Category Archives: tech tools

Tech Tools to Support the Five-Step Writing Process – INFOhio Webinar

INFOhioOn Thursday, November 12, from 3:30-4:30, I presented “Tech Tools to Support the Five-Step Writing Process” via webinar for the fine folks at INFOhio!

Check out a Voki intro of the session!

This webinar will highlight a few free tools you can use to support the Five-Step Writing Process (Pre-write, Write, Revise, Edit, and Publish) for students with diverse needs!

The webinar was recorded, so you can still view it.  And, if you answer five simple true-false questions after viewing the webinar, you can download a certificate and/or get a cool badge like this one!


Saving a Publisher file as a PDF

I have never been a big fan of Microsoft Publisher.  Too many quirky behaviors for my taste.  I spend more of my time figuring out workarounds than actually designing a quality product.

Not that graphic design and layout are particular strengths of mine.

Anyway, I was recently having a big problem with producing a PDF using Publisher 2010.  I had quite a few links in the document, so using my print-to-pdf option wasn’t going to cut it.  No problem, just use the built-in Save As PDF feature, right?


Save as PDF maintained the links in the Publisher document, but it did something very strange.  It changed the font color from a very particular color of green from a branding guide to plain black.

The solution came from a quick Google search.

The problem was apparently that there is a color printer installed on my computer, but a black-and-white printer is my default printer.  When I changed my default printer to a color printer, and then tried Publisher’s Save As PDF routine again, the font colors came out just as I expected.

Strange.  But workarounds are kinda par for the course for Publisher.

I can hardly wait to get the whole “department newsletter” idea converted into a blog.  I’ll gladly give up working with Publisher ever again!

Thanks to this Microsoft Community post for cluing me in to where the problem was.

The Ten Best Technology Movies of All Time

Some movies rely heavily on some aspect of technology (and its development, and the ramifications when things go awry) to advance their plot.  These are my ten favorite tech films of all time!

10) The Fly (1958) – Teleporters would be awesome, right? What Movie poster for The Fly, 1958.could possibly go wrong? The original 1958 classic does a great job of staying on the edge of “plausible deniability” in scaring the bejabbers out of the viewer! I didn’t think the Jeff Goldblum / Geena Davis remake was terrible.  In some ways, it was definitely better than the original.  For this list, I have to go with the 1958 version because the ending is so much better.  “Help me! Please, help meeee!”

9) WALL-E (2008) – Yes, I have kids.  Yes, I watch Disney movies. Wall-E character Occasionally, I even watch one when the kids aren’t around (Mary Poppins is still one of my all-time favorites).  This one took a movie plot that is generally only reserved for trying to unsettle adult audiences, and made it accessible and fun for all ages.  It still provokes the question of “what would happen if all the people were gone”, but without the cataclysmic darkness that puts most films like this into the “after the kids go to bed” time slot.

8)  Apollo 13 (1995) – When the original mission (landing on the Scene from Apollo 13.moon) of the Apollo 13 crew has to be scrubbed, a new mission takes its place (saving the astronauts’ lives as they return to Earth).  Can you design something to rescue three imperiled astronauts using things like the flight plan cover, duct tape, and socks, before the CO2 levels in the capsule overtake them? How did it actually work?

7) The Terminator (1984) – C’mon.  It’s The Terminator.  Do you really need to know any more?

6) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Why did this make my list?

Ferris Bueller sitting in front of his monochrome amber monitor.
“I asked for a car. I got a computer. How’s that for being born under a bad sign?”

The whole thing couldn’t have been possible without Ferris using a room full of outrageously geeky (for its time) technology to hack the house intercom system, provide medical sound effects, and even hack into the school computer system to eliminate an overabundance of absences.  All that, and he couldn’t figure out how to make the odometer go backwards on a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder?

5) Office Space (1999) – The premise of the central plot element in Office workers ready to destroy the laser printer.this movie makes you think, “Well, yeah, what DOES happen to the fraction of a cent that gets dropped off of all those financial transactions?”  The rest of the movie is built on the positive and negative interactions between the personalities of the characters, but the thoroughly believable idea of siphoning minuscule amounts of money to create a multi-million dollar bank account, and sticking it to the man, practically dares us not to identify with the cubicle dwellers getting screwed at every turn.  And who hasn’t wanted to hand out a little street justice by curb-stomping a laser printer that spouted “PC LOAD LETTER” just once too often?

4) Minority Report (2002) – Smart move, setting this movie just far

Spatial Operating Interface from the movie Minority Report.
Admit it, you want a pair of these gloves.

enough into the future that I can imagine myself being still alive should the world turn into something like this.  A blend of humans with special abilities (“Precogs”) and technology has allowed law enforcement to detect when someone is going to commit a crime.  Using this technology, they preempt the crimes from occurring and arrest the would-be perpetrator just as if they had committed the crime.  We were awed by the “spatial operating environment interface” that John Anderton used when he slipped on the special gloves.  Little did we know that only a few years later, multi-touch surfaces and devices like the Xbox Kinect would make those science fiction morsels become a tasty reality long before 2054!

