Cybersecurity in 2014

Happy early 2014 everyone.  Here is the archive to a discussion on cybersecurity in the new year, telling you how to protect yourself from various threats.

If you are interested, join me Sunday at 1 PM EST as we do an interactive walkthrough of the Wix web designer.  Oriented towards the complete novice, more advanced users are encouraged to contact me to sit in on the Google Hangout panel to share their experiences.  RSVP/contact me here: https://plus.google.com/events/c0f2aff92sve785frsa98ceek7o

Thanks!

I keep forgettin’…

I was going to wait on this post until the new year. The topic has been in my “To-Blog” list for quite some time now, but after reading this article in the Huffington Post, I was inspired to go on ahead and write it.

My long-term memory is impeccable…I can still spout off my first grade best friend’s phone number.  I remember every detail of my grandmother’s apartment.  I remember being carried back to my crib as a toddler.

Short-term memory?  Ehh, not so much.

Too Young for “Senior Moments?”

When I was a kid, grown-ups used to tell me that if I had a thought that passed through my mind then disappeared (aka a “senior moment,” as many people call it), it probably wasn’t that important.  I’ve noticed that the older I’ve become, these senior moments have become more and more the norm.  What’s super-frustrating is when you know it was something important, but you just can’t freakin’ remember!

Take this situation, for example.  Right before break, I promised my co-workers that I would burn a CD for a school roller-skating party.  I came home, set up the playlist, then went upstairs to grab a blank CD.  When I got to my home office, I forgot why I was in the room.  So, I went back downstairs.  Five minutes later, I remembered…oh yeah, the CD!  I went back upstairs to get the CD, and almost forgot why I was there yet again.  Le sigh.

The Accident

Unfortunately, these moments happen more frequently than I’d like to admit, especially for someone my age (*cough cough* twenty-tween *cough*).  So, naturally, I attributed my shortcomings to an accident I had a little over two years ago.

*cue dream sequence music and zig-zags*

Two years ago, back in September 2011, I had a bad fall.  Prior to this incident, I was a freakin learning machine!  I was built for the academic life, soaking up information like a sponge, writing papers in record time, yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah.  But one night, that all changed.  Dun dun dun.

I will save you all of the yucky, gory details…long story short, I ended up with staples in my head, and a very bad concussion.

If you’ve never had a concussion, let me tell you, it was quite an experience.  I found it fascinating, although incredibly sucky.  These are the main things I remember, from the following week:

  • My mind was moving at normal speed, but my body wasn’t responding as fast.
  • I’d try to send a text, but I realized that I couldn’t spell anything right.
  • I would sleep all day.
  • Strangers started being really nice to me, for no apparent reason.

Within a few weeks, on the surface, it appeared that I had returned to normal.  However, things were far from being the same.  For over a year, I was very emotional about everything.  I had little patience, and hardly any attention span.  This made teaching and studying very difficult.  However, my family, colleagues, and professors were very supportive.

Eventually, the moodiness and impatience diminished, and I found strategies to cope with the forgetfulness and lack of attention span (which have yet to ).  Most of these included technology.

My iLife

My students are always teasing me about my brand loyalty to Apple.  99.99999% of the time, I have either an iPhone (or iPad…or iMac…or MacBook) somewhere on my person.  However, these products help me to stay organized.  Here are a few apps that I have found useful, and you may, too (concussion or not):

  1. Evernote: allows you to take notes, and sync them across all your devices.  Even supports pictures, audio, and videos.  You can create different notebooks to organize the information you collect.  Teechur bonus: You can use Evernote to create electronic portfolios of student work.
  2. 30/30:  allows you to set up to-do lists with a specified amount of time to spend on each task.  This helps me with the whole attention thing, as I tend to get restless unless I’m multitasking.  Since multitasking may be counterproductive, this app helps me to stay focused on one activity, and reduces my anxiety by showing me how much time I have left.  Teechur bonus: Sound familiar?  A lot of people (including the little ones that we teach) can probably relate.
  3. Pinterest/Diigo/Pocket/etc.: (includes all the apps that can bookmark interesting content for later.)  I worry less about missing important information and can stay focused on the task at hand.  Teechur bonus: All these useful links come in handy when collaborating with my PLN.  (Did you know that you can set up Diigo to sync with your favorites on Twitter?)
  4. Parkmobile: never forget to run out and feed the meter again.  Also, it can even find your car for you.  Winning!
  5. Calendar:  Ohhhh, this is a lifesaver.  It’s pretty self-explanatory, but I have to say that I love how it auto-syncs with my Google calendars.  I must have about 15 different calendars floating around, from work to workouts, from social activities to gigs.  Electronic calendars that sync across devices?  Total game-changer.  I was sick of losing the paper one, anyway.

