Monday, December 14, 2020

Google Went Down... Now What?

So Google had a major outage this morning that lasted about a half hour. Luckily it came back up, but within that half hour I realized just how much I rely on Google.

  1. When my alarm went off, I said "Okay Google, please turn the lights on" but Google responded that it had a problem and to try again.
  2. After manually turning my lights on thinking I'd have to reset my plug I said "Hey Google, what's today's weather?" and got a response to try again later.
  3. I picked up my phone and went to check some things only to see login errors on a few apps.
Now I was getting mad and thinking my wifi was out or something so I switched my phone to data only to see the same issues. By the time I left for work Google was restored but this morning was an interesting wakeup call. Think about it. How many of us subconsciously (at this point) use Google for daily tasks? Any application, including Zoom, that I normally click "login with Google" didn't want to let me login this morning. 

Screenshot of Google Workbench App Status Page
Google Workbench Dashboard
Now imagine our students. Many schools use Google Apps for Education on a daily basis. During this outage, students couldn't access Google Classroom, Google Meet, Gmail, and more. Schools couldn't send out emails regarding the outage because Gmail was down too. So these students would see the site not working and that would be it. 

So we as educators need to start making some changes to the ways we do things. Perhaps relying exclusively on a single platform is part of the problem. You wouldn't invest your lifesavings in a single stock so perhaps we shouldn't invest out entire educational process on a single suite of softwares. Diversify. Maybe use a few products from Google, a few from Microsoft, and then a few smaller umbrellas such as Nearpod. This way if one goes down, everything doesn't just stop.

What do you think? Leave a comment on this post and let's start a discussion. Collaboration has always been important in education, so let's collaborate on troubleshooting a "one time crazy situation" that can and probably will eventually happen again. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

ISTE2020: A Week in Review

Just like everything else, ISTE looked a little different this year. Instead of taking place in an expo hall/convention center, ISTE moved virtual for 2020 and stretched a few extra days.

Error message seen multiple times on ISTE website during the conference.
Unfortunately for a virtual experience there were also virtual hic-ups. Many times throughout the week I had error messages when clicking on session links. It seems that while they knew how many people registered for the conference, they hadn't taken into account the strain on their servers to handle the traffic. There was also an issue of sessions being "full" but I know that web conferencing software has limits and even the in-person ISTE sometimes has to close off sessions for safety when they are full.

I think the hardest thing was that ISTE was based on Pacific Time Zone which meant things started later in the afternoon and went into the evening here on the East Coast. Even so, I was able to attend a bunch of sessions and meet some awesome people. Even more interesting, after talking in the chat box of one session, I got a DM from someone I had worked with six years ago asking if I was that same Cori. It was nice to reconnect and we're now connected on Linkedin so we can stay in touch moving forward.

Screenshot from Best of Both Worlds session.
On the first day of ISTE, I had the privilege of presenting a condensed panel The Best of Both Worlds: O365 and G Suite Can Co-Exist with some of my fellow Microsoft Innovative Education Experts and Google for Education Certified Innovators. One of the biggest takeaways I had from my own presentation was that when organizing such an endeavor, communication becomes more important than ever. Also, proof-read online forms before hitting submit or you too will end up with a condensed timeslot instead of a full hour (oops). The panel went well and we've already discussed perhaps hosting an encore on social media using StreamYard.

I attended many sessions during the week on coaching/mentoring, esports, future-ready learning, and more. I think the biggest takeaway I had was from a session on the science of audiology. The session talked about proper mic placement, speaker volume, and in class sound amplification vs web conferencing audio issues. I thought it was really interesting because as a naturally loud person I always say "can you hear me in the back without a microphone" but I learned that hearing and understanding are not always the same thing. The audio setup is not to amplify a voice but to evenly distribute it because when you naturally raise your voice, you're also changing the tone which can make it harder to understand even for people without hearing difficulties. Using your teacher voice is no longer an excuse for poor classroom audio.

The virtual expo hall was truly lacking from the experience of walking up and down rows of vendors. While I did stop to "chat" with a few vendors, it was much harder to explore products when watching YouTube videos or reading PDFs compared to physically holding something. Yes, I also missed the swag, but most of the time I only keep a few key items anyway.

Overall, I missed the in-person experience and I truly hope that 2021 in Texas takes place. However, I understand that the entire world has shifted right now and ISTE did the best they could given the circumstances.

