2009 IN REVIEW

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This was a very interesting year for me personally and professionally!

Where this is more of a professional blog I will not go into the personal side very much, but Mom I do miss you, you gave more than you received and will be remembered by so many.
I began the year working in Maine State Government as a staff member of the Maine Commission for Community Service (also known as a Senior Planner in the State Planning Office). I was the AmeriCorps State Program Officer and Emergency Response Coordinator for MCCS.
I had entered this position six months previously and was working through those “first year” tough times. I was finding out that what would have been a dream job when I retired from the Coast Guard was no longer a dream job. I was unhappy being a financial “weenie”, the regulations guru, multiple database operator/administrator, grants administrator, program reviewer and whatever else needed to be done. In a small office you get to do a lot more than in large offices. I did well enough and could have stayed, but the stress was wearing me down and I believe that it caused more than a few health problems.
In June when I went to the National Convention in San Francisco, I watched everyone become energized about what they were doing and I didn’t share their enthusiasm, I knew that something was wrong. On the flight home I thought long and hard about what I was doing and decided that even though I had just finished my first year that I needed to get back to doing something that I loved to do.
My first thought was teaching, but I was hesitant because of my experience in my previous teaching position – it had been less than ideal. I thought that I wanted to remain in State government maybe at MEMA or some similar organization where I wouldn’t be the financial goto guy. I promised a co-worker that I would not look for another position until the fall, due to some other factors that were happening at the office. This gave me time to really look at what I wanted to do and what I would look for in my next job.
As it turned out, at the end of my research and skills/interests inventories: Teaching came out on top and working for an Emergency Management Agency was second. I didn’t believe that I would get a teaching position this year because most of the vacant teaching position are filled during the summer and there is a hiring freeze in State government, so I figured I would be at MCCS until the following summer. Which wouldn’t have been that bad, because I really, really liked the people I was working with, I just disliked what I was doing, even though I was doing okay at it.
It was really weird when I told my boss that I would be looking for another position, the next day I got the information that a position was opening up at Lawrence Junior High School and a month after I told my boss, I was back to teaching 8th Grade English in a Resource Room at Lawrence Junior High School.
I have been back to being a Special Education Teacher since October 5th, no preparation, just jump in and go. I won’t lie and say it has been easy because it hasn’t been. The first year in any job is tough, but starting a teaching position a month after the school year has started is a killer, especially when I had been out of teaching for 15 months. Trying to get things back together and get my feet under me has been difficult, but with the help of my administrators, fellow teachers and my teaching assistants, I have transitioned back fairly well. Even with all the “extra” hours that are required of a teacher, my wife says “it is so good to see me be passionate about my work again.”
I know that I love being part of the edtech blogosphere/twitterverse. I have learned so much from those that I follow and I want to give them their due, but there are so many, but a few stand out: Ira, Damian, Clay, Alec, Diane, Deven, Rich and so many others. You all keep me energized and current on technology, education and sometimes about life in general. I know I really enjoy the #edchat convos and the “different” conversations that happen on Twitter.
I also just became a convert to the Cult of Mac, having purchased a MacBookPro 13″ this week. All of the students and teachers are issued Macs in Maine and I was a die hard PC user. As long as I had my PC I was going to continue to use it and balk at learning the Mac. Solution: Give away the PC and buy a Mac. I had to go all in or I would have kept plugging along like I had been and not being able to do things on the Mac or knowing how to use the Mac in my classroom. Now that I have been PC free for almost a week, I don’t miss it at all. Well maybe Oblivion (a RPG game) 🙂
Am I glad to be back in teaching – Obsolutely – Positively!!! I am not saying I am a great teacher, but I do okay. I love being around the students and am not afraid to look silly if it makes a point for them. Teaching Special Education 1/4 Actor, 1/4 Knowledge and 1/2 doing what is necessary to help the kids.
I’mmmmmmmm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack and loving it!

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GOOGLE DOCS & MAC OFFICE 2008