Closing Thought

Jerry Springer, I am not.  However, the Huffington Post article that I read today really gave me some food for thought.  After I read it, I wondered if maybe I became too reliable on all of this tech?  Is it possible that I could have made a full recovery, if not for these crutches on which I continue to lean?  *lawyer voice*  And is it not a coincidence that this aforementioned incident coincided with the release of the iPhone 4S, packaged with Siri and iOS5?  Is this just a classic case of “the butler did it?”  Just blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-accident???

Ok, I’m done lol.  Maybe one day, when I have a few weeks of leisure time to kick back, I can try to unplug totally and see what happens.

Leisure time…pshhhh…who am I kidding?  I’m a “teechur.”

What are your favorite productivity apps?  Chime in below.

Hanging Out for Winter Break

2013 was epic.

I’ve been doing a lot of new things in my classroom this year, such as #gamification, #blogging, and #flipclass, and it’s been working out!  Yaaaaay!  Big shoutout to my PLN for teaching me all of these great strategies.  My group of highly intelligent young scholars also thanks you, whether they know it or not 😉

Needless to say, I was really amped about Winter Break, but this year, it’s for a different reason.  Most other years, I’d put in some much-deserved R&R, binge watching series on Netflix (ok, you got me…I’m doing that too); however, this year is different.  This year, I’m “hanging out.”

Wait, wait…

Before you click off, let me explain.  When I say, “hanging out,” I’m not talking about sitting around playing Playstation, or going to karaoke with my buddies.  I’m referring to Google Hangouts on Air, a way to interact with people that is changing the way we can collaborate, educate, and…uh…something else ending with “-ate.”  Relate.  There we go.

Let me backtrack for a minute.  A few years ago, I had this totally awesome idea that went…absolutely nowhere.  Womp womp.

A parent at my school suggested that I offer technology courses online, so I ran with it.  I got it all set up, made a Google Voice number, and even printed up business cards through VistaPrint.  Check Exhibit A:

I had a website all ready to go, but I never launched it, because one little thing held me back.

It was too daggone expensive!!!


I window-shopped all the various platforms for collaboration at the time, and I realized it was going to cost me an arm and a leg.  Hence, I would have to charge an arm and a leg for tuition.  No bueno.  So the idea just sat, and festered, and sat some more.

Flash Forward

(That was an awesome show, by the way.  Highly recommended for winter break binge watching.)

I was introduced to Google Hangouts (offered free of charge), first hearing little bits and pieces through the grapevine, mostly on Twitter chats and the like.  One day, I took the plunge to meet with a supervisor in my school district to discuss new features in Safari Montage (also awesome).  That was the moment that I fell in love with Hangouts.  Awwww…flowers and roses.

I could tell that Hangouts were going to change my professional life, but the gears in my head didn’t really start to turn until I attended a session at EdCamp NJ about Google Hangouts, presented by several of my PLN members, including Bill Krakower.  There, they introduced us to Google Hangouts on Air, which would allow large groups of people (up to 10), to sit in on a panel.  An unlimited number of people can watch the hangout as audience members.

Later, I discovered that audience members can use a Q&A feature to interact with the panel.  Thus, Thomas Tech Tutorials was reincarnated!  Yaaaaaaay!  Wait, that sounds like the plot of a scary movie.  Oh well, you guys know what I mean 🙂

I learned more about the features of Hangouts while I was helping my sister-in-law design her website on Wix, which will be the topic of a future walkthrough.  Within Hangouts, you’re also able to share your screen, and even access the computers of other participants, through the Remote Desktop app.  Sweet!  Of course, I don’t plan to do this during the On-Air Hangouts, but it’s a nice feature to have.

