I just couldn’t find one that was exactly what I wanted for my classes.  As a result of my difficulty finding a Story Map that I liked, I asked the students what they thought of using the Story Map that we had used.  Almost all of them stated they hadn’t used one before and that they were able to follow movie better and knew what was going on, but almost every one of them said that the form I used basically “sucked” because:
  1. There was not enough room for all the information that I was requiring
  2. They had to use the unlined back of the organizer and white lined paper, which became confusing to them after a while
  3. The biggest complaint was that they couldn’t use their laptops to complete the assignment and that they had to handwrite out all of the answers.
One of my students told me.  “Mr. Shaw you are really good on the computer, why don’t you just make your own Story Map, if you aren’t happy with the one you made us use?”  I thought about it for a couple of seconds and said okay.  I took the student’s comment as a compliment and a challenge.
Yesterday I worked on a Story Map for my classes and have embedded the Google Docs version below.
Story Map Graphic Organizer Link

While creating this graphic organizer I had two very important things that I wanted to ensure were included:

  • That the key words are aligned with the NECAP Grade Level Expectations vocabulary definitions
  • That it is available to the students as a word processing document and can be quickly adapted to a pen and paper version for those students who either cannot or may not use a computer.
Some of the features that I included are:
  • Definitions for key words from the NECAP GLE vocabulary – Appendix E, my students have difficulty remembering the definitions of the key words and this will help them answer the questions more accurately.  I purposely aligned the vocabulary in the Story Map with our AYP assessment.  This is an easy add-in and hopefully gives a couple of points on their standardized test next fall – a necessary thing to think about. The AYP testing is not going away any time soon.
  • Adding a section about where the students have to do some research on the author/producer to see if there are any apparent biases they should look for when reading or watching the story.  I really believe that students need to be aware of the biases that the writer/producer might have.
  • Adding space for multiple characters which will help students keep track of who is doing what.  That was a problem that I really saw over the past month, my students were not able to keep track of or remember who the characters were and how they were part of the storyline.
  • The event section, I have a lot more than the average Story Map, because I believe in using the Story Map during the movie or while reading a book and using it as an instructional tool to help students keep track of what is going on, not just at the end as a culminating activity.  It also sets my minimum expectations about the amount of information that I am expecting while using the form up front.
  • I also included a section on metacognition, I believe that students need to think about how they think and learn, but often forget to include it in my instruction.  Having this embedded into the organizer will force me to remember, and work more on metacognition with my students.
  • Another one that I often forget is to have the student form and explain their opinion that is why I included the last section.
Is this form perfect – nope, but it meets the requirements of my classroom and when I showed the first draft to a couple of other teachers I work with, they said that they wanted a copy too.  I will probably continue to tweak it a little bit, but this Story Map meets the needs in my classroom much better than the one I had been using.

So if anyone can use this Story Map Graphic Organizer please use it under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. If you have any constructive comments or things that I could do to make it better for my students I would appreciate your input.

What have you done to make a difference today?

SPECIAL EDUCATION DOES HAVE A POSITIVE SIDE

Over the past few months, all I have been hearing is whining and complaining about how bad it is in Special Education and I have even done my share of  that whining and complaining myself.  If things are so bad in Special Education land, why do so many of us stay?
My answer is pretty simple – the kids and families that I am able to help.
What brought this on?  In #SpedChat last night we/I did some pretty good Special Education bashing.  In my eye it was a pretty negative session about all the ills of Special Education.  I reflected on that chat as I tossed and turned trying to get to sleep last night.  Today I felt need to balance that out a little bit, sometimes when we vent only the negative stuff comes out.
Looking carefully what are some of the good things.
  1.  There are laws and regulations in place that provide additional protections to students who have been identified to need Special Education services.  They may be confusing, convoluted and onerous at times, but without them many of our students would be less successful than they are.
  2. The many dedicated and caring professionals that quietly (sometimes not so quietly) go about their daily support of Special Education students in spite of the paperwork, threats, abuse, comments, struggles coordinating appropriate services, teaching duties and the myriad of other tasks that are required of Special Educators. How most of them continue to be advocates for children can be surprising, but they do.
  3.  Parents. I don’t know of too many parents that do not care if their child gets a good education or not.  The ones that are vocal and make all that extra work for us, we have to look at as being advocates for their child, who only gets one shot at growing up and getting the help they need.  If they cause us some extra work we need to look at it in a positive view and not become adversarial when they disagree with our expert recommendation.
  4. Also the parents who do not seem very involved may actually be very aware of what we are doing, but they are either so busy trying to survive economically that they can not be as involved as they would like or that they are so intimidated by the education system that they just let us decide their child’s educational needs.  In both of these cases they have given us a great responsibility, to see to that their child is properly educated.  Why is this a good thing?  I want to believe that this shows a certain level of trust on their part that we will do the right thing.
  5. Often we are allowed to teach our way to our students.  We are outside the curriculum and can try new or old methods that the other classrooms cannot use in today’s world.  In reality Special Educators do have a certain amount of freedom in their pedagogy.  At least this is my experience, in other locales it might not be the case.
 Are these always positives – the reality is that they are not always, but there is enough positives in those five things to keep me going as a Special Educator.  I enjoy the look on Administrators and the other educators faces when I have a class of students that have not done well in their classes behaviorally or academically, sitting working their butts off on a project or assignment and they ask “How did you do that?”
But the thing I love the most is when a student who has fought me tooth and nail for a long time, comes up to me and asks “Why haven’t you given up on me yet?” “Everyone else does.”  This has happened more than once and my answer always is “Because I give a damn about you and if I give up what will you do?”
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I will not stop trying.  That is something that is the biggest positive trait all good Special Educators share – we are stubborn as hell and can be very, very persistent in supporting our students.
So the next time we start to get all negative about being Special Educators or how onerous everything is in Special Education land remember all the good that we accomplish in a day – all those little bricks we are putting into the foundation of a child’s life.
Think about the positive things you do daily that make a difference in the child’s life and tell your story in the comments – maybe we do need to write about our successes as often as we discuss the negatives in at least a 4:1 ratio (Special Educators in a behavioral program will understand that pun).

