Sunday, 15 March 2015

Desktop Zero - 4 compelling reasons to make this a good habit

Yes, this is mine. No I did not cheat, well maybe one folder... 

You don't need me to tell you that your environment affects your productivity. Since a great deal of our work is now done with a screen, it stands to reason that your desktop environment can play an important role in your productivity. Seriously can you really look me in the monitor and tell me that you'd rather work on a desktop that looks like, this?

Messy Desktop by RuthOrtiz

Five Reasons to Change

There are plenty of reasons for making the effort to aim for 'desktop zero':

It is Irresponsible. 

Desktop etiquette - every teacher is a role model, and as a teacher, every time you share your desktop with your students, you demonstrate to them the kinds of organisational and work habits you expect them to imitate. As it happens, one of the essential elements of our UWCSEA Profile, is self management, specifically:

Take responsibility for directing one's learning.
Related concepts: metacognition, independence, perseverance, diligence, organisation, responsibility
Aspects of being a self-manager:
  • use metacognitive skills to define learning goals, monitor progress, reflect and adjust their approach to improve learning
  • independently and safely work towards a goal without direct oversight
  • organise and manage time and resources

Everytime we share a cluttered desktop with a class, or even with parents, we effectively also share our inability to self manage, our lack of organisation, perseverance, diligence, need I go on? The biggest problem is that all of these behaviours are built on bad habits, but these are bad habits I see teachers (and parents) passing on to their children every day.

It is Insecure.

Ironically one of the most common reasons I hear for storing files on the desktop, is their critical importance, 'those are files I need, and I can't afford to lose them...' Really? Because unless you are in the habit of fastidiously backing up your Mac with Time Machine, like every day (in which case you are probably already at Desktop Zero, or close enough), you run the risk of losing it all, one hard drive failure, and that's it, all gone. Desktop files, are the most common space/place where data is lost in my experience. If those files had been placed in a Google Drive folder (or DropBox) then they would have been safe. literally every edit, backed up, in real time—but nothing on your desktop (and your students, if they're imitating you) is being backed up to the cloud, nothing.

Top Tip -  on the Mac, you can create an Alias (right click, or command+option drag and drop) from any 'buried' folder/file so there is a shortcut or alias of it on the desktop, it acts just like the real thing (the parent folder) but with the advantage that it's really ensconced safely within a cloud backed up folder. 

It is Inefficient.

Your computer's desktop is a starting point for your entire computing experience, but—like anything else—if you let it get cluttered your productivity will take a dive, and your stress levels will rise; few things are as frustrating as you or our students not being able to find that file exactly when you/they need it, especially if that entails creating it again... and again... Next time you save a file to the desktop, wouldn't it be nice to be able to find it immediately, and not have to engage in an insanity inducing file hunting game of 'Where's Wally'. [modified]

It literally impedes

Because of the way OS X's GUI (graphical user interface) works, the icons on your desktop take up a lot more of your resources than you may realise... Just remember that every single icon on your desktop is actually a small transparent window with graphics (the icon) inside, so if you have, say, 100 icons on your desktop you have 100 windows open, each one stealing memory. And no, dumping them all in folder doesn't really help much, the fact that there is 2764 files in ONE folder, still means that OS X will still have trouble handling one folder with that many files in it..

Computer Desktop & Table Desktop

When we work with students on this, we are attempting to inculcate good habits, habits that will last a lifetime, one such habit is to work from desktop zero, an analogy we find helpful is for them to treat their computer desktop the same as they treat their table desktop in their classroom, as busy as it can get in the course of a normal working day, every day before they go home they are expected to return that space to what is effectively desktop zero 'IRL' (in real life). Everything gets put in it's right place, whether they have finished with that project or not, it goes in the appropriate folder. The difference being with computers being that you can actually work in files while they are in the folder, there's no need to take it out, and so need to put it back, this is why Desktop zero on a computer is easier than desktop IRL. In the same way when you place a folder in the appropriate folder (in Google Drive in the Finder) you can leave it there, and work on it while it is in there.

So, with this in mind, you shift your conception of the role of the desktop, the desktop becomes a temporary, easy to locate, grab, upload, rename "I need it in ten minutes or so" dumping ground. I only use my desktop as a temporary holding place for files I'm working with. Nothing remains there past the end of the day.

