Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Pay to Play?

I've recently been wondering something and it's been stuck in the back of my head and I want to bring it out.

Imagine you are a child and your parent wants to be able to brag about you so they buy your way onto a team. Example, Draco Malfoy in Chamber of Secrets when he joins the Quidditch team after his father buys the entire team broomsticks.

Now you didn't really earn your place on that team but you still go around bragging to people and acting superior because you were on the team. Everyone on the team knows you're only there because of the equipment your parents bought but you still act high and mighty.

Now imagine that you are a child who has no idea that this is going on. Perhaps the broomsticks were donated anonymously to the school specifically for the team and your name is on the roster the next day.

The same situation where your parent bought your way onto the team, should you realize it? Notice that correlation? And what should you as that child do? Taking this thought a step further what happens if you know one of your classmates is a better player. Do you take the position that was purchased for you or do you step aside?

This scenario is just one extreme example of a complex issue revolving around equality in education. Parents, rich or poor, will do almost anything for their children. However, I often wonder if we're really just hurting the future.

There are cases circulating the news such as a story from 2016 that pops back up often regarding a teenager who drove drunk and got in an accident. His lawyers argued "Affluenza" as the defense. This teenager was raised to believe actions didn't have consequences because his parents would buy him out of trouble. How many more stories like this never made national headlines?

The point I'm trying to make in this rambling, both fictional and real examples, is I want to know if there's something we can do to stop this from happening? It's not just students. I recently received an email that I had been selected for an award. To accept the honor, I would have to pay $2000 for processing, press releases, and other things related to the "honor" and it made me start questioning how many people brag about honors that they really just paid for.

I know sometimes someone else is paying for these awards. For example, I'm in a regional organization and every year we honor one person with a national award. The regional organization has the authority to select our winner, but we pay the national organization for everything that the winner received such as the plaque, medal, award ceremony attendance, and more. So we are technically paying to give the award. The difference is that the recipient is not paying, the provider (sort of) is paying. I also understand that things like the physical award does cost money even if the title itself doesn't. Is an email and social media post as exciting as a plaque to hang in one's classroom?

Enough of my rambling today on paying for awards. Often when I see the list of recipients, like "30 K12 Influencers to Follow" I know right away know that it's well deserved. Just don't pop my bubble by telling me someone paid to make that list because I know a bunch of the people on the list and know they deserve recognition.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Learning from Attendees While Presenting

I've been doing professional development now for a few years but yesterday was a new experience for me. I went to a private school (not the new part) that was part of a Mosque (that's the new part). From the name of the school, I had assumed that it was associated with Islamic culture but I didn't realize how much. Throughout the day while I worked with the teachers on SEL, conversations mixed in about culture, along with them needing breaks at specific times for prayer. By the end of the day, I think I learned as much from them as they did from me. I wanted to share some of the experience and also my reflections, both personal and professional, about the day.

When I introduced myself to the group, I explained that I know their culture has similarities to my own, Judaism. I understood that they separated by gender and I didn't offer to shake hands with any of the men when I met them. I also stepped back to give space when the IT person was connecting an extension cord to my charger. 

It was interesting when he was speaking in Arabic and the principal (in English) told him that he should speak English while I was there. I told them it was fine and joked that I would just assume they were talking about how awesome I was but they did speak English the rest of the day for my benefit.

After introducing myself to the whole group, I took the opportunity to start with a language demonstration of using Microsoft Translator to collaborate with a global network. I told them of my experience working on a global team for E2 and that while we didn't speak the same language we were able to present together. This was my way of showing that if they were more comfortable speaking Arabic, as the minority in the situation I was willing to communicate in their language.

There were 16 attendees in total and it was immediately clear how close this group was. They were not just colleagues but almost like a family. In fact, when we were discussing SEL and some common classroom scenarios, one teacher told me that their students are more like sibling rivalry than classic fighting. This really was a micro-community in the heart of a larger city. They are neighbors; they pray together, work together, and go to school together.

Since I had not thought ahead but didn't want to disrespect their space, I offered to eat my lunch outside rather than bring non-Halal food into their mosque. I explained that when I've trained at the Jewish Day School I would pack a kosher lunch but wasn't thinking when I prepared for the day. One of the women told me that Halal and Kosher foods are very similar and that in-fact they are likely to take a kosher meal on flights or in hospitals because Halal isn't an option. I actually found that statement extremely impactful because I was under the impression that Halal eaters were more common than Kosher eaters.