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Microsoft Office Specialist: Associate

Microsoft Office Specialist: Word
This week, I had the opportunity to sit for the Microsoft Office Specialist exams from home. Normally, these tests require you to make an appointment with a physical testing center. Due to social distancing requirements, they have modified the exams to allow virtual tests. The tests were completed on a virtual computer with a live proctor on the other side of the account.
Microsoft Office Specialist: Associate 
Microsoft Office Specialist: Powerpoint
Thanks to an amazing organization out of Australia, I was able to sign-up and participate in these virtual exams from my home in Pennsylvania. Even better, the normal price tag was removed and the exams were free during the conference. I registered and took three exams: Microsoft Word, Microsoft Powerpoint, and Microsoft Excel. By passing all three exams, I also received a fourth recognition: Associate.
Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel

When you teach computers, these industry certifications are something that you often speak about with your students. Rather than just write "I'm proficient with Microsoft" passing these exams give you verifiable proof that you are indeed proficient with the software. The company that runs the exams on behalf of Microsoft works with many schools to become verified testing locations and offer site licenses rather than individual test fees. This allows schools to offer the exams and certifications to their students during computer courses throughout the curriculum. 

By finally taking the exams for myself, I learned a lot about the certification process and requirements. I also realized that I either know more than I thought about Excel, or the expert test which I didn't take is what I really think about when I say "I'm not good at Excel." Next time I find an organization offering the exams for free, I may try the expert level. For now, I'm happy to be able to officially say I'm a Microsoft Office Specialist Associate. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Confessions of a Green Screen Newb

 I have a confession to make. I love green screen effects when done correctly, but I cannot do them correctly (yet). Today I making a video to introduce myself to the Education Exchange. Since the conference in Australia got postponed in February and turned digital this month, everyone is introducing themselves online. I thought it would be fun to make a short video of myself "traveling" to my home office/computer.

I took my green screen out to the car and started to record my plan. I knew the glass would have a reflection, so I rolled down all the windows. Sadly, the glass wasn't the issue. The lighting was. Since the lighting caused many shades of green to show in the green screen, the chromacast couldn't remove them all. After many tries, I gave up and instead created an outtake video.

I assume the issue was the lighting, but there are other factors that could had caused this issue as well.

  1. My green screen is wrinkled and therefore the fold makes cause the variation in greens.
  2. My green screen is thin and therefore the light can get through it easily. If I was using a thicker "black out" curtain type material, it would probably work better for controlling the light.
  3. I was outdoors so I couldn't control all the external factors.
  4. I should probably have added multiple layers in my editing software to remove the shades of green. Will that work? It's how I sometimes fix the same issue in still shots. Note to self: try re-editing the video with additional layers.

Green Screen Before and After
I also notice when I do pictures, I often have a green halo around my subject. Around the hair is the worst offender. Although it doesn't look wrong around the hair in this example, here is a before and after that shows the shadows I was referring to before. You can see that between my arm and body the shadows make the screen darker. In a still shot, it's easy to remove the multiple shades of green. Now to just figure it out for the video.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Don't Be Brand Loyal, Be Student Loyal

People know that I wear many hats:
  • Google for Education Certified Innovator
  • Microsoft Innovative Education Expert
  • Apple Teacher
  • SMART Educator
  • and more coming soon...
So it really bothers me when people say "we can't do that because our district uses [fill in the blank]." No tool is all powerful. Each has its own purpose, pros, and cons. On top of that, most of the major companies are now playing nice and its easier than ever to switch between products. For example, SMART now connects to Google Drive and Microsoft Teams. Do not force your teachers or students to use a product because it's your favorite.

It reminds me of an analogy I heard a few years ago from a keynote speaker. He compared learning Ed Tech tools to cars. When you're learning how to drive, you are not learning how to drive a Ford or a Toyota, you are learning how to drive a car. The skill of driving should be relatively the same no matter what car. I know I personally feel a little awkward when I drive my sister's sedan after being in my SUV, but I can still drive it. "But Cori, what about a manual vs automatic transition? See this analogy proves you can't switch back and forth." Yes there are differences. We can play devils advocate all day, but that's not going to help our students.