Cluttered desk via (Getty Images)

Upgrade Your Workflow

In actual fact the desktop is a folder, it's just a folder that you start from, and while it can function as a storage folder, as so many people have unfortunately proven, that is not its purpose. It was only created as an allegory so people would have something analog to relate the new digital experience to, just like the trash can in the corner‚we don't really keep tiny trash cans on the corner of our table tops, but it functions as an approximate analogy. And like most analogies, it has it's limits. One way forward is to start working the way you do when you use an iPad or similar device. 

New OSes like iOS and Android have thankfully ditched the "file icon sandbox" idea. The only things you are presented with when you look at your device is a launchpad for apps and services. Your data is invisible and agnostic and available only when you are in a program that knows how to display or use it, and you know what? It works just fine, no desktop, no clutter. 

Become more app oriented and less file oriented

In iOS, if you're working on a file, you start by opening the App, then you locate the file from within that App, well the exact same method works on the desktop. Working on a Word document? Don't look for the file first, open Word, then you will easily find any recent files in the recent files view. All you need to is drop down the menu bar 2 spaces from Open, to Open Recent—there that's not so hard is it?

Open Recent, don't just Open.

You will find the same feature in any application you use. Trust me. These are conventions that are cross-platform, that means you will be able to take advantage of this workflow no matter what computer or platform you ever use. Invest in this skill now, and you will reap the rewards for the rest of your life.

File less, search and sort more

I've written about this in more detail, with illustrations here, spend less time creating and organising folders (although that is important too) and make sure you name your files with keywords you can search for. On all your devices now instant search is everywhere, and on your Mac, you can search in literally any folder you open, from 'All my Files' to 'Documents' if it's in there, somewhere, search will find it, regardless of the folder it's in, but that's no use if the file is called 'Untitled.doc' or "Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 5.38.12 am". Rename it, then move it.

Sort out your Sorting

When you have a bunch of files on display in your finder, make sure you take advantage of the button which lets you 'change item arrangement' pick whatever option will make it easiest to move the files you want to the top - I personally find the 'Date modified' to be the most useful, but there are options there for everyone.

Illustration by Ben Wiseman via nytimes

Don't procrastinate you can do it today!

The solution is not to just create another folder (which is actually inside the folder which is the desktop) and dump them all in there, it just means you've buried the problem. By all means dump all the files in a (cloud connected) folder (or 3 or 4), just make sure you've deleted the files you won't need again (hold down command then press delete to speed this up), and give the ones you do need a name you can search for (this has never been easier, now that in Yosemite you can rename a load of files in one go, just using right click). Once you've done that you'll probably find there are 'themes' forming that lend themselves to folders, but don't let that be an excuse to procrastinate, as you can always change your mind later, computers are convenient like that... 

Clean desk[top] policy via

Friday, 13 March 2015

Formative Assessment with Google Forms and a Video

A great hint I learned last year from a colleague Steve Voster at UWCSEA, is to repurpose a Google Form to help students engage with a simple video tutorial.  Whilst YouTube is full of many suitable tutorials such as the Crash Course resources, the struggle is getting students to engage and to elicit some feedback on their level of understanding whilst they watch. Within a Google Form you can now embed a video which opens up a new realm of possibilities for getting students to engage with a video. 
Google Forms are a simple way to collect some feedback. Create one from your Google Drive, then play the video whilst waiting for a few key points. I try to develop "hinge questions" which really highlight if the student gets a concept, these are explained in the work of educationalist Dylan Wiliam. Less questions the better !
Recently, Google Forms was updated so you can embed a video directly into the form. Once you have finished share with your students for homework. The feedback spreadsheet of student responses is a great discussion starter/plenary at the beginning of the next lesson. 
Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 1.24.08 PM
Google Forms can now be shared with colleagues so others can reuse and recycle your task. Just remember your colleague needs to make a copy of your form.  Whilst this isn't revolutionary it is just a nice example of repurposing a few tech tools to make learning a little more interesting and effective, it sure beats reading the textbook each week.
As shown below, you can access the student responses via the associated spreadsheet, or scroll through via the "Show Summary of Responses" button in the Google Form.
Basics of Demand   Video Tutorial

Summary of Responses as a spreadsheet.

Full tutorial to get started.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Essay planning and drafting with Mindmeister

Brainstorming or creating a mind map is a common process to help students develop ideas and to encourage ideation. In many classes, a brainstorm is used as the first planning step in a writing process which flows into drafting.

