Jury Duty: A Lesson in Citizenship

I must preface this post with the the fact that I am not happy with being called to jury duty, every three years since moving to Lawrence County in 1997. I know people who have never been called for jury duty and they have lived here all of their lives. My wife never had jury duty until we were married 5 1/2 years ago, she has had it twice since then. I teach social studies and thought I was fairly well versed in Civics, but I am being reminded that book knowledge and practical knowledge are not equal.

I was summoned again to serve on a jury about a month or so ago.  When I received the summons, I called and talked with the county officials in charge of jury duty. I asked why I was being called every three years and others never get called. The answer from the older gentleman on the other end of the line was, “Names are picked randomly.” I explained my situation and was told, “If you aren’t actually picked for a jury, you could be called more often.” So much for my argument. In my defense, if random is every three years at this time, I should have hit the Powerball Lottery a couple of times by now.

So I filled out the questionnaire and returned it to the county. I was truthful, the threat of perjury for lying on the form has a tendency to do that to people. The two big questions that will usually disqualify me are, “Are you related to any law enforcement officials?” and “Were you are any family members ever the victim of a crime?” The answer to both is yes. I have several family members in various jobs within law enforcement, I have many friends in law enforcement, and my grandparents were almost killed by a driver who was impaired by some substance. There was another question asking to describe my answers, I filled up the space and used part of another section to be thorough.

I lucked out days 1 and 2, not having to go to the courthouse. Last night, in the middle of the snow storm, I called the courthouse and the recorded message said I had to report. I called back twice to make sure I typed my juror ID number in correctly, but the answer was always the same. Soon after I received the call from the school that we were closed. Yay.

I got up, dug out my truck and hoped for court to be canceled. No such luck. I dug out again, and forty-five minutes later I completed the normally fifteen minute drive. The courthouse employees were all very friendly, they even had donuts for us. We waited around and finally I was called for a criminal trial. The judge had us all sit in the court room and reviewed the details of a criminal case.On the way in, one of the court officers thanked us for showing up. Not to be a funny, or sarcastic, I mentioned that there was no need for thanks, “we didn’t have a choice, but to show up. Opting out is called contempt.” Another prospective juror chimed in, “If I don’t show up today, you’ll have me here in cuffs next week.” The court officer laughed and said we were still appreciated.

In the court room, we were asked if we were related or on friendly terms with any of the people in the court. Then they read the witness list and ask the same question. Then they started asking the questions from the questionnaire we had to fill out and send back. We were to stand if our answer to the question was “Yes.” Once again, I stood for the two questions I answered yes to on the questionnaire.We broke for lunch, the court house ordered pizza for everyone since it was still snowing outside.

After lunch, we returned to the court room and one by one, prospective jurors were called to the side barand asked the details to why we stood up during previous questioning. I had gotten this far three years ago and once again I was called up to the side bar. I was asked about the details of why I stood up. It was a lengthy answer. After each answer I was asked if I could still be impartial. I think I could be, but who knows for certain and I said as much. During the questioning I discovered that the Assistant District Attorney on this case and my wife are distantly related through marriage. The Assistant D.A.’s aunt is married to my wife’s uncle, who was a police officer. Needless to say, I was not picked to be on the jury for this criminal trial.

We were sent back to the jury holding room and were told that we had to report the next day at 9:15 AM. They still had one criminal case that possibly needed jurors. I asked why I needed to show up, I was just disqualified from a criminal case. I was told, that they needed prospective jurors so it didn’t matter that I would probably be dismissed. The message was simple, we need people and you have to show up.

Nice…the only way I make a criminal jury is if the defense attorney is totally incompetent, or they want a shot at a mistrial. I made the fifteen minute trip home in about thirty minutes, the roads were getting clearer. Once again, I received a call, school was canceled. Tomorrow I head back to court, to be someone they can send home after wasting a day sitting around doing nothing.

In Lawrence County, Pennsylvania we receive a whopping nine dollars a day for showing to the mandatory jury duty. I guess I just resent the fact that they try and make it sound that we are picked randomly. There were several people in the court who are picked every couple of years, so it is not just me who thinks the randomness is skewered. I also disliked the fact that I have to go back again, for another criminal trial tomorrow, when I was not picked for a jury today. My family situation isn’t going to change overnight, they know it, they just need bodies in a room, even if it is just to take up space. Whoever the defendant is, they will have a pool of rejected jurors to choose from, how fair is that?