Technology tools are like the cars in that analogy. If you teach a student how to type, they can type in Word or Google Docs. Same for copy and paste, formatting paragraphs, etc. The skill isn't different. There just might be small changes such as shortcuts or where a menu is located. Some programs are missing features, others add features, and still others claim to do the same thing but are completely different.

In Fast Company, an article was recently published about Google Classroom which led me to writing this post. 
Google has aggressively positioned itself as edtech’s leading player, and fashioned its “Google Certified” credential as a signifier of digital know-how. Unfortunately, that strategy has created a generation of teachers loyal to the tools in its product suite, rather than a generation of teachers capable of flexibly using technology to navigate the biggest disruption to education in over a century. (full article)
This article touched on my main point. When a school tells me they can't do something because they're using a specific suite of tools, I remind them that different tools serve different purposes and not all area created equal. I have been a long believer in using what works for the specific project, not being brand loyal. I also feel that students need to train/learn on multiple platforms so they can be ready for the ever changing technology that will be in the real world. If students only know how to use Google Docs but walks into a company that uses Microsoft then we as teachers have not probably prepared them. 

Interested in learning more? Come join us in November at ISTE for a virtual panel "Best of Both Worlds: Google and Microsoft can Co-Exist" where we will have a group of educators with both Google for Education Certified Innovator and Microsoft Innovative Education Expert titles sharing how they utilize both suites.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Google for Education Enterprise Features Leaving Basic Accounts

Remember a few months ago when Google extended advanced features to all users in G Suite for Education? Today is September 30, 2020 which means those advanced features are going away unless your school pays for premium access. So what does this mean for you? If your school uses the basic G Suite accounts, the following things will change: 
  • Meeting Size: 250 participants (premium), 100 participants (free)
  • Live Streaming: up to 100k viewers (premium only)
  • Recording to Google Drive: premium only
If you are losing these features, there are some free alternatives to consider. These are not perfect options, but they are free. Please check with your school's administration before doing anything to make sure you are following local policies for student privacy and protection.

If you want to record your class session or meeting, Google Meet will no longer have the option directly. You can however use a screen recording program such as Loom. Loom's education license is free and offers some great features. When you record, make sure you have checked "use system audio" to record the sound from your Google Meet call. Otherwise, you will see the video and only hear your own microphone, not the other participants.

As you know, when you screen share on a Google Meet, your screen changes and the screen's format will change. Or if you go to open up the participants/chat columns, the screen will change. I recommend if you can, use a spare computer to record. Just join the call from the second device, turn the devices mic and camera off, and hit record. This will record the Google Meet as a passive participant. If you don't have a second device just be aware of what is showing on your screen as you record.

Live Streaming
There are options such as Stream Yard which is very user friendly. The free version will leave a "Powered by StreamYard logo in the upper right corner of your stream and recording. It will connect to YouTube, Facebook, or other platforms to stream but can be set as private and/or unlisted so that it's not publicly available. Most other live streaming options will also require you to share the live stream via a third party. Additional limitations of the free version of Stream Yard include limited participation of guests.

I'd be happy to help you and your school find free alternatives to these premium features, so please leave a comment or DM me if you have any questions.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Video Conferencing: Things to Consider

Zoomed out? Tired of Teams? Sick of meeting on Meet?

At this point, you probably spend more time with your students virtually than in person. Add in staff meetings, webinars, and the majority of your work day is now on video conferencing software rather than face to face.

So now comes the bigger question... Are you using the camera and microphone built into your computer or did you go out and try to buy a camera and headset only to find out they're sold out everywhere. Even Amazon is having trouble stocking the popular/recommended products. Having the right equipment won't make you any less tired from web conferencing but it will help improve the experience for you and your students.

Whatever hardware you choose for your video conferencing software, make sure you practice using it and get comfortable before working with your students. Practice a few times to make sure you connect the hardware correctly and know where in the software settings to change it. Good luck!

Part 1: Camera

After weeks of using my computer's camera, I realized how annoying it was to position the computer where I could have a decent camera angle AND still use my computer. I finally decided to spend some money on an external camera, but at that point they were already sold out everywhere. So I looked at the features of the sold out camera and decided to try and find one that listed similar features.