Online tools such as mindmaps can be a simple way to enhance the planning stage of student writing. When the tool is mutable ie. student can reorder, change and edit their thoughts on the go it should support deeper thinking and exploration of ideas. When doing a similar activity with paper, students are constrained by the size of their paper, frustrated when they need to erase or make a change and struggle to reorder the hierarchy of their thoughts. Whilst you can also plan in a word document and rearrange ideas, the visual element of a mindmap should be an important consideration.

Mindmeister is an online mind mapping tool that our student can use to develop an essay outline and then translate these notes into a text document. A clever export function allows students to export the structure and contents of their mindmap as headings and bullets in a word document. As shown below, this simple trick takes thier ideas into the an essay plan, helping them to draft potentially each paragraph and sentence.

Few tips:

  1. UWCSEA subscribes to Mindmeister and this is linked to each students GApps accounts.
  2. This can be accessed from the grid app icon at top of GMail/GDrive.
  3. Students can click share, to send a link to the teacher or class site / learning platform.
  4. They can also invite collaborators, but this slows the speed of the website down considerably.
  5. Small downwards arrow at bottom allows export function - MS Word translates document into headings, and sentences, but unselect all of the options to get a cleaner look with only text.
See video below for a full walkthrough.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Angles, iSight Screencasts & Misconceptions

Before/After Videos for Learning

So you want to make a screencast, but you don't have an iPad?

No problem.

Here's what I call an iSight 'Screencast', yes it's not capturing a screen, and yes it's really just a form of video capture, but you get the idea.

In fact for the lesson I used, this is actually a better way to capture what kids can do than using a screencast, yes, I said it.

Before & After #1

The context for this activity was a Grade 4 maths lesson on using a protractor, I wanted to capture their technique, but I can't possibly watch all of the kids in real time at the same time, but a video cam can. Did I watch all 22 videos? No. Did I need to? No. Did the kids think I might? Yes. Did that spur them to do the best they could as if I or their parents would be watching, well, yes, I think it did (and their parents probably will).

Here's the simple setup:

1 Macbook (with built in webcam), 1 piece of paper, that's it.

Here's the lesson in 7 succinct snippets:

  1. Draw an acute angle on the board
  2. Show kids a protractor, tell them it's for measuring angles
  3. Tell them to make a short video* that shows how they think it works
  4. Watch them as they try this - look for at least one kids that can...
  5. Ask kids to upload their video to a shared space as soon as they're finished**
  6. Now show the class a good example from their peers.
  7. Now they go and try again, see of they can do better, or better still impress me! (not doing, the video shows what they were doing)

*They could use Photo Booth, but I advise using QuickTime, which easily allows the kids to flip the video once they've finished the recording, otherwise their work will appear upside down.

Before & After #2

Here's the student video I used to teach the kids this skill:

Protractor Student Demonstration from UWC South East Asia on Vimeo.

I love the fact that the angles they were measuring were actually harder than the conveniently rounded angle they saw demonstrated.

Finally, share their before/after videos on their Learning Journals, with a short reflection on their learning.

  • Misconceptions captured? Yes
  • Misconceptions addressed? Yes
  • Evidence of learning? Yes
  • Differentiation? Yes, the few kids who could do it the first time perfectly, went on to show how they could measure reflex/obtuse angles, etc.

A nice bonus is that as I have all of their before/after videos accessible online, I can review any of them at any time if I have any desire to check on a particular student's grasp of the skill.

Here's the student video I used to demo a correct method - perfect? No, so I used his few hiccups as a teaching opportunity, so you can be sure his second one was :)

**We use Google Drive

Friday, 6 March 2015

Screen Time - A plague within your houses?

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) via Quartz

From a bucket of water to a bicycle, any tool can be used maliciously or marvellously, the same is true for screen time as it is for eating potatoes, they are both potentially very good for you, but not if that's all you do.

One big difference being that we don't see articles circulated from time to time on the web fretting about potatoes, framed in the frantic, panicked tones of a 21st Century crisis, which we do about screen time, articles like this*.

In the face of opinions like that, some would ask how on earth we can justify all the iPads we provide for our young learners in the Infant school, 2:1 in K1, and an iPad for every child in K2, Grade 1 and Grade 2. The problem is these articles that expect us to 'ban' our students from screen use, generally make the mistake of burying alternative perspectives, and are usually founded on a dubious judgement back in the 20th Century (1999), by the American Academy of Pediatrics that discouraged television viewing for children younger than 2, citing research on brain development that showed this age group’s critical need for “direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers.” They have since updated their report, acknowledging that things have changed significantly since their original judgement, however they still unfortunately, and impractically uniformly discourage passive media use, on any type of screen, for young children.