In the afternoon the group went downstairs for the prayers and I stayed upstairs in the classroom. One of the teachers that was not praying with the others invited me to watch if I was interested in learning about the culture. She explained why she was not praying with the others that day. As we spoke and watched, I saw more similarities between their culture and my own. I am not an Orthordox Jew but I do know the rules and customs. The men stood at one end of the room while the women were on the other. When they got down on the floor, some were sitting in chairs and the woman I was standing with explained that health always comes first and adaptations can be made when needed.

The final interesting thing that came up was when we were talking about parental communication. One teacher gave an example of a time when a new student who didn't speak English or Arabic joined the class. He said something that sounded like a bad word in English but actually meant something very innocent in his own native language. This led to a discussion that online translators aren't perfect and that they translate literal statements. I used "It's raining cats and dogs" as an example of an idiom that makes sense in America and English but might confuse someone when translated.

I will be going back to this Mosque at the end of the month to provide another session and I am interested to see what more I can learn from them while I am facilitating the training. The upcoming training will be technology rich, specifically Microsoft tools.

Disclaimer: This blog post is my personal reflection to a training I completed on behalf of my employer. However the post is my own experiences and opinions. It does not reflect my employer.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

What's in a brand?

I'm going to use an analogy so that I don't specify specific brands of EdTech but hopefully the point of this blog post will make sense.

There are many brands that make similar products and while one brand is well known for good reason it's not the only brand available. We'll start with an analogy using crayons. When teachers send out supply lists, while some teachers will just specify crayons other teachers will specify Crayola crayons. Why is this?

Do the store brand crayons not come in multiple colors? So why do teachers constantly recommend Crayola? The answer is simple. They are known for their quality and consistency. They're stronger and don't break as easily so even though they cost the little more upfront at the end of the day they will last longer.

There are tech products that also follow this pattern. From 3D printers to interactive panels there is always that one brand that is slightly more expensive but has a greater reputation. There is a reason why when you go to purchase a 3D printer for a classroom you go to the EdTech specialists or the vendors that sell industrial quality printers and not to your local Amazon page to buy the cheapest 3D printer available. It will still work, but it won't work as well and it will probably break down faster meaning you will have to replace it sooner.

Personally, I own one of those $200 3D printers and I use it at home. But I am one person and I am only printing the occasional object. A classroom is printing multiple projects and often running a printer constantly for days at a time to complete the entire classes queue. My printer at home would never be able to keep up with the demand of a classroom so while it is much cheaper up front I would probably have to purchase multiple printers and then replace them often because they don't last. For those people who know me you will also know that I am very obvious with my likes and dislikes in the Ed tech world. I will talk with a school to see what their goals are and I have recommended products that I don't personally use because I know that they are probably better for that individuals needs.

You may now be thinking that there are multiple brands that make quality products so how do you choose? For this analogy I'm going to use cars. If all cars are required to have standard safety features, why would some people prefer one brand over the other? Sometimes it comes down to the aesthetics. Sometimes it comes down to something as simple as what features are standard and what features are costing extra. My last car was a Ford but I currently own a Toyota. I love my RAV4 but that doesn't mean my next car is going to be a Toyota again. When it's time to upgrade my vehicle I will compare the different brands, compare the features, and take a test drive. Only then will I be informed enough to make a good decision about which car is best for me.

This is another reason that I like to keep up with all the trends even though I'm no longer in the classroom. Because when I give somebody an opinion it's an educated opinion based on my personal research and experience. I may recommend one brand this year, but that doesn't mean it will always be the best brand.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Reflections From New Orleans (ISTE 2022)

This past week has been a windstorm of awesomeness. Less than a month ago, I wasn't scheduled to attend ISTE. However when my waitlisted session got switched to accepted, my supervisor helped make it possible for me to attend. We had a booth in the expo hall, so I joined the team representing down in New Orleans.

Like many travelers right now, my flight down to New Orleans was delayed by three hours. Luckily the airline knew ahead of time about the delays so I was notified prior to leave for the airport and was able to relax at home a little longer. This also meant I could attend the virtual MIEE event since I would have been mid-air otherwise. However, I sadly missed Tara and David's wedding which took place at the opening keynote. Since I wasn't originally going to attend ISTE though, Tara already knew I couldn't attend but I did get to meet up with her during the week.

