Three in One Office and Classroom Space

When I started working at ISP in August 2013, my office was in a small room in the elementary school, between the PK3 classroom and the elementary staff room. I shared the room with a library assistant/teacher assistant and a lot of books as it was the elementary school book room. It felt like we were in the basement because we had one tiny window that reminded me of a basement window. Our door led into the hallway, right opposite a door to the inner courtyard, which helped us remember that we were not in a basement, even though it felt that way.

As part of a school and department wide reorganization, I was moved to a different space. All three of the IT coaches now work in the same space. Our office is part classroom/part office, and called the Idea Lab.

My desk is the one with all the water bottles/travel mugs. The table behind it is part of the classroom furniture. I usually keep my water bottle a bit farther away from my computer, on the side cabinet.

As the elementary coach most responsible for elementary school, I generally attend meetings and support classrooms throughout the elementary school. I am usually welcomed into other people’s spaces. When I’m in my office, I’m usually doing desk work, which includes e-mail, blogging, working on presentations, preparing resources for teachers and classrooms, testing resources, conducting research, etc.

The desks for the IT Coaches are all in a line at the back of the room. It is a bit like we’re three judges, but it’s the most efficient use of the space.

My desk is at the back of the Idea Lab. The other two coaches and I have our desks all lined up to optimize our limited space. Most of the room contains moveable desks and chairs. The tables flip up, and the chairs stack, for added flexibility. A green screen is mounted at the front of the room. Along the sides, we’ve set up a laser printer, a laser cutter, and other maker space resources. The room is scheduled for classes taught by my colleagues, and available to be booked by other teaches. Sometimes, elementary classes come to the Idea Lab to work on creative projects, or middle and high school students come to work in a quiet space, or to use the resources available.

The worst part of my office is that it’s far from elmentary school. Since I moved, I have fewer spontaneous visits by teachers, and more email requests for help. I am often stopped when I walk around the elementary school, even if I have not received an email request for help.

The best part of my office is the proximity to my colleagues. This new office arrangement with all three coaches in the same place makes it easier to collaborate. We can help each other, share ideas, and plan events more easily than before. Often one of us is here to help colleagues even if the IT coach for that section is busy elsewhere. One of our collaborations is in designing the space. We identified the need for personal storage space, storage for consumables and tools, and storage for work in progress. We also determined the importance of flexibility in the space so that it could be use in many different ways. This room is still taking shape. One of our challenges is organizing all our resources, especially the robotics kits. We’re going to continue organizing the place over time to meet our needs, and the needs of each of the three sections of the school.

ES Robotics Kits: Dash, Wedo, and Lego Mindstorms NXT

Tune up your Online Security in 2017

If you listen to news, you probably heard about a number of data breaches last year. Companies like Linkedin, Yahoo, Adobe, and Dropbox where all hacked, with user information being compromised. If you haven’t changed your passwords in the past year, I encourage you to do so right away, especially if you use the same password for multiple accounts. To check if any of your accounts have been compromised, visit pwned. To check and maintain the security of your iOS/Android device, use Lookout.

Linkedin and Dropbox, which I log into with my gmail account, both revealed data beaches last year.

Protecting yourself online is a hot topic in Tech. This is likely due to frequency of data breaches, and the inadequacy of passwords to protect our accounts. The Guardian has an article on 8 things to do to protect yourself online, with instructions for how to do most of them, which Techrada has a slideshow of 10 items. I’ve compiled a list of 12 recommendations from the two sites:

  • Use unique passwords for all  your accounts. – This is important because when one service gets hacked, only that service will be compromised if you’ve used a unique password.
  • Use a password manager. – It’s difficult to create strong passwords and to remember them for all our accounts. A password manager can automatically generate strong passwords for you and store them for when you need to log in.
  • Use a random password – another reason to use a password manager. Hackers can try to guess passwords using various algorithms, which may be the same one that you use. Curious about your existing passwords? Test them here.
  • Turn on two step verification. – If someone is able to hack your password, make it impossible for them to log in unless they have access to your sms system, phone, or another of your devices to confirm their identity. Get help with this here.
  • Lock down Internet of Things. If you have any Smart devices, change the default passwords so that someone can’t hack into them using the default password.
  • Kept your software up to date. – Often updates are meant to plug security flaws that may allow a hacker access to your data. Turn automatic updates on where possible, especially for your browser, OS, and plugins like Adobe Flash.
  • Use a stronger password on your phone. – Use a 6 digit password and set your phone to wipe after a wrong password is entered 10 times.
  • Never respond to an email or to a phone call with private information. If you get such a request for your data, use your usual communication channels to contact the company yourself to determine if there are any problems with your account.
  • Turn off tracking. Adjust your browser preferences to request that you not be tracked, or add a browser extension to disable tracking. You can also use Private Browsing or Duck Duck Go as your search engine.
  • Fully Encrypt your hard drive. – This protects your data in case your laptop is stolen while it’s turned off. This is a good reminder to turn off  your laptop when you’re traveling with it.
  • Look for the padlock before you lock in or register. – Make sure that https is on, which is a secure browsing protocol.
  • Back up to an external hard drive. – Most of us have experienced a hard drive failure. Avoid this devastating experience by making sure you mirror your hard drive onto an external hard drive. Keep it plugged in, or plug it in on some set schedule.