What I'd like to do here is just to provide some balance to the argument, sure the AAP have their opinion, but there are plenty of other respected, and I would argue more reasonable and more practical perspectives regarding screen time out there, below I share just a handful. If you know of any others, please feel free to post them in the comments below.

Common Sense Media

Lumping all screens into one category is not helpful. "Screen time is a really enticing measure because it's simple – it's usually described as the number of hours a day using screen-based technology. But it's completely meaningless," says Pete Etchells at Bath Spa University, UK, who studies the effects of video games on behaviour. "It doesn't say anything about what you're using that time for."

The challenge for parents and teachers, Robb says, “is to select the videos, games, and devices that have a real, positive developmental impact—and use them in ways that promote growth.”

New Scientist

Children benefit from the right sort of screen time.

What is becoming clear is that it's not the technologies themselves we should be worried about, but how they are used and how people interact with them. The advantages seen in the school environment can be translated into the home – if you choose your children's digital distraction wisely.

A lot of it is common sense. Don't unthinkingly hand over your device. There are educational apps whose benefits are backed up by research.

Five hours sitting in front of the TV is not the same as 5 hours of some TV, a couple of hours playing on Dance Dance Revolution or some other kind of active game, followed by a Skype session with a grandparent.


This [The advice from the AAP] hard and fast two-hour policy, beaten into parents’ brains by their pediatricians, troubles me and many others partly because it was last updated in 2011 before the astounding boom of tablets, smartphones and touch screens among both kids and adults. The policy warnings had focused very reasonably on TV and its clear long-term harms to healthy development in kids under two—especially harmful when passively watching non-interactive, non-educational TV.
But such traditional passive TV watching, while still the dominant form of media consumption for most children, is rapidly becoming meaningless for many. Clearly, an interactive video game that parents and toddlers are playing together or watching family vacation videos on a smartphone can have huge value compared to zombie-like staring at an episode of Spongebob—these kinds of shows are shown in studies to harm a young child’s executive functioning, a prefrontal brain skill set including memory, attention, and setting goals.

Not all screens are equal, and guidelines need to be updated to reflect these differences.
The policy also doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground: a recent survey of parents by Common Sense Media shows that toddlers under two are spending almost one hour a day using screen media anyway.

I still generally agree with most of the AAP’s family media plan advice, especially no TV ever in bedrooms and no screens at certain times of the day, including during meals, and screen time limits depending on age. With children under two, I definitely believe that screen time should never be spent alone: kids always benefit more from any activity when parents are playing along.

The Atlantic

The 2011 [AAP] report mentioned “smart cell phone” and “new screen” technologies, but did not address interactive apps. Nor did it broach the possibility that has likely occurred to those 90 percent of American parents, queasy though they might be: that some good might come from those little swiping fingers.

Technological competence and sophistication have not, for parents, translated into comfort and ease. They have merely created yet another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them.

April 2010, when the iPad was released. iPhones had already been tempting young children, but the screens were a little small for pudgy toddler hands to navigate with ease and accuracy. Plus, parents tended to be more possessive of their phones, hiding them in pockets or purses. The iPad was big and bright, and a case could be made that it belonged to the family. Researchers who study children’s media immediately recognized it as a game changer.

And last but not least, eventually even the APP had to concede the need to change:

The American Academy of Pediatrics

In a world where “screen time” is becoming simply “time,” our policies must evolve or become obsolete. The public needs to know that the Academy’s advice is science-driven, not based merely on the precautionary principle.

Media is just another environment. Children do the same things they have always done, only virtually. Like any environment, media can have positive and negative effects. Family participation with media facilitates social interactions and learning.

Content matters. The quality of content is more important than the platform or time spent with media. Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.

Touch screens change everything... 

Previously, young children had to be shown by their parents how to use a mouse or a remote, and the connection between what they were doing with their hand and what was happening on the screen took some time to grasp. But with the iPad, the connection is obvious, even to toddlers. Touch technology follows the same logic as shaking a rattle or knocking down a pile of blocks: the child swipes, and something immediately happens. A “rattle on steroids,” is what Buckleitner calls it. “All of a sudden a finger could move a bus or smush an insect or turn into a big wet gloopy paintbrush.” To a toddler, this is less magic than intuition. At a very young age, children become capable of what the psychologist Jerome Bruner called “enactive representation”; they classify objects in the world not by using words or symbols but by making gestures—say, holding an imaginary cup to their lips to signify that they want a drink. Their hands are a natural extension of their thoughts.