The Dung Ball - Progress Through Failure

This weekend I had the opportunity to meet with teachers in Frederick Maryland and Manchester Connecticut.  I love doing these talks. It's an incredible rush to know that because of your message a teacher is ready to put him or herself out there and try something new in their classroom. Maybe it's finding an alternative to a worksheet they've used for ten years, or creating a video so that students can access the material at home. 

The topic of failure is often preached at our events, and there are fantastic examples of people who have taken a risk and it hasn't worked out.  However, that doesn't make it any easier. Anytime I fail I get incredibly nervous and fear what others may think.  So much so that I will begin thinking of ways to frame the mistake so that it lessens the blow.   What I've started to do, however, is start with the cold hard truth. I made a mistake. This didn't work. In other words, I failed. 

When I was in the classroom, I had times where my test scores were lower than they were supposed to be.  I've forgotten critical deadlines that led to missed opportunities. I've empowered students to publish online, only later discovering that what they posted was very inappropriate and potentially damaging to the school's reputation. 

I now believe that those failures help us discover who we are. Every time a mistake happens, we are forced to look in the mirror and realize that we're not as good as we would like to be. Over time, we begin amassing a huge collection of mistakes, or as I like to call it, a dung ball.  This ball of "*@*@" is who we are, and it motivates us to be better next time; to continue searching for the correct path forward. 

Don't try to hide your dung ball. Own it. It's who you are. You will be surprised how relieving it is to know that even the worst about us is out. There's something to be said about not giving others the chance to hold something against you. Because you're so up front with pointing out your failures it can no longer sit in the back of your mind and keep you for taking the next big risk. 

I've cross-posted this blog on our company's blog. I hope to see you at the next EdTechTeam Summit featuring Google Apps for Education in your area. 


5 places to find great (EDU) videos

I love me some good educational video.  With more than 72 hours of new content being uploaded to YouTube every minute, finding great videos to use in class is a daunting task.  Here are the resources I use for finding great videos. 

As always, remember to watch every minute of the video you plan on showing in class!  

1. Devour is a website where they curate a handful of videos every day. Not all the videos shared here are educational.  I like to drop by the site a few times a week to see if something catches my attention. 

2. The Kids Should See This is the creation of a mom and her two kids. The blog site features great videos that you (and your kids!) should see.  The curation skills here are top notch

3. ShowYou is the Swiss Army Knife of video aggregator tools, pulling in videos from all over the web. The best feature is that you can add your Twitter and Facebook accounts and quickly see all the videos people in your PLN are sharing.

4. Vimeo Staff Picks is a great place to discover high quality, usually artistic videos. The staff frequently feature animated shorts created by students in digital arts schools. These videos are perfect or language arts classes. 

5. YouTube Trends is the official YouTube blog where Googlers discuss the latest video trends around the world.  It's a fantastic place to get the story behind a viral video or the latest internet meme. 

Friday's Education Video Roundup (8/29)

I'm an educational video fanboy and it's a major bummer that my current work keeps me from spending hours watching all the new videos coming out.  However, I'm going to try to put out a weekly roundup of the best videos from the week.  Without further ado, here are some of the best:  

How do stones move in the desert? 

How does a bean become a fart? 

What's the value of the Earth?

What happens when I drink coffee? 

How will packages be delivered in the future? 

Why do we draw stars the way we do?  

Am I next? 

It's important to end with a smile... Don't share this one with your students. :) 

Three Rules for Getting S*** Done

I've struggled for months to find a system that maximizes my productivity and keeps me focused on accomplishing my goals. I've tried dozens of paper and electronic solutions: apps, notebooks, sticky notes, you name it.... I'm writing about my latest system because I am far more productive now than I was with any of the previous attempts.

Workflow is very personal. This is not a prescription for success, just one guy's process for getting s*** done. 

1) Write it down: This post (6 Things The Most Organized People Do...) makes a great argument for why you should write everything down.  I spent a lot of time trying to hold information in my head. I'd used to take haphazard notes on Evernote, google docs, Post-Its, and notebooks. However, I never went back to the notes, and forgot many of the todos that were recorded. 

 I finally found a system that works for me. I have a single Evernote doc where I keep all my todos. I look at that document every morning and I move all the tasks that I want to accomplish that day into calendar events. Each completed item gets moved to the "completed tasks" section at the bottom.  I create a clean document every month and only move over the items still on my plate. 

