Click Barns, Sock Puppets & Troll Factories

The 2017 YouTube video #Socialnomics has recently reported that we are preparing almost 30% of students for jobs that don’t exist yet.  I’ve always wondered what kind of jobs they could be.  Sadly, we are learning about them in today’s times.

I was exposed to three new terms this year that didn’t exist years ago:

  • Click Barns
  • Sock Puppeting
  • Troll Factories

For those that don’t know about these, I wanted to share them, as these terms are creeping into education practices, but have been more prevalent in politics and news.

 

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A clickfarm.| image credit: bbc.co.uk

 

Ever wonder how something gets so many website hits or how it’s ‘liked’ by so many people? Look no further than a click farm. Click farms are offices/apartments that house hundreds of cell phones and thousands of SIM cards.  People and/or businesses that are looking to have search terms rise or fall can get click farms to change how you view products or people. Knowing that 90% of people do no go past the first page when a google search is conducted (Wressics, 2016), “pushing down” a search term is easier than ever.  Here’s the catch – it’s illegal; you’re manipulating data to reflect a false impression.  There are people now dedicated to finding the patterns of this practice and working with police to eliminate them.

 

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Sock puppets in action. |image credit: showtime.com/homeland 

 

If you ever watched the Showtime television series Homeland, you heard about sock puppets in the 2016 season.  Sock puppets are groups of people hired to create accounts (like the click farms above) of every rang of social media known to us as we know it, and then comment on various articles, news websites, blogs, and other topics to boost a search topic or sway an image. This may sound familiar, as Russia has been accused of doing this to sway the 2016 presidential election. You can watch sock puppets in action by clicking here.

 

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A troll farm in Europe. | image credit: reuters.com

 

The third term that has and is causing quite a problem in the online world is troll farm. Troll farms are like sock puppets, but their goal is not to just sway opinion, but incite hatred or anger. Troll farm employees are hired to deliberately cause/create conflict on a website, blog, or online forum. They do this by posting comments that are provocative or inflammatory. Troll farms have been confirmed on national news websites that typically show news in one angle (i.e. Fox News, MSNBC) and have been found to be at local news online stories as well. It should also be no surprise that all of the names that are created are just that; names. Less than 2% of people use their actual name as a username online.

A New Jersey Education Association executive once told me that education has changed more in the past 6 years than 60. I thought it said a lot coming from her; educators, in general, don’t like to acknowledge change, especially when they are comfortable in a routine (I know firsthand, I was one). With these new job creations, we all need to be cognizant of these changes so that our learners are aware of these things. The learner today has had the internet and social media presence in their lives for 100%. Scary as it may be, it is what it is, and we must be ready; our future depends on it.

 

Believe in Magic

When people talk about childhood idols & heroes, I always say David Copperfield.  No, not the character from Dickens.  The other character:

 

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image credit: vegas.com

If you don’t know of the man above, David Copperfield is an international illusionist who has performed all over the world.  He did a series of specials in the 80’s and 90’s on television and currently performs daily in Las Vegas.

David Copperfield wasn’t just simple magic. There was spectacle; there were music and lights; there was a story; there was the attractive girl; there was the impossible becoming possible in a few minutes.  Illusions were almost performed like MTV music videos.  I was obsessed.

My love for illusions and magic was instantaneous. There was a magic shop in town that I was stopping in every day after school to either learn a trick or save up lunch money (sorry Mom) and buy a new trick each week.  At one point, I had a duffle bag full of all sorts of tricks.

AsI got older, I tried to break out into the entertainment scene.  I had  a clown costume and a mime outfit.  I tried rocking out some tricks and entertainment at street fairs and local township events.  I thought I had something really special in 6th-grade until I bombed two magic tricks on stage. I didn’t really generate much business in 7th and 8th grade, but I did manage to start a clown ministry program at my church. It was cool, but high school came along, and my bag of tricks retired to the attic.

Fast forward about 14 years to my first administrative position as an Assistant Principal in a middle school.  Truly a job where you will never know what will happen, I came across a special 6th-grade student named Max. Max had school phobia to the worst degree.  On many days in the beginning of the year, Max refused to leave the car. On the days he did, he was so reluctant to come in, he would be crying and sometimes even screaming. I was determined to find a way to get Max into school in a safe and quiet manner.

And then it happened. Like magic.

I went home that day and searched all over for my bag of magic tricks. I found it. Like riding a bike, the magic tricks came back after a few tries. I practiced on my wife and my dog.  I was determined to get the patter (a magic term for story) down and if there were any movements as well.  The next day that Max was refusing to get out of the car, I had my magic bag. While some Child Study Team members looked at me oddly for performing the vanishing coloring book trick to a 6th-grader who was kicking the door so I couldn;t open it, he was hooked.  Eventually, he asked how I did it.  That’s when I broke the magician’s code. I told Max I would show him how the trick works IF he came in. Just like that…magic.

Once a week, I would teach Max a new trick that he could try on his classmates and family members at home, but only if he could come in without fuss and go right to class. WE did this for about 2 months, and then he didn’t want the magic anymore; he just wanted to come into class.

