Friendly Disruption

I currently serve on the Iowa Special Education Advisory Panel or SEAP.  I’m one of several members appointed to represent the interest of parents.  About a year ago, I attended an event on behalf of SEAP that comprised several breakout sessions which explained purpose and status of several special education groups within the Iowa Department of Education.  This event made an impact on me.  I really started thinking about assistive technology very differently.

After ITEC last fall, I got the idea to do a Podcast on this topic.  But, I knew I couldn’t do it well all by myself.  So, I reached out to Maggie Pickett to see if she wanted to build this with me. Maggie coordinates assistive technology for the IDoE.  Luckily and somewhat unbelievably, she agreed to help even knowing that I knew nothing about how to produce a podcast.

We are calling our podcast — Friendly Disruption.   We feature an interesting digital tool and then talk about the tool and with a special guest each episode.  It’s about more than just assistive tech. We talk about a wide-range of issues related to digital learning.  We’ve published two episodes so far.  Our goal is to two product two a month.  I would respectfully ask that if this topic interests you even a little bit, please listen to our shows and follow us on Twitter at @fdisruption #FriendlyDisruption.

Our first episode was with Dr. Jerry Valentine, the creator of Instructional Practices Inventory (IPI) and we talked about Google Read&Write.  Like most first attempts at anything, we learned a lot about what we should and should not do.  No disrespect to Dr. Valentine, but this is not a very polished product and not a really that great.  The unevenness of the episode has nothing to do with Dr. Valentine.  He was a great sport.  But, I feel like we need to keep this first and far less than perfect attempt up to show that we are all learners and it’s ok to “train ugly.”

However, Episode 2 was much better.  We talked to Kevin Honeycutt and featured Snap&Read as our tool.  As always, Kevin is brilliant and very engaging.  And, Snap&Read is able to do some really cool things.  While our production quality is still very much a work in progress.  But,  I think if you take the time to listen, it will be worth your while.

We’ll be releasing our February and March guests and tools in the next few days.  I’ll post that info here as well as on the Friendly Disruption Twitter feed.  If we develop enough of an audience, we’ll look to continue episodes into summer and beyond.  We record each episode on YouTube Live on Wednesdays at 7:00 PM.  When we release the episode information for February, which will include dates, you are also welcome to join our show to chat with our guests live, too.  Shoot me a note if you are interested in doing that, and I’ll be sure you get the link.  The audio only podcast is up by Thursday morning.  Maggie and I would appreciate if you would subscribe.

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More Bandwidth at Prairie

We have upped our Internet bandwidth capacity today from 500 megabits per second (MBPS) to 800 MBPS.  We monitor our utilization pretty closely.  Near the end of last year (November/December) we had a number of days where we saturated our 500 MBPS capacity.  I requested the increased capacity in late December, and we got the new service today.  As you can see by looking at the graph above, we are already tapping into it — we have quite a bit of time near or above the 600 MBPS line today.  So, hopefully, this should mean better, faster service at peak times.

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The Big Picture: Hardware. What do we have? What’s next?

Apple PL According to our annual customer survey data, one area where I can get better is “big picture” communication.  So, this seems like the right time of year to reflect on and review some of the details of our macro plan for technology hardware here at Prairie.  This is a rather long post, so I’m only going to discuss hardware.  I won’t touch on software tools, subscriptions, digital content, and information flows.  Most of this information has been shared in other posts over the last few months.  My goal here is to aggregate this information in one spot. The first part will be a bit of philosophy — sorry — but understanding the “why” hopefully gives a clearer lens into the method to my madness.  I’ll then go into the “what”, which is probably a little more interesting.

Not to seem trite, but my thinking about any long-range, overarching plans for digital tools starts with our district mission and vision: Success for All!  “To ensure quality learning today for tomorrow.”  These two statements are elegantly operationalized in our district Strategic Plan which has at its core personalization of learning.  The two biggest drivers in my thinking on a strategic level are personalization/customization and equity.  And, since we don’t have unlimited resources, these two filters guide my thinking about how to make choices that will have the most positive impact on equity and personalization.

Right now (and for the past few years), my thinking is we make the largest impact on personalization and equity by providing as many devices to as many kids as possible.  While at the same time, creating an environment where access to cloud-based resources are efficient (fast), reliable, and predictable.  The result of this is an investment network infrastructure.  