2) Calendar it: I create a detailed calendar for each day, scheduling all the tasks that I want to accomplish that day. My calendar becomes my dedicated staff member, reminding me what I need to get done and when.  I try to over budget time on tasks so that when I work efficiently I can get free time back. This allows me to go into the evening with a clear mind and focus on relaxing and spending time with the people I care about.  

3) Email as an event: I fell into the trap of letting my inbox dictate what I worked on. I found myself reacting to other people's requests rather than progressing on my own goals. In order to minimize the distractions, I've transitioned to a system where I process email at set times during the day.  I spend time with email first thing in the morning, sometimes in the middle of the day, and once in the late afternoon.

When I open my email, I go through each message and "process it."  I use the two minute rule and knock out anything that can be handled immediately.  For messages that require more time I copy the link and add the task to my Evernote document in the appropriate category.

This allows me to keep my inbox at zero and ensure that no important correspondence gets lost. I use gmail shortcuts to speed up this process (the big three being e for archive, r for reply, and tab-enter). 

I'm always looking to improve my systems, send me a message on twitter if you have other tips and tricks that help you. 


10 Tips for New EdTech Entrepreneurs

Thinking about taking the plunge and becoming an EdTech entrepreneur?  Here are ten things that I learned from my experience with ClassBadges.  Esther, Duncan and I sold ClassBadges to EdStart in April and I thought I'd capture some of the things I learned in case I decide to go down this path again in the future.   

  1. Go all in: Pour yourself into your startup. The last thing a VC wants to hear is your brilliant plan for how you're going to do this in your nights and weekends. I learned this lesson the hard way. :) 
  2. Show not tell: whenever possible, you want to show what you've created, not talk about what you "plan" on building. 
  3. Build in the open: your brilliant idea for the perfect product is just that, an idea. Somewhere, someone else is working on something similar. Be open with your ideas, blog, tweet, tell anyone that will listen. 
  4. Connect connect connect: Take every meeting or chance to pitch your product. Lend your services and expertise to others in the space. If you're there for them, they'll be there for you.  
  5. Always be fundraising 
  6. Be humble
  7. Speak real language: Entrepreneurship isn't a game to see who can cram the most buzz words into a single sentence.  Your bootstrapped, agile, lean startup that is rapidly-prototyping a common core aligned, adaptive digital content platform will not impress anyone.  If you can't explain it to your grandparents, it's too complicated. 
  8. Ship. Break. Repeat.:  You should have people using your product at every step of the way (students, teachers, admin, IT directors, etc.).  Don't spend 12 months developing the perfect product then release it to the world. Whatever idea you have right now, it's wrong. Get it in front of real users and figure out how it's wrong and build the next version.  
  9. Have a team: If you're still "looking for a technical co-founder," you don't have a company.  If you don't have the capacity to build the product your nothing more than a person with some PPT skills. 
  10. Stay out of silos: The last thing a school needs is another product that "solves all their problems" but doesn't connect to anything they currently use.  If you generate student learning data, think about how school/students can get that data out. If you have student accounts, allow students to log in with Google Apps or Clever. 

Bonus:  Be transparent with your team and investors. I decided to take a leave and join the White House staff to work on some education technology initiatives.  Though my team was in full support of the decision,  I did a poor job of communicating with one of my investors and it damaged the relationship.  

love me some Austin Kleon

The newest challenge I’m facing is continuing to make things and not just talk about making them. I’m in a very dangerous position right now; I could shave my head, put on a robe, and become the guru. I could be the guy who flies around, talking about being creative, gets a nice paycheck, and goes home. That’s not interesting to me. If there’s a reason people like my books, it’s because they came out of my practice and what I learned while I was working. Now that Show Your Work is out and doing okay, the next big task is making sure that I stay connected to my work. How do I ensure that I don’t lose my desire for wanting to make stuff?

Friday Links (2 of 10)

It's Friday! Here's my second installment of web discoveries (videos/ideas/links) worth your time. I almost forgot to create this week's post, so keep your fingers crossed for next week.  Enjoy.  

Crappy Data 

This is one of the biggest problems facing K-12 edu and the future of blended/personalized learning: 

"teachers often find that learning software doesn’t provide them access to student data, doesn’t give them the right kind of data, doesn’t present the data in useful ways, doesn’t produce data they feel they can trust, and/or doesn’t account for the student data gathered by teachers or by other online learning tools"  -Christensen Institute (link)