Otis hanging out in Minecraft
I spent most of my days at our booth in the expo hall but I did get a chance to walk around a bit in the morning on Monday before the expo hall officially opened, I walked around with Otis to take some #WheresOtis pictures. I also took advantage of this time to catch up with the teams from Microsoft, Wakelet, and more. Thank you to Wakelet for hooking me up with a t-shirt before the hall opened.

Attending ISTE as an exhibitor was an experience in itself and I was really fortunate to be working with such an amazing group of people. As an exhibitor I wasn't able to attend sessions or keynotes but if being completely honest in previous years, I've missed the sessions I wanted to attend because they were too crowded or at the same time as other sessions where I never choose which to attend. Throughout the week, I was able to reconnect with many friends and make new connections. These connections are honestly the best part of conferences such as ISTE.

Time to present my session.
On Tuesday afternoon I presented my session, Turning Consumers into Creators. It was the end of the day so the audience wasn't huge but they were active and we had some amazing discussions take place. When we talked about the type of creating we want our students to learn one attendee shared a story of how her students began creating videos about social justice. We also discussed using Canva to teach social media marketing.

During ISTE, I learned that I was included in Scott Nune's ISTE'22 hitlist. I also learned after the conference that my session was actually listed on Screencastify's Can't Miss Sessions ISTE'22 list they published before the conference. So that was really cool to discover. I have been working so hard to grow my reputation in EdTech as an influencer so seeing my name showing up on these influential lists really made me feel awesome.

The only thing I was sad about was missing some of the events I would have otherwise attended in years past. Events such as Flipfest and EdTech Karaoke. The schedule was so packed that there were difficult decisions to make.

Following ISTE I took a Covid test when I arrived home on Wednesday night and again every day for five days. Luckily all were negative because I did see many friends that I had spent time posting about positive results. This is sadly the new normal we live in. ISTE was the first time I really went out in the public without a mask on in over two years. I knew I was taking a risk by not wearing a mask in public spaces but I did anyway. While this easily could have ended differently I was fortunate that my good time in the big easy didn't result in a week of quarantine.

Disclaimer: My attendance at ISTE'22 was covered by my employer. However this post is my personal opinion and does not reflect my employer.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Language Barriers, Time Zone Challenges, and More Lessons from E2

Two years ago, I was selected to attend the Education Exchange (E2) in Australia but prior to going, the conference was delayed and then canceled. Now, in 2022, E2 has gone virtual. While it means I don't get to travel to Australia (yet) it also means that I had an amazing opportunity. I was selected to be part of a team of four to present one of the breakout sessions.

Sadly, one of our four team members never responded to emails so we ended up a team of three. But we were a magnificent team of three. That is of course once we finally got started. That was one of the major lessons I learned from this experience. All three of us were located in different time countries (United States, South Africa, and Viatnam) which meant three time zones and two languages.

Our team
When we were first teamed up, it took a while to find that time that worked for all of us and it seemed we were all of the mindset that we didn't want to start on our own and waited for the others. Finally, I created a Word file in OneDrive and we all started just free-flowing our ideas and commenting on each others. Then, one of my teammates created the Powerpoint template and we all added slides to the deck. It was slow because there was long wait periods between feedback and changes but eventually we got it together, with less than 24-hours to spare. 

This experience was a great learning experience and I look forward to when E2 is held in person again.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Spam Filter Enabled

This is a little sad, but I had to turn on comment moderation for my blog. As of right now, I don't get many comments on posts here, but within the last week I had over half my posts, new and old, receive random comments. All filled with text about online casinos and hyperlinks to... I don't know, I didn't click the links. 

I deleted the comments and felt it necessary to turn on comment moderation. This means that if you would like to comment on one of my posts, I will get an email and need to manually approve the comment. I want everyone to comment on my blog even if they disagree with me, but I need to prevent these spam posts. I promise that as long as your comment is related to the blog I will approve it to be displayed, even if I disagree with you. The only comments I will ignore are ones such as those casino spamming comments. 

I have a feeling these spammers are trying to build their SEO by having random websites link back to their site. What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization. I only am beginning to understand marketing and SEOs as I've taken a bunch of courses through LinkedIn Learning and HubSpot. The basics and what I believe the unfortunate purpose of these spam comments is that search engines such as Google and Bing rank sites based on their validity and popularity. Therefore, if more people link to a site it improves that site's ranking on the search engine. Links for ranking purposes must come from external sites. For example, if I link this post to a previous post, that won't affect either post's ranking because they are internal links. 