Image Source: Slash Gear
Image Source: Slash Gear 

When I was doing research, I learned that most cameras now advertise 1080p but it's really the FPS (frames per second) that matter. 30FPS is the lowest you want because anything lower will look like a flipbook with lag in the motion. 60FPS is what most streamers that do video games and such look for but it's probably overkill for a teacher using web conferencing so don't panic if you only see 30FPS advertised. The final thing you want to look at is field of view. There isn't really a "best" in terms of field of view, but just know it's the angle that the camera can see.

The camera I originally bought cost $30 on Amazon during a lightning sale. I decided to try it because worst case, I'd return it for a refund. The image quality was decent but the sound was awful so I did in fact end up returning it.

Prior to publishing this post, I magically found one of those recommended cameras in stock at Target and bought it. This Logitech C920 is sold out everywhere, including Logitech's website. On eBay, it's going for around $150 due to supply and demand so I was shocked to find it in stock for under $70. Check your local Targets, Walmarts, etc. because people often forget about those stores for electronics and you might get lucky too.

Part 2: Microphone and Speakers

Although you may be tempted to buy a fancy looking microphone, I actually recommend against this for video conferencing. If you choose to go the microphone route, you'll still need earbuds or headphones for your speaker. Otherwise, you'll get feedback from the microphone "hearing" the speakers. Some of the really fancy microphones will have built in features to reduce that feedback but you will end up paying more. The easiest way to prevent the feedback is to use a headset where the input and output for sound are in the same device.

Image Source: Amazon

One recommendation that I've seen floating around many teacher sites lately is to look at buying a gaming headset. This suggestion has a few benefits for teachers.
  1. Gamers tend to wear them for long periods of time so they're designed for comfort.
  2. They have good sound quality since gamers tend to be picky (in a good way).
  3. They seem to have plenty in stock right now.
While you may be considering a bluetooth connection so you are not tethered to your computer, remember that if you will be on webinars for long periods of time, some bluetooth devices won't have a long enough battery on a single charge. Wired headsets do not require charging to continuously work. Although some computers are short on USB ports so know your device before deciding on a sound solution.

Part 3: Displays

It doesn't matter which video conferencing software you're using. at some point, you're going to have so many windows open on your computer that you can't see everything. It's very easy to attach an extra display to your computer and expand what you are looking at. However, don't go out and buy a dedicated computer monitor. All you need is an HDMI cable (and perhaps a dongle depending on your computer). That's right, an HDMI cable. Plug your computer into a television, switch the TV's input, and volia. You are ready to use your TV as a temporary display. 
Screen shot Windows 10

Depending on your computer the method will be different, but all computers have display options so you can either mirror or expand your display. For the purpose of display real estate, you'll want to expand your display. This will allow you to act as two screens are one large screen. You can drag and rearrange windows to the different screens so that everything is visible. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

My Goals for Professional Growth

Back in January, I attended a workshop while at Microsoft about marketing yourself. It was all about how to stand out. I originally signed up to attend the session for the headshots, but realized it was much more than that. While most professionals have a non-school portrait looking image, that's not the only thing that makes people stand out. So does content.

Cori Frede, Headshot
My headshot
This week at work, I learned they want to create a marketing campaign around the professional development/training department, also known as me. I'm learning a lot from the marketing team including how to grow my own brand, not just the company.

So now, I have some goals for 2020/2021 related to personal growth.

Goal 1: In the past, I wrote blog posts when something truly impacted my professional career. Now, I plan to write at least one blog post here per month, at least for now. Eventually trying to up that to a weekly post. These posts can be something meaningful related to teaching, or even just a favorite tool.

Goal 2: Grow my YouTube channel. This will also start as a monthly goal, but hopefully grow further. The videos on my YouTube channel are all "how to" tutorials for educational technology softwares. I tend to focus on softwares that are free for teachers so that they can easily incorporate what I am showing into their teaching.

Goal 3: Post weekly to Linkedin. Previously, I only posted to celebrate professional achievements. I learned this is the wrong way to do it. I need to be more active and engaging regularly if I want to have engagement for those big events. These weekly Linkedin posts will include sharing meaningful articles about pedagogy and educational technology. It also means that I will try to interact more with what other people post, not just reshare interesting posts.

Goal 4 (eventually): I want to try and co-author a book. I just can't decide right now what topic is meaningful that I can provide new insight to. I feel that most of the topics I consider myself to be an expert on already have tons of published books. Therefore, part of my networking goal is to find someone with similar interests and expertise to collaborate with on this effort. Two heads are better than one after all.