I’ve previously posted about our student device plan.  This plan was created and approved by a study committee of teachers, principals, district office admins, as well as school board members in the spring of 2015.  Below is a quick status check of what’s happening at each grade span:

PK-1st —  One device (an iPad) for every two students.  Devices refreshed once every five years by grade level.  Status=met

2nd-4th — One device (Chromebook) for every two students.  Devices refreshed once every five years by grade level.  Status=in progress.  This summer (2017) will be start buying Chromebooks for 2nd grade.  Over the last two years we have redeployed retired MacBooks and Chromebooks to elementary buildings.   We have given about 60 devices to each building each year, so we are rather close to our overall ratio goal without the new purchases.  In two years, we may even be ahead of this target.

5th-9th — One to one device (Chromebook) to student ratio.  Status=met.  In our original plan, we did not include 5th grade, but we’ve modified it to include these students.  The 5th-grade devices do not go home with kids.  Fifth-grade devices will be refreshed once every 4 years.  Student take home devices will stay with students until retired at the end of 9th grade.

10th-12th — One to one device (MacBook) to student ratio.  Twenty-five percent of the fleet is updated each year.  Status=met.

When we started the 1:1 deployment back in 2012, we committed to program evaluations every three years.  So, I will be convening the same study committee that made the current plan this spring (2017) to look at any changes we might want or need to make for the fall of 2018.  I’m sure a few of the things we’ll talk about and investigate will be the feasibility of a “bring your own device” (BYOD) system.  I”m sure we’ll also look at device types that are currently deployed and evaluate if these are still the right mix.

From an infrastructure standpoint, we’ve been busy as well.  But, because it’s often less interesting to most people, I probably don’t share as much as I should.  The big, guiding principles here are that we want all instructional spaces (ie… classrooms) to provide reliable, and reasonably fast access for two devices per person (2:1 ratio).  We also do our best to do this with large meeting spaces as well, but in our largest venues this is difficult to bring to scale.  For this to work, we must deploy wired network gear (the true plumbing), wireless gear, data center gear (the stuff that connects all the building, etc..), and an overall connection to the internet. Here’s how we stand, building by building.

District data center:

  • Core switch:  Refreshed in summer of 2015.  The core switch is the one piece of hardware on our network that all traffic goes through.  A bottleneck here slows everyone down, everywhere.  With the recent update, our metrics show we have a lot of room to expand/grow.  This piece of hardware should continue to scale with use for several more years.
  • Overall Network Connection:  We purchase a 500 MBPS (megabit per second) pipe from Windstream.  During our production days, we currently run between 70%-90% utilization.  We have done some things to shape/improve this — see the note on Securly below — but, given that utilization, we will likely need to look at expanding service here within the next 12 months.
  • Route/Firewalls:  These units were purchased in 2012.  Metrics show all devices with room to expand use.  So, these devices are not creating a bottleneck.  However, they may need to be replaced due to age within the next year or two.
  • Content Filter:  We updated to Securly during the summer of 2016.  Our old filter, iBoss, was providing a significant bottleneck — particularly to devices that used off-site filtering.  Securly also lets us more reliably restrict streaming media for students which has had a very positive impact on overall internet availability — ie… we are using less bandwidth.  

Prairie High School:   Most wired and wireless gear deployed in 2012.  Significant updates each year to add wireless radios to remove weak spots.  This building is set up with both wired and wireless connections to meet our targeted goal of support for 2 devices to 1 person ratio in nearly all spaces.  Large venues like the concert hall are problematic.  PHS will be getting a full network overhaul with the bond issue renovations that are just starting this spring.  I anticipate the updates will be done before the 2018 school year.

Prairie Point:   Wired gear deployed in 2008.  Wireless was updated in 2012 and again in 2015.   This building is set up with both wired and wireless connections to meet our targeted goal of support for 2 devices to 1 person ratio in nearly all spaces.   Large venues like the gym are problematic.

Prairie Creek:  Wired gear and wireless gear updated in 2015.  This building is set up with both wired and wireless connections to meet our targeted goal of support for 2 devices to 1 person ratio in nearly all spaces. Large venues like the gym are problematic.

Prairie Crest:  Wired and wireless gear partially updated in 2015, but a number of older wired and wireless devices still in use.  Each classroom has at least one wireless device capable of supporting at least a 1:1 student/device ratio per space.  Full network overhaul will be done during bond issue building renovation in the next three years.  This includes full cable plant, wired network, and wireless network replacement.

Prairie Heights:  Wired and wireless gear partially updated in 2015, but a number of older wired and wireless devices still in use.  Each classroom has at least one wireless device capable of supporting at least a 1:1 student/device ratio per space.  Full network overhaul will be done during bond issue building renovation in the next three years.  This includes full cable plant, wired network, and wireless network replacement.

