Phishing Formative Assessment

Security is a big deal in the IT world.  While my team is doing everything we can to ensure that our hardware and software is secure, the most difficult piece of any IT enterprise to secure are the human beings.  This is true in every line of work, all over the world.  Many of the really significant IT security breaches that have happened recently are related to people being tricked into revealing sensitive information.  Usually, this happens in the form of a phishing exploit — an email that misleads people into giving out confidential information like passwords.  There are two big ideas to avoid this type of problem:

  1.  Never give your password out to any web forms that come to you via email — ie.. click a link and give your password.  No one from CCSD technology will ever ask you to give your password in a web form. If you get such an email, simply delete it.
  2. Never open an attached file in an email unless you expect it — even (especially) if it’s from someone you know.  It’s very easy to forge or spoof the “from” name in an email.  So, unless you know for sure the attached file is legitimate, don’t open it.  If you suspect the email and attachment is illegitimate, simply delete it.

In order to help all of us become more aware and hopefully less prone to this type of breach, my team will be sending out a formative assessment of sorts sometime later this school year.  We will be sending out our own version of a phishing email.  We are not doing this to embarrass or shame anyone.  Results will be kept private.  This is assessment will only be used to help us get better.  To do that we will need to know how many Prairie employees are vulnerable to a phishing type of attack.  We can then target our instruction to help us to get better and to be more secure with the sensitive data with which we are entrusted.  So, depending on the results of the assessment, we make determinations about how broadly or targeted any follow-up instruction might need to be.  As always, be on the lookout for any “phishy” emails.  Don’t hesitate to reach out to any member of the CCSD technology team with any questions you may have.

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New Friendly Disruption Episode

We’ve added a new member to the Friendly Disruption team — Patrick Donovan!  In this episode, we share tools to assist with color blind learners (Color Enhancer and Chrome Daltonize), hear from CCSD teacher Ernie Cox on how he uses Read&Write with his 10th-grade literacy students, and Patrick talks about his ISTE Ignite Session.  Color Enhancer has been pushed to all Chrome users.  Another minor change, I’ve included the full version of “Against History” (our opening music) by Dan Wilson to the end of the show.  This song is used with permission from the artist and is not only a great song but also a great thematic fit.

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Read Aloud Practice Made Easy with Read and Write

The Practice Reading Aloud tool in Read and Write is really awesome! This tool makes it easy for kids to share read-aloud practice recordings with teachers and parents.   It integrates with Google Classroom, too.  Please watch the really short (less than 2 minute) video above for all of the details.

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Free Books!

We’ve been cleaning out and organizing the tech office this week.  During that process, I came across a couple boxes full of books that Kevin Brookhouser gave to us when he visited here a couple of years ago. He was also on the Friendly Disruption podcast last spring, too.   His book, The 20 Time Project, is excellent.  It gives in-depth, concrete ideas on how to operationalize project-based learning using Google’s 20% Time model — basically a genius hour.  It’s a short read, too.  So, it won’t take long to finish.  I have many copies I’d like to give away (costs $17 on Amazon).  Please drop Angela Sleeper a note if you’d like a copy.


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Yes! Even More Read&Write Learning

This fall I’ve had the pleasure of working with the CCSD Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) committee.  This small, but mighty team has been working on methods that will make all of our curriculum (eventually) accessible for all kids based on need and learning preference (personalized learning).  One of the main ways we are hoping to accomplish this goal is by the use of Read&Write for Google.

Recently, I’ve been sharing all sorts of brief instructional videos on how to operate the tools inside R&W for the last few weeks.  But, the AEM team has created several slightly longer videos that clearly show how to embed R&W into authentic Prairie curriculum.  These are great examples of how to use this powerful tool with our methods and resources.  Each video is about 5 minutes.  So, while you are welcome to watch all of them, you might want to start with one or two that hit areas where you work most closely.  Here they are:

As always, I would love to hear from those of you who are already using Read&Write.  So, drop me a note to let me know what you are doing.

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Collect Highlights in Read and Write for Google

I love the highlight and collect highlight feature in Read and Write for Google.  Please view the two-minute tutorial on how it works.  It’s well worth the time.  There are many, many ways to use this tool that align with instructional best practices.  In fact, I’ve started using it in PL whenever it’s possible and appropriate.

The highlighter tool is so simple and yet it’s an incredibly powerful tool for processing any text-based content.  So, it’s not just for literacy.  It’s great for all nearly all contents.  Here’s what’s cool about it.  A teacher can direct learners to highlight the text in different colors (there are four choices).  For example, highlight evidence in the text you agree with in green and highlight evidence you disagree with or have questions about in yellow.  That in and of itself is pretty cool — it gives learners a way to more deeply process the text.  But, the really cool part is using the “collect highlights” tool.  When that’s selected all of the highlights are gathered up, sequentially, and placed in a new Google Doc that’s automatically created.  This Doc includes all of the highlights, a link to the source material, and the email address of the owner of the Google account.

There are so many possible, powerful uses for this tool!  Learners can quick write about the highlighted text in the new Doc to capture reflections.  The selected text can be further organized and expanded upon for a larger writing project.  The highlights can easily be shared and students can collaborate on the selected text. If you are regularly having kids (or adults) process text-based content, this is a tool you should check out.

As always, I’d love to hear stories about how you might be using this or any of the features in Read and Write.  Please send me a note or make a comment here to share your experience.

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Beware of the Bad Rabbit — Seriously!

