Tag Archives: Technology

Consciously Disconnect from your Devices

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Courtesy of Britany Lynne Photography https://www.flickr.com/photos/84335369@N00/6902184950

Wednesday was my birthday. Growing up with a birthday just two days after Christmas taught me a few things: I would never have a “real” birthday party, my friends are out of town, everyone is broke from the holidays, and I would never get cupcakes at school (this one smarts the most). So, I’ve decided to make the day about me and I always book a spa day. It’s a few hours in which I can just focus on relaxing, reenergizing, and regrouping. It’s the best treat I can give myself.

While preparing for a luxurious day at the spa (trust me, in Miami we have some of the best), I locked up my phone and put it in my locker. Spa time is me time. No interruptions, no distractions; it’s magical. This time, when I walked out into the spa area, I was struck by something: many people were on their phones! Now spa etiquette tells you no phones! In fact, they post signs all over reminding you of this. However, when I looked at the haman style chairs next to the mineral pool, I saw people checking email. In the silent room, I saw others scrolling Facebook! In this sanctuary from the world, our devices have made a pernicious entry!

What struck me after my spa day this year was that all of us need to make a conscious effort to unplug…. regularly! Trust me, I am not great at finding balance around my devices. I own…. far too many devices and I check them too often. In recent years, however, I’ve been making more of an effort to maintain a better school-life balance. Am I perfect at it? No. However, by making an effort to “consciously unplug” I’ve been able to prioritize my life while at work or at home.

What does it mean to “consciously unplug?” This means making a conscious decision to turn off your devices or not checking them. For me, I set and keep hard and fast rules for no device time. I have limits on when and where I will check my devices; not always effectively. I also prioritize my “me time.” So while I may not always adhere to a “no emails after 8pm” policy, I do take email off of my phone on all vacations. Think about it. When was the last time you got an email so important that you had to read it right away? I’m going to guess never. Why? Because if it’s an emergency, someone will call you! Here are my rules:

  • I read books in analogue format or on my Kindle e-reader. No tablets or phones (with email and notifications). My phone is off when I’m reading for me.
  • No devices at shared meals. I enjoy my social time with friends, colleagues, and my boyfriend.
  • Phone is OFF (not on silent) at any show or event. If I’m there to watch baseball, a movie, or a play, I’m enjoying the event.
  • I remove work email from my phone during vacation times. I will check work email via the web every few days.
  • When in doubt, the phone is off. If I’m questioning if I need it, then I don’t.

These are my ways for consciously disconnecting. They will be different for different people. If you’re a surgeon on vacation, you probably can’t have your phone off at meals. If it’s hard for you to avoid temptation, you may want to take more drastic measures. For example, a colleague of mine just turned in their smart phone for an old fashioned flip phone because their phone was giving them too much anxiety. Now, I will never go that route, but I never question other’s methods.

So, the next time you’re thinking about your time outside of work, consider how you’re going to unplug. Do it consciously. Devices have become far too ubiquitous for us to let it happen organically. Pay attention to how your devices make you feel and when they make you feel that way. Set reasonable rules for yourself and your family (and be flexible when necessary). Also, don’t bring your phone into the spa! First, it’s bad etiquette. Second, it undermines the reason you are there!

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Play Video Games for Well-Being

I have been a (video) gamer since childhood. I played pong on a friend’s television. We got Atari one year for Christmas… my consoles evolved from there. Videogames specifically have been demonized over the years. Often attributed to violent or anti-social behavior. However, videogames are often incorrectly targeted. I loved this recent episode from the podcast Note to Self: Play Video Games for your Mental Health.

Featuring research Jane McGonigal, the episode focuses on the positive benefits of playing video games. Namely, honing your ability to work collaboratively, develop grit, creative problem solving, and stimulating positive feelings in your brain. If you are concerned about a child’s focus on video games, give this podcast a listen. It might change the way you think!

Navigating a Natural Disaster with Social Media

It has been more than a week since Hurricane Irma ravaged the state of Florida. As a long-time Miami-Dade resident, this is my third hurricane (but my first “big one”). My partner was here for Andrew as well as the 2005 season (when Katrina, Rita, & Wilma swept through the state). If you have never been through a weather related natural disaster, there is a lot of anxiety in the air before as well as after. What made Irma different for me was not the storm itself, but the myriad of tools available to residents to help prepare and recover from the storm. Social media played a significant role for my community as we prepared for the storm and as we began to pick up the pieces afterwards. However, in order to use these tools effectively, it was necessary to understand how to navigate them! Here are a few things that I learned over the course of the past week.