Prairie Hill:   Wired gear and wireless gear updated in 2014.  This building is set up with both wired and wireless connections to meet our targeted goal of support for 2 devices to 1 person ratio in nearly all spaces.  Large venues like the gym are problematic.

Prairie Ridge:  Wired gear and wireless gear updated in 2016.  This building is set up with both wired and wireless connections to meet our targeted goal of support for 2 devices to 1 person ratio in nearly all spaces.  Large venues like the gym are problematic.

Prairie View:  Wired and wireless gear partially updated in 2015, but a number of older wired and wireless devices still in use.  Each classroom has at least one wireless device capable of supporting at least a 1:1 student/device ratio per space.  Full network overhaul will be done during bond issue building renovation in the next three years.  This includes full cable plant, wired network, and wireless network replacement.

Prairie Edge and Prairie Delta:  Wired network gear was updated in 2015.  Wireless infrastructure was updated in 2016.  Currently, we rate each instructional space at 1:1 ratio ready.  If we see device numbers spike, we will look to add more wireless capacity in 2017.

Staff Devices:

We currently update 25% of staff fleet each year based upon staff seniority.  Last year’s update list is posted here.  We’ll post the updated list for next year in April.  Once we finish cycling out the 2012 vintage computers in the summer of 2018 — I still have one and will until the summer of 2018 — we will modify our approach and switch to computer age rather than staff member seniority when determining update eligibility.  However, we needed a place to start when we switched from purchasing all staff computers in a single year to refreshing 25% a year.  

Classroom Technology:

It’s my goal to have a functional projector and document camera in all primary instructional spaces.  To be fully transparent, my approach to this has been rather ad-hoc and is not formalized like our staff and student device plans.  The reason for this is that with our various renovation projects across the districts and newer buildings it’s been manageable to deploy and update this equipment on a building by building, case by case basis.  And, while these devices are very important, in terms the district vision, they are lower priority items for resource allocation.  

That being said, if we make strides in our design efforts regarding personalization in the future, this might have some really interesting ripples on how we all think about learning spaces.  There are a lot of “ifs”, but if we are able to create and implement truly personalized learning for kids in all grades as designed in our Strategic Plan, then it probably doesn’t matter as much what device the kids are using.  So, something like a bring your own device (BYOD) plan makes sense.  And, if that were to happen, we would have a lot of additional resources available (money would have previously spent on MacBooks and Chromebooks) to reinvent what a learning space looks like.  I could envision rooms with collaboration spaces, multiple displays (both projection and flat panel), etc…  But, right now, our steps to get there at scale are iterative — ie… we need to design the personalized learning using our current tools before we can get to this next step down the road.  

To anyone who has slogged through all of this, hopefully, you now have a little better understanding of where we are at and where we are going with digital tools and gear.  As always, don’t hesitate to drop me a note, give a call, or leave a comment here if you have questions.

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2016-17 Digital Literacy After-School PL Sessions

A complex issue.I’m excited to announce another set of high quality after-school professional learning opportunities hosted by our own Digitial Literacy Trainers.  There’s all sorts of good stuff here:  session on Google, BreakOut EDU, etc…  Please take a glance at the flyer to see all of the offerings.  As in previous years, we will reimburse certified staff at the professional learning hourly rate for attendance.  Hourly staff may attend as well, but need to coordinate with their direct supervisor to adjust weekly hours to avoid overtime.  Let me know if you have questions.

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Common, Simple Fixes for Student Take Home Filtering with Securly


While I’ve been very pleased for the most part with our new content filtering partner, Securly, my team and I have run across several common, but easily solved problems that students at Prairie High School may encounter when taking their MacBooks home.  While the solutions are often really simple, I realize this can be really frustrating for kids if they don’t know what to do.

So, Sam Ketchum put together this very brief (6 slides) Google Slides presentation that goes over the most common issues students might see and how to resolve the problems.  If you know of a high school student that is struggling with Securly when their MacBook is offsite, please share this resource with them.  As always, let me know if there are additional questions.

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Should I Update My MacBook to Sierra?

Apple SierraApple released the OS 10.12 update named “Sierra” just a few days ago.  I’m getting the question now frequently about this update — is it ok to apply it?  The answer is conditionally, “Yes.”  Personally, unless there’s a feature I’m dying to have, I wait on updates for a few weeks.  Every new software release has bugs that need to be fixed.  Waiting a few weeks gives the developers time fix them.  But, if there’s something you really want in the Sierra update now, here are some things to keep in mind before you update:

Always be sure to have a very recent — same day if possible – – Time Machine backup of your computer.  This is super-important!  That way, if anything goes wrong we have a way to recover you data.