I normally don’t sound the alarm for malware, viruses, worms or other digital threats.  But, this one probably does require a warning.  The Bad Rabbit ransomware is a significant threat to anyone running a Windows computer.  It will not impact any of the Macs, iPads, or Chromebooks we have here at Prairie.  If you use a computer running Windows either here or at home, you will need to be vigilant.  Infected devices will either need to be re-images (which results in losing all data on that computer) or you’ll need to pay the ransom — that’s just under $3,000 as of today.  So, the best advice is not to become infected.  Here’s what you need to avoid this problem.

As of right now, Bad Rabbit is disguising itself as an update to Adobe Flash.  But, these types of malicious code have a way of changing over time.  So, it might show up as something else in the near future.  If you are prompted during web browsing to any install any type of software, please quit your browser — do not click on any of the dialog boxes in the installation window — even if there’s a “cancel” button.  That should abort the installation.

Updating to the latest Microsoft patches will remove this threat going forward.  We will be working with all Windows computers on campus over the next few days to get them updated.  I would also strongly recommend updating your home computer (again if you are running Windows) to be sure your computer is fully patched.   Drop me a line if you have questions.

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Google Slides Updates

Earlier this month, Google put out a press release with information about new updates coming to Slides.  It looks like these changes have arrived on our domain so we can now use these new features!  There are all sorts of cool things you can now do with Slides and Google Keep.  If you are not familiar Keep, give it a look.  It’s really handy.  They’ve also made “add-ons” available in Slides.  And, while there’s not a bunch of them published yet, there are some good ones already there.  Many of the new add-ons make it a lot easier to find (and use) cool photos and images.  Enjoy!

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Build Vocabulary Lists with Read&Write for Google

Here’ another really brief video on how to use the Vocabulary tool built into Read&Write for Google.  This is an awesome tool that fits across many contents and grade levels and is really, really easy to use.  This open-ended tool will allow you to design a wide variety of powerful activities for your students.  I strongly encourage you to invest in the two minutes to watch this video.   Remember, all students and staff at Prairie have access to the full, premium version of Read and Write for Google.  If you are using Read and Write with your students, please send me your success stories, too.  I’d love to read these and share them.

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2017 ITEC Reflection

There were a couple of pretty good keynote speakers at ITEC this year — Buddy Berry did the Monday session.  I’ve written plenty about him already.  The Tuesday keynote speaker was Dean Shareski.  The title of his talk was, “The Relentless Pursuit of Joy.”  It was a good presentation.  Essentially, at the core, the big idea was emphasizing the importance of student engagement through a strengths-based approach: a great message.  The way to get there or the “how” was the pursuit of joy.  Shareski shared this early lip-dub produced in 2009 from Wartburg here in Iowa that apparently ignited this line of thought.  His ending call was that all educators need to make it a priority to design for or set the conditions that make joy possible for everyone in their classroom (including the teacher).

I recently wrote about some new personal insights about my son Koan from Mr. Shareski’s presentation.  And, so from that standpoint alone, listening to him speak was a worthwhile and valuable experience.  But, after reflection, I do question his core premise.  While I think joy is incredibly important, I’m not sure it’s a worthy pursuit unto itself.  As I reflect, I find the pursuit of meaning and purpose to be more fulfilling than joy. Don’t get me wrong, I love feeling joyful.  But, doing purpose laden and meaningful work is much more satisfying and sustaining, at least for me.  And, sometimes this type of work is really difficult, hard, and even unpleasant.  During the presentation, Shareski did his best to deconstruct and discredit the term “rigor” as it applies to school.   His assertion is that rigor is a very negative, and counter-productive concept.  I don’t disagree with a lot the thought behind this.  Nothing — learning at schools in particular — should be difficult for difficulty’s sake.  We don’t need to artificially construct suffering to teach grit.  We learn perseverance when we are doing things that we love. There is an important distinction to be made, too.  The things we love are not always strengths.  There are many things I enjoy and strive to improve upon that I’m would not categorize as a strength — playing the guitar or distance running are a couple of good examples.  I have done both for years and while I’ve gotten better at both, I’m still not very good at either.   So, I think this goes deeper than just working with a student’s strengths.  This is complex and difficult work.  As I look back over what I’ve done so far in my personal and professional lives, I find that I’ve gotten the greatest satisfaction from difficult, meaningful, complex situations I’ve navigated. Sometimes (many times) while engaged in that type of work, it was not fun and not joyful.

I’m certain Shareski was not implying that the pursuit of meaning and the pursuit of joy are mutually exclusive activities.  Sometimes (the best of times), there is a complete overlap between meaningful work and joyful work. But, I believe that joy, by its very nature, is fleeting.  I think for most people, it’s impossible to sustain. Doing the same thing over and over is a joy-killer for most people, even activities that have produced joy in the past.  We get tired of them, and they lose their novelty.  Most people would need to continuously seek out new things that make us joyful. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it does feel a little trivial to me.  If I must spend my energy pursuing something, I choose to strive for meaning — which can result in short stints of joy — rather than to intentionally chase after a temporary rush of joy as an end unto itself.  I really believe the truly essential core of wellbeing is developing a deep understanding of what we are good at (strengths) and a broad knowledge of what we love to do (interests). Locating the intersection of these two dimensions is the art of finding happiness.  As we look to design learning, this seems like a pretty essential skill set if we are looking to build confident, persistent, and competent learners.

I realize this is pretty substantive, philosophical thinking for an ed tech blog post. A significant portion is rooted in semantics as well.  But, I find the simple, false dichotomy of “rigor bad, joy good” very unsatisfying.  I recently read a sticker pasted on the cover of one of our Macbooks here at Prairie.  It said, “Don’t steal the struggle.”     The struggle brings meaning and often joy.  I can get behind that.

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