There you have it. My professional growth goals for 2020/2021. Some will be easier than others, but my hope is that I continue to grow since my transition from classroom teacher to educational trainer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Virtually Back to School

2020 has turned into one of the craziest years. As teachers around the country are preparing to return to a modified version of school, the goal is the same. Continue to help students learn and grow. The goal has never changed, just the delivery.
Table comparing classrooms from Spring 2020 to Fall 2020.
Source: Educators Navigating COVID-19
Together Facebook group

Throughout the summer, I have worked with teachers in many school districts as they prepare to go from "Crisis Response" to "Virtual Learning" for the start of the school year. When schools first closed in March 2020 as COVID-19 started to spread, many teachers and students went into survival mode. When schools were unprepared to provide all students with the tools they would need at home, they couldn't continue expecting all students to complete the work in the same way. This is why many schools changed to a pass/fall system and didn't track things like attendance.

As we move into the new school year, schools had the summer to plan ahead and prepare. Many school districts used the funds from CARE Act to purchase 1:1 technology that could be sent home with students. There are still a ton of inequalities out there such as Internet access, parent involvement, IEP adaptations, and more. However, from what I've seen schools all over are striving to best serve their students in this time of uncertainty.

Many companies and organizations have stepped up to help schools. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, and more have been offering free webinars all summer. Organizations such as ISTE, CUE, PAECT, and more have also been running series of webinars to help teachers prepare.

I will leave you with this adorable video that the Reading School District made for their first day of in-service. Such a great message for everyone.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Turning a Tragedy into a Teachable Moment

Recently, Naya Rivera, an actress from television, went missing while boating with her four year old son. This tragedy ended with Naya Rivera being declared dead but her son being safe. The tragic results along with the way the situation was handled by the press can easily be turned into a teachable moment.

The child was discovered sleeping in a boat by himself and she was missing. According to the press conference following the tragedy, it's believed that the currents pushed the boat away from them and that Naya used her last energy to get her son back in the boat safely. Her last act was to save her son's life. So valuable lesson number one is about the love a mother has for her child.

The second valuable lesson revolves around how the news handled the story. The image attached to this post has three screenshots of Tweets. One from an entertainment site, one from a news site, and the last from the official police department's social media team. All three screenshots were taken within seconds of each other so we can say the retweets and likes are from the same time.

Seven minutes after the police announced they found a body and would be holding a press conference at 2, the entertainment site posted a claim that it was Naya Rivera's body that was found. A real news site posted 20 minutes that a body was found and a press conference would be held. While the real news site used an image of the late actress, they never claimed the body was her.

This tragedy can be turned into a positive by helping to teach about reliable sources and helping students learn how to determine truth vs click bait. Looking at the screenshots, it's interesting to point out to students that the entertainment site had more retweets than the legit news site or the police department combined. The entertainment site was also used as the source for many other entertainment sites such as radio stations.

This blog post was posted after the press conference. I have purposely waited a few weeks out of respect to everyone involved. While I believe this example can be used as a teachable moment, I also understand this is a difficult time for the family and friends of this talented actress. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Game-Based Learning Is Not Gamification

As my post's title suggests, game-based learning and gamification are not the same thing. They both serve purposes in the classroom, but the two terms are not interchangeable. So what's the difference? Game-based learning is when you use games in the classroom. Gamification is when you transform the entire class or lesson into a game. In its simplest form, gamification means you're adding game-type elements into the lesson. This can be through story telling, problem solving, competition, or scoring.

This 2014 Google Teacher Academy application video from Jeffrey King is a prime example of how to gamify a classroom. He's not just playing a game with his students, he's turned the class into a game. From "mission briefings" instead of instructions to they way he tracks progress and scores his chemistry class, he has transformed it into something different and exciting.

My favorite theory behind gamification is that students don't fail. Just like in a game where an avatar dies and returns to the last "save point", learning is a process as well. If the student doesn't reach the goal don't just give them a F and move on. This won't help the student and will make it harder to move forward. Let them go back and try again. They use the knowledge from that first attempt to improve.

When you use game-based learning in the classroom, you are using games to promote learning. Examples of this can be as simple as using Scrabble to practice spelling or more complex ideas such as a game show style review. Game-based learning can be really effective for student engagement.