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After all the research about which Productivity Suite I would use with my new Mac, I decided that that I would use a combination of Google Docs and Microsoft Office for Mac 2008, with gDocs being my primary Word Processor.
I explained in WHICH PRODUCTIVITY SUITE FOR MAC? my needs in a Productivity Suite and those two working in tandem I believe will best meet my specific needs.
After using my PLN on Twitter to ask questions and getting a lot of help from those much more knowledgeable about Macs than I am. A special thank you goes out to @aforgrave and @judiehaynes for the help they gave me during this process.In the end it came down to whether or not Office could render the State’s IEP form or not.
When I got to the Apple Store on Monday one of the first things that I did was go to the State’s website, download the form and open up Mac Office 2008. It worked without any problems what-so-ever. That settled that question really quickly. Plus $20.00 off was a good selling point for getting right then so I didn’t have to mess around with anything later.
Although it is not as powerful as Office 2008, Google docs will do almost everything that I need and I can also use it as Blog writer if I need to. Office can do anything else and I will see how it works beyond that.
I am not down on Microsoft, but I really didn’t want to run Win7 if I didn’t have to on my Mac. Just not ready to do that yet. So the Mac Office 2008 appears to be the solution for Special Education paperwork that I was looking for without having to use Bootcamp or the other solutions where I can install PC software on my Mac.
I have a feeling that I will be very happy with this combination, but only time and experience will tell.
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A ROCKY START TO JOINING THE CULT OF MAC

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Photo from:  http://www.ltu.edu/ehelp/laptopspecs.asp
I got my new Mac on Monday AND a second one on Tuesday.

So I joined the Cult of Mac, but it was a bit of a journey and a rocky one to start.  As I discussed in last week’s blog entry, we decided that I needed to have my own Mac, if I was going to teach properly in my classroom.  WHY I AM BUYING A MAC

I did something that was totally out of character for me in this decision, I didn’t go out and buy it the day that I made the decision.  I actually waited almost 5 days before going out and buying something – I am demonstrating something new and different – patience.  During this time I was able to properly research the differences between a MacBook and the MacBook Pro (see specs here http://www.apple.com/macbookpro/specs.html) , and the software that I would want to use.  After a lot thinking and research, I was ready to make a decision based on the capabilities of the machines versus just price or a snap judgment of the moment.

We got to the Apple Store Monday morning and after looking at the two Machines and trying them out side-by-side there was no comparison.  The MacBook Pro was clearly superior to the MacBook.  The “feel” of the keys was better, aluminum unibody construction, SD slot, the screen (I can actually see it with no problem), etc.  The only thing that the MacBook had over the MBP was the hard drive size 250gb vs MBP 160gb.  But this is becoming less of an issue as more and more applications and files are migrating to the “cloud”.  So we (yes my wife had a say in this too) decided to spend the extra money to get the MacBook Pro.  The $100.00 off for being an educator helped a lot too.

Unfortunately, that night when I started to load software/applications and use my new MBP, I noticed a couple of things that were not right (the battery wasn’t charging and it wouldn’t maintain the correct date/time after restarting).  I didn’t sleep real well that night, thinking about all the things that could be wrong with my new Laptop.  Then the next morning it wouldn’t turn on at all – just a black screen.  My stress level was pretty high.  This certainly wasn’t the way I expected to be introduced to the Cult of Mac – in fact it was very disappointing.
I really hate the battles that you usually have to go through when you return electronics and I had heard “horror” stories online about some who had tried to return their Macs for repair and had had to wait weeks to get it back.  So I was really dreading going to the Apple Store to go through this process.  I didn’t want to wait weeks to start using my brand new computer and it worried me a lot that I might have to.

We got to the Apple Store about 20 minutes before opening, which only increased my stress level as I imagined all the bad things that would probably happen.  When we got into the store and talked with Denise, it was actually a very quick and efficient process.  Within 5 minutes I had a new MacBook Pro in front of me and by the time 15 minutes had passed, I was walking out of the store with a different new MacBook Pro in hand (it didn’t take nearly as long as it did to buy the first one).

There was no battle or even having to negotiate, she listened to my account of what happened, double-checked that everything was in the returned box, talked to her manager and efficiently processed the transaction.  I wish that all my electronic issues in the past had been completed so quickly and painlessly, this really helped my stress level – a lot!  It also gave me a much better feeling about Apple and the customer service that I was receiving.  I have nothing but great things to say about the Portland, Maine Apple Store.

I was a bit concerned after the first didn’t work well, but so far there haven’t been any issues and as I continue to use MBP #2 – I don’t expect any.  In fact since I have been using the new MBP, believe it is simply the best computer I have ever owned.

I still revert back to some keyboard shortcuts from my PC past or hit “no” instead of “yes” once in a while, but nothing serious.

So after a bit of a rocky start, I have joined the Cult of Mac and so far am glad that I did.

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WHICH PRODUCTIVITY SUITE FOR MAC?

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I will be picking up my MacBook Laptop tomorrow and have been researching what applications or software I should be using.  I still am concerned about which direction I should be taking regarding a productivity suite.

NEEDS: A productivity suite that includes Word Processing, Spreadsheet and Slide Show capabilities.

