Behind the Scenes: “Mister Teacher Person”

A look behind the scenes of Mister Teacher Person:

  • The main character’s name, Stacy King, is inspired by the names of Stacy Smith and Patrice King Brown, both of whom were real life television news persons at the KDKA television station in Pittsburgh, PA
  • The fictional television news station KPGH in the novel is inspired by the KDKA television station
  • The fictional Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in the novel is inspired by St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood
  • The public library in the novel is inspired by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill branch
  • The photo on the novel’s cover features the intersection of Forbes and Murray in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and was taken by the author
  • And more….
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Making the Jump to Elearning Due to COVID-19 and Don’t Know Where to Begin? Start Here!

To Secondary and Higher Education friends in the midst of a quick transition to elearning due to COVID-19:

If you find yourself at a loss as to where to even begin with the transition, allow me to offer a starting point.

Key concepts: Synchronous and Asynchronous learning experiences.

Which learning experiences in your course / class can be completed by your students independently, on their own time?  Those are asynchronous learning experiences.

Which learning experiences in your course / class require your students to be present at the same time with you and/or other students?  (Again, think present together at the same time to interact and communicate with each other, as any direct physical interaction isn’t there in a virtual setting.)  Those are your synchronous learning experiences.

For example:
Lecture = asynchronous.  Record a video of yourself lecturing for your students to watch when they wish.
Discussion = synchronous, if you want your students talking or text chatting with each other at the same time.  (Could also be asynchronous — think message board.)


For the sake of a offering one single place to start with, I will offer this one tip/tool as where to begin:  Sign up for a free Zoom account.

(I do not work for Zoom and do not get any commission if you use their product.  It’s just a great tool.)

There are plenty of tutorials (including through the Zoom Help features) on how to use the various features of Zoom, so familiarize yourself with its basic features and usage.  While no single tool is perfect, some advantages of Zoom for you as an educator are:

— In addition to the obvious real-time, synchronous interaction possible with Zoom, you can also (when using Zoom on a computer) make a video recording of yourself lecturing (either with or without students present as you lecture) while sharing your screen (e.g. PowerPoint).  That video file can then be uploaded to YouTube or Google Drive for quick sharing.

— Low friction:  While you need a Zoom account to create your Zoom class sessions, your students do not need to create a Zoom account to attend those Zoom sessions.  Zoom will give you an easy-to-share link (via email, text, posted on a website announcement/blog, etc.) that your students can use to access your class session.  They will be prompted to install the Zoom app the first time they access a Zoom session from a particular device, but will not need to setup an account.  This significantly lowers the ‘friction’ of getting your students to access your live sessions, as well as the fact that the Zoom app is available for mobile devices as well as the more traditional computer operating systems (yes, your students can attend your live sessions right from their phones!).

Best Wishes and Welcome to the Brave New Digital World!


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eLearning Content Trends

Link to post:

A short list of some key trends for elearning content development.

I would add (and perhaps this goes without saying by this point in time) that it all needs to work well on mobile devices to enable ‘any time, anywhere’ learning.

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New: Google Drive Priority Workspaces

See video demonstration at the end of this post:

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Discussion: Best Bluetooth Earpiece for Computer and Phone

I’m looking for a bluetooth earpiece (preferably single ear, but stereo possibly if the second earpiece can be left out / hanging) to use for both virtual teaching on a Windows 10 computer and with an Android phone.

The bluetooth earpieces I’ve look at a year or so ago clearly worked with phones for making calls, but it wasn’t clear to me if / how it would work with a computer (e.g. would the mic always be on and using battery when connected to a computer?).

What bluetooth earpieces have you used with both your phone and computer? Specific experiences and product recommendations and links appreciated — as well as recommendations to avoid certain products or product types. Thank you!

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Temporarily Free on Amazon: “Michael Payne (A Squirrel Hill High Short Story)”

This is a tie in to Mister Teacher Person that explores the backstory of one of that novel’s key characters.

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A Virtual Teaching Goal for the 2019-2020 School Year

This school year, in my virtual classroom, I would like to incorporate more student screen sharing into live class sessions.

When I’ve had students share their screens in the past years, it went a long way toward replicating that feeling of working side by side with students as in a brick and mortar classroom.

The trick at this point is scaling up the whole experience — not just one or a handful of students sharing screens, but a large group, with a goal of 100% of students sharing their screens for any given virtual class size.

A lofty goal, indeed.

What would they be sharing on their screens? An approach to virtual class time such as this would seem to naturally favor those ‘student-centered’ types of lessons (vs. lecture, for example).

Along these lines, I must mention that I am hesitant to incorporate students sharing video of themselves, e.g. sharing their webcams to replicate that face to face feeling of being together in a physical classroom. My thought on this is that it opens up space for other unintended and potentially undesired consequences. And while I would anticipate a small percentage of my high school students willing to share, I would also anticipate a larger percentage of students and parents resisting.

With that in mind, I envision student screen sharing as a potential workable middle ground, allowing for the good things that can come from individualized student centered learning activities in the virtual classroom, while minimizing (though certainly not eliminating!) potential unintended distractions.

As for tools to enable simultaneous screen sharing by each student, I would like to explore the Zoom meeting tool. After some brief experimenting this summer with the Zoom Android app, I was quite impressed with the ability to share an Android device’s screen, along with similar functionality on other platforms. A few colleagues have also pointed out some helpful resources I plan to look into.

Feedback, suggestions, resources, etc. via comments are greatly appreciated!

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Virtual Classroom Routine for Teaching Creative Writing

One successful routine I use at the beginning of my live Creative Writing virtual class sessions is centered around the following graphic:

The key point of the graphic is, in essence, ‘To write better, write more.’

Toward the beginning of each and every virtual class session for Creative Writing, I share the above image for all to see. Next, I ask for a volunteer to read aloud the 10 steps in the graphic.

Early in the semester students are generally hesitant to volunteer to read aloud. However, eventually a point is reached where multiple volunteers will race to see who can raise their virtual hand to volunteer first, and a divvying up of the 10 points between the multiple willing readers is necessary.

It’s a very simple routine, and, in terms of actual content, rather repetitive from session to session, but the effect has been to engage students in the virtual class session at the beginning of the session and focus on the general principle of writing more to write better.

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Method developed to ‘predict people’s personalities’ using phone accelorometers – ZDNet

“There are applications for this technology in social media with friend recommendations, online dating matches, and targeted advertising, but I think the most exciting part is what we can learn about ourselves,” lead study author and RMIT PhD student Nan Gao said.

“Many of our habits and behaviours are unconscious but, when analysed, they tell us a lot about who we really are.”


Assuming the article’s claim is accurate, what are other possible applications? Ethical applications? Unethical applications?

Room for manipulation?

Legitimate ‘predictions’ or sophisticated digital palm reading?

Welcome to the brave, new digital world.

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Facebook lost control of our data and is paying a record $5 billion fine – CNET

The settlement also imposes other privacy requirements, including greater oversight over third-party apps and “clear and conspicuous notice” of its use of facial recognition. Facebook must also encrypt user passwords and regularly check for any passwords stored in plain text. In addition, the order prohibits the social network from using phone numbers it obtained to enable two-factor authentication for advertising and from “asking for email passwords to other services when consumers sign up for its services.”


Who do you trust?

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