Working on a mobile site for Hillsborough County Public Schools has been rolling around in my head for about the past year.  I prefer going with a mobile site rather than an actual mobile app for a few reasons.  Mostly, the site provides information to a wide variety of stakeholders.  An app would need to be developed and maintained for each type of mobile OS.  Although I enjoy learning all sorts of new things, coding for multiple platforms is not currently on my priority list.  A browser based solution does not depend on the OS and only requires a modern browser.  Tools like PhoneGap which convert HTML5 based apps into platform based apps for multiple platforms may help in the future, however there are no plans to go that direction at this time.

I include this information because all these thoughts go into the design and planning process as I begin to think about my site.  The HCPS desktop site does not provide much information on its own, it is more of a launch pad to help parents, teachers, students and the rest of the community find the information they want.  The unique challenge with this (and you can see it if you look at the existing site) is that everyone feels their department or information is the most important and should be only one click away from the home page.  To overcome this challenge in the mobile site, the plan is to re-categorize many of the links on the existing home page and group them by audience (Parents, Students, Employees, Community) and trim down any that are non-essential.

The mobile site should focus on quick access to the most important information.

Early on in the design process, I begin with a few simple sketches to plan my layout.  In this case, I’ll be working with JQuery Mobile 1.3.0 beta.  Hopefully Jquery Mobile will be out of beta by the time I am exiting the testing phase.  I am not completely comfortable releasing something that depends on a beta product.

Beginning sketch ideas for HCPS Mobile project.

Beginning sketch ideas for HCPS Mobile project.

The sketch really does not show much detail.  I primarily use the sketch to determine some of the basic layout such as header, footer and the panel menu.  Although this particular sketch is geared more toward a tablet size interface, I am still debating the merits of where to cut the mobile breaking point off at.  My original thought is to send anyone to the mobile site with a viewport that is less than 800px wide.  Most table resolutions are high enough to handle the regular desktop site.  Designing with this in mind means I could focus more on a portrait oriented site rather than a landscape site which needs to respond to a portrait width.  This decision will need to be made when I begin to work on the CSS file and the main content on the page.  The sketch is certainly not set in stone and I often revise much of the design as I begin to code.  By the time the site is done, only a few of the original design elements will remain.

The next step…

As I move forward, I’ll begin thinking more about the link categories and work on coding out the basic framework of the site.  I prefer moving straight from sketch to code although I am not against re-sketching certain areas if needed.

 

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I was recently inspired by a post in the Web Developers, Web Designers, Web Coding Google+ Community from +Ted Isaksson  to document a web development project from start to finish.  Although I have had a few projects between then and now, I haven’t really had any that I felt like documenting or any that I would have had the extra time.  It wasn’t until I saw a recent post  from the folks over at Jquery Mobile about the release of 1.3.0 beta that sparked an idea on a project that has been rolling around in my head for almost a year now.

There are two reasons I really want to do document this process.  The first reason is that I feel everyone can learn something from seeing how someone else does the same thing they do.  I do not consider myself an experienced web developer by any stretch of the means.  I have really only been seriously involved in web development for the past year.  That being said, I have learned a lot in that past year and hope that someone else who is just starting in this field might gain some knowledge from what I have learned.  It’s also nice to get feedback from other developers throughout the process, especially those with more experience.  I don’t like to reinvent the wheel and I am positive that my method of coding is probably not the cleanest most efficient route.  I am hoping to gain some insight into how to improve in these areas.  Most of my code will be available to view but due to the nature of the project, I will not be able to reveal everything. After all, a magician has to keep some tricks up his sleeve.  The second reason for documenting my development process is purely selfish.  A person can learn a lot by reflecting on their own work. Written reflection forces a person to focus on the details within the big picture.  I hope to find holes in my process, places where I am spending to much time and other areas where I am not spending enough.  Part of this process will be a learning experience. I will be challenging myself to incorporate some PHP and SQL which are not the normal languages I currently work with.  The project will be tested on my in-house test server (an old converted laptop running Ubuntu Server 12.04 and Apache2) but the final project will be housed on my work server once it is ready for release.  Each step of the project will be document here with links back to this blog from my Google+ profile and twitter.

Please feel free to follow along and contribute any thoughts as the process continues.

Digital Peg, Analog Hole

Square Peg

My wife and I share very different views on technology.  This is very obviously represented in our choice of phones.  While I feel like I am connected to my smart phone, she is very comfortable and more than satisfied with her “dumb” phone.  While I am more than happy to write myself a shopping list on Evernote, she is just as quick to jot down her notes on a random notepad or scrap of paper.  Although I could go into talking about the different generations we come from (she is “slightly” older than I am), we are not far enough apart to be compared as digital native and digital immigrant (see Marc Prensky’s article).

Our conversations have begun to make me wonder, do we try and fit a digital peg into an analog hole?  How many times have you seen someone use a piece of technology simply because it is there?  I recently watched someone struggle through taking notes on a tablet while pen and paper sat idly by.  She insisted on taking notes on the tablet because “she needed to use it.”  Although I admire the effort, she ended up missing the majority of the discussion because she was focusing on getting the tablet to work and trying to type on the unfamiliar keyboard.  I’m not saying that technology is does not have it’s place, but at what point can we stop and say that their may be an easier solution that does not involve a digital tool.