If you would like to learn more about Gamification, I highly recommend looking into Karl Kapp, a professor at Bloomsburg University. I discovered him while surfing Lynda courses (free through my public library so check yours) during quarantine. He has a few videos on gamifying classrooms and a few on gamifying professional development for the business world. They were all extremely informative and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

To sum this up, I'm not saying that playing games in the classroom is bad. Students love games and they will help you engage the class in exciting ways to teach or review materials. Just when you are submitting proposals to EdTech conferences please make sure to specify in your description what you are discussing. I would love to become better at gamification, but I seem to always end up in sessions about game-based learning.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Loss of an Icon

 Rosie Parmigiani aka Mama Keystone

I barely knew you. Don't get me wrong, I knew of you, but I barely knew you. You were/are the icon. The heart and soul of Keystones and PAECT. I remember that first PETE&C I attended back before I really understood what type of community I had walked into. I was an outsider, but to you I was another young teacher looking to improve my craft.

I sat down at the banquet that year with other people from Southeast and immediately I heard stories about Mama. We met briefly and you introduced yourself and welcomed me to the family. Maybe at most we spent five minutes talking. The following day you said hi to me in passing with warm smile.

A year later, I came up to PETE&C the day early for the KTI pre-summit. When I walked past you, you not only said hi but you remembered my name. With so many "children", it really amazed me that Mama not only remembered me but she took a moment to ask how everything was including details from a single conversation the year before. This is how it continued. I only saw Mama annually at PETE&C, and once at ISTE, but each time she would take the time to make you feel welcomed and encouraged. Mama just had that way about her.

She spoke to everyone and took the time to make sure each person felt welcome and included. Whether you were a first year teacher or a retired veteran, you mattered. Mama never spoke about herself, it was always about her children and we are all her children.

The last time I saw Mama was in February at PETE&C in Pittsburgh. As always, she was riding around in her scooter and not letting anything slow her down. When we spoke about Pittsburgh, Mama said she came a few days early to spend time with her family that lived on the west side of the state.

Mama may be gone, but her legacy will live on through every student and teacher that she mentored. I know I am a better educator for knowing her, no matter how brief.

Mama will always be there for all of us. (@rosieparm)

Monday, June 15, 2020

Free Ebooks for Teachers and How to Get Them

I love reading for relaxation. However, lately the library's waiting list for digital books can pass two months. If you decide to purchase a book, they can cost $10 and up. So what's someone to do? Well, sign up with the publishers to get an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of upcoming books. The catch? They expect you to write reviews and publish those reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon. Any review would have a disclaimer such as "I received a free ACR from [publisher] in exchange for a honest review."

When I went to New York Comic Con this past fall, I met representatives from some of the major publishing companies. That's where I learned the trick to these free early copies. Make sure you mark in your profile that you are a teacher and/or librarian (if you are) because the publishers are more likely to approve your request if you have a good reach. Below are the three sites I have joined to request ARC.

I have been a member of NetGalley for a few years now. It was the first site I learned about back when I was blogging about how to save money. Many of the large publishers will use NetGalley but be aware that I've been declined as many requests as I've been approved for during the time. Some newer authors will be listed as "read now" and don't require a pre-approval.

I learned about Booksprout directly from an author's Twitter account. You can search through available ARCs but you can allow follow an author you like. I now get notified when that author I enjoy has new books available.

I learned about Reedsy from someone at NYCC. The site has an interesting variety of books but it appears that only one reviewer per book, so it's first come/first serve. You can also see the books that have already been reviewed. The one thing I found strange with Reedsy is that people can leave you tips for your reviews. If you receive a tip, you must connect a Stripe account to withdraw the funds.

If you're not interested in pre-release books or agreeing to review the books, you can also look into options like your public library and Amazon for free eBooks.

Public Libraries
Depending on where you live, it may be different. Here in Philadelphia, we have Overdrive and Hoopla. The library has a specific number of digital licenses for each book and if all those books are "out" you can add yourself to the waiting list. You can also search for books the library doesn't own or pre-release titles and recommend the library purchases them. When they do, you'll automatically be able to borrow the title or be added to the wait list if it is a popular pre-release.

Kindle Unlimited
Amazon has a subscription program where you can get unlimited books. The subscription costs $9.99 per month but if you read a lot, it may be worth it. They also offer a free trial month. I'm a little torn on Kindle Unlimited because they have a huge selection of books but often new releases and popular books are not included.