I do owe one lady an apology. On my way out to my truck, in the snow and wind,  one of the court employees asked if I was in the jury room and knew I had to report back the next day. I said, “yes,” and I guess she could tell I was not happy about it at all. She tried to apologize for the inconvenience, but I brushed her off. I should not have done that, she may have been sincere.

I am just tired of the insincerity, “we randomly pick jurors,” “we need impartial jurors,” “we are sorry for your inconvenience.” If I am to take them at their word, I am sure they could sell me some oceanfront property in Nebraska. No wonder people hate being summoned.

Keystone Commons

Keystone Commons is an interesting concept. Keystone Commons was created by PAIUnet to link the Intermediate Units in Pennsylvania along with other educational institutions. You can find more information about PAIUnet by visiting their website. The Keystone Commons is for educators AND students to use. In my humble opinion, it is Facebook, Twitter, and Ning all rolled up into one site for education. I understand some people are unfamiliar with those names, or may have heard of them, but that is it. That’s okay, I think that is why the site was created.

The purpose of the site is to create a monitored online space for communication and show students the responsible way to behave online. Kids use the sites mentioned above, often times in inappropriate ways. By blocking these sites in schools we tend to contribute to the problem by ignoring it. However the problem does not go away, nor does the inappropriate behavior. This site gives us the opportunity to teach how to use these tools in a positive fashion. In today’s world students need these skills, their future employers and many institutions of higher learning demand them.

Just a quick overview of the site, I will write in more detail as we experiment with it more in class. You can create a profile page, and add files and bookmarks to your profile much like Facebook. You can post messages in 140 characters or less just like Twitter. There is a place for groups to collaborate in groups just like other sites such as Ning. The groups may have open or closed membership requirements, it is up to the group organizers.

Users must create an account from a school computer, initial access can only be successful in this fashion. Once an account is created, users can access the Keystone Commons from any computer that has Internet access. The nice thing is that all members in the state can monitor the behavior of students on the site. If a student is acting inappropriately, you hit a button that says “Report This” and the activity is sent to the site administrators. I do not know what happens once you hit the button, because I have not had to do so yet.

I started a group for New Brighton Staff on the site, you can check it out by searching for NBASD Educators. If you would like to join and check things out please do so. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me and I will do my best to answer them.

iPod Online Quizzes

Yesterday, I ran a quiz for my Senior Econ  classes online, using Examview Test Generator and our class wiki. The results were rather good, although there are adjustments I need to make.

I made the quiz, a review of the terms we had been discussing, in Examview and chose to save them as an html file. I went to my class wiki at http;//mrsal.wikispaces.com and upload the quiz as a regular file. I have a page set up for this purpose.

In class the students went to the wiki page and opened the test on the iPod Touches. They had to enlarge the text to read the choices. All the questions were multiple choice or true/false, so the students only had to negotiate a drop down menu to answer the questions. You can create any number of formats, but I did not want to overwhelm them on the first try.

I allowed the students to use their online notes in Google Docs or Evernote, or their paper copies of the notes. Most of the students used the on;ine version of their notes and were scrolling back and forth between the web pages. This was difficult for a few students to handle, so they reverted to paper notes.

We did have a couple of students hit the wrong button to submit the quiz to me via e-mail, however we were able to get back to the quizzes without losing any information. The quizzes and results were then sent to my e-mail.

The first adjustment that I need to make is to have a paper copy of the version for students to have, just in case they want an easier copy to read. They will still answer online, but reading from a paper copy will help several of my kids out. They were struggling with scrolling around the screen while trying to read the enlarged text.

The main adjustment is for me to use quizzes for formative assessment, short quick reviews and study guides, instead of larger summative exams. The shorter versions will allow, or force students to see how much of the material they understand. They can then adjust their study habits accordingly. I will give them participation points for using these as a self-assesment tool. In the past it seemed to help my students greatly.

Overall I was very pleased with how the exercise went.

Edmodo: set up an online classroom easily.

I have known about Edmodo since sometime during the 2008/2009 school year. I set up an account and even set up my classes. I just never enrolled my students. I was using BlackBoard, which the district had invested in BlackBoard licenses, and I had wanted for my students for years. Why try something new when I finally got what I had originally wanted? The redundancy factor between the two also played a roll in not using Edmodo. I was a classroom teacher AND CFF Coach, so I did not have the time to experiment with many tools that did the same thing.

This year, BlackBoard is gone, I still have my Edmodo account, I set up new classes, but…I still have not enrolled my students. Why is this? I hope to use our school Moodle site once everything is up, running, and open outside of school. My plan is to build a complete online course in support of my traditional classroom, much like I had in BlackBoard. I am currently using my class wiki in that capacity.