3) Tron (1982) – We didn’t even know what a “hacker” was in 1982,

Action figures from the original movie
I had these when I was a kid. So cool!

but the concept of getting trapped inside a virtual video game world was fertile ground for Disney’s second entry in my list.  See, kids, back in the 80s, we had to go to a mall to a place called an “arcade” to play video games.  And the guy who ran the arcade had the coolest job in the world.  There is a bit of cognitive dissonance that still goes on in my head – I refuse to believe that the Jeff Bridges from this movie is the same Jeff Bridges from any of his other movies.  Nuh-uh, no way, nohow.

Open the pod bay doors, HAL.2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick just has a way of making “poison ivy” movies.  They get under your skin and itch until you have to scratch it, and it just makes the itch worse.  “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.”

1) WarGames (1983) – Matthew Broderick makes another appearance on my list, this time with the quintessential tech-based

You can’t read it without hearing it in the computer voice, can you?

movie of all time.  When you’re working on a text-based terminal, how do you know what’s “real”, and what’s just a construct of artificial intelligence? I was already a burgeoning computer nerd at the time, having written my own Casino and Horse Racing programs in Applesoft Basic on a VTech Laser 128 during a snowstorm-lengthened winter break from school, and this movie put dreams in my head of one day doing things with a computer that would go beyond my own house. “Shall we play a game?”

Obviously, I’ve chosen several movies that bridge a gap between implementing technology (“can we do it?”) and philosophy (“should we do it?”), which has long provided a foundational element for plots in movies, literature, etc.  What movies did I miss that I should have included?  Which one of these movies doesn’t deserve to be in the list? Go ahead, have at it!

Writing Tools Workshop

During my Tech Tools to Support the Five-Step Writing Process workshop in Piketon, OH, last Friday (5/1/15), groups used Rory’s Story Cybes to write “Somebody… – Wanted… – But… – So…” stories today.  Here are the two brave souls who agreed to record their stories!

Story #1

Story #2

The Five-Step Writing Process CAN be done quickly!  And combining the picture manipulatives with the “Somebody… Wanted… But… So…” formula helps writers construct a fun story in just a few minutes!

Thanks to everyone who made this workshop so much fun!

Intro to AT for Paraprofessionals

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of presenting to a small group of individuals who serve as paraprofessionals in my region.  They are part of a grant program between the University of Dayton and Southern State Community College.  As part of their participation in this federal grant program, the paraprofessionals receive paid tuition toward achieving an Associate of Applied Science Degree.

I was invited to speak to this group to give them a quick introduction to the field of Assistive Technology.  Because the participants are already working in schools, they brought a good range of field experience with various assistive technologies with them.

My slides are available at

Key points that were made:

  1. Presumed Competence.  Effective implementation of assistive technology begins with a belief that the student is capable of achieving typical academic goals.
  2. Universal Design.  Even the best technology cannot make up for deficits in poorly designed curriculum materials.
  3. Cost and Implementation.  Assistive Technology does not have to be expensive, but it must be used frequently and well-supported to be effective.

Also, they loved Plickers!

Ready for OETC15!

Tomorrow, I will be making my way to this year’s Ohio Educational Technology Conference, held annually at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, in Columbus, Ohio.

On Tuesday, I get to hang out and “absorb” information.  This is also my time to renew some acquaintances, see if anything grabs my attention in the vendor hall, and slip into a few sessions that interest me.

On Wednesday, I will likely spend most of my time hanging out in E-Pod with the #oetcx crowd.  I’m in the lineup to do a “FREd Talk”.  That session starts at noon in the E-Pod.  “FREd Talks” are like Ignite sessions in that they are limited to five minutes, with a set of 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds.  My FREd Talk this year is titled “Ten Important Things Amelia Wants You to Know.”  Amelia is my 5-year-old daughter.  She has a diagnosis of Autism, and is getting ready to transition to full-day pre-school four days a week.  I’ve learned so much from her in the past 5+ years, and I’ll be sharing a little of that in my five minutes.

Last year, I had the privilege to present another Ignite session, “Three Big Fat Lies Tech Coordinators Tell“.  The experience was exhilarating! That’s why I’m so pumped to get to do this again!

After the FREd Talks, I will be hosting a table conversation at 2:30pm on “Presuming Competence”.  I am hopeful of hearing from participants about how technology can enhance students’ strengths and augment weaknesses, and how technology can help the adults involved with education to Presume Competence in each and every student.

