On Education “Partnerships”

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: October 19, 2015

Everywhere I turn, I see vendors proudly announcing they are partners in education. They print it on their literature, they post it on their signs, they even build logos around the slogan.

But what is a partner? I decided to ask Google.


Sounds simple enough, yes? But when I apply that to the actual behavior I see in those same vendors, I start to question whether we share the same definition of the word.


I have a telecom vendor who has failed to deliver on purchased services over one year after contracts have been signed and payments have been made. I kicked up a chain of complaints and was told by a high-level executive that it would be fixed, how their company is a proud partner of education, and blah blah blah. Over a week later there’s been no hint of movement to resolve the issue.

Years ago we had two computer labs full of PC towers. After a year, we lost over 20% of them due to a bad security chip on the motherboards. Both the vendor and the manufacturer claim to be partners in education, yet their only solution to the problem was to shrug and offer to sell us new computers, even after observing similar problems for other customers.

These stories go on and on. Companies assign a rep to be our alleged partner, but the only time we hear from them is when they want to sell us something.* We’re a small district, so we’re not worth their time. We see a product we can really use but we just don’t have the budget to support it, so they walk away.

I get it, vendors. You’re running a for-profit business, not a charity. You have your own costs and commitments. This is how business works.

Just stop with the “partner” nonsense, because you’re not fooling anyone.

*The one exception here is Apple. I spoke to my reps and engineers frequently, and they stopped by whenever they were in town. Our district finally went a different direction by choosing Chromebooks, but I know I can have an Apple rep here if we were ever to revisit the direction of our 1:1. Experiences vary for some of my colleagues, but it’s always been solid for me.

Out with the Old…

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: May 30, 2013

It’s going to be a very different summer at my school district this year. Though we’re only doing a limited laptop replacement for staff, I’ll be making some big changes behind the scenes with our older equipment, which I plan to talk more about soon.

Also, we’re doing some construction. Our original high school building was built in 1919, and it’s come to the point where it would cost us more to maintain and repair it than it would to tear it down and build new. Thanks to some grants and matching-funds opportunities, we are erecting a new school building between our elementary and high school buildings, and then we will raze the original portion of the high school.

The work began in earnest this week. Yesterday they tore down and mulched some trees, and today they started ripping out concrete.

Noise and chaos and testosterone abound
Noise and chaos and testosterone abound

It’s a lot of fun to watch.

Meanwhile, we’ve also ripped out two labs for redecoration and remodeling. Our old setup wasn’t terrible, but was very inflexible. Now that we have laptops in one of those labs, I can take advantage of this opportunity to start considering some more flexible and friendlier lab spaces.

Last but not least, I’ve gotten my hands on a few Google Chromebooks from Samsung. I like what I’ve seen so far, but I’m going to give it a few more weeks of playing with and hammering on them before I post any kind of a writeup.

I’m expecting it to be a hectic but fun summer.

Securing User Data

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Published on: April 18, 2013

The webcomic XKCD posted a one-panel strip that serves as a good lesson to our users, and a good reminder for administrators:

XKCD: Authorization


When tech directors and school admins talk about securing a laptop (or desktop, iPad, etc.), we tend to think about securing the laptop itself against misuse and mischief. We want to make sure the user can’t accidentally download a virus, mess around with other users’ settings or files, install unauthorized software, or disable hardware or features. For the most part, we think of it as a matter of our own convenience: preventing vandalism and tampering results in less downtime for the machine and, to be honest, less hassle for us.

But what about securing the user’s own data?

We send teachers and/or students home with laptops and make sure they can’t cause too much trouble, but how often do we give them advice on keeping their data safe should they lose the machine or allow someone else to use it? And when I say advice, is there training for the how and why, or is it just a list of rules they can ignore? As the XKCD illustration shows, it’s very possible a user is logged in to multiple services on their laptop, and in many cases all the thief has to do is open the lid to gain access.