I feel like sometimes we do this with technology in the classroom (ooohhh, did he just say that?).  Education has a history of jumping full force at the latest and greatest teaching strategy, idea, gadget, whatever.  Our motivation is admirable, we look for what is best for the students.  We want to prepare them for the future, and the future is technology.  However, technology does not replace the skills needed to properly learn.  Interactive white boards, tablet computers and laptops are all great tools, but they do not take the place of proven teaching techniques.  Teachers who use these tools effectively do so with an understanding that at times, the technology may not be the right tool to get the job done.

When you work with technology in your classroom, keep in mind that it is okay to step back and do an analog lesson.

Okay, so I’m probably a little ahead of the game, but I’m already thinking about the start of the next school year.  I guess the years I worked in the School Choice Office got me stuck on always thinking about the next school year a little earlier than everyone else.

Here’s my plan and where I need some help.  I have about 70 unused, 8GB thumb drives in my office.  We get them every time I order a new computer from HP.  Although this is a great part of the package deal, it gets to be a little overkill when you order a new lab of computers and get 23 thumb drives to go along with it.  So here’s my plan.  During pre-planning for next school year, I’m going to give them out to the teachers when they attend a tech professional development.  It will hopefully provide a little bit of incentive and get them some use.  I don’t want to give out a blank thumb drive however, I would like to load it with some resources and web links to useful tools.  This is where I need your help.  What resources would you include?  I’ve included my startup list below so you can see where I’m headed with this but I want to know what Web 2.0 tools you would include or freeware even.  Oh, did I mention we are going to be starting a 1:1 netbook environment next year too?  This means that these tools, especially the Web 2.0 tools may be used on student netbooks as well.

You can view the current list of apps and resources at http://tinyurl.com/3p2dd8e

If you have a resource you would like to add, complete the form here: http://tinyurl.com/3ccqqvx

(Sorry, the free wordpress site won’t let me embed the form or document in the post otherwise I would.  Thanks for your help)

Blog Envy

I’ll admit it, as someone who is relatively new to the blogging world, I often suffer from Blog Envy.  Starting a new blog can be very intimidating.  You have to come up with a catchy name, decide if you want a subtitle, pick a theme, pick a url, the list goes on and on.  And that just in creating the blog, I haven’t even mentioned what happens when you are going to write your first post.  “What do I write about?” “Should I try and be funny or just put the information out there?” “How am I going to get the word out and what if no one reads anything I wrote?” If you are like me, I start looking at other peoples blogs and think, man that one has a great title, it’s catchy, even a bit witty.  Then I start reading the posts and see that they get comments on almost every post from all over the place, and from different people each time.  The Blog Envy begins to roll in and I wonder if my blog will even make it.

Then the other day it hit me while I was reading a blog post by Jon Acuff, author of Stuff Christians Like.  Jon’s post titled We Only Need 1 Tim Ferriss, described my point to a “T”.  In it he says, “We often discount our own dreams or talents as we try to emulate someone who we think has ‘real talent’.”  That’s what I had been doing.  Yes, the other blogs I read are written by very talented writers and individuals, but that doesn’t make my blog any less important.  As a blogger, it’s not my job to try and write about what I think people will want to read or try to write it in a way that I think will keep them interested.  I don’t need to be Jon Acuff, the world doesn’t need another one of him, he’s already doing a great job at what God has him doing.  I’m here to write what I want to write, how I want to write it.  So all you new bloggers out there, don’t fall prey to Blog Envy.  Write about what interests you because that is who you are.  People will read your blog because they are interested in what you are writing, not because of the witty title.

Taken in summary from Educational Origami

Most of you are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy (figure 1).  Benjamin Bloom created what seems to be the corner stone of today’s educational principals.  His categorization of thinking skills into Lower Order (LOTS) and Higher Order (HOTS) has allowed teachers to better assess student mastery of a particular topic or subject area.

Fig. 1  Bloom’s TaxonomyBloom's Taxonomy

In the early 1990’s, Bloom’s Taxonomy was revised by two of his former students to reflect a simple change in using verbs rather than nouns to classify Lower Order and Higher Order thinking skills.  This was released asBloom’s Revised  Taxonomy (Figure 2) in 2001.

Fig. 2  Bloom’s Revised TaxonomyBloom's Updated Taxonomy

The real question begins to rise when we think about how educational technology can be applied to Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  In thinking about this information, I came across a great site called Educational Origami.  Here, the author goes into great detail about Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.  In his discussion, the focus is on how we can use technology to help students reach for higher order thinking skills.  It is important to look at Bloom’s under the new light of technology as we prepare students to enter into the workforce of the 21st Century.

Yet I almost feel like we have to take a “better late than never” attitude toward this idea of providing a 21st Century education to our students.  Haven’t we been in the 21st Century for the past 10 years?  Why are we just now taking the charge of teaching 21st Century skills to students who are in our schools?  And even at that, I visit teachers who still do not teach 21st Century skills to their students.  Whose job is it to teach teachers about the 21st Century skill our students need to be masters of by the time the graduate from our schools?

In what ways are you, the teacher, encouraging your students to develop 21st Century Skills such as electronic collaboration?  What limits you from going further in your own classrooms?

Just saw this on Twitter from @tomwhitby and @nashworld.  This is a flash version of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.

I came across this video today while perusing through my google reader feed where I follow several blogs from fellow educators and professional journals.  Sometimes I realize as an educator that it can be more convincing to teach by the non-example.  Here is a great non-example on how we should view technology in our classroom.

Thank you to Wesley Fryer (@wfryer) for posting this video in his blog and giving some great commentary.  Check out Wesley’s blog, Moving At the Speed of Creativity.