Everything is Amazing and Nobody’s Happy

Posted by James Scoolis on February 29, 2012

The school district I work in just offered a sizable cash retirement incentive for teachers and administrators age 55 or older with at least ten years of district service.  About a third of the district’s teaching and administrative staff was eligible for the incentive, and that includes me, an older digital immigrant.  So of course I looked into it.  What I found was that despite being a twenty-eight year retirement system veteran, for me, even a $50,000 incentive (the amount offered if forty or more teachers agreed to retire), wasn’t enough to make up the difference in annual retirement payments two more years of service would provide.  So, here I will be for two more years.

Am I ready to retire?  Psychologically, yes.  I do love being around these children, now our second or third generation of digital natives.  But frankly I can’t seem to deflect the stresses and pressures—and the tragic aspects of some of their lives—as well as I used to.   Or perhaps it is true, as many of my generation are saying, that it just is getting to be ever more sad and tragic out there.

We just marked the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s wild ride.  I was alive then, not quite yet in kindergarten.  I remember sitting in front of the black and white console in my jammies watching the blast off.   It has been fifty years since Bob Dylan recorded his first album.  John F. Kennedy was president, but he didn’t survive through my first grade year.  Telephones had curly cords and sat on tables and desks, and you had to walk over to them and stand there to use them.  Television had three channels and all our news came from Walter Cronkite or the newspaper that was actually printed on paper that made your fingers black.   The majority of music was printed on 45 RPM discs but the primary way to hear music was on a transistor radio.

I may be an older digital immigrant, but at least I was one of the first pioneers.  When I was a young inexperienced teacher, I helped unpack Apple II computers in an inner city Los Angeles school with another teacher who knew how to set up a lab.  I learned how to use LOGO.  I have seen the Mac and Windows wars won and lost and then won again—and that argument now rendered basically irrelevant.  And now behold the flat-out amazing handheld computer.   Thank you and may you rest in peace Mr. Jobs.  What an amazing fifty-five years it has been.

I agree with the insightful and hilarious Louis C.K.  who posits that we live in a time where everything is amazing and no one cares.


Summer School: Lessons for the rest of the year?

Posted by Devin Vodicka on August 10, 2011

It is hard to believe that summer is almost over.  Like most districts in California, ours has been under intense fiscal pressure due to ongoing budget cuts.  This influence, coupled with increasing expectations for student achievement, led us to redesign our summer school options.  We now have an opportunity to reflect and evaluate the merits of our decisions.

The silver lining in the current financial crisis has been the relaxation of rules for programs like summer school.  In the past, our revenue would have been linked to the number of hours of attendance for students that qualified for varying rates of reimbursement.  Now that the supplemental hourly programs such as summer school are flexible, we asked ourselves what the needs of our students were and how we could best use existing resources to address those areas.  As a result, we decided to offer a distance learning program for students in need of credit recovery at the high school level and an English Learner academy for all grades.   Thanks to recent funding from the Education Technology K-12 Voucher Program, we had some iPads and iPod touch devices that we decided to deploy as part of our EL academy.

How did it work?

Our district sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean about 35 miles north of San Diego.  I mention this because the first thing we noticed was that attendance, which usually drops off during the summer, held steady in spite of the lure of our coastal diversions.  Student engagement, which typically is not at its peak during summer interventions, was remarkably different than in the past.  Teacher enthusiasm—also subject to variation during the summer—was off the charts in a positive direction.  Grades and local assessments also showed higher levels of success than we previously have seen in the summer.

Here are a few recommendations based on this experience:

  • Take advantage of the existing options to be creative with program design.
  • As always, consider multiple funding streams to support your plans.  We used Voucher funding for the hardware, Title III dollars for the EL academy instruction, and some Tier III revenues to provide for distance learning resources.  Much of the planning was supported by a one-time, ARRA Technology grant.
  • Remember that many technology resources—hardware and software—are unused during summer.  For us, having the iPads sit in storage would not have served our students.  The distance learning licenses we purchased earlier in the year were “annual” subscriptions that also were viable for use in the summer without any additional expenses.
  • Use student achievement data to guide your areas in need of attention.
  • Empower teachers and staff to best use the technology resources.  Our teachers discovered new and creative ways to motivate and instruct students that we would not have been able to anticipate had we provided too much of a script for their plans.

As educational leaders, my hope is that we find ways to turn our challenges into opportunities for improvement.  Strategic and novel deployment of existing technology resources is one strategy that will help us to best serve our students and communities.  If we can make it work during the summer, what is to stop us from doing the same throughout the year?

Learn more:


iPad2 Released

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on March 8, 2011

Rumors have been flying for some time about what the 2nd generation iPad would—and would not—include. On March 2, Apple set everyone straight by announcing the release of the iPad2, which will be available in Apple stores and online on March 11, with no pre-orders accepted. While there are a few enhancements, it doesn’t seem that the iPad2 renders the original iPad obsolete—yet, anyway.