Follow your State/County/City Government

Miami-Dade county employed all of the social media networks to get their messages out there: Facebook, Twitter, and Periscope were how I got my information about evacuation orders, emergency supplies, and more. I am a cord cutter (meaning that I have no cable). This was the first time I was concerned about local channel access (antennas are an option as well). However, it was not a problem as Facebook Live notified me when Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Governor Rick Scott, or our local Emergency Offices were sharing updated information on evacuation zones, shelters, and storm preparations. I did not miss an update. What I found especially helpful on these announcements for the community at large is that, unlike the postings on major news networks, they shared information in all three of the prominent languages in Miami-Dade County: English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole.

Be Careful with “Viral” Information & Tips

Both before and after a storm, misinformation is rampant. People are trying to be helpful

Snopes dishwasher

Courtesy of Snopes.com

and, as such, may share out information that is simply not accurate. For example, prior to the storm I saw so many people share out this information about storing valuables in your dishwasher (and other appliances). In fact, even a few news agencies ran with the story. So, if there is a storm, should you do this? Absolutely not! The NHC, Red Cross, and other information sharing organizations made a point to try to correct this information. Just an FYI, the best place to store your important documents and valuables is in water tight, plastic containers. After the storm, misinformation spread about reimbursements or food stamps for those who lost food as a result of a power outage. Sadly, whatever food is lost can only be recouped via an insurance claim. However, as power outages lingered on, the community provided hot lunches at local parks and schools.

Follow Your Local News

Local news is far more important than national news during a crisis. They can give you up to date information about what is happening not just in your city, but in your neighborhood. Additionally, if you don’t have power, they may be simulcasting in your community. During the storm, our local NPR affiliate was great at getting out information, especially after the storm. They even started a Facebook group for Keys residents to help check in on one another.

Twitter is Incredibly Powerful, If you Know How to Use it

Both before and after the storm, Twitter was my best friend in getting pertinent, up to date information. Before the storm hit, I was trying to figure out where to put my car. Like most older homes in South Florida, I don’t have a parking garage. My neighborhood also has a lot of trees. I was trying to find a local garage in which I could store my carCapture (shielding it from wind, debris, and possible storm surge). So, I tweeted out looking for help. As the Miami Herald was working overtime, I asked them for help. I was surprised and pleased when they responded immediately with some up-to-date information. I was ultimately able to park my car in the garage at Marlins Park (after some local pressure, they finally opened them up).

After the storm, by navigating some local hashtags such as #Miami, #MiamiAfterIrma, and #Irma, I was able to find restaurants that were open (after day 3 of pop-tarts and Peanutbutter sandwiches, we wanted a hot meal), progress of Florida Light & Power, distributions of ice, and other areas where we could seek comfort and refuge after the storm. Twitter crowd-sourcing is one of the best ways to find out information relevant to you and your area during a crisis.

 

All in all, my city was spared the worst that Irma could bring. However, South Florida has a bullseye painted on it and I know that we will face another storm in the future. I’m hoping that these tips will help you and your community weather the next crisis.

Fake News Lesson Plan Ideas

I recently had the privilege of participating in Vicki Davis’s show, 10 minute teacher. We talked about teaching students new Media Literacy skills in the era of “Fake News.”

3 Ways for Students to Create with Devices in the Classroom

Devices have become omnipresent in our classrooms. Often, these tools are used as expensive, electronic content delivery systems. However, the real power in technology in schools is that it empowers students to become content creators. Smartphones and tablets, even more so, have allowed them to become mobile and agile ones. Most educators know that individuals learn far more about a topic when they must explain it to someone else. Additionally, by employing multiple learning modalities through the creative process (tactile, kinesthetic, visible, etc), students process material more thoroughly. As you think about your lesson plans in the future, consider empowering students to create rather than just consume. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Create a Video

I am a fan of giving students guiding questions and parameters, then having them make an educational video. In my documentaries project, students must answer address a specific topic (e.g. “Where did George Washington get his reputation for honesty?” or “Was Benedict Arnold solely a villain of the Revolutionary War?”). We talk about creating

content in an engaging way, incorporating images and videos effectively (and ethically), pacing content, and selecting what to include or leave out. Videos are not exclusive to the humanities. I have seen math teachers effectively use them by having students demonstrate how to solve complex problems and science teachers as a recording and reflection for labs. I also encourage students to post their videos publicly (when age appropriate) or to the class via a closed portal (for younger students). By posting their videos publicly and sharing with the class, they are presenting to an authentic audience. Making a video is easy and can by done with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer. Free software options include iMovie (MacOS & iOS), Movie Maker (Windows), and FilmoraGo (iOS & Android).

