Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





6 ways to reclaim focus

How can one be busy all day long and not get anything of significance read, written, or simply done?

By being lured by the siren's call of technological distractions.

Image result for sirens' call

I have consciously undertaken steps to reclaim larger portions of my day in order to complete tasks that require sustained focus. Here are some things I've done...

  1. Cleaned up my social networking contacts. I've deleted the "over-posters" on Facebook, the "over-Tweeters" on Twitter. Just eliminating a couple of obsessive posters has freed up 30 minutes, I am guessing, a day. And I don't miss the idiotic quizzes, cat videos, or other click bait. I've cleaned up my blog feeds in Feedly to only educational writers.
  2. Defined more rigidly how I use social media. I use Facebook only for recreation/entertainment; Twitter only for professional use. 
  3. Thinking harder about "need to know" vs "nice to know" vs "entertaining." It's pretty easy to succumb to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when reading bloggers and other social networking posters. I know I really don't need to know "All the New Emojis That Will Clog My Keyboard in 2018" but deciding to read "How to Delete Your Twitter Timeline (and Why You Should)" gives me pause.
  4. Limiting the devices by which I access social media. I whacked all social media apps on my iPhone. (Thanks to Control Your Phone. Don't Let It Control You from Common Sense Media for the inspiration. Now instead of flicking through Facebook when eating or bored at a meeting, I open my Kindle app and dig into an actual book. 
  5. Refused to jump on each social media train. I don't Instagram. I don't SnapChat. I look at LinkedIn rarely. I don't need to use the latest and greatest or use all available. 
  6. Limit the number of times each day I open social media sites. Once before breakfast, once before bedtime is my goal. Except for Twitter which I see as professional networking.

I am afraid that email is still my biggest "squirrel!" problem. But I find turning off notifications on my phone and on my desktop apps and just leaving the email app CLOSED goes a long, long way. If only I could find a way to keep others from emailing me with work... Hmmmm.

How do you reclaim your sustained focus on tasks? How can we help our kids manage their time if we as adults struggle with the same problems? Or is it impossible in today's world? 

BTW, been whining about this since 2012. My god, I am a slow learner!


What's your TAR score? (Technologically Anal Retentive)

About 5 years ago I developed a scale to measure how restrictive/open a school district is in giving acces to technology resources to its students and staff. I've updated it a bit below. My perception is that the access gap between the most and least restrict schools has grown, not shrunk, over the past few years...


There a growing schism between schools who  allow technology to be used in an open, productive and trusted manner and those who are TAR (Technologically Anal Retentive). Judge your own district's TAR score using the checklist below. 1 point for each item:

  1. My district does not allow staff to use their own devices on the network.
  2. My district does not allow students to use their own devices on the network.
  3. My district does not have a guest wireless network.
  4. My district only supports a single computer operating system and/or a single student device.
  5. My district does not give teachers the choice of a laptop computer they can use outside of school.
  6. My district does not give teachers administrative rights to their computers (the ability to add software, access control panels. etc.)
  7. My district does not give students personally assigned devices (1:1) that can be used outside of school.
  8. My district does not allow students to keep their 1:1 devices over the summer.
  9. My district requires mandatory password change and had mandated password criteria.
  10. My district blocks (1 point each):
    • Facebook
    • Instagram
    • Snapchat
    • Youtube
    • Twitter
    • Music streaming (Pandora, Spotify)
    • Netflix
    • Non-school email sites
    • Blogs and wikis (including Wikipedia)
    • Anything Google (apps, sites, search, images)
  11. My district must approve all software I use.
  12. My district does not allow student work to be published to a public website.
  13. My district does not allow access to the student information system outside the district by staff.
  14. My district does not allow students and parents access their grades and other information online.
  15. My district only offers technology training by technology department members, not staff.
  16. My district does not allow staff access from outside school to materials stored on district servers.
  17. I feel my district actively monitors my e-mail and computer use without cause.
  18. My district does not have a process for getting a website unblocked.
  19. My district uses an "opt in" rather than a "opt-out" process for getting parental permission to use applications.
  20. My district prohibits student cell phone use.