I got to use the bag of tricks with a few more students in LAC, and even where I am now. The same deal is reached; if you {come to school} or {behave} or {get all of your homework done}, you can learn a new trick. Believe in the power of magic; it works wonders in lives of all ages.

 

PD + GHO = Awesome

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Recently, LAC School did a first. The school partook in a professional development workshop on co-teaching.  While that type of workshop was a first, we also did the entire workshop through google hangout.  I contacted Danielle Schwartz (@teacherschwartz) a superb teacher with years of co-teaching experience from northern NJ. I told her I wanted to try something new with our technology, and she obliged with no qualms, We mapped out a plan, tried GHO a few times, and were ready to go.  On the day of the  In GHO, we had four teams in four different parts of the building.  Materials (worksheets and a team building activity) were given out in advance.  Teachers reported to their respective classrooms, and for the most part, partook in a wonderful dialogue of what co-teaching is and the various models of it.  Like all things done for the first time, we had some missteps.  Here’s the breakdown below:

PROS:

  • Easily accessible.  We gave teachers the link; they clicked.
  • Easy for the presenter. Danielle did not have to drive two hours to get here.
  • Easy to understand and operate.  GHO can be a bit tricky, but after a few clicks, you can easily follow along.

 

PITFALLS:

  • Hard to gage if participants are truly engaging. Not having the person in the room may detract some from paying attention.
  • Tech savviness. I should have know that running GHO on your computers requires a few installs when it happens for the first time.  We had to do installs of all computers used.  It slowed us down by about 15 minutes.  Not killer, but it;s good to know for the next time.
  • Consistency. While everyone was getting the same content, some were on the document, some were watching the videos, and some were at the end of the presentation.  In workshops, I like to deliver the same message to all at the same time.

So many great lessons were learned from this workshop.  When’s the next one?

5 ways I’m using Google Glass in my schools to enhance education

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OK, glass.  Change my school for the better.

In January, I got one of the best emails I ever received.  I got an email from Google Glass asking if I was interested to pilot their new project.  I was beyond excited.  My mind was running in every direction possible (and for those that know me personally, you know my mind runs all over as is); this email had me running like after a triple espresso.

I had to purchase the glasses frames as well, as my sight, well, is awful. After successful setting of frames, I was off and running.  Well, I think it took me  a few hours just to turn them on. Then comes your toggling, eye movement, using your fingers, and training your eye to look..

Naturally I read some articles of etiquette. There was nothing in Marie Post’s book, but CNN had a great article on how not to be a “Glasshole”.

Anyway, from my use thus far, here’s what I’ve been able to successfully do with my Glass in schools, that have help me be a better chief lead learner:

1. Recording teacher observations. In another school, when I got an iPad for the first time, a groups of teachers called it the “Spy Pad” when I was doing “Drive-by” observations. So, when I told my staff we got a pair, and what I was looking to do, the grumbles and moans carried through the school. At first, I was just wearing them and letting everyone try them on.  I also insisted that this was not the “Gotcha” camera.  This took great trust and a good leap of faith, but we did it. While in observations, I have recorded samples of students working, teachers teaching, and even some disciplinary issues.  The results?  Awesome.  I have played the video clips back to the Staff; they are fans.  The videos stay on my personal drive, and are not shared with the masses; not even the teacher.

2. Sending live updates of school happenings to social media to show all of the positives that are happening at the school. We all know the power of social media and how getting quick, simplistic information is beneficial to all.  With glass, I can take pictures and share them on our school twitter feed (@LACSchool), our Facebook page, and even attach images or videos to emails.  I have spent lots of time promoting and guiding our stakeholders to our website / social media avenues.  It’s been very successful, and this just adds more fuel to this educational fire.

3. Observe special education students at their best and worst, and providing footage to both Parents and the Child Study Teams. Sometimes certain students have certain needs that we can’t immediately identify or even explain properly.  Having the ability to record a student with Autism when they have a “melt-down”, and immediately sending that to the screen of the Child Study Team is paramount for our success.  It allows us to immediately assess, document, and begin to figure out to combat the situation.  It also has allowed me to show parents who are in denial. It has opened eyes, and in turn, allowed parents to make better decisions.

4. Get Email on the fly.  As A Superintendent, my email in-box is insane. Instead of being dangerous and reading email on my phone, I can see when email comes in on my screen and have google glass read it orally to me. I can then dictate a message back, save it, or delete it. It’s not used all of the time, but if I have a drive, I can weed out quite a bit.

5. Report concerns immediately to maintenance. I often walk the halls, and I’ll see something that needs cleaning, is in disrepair, or looks fantastic. I can take a picture and email it to grounds supervisor right on the spot.  No more trying to recall what hall, where, and when.

As Glass rolls out more apps, and as I (and the staff) get more comfortable with their use, I can see this being a permanent fixture in a school.

Glass is is helping us grow, learn, and move onward.

Yes, Mom, I’m going to be a Superintendent.

I still don’t believe it, but the signed contract in front of me reminds me that it happened.

I, at age 34, have been unanimously appointed to be the next Chief School Administrator (CSA) of the Lower Alloways Creek School District.