Thursday will be back to “traditional mode”, but I’ll be hanging out in a cool place: OCALI’s Assistive Technology Lab.  At 11:00 AM, I will be presenting “Free Tools to Support the Writing Process“, and at 2:30 I will be part of a group presenting “Tech Tools for Access to State Assessments”.

If you’re at OETC this year, look for me, and say ‘Hi’!  I have a couple of surprises in mind, based on things I’ve learned in the past that have made my conference-going experiences so much better!  Follow me on Twitter at @mdroush, or e-mail me at  See you there!

Why You’re Misusing ClassDojo Just the Way it Was Designed (and why you should keep using it!)

Towards the end of last year, I read a tweet from an esteemed educator about how horrible ClassDojo is, and how there were no redeeming qualities about it.  [what is classdojo?] I prodded a little at that notion, but the responses were resolute – there’s nothing good about it.  Typically, I tend to believe that there’s nothing inherently useless (or pristine) about any tool, that it’s all in how you use it.  So, this seemed like a good opportunity to put that theory into practice.  The more I looked around, and thought about the subject, the more I realized that most people I’ve seen use ClassDojo (or similar systems) are doing more harm than good to their students.  But, I have also seen plenty of what I would call good examples of ways to use it to build a more effective classroom community.

Practically any time I have watched a classroom teacher see ClassDojo in action for the first time, I watch them fall in love with it like Romeo seeing Juliet on the balcony.  They picture an engaged, well-behaved classroom of students vying for points in a sort of “behavior judo” match (to extend the “dojo” analogy).

Here’s the problem: reducing classroom expectations to a set of instantly-observable protocols does far more to dampen the learning process than to help it.  If I am a student in your classroom and I can go all day (or all week, or all year) without violating a single “class rule” and still not learn anything, your rules stink.

Not to mention the appalling nature of a system that pits students against each other for who can rack up the most points for behaving.  Don’t give me that “My kids love it” line.  Some of your kids love it… the ones who score near the top.  Some of your kids hate it, and you’re doing nothing to help them by continuing to use it.  They know they’ll never “win”, and they will quit trying if they haven’t already.

That said, I don’t believe it should be added to the district pornography filter list.  There are ways ClassDojo (and its ilk) can and could be used by effective teachers to help everyone in their classroom have a positive educational experience:

  • Use it sparingly, not every day.  Understand that any time you use it, the students’ (and the teacher’s) focus is on the scoring system, not the content.
  • Use it as a scaffold for developing skill, not a “token economy” for compliant behaviors that may or may not actually be contributing to real learning.
  • Use real behaviors you want to encourage.  Try including items like “learning from a mistake”, “positive collaboration”, “creative problem-solving”, or “made your team laugh” in your list.  They take a keener observer than “answered a question” or “turned in homework on time”, but they are closer to the stuff of real learning.
  • Use design thinking strategies like “prototype”, “ask expert”, “observe”.
  • Use effective discussion strategies like “restatement”, “challenging assumptions”, “citing evidence”.  Or items from a system like Six Thinking Hats.  The same list of behaviors shouldn’t fit every classroom learning encounter – they should change as often as the classroom learning expectations change.
  • Don’t use behaviors dead people can do.  If your “positive behavior list” includes things like “sitting quietly in one’s chair”, “not interrupting when others are talking,” and “is not disruptive,” you’ve gone beyond managing your classroom to attempting to control it.
  • Let students take it in turns to do the observations. You can do this either on your ClassDojo account, or with another high tech/low tech system.  Peer feedback is powerful.
  • I never use the negative behaviors when I use ClassDojo.  The only time I’ve seen it used what I would call “effectively” is when a teacher caught herself making exasperated statements about how her class was “always doing such-and-so”.  She added that behavior to a ClassDojo list and kept track of it, privately.  Within two weeks, she realized it wasn’t happening as often as she thought, and she was letting herself be too negatively affected when it did.
  • Enter and track groups, not individual students.
  • Don’t track everyone in the class.  Any way you use ClassDojo that makes kids believe their success is predicated on other students doing poorly is probably working against what you really want in your classroom.
  • ClassDojo basically assumes you will use it to track “person X exhibited behavior Y”.  But why not use it for “person X observed behavior Y”, or “person X inspired behavior Y in someone else”?  Those are examples of what teachers really want to see out of their students in their classrooms, and it is absolutely the sort of behavior that should be recognized and encouraged.  It is also the type of behavior that can largely go ignored if we don’t remind ourselves to look for it.

So, there you have it, my few suggestions for how you might effectively use ClassDojo (or any similar behavior tracking system) in your classroom.  I am pretty certain that these suggestions will not be enough for the original detractors I mentioned to say “Well, maybe there could be a good use for this.”  However, even though they inspired me to write it, I didn’t write it for them.  I wrote it for me, and for you.

As always, your comments are most welcome.