Consider the following list of security measures. This is not necessarily an exhaustive list, just something off the top of my head:

  • Password-protected screen saver or lock screen (with strong password)
  • Encrypted home directory
  • Two-factor authentication (where available)
  • Logging out of critical services (credit cards, PayPal, etc.)
  • Not allowing the browser to store passwords or personal information
  • Remote block/signout of services (where available)
  • Account/password recovery email and phone numbers are current
  • Knowing all of your own passwords, or at least having them available! Also…
  • …Secure ways of creating and safeguarding passwords (i.e., no printouts or Post-Its)
  • Backup, backup, backup!

Now ask yourself, how many of these do you practice? How many are you even aware of? If you are a user, are you trained in any of these? If you are a tech leader, are you training your users in any of these? Do your students have any idea what they are, and how they might protect data?

I’m thinking now I might have some ideas for future professional development sessions, or at least information for technology newsletters.

It’s Not Only About Technology

Categories: Miscellania, Philosophy
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Published on: April 8, 2013

Your EdTech Samurai is officially a black belt now. Studying for my black belt test at my karate dojo took up all my spare time through the first quarter of the year, so I haven’t been around much.

That time away gave me a chance to reflect on something: as Tech Director, my sphere of influence does not have to stop at technology.

I teach from time to time at my karate dojo, and it’s a very different interaction than what I have with students in my day job. Instead of “that guy who sneaks around fixing computers,” I am a teacher. I am a leader, an advisor, and someone who sets an example, both to children and adults. In that role, I see students of all shapes and sizes. Many of the kids who enroll in karate are already athletic, but there are several more who sign up because their parents want to get them active and improve their health.

Unfortunately, I think this step needs to start at home and in schools, in that order. I can’t really help everyone else at home, but I can at school. Honestly, I’d love to see certain elements of the martial arts taught in schools. The Japanese did it for decades, which is a big part of how karate spread throughout the world. The high school I attended in the Chicago suburbs offered judo as an elective (sadly, I moved before I was eligible to take it). The flexibility and general fitness, the mind-body connection, self defense & dealing with bullying, and more, all tie directly into the basic concepts every PE course should include.

Of course, the great State of Illinois would never let me teach a class because I’m not “highly qualified,” despite working in schools for 15 years now and having a few years of experience teaching kids of all ages in karate. My own instructor has over six years of experience running a dojo (teaching), many more in the martial arts, and he’s a chemical engineer, yet he’s not even qualified to be a substitue teacher in our state. It’s an unfortunate consequence of legislation steering education rather than vice versa.

So we must influence where we can, and to that end I’m going to share with you Jamie Oliver’s TED talk on food and food education (or lack thereof) in our schools.

My own kids don’t eat hot lunches at school for many of the reasons Oliver discusses. It’s not because our kitchen staff are bad cooks; far from it! Our head cook used to run her own restaurant. The ladies put together great spreads when they do an Institute Day lunch for the staff, or when they have special taco salad days or potato bars, neither of which are regulated by law because they’re not going to the students.

Yet we’re forced to buy and serve crap food from the state. The only saving grace may be the miniscule portion sizes. Some kids go home hungry, and the athletes in particular ask for seconds, even at the junior high level.

It shouldn’t have to be that way. Watch the video and spread the word, and maybe some of our administrators and legislators will look into solving the problem.

None the Worse for Wear

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: October 30, 2012

It’s been a tough first semester. We’ve had some emergency bandwidth restructuring, a couple of firewall & filter upgrades, rollout of new iPad mobile carts and several more iPads for teachers, two new labs of Windows 7 laptops and a Win2K8 Server, a conversion to a new RTI system, and a whole slew of troubleshooting, network outages, and teacher assistance calls.

But I’ve survived.

Proof of Life
Proof of life

With everything going on, I just didn’t feel like I had time to keep this blog going. I killed the old Twitter account and intended to nuke the site so I could concentrate on staying sane at work. However, there have been several technology developments with an impact on education, including the next phase of the tablet wars. I hadn’t yet built a strong readership for this blog, but it was a good outlet to discuss how these new developments were affecting our school.

