BHS Help Desk: Learning by doing

BHS Help Desk Students with the MA Secretary of Edu

The Burlington High School Help Desk is about to embark on it’s fourth semester. Over the course of three semesters the “Student Technology Integration” Course – how it is phrased on transcripts and course selection catalogs, has gone through major changes since its incarnation. Each semester, the course has evolved from a basic “troubleshooting” focus, to creating tutorials, to connecting our student help with vast audience of educators and students. 
At least once a week I receive an email or phone call from another school about our course from all over the world. I’ve responded to each one and have hosted many questions during school visits along with my colleagues. More importantly, the students have responded and engaged with a variety of educators, administrators and professionals in education. In some instances, we used a Google Hangout to address a conference or an interview. The help desk students have worked at district professional development, the New England 1:1 Summit, The Google Apps for Education Summit, The MA Digital Publication Collaborative, after school workshops, and are on hand daily to assist with the technology needs of the entire district . Plus, they’ve presented at MassCUE 2012, The New England 1:1 Summit, entertained and enlightened the MA Secretary of Education and the Commissioner of Education, consulted with app and game developers such as Kuato Studios International, appeared on NPR’s Here and Now program,  and on June 1, 2013 they will organize, host and run their first EdCamp in Burlington. I’d say their resume fits into the authentic, purposeful assessment category. 
As our first semester of 2012 comes to an end, students will be presenting a TEDx-esque projects highlighting  something they’ve learned and researched throughout the duration of the course. And once again, the course will launch with new students in 2013 and a new paradigm for learning. In all four iterations of this course, it has never looked the same. Each semester, my colleague, Tim Calvin and I, reassess the course model, methods for teaching and learning, and how we want our students to connect to the Burlington community and beyond. We take our own learning styles and the learning paradigms of the 21st century student and apply them directly to this course. 
@jcasap @sarcasmserved @br0nak at the GAFE NE Summit
In 2013, the help desk will take on several new projects. The first item to tackle will be to design, organize and run a full day EdCamp conference. This conference will be held on Saturday, June 1 and all in education are welcome to attend for free. Not only will the students be putting on an EdCamp, but they will be presenting a session as well. And, we invite other student groups to attend and present during this EdCamp. 
Students will have to solicit sponsorships, giveaways, and orchestrate the entire conference infrastructure for the day. To my knowledge, this EdCamp endeavour is the first of its kind. Plus, I had attende Educon for several years at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA and witnessed and experienced students taking the the lead in planning and organizing. 
My other inspiration sparked from attending EdCamp Boston last spring. I noticed how many teachers brought their students to present. As I sat in one of the sessions, I wondered what a great experience this would be if a group of students put on an EdCamp. And invited their peers to connect and share as well as anyone involved in the education world. I anticipate a lot of work for the students involved in planning, but I also foresee many authentic skill sets developing as students work through the logistics of planning a full day conference on their own. 
Also, the help desk will be developing weekly broadcasts via Google Hangouts. Every week, students from the help desk will put together a script for a show that they will broadcast live via a Google hangout. This hangout will also be archived for those who cannot attend. This medium allows students to design engaging tutorials around applications, devices, and current trends in educational technology while expanding the reach of our audience. Plus, this gives students an authentic audience for feedback and assessment. 
Help Desk at MassCUE
Finally, the help desk will be developing training modules for new and emerging tech applications in education for anyone who wants to use them. The students will be developing original, training modules that feature videos and step-by-step, printable scripts for our most frequently used devices and applications. Again, this resource is not simply limited to our school, but available for everyone to access. We’re taking the concept of Khan Academy and focusing it directly on applications that are used throughout the district. 
Students will be challenged to find and create modules based on the demand of each application within our community. Each module will start with the basics and the user will work his or her way towards more advanced concepts in the application. Students will be constructing scripts, outlines and interactive media to accompany each module. In the end, these students will be creating an open educational resource for our community and beyond. What’s more, these modules will bear the name of each student. They are adding to their digital portfolio, while creating a sustainable resource for the Burlington community. 
This course was designed to be malleable. Both myself and my colleague, Tim Calvin, are constantly looking for ways to rethink our classroom, both in aesthetics and in the learning dynamic. Most recently, Tim incorporated a stand up desk in our help desk room and we’re tinkering with some other ideas for next semester. I guess what I hope my fellow educators get from this piece is that we should always be rethinking, remixing our classrooms. The options I developed and listed above can easily be blended into any core subject. It’s simply a matter of challenging one’s self to step outside his or her comfort zone each quarter, semester, or school year to try something new at the simple risk of failing. And that’s a big component in this course: failing. But, removing the stigma so that when we fail, we treat it not as a lost cause, rather a learning opportunity. An opportunity from which many can learn. 