We’ve noticed that with the current version of Sierra, when it’s installed it breaks the trust setting for the Securly certificate.  So, if you do apply the update, you’ll need to open your Keychain app and reapply the “trust all” status of the Securly certificate.  If the certificate is not trusted, you’ll see a lof “connection reset” messages when going to websites.  If you don’t know how to do this or get confused, don’t hesitate to contact the technology office for assistance.  It’s a quick procedure.

These types of OS updates take quite a while to completely install: upto an hour.  So, if you decided to run this update, schedule it for a time when you can be without your computer for an hour or so.  The good news is once you start it, it’s largely automated from that point forward.  So, you don’t need to be near by or do anything during the installation.

Finally, if you do elect to install this update and find that there are other problems, please let me know so I can share this information with others.  As always, if you have more questions or need help, don’t hesitate to contact the me or the technology office.



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Chrome Tips From ITEC

CHROME-EXTENSIONSI just wrote a rather lengthy reflection on some of the more conceptual learning I experienced at ITEC, I also learned quite a few tactical, productivity type things as well. Almost all of these ideas came from Chad Kafka.

The district Chad works for in Wisconsin, Franklin Public Schools, publishes a list of approved, whitelisted Chrome extensions that are available to kids.  Like us, they block all extensions but approved ones.  I have “borrowed” (stolen) this list with his approval.  Here’s the list.   My team is in the process of whitelisting all of these extensions.  These all should be available in the Chrome Store before the end of the week if you want to have your students use any of these.  Please note, there’s a lot of overlap on some of these.  For example, there are a lot of screen readers/text to speech extensions.  I would recommend using Google Read&Write for this as we have the full version pushed to students and staff already.

Let me know if you’d like us to push any of these and automatically install them for all kids in a grade level.  I’ll be publishing a form later this month where you can request extensions for whitelisting.  For now, just shoot me a note with the name of the extension, a link to it in the Chrome Store, and a brief (couple of sentences) description/rationale.

Chad also shared a whole bunch of other Chrome productivity tips.  Here are a couple that I found the most useful.  

You can use a Chrome “Incognito” window to login to a student’s Google account without logging out of your own Google account.  This is really handy if you want to verify something for a student — test their userID/password or check in how they see a file.  Without this, you would need to logout of your account and possibly your Chrome browser profile which is a hassle.  Now, all you need to do is go to the “three dots” in the upper right corner of the Chrome window — just to the right of the extensions — and select “New Incognito Window.”  IncognitoThe new window will be outlined in black.  You can then go to or or whatever Google login page to test the other account.  Please note that we do not allow students to use incognito mode as this creates  potential security risks — ie… no saved history, etc….

Like many of you, I have a personal as well a professional Google accounts.  I’ve nevered linked them as I didn’t like the way the the “add account” feature worked.  It’s messy and confusing.  Chad demonstrated a cleaner way to access both accounts without mixing them.  Again, go to the “three dots” and select “settings.”  Scroll down to the “People” subheading. Chrome settings Click the “Add Person” button and enter your information for your personal account. Once you do that you can click the profile name button in the far upper right corner of Chrome and use the “switch person” button to open a new window for your personal account. Chrome Switch PersonBy doing this you can be logged into both accounts at the same time — so you can have both Gmail accounts open.


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2016 ITEC Reflections

ITECThe lead keynote at ITEC this year was George Couros, the author of The Innovator’s Mindset.  George was a likable, entertaining, and engaging speaker.  His message was a re-mix of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research and the musing of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist.  And, while there were lots of good reminders and reinforcers given in his presentation, there was one particularly interesting anecdote he shared.

Near the end of his keynote, he related a story about a time he was speaking to a relatively large group of both students and staff (well over a thousand) at a school. And, as part of his presentation, he encouraged the audience to tweet at him directly or with the event hashtag with ideas, questions, etc… — a way of collecting back-channel feedback.  While on stage, he would periodically check his Twitter feed on his phone to see what was percolating in the audience. In this particular case, he started to see some really offensive tweets.  There were a series of profanity laden, vulgar, and mean spirited tweets — directed at him using the event hashtag.  It was very personal and very much intended for him to see.  He realized he was being cyberbullied in front of a live audience.

So, he assessed his options.  This had never happened to him before.  What do you do when anonymous audience members are virtually heckling you?  Should he call out the accounts/kids responsible live on stage?  Should he shut down the event entirely?  Thinking on his feet, he came up with a third, better option.  He asked the audience to let him know if he was making an impact on them.  He gave them time to process and then tweet at him with their thoughts. The positive messages flowed in!  Within seconds, the four our five negative tweets were buried by hundreds of positive messages.  The realization that came to him from this experience was that we need to intentionally have the positive message drown out the negative ones.  While this is a very valuable idea, something else occurred to me as I listened to this story.