Create a Podcast

Podcasts are become ever more popular. There are podcasts to cover news, popular entertainment, hobbies, sports, cultural phenomena, and more. Task your class with

creating a podcast on a topic relevant to your course. If you are a Social Studies teacher, perhaps a weekly podcast on current events. If you teach science, a weekly science report relevant to the topic. Math? Try incorporating an update on a complex topic students are tackling that week. Podcasting can help students work on their public speaking skills as well as how to effectively present to an audience. Again, by sharing the podcast with the public at large or just the class and/or school, students learn what it is to engage with a broader audience. Podcasting can be done easily with a smartphone, tablet, and/or computer paired with a simple microphone to drown out ambient sound (the microphone on headphones can work in a pinch or you can invest in something a little more substantive). My favorite free apps for podcasting include: Garageband (MacOS & iOS) and Audacity (MacOS & Windows).

Websites

My students complete a year long research project that they post on a comprehensive website. Through creating an online portal, they learn how to write effectively for a broad audience, how to cite material so that it is accessible online, how to create and incorporate various types of media, and how to effectively organize and lay-out content. What I especially like about website creation is that it allows students to combine skills that they have learned throughout the year (e.g. video and podcasting). We have all seen “good” and “bad” websites. When it’s published online, students want theirs to look good. As such, it also serves as a basic primer in basic graphic design. There are numerous free website tools out there. If your school is a G-Suite for Education school, then I highly recommend using the new Google Sites. Not only is it easy to use, but it readily allows for collaboration. You can also check out weebly or wix.

If you’re in a school where students have access to devices, I strongly encourage having them turn those devices into content creators. You will find that it empowers them as learners and makes their learning more applicable and deep.

Suggested Edits – My Favorite Tool in Google Docs

Suggested Edits MenuIf you assign writing assignments to your students, then be sure to learn how to use “suggested edits.” Suggested edits is similar to “track changes” in Microsoft Word. To turn it on, simply click on the Pencil (with the words “editing” next to it) and select “suggesting.” The menu will turn from grey to green.

Now, when you make changes to a document, they will show up as “suggestions” rather than direct edits. Users can even write notes to one another on the “suggestions” comments. This is a great way for multiple users to edit the same document or for students to do a peer editing exercise.

Suggested Edits

How & Why Educators Should Use Revision History in Google Docs

Revision History

One of my favorite features in G-Suite tools is “Revision History.” This features allows you to see what changes were made, when, and by whom. It’s a powerful tool, especially in education. If you have never accessed the revision history, you can do so (so long as you have “editing” rights on a document) by going to File –> See Revision History.

This brings up a pane on the right hand side that allows you to see what contributors edited the document and when. If you select their names, it will highlight their changes in the marked color. It’s a pretty cool feature! There are numerous reasons why and educator would want to use Revision History in the classroom.

Ensure that Collaborative Projects are Collaborative

Group assignments are common in the classroom. However, it’s not uncommon for a group assignment to be monopolized by one or two students (either out of necessity or willfulness). By using revision history, you can ensure that group members are all participating in an assignment.

Restore a Previous Version

A student may inadvertently delete a section of an assignment or a contribution. One of my favorite features of revision history is that you can restore a previous version. Just find the draft that you want and click “restore this version.”

Ensure that Daily Assignments are Completed… Daily

A lot of teachers assign work that is due daily but checked sporadically. For example, English teachers often require that students keep a daily or weekly diary, social studies teachers ask for students to reflect on assignments, or science teachers require daily recordings of experiment results. The revision history can tell you when something was added to a Google Doc.

Watch the Evolution of a Student’s Writing

When I assign a writing assignment, there are several iterations and revisions. By using the revision history, I don’t need to worry that a hard rough draft is lost or damaged in a student’s backpack or locker. Instead, I can watch the evolution of a student’s writing over several days, weeks, or months. This a powerful tool when teaching writing.

Facilitate Peer Review

If you encourage peer review, revision history can help you to see the feedback and suggestions that students make on one another’s work. This way, you can ensure that they are reading and meaningfully providing feedback.

There are many other ways to apply revision history, but these 5 are a great way to get started with the feature in your classroom.