Prime Reading
If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can filter ebooks to find titles that are eligible for Prime Reading. These titles can be downloaded for free. The selection is more limited than Kindle Unlimited, but you can often find some decent titles.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The New Normal: Hopefully not for too long

This past month has been crazy. From schools closing to stay at home orders, the world has changed overnight. Hopefully these changes are working and we'll be able to get back to normal soon, but will it be normal?

Tweet from Shonda Rhimes
Teachers are being forced right now to basically become first year teachers again. With little to no experience, they are being thrown into a new environment and expecting to thrive. Parents and community members are starting to notice how hard teachers are working and that it's not just "teaching" that goes into the classroom.

This month, I have been hosting webinars on different ed tech products and concepts. I have also been holding daily virtual office hours to support teachers from across the state and region. I may not be in the classroom anymore, but I know the struggles going on.

I hope that I've been helpful to the teachers that have been attending the webinars and those that come into office hours have been asking great questions. I've even geared some of next week's webinars based off the repetitive questions I've been getting in office hours.

Good luck to all educators out there. We will get through this, and we will be stronger for it. So will our students. Stay safe and wash your hands.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The World Is Not Ending... (How Fast a Month Can Change Everything)

Last month I wrote about how great 2020 was so far. Fast forward a month into the future and the world is going crazy. A fast spreading virus is scaring everyone into reacting. Large events around the world are being postponed or canceled. Education Exchange (E2) which I was suppose to attend in Australia was postponed. Then SXSW canceled this year's event. Even Harvard is moving all classes online and students were given less than a week to vacate the campus.

Schools across the globe are currently working on contingency plans if they need to close the buildings. Four local districts closed for a week after a local pediatric doctor tested positive meaning he may have infected his patients (yikes).

As someone that works in the educational technology industry, you may think that I've been waiting for this type of moment, but far from it. Cyber/distance learning has its place, but it's not a replacement for the physical classroom. I think the social aspect of education is just as, if not more important, than the content itself. Teaching students to collaborate and work together can have some of the greatest results in a classroom.

I am working with schools to train their staff on remote learning options, but the pedagogy cannot be taught or learned overnight. Teachers at cyber schools have spent a lot of time training for their specialty and working remotely with students. Additionally, this crisis is further illustrating the inequality of education. Not all students have access to devices and internet at home. So how are schools going to reach these students?

Leonard Nimoy as Spock giving the Vulcan greeting.
Image Source: Buzzfeed
I am not a doctor and I'm not going to pretend to know how truly widespread this virus is or how long it will take for our medical experts to contain it. It's better to overreact than under-react but I hope that we are all overreacting and things will get back to normal soon.

At least us geeks around the world are finally "cool" because we're giving the Vulcan greeting instead of shaking hands.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

2020 Has Been An Amazing Year (and It's Only February)

Wow. What a year so far.

I attend the Microsoft Underground Summit and had an amazing time learning with other MIEExperts. While attending the summit, I was selected for the USA delegation to Education Exchange (E2) in Sydney Australia for March. My airfare confirmation just arrived today, so it feels even more real than when I heard my name called.

I won the election for Regional Director of Southeast PAECT. Again, another thing that started before the new year but actually happened in 2020. I will be taking over for Rachel following PETE&C at the end of the month.

American Cancer Society Team DetermiNATION logo.
Running for a cure
Third, I decided to take my fitness goals to the next level. As part of my motivation to get/stay healthy, I have registered for the 2020 NYC Marathon on November 1, 2020. Since this will be my first full marathon (26.1 miles/42.195 km), I have partnered with the American Cancer Society. With a minimum fundraising goal which goes towards cancer research, they will help me train safely and smartly. They will also provide me with nutritional advice for that peak performance. If you'd like to donate to the cause and help me reach my goal, please head directly to my personal fundraising page to donate.
"The American Cancer Society DetermiNation program will help you achieve your personal race goals and change the course of cancer forever. With access to professional training, an unparalleled community of support, and inspiration every step of the way, the American Cancer Society will help you finish your upcoming race and together we can achieve a world free from the pain and suffering of cancer." (Quote from Team Determination Homepage)
Even small donations will help reach and hopefully surpass the fundraising goal of $3,400.