Plot user data on maps using Google forms

So yesterday I tried something new. I wanted my digital literacy students to see the reach of social media. I was introducing them to blogs and what they are and how they have evolved. I was also mentioning how blogs can be a way to highlight talents, promote conversation and to reflect.

I started with a simple blog post.


I want my students to see the power, purpose and relevancy of blogging. Please share one sentence describing “why do you blog?” Thank you.

Please fill out the form below.

Here is the result 

I then logged into my Google Apps account. Selected Create > Form and made four simple questions:

1. Name (optional)
2. Twitter name (optional)
3. City, Country
4. Why do you blog?

I selected embed from the forms editing panel in the upper right-hand corner, copied the code, and pasted it in the HTML box of my blog. Before I hit publish, I went back into my Google Drive, found the spreadsheet where my answers were going to be collected. I selected “Insert” > “Gadgets” (pop up window came up) > and then selected “Maps” > Found “Map by Google” > and selected add to spreadsheet.

The video below will help you see how to get a project started using Google Forms and Maps. NOTE: You must have a column that includes some form of address. You can keep it simple and use City and Country or you can solicit full addresses. Depending on the project, you can choose accordingly. Any questions about using this type of project in your classes, as always, see the help desk.

Google Drive for iPad update…finally!

After a long wait, Google Drive is now available for the iPad with the full functionality of the web-based version of Google Drive. To refresh, Google Drive is the new name for the Google Docs Suite. This suite includes Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, and Folders.
The updated version of the Google Drive app allows you to create, collaborate and edit documents with ease on the iPad. Before, this process was rather cumbersome through the mobile view and desktop interface on the iPad, however much has changed with this update. Users can also upload photos and video right to Google Drive directly from the iPad. This will allow students to upload video projects and photos immediately.
The home screen for the Google Drive App
The best update to arrive in version in Google Drive version 1.1.0 is the editing option. Users can edit much easier and with a cleaner interface. Plus, the editing and collaboration features are much faster through the Google Drive App. Users can also see who is editing on the doc at the same time. In addition, docs can now be accessed offline as well. Users can edit a doc offline and once it hits a wi-fi connection, the doc will sync with Google Drive and save in the cloud. This feature will happen automatically or via the refresh button in the upper-right hand corner of the home screen of the app
Editing view in the Google Drive App
The Google Drive app also gives users the ability to organize their entire Google Drive. Users can create and share a folder as well as create and share a doc through this app (at this writing only docs can be created directly through the app). Also, users can move docs to folders and organize their entire Google Drive from the iPad app.
Create a new doc, folder or upload media
While creating presentations, spreadsheets, and forms is still unavailable, I imagine this feature will be added soon. Even though you cannot create presentations, spreadsheets, and forms directly from the app, users can still view these documents within the app. In addition, users can open a Google Spreadsheet and access the “open in…” feature from the app that will allow users to open the spreadsheet in supported apps (such as Notability, Evernote, Dropbox, etc.). For presentations, users can view and present from the app, but not yet create a presentation directly from the app. Again, I imagine these features are not far behind this update.
Open spreadsheets in supported apps
Users also have the ability to share a doc directly from the app and can access a populated contacts list from simply typing in the first letter of the email. The share feature also allows the doc owner to set permissions for “can edit”, “can comment”,  and “can view”. The doc owner can also toggle viewing permissions and completely remove a user from the doc.
Share docs, view and toggle permissions
If you’ve struggled with Google Docs on the iPad in the past, this is update will make your life and classroom work-flow more enjoyable. This is not a perfect update, but it is a giant step in the right direction for those of us using Google Apps for Education in a 1:1 iPad environment. The Google Drive App update gives us a great opportunity to organize and connect our data in a consistent place and eliminates the clunky, cumbersome workings of previous versions. 