Flash Forward…Again

To wrap it all up and throw a nice bow on it, I’ve been using Hangouts to do tutorials for a few days now.  So far, I have the following tutorials under my belt:

Google Drive
Google Sites
Edmodo

It has been such a great experience…since Saturday (five days ago), I’ve met a ton of great educators from all around the globe.  We’ve bounced ideas back and forth, and I’ve learned so much already.

This Saturday, at 1 PM EST, I will be leading a discussion of ways to extend the recent Hour of Code initiative throughout the remainder of the school year, and beyond.  Please click here to RSVP.

It’s geared towards the absolute beginner; however, I would love to have those with more experience sit in on the panel and offer their tips, too.  Please contact me if you are interested.

Welp, time for me to sign off…tis the season, and I’m about to spend some much-anticipated time with my family.  Adios mis amigos…I hope to catch you on the Hangout!

Self Initiated Blogging Challenge

I want to do this!

In the Trenches

I was so inspired by the 12 Days of Techmas Challenge that I decided to make my own. I really want to be a more consistent blogger, so I liked the element of accountability that comes with a calendar or list. I decided to brainstorm some topics that I know I would enjoy writing about, and put them into my own challenge. I created 20 days worth of prompts that I am planning to use in January. That gives me a few days off, but also works on building new habits. I thought I’d share for two reasons. First of all, when I share, I am way more accountable. Second, I thought you might want to join me. If so, please share your posts here, on Twitter, or SOMEWHERE!

blogging challenge

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Yaaaaay!!! Homework!!!

If you knew me back in my pre-teechur days (the “stoodent” days lol), I’m sure you did a double-take at that title. I don’t cheer for homework, unless I’m assigning it and trying to sell my kids on how fun it is. This is similar to saying “yum,” when you try to get a baby to eat that nasty orange stuff out of a jar.

But this time, my friends, this time is different. This is Super Homework! This is blogging homework. I love any and everything that will allow me to collab with my PLN (see previous post if you’re not hip to the acronyms). So, here goes!

Big shoutout to Ross LeBrun for including me on this. ELA in da house!!! Woot woot!

Here is my task, as I have chosen to accept it (copied verbatim from Ross’s blog):
“1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
4. List 11 bloggers after you write this.
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.”

Let’s do this!

Task One: Done (see above)

Task Two: Eleven Facts
I’m a vegetarian, and have been since the age of eight. I made this decision on my own, after engaging in a “gross out contest.” I don’t remember exactly what was said that turned me off meat, but I think it had to do with hot dogs.

I’ve got legs. I know how to use them.

I write very complex and confusing to-do lists on a daily basis.

I was the captain of my high school’s It’s Academic team my senior year (RIP Mac McGary). A former captain from a previous year went on to win on Jeopardy.

I missed going on TV for It’s Academic because Honors Choir was the same weekend.

When I was 21, I started a record label with my friends. I have random, horrible music floating around the Internet.

I fear many things, including heights and planes. That’s why I threw myself out of one in October 2011. Skydiving didn’t cure me…it made things worse.

So…I signed up for a private flying lesson. That actually did help.

I have a story for nearly every situation.

I have a song for nearly every situation.

My greatest strengths are usually my greatest weaknesses, because I tend to go hard or not at all.

LOL this is harder than I thought, but I’m having a blast.

