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 drive.google.com or gmail.com 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 @CRPrairie.org 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 @CRPrairie.org 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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Student Google Groups


Just a quick FYI, our student Google Groups are now available. Remember that we have a Group for every period/class section in Campus that is populated with students.  Due to the number of Groups (around 5,000) and memberships (around 100,000), it took us a couple of days to get these setup for the year. The group name will begin with a building abbreviation, the course number, period, and course name.  So, for example, phs-1020-1-ap-english-lit–comp@crprairie.org is the address for the AP English Literature period one group.  The course number, period, and name are exactly as they appear in Infinite Campus.  All of these groups will appear when typing in Group names in the Gmail web client.  So, you can just begin typing in the “to” field to search up a particular Group. These groups are particularly handy when sharing other Google content like Sites, Sheet, Slides, and Docs.

While these Groups are extremely useful, please be careful.  We’ve had a few instances over the last year where staff have accidentally sent sensitive information intended for Prairie teachers/staff to these student Groups.  So, double check the Group name before sending.  

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Chrome Extension and Student Devices


We’ve made some changes this year with how students access and use Chrome extensions.  We discovered last year that many students were using certain Chrome extensions to circumvent our internet filtering and logging.  The extensions in question were various VPN and proxy extensions.  Many of these extensions have legitimate uses outside of the education realm.  We tried blacklisting the ones we knew about, but, there are new ones published all the time.  So, the only way to ensure that students could not access these was to block all extensions and allow only whitelisted extensions to run on student devices.  This is a change we really need to make to ensure that we are complying with CIPA.

This does not mean that students cannot use Chrome extensions, however. But, they must now get them approved before they can use them.  Here’s the processes we’ll be using — depending on device and scope.

For students using Macbooks, the request for the extension must be approved by a teacher.  Teachers should email any member of the technology department with the name of the of the extension — a link to it from the Chrome Store would be great, too — , who needs it, and the date when needed.  Assuming the extension in question is not one used to circumvent filtering/logging, etc… we will whitelist the extension in the Google Management Console.   If the request is for all students, we can push the extension out via Casper.   If the extension is for a small number of students (less than a grade level), we will create a Self Service package that students can use to install the extension.  My team will need at least two days notice to complete these tasks.

For students using Chromebooks, again the request must be approved by a teacher. Teachers should email any member of the technology department with the name of the of the extension — a link to it from the Chrome Store would be great, too — , who needs it, and the date when needed.  Assuming the extension in question is not one used to circumvent filtering/logging, etc… we will whitelist the extension in the Google Management Console. If the request is for all students, we can push the extension out via the Google Management Console.  If the extension is for a small number of students (less than a grade level), it will be available for students to manually install from the Chrome Store.  As with the Macbooks, my team will need at least two days notice to complete these tasks.

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Minor Change to Campus Messenger


Based upon teacher feedback and some changes we’ve made over time, we’ve tweaked how Campus Messenger now works.  It is now set so that the default “from” address or sender address is the email address of the person logged into Campus.  This means that when you create a new Campus Messenger email, it will automatically put in your email address as the “from” or sender.  This is a change.  Previously, the default “from” or sender address was “messenger@crprairie.org”.  This should make life a little more convenient for teachers when sending class emails to students and parents.  If teachers left in the “messenger@crprairie.org address, parents and students could not reply to these notes and reach the teacher.  This should make personalized communication to students and parents a little easier.

We are keeping the “messenger@crprairie.org account around, however.  There may be times when staff feel the need to broadcast a message that does not need to be responded/replied to.  In these cases,  staff will need to manually change the “from” or sender address back to “messenger@crprairie.org.  

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