The iPad2 is a little thinner, a little lighter, and sports a 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 SOC processor which makes it more powerful, supporting use of FaceTime, Photo Booth, iMovie, and GarageBand as well as improved performance for Safari. There are also two cameras (front and back). But much is the same. For example, screen size and resolution has not changed, nor has battery life, and there are no additional I/O ports.

There is already a new version of iTunes that supports iPad2 which also runs on the original iPad and other devices (e.g., 3rd and 4th generation Touch), and a new operating system (iOS 4.3) will be released on March 11. This free download will run on all iPads, the GSM iPhone 4, the iPhone 3GS, and 3rd and 4th generation iPod Touch.

Pricing for the iPad2 is the same as the original iPad, and Apple has dropped prices on 1st generation iPads by $100 each. Those who purchased 1st generation iPads within two weeks of the iPad2 announcement are eligible for a $100 refund, but need to visit a brick and mortar store or, if purchased online, contact Apple’s 1-800 number soon.

At this point, no one is sure how long the original iPad will be available for purchase. Some tech gurus think Apple may continue to sell this model as a less expensive alternative, while others believe that it will be available through 2012 and then disappear when iPad3 is launched. The fact that it’s now possible to purchase a 16GB WiFi only 1st generation iPad for $399 will be tempting for cash-strapped schools that want tablets, but had shied away from the $499 price tag.

Personally, while I may end up purchasing an iPad2 for business purposes, I’m perfectly satisfied with my 1st generation iPad and would prefer to wait for the iPad3. It’s been my experience that this is usually when new Apple devices really come into their own.

You can stay on top of breaking iPad2 news at http://www.engadget.com/tag/Ipad2/.


More Without Being Less

Posted by Michael Simkins on October 31, 2008

Quantity or quality? That’s a frequent dilemma. When you’re talking about dollars in your bank account, the first is nice. If you’re talking about how you choose to spend those dollars, quality quickly enters the equation. In truth, we usually want lots of what we want, and we want all of it to be of the highest quality.

When we launched TBLOGICAL in 2006, we opted to aim for quality rather than quantity. Our goal was to post one good piece per month, and we met that schedule most of the time. As for quality, we haven’t won a Nobel or Pulitzer, but when Education Week named Portical.org a “top pick” go-to site for educators, it specifically mentioned TBLOGICAL’s “thoughtful but infrequent posts on topics such as multitasking, personalized learning, and the iPhone.”

Having established a track record for “thoughtful” content, we want to increase frequency without diminishing quality. In fact, we’ve set a goal to double the number of posts per year with no reduction in quality. To accomplish this, we are enlisting all members of the TICAL Leadership Cadre as contributors to TBLOGICAL.

Starting in November, you can look forward to at least two articles per month. Each post will represent the unique perspective of a different cadre member. Yours truly will serve as editor, and I’ll continue to contribute original pieces as well.

Another change is that we are inviting you to add your comments to the blog. To avoid spam and inappropriate intrusions, we will moderate comments before they go live, but we are committed to reviewing comments on a daily basis.

We hope these changes to TBLOGICAL will make it even more valuable for you. Let us know what you think!


Egg on Face—Technologically Speaking

Posted by Michael Simkins on September 30, 2008

Source: filmreference.com

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has been at work in the TICAL newsletter room lately. For some still unknown and perplexing reason, our listserv software decided to commoditize our periodic New at TICAL message and send literally hundreds of copies to each subscriber—myself included. Mail servers were jammed. BlackBerries® were juiced. Loyal TICAL members understandably said, “No more; this is ridiculous!”

After the first incident, we spent hours trying to figure out what went wrong. Over the previous seven years, umpteen New at TICAL messages had gone out smoothly, one copy per customer, just as intended. So why now this spam-like deluge?

We examined settings. We looked at underlying code. We ran virus scans. Like the doctors on House, we all offered our ideas on why the patient was exhibiting such bizarre and self-destructive symptoms. No idea proved to explain the phenomenon. So, unlike the doctors on House, we decided the best course of action was to kill the patient (i.e. delete the original mailing list altogether) and start over with a new one.

Would you believe the insidious disease struck again? Yep. It did. Once again, our newsletter started replicating itself like some science fiction experiment gone awry. Egg on top of egg, stuck to face.

Fortunately, we were cautious the second time around. As a test, we only sent the newsletter to a small subset of our subscribers, so far fewer of you were frustrated with clogged mailboxes. Nonetheless, inconveniencing even a portion of our TICAL members is unacceptable.

Our best diagnosis (and it’s a guess!) is that our number of subscribers has grown so large that our current system couldn’t handle the volume.

What now? We’re abandoning the old server and software and seeking an entirely new solution for sending the latest news to our members. While we’re shopping, you won’t see any New at TICAL messages in your mailbox. Once we find the right product, you’ll be able to receive New at TICAL again—one copy at a time!