Task Three: Q&A

1. What would you do with a lottery win of $50,000? Haha, with 50K? Taxes would take half, so that would leave me 25. I’d give 10% away to charity to pay it forward, which would leave 22.5. I’d save half of that…um…too late for math. Then, I’d spend most of the rest on experiences…travel some, see some concerts…then I’d drop some bomb-diggedy gifts on family and friends…then I’d splurge some…and I’d buy stuff I need.
2. What was the first thing you read that you remember loving? Hmmm…the first thing I remember reading that I loved was probably some scary story book or Encyclopedia Brown. However, before that, I was just reading the encyclopedia. And medical books. Yeah, I was kind of boring lol.
3. Diving – Sky or Scuba? Aaaaaaah!!!! SCUBA! SCUBA!!! SCUBA!!!!
4. What is your favorite season? Summer…I can’t stand the cold.
5. Would you move for a job? Possibly, but it would have to be a helluva job.
6. Have you monetized your blog? Do you plan to? Doubt it. I think the best knowledge is free.
7. Are you a cat or a dog person? There can be only one! Neither…they both scare me.
8. Pick one musical instrument to learn now that you’re an adult. Why that one? I’d go with drums. I can play a little, but I’ve always had a thing for them. I want to be really good!
9. To where did you fly on your first flight? Does anything about the experience stand out as significant? Ummmm, Puerto Rico I think. I was one. Nothing really stands out, but I remember when I was three, we went back. The coconut water was disgusting. I’m just getting over that.
10. Do you play video games? If not, WHY? If yes, which system/games? Ohhhhh yeahhhhh…I haven’t touched them much lately, but I love the music games on any platform (i.e. Rock Band, Guitar Hero, etc.), as well as sports and fighting games.
11. What was the first CD you ever bought? Do you still have it? I’m not quite sure, but the first one I remember having was Tevin Campbell’s T album. It’s around here somewhere. I used to be in love with him haha.

Task Four: Eleven Bloggers
Here we go, fellow ed-techers (random order)! P.S. I saw a disclaimer on someone else’s that I’d like to paraphrase. Don’t feel obligated to do this…I’m just mentioning you because you came to mind and I dig your stuff!
Vicki Davis
Aaron Smith
Timonius Downing
Sandra Paul
Kevin Honeycutt
Eric Sheninger
Sharon Lepage Plante
Shelly Terrell
Starr Sackstein
Liz Davis
Rafranz Davis

Task Five: Eleven Questions
These questions may be on the silly side, as it’s way past my bedtime. Bear with me.

What kind of student were you growing up, and how do you deal with students like your former self now?
Is it just me, or does middle school romance gross you out?
How much would could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
What is your favorite tech integration tool? Why?
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received, and who gave it to you?
What do you do in your spare time? (Spare time…pssssh yeah right…)
What do you think schools will look like in fifty years’ time?
What is your story (i.e. how did you get to where you are today)? Give us the Twitter version…140 characters or less.
What was the technology du jour when you were 12 years old?
What skills do you believe that students today need to succeed?
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…um, I forgot the rest, so…what’s your favorite genre of music?

Fin

Branding da Teechur

Heads

When I was five, Chuck E. Cheese was the place to be…an oasis where “a kid [could truly] be a kid,” and escape the many pressures of kindergarten life. On their television ad, there was a particularly happy child who had just won some stupid game. I guess it was skee-ball, because that’s all I remember of Chuck E. Cheese. The pit, the six-foot-tall rat, and skee-ball.

Anyway, so the kid won or something, and jumped up and down (rather obnoxiously), yelling, “I won, I won!” Of course, being a master of imitation, as most five-year-olds are, I couldn’t *wait* for the day when I would be able to reenact this scene, with all of my kindergarten homies giving me dap. Like a G. One day, this glorious moment came. I had just won…skee-ball, I guess…so it was totally my cue. Lights, camera, and accione!

“I won, I won,” I yelled, jumping around like the annoying kid on TV. However, unlike him, nobody crowded around, showering high-fives upon me. Barely anybody even looked. The ones who did shot me glares of contempt and disgust.

Later, I learned that some people didn’t appreciate the bragging. I didn’t understand how someone can be your friend, yet be so mad when something good happens to you. As I got older, I learned that people will decide to hate you for far less than that. You don’t even have to announce any of the good things that you do…a lot of people will see your shine and attempt to bring you down.

Tails

The lesson about haters was a tough pill to swallow, but I learned my lesson a little too well. It came to the point where I would downplay most of my accomplishments, just to save myself the drama of people hating. (Note to self: they will find something to hate anyway.)

While this has earned me a reputation of being a private person, it has also cost me quite a bit. I’m sure most people have heard the saying, “be careful what you wish for.” If you wish to get lost in the shuffle, you will. While you may have less “haters,” you may also be passed over for opportunities, simply because people don’t know the full extent of your capabilities.