I really do not need an eMail manager/Calendar/ToDo manager, I plan to use my Google domain for email/calendar functions and Zoho’s Planner for my TODO needs.   I do not have to do heavy-duty number crunching so any of the Spreadsheet programs below will meet that need.  While I use slide shows in the classroom quite a bit they are usually pretty basic and any of the suites I am looking at will meet my needs here.

Word Processing is the most important function of any productivity suite that I end up with and it must be compatible with Word 2007.  I do a lot of technical writing and providing the results to others as a result of my Special Education paperwork requirements.  We have to use a State mandated forms (which include check-boxes) and then I have to send these completed forms to the school secretaries, who use Microsoft Word 2007.  We have also started a pilot project of emailing some of the forms as PDFs to the parents, so the ability to change documents to PDF has become important as well.

Google Docs: I plan to use this as the primary productivity suite in the classroom for my students due to it being online/offline and platform independent.  I really like the ability to share documents and it makes it much easier for me to “correct” papers and we can save money due to less printing costs.  The Spreadsheet and Presentation applications do everything that my students or I will need, plus the aiblity to create Forms is a real benefit.  Unfortunately, while Documents does all the basic word processing functions it does not render the State Special Education forms correctly.  So I need a more robust Word Processor than gDocs.


iWork: This suite really intriques me.  It is native to the MacBook environment and Numbers/Keynote will do everything that I need for those type of applications.  From what I have read in my research it has come a long ways in its capabilities.  However, last night I learned that it does not support the check-box function and that is one of the things that I need in the State Forms.  There are work-arounds that I could do with the forms, but it is a change to the form which I shouldn’t have to do.  I have been playing with it on my issued Mac and have seen that it does not always accurately format documents prepared in Word.  I have a feeling that this is a release or two away from being able to just download the State Forms and use them.


Mac Office 08: This is the one that intriques me the most.  I have read so many conflicting reports on how this works on the Mac (from fantastically/great to absolutely horrid and everything in between).  It doesn’t use the ribboninterface, which I personally think is not a good thing, there should only be one Office interface.  I have been told that it does not render the State forms correctly, which is disappointing.  I will have to see this one in action before I can actually determine whether it will be useful or useless.


NeoOffice: The Open Office for Mac.  It is free and can do most everything I need, but it does not render the State Forms correctly either.   I have used it off and on since getting my issued Mac and it works for the most part, if I had to I could use it, but Google Docs and iWork both do what I want better.  I also do not like the interface, so this is a no go for me.


Perhaps the best bet for me at this time is to go the Parallels, Fusion and Bootcamp route, so that I can use Word natively in Window 7 (which I have a spare license for).  By doing this I could I could use Google Docs as my primary productivity suite and for Special Education paperwork needs I could use a combination of Word and my Nitro PDF program.

That is probably what I will do for now and when iWork is able to transfer more of Word docs features correcty, look at it again. However, if there is a really great deal for iWork when I buy my Mac then I would probably just get it, but otherwise will wait. I will likely download the 30 day trial version of Mac Office 2008 just to see what its capabilities actually are due to the confusion and different views of it on the web.

Of all the decisions about the switch to Mac this is/has been the most difficult for me.  I have to be able to use the State Forms as is and if I can’t then that causes other problems for me.  Actually it is more perplexing than serious, but one that I will resolve.


If I didn’t have to do Special Education paperwork, what would I do, but that is a completely different circumstance and set of requirements.


Any suggestions or helpful hints on this subject?

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WHAT IS A DIGITAL NATIVE

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What is a “digital native“?   I keep hearing this term and have done a bit of research today and in the past.

One definition is: “A digital native is a person who has grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet,mobile phones and MP3– Wikipedia.


Is the only requirement to be considered as a “digital native”, being born after a certain year?

That seems to be the answer — as far as I can tell there is no generally accepted time frame for when “digital immigrant” ends and “digital natives” begins, but it seems that the students who are presently in High School are considered to be “digital natives”. 

My personal experience has been is that many at-risk youth, special education students and many others in this age cluster don’t have the expected technological abilities, openness or awareness that are expected of them as “digital natives”.
Is a so-called digital native who does not have access to the digital life style – still a digital native – even if they have never used digital technology?

To me using the label “Digital Native” stereotypes a whole generation as something that many of them are not.  It raises expectations that these students are more technologically and digitally literate than they actually are.

How does this relate to Special Education? In education there are certain expectations of digital natives, their abilities and how well they should be able to use technology in the classroom.

In many instances the so-called “digital native” stereotypes, when applied to Special Education students are way off.  Educators who have learned the term “Digital Native” as a generic label for students based on when they were born, may believe that they have skills and abilities beyond their actual ability because of this label.
Special Education students have enough labels and in this case not living up to being a “digital native” is just another negative one.