 

Featured image: Steal Password, CC BY-SA 4.0, by Psyomjesus

Blogging Journey

Invitation

This post is motivated by a prompt, as part of a blogging club that started last week. As soon as I found out about the club, I signed up (today). If you’re interested in blogging more this year, you can still join the Blogging Club, which will provide you with a weekly prompt to get you blogging regularly throughout 2017!

My Life as As a Blogger

I started my first blog while I was working in India, sometime between 2003 and 2005. I lost years of posts when I transferred the blog in 2008. I had a back up and intended to upload the posts again, and had a page of pictures for a while, but never put in the time to re-upload the old posts. For that first blog, I would tag posts either professional or personal. In 2010, I decided to host a separate professional blog. This blog was born as a result.

Over the years, I’ve continued to blog off and on, but never consistently. In some of my positions in schools, I’ve had to maintain internal (walled garden) blogs. I should have/could have cross-posted on Journey with Technology, but didn’t do that until I moved to my current school. Sometimes, my blog goes out, but I invariably resurrect it from the ashes. Usually this happens because I am inspired to share in this format by a blog post that I’ve read.

Curating/Consuming Blogs

I read many blog posts. In my must reads list are A Learning a Day, Practical Theory, User Generated Education, Seth’s Blog, Techcrunch, The Official Google Blog, Langwitches, Never Ending Search, Detoxinista, etc. I subscribe to them using Feedly, and read them in Feedly on my laptop, or Reeder 3 on my iPhone/iPad. I am subscribed to too many blogs, and have been working on removing subscriptions to the ones that add the least value to my work/self development at the moment. One of the things that I’ve been working on is to make more regular comments to blogs, or to share the content with others. I often share blog posts or the content of blog posts with colleagues that I think would benefit.

Blogging in 2017

One of my goals for 2017 is to blog more regularly. Before I found out about this challenge, I had already created a goal of blogging at least once a week. Being part of this challenge will provide me with a prompt to help me meet that goal. When I get busy, my blogging time is one of the first things to disappear from my schedule. I will reschedule it rather than deleting it from my schedule when there are conflicts this year. I’d also like to work on my blog roll, and make sure that I regularly engage with those blogs, so I will schedule that on a monthly basis as well.

The advice that I would give my younger self would be to blog regularly, and to engage with colleagues, the community of bloggers and with twitter chats for ideas to blog about.

Seth Godin and Tom Peters explains why you should blog, and what they get from blogging (H/T to Dangerously Irrelevant).

Start Programming with Sprite Box

SpriteBox is a new app by the creators of Lightbot that introduces coding using icons to solve puzzles. The app was released in time for Computer Science Week 2016, but I just found out of it today. It works on Android, iOS, and in web browsers (using Flash).

SpriteBox combines game play using arrows to collect coins and sprites, with coding challenges. The focus is mainly on game play. The coding challenges are introduced with in the course of the game, to help solve the challenges. In this way, the play is emergent.

It’s important to note that there are some written instructions. When I tested this with a friend’s 5 year old daughter, she could sound out many of the words, but needed help to make sense of many of the instructions. The on-screen demos for using icons to solve the coding puzzles were helpful to her, but they would not be sufficient for her to figure out the game without reading assistance.

I’ve used Lightbot with children in Kindergarten, but for most of them, procedures and functions are too complex. I think that SpriteBox is more appropriate for introducing coding to the youngest children, and will present that option to Kindergarten.

Participating in Hour of Code is a great way to celebrate Computer Science. However, there is no need to confine coding to Computer Science Week, or to Hour of Code. Introduce SpriteBox to a child in your life.

Safety and Security on Facebook

Facebook is still the most popular social network for teens. My (unscientific) research done by talking to teens about their use of Facebook reveals that they still use Facebook in addition to apps like Snapchat, but they generally use social media differently than their parents do, using it more for personal communication than to share things with the whole world.

Facebook still officially requires users to be at least 13 years old, and users can report children who are under 13 years old. If your and/or your child is new to Facebook, make sure that you take a look at the Parents Portal. The site includes a number of parenting tips of parents in the digital age, a section on using Facebook and staying safe, parenting tips, and expert advice from groups around the world.

Instructions for those new to Facebook

List of resources in the security center

The broader safety center also includes safety tools and resources, bullying prevention information for teens, parents and educators, and a help center, in addition to the Parents Portal.

I recommend that you take the time to explore this resource to learn how to use Facebook, and how to keep yourself and your family safe online. Even if you’re not new to Facebook, it’s a good idea to regularly complete the security and privacy checkups to make sure that your settings and online habits are as you wish them to be.