Another thing that shocked me was a comment made at a workshop, prior to the beginning of this school year. A question was asked to the crowd, “why don’t educators collaborate?” An answer provided from a participant was that, “people don’t want to share, so that they can keep all the glory for themselves.” To my surprise, many people shook their head in agreement. Even though the comment wasn’t directed at me, I kind of wanted to bury my head in the sand.

Livin’ On the Edge

So, what can you do? It almost seems like you’re gosh-darned if you do, and gosh-darned if you don’t. Well, my friends, fear not. There has to be a happy medium, and I’m determined to find it. My plan is to step out of my comfort zone big time and start toeing the line. I believe that I’ve come a long way since that day at Chuck E. Cheese (and the resulting aftermath), by doing the following:

Identifying my strengths. I’m a proud geek…always have been, always will be. I learned to read thanks to the efforts of my family members, as well as a video game. In it, there was a scary clown that would pop up every time you would hit the letter C, but that’s beside the point. Game-based learning hadn’t even been identified as a best practice in the 80’s, so my family was way ahead of the curve on that one. Good job, family. Anyway, this is all to say that I was pretty much born with a keyboard in my hand. I really take issue to people who say that you can’t be a digital native unless you’re under 25 (*cough cough* bs), but that’s another post for another time. The point is, I’m reaaaaally good at technology. I started my teaching career as a general primary educator. Let’s just say it was a bumpy road…that is, until a very clever principal allowed me to use my background in media and tech. From that point, it was on and popping. In my building, I am THE crazy tech lady, and I love it.
Acknowledging my weaknesses. We’re all human, right? I mean, last I checked…but anyway, nobody is perfect. Humans are a weird type of creature…it’s almost like the more you fail, the more other people like you. This is to an extent, of course…I mean, if you’re a total fail, you’re kind of a drag. But anyway, the more perfect you try to be, the more you’re going to get hated on. I just read this article today that says pretty much the same thing. It’s weird. The more perfect you try to be, the more people will hate. Isn’t the point to try and get them not to hate?Anyway, this is all to say not to be afraid to try, and even fail from time to time. Another benefit…according to the same article, the more you fail, the more successful you are. I guess that’s because it means you’re actually trying, instead of sitting on your derriere, trying to be Little Miss Perfect.
Combining the two. Ok, this is where I am now. Recently, I went to this awesome branding session at #edcampnj, where the presenters, Tony and Joe, stated that, unless you share all of the great things that you do, you will be the only one who knows about them. I believe the line was, “tell your story, or someone else will tell it for you.” This struck a chord with me, and really made me think. I also realized that I have established a phenonmenal personal learning network (PLN) through sharing and collaboration. Ideas from my PLN have totally reinvented the way that I teach. For example, I learned about flipping at a conference back in January, but was really able to grasp the concept through suggestions from other educators on Twitter and Pinterest. I am now passing on this knowledge acquired from my PLN to more teachers. This reminds me of tribal wisdom passed down through generations. Ooooooooooh. Aaaaaaaaah. For another example, I wanted to implement backchannel discussions in my class, but when I tried it, I had kids telling “yo mama” jokes the whole time. A member of my PLN suggested that we backchannel through Edmodo so that I could monitor the conversation during and after the lesson. Golden, yo.

Recently, I’ve started up some initiatives to put myself out there even more, and to grow my PLN. I’ve been resisting this for a while, since Chuck E. Cheese was still fresh in my mind; however, I’ve realized since then that this isn’t about me. It’s about networking and growing my PLN. We are all in this together. By increasing my PLN, I’m learning more and more…about more and more. Then I can take this new knowledge and regurgitate it to other teachers who want to know more, like a mother bird feeding her young. Or something.

I just started up a new website at sarahjanethomas.com. That’s me! Speaking of me, that’s my email address. Me@sarahjanethomas.com. No, seriously. I went on fiverr and got all this stuff done for $5, including a logo, a theme song, and a rapping puppet video. I kid you not.

Anyway, this is getting a bit lengthy, and I’m now about to take on the challenge of using social media to find dissertation participants. That can be a whole ‘nother blog post by itself. Hmmmmm…