===========================================

There are still too many in this age group that don’t have access to technology to truly say that they are “digital natives”.  The bottom line is that I don’t believe that the term “Digital Native” should be used it is too much of misnomer.  


Maybe I am reading too much into the label of what a “digital native” is and is not not. What do you think?

MAINE SPECIAL EDUCATION REGULATIONS – PROPOSED CHANGES

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Maine State Seal
Image by J. Stephen Conn via Flickr

One of the things that I did learn during my time in State government is the power of thepublic commenting on proposed rules and regulations.  Believe it or not, those comments are read and can change to the way something is written or force the Department to clarify its position by bringing a different perspective other than the echo chamber that sometimes occurs in any Government Agency and forces them re-look at what they are proposing.


I copied the below from an email that I received on the subject.

“The Maine Department of education has proposed changes to the Maine Unified Special Education Regulations to comply with minimum federal requirements, ensure consistency of implementation and reduce costs.
 
A copy of the Proposed Provisional Rules is available at:

http://www.maine.gov/education/rulechanges/chapter101provisionaladop%20.pdf


I know that everyone is busy but this is very important.  This is your chance to weigh in on the proposed changes to the Maine Special Education Regulations, Chapter 101.


Comments may be submitted by mail to Joanne C. Holmes, Maine Department of Education, State House Station #23, Augusta, Maine 04333or electronically to Jaci.Holmes @maine.gov

All written comments must be received NO LATER THAN 5:00 pm December 31, 2009.”
 
If you are involved in Special Education in Maine and want to see what the State is proposing for new rules, here is your opportunity to read them before they go into effect and to participate in the rule-making process.
Take a look, there are somethings that are proposed that will make some pretty significant changes to how we provide services or identify students for Special Education.

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GOODBYE TO MY HP TABLET 2510 PC

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I just got rid of an old friend today – no not Isabelle (the cat).My HP TABLET 2510us PC is no longer in my possession.  I winced more than a little bit at the thought of giving it away and then when I actually did it, it was more difficult than I thought it would be.  I finally had my Tablet setup just the way that I wanted it and it has been stable as any computer I have ever had ever since I installed Window 7.  It did everything (and more) that I wanted it to and was versatile enough to be an eBook reader (like a Kindle).

So why did I get rid of it?

I have decided to move-on to the world of Macs.

The Macbook is the dominant computer in my classroom – usually the only one.  Continuing to have my PC available was severely restricting my growth and willingness to use the Macbook. Every time I wanted to do something with a computer, I found that I would get out the PC, not the Mac.

When I looked at this from a purely logical perspective, I know that I have to be proficient on the MacBook in order to teach effectively in my classroom.  It is hard to teach students how to use their Macs effectively, when I don’t know how to use one myself.

Therefore as of this morning, my PC is gone.  I have a feeling that I will still have lots of dealings with PCs, since I will be the only Mac user in the house, but that way I won’t loose touch with the PC world.

I will miss my HP 2510us Tablet PC (alot), but believe that when I finally get my MacBook 13″ on Monday, that I will be very happy and comfortable with the switch.  I will continue to write about my progress in learning the Mac and how it is impacting my teaching in Resource Room 220.

At least now I won’t get confused about which keyboard shortcuts to use 🙂

WHY I AM BUYING A MAC

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White MacBook laptop
Image via Wikipedia

I have decided to join the Cult of Mac.  But why you may ask?  Am I not happy with my little HP tablet – ABSOLUTELY especially since Windows 7 has been added.

I have whined and complained about using my issued Mac, I have tried to find every reason imaginable to not use it.  The fact is as I have been forced to use it in class more and more, and find that it isn’t nearly as bad as I originally thought.

Looking at it I guess there 5 reasons for the change.

1.  The challenge. I usually enjoy learning something new and mostly different.  I will transfer many of my PC skills to a Mac, which will make the “switch” easier, but there are differences still between PCs and Macs and learning those differences if taken with a positive attitude can be fun.  So I have to take the advice I usually give my students…step up to the challenge and you might find the challenge more enjoyable than you thought.

2.  Students. My students all have Macs and many of them know how to use them better than I do.  A bit of that pride thing going on here.  Also professionally I believe that I have to be able to teach using the type of tools that I am provided, instead of attempting to dig my heels in and using what I want, but I will do it my way and purchase my own, so I can learn all of the Mac world, not just the part that is authorized by others.