A simple life with enormous impact

Paul tending to his garden 

Late summer afternoons on the patio rocker with mother; tending the garden at dusk; mowing the expansive lawn at a slow pace; turning a fallen tree into warmth; a firm handshake and an honest word; a simple life with enormous impact.

These short sentences paint a picture of a man who impacted so many with his simple way of life. Paul Albert McDermott, Sr. was not a scholar nor was he the wealthiest man on the block. In fact, with only a 10th grade education, Paul provided for his family and was quite the innovator. He could take coffee cans and make elaborate organizers that even The Container Store would admire. He saved countless gallon milk jugs that he would cut in half to protect his small tomato plants from an early frost. Before “going green” became trendy, Paul acquired fourteen 50-gallon, plastic barrels (that would have most likely been discarded) from his nephew that he positioned around his old chicken coop to catch the rain. The rainwater was then used to help his garden thrive from year to year. I’m certain Paul was happy he didn’t have to pay Lowe’s $150 for just one barrel.

Material things did not matter to Paul. Paul’s riches came in the form of people and the natural elements that surrounded him. His greatest treasure and the purpose of his life was his wife, Peggy. For 65 years Peggy and Paul were an institution of love, and for many, defined the word.

Peggy and Paul raised three children: Paul Jr., Jean, and Dave. Together, Peggy and Paul taught their children to live life humbly, respect those around you, and never waste a crumb. These life lessons were not epic, however; the impact and evidence can be seen in their lives and the lives of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Paul’s efficient solution to watering his garden
Next to Peggy and his family, Paul had his garden and the natural, rural elements that surrounded him in Overlook, PA. If a famed artist were to ask anyone who knew Paul how he or she should go about painting his portrait, it would most certainly show him standing in his garden just as the sun went down, leaving the sky brushed with hues of pink, blue and white. He would be dressed in grey pants and a white shirt and in his left hand he would have a plastic bag filled with potatoes.

From his early days tending to and riding horses at the Pine Barn in Danville, Paul had a devout appreciation for nature and the bounty it bestowed upon us. Paul reveled with joy when he unearthed a potato from his garden and knew that his price for that single potato would beat any market price. His cucumbers were a delight and he taught most of his family how to enjoy radishes and lima beans. The corn Paul grew was of the sweetest variety and was an experience unto itself.

Paul, in his frugal nature, loved making the most of a fallen tree or any unwanted wood that may have otherwise been thrown by the wayside. About two years ago, he built a seat from old lumber – that would have otherwise been discarded – near his garden. What was the seat for? “It’s a nice place to sit and watch the garden or take a break”. 

Paul’s garden respite 

Beyond his tractors and his trap shoot launcher, Paul’s favorite toy was his wood splitter. As legend has it, it was slightly better than Paul Junior’s. Paul enjoyed watching the power of his wood splitter and how efficient it made cutting wood. Many hours were spent splitting wood with Dave and Paul Junior. Around the campfire with Jean and Dave, Paul would often ask Dave to put more wood on the already burning “toothpicks”. Paul’s wood stacks were neat and meticulously calculated. Along with Peggy and his family those cuts of wood generated many good laughs and stories around hearths and countless campfires. While most would see a simple slice of wood, Paul saw an element that brought his family together for many years.

In death, Paul returns to the earth he so loved working with. He also returns to the person he treasured most in this world, Peggy. When you think of Peggy and Paul you think of one of life’s greatest love stories. You think of two, humble, generous people who lived life simply and honestly. In a fast-paced world, inundated with greed,  self-promotion and competitive gains, Peggy and Paul walked gently together; always giving, compassionate and never wanting.