What have you done to make a difference today?

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Office for Mac 2011 Review

Photo from:  http://www.microsoft.com/mac/products

I purchased Office for Mac 2011 (Student and Home) Edition last night.

Something was really wonky with my 2008 version of Office for Mac, even after I reloaded it several times, Word just wouldn’t work correctly.  My wife and I talked it over and we decided to just go ahead and get the new version of Office.
My experiment with the iWork suite and Pages in particular showed that it works differently than I do, it just is not intuitive for me to use, yes I will keep it on the MacBook, but only for specific purposes (student work created in iWork).  Everything else will be done using Office 2011 or Google Docs.
After researching online, it came down to saving a small amount of money or going ahead and just buying it from Microsoft.  There was also a common thread, where reviewers were stating that they were having difficulty activating Office 2011 when they purchased it elsewhere.
For the relatively small amount of money that I would save by using an online store or waiting and going to a store today, I decided to pay the premium price and get the software directly from Microsoft.  I guess it was the peace of mind factor (plus a little bit of convenience too).
Purchasing online from Microsoft was quick and easy.  The download went smoothly and installation was a breeze.  All I had to do was copy the activation code from my receipt and everything worked flawlessly.  In less than an hour, I had an activated copy of Office for Mac 2011 installed and working on my Mac.  I don’t know if it made any difference where I bought Office 2011 from, but I didn’t have any of the issues that were discussed in many reviews or forums, so to me it was worth it.
Then I did something that I have never done before, I sat down and went through the How-To Videos and Getting Started with Word 2011 sites before I started using my new software.  Although I have used Word extensively for several years, including the PC versions of 2007 & 2010, watching the videos and reading some of the documentation did give me a lot better understanding of where the commands were located and a few tips that I didn’t have to find by “accident”.
I know guys aren’t supposed to read the directions, we are just supposed to jump in and “do”.  Sorry that can be such a waste of time. At this point in my life, I would rather take a little extra time up front, to learn how to use something, instead of spending a lot of wasted time using “trial & error”.
Reviewing those videos last night, paid off handsomely.  I was doing a very large project that I worked on for most of the day and actually used quite a few of the “little” things that I learned.  How did Word for Mac 2011 do on this large project?  Fantastic, it didn’t hiccup, crash, freeze and I actually enjoyed using it.  I can now stop complaining and whining about “I can’t use the Ribbon on the Mac”.
The reality is that Office for Mac – 2011 is a fantastic product!  For me it was worth the premium price that I paid for it.  Pages, Open Office and all the other Word Processors out there can do what you want quite well, but I like the Microsoft Ribbon toolbar (a lot) and it just feels right to me, so I prefer to use Office.
Below is a screen shot of the Ribbon that I missed so much.
Office for Mac 2011 will not replace Google Docs in my classroom (students don’t have it and licensing Office for the MLTI project hasn’t happened), but at home and for creating lessons or visuals I will use it a great deal.  Now if it only had that “Post to Blog” capability that Office 2007 had, I could use it to do more than just draft a blog post.  It comes down to that I first cut my teeth on Microsoft’s Word – word processor.  I just feel very comfortable with their product and this latest rendition of something I have used for a long time.
Now I have to explore Skydrive, the online synching and sharing capabilities, ummmm just something else to learn.  🙂

What have you done to make a difference today?

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