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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When there’s something strange…. in your neighborhood

This is another guest post from Sam Ketchum.  It details our next technician rotation details.

Who you gonna call?

GHOSTBUST—–uh, the TECH department!!

It is a little-known fact that ALL technology problems can be ultimately traced back to a single root cause – paranormal possession. Attached is irrefutable, undeniable proof.

Disclaimer: This image may be incredibly terrifying to behold. If you are easily frightened, please look away. I’m serious. Continue reading at the risk of your own sanity. Why are you still reading this?? Go!

Ok, here it is:

I’m sorry for alarming you, but there are some skeptics and naysayers that would deny the obvious without this incontrovertible evidence.

As we approach the halloween season, The Technology Team (technologyteam@crprairie.org) is acting in accordance with the occult knowledge they have gleaned from the movement of the stars and the whisperings of paranormal forces. Change is upon us! To appease these eldritch forces and avert an impending apocalypse, the Technology team will once again be relocating its forces to best combat the ghastly ghosts and ghoulish geists arrayed against us.

The Technology team will be positioned in the following manner starting October 23rd

  • Chris “Stay Puft Marshmallow Man” Ketchum – Elementary buildings and Server room
  • Collin “Are you a god?” Knoll – Creek
  • Charlie “There is no Charlie, only Zuul” Braun – High School
  • Sam “Don’t cross the streams!” Ketchum – Point

If you suspect your technology may not be functioning correctly and/or is inhabited by forces beyond mortal comprehension, contact your building tech, or direct your questions to technologyteam@crprairie.org

Have a spooktacular Halloween season!

-The Technology Team

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Friendly Disruption at ITEC

We’ve published a new episode of our Friendly Disruption podcast.  In this episode, Maggie and I visit about what we learned at ITEC.  We also reflect and go deeper on some of the ideas we shared in our ITEC session we presented earlier in the day.  Here is the Google Slides deck for our ITEC presentation.  As always, if you like podcasts, I would encourage you to give us a listen.

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Changes Coming to Google Calendar

Earlier this week, I received a note from Google letting me know that new features are coming to the Google Calendar.  These changes will show up around the end of November. It looks like with these changes we’ll be able to add links and other formatting to Calendar event details.  This will be cool as we will be able to build more complete meeting agendas right in the calendar.  There are will also be some new ways to check other people’s availability (see below).   Here’s the full press release on all of the new features.  Drop me a line if you have any questions.

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Screen Masking in Read and Write


Here’s another really brief video (less than one minute) about how to use the screen masking tool in Read and Write for Google.  This is a really simple, but powerful feature that would be good for most learners (including adults) depending on the situation.  I know from personal experience that when I’m in a hurry or distracted, I tend to read at the edges of a block of text — just the left and right.  The screen mask makes it a lot easier to focus on the text in a helpful, linear fashion, thus significantly improving comprehension.  I would encourage everyone to try this tool for themselves and use it with your students.

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Simplify Web Pages with Read and Write for Google

Have you ever found a website that has great content, but is so busy and cluttered with adds that it would be very distracting for some (if not all) learners?  The “Simplify” tool in Read and Write for Google will help with this problem.  The very brief (less than 2 minutes) clip above shows how to use this feature.  The Simplify tool will also dynamically summarize content on the page, too.  This feature tis a powerful tool for all learners and many ages/grade-levels.  Remember, all Prairie students and teachers have the full, feature-rich version of Read and Write for Google automatically installed in the Chrome web browser.

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Create Cool Infographics with Easelly

Student voice and choice are essential elements to designing personalized learning.  As we all know, it’s really powerful to give kids a menu of options on how to show they know a concept or content.  I think a really cool way that also requires a lot of higher order, deeper thinking is the use of infographics.  These rich, dense with content, and one-page documents really require a deep understanding of content as well as thorough planning.  There are a lot of online tools to create them.  I’ve had good luck with Easel.ly.  It’s free– there is a “pro version” but it’s not necessary to good work.  It’s really easy to use and only takes a few seconds to set up an account.  So, if you are thinking about different ways for your students to demonstrate understanding, please consider this tool.

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October Technician Rotation and a new Email

The following is an email I received Sam “Fire” Ketchum.   I was looking for some input on clarity for our upcoming technician rotation change and some explanation on a new group email we’d like all staff to use.  Below was Sam’s feedback — complete with visuals.  I’ve now tasked him with writing the updates for the remaining rotations for this school year — eight in all…  Enjoy!

Here’s Sam’s note in full:

The technology team is going green!

Every day, countless digital trees are virtually hewn down to provide the on-screen paper used up in our emails. Don’t believe me? Look!





This is 100% real. Trust me, I’m a computer technician.

In an attempt to combat waste and save the digital rainforest, the technology team has decided to “let our powers combine!” – just like Captain Planet!

Together, you can reach us at technologyteam@crprairie.org

By emailing technologyteam@crprairie.org you save time… it is automatically sent to us all! We won’t be forced to slaughter the internet amazon by forwarding emails over and over to the correct recipients.

This is especially important as the tech team returns to the roots of ancient technology troubleshooting nomads… rotating from location to location, civilization to civilization, repairing technology and moving on to the next ancient tech issue. Atlantis (bad Liquid Spill), Stonehenge (circle calibration), The ancient library of Alexandria (Scroll cataloging and checkout systems), Medieval Europe…. (well, we kinda dropped the ball on that one. Virus issues…. The Black Death I think it was called?)

As a friendly reminder, here are the tech staff locations starting 10/3

  • Charlie will be up a Creek
  • Collin is going to be on Point
  • Chris will be High
  • Sam is going to be locked in the basement
  • Angela will be shifting exactly six inches to the right

If you have any questions, comments concerns, or a desire to join our efforts to preserve the digital habitat, remember to send any and all emails to technologyteam@crprairie.org

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Word Prediction for Read and Write for Google

Read and Write for Google is such an awesome tool!  It has so many features and is so easy to use.  The embedded two-minute YouTube video shows how to use the “word prediction” feature.  This is an incredibly powerful tool for all learners (I’ve started using it — super efficient), but it might be a difference-maker for a struggling writer.   Remember, all kids and staff at Prairie have access to this great program.

I’d love to hear stories of how you are using Read and Write with kids or in your own professional learning — any of the wonderful features.  Please post a comment here or send me an email (and I’ll post it for you).  Of course, let me know if you or your students are having trouble accessing or seeing the Read and Write extension.

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New Friendly Disruption Episode!

I know that podcasts are not for everyone, but if you do enjoy them, please give a listen to the latest episode of Friendly Disruption, the podcast that I work on with Maggie Pickett.  We visit with Buddy Berry, the superintendent at Eminence School in Eminence Kentucky.  As I wrote earlier here, the central office team at Prairie visited Eminence in July.  It was a really great and unique experience.   This rather unflattering picture is from the Eminence School’s ED HUB — yes they have a rather large slide!

Buddy is also the keynote speaker at ITEC this fall.  So, in addition to being very engaging and entertaining, there are many, many great insights shared in our 40-minute conversation.  We also discuss the really cool iPad app, Prizmo.  I’ll be sharing more on that later this fall.  So, again, if you like podcasts, please give this one a listen.

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