This evening, and many summer evenings to come, just as the sun slides past the horizon and the cool summer air invades the landscape along with the majestic hues of the sky know that Peggy and Paul are sitting together with you on the patio gently rocking back in forth in their chairs.

Simple connections

A week ago my brother married his best friend, Kelly Marion. The wedding was a beautiful occasion and brought together friends and family from all over the country. For many, it was the first time connecting in person for quite awhile. Friends that were once accessible daily, were now growing up and out with children of their own. The endless hours of carefree youth, now seemed significantly smaller.
However, there was one person who could not connect with his family and friends in person. My Grandpa McDermott could not make the long journey from Central Pennsylvania to Boston for the wedding, but we decided to bring him there via technology. With a fully charged laptop, a great friend, Keith Zulawnik, a wi-fi connection and a Skype account, we brought my Grandfather along with my Uncle Paul and Aunt Yvonne to the wedding. My Grandfather witnessed his Grandson get married, connected with cousins and new babies and friends who just wanted to say hello. I imagine when my Grandfather was marrying my Grandmother over 66 years ago, he could have never imagined the setup that sat before him. This is why technology is a good thing.
This setup was nothing revolutionary in the realm of innovation and technology, but the simple connection that it allowed was beyond anything I could ever write. And this is where we sometimes get lost in the daily stream of self affirmation and static surrounding the educational technology world. The technology we incorporate is not about us or even about the technology itself, but more importantly it’s about the connections that it allows us to make. Too many times we get caught up in what is best for us, as educators, and worrying about technology bringing about a “change in working conditions” or something, “I’ll never be able to understand”, but that should never be the case for technology integration. Technology simply allows us to create a more engaging experience for our students. Technology provides us with avenues to make connections with our past while gaining a better understanding of our present as we step towards the future. Teaching with technology is not a sprint, nor should it be mandated as something everyone must use. Simply put, technology, in its simplest form can connect many and provide us with opportunities we may have otherwise missed. 
For my Grandfather, this simple connection was probably one of the best things he has seen in his life. And I am certain it will be a happy memory for him many years to come. 
As we spend our summers thinking of ways to innovate our classrooms and incorporate new and emerging technologies, let us not overlook the simple connections we can make with our students and within our classrooms. Don’t panic. Technology integration is not a sprint. Consider the skills and lessons you want to convey to your students before thinking of adding a layer of technology. The technology piece will eventually arrive in a blissful eureka moment accompanied by a refreshing smile. 

Our Google Hangout

Last Tuesday, twenty Burlington high school students had the opportunity to visit Google offices in Cambridge, MA. The purpose of the trip was to show students interested in computer science what they could potentially do with a computer science degree and present them with an opportunity to learn from some of the best computer scientists in the world.

Students were greeted by three developers, Jessica, Adam, and Dan, from Google and they presented us with a brief background of the company and an overview of Google’s history. We toured several areas of the office and students made note of the lack of cubicles and the transparent working environment. Employees were not isolated from each other, nor did walls partition them. Workspaces were open and visible enabling a collaborative environment. Employees moved around freely and took occasional snack breaks.

Students also took note that Google employees are never too far from food and that the food choices were color coded for their nutritional value. When it came time for lunch later in the day, students were impressed by the abundance of healthy choices available for lunch. However it was sushi day, so most students opted for the mac and cheese.

Not long into the tour one student asked, “Why are schools so disconnected from how people work on a daily basis?” “Why can’t schools look more like this office?” I didn’t have an immediate answer because I have been pondering the same question for years. I reminded this student that a Google office is a small sample of how things occur on a daily basis at most companies, but reinforced how committed Google is to providing the best environment for productivity and efficiency for all of its employees. Apparently Google is onto something.

After the tour, students sat down in a conference room with three Google developers and a Chrome OS developer to brainstorm their ideal computer science course. Before we started, I shared with students that we were in the drafting phase of putting together a hybrid course tentatively titled, “Google Academy” that will be co-taught by the three Google developers in the room and a Burlington high school teacher. The course is tentatively scheduled for next fall and would be available in two sections, as a half-year elective.