I tried to keep this quiet, but the same time I had to tell family and scads of references. I had to take the plunge and call my Mom. All sons dread calling Mom, but this call was especially dreadful. No fooling her – she was a secretary in the special education department for around 25 years.

The gist of the call: “Hi Mom. What’s wrong? Nothing, I’m just calling to let you know that I was officially hired with a unanimous vote for a Superintendentcy.”

Then there was silence. Panicked silence.

“You did WHAT?!?”

That’s when it really hit me. Nothing like a good ol’ dose of fear from Mom.

What did I just get myself into? How did this even happen?

Before obtaining my current position as a K-12 Social Studies Supervisor in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District , I saw an advertisement for a Superintendency and figured, hey why not. After receiving a call for an interview, it started to sink in. I realized that after reviewing all of the goals, objectives, and demands that were being set forth, I could do this.

Fast forwarding to as a write this – a thousand thoughts are flying through my head. I’m jotting question after question down that I have to pose to the BOE, BA, and outgoing CSA. Naturally, the ‘what-if’s’ are flying through my mind at a mile a minute. What if I don’t understand the culture? What if I don’t embrace and utilize the proper nomenclature? What if everything I present makes no sense?

When the rush of thoughts come in, two things come to mind. One: I have a groundswelling of support from family, friends, and fellow administrators. Two: I have a PLN that is amazing. I’ve shared in the past that what was called a PLN was a joke. Now, thanks to Twitter, I have a PLN of hundreds of educators spanning across six continents. Whatever information I need, whenever I need it, I can get it through Twitter.

My transition will begin in a few weeks. I look forward to growing and learning in the process, and hope all of you will join me on the ride.

 

 

3 Illustrations to Get Your Faculty Meeting Started

If anything changes for the better in your school for 2013, it will hopefully be the Faculty Meeting. In speaking with school leaders from all over the country, many have been breaking away from the the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ format of the Principal lecturing / dictating / disseminating information to the Staff and have switched to more of a ‘conversation’ approach.  Conversations instead of meetings tend to be much more lax, and  as many studies have indicated, people (including students) who are more lax have a tendency to acquire much more information, and actually enjoy it.

For those that are transitioning, here are three illustrations I came across on Twitter recently.  Like a ‘Do-Now’ in a class, these illustrations will surely get any group of teachers conversing.

Focusing on pre/post NCLB or State testing? Surely a great pic to get things going. Shared by  @Krista_Granieri .

I cant’t think of a better snapshot of a 21st century family. A great way to get the conversation started about where we are pertaining to technology in both school and home. Shared by @iSchoolLeader. 

I like to start my Staff Conversations with things I come across.  I found this and just could’t help but to laugh.  I used it with Math teachers during a math curriculum meeting a few months back and it definitely broke the ice.

Meaningful , Choice-driven PD – there’s no excuse for it in 2012

ImageWe are seeing the traditional day off for Columbus Day off from schools more and more being turned into Staff / Professional Development days throughout the country. Some districts even close additional days so they can offer a consortium-like environment where teachers can maximize their learning time and take away something they can really use. Gone are (hopefully) the days of just sitting around to work on odds-n-ends (though downtime or maintenance is necessary, it’s not worth a whole day), or forced PD by means of a speaker or the latest cool-aid.

Professional Development should be meaningful and driven by choice.

I have witnessed Districts where they put forth this beautiful Staff Development catalog, full of courses and opportunities, only to be told that it was for show and that you were really told on where you’re going and what you’re doing. Ridiculous!

And, naturally, I have been subjected to PD to was a complete waste of time. Whether it was lack of roll-out or presentation, something that was completely unrelated to my field, or something I was aware of way before the powers-that-be decided to offer to everyone. Teachers should be angry about that express their concerns to their administrator on what they want to do. If anything, it’s a waste of a day and taxpayer dollars.

I recently collaborated with administrators and helped developed a full, REAL choice system for PD. Through the use of the google forms app, along with other websites like signupgenius.com, we created two days worth of workshops that were brought in as a result of choice and teacher feedback. On top of that, we extended the offer to teachers to teach some workshops, ranging form SMARTboard tricks to Yoga and classroom meditation. In all, over 45 classes / workshops were offered in two days.

The nicest part? Teachers had the opportunity to choose what they wanted to go to, and each were responsible for following their own schedule (which included “down time” where they could go back to their building and work on things and real lunch hour 🙂 No administrators were playing ‘gotcha’ with teachers trying to account for them (many administrators offered to teach classes themselves). The result of this new-found freedom? Teachers wanting to go to PD, and productive work getting accomplished. Yes, there were some mandatory training pieces for some of the support staff (i.e. OSHA, blood-borne pathogens, EPI-pen training, software updates, etc), but it was brief and taken care of quickly.

I’d be happy to share with anyone specifics on how the days went; if you want them, simply email me.

I’ll type it again — in 2012, with the abundance of technology, and level of collaboration that is now required in schools, there is simply no excuse for Districts to have meaningful, choice-driven PD. I encourage administrators and teachers to step up if you’re not getting subjected to this and make it happen; your District’s Staff will be happy that you did.