So I’m going to take another crack at it. I’ve jumped into the Apple Volume Purchase Program fray at last, we have three Kindle Fire HDs on the way to test WhisperCast, I have an AppleTV and a flatscreen in every elementary classroom, and our iPad carts are seeing more and more use every week. We have a new building going up next year, and I intend to dabble in Apple iBooks Author and iTunes U soon. Plenty to do, plenty to talk about.

The new Twitter account is @EdTechSamurai. Hope to see some of you there.

More soon.

And We’re Back

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: May 30, 2012

It’s been quiet around here lately, as I’ve been putting my e-katana to work on several technology issues in the district. Hackers and viruses have a way of keeping one busy.

Now with the summer break in full swing, however, I hope to get this blog back into action. I’ll have some new toys to play with shortly, I’ve got some lab renovation to do, and there are some big releases coming from Apple and Microsoft which could have a big impact on our schools. Summer isn’t always the busiest time of year, but it’s when all the real work happens.

More soon.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share this reminder our superintendent posted to our elementary school’s sign:

A reminder to the kids
Kindle and e-books count, too!

Tired of the kids playing Xbox and watching TV all day? Teach them how to get to the local library. They’ll grumble and moan, but in the long run, they’ll thank you for it.

Especially if they can score those Accelerated Reader points after the summer break!

The Warrior Dash and St Jude

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: March 6, 2012

This summer I’ll be running in the Warrior Dash, a 5K race including several obstacles!

The Warrior Dash is a supporter of St Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a great organization which helps the families of children with cancer and other deadly diseases. St Jude has saved the lives of countless children, all without charging the families a dime. As such, groups like the Warrior Dash are a great benefit to St Jude.

Given I planned to run in the Warrior Dash anyway, I felt it would be a great idea to help raise funds for St Jude. Please visit the following link for more information:


Even if you are unable to donate at this time, please help spread the word and share the link. Every little bit helps!

Student Craftsmanship

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: December 3, 2011

After reading several articles about the benefits of a standing desk and the dangers of sitting all day (easily summed up in this infographic), I thought I would give it a shot. My desk is huge and I didn’t want to purchase an expensive standing rig, so I felt a podium would work best. I determined the necessary dimensions here and passed them on to our school’s Industrial Tech department.

The teacher helped a student with the actual design in the woodshop, and then the student cut and assembled it for me. Here is the result:

New Workspace
My new workspace

They did a fantastic job. I ordered a rubber and foam anti-fatigue mat to stand on, and after two days with it so far, I like it. I left color up to them, and my only stipulation was I would like the top to be smooth enough that I could write on paper on it. Function over form. It looks good, it’s comfortable to work on, and that riser on the back is removable should I need to change the monitor setup.

I get funny looks from some students and teachers, and even the student who built it and the shop teacher feared it might be too big. Given the size of my desk, however, it’s perfect. My monitor’s not in my face, my hands and arms are at a comfortable angle, and I’m not constantly looking down.

The student got a grade, I got a new desk, and I saved a lot of money by having it done in-house. Win-win all around!

Thank a Teacher Today

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: September 24, 2011

The Security Benefit-sponsored #51 car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series sported a cool paint job at last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway:

Thank a Teacher Today
Have you thanked a teacher lately?

Supporting teaching is one of the more satisfying aspects of my job, and I also enjoy having the opportunity to work with the same teachers who have my three children in class every day.

For the parents out there, when you send your little ones off to school on Monday morning, drop a thank-you note to the teacher in your child’s backpack. Make a teacher’s day.

Quiet Summer

Categories: Miscellania
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Published on: July 18, 2011

I haven’t posted much because I have a quiet summer at the day gig for once, and I’m making the most of it to get some work done.

I’m also waiting to get some artwork to spruce the place up a bit. To that end, I don’t plan on an official launch until this fall to coincide with the new school year.

Thanks to those of you who have already been checking in, I appreciate the interest. I’ll have some other news soon. In the meantime, bear with me an we’ll be fully up and running shortly!

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