Here is the draft of the course description…

The Google Academy will be a unique experience that examines a variety of topics in computer science and explores several languages such as Python, C++, Visual Basic, etc. Beyond the programming aspect of the course, students will participate in an authentic, collaborative environment that promotes transparent, purposeful learning. Students will learn first hand what it takes to work in a major company while learning how to manage time and projects independently.  

This course will commence both online and face-to-face. The Google Academy will be co-taught by multiple Google programmers and one Burlington High School teacher. The course will also require bi-weekly participation at the Google offices in Cambridge. The Google Academy will expect the student to work independently, responsibly and manage their time and assignments throughout the duration of this course.

Once we described the potential course, we asked the students how they wanted to structure the course and what they wanted to learn. Students began listing areas of interest in the context of computer science ranging from open source coding to coding games and iOS applications. It was great to hear students discuss what they wanted to learn as opposed to hearing what they have to learn.

Students generated ideas that filled two white boards. The room was filled with conversation and questions. It was rewarding to sit back and watch students casually interact with these engineers and ask them questions about what it takes to get to where they are in their careers. It was one of those moments as an educator where you see the great potential for our schools and our students.

Students left excited and eager to hear more about the course that they just helped design. They were also excited about the free Pepsi “Next” they obtained from the vendor on the street pitching the new soft drink to pedestrians.

I’m excited that my district and administration are open to the opportunity for connecting with the business sector to give our students a purposeful learning experience. I’m grateful for the connection I made with three generous Google employees willing to volunteer their time to guide our students through this course. I hope this is a trend that catches on in the education community; a trend that enables more schools to embrace, not limit technology opportunities that connect students with the community and provide purposeful learning experiences.

The Living Facebook Project: Day 5

As the facebook-less week draws to a close, I find myself only somewhat interested in getting back on the preeminent social network. The experience for me was moderately eye opening, but fun at the same time. I enjoyed cutting out newspaper clippings and posting them to colleagues’ walls. I enjoyed asking people to be my friend. I enjoyed colleagues physically posting messages on my door asking to be friends with me. I enjoyed rejecting some of them and then dealing with the conversations that followed.

I didn’t really miss it. When I logged on Saturday morning I didn’t really miss much. My cousin got engaged and I hadn’t heard otherwise. I’m sure I eventually would have, but it was nice to see a photo of the rock on her finger. Other than that, I didn’t miss a beat. I still felt that I was connected with my friends and family when I returned.

So to sum it up, five days without facebook is cake. I returned to my original assertion that facebook employs the perfect design for procrastination and wasting time. It also allows us to vent whatever we want and obtain daily affirmation much like Stuart Smalley did with his mirror on SNL.

I admire John Spencer for sustaining for forty days and want to thank him for starting this project and taking time out of his schedule to speak with my students about this project. That experience really highlighted to my students what you can do and learn from a network. It showed that a teacher from Phoenix and a teacher from Boston can come together to orchestrate a lesson that engages students and models good digital citizenship and why it is important to take care of your digital identity.

I think my students will remember this experience and look differently at facebook, and social media in general. I think they understand that facebook is not a departure from reality and that it is just another medium by which we can engage, interact and voice our opinions and thoughts. It is not a place where we should mask our identity.

The Living Facebook Project: Day 4

Whitten’s wall

Day four of the living facebook project and I’m feeling fine, however my students are starting to get anxious. The link I posted on my colleague’s wall has gone viral. Whitten’s wall has become the talk of Burlington.  His students are really excited to post comments on his board and keep the conversation alive. It’s grown rapidly.

The students are starting to see that facebook is not really a place at all and that it is really no different than a wall. It serves the same purpose, however they are beginning to understand the reach and audience that social media commands. This is an important distinction that is not always easily translated to students.

Today as we talked about the facebook project I asked them to define the most important 21st Century skill. Many students described skills involved directly with technology. One student said interaction, while others mentioned searching and researching skills. After entertaining all of their responses, I quoted Alan November and said that the most important 21st century skill is empathy. I related how important this skill is in a global economy and an increasingly connected world. We then transitioned the conversation to a Google doc and came up with some great responses to several questions associated with civility, citizenship, empathy and maintaining and molding your digital spaces.