Page 3 of a Google search
Side note: While going to grab a screenshot of a Google Search, I discovered on page three of searching my name, I've finally been published. I wrote an essay almost two years ago and submitted it for an anthology on mentorship in education. I remember signing papers giving permission to publish it but I never heard anything after that so I forgot about it. I guess the lesson is sometimes it's worth going past page two of search results.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

In Person Again, FETC 2022

Figment of my imagination.
In my first return to the new normal, I spent the last week of January in Orlando attending FETC. This was not only my first time attending FETC, it was also the first in-person conference I have attended since the initial shutdowns began. It was exciting to be with my peers again for the first time since January 2020, but it was also a little scary. The world has changed a lot in the last two years, but one thing remained the same - teachers attending conferences to learn new tricks, tips, and programs to bring back to their local communities.

My trip to FETC began with a day where Murphy's Law ruled. The entire morning represented the expression "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong" but eventually I arrived at the airport and checked-in for my flight. When I landed in Orlando, I knew everything was looking up when Figment greeted me at the airport. You don't know Figment? He's the underappreciated mascot of Epcot, a Figment of my Imagination. Eventually, I arrived at the hotel and made a plan for the next day.

Day 1 (False Start)

MIEExpert Road2E2 jackets
seen in the wild.

One thing I learned, a little too late, is that the first day of FETC is all premium workshops. This means that you needed to register and pay for a premium registration to attend. Therefore, after I checked in and got my nametag, there wasn't anything for me to do. So what did I do? I spent the day relaxing and maybe I did a little shopping.

Before long, it was time to meet up with my MIEExpert family for dinner and a reunion. Our dinner lasted so long it was amazing the restaurant didn't kick us out. Not only was it the MIEEs, but we were joined by the awesome teams of Flipgrid and Wakelet as we all caught up on two years.

I not only reunited with friends and peers. I also made new friends and connections. 

Day 2 (The Real Start)

Wednesday morning revealed the true FETC beginning. I started my morning by trying to attend a session on making professional development engaging but it was standing room only so I ended up leaving. Made my way over to Microsoft's room and found that was standing room only also, but there was enough room near the door that I stayed to listen to Leslie Fisher talk about Teams and OneNote.

Collage from the expo hall.
The keynote was much better in the sense that there was plenty of space to social distance. The speaker focused of SEL and encouraged positive psychology to help students and colleagues (and self) through the stressful times known as Covid-19.

I spent a good amount of the day in the expo hall learning about new products and features of products I already knew before trying to attend a few other sessions. One thing I will say about FETC is that because it was the first in-person conference and because I was really nervous about being in crowds I missed out on a bunch of sessions I wanted to attend because they were all popular. 

Wednesday night, I was invited to an event hosted by Nearpod and it did not disappoint. I am not part of Nearpod's PioNear program like I am with Microsoft's MIEE program, but they welcomed me at their dinner anyway and made me feel like family.

Day 3

Day three started with another Keynote and more networking. In the afternoon, it was my turn to present a session on Digital Whiteboarding. My session was scheduled for one of the mini theaters in the expo hall which was great because tons of people were stopping to watch for a few minutes between checking out the vendors.

A Canva template.
I had planned demos of a few different whiteboarding apps to compare them and show how teachers can use certain templates, such as those from Canva, with a variety of whiteboard softwares. For example, if a teacher wanted to use Canva's template for a Team Check-in as the background for both Microsoft Whiteboard and Google Jamboard. It can also be used in programs such as Nearpod and Peardeck.

Murphy's Law reared its ugly head again as I had a lot of wifi issues during my session. Luckily, Microsoft Whiteboard is not 100% cloud-based so while I couldn't demo the cloud and collaboration, I was able to demonstrate the Windows 10 whiteboarding app. While the cloud was not cooperating, I did have my slide deck in PowerPoint so I was able to also show screenshots and discuss some pedagogy including the awesome templates on Canva.

After the Conference

Miami Beach
Due to the snowstorm in the Mid-Atlantic, airlines warned about flight delays and cancelations, so I managed to change my flight home from Friday to Sunday and from Orlando to Miami. I then got a ride from another MIEExpert that was heading home to Miami and spent the weekend with my aunt. Since I was following his schedule for Friday, I did leave FETC before the final day was over but luckily I was able to accomplish everything I had hoped to while attending FETC.

Disclaimer: As a Microsoft Innovative Education Expert (MIEE), I was fortunate to have my registration and travel covered by Microsoft as a presenter using Microsoft tools.