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Since school starts next week for my boys, I thought I’d share five back to school tips that I have found particularly helpful.

Tip #1: Get into the swing of things now

If you’re like me, you’ve let your kids sleep in until 8 am and get dressed around 10 am all summer long. Which is fine right up until the first day of school when the kids need to be up and dressed by 6:45 and out the door by 7:30. So this year I have instituted a “Going Back to School” schedule. The whole family is starting their day just as if school had already started. That means earlier bed times and wake ups, beds made, dressed, fed and ready to face the day by 7:30 am. At least I can get the grumbling out of the way now instead of on the first day of school.

Lunch BoxTip #2 Plan out those lunch menus

I’ve blogged about menu planning before but I think it’s important enough to repeat here. Sit down with your kids and plan out a couple weeks worth of lunch menus which all of you can live with. And, if your child packs his or her own lunch, they have a guide to what to bring for lunch on any particular day. It really nips the whole “But I didn’t know what to make so I took candy instead” argument in the bud.

Tip #3: Go to Back to School Night

Even if you are exhausted from a long day at work, the kids are cranky, and it’s pouring rain/sunny and 150 degrees. Everyone is nervous about that first day of school and it isn’t just limited to your kids.

The teacher is getting a whole new set of children in the classroom, 5 year olds are heading to a new phase of their life, and you need to get a feel for the classroom and teacher. So, it’s a good thing to meet & greet before that first day of school.

Tip #4: Create a Central Calendar

Everyone in the family has a list of activities that come in to the house through a number of ways, i.e. through papers coming home from school, emails from colleagues, party invitations sent in the mail. The best way to coordinate schedules is to use a central calendar. There are literally hundres of calendars available through stores and the Internet for you to use. Pick one and post it where everyone can see it (even the 3 foot tall kindergartner!).

Tip #5: Spend Time With Your Kids

It will be all too soon that they are gone all day and involved in their own lives once school starts. While you, and I, may look forward to that, the excitement wears off pretty quickly. So, take the time now to let your kids know that you love them and that you are there for them (no matter what happens). Enjoy it becuase childhood doesn’t last forever.

Do you have any back to school tips? Please share them with me!

So, I have to admit, I’m not into cartoons. Graphic novels are awesome. Webcomics, particularly the well written/illustrated ones, are an adventure. But Sunday comics just never caught my fancy. Then Natalie comes up with a very cool idea for our TCC presentation this year using ToonDo.

At first I was a bit skeptical. Okay, make that a lot skeptical. Three panels of some little stick characters. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But (and its a big one) it looks so very cool once all the panels are put together.

My skepticism has been replaced with interest on how I can leverage this technology in the courses I design. It is very conceivable that a group of kids could create a “Toon” to describe events of, oh lets say, the American Revolution that they have researched. It would also force them to think about the essentials of their assignment because of limited space while working with technology, and potentially, in small groups.

Recently, I was asked what, exactly, is an instructional designer. I was a bit stumped. I mean, I know what I do. I develop courses for K-12 instructors so that they can obtain continuing education units or a Master’s degree. And everything I develop is for use over the Internet. But is this really what a full fledged instructional designer is? How could I explain it to her so that it made sense?

I could have let her know that I use a very sophisticated model of design to develop my courses. But she wouldn’t have cared.

I could also have let her know that I use a wide variety of multimedia to enhance and encourage learning. She still wouldn’t have cared.

Maybe I should have indicated that I work with a wide variety of subject matter experts to develop courses so the content was up to date and accurate. She may have been impressed, had I cared to drop names. Nah.

I could have told her about how I use adult learning principles to guide my design. She wouldn’t have known what I was talking about though.

Finally, the answer came to me. “You know when you go through a training course at work? That’s what I do but mines better and more interesting and has a higher purpose.”

That’s right! I’m an Instructional Designer! Notice the capitalization? Like being SuperMan! Maybe I should get a cape.

super instructional designer

You too can become a superhero!

My colleague and friend, Christy Tucker, posted earlier this week about e-learning courses that use Discussion Boards as a dumping ground for uninspired responses to mediocre questions. These types of assignments don’t encourage peer feedback as they were meant to do. She has a point. And, I have to admit, I’m guilty of some of this as well.

So, here is my response to her thought provoking questions about this topic:

Is that not the job of the ID, then, to make sure that discussion boards are used for just that purpose? Discussion?

It can be very easy to fall into the “oh just put it in the Discussion Board” mentality. Which, of course, gives you the gallery of mediocrity rather than the interesting and thought provoking place it was meant to be.

What, then, are the qualifications of a good discussion? How can we, as IDs, balance the “what did you learn” (which has its place) with the “how can it be applied” assignments and discussions? At what point should peer feedback be the main deciding factor? Or should it?

Using peer feedback is a great tool. But that’s what it is..a tool. We cannot rely on using peer feedback as the main or, in some cases, only way to start or maintain a conversation. We need to be able to design the assignments so that they themselves spark interest/controversy/discussion.

Well, I had an absolutely lovely time in Madison, WI last week. I attended the Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning and was able to meet up with my colleagues from PLS. Believe it or not, it was the first time we’d ever met in person! And we’ve been working together for nearly a year now. Both Natalie and Christy have some insightful views on the conference. You may even get to see pictures of us!

Although there were many, many things I took away from the conference there was one concept that went unsaid but was implied: our educational system needs to incorporate technology as a matter of course not as an addition to the curriculum.

There are many benefits to using technology in the classroom, like preparing our students for their futures in the global marketplace. Unfortunately, the way most of our educational institutions are set up, change comes slowly, if at all. There is no perfect answer to getting technology accepted in education.

Classroom Tech


Using tech everyday in the classroom. Reality?

Please don’t misunderstand me. Tech is being used to some extent but I think the full potential of distance learning or Web 2.0 is not being used to greatest effect in the classroom.

Throughout the conference there was much tooting of the tech horn in the classroom (it being a DL conference, after all), I kept wondering “what about those who cannot afford technology, either in the classroom or at home?” We haven’t done much to bridge the divide that the cost of technology creates. And this concerns me greatly. We focus so much on getting our kids to do the 3Rs (reading, writing, arithmetic) but ignore the fact that the way they are learning has changed.

On a personal note, while I was gone, the Little One decided to pop out another tooth. He now has two toofers on his bottom gum. Yea! On the other hand, nursing him has become a challenge. Ow. Trust me.


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