While this conversation was unfolding on the Google Doc, we were greeted by a group of administrators and teachers who were visiting Burlington. The students explained to our visitors what they were discussing on the doc and the crowd was impressed with their responses. My students immediately relayed the importance of maintaining their digital identity and how someday they will be expected adapt to and use these spaces effectively. Also, they started to see social media as an opportunity for their future as opposed to something that is deemed bad by many.  It was one of those moments as a teacher that makes you very proud.

Today’s living facebook project was not really about facebook at all. It was about students understanding their responsibility in a variety of digital spaces. Also, it reinforced how important empathy is in a global economy and an increasingly connected world.

The Living Facebook Project: Day 3

Andy Marcinek is now friends with Todd Whitten

When I left my last post, I came to the conclusion that facebook is a giant time waster. What’s more, is that facebook is not something I would classify as ‘missing’.  What I do miss is the opportunity to share with people that only use facebook. With that element lacking, I decided to take sharing back to the basics and see what others thought about the analog process. So my question is…what happens when you want to share without any audience? And share with an audience of one? More, what would a connected room of students think about this form of analog sharing. I’m also wondering if people share more for the affirmation or more to genuinely help everyone in their network? 

Despite having more devices than I know what do with and a digital subscription to the New York Times, I still enjoy reading the print edition of the Sunday Times cover to cover. Call me old fashioned, but there’s something very romantic about the Sunday Times. Along with Charles Osgood, I look forward to it each Sunday morning. This past Sunday I read a really interesting piece by Thomas Friedman that examined countries that have abundant natural resources versus those that don’t. The countries that did not have an abundance of resources had more invested in education and performed better academically than those with the greatest natural resources. Regardless of the study, I found it to be an interesting read. I decided to bring it into school, cut it out, and share it with a history teacher. Today during Todd Whitten’s US-China relations course, I interjected briefly to share the article. However, the first thing I did was to ask Todd if he would like to be my friend. I know Todd, but wanted to make sure we were friends before sharing something with him. Especially if I’m affixing that information on his wall. 
Andy Marcinek shared a link on your wall
I asked, “Todd, would you like to be my friend?”
“Yes.” He replied. 
I wrote this exchange on his board: 
“Andy Marcinek is now friends with Todd Whitten” 
I then took the newspaper clipping that I found in Sunday’s Times and tapped it to his wall. After I posted it, I asked for comments. I later found out that several students liked our new friendship and commented on the article that was affixed to Todd’s wall. 
The students, along with my colleague, enjoyed watching me live out something we unconsciously do in the social media realm on a daily basis. So I’m curious. Why do we share? Do we share for us? or do we genuinely share to make others better? I’d like to think the latter, but I’m not sold completely. I imagine that some share simply for the affirmation and if you took away the social media platform that person may share less because the spotlight is limited. Obviously, this is a very cynical theory, but I’d like the comments that follow on this post to discuss this point and address the question: Why do we share? And would we share the same way if the social media vehicle didn’t exist? 

The Living Facebook Project: Day 2

I am starting to notice two things during my week without Facebook:

1. I don’t really feel left out of the conversation
2. Facebook is designed perfectly for wasting time and procrastinating.

Yes, I occasionally wonder what’s happening in my news feed and if I am missing any great photos or videos of cats falling off of counter tops, but I’m using other venues for information and sharing. And that’s what I find myself missing most. Not so much the cats, but having the venue to share information with my friends and family that don’t use Twitter or any other social network. The same goes with photos. Yesterday I was at the dog park and wanted to share a picture with Facebook. Instead, I sent a photo text of my dog to my mom and a few friends and demanded that they comment and like it. They did.

Beyond the time consumption element, I’m discovering that Facebook is a great party. Everyone is there that you want to be there and it’s usually a good time. It can be a private party or a giant mixer. Most of the conversation is geared towards positive interactions and gaining affirmation. It’s a place where we feel good and can glean some positive reinforcement during a bad day. Facebook is about us. It’s like Cheers: It’s a place where everybody knows your name.