Debugging our Students

When we encounter issues as educators we often work to solve the problem in the most efficient way. Most of the time this is effective and the right thing to do. In the world of tech education and teaching our students authentic skills it may not always be the right way. Our students need to be debugged and taught the best tech practices to be positive digital citizens.

I’ve had that student at age 16 who after a weekend or a school break doesn’t remember their password. It was past the winter break and deep into class projects. My attention is being pull to facilitate and support students all over the room. Students have a signup for scheduled meetings with me tacked to the board. The period is packed with activity digging deep into student developed questions. And there is one student who raises their hand and sheepishly says, “I forgot my password”. And no, they can’t reset it themselves.

So what do I do? The demands of the whole are often greater. I go for the easy fix. “Your new password is 'password', all lowercase. Don’t change it.” And I have now added to the digital downfall of society. This student may be the head of ballot counting one day and I’ve just given him the most common password in the world and possibly a way for Russia to easily hack our elections. 

Guilt set in and that ethic compass pinged me to fix the damage I just caused. I asked the student to meet me during their free period that day. We worked out a somewhat secure password we both would remember for the sake of the class. It was a sentence I could say from which they used the vowels as their password. It also helped to alleviate the fear over asking. We used a sentence I often said and could apply in and class situation. They would raise their hand and wink and I’d say, “Focus on your work please” - 'ouoouoeae' 

While not the most secure it gave me some hope that this student at least wouldn't use 'asdfghjkl' as a password or 'Welcome1'. Taking the time to look at the problem the student was having with the technology and working through creating an authentic solution together provides skills they can use later. We can quick fix a lot of tech problems. But are we doing our students a disservice? 

When I think of the tech problems I've encountered I think about what I can do as an educator to give my students the skills they need to fix the problems themselves.
  • Take the time to stop and identify what they need to know to do the task independently. 
  • Develop resources to support those that are struggling. What would they benefit from? A video tutorial, cheatsheet, poster, private practice, further modeling, in classroom teacher supports or prompts. 
  • Work with students to develop a capacity to do the fix themselves. Teach them how to diagnose a problem. Lookup solutions. Try things that might work based on the problem.  

Hosting your School site using new Google Sites

It was brought to my attention by a friend that I have been redirecting my naked domain of to the new Google Sites essentially hosting a site for free. The question is how the heck did I do that? Well here's the show from Google and here's the how from me below.

1. Create a New Google Site to redirect to.
2. Publish the site to a folder on your site directory. Be sure to Manage your setting so "Anyone can find and view".
Name Your Site Folder

3. Open your Admin console and go to Apps>GSuite>Sites (Sites is on the second page of apps by default).
4. Scroll to the bottom and expand Web Address Mapping by clicking on it. 
5. Click Add A New Web Address
Add a New Web Address

6. I recommend keeping the NewSites setting, 
7. At Site location enter the Site Folder Name from when you published. Be sure your site is on the domain selected.
Enter the Site Location and Optional Subdomain

8. Use www as your subdomain. 
9. Set up a CNAME of www in your DNS settings. I recommend using Google domains. It makes things easier. Here's how my records are setup for 
My DNS Records

10. Set your naked domain in Google Admin Panel to redirect to the www subdomain. You can find this in the Domains section.

Give it about an hour and you should be able to hit your new google site from your naked domain. You can also use this to setup subdomains for things like Staff Only websites.

Professional Learning Networks

Recently I had the opportunity to educate teachers on the Common Sense Education curriculum at the NYC STEM Institute. While facilitating some really great conversation I was struck by the excitement of the group. Tech always excites me. Especially when it gets used for positive unintended purposes. When I see an educator excited I know it will bring more to their communities. It also indicates they may have been missing out on belonging the right professional learning networks. 

I sometimes assume everyone knows and has see the basic educational technology available; GSuite, Office 365, Apple iWork. And I’m often wrong. Just seeing these things doesn’t mean an educator is taking advantage of them or knows how they work. It also doesn't mean they know how to infuse them in their practice. Giving EdTech to educators doesn’t change practice without proper training. This is where a good PLN, Professional Learning Network can help. 

PLNs take all forms, in-person meetups, conference video chats, online groups, etc. They can be asynchronous happening by email correspondence to bulletin board posting or synchronous through chat, conference calls or the old school face to face meeting. These can be invaluable resources of places to go when you have a question. They allow members to share materials and best practices. They engage people in improving their practice. But I’ve also seen the other side. Some great groups lay quiet and unused. Members join but then don't take the opportunity to engage each other as a resource. PLNs are good when they make an ongoing effort to engage with members. 

How do you know a good PLN:
  1. Engagement- Members and Leadership make an effort to regularly engage others in a group. The once a picnic isn’t enough. The group should pose thought provoking questions. Provide cutting edge resources. And provide a platform for discussion. It’s also helpful if the group doesn’t take itself too seriously. 
  2. Multiple ways to Connect- Not everyone can make it out on a Thursday night once a month. Providing multiple environments for members to meet is key in supporting engagement. Offer multiple digital environments and find a member to upkeep each. Take advantage of live-streams at meetings so members can virtually attend. Make a calendar of events physical and virtual so members can best plan to participate. 
  3. Positivity - It’s an exciting thing to be a part of a community you have been hoping to find. No one wants to be bashed for their opinion. Groups should be very conscious of what their rules are and clearly communicate them. Promote positivity in the group. Celebrate what others are doing. Provide a space for members to show off and talk about what they are doing. Engagement is much richer when it’s positive. Consider at times using a protocol when responding to others. Just saying everything is great defeats the purpose of growing as an educator. A framework of how to give feedback to promote growth supports everyone.
  4. Willingness to Collaborate- If we hoard all the cool things we are doing and how we do them we don’t participate in building capacity. We are past the time that things get created by one person. The best products are a collaboration of many ideas all supporting one another from different sources. 
  5. Wide range of resources- While a Google PLN will focus around Google topics the resources should not eliminate or exclude other tools which can be very valuable. Good resources are often that way because they can be used so universally. Your PLN should be curating resources for easy access by old and new members. 
  6. Partnerships- Networking inside the group is a great way to share practices. But what happens when the sharing gets stale? Developing connections with other networks, communities, and professional businesses can help to infuse new ideas into the group. Support when members really struggle is then just a connection away. 

I’m lucky to have stumbled on the #NYCSchoolsTech PLN in NYC. The group engages teachers through regular posts online by members and group leaders. In person meetings are organized Monthly as part of the PLNs Google Educator subgroup. Opportunities for training events and conferences are regularly posted. Most importantly there is a wide range of positive posts discussing practice, tech issues, job opportunities, and celebrations of work. While I may not always be at an event I gain from it through my colleagues. 

Find yourself a great PLN or make one. Your professional practice has everything to gain. 
#NYCSchoolsTech GEG Meetup NYC

Update: Added Partnership thanks to members of my PLN Andrew Liebowitz and Lisa Nielsen pointing it out. See how wonderful a PLN can be?

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