Bonus 5 points: If your technology director cites CIPA, FERPA, or another mysterious acronym as a reason for blocking anything.

OK, here's the scale:

  • 1-5 Your school is cool. Staff and students can use the Internet as an educational tool.
  • 5-15 Your school needs to figure out a better collaborative process for determining what should and should not be blocked. 
  • 15-25 Your technology department should be re-named "The Prevention of Education Department". A concerted effort by all true educators in your district needs to be made to overthrow the Technology Czar running the place.

I am willing to add other criteria to the TAR list. Your suggestions? 

Image by Scott McLeod under Creative Commons license


BFTP: 7 habits of highly effective technology trainers

Seven qualities of highly effective technology trainers

from Johnson, Doug. The Classroom Teacher's Technology Survival GuideJossey-Bass, 2012.

Here are some attributes of people who can effectively teach others to use technology. Find others in your building or district who do these things and make them your tech teacher.

  1. The problem is on the desk, not in the chair.When a problem arises, the best trainers assume that it is a result of a hardware or software flaw - whether an actual bug or a design in the user interface that makes the technology confusing for normal people to use. It’s sometimes tough to help people increase their knowledge without making them feel stupid or incompetent, but good teachers can. Phrases like, “My third graders can do that.” “You know it works better when you plug it in.” and “No, the other right arrow.” are not recommended.
  2. No mouse touching. Good trainers are patient. One sure sign of this saintly virtue in teachers is that they never touch a learner’s mouse or keyboard. No matter how exasperating it becomes to watch that ill-coordinated person find and click on the correct button, good instructors’ hands stay well behind their backs, no matter how white knuckled they become.
  3. Great analogies. There is a theory that the only way we can think about a new thing is if we have some way to relate it to what we already know. Good trainers can do that by creating analogies. “Your email account is like a post office box. Your password is like your combination to get into it. Your email address is like your mailing address – it tells the electronic postmaster where to send your email.” Now here’s the catch: truly great analogists know when the comparisons break down, too. “Unlike a human postmaster, the electronic postmaster can’t make intelligent guesses about an address. A mising dot, the L instead of a 1, or a single juxtaposition of letters will keep your mail from being delivered.”
  4. Clear support materials. Few things are more comforting to technology learners than being able to access a “cheat sheet” about using a new technology. Until multi-step tasks are repeated several times, most of us need reminders that are more descriptive than just our notes (and more permanent than our memories.) A short menu of task steps illustrated with screen shots is a gift for most technology learners.
  5. Knowing what is essential and what is only confusing. A good trainer will have a list of the skills the learners should have mastered by the end of the training. As instruction proceeds, that list will be the basis for frequent checks for understanding. As an often-random thinker, I find such a list keeps me as an instructor on track and provides a roadmap for the learner. Now here’s the catch with this one: truly great technology teachers know what things beginning learners really need to know to make them productive and what things might be conveyed that only serve to impress a captive audience with the technologist’s superior intellect. (“The email address is comprised of the username, the domain name, the subdomain name, the computer name, all referenced in a lookup table at the NIC.” Like that.) It’s an alpha wolf thing, especially common with males. Be aware of it, and look for a teacher who uses charm and a caring demeanor with the pack to achieve dominance.
  6. If it breaks, we’ll fix it. Kids catch on to technology with amazing rapidity for a very good reason. They aren’t afraid to push buttons. They know if they mess something up, it’s an adult’s job to fix it. That’s one nice thing about being a kid. However adult learners also need the courage to experiment. Rather than always answering direct questions about technology, good trainers will often say, “Try it and see what happens. If you mess something up, I’ll help you fix it.”
  7. Perspective. Many of us who work with technology do so because we love it. We play with new software on the weekends, search the Internet deep into the evening, and show off our new gadgets like other folks show off prize winning zinnias, new powerboats, or successful children. I hesitate to use the term “abnormal,” but we are in the minority.

Most teachers see technology as a sometimes helpful thing that should occupy about one percent of one’s conscious thinking time. Good trainers who can remember what it was like before there were computers – the green grass, the singing birds, the books to read, the parties to attend, the fishing trips, the face-to-face human communication– tend to be more empathetic.

Original post Jan 16, 2013