Up next for me is PETE&C in February and Education Exchange in March. After that, I have some "down time" before the next conference at the end of April, followed by Broad Street Run in May. Wow. I'm keeping busy, in a good way.

Thanks everyone for your continued support.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Microsoft Underground Summit

Sign with right arrow stating "Bill Speidel's Underground Tour: The Underground Tour Founded 1965"
Seattle was built on top of
the "original" Seattle.
I'm currently sitting in the Seattle Airport after a jam packed week in the rainy city. To be fair, it didn't rain the entire time... One day we had snow ;)

This week I attended Microsoft's Underground Summit for Microsoft Innovative Education Experts (MIEEs). As a 2019/2020 Fellow, I went up a day early to have a day of bonding with the other Fellows and to help setup the summit. We spent the morning touring the Microsoft Campus and got to see the famous treehouse, education offices, and other really cool locations. In the afternoon, we brainstormed an event for the MIEEs, toured a local showcase school, and then took a tour of Seattle. During the tour, a few of us figured out why it was called the Underground Summit.

Picture of Stacey Mulcahy and a screen describing the Microsoft Garage as a place where Microsoft employees can hack, make, and experiment.
The Garage's director, Stacey Mulcahy.
The next morning, we greeted the rest of the MIEEs as they came in to start the day.  The day began with an amazing keynote from the Vice President of Education at Microsoft, Anthony Salcito. If you ever get a chance to hear this guy speak, he's not afraid to say what's on his mind. He spoke about his dislike of buzzwords that prevent education from moving forward, along with his hope for the future of educational technology and education in general. He also head an impromptu q&a because we had some extra time. After the keynote, we split up. Half the group had sessions and the other half did tours of the campus. During our tour, we got to see some more exciting locations including The Garage. The garage turned out to be a full office building where innovation and experimentation is encouraged for all employees. After lunch, the groups switched. We went to sessions on growing one's own brand, Minecraft in the Classroom, and Flipgrid/Skype in the classroom. Then some software teams came and gave us a preview of some really cool stuff.

Stuffed koala and a postcard that says See You in Sydney
Education Exchange Koala.
When they were finished, the most nervewrecking/exciting part of the day took place. Each year, Microsoft hosts a global conference of educators in a different country. The United States sends a delegation each year and I had applied for 2020 in Australia. To be fair, instead of having to make the hard decision of who will go, any educator that completes a series of tasks and creates a Sway "Passport to E2" is entered in a random drawing. As they started to draw names, my heart rate spiked. When the fifth name called was mine, I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe that I will be going to Australia in March. The night ended with dinner and a meet and greet with different Microsoft for Education partners.

The next day, the Fellows organized a competition where teams had an hour to create an innovative classroom idea and make a two minute "pitch" on Flipgrid. The Fellows walked around to each group offering suggestions and ideas while also secretly (or not so secretly) judging the ideas. We then passed off ten finalists to the real judges, the Flipgrid team. While we moved on to the next activity, ten mini-sessions referred to as MIEbooms, the judges made their decision. We had another great keynote from Brian Aspinall who made great points about the direction of education. If we treat technology as a special (elective) class, it's not being used effectively to prepare students for the future. He also reminded us that today's technology is the worst technology students will use, as it continues to advance through their lives.

Coffee flight with three pots of coffee and paired chocolate truffles.
Starbucks Reserve Coffee Flight
Although the conference ended around lunch time, a few of us hung around and continued to explore the Microsoft Visitor Center. Here, we saw a small exhibit of the history and future of Microsoft. We saw some amazing demonstrations of AI (artificial intelligence) and VR (virtual reality). While after lunch, some people left to catch flights, a few of us expanded our stay in Seattle by one extra night. We went as a group to the Space Needle. The next morning, we meetup at Pike Place before splitting up to do different touristy things. Considering I only had a little less than twenty-four hours to do the tourist thing while also getting some sleep, I was able to see a huge part of Seattle. I went to a museum, explored the city, and meet-up with the amazing Tara Linney who currently lives in Seattle. We talked about different Ed Tech trends while sharing a flight of coffee at the Starbucks Reserve.

It was a great week in Seattle/Redmond and I'm excited to return home with new ideas to help the teachers I work with. I can't wait for the next journey, Australia.
Picture of me while playing the VR demo.
I felt cooler than I look.