3.  Interest. I have always been a bit off the norm and using something a bit different than the majority appeals to my sense of walking to a different tune.  Whenever I am talking about computers or technology, everyone is always surprised that I use a PC as my computer, they seem to believe that I am a stereotypical Mac user…I don’t want to disappoint them anymore.

4.  Professional. I almost became a Mac user in 2008, if I had not left teaching that year I would have probably become a Mac user then, but where I was going to work was a strictly PC environment.  I am no longer in a PC based professional environment, in fact I am in a Mac based environment.

5.  Financial. Changing over to a Mac is a financial investment. The purchase price for Macs has always been higher and you have to factor in the cost of “dongles” and new software.  For the PC I have the software that I need purchased and will need to find/purchase comparable software for the Mac.  Financially, this is the time to do so, who knows what the future will hold and I am in a decent position right now…”Carpe Diem”

I have been a long-time PC user (somewhere about Windows 1.0) and know my way around the PC world fairly well.  The Mac world is a bit different and there will be a learning curve and it will take time (time I could be doing other things) to learn the new system.  I have decided that the investment of time is worth it professionally and personally.

It is not dissatisfaction with my PC or the operating system that I am changing to the Mac.  It is for professional growth and a personal challenge.  So here is to a decision made and now I can’t wait to get my new MacBook 13″.

Now if I could just get the darn State of Maine IEP form to render correctly on a Mac, I wouldn’t have any trepidation about the move.  It has check boxes and ony Word on a PC seems to render them correctly.  Any ideas from the Mac users out there about how to fix this?

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DECORATE THE NEW TEACHER DAY

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Today was the last day before December vacation and we had a bunch of fun activities for the students.  I had to administer a WIAT-II all morning which just wears me out.   So I was ready to participate in something fun this afternoon.

I was asked yesterday if I would volunteer as one of the new teachers, to be “decorated”.  Being fairly outgoing and adventurous I said sure.  So I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen.

Here are the results of decorating.

LJHS 015 Cropped

LJHS 017 cropped

LJHS 024 cropped

LJHS 029 cropped

My decorators won first prize for their work in decorating the teacher. :).  It was a lot of fun and showed the kids a different side of that mean old rotten Special Education teacher in Room 220.

A very good day and I know that I had a lot of fun :-).

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SPECIAL EDUCATION -WHAT IS THE FUTURE IF THE BUDGETS ARE CUT?

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gold dollar signSpecial Education programs are not cheap and the needs of our students are more varied and yes more expensive than most regular education programs.  As budget money becomes tighter and politicians, along with everyone else, put more pressures to shrink the budgets at the local, state and federal levels, when do they start looking closely at Special Education for deep cuts?

We all know that some people don’t like the idea of Special Education, how much it costs and would love to reduce the scope and mandates of Special Education.  It is a hidden agenda item and most of the time it is the “dirty laundry” that no one wants to discuss in public.

How often do you hear “how come we are educating them”, “our school budget wouldn’t be nearly as high if that program didn’t exist”, “if we could get rid ofSPED, look at what else we could do”, “so much money for kids that can’t do anything anyway”, “we are just going to put them in a home or jail, so just do it now” and so on.

This kind of talk is not new and most of us have heard it before and as with a lot of things it is only the tip of the iceberg.  Most of the time these comments are not said out loud or in public, they are said in private, in situations where others do not disagree with them, or when they have had too many “cups”.  It is a real and present undercurrent that is much more prevalent than we want to admit.

Special Education has historically been an under-funded mandate to the States, how much longer can it continue under that format?  Yes, we do have IDEA, NCLB,FAPE, court decisions, precedence and all those other protections that have been written into the law.

What happens when the hard financial choices finally have to be made. The big question that will be asked by many will be whether to fund students who have a future and will be taxpayers or to continue to spend “big bucks” on students with a limited future as taxpayers and for the most part will “always” be a financial drain on the system?

In the face of that prospect which Special Education services will still be required, which ones will be changed, what services/protections will be there or won’t be?

I know that these changes won’t happen overnight, but at the same time I believe that we are getting closer and closer to major changes to how we teach and provide services to our Special Education students.  I am very afraid that some of the changes will be based solely on budgetary considerations, not what is in the best interests of the child.

I don’t want to give the impression that I am a prophet of doom, because I believe that I am a very positive forward looking person.  However, from my perspective, the cold hard reality is that tough choices are probably coming and Special Education programs are going to be impacted negatively.

These are things that I do worry about at night, when I am thinking about what I can do next to help my Special Education students.   What will their future schooling be like if or when the budget axe strikes?

What do you see as the future of Special Education in a time of very tight budgets?

Remember – it is not about you or me it is about the kids.

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