I found myself thinking about what I would do in a similar situation.  I really don’t know, even now.  I would find that experience horrifying and terrifying.  I realized what I find most admirable and powerful about this story is not the solution (which is very elegant), but rather the simple fact that he was able to think on his feet quickly enough to devise a solution in the first place.  

A few months ago, I wrote about the importance of adaptive understanding.  This story is a great example of that principle.  George’s years of experience as a teacher, administrator, and presenter gave him the requisite understandings necessary to quickly devise a solution to this unforeseen, complex problem.  Adaptive understanding is the high ground skill set that all of our kids will need to be successful in the 21st century global economy.  This type of skill set spans all vocations.  Successful and effective plumbers, lawyers, mechanics, and engineers are all able to solve these types of unfamiliar, emergent, devilish problems.  This is the “secret sauce” that makes people good at what they do.

So, how do we design for adaptive understanding in our classrooms and how do we prepare kids to face these types of challenges?  There’s a lot to unpack with this type of question — probably a book in and of itself.  But, here are a few quick thoughts…

Task and audience authenticity are central to these types of designs.  These “high value” problems that require adaptive understanding to solve are chaotic and sometimes unreplicable.  So, as designers we need to embrace these types of situations.

An artful balance is necessary to make failure a safe option while maintaining an appropriate level of concern.  Problems that require adaptive understanding are messy and learners will make mistakes and missteps.  

While content understanding content has a role in solving adaptive problems, a deep understanding of process skills is even more valuable.  Content changes, evolves, and is almost ubiquitously available, and therefore is inherently less value than process skills and habits of mind.

As always, I would be really interested in hearing from others on what we can do as a system to design for and teach the processes and skills necessary to build adaptive understanding skill sets in our kids.  I invite you to drop me a note or post a comment here with your thoughts.

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Full Version of Google Read&Write Available

As I’ve posted before, assistive technology is quickly turning into one of my passions.  So, I’m thrilled to announce that we have purchased and pushed out the full version of Google Read&Write extension to all students and staff at Prairie.  This purchase was made possible largely by Cheryl Kiburz.  Cheryl’s leadership and vision landed an AT usability grant for Prairie Creek that made this district-wide purchase a reality.  

Read&Write is an awesome tool that will benefit struggling writers as well as proficient and advanced writers as well. Another great thing about this tool is that it benefits a wide spectrum of ages, too.  It’s very usable for our younger learners, and I’m using it right now as I compose this post.  It’s intuitive, and it has very manageable learning curve.  Here are a couple of brief videos that cover the features.


This is a Chrome browser extension only.  So, you must be using Chrome to take advantage of this tool.  To get the extension pushed to you, you must also be logged into Chrome with your account.  All of our students using Chromebooks will have this done automatically.  But, again, students and staff using Macbooks need to ensure they are logged into Chrome with their account.  

I strongly encourage all staff and students to take advantage of this incredibly powerful tool.

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New(er) Stuff from Google


Google released some new content last summer.  I’m guessing many of you already know about some of this stuff. But, in case you don’t here were a few of the things that caught my attention.

Training for Google Apps. Google recently purchased a company called Synergyse which specialized in creating online, just in-time learning for all things Google.  The Google team has taken this content and released the Training for Google Apps extension for Chrome.  This is pretty cool! Just to be clear, this does require the use of Chrome as the browser.  I would really recommend everyone install it.  Once installed, you’ll see the Google logo with a question mark inside just to the right of your Google account information.Google Training ExtensionIf you have a question, just click on the logo.  You’ll see a list of common questions, but you can also search for your specific question.  Click on a topic to start an interactive “how to” video lesson.  I would recommend just opening the tool and viewing the common questions, too.  There’s a ton of great content for Docs, Sites, Forms, Classroom, etc…

Speaking of Classroom… It looks like Google has released some new features that include parental notifications.  I’m sure many of you already know about this, but again just in case you haven’t seen it.  There’s also a nice bit in here about Google Expeditions, too.

GCT update.  It also looks like Google has revamped the Google Certified Trainer program.  As far as I know, we don’t have any GCTs at Prairie, but it’s great program if you are looking to extend your own professional learning.  Let me know if you are thinking about this.  I probably can’t do much to support it from a district perspective with dollars/time, but it would be a fantastic personal certification.

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