So, if I do not use Edmodo, why am I promoting it? Two of our staff members are using it with their students. Bryan Pasquale, who teaches social studies, and Kerri Heymann, one of our high school math teachers. They love the ability to quickly set up classes, and HAVE THE STUDENTS ENROLL THEMSELVES. All you supply is Internet access and a code for the students to type in. The students do the rest. This is great if you are not planning to build an entire online course in Moodle!

What does Edmodo do? Why should I use it in my class? Well, for the limited time we have used it this year, we have created threaded discussion boards for the students, posted formative surveys/polls for students to respond to, posted assignments online for students to access, collected assignments electronically from the students, and set up an easy, secure, and monitored channel for communication between staff and students.

Now, what we will do beyond the first day we used it in class…

Seriously, it is that easy to use. The Edmodo page looks and acts like a Facebook homepage. The kids picked up on that right away. Most of them use Facebook, all of them have seen Facebook, now is our chance to show them how to use a similar tool appropriately. We can see everything that is posted, the students may post to the entire class, or directly to the teacher. Staff and student files may be posted in the same fashion. You can also use the built in calendar feature to keep students aware of the class schedule, and there is a handy links feature so students can jump from Edmodo to important class Internet sites.

Here is a screenshot of what the Edmodo home screen looks like,

Edmodo - Home

The Edmodo Class Homepage view

So, there is a quick overview of what you can do with Edmodo…and I almost forgot…Edmodo is FREE!

If you would like anymore info on Edmodo, fell free to e-mail me or fill out a request on the CFF wiki for Tech Tips.

Three Programs You Need Now

Here is my first Tech Tip Blog Post. It deals with the basic practicalities of making your job easier. There are three programs you need right now, and they are all free. The reason that you need them is that they will allow you to work with others and will make life so much easier once you become comfortable with them.

The first one mentioned, Google Apps, is supplied by the District. It allows you to store documents, PowerPoints, and Excel files online. You can not only access them from anywhere there is an Internet connection, but you can also collaborate with others easily, no cutting and pasting, no e-mailing attachments, and all that other rigamarole. New Brighton’s start page to log in is http://partnerpage.google.com/nbasdcff.wikispaces.com. If you need your log in information, please e-mail me. We are setting up student accounts so they can have the same sort of access to their work. By creating accounts for the district we will be able to administer student accounts for such tasks as fixing lost or fogotten passwords. You can also set up a personal account at http://google.com.

The second is Diigo, a social bookmarking site. It allows you to store your favorites, or bookmarks online, so you can access them on any computer once you log in to the site. You can also share bookmarks with other individuals and groups. This allows you to have access to the research of others, once again without much effort. There is a group for New Brighton Teachers, and there are numerous other groups for educators. You can also create groups for your classes to give students access to approved bookmarks for your class in a secure setting, see me for details. The general site to create an account is http://www.diigo.com. Once you have created your own account, you can go to sign up for an educator’s account at http://www.diigo.com/education.

The third program dovetails nicely with existing programs in the district. Many teachers use Kidspiration and Inspiration software to create graphic organizers for use in the classroom. There is a free web-based, (online), program called Webspiration that allows you to do the same thing. Webspiration allows you to upload existing files to the Internet, download files to your desktop, and share your files with others, just by typing in their e-mail address. The people you share with must also have a free account to acces your files. You can edit the files together, or just pass them around by sharing. Webspiration also contains free clip art and media to drop into your graphic organizers to make them more interesting for the students. The program has many other features that I will not get into yet. This tool is available at http://www.mywebspiration.com.

The main themes that bind these three programs together, beside the fact that they are all free, is that they allow you to access information from anywhere in the world, and that they allow you to easily collaborate with others. Let’s face the fact that there is not enough time in the day to accomplish everything we would like to do. By working together, we make tasks easier and can accomplish more in the limited time we have. if you would like help setting up any of these accounts feel free to contact me at school.

iPod ID and Sync

I synced the iPod touches over the first two days of class, and I learned a lot in the process. First and foremost, I reinforced the fact that I hate reading directions, and that not reading directions adds time to tasks if you are unsure what you are doing.

To ID and sync the iPods, the computer walks you through the basic steps on the iTunes interface, so I was supremely confident that I did not need the manual. I was so confident that I timed myself during the set up and hit a consistent 6 minutes per iTouch to ID the units. I even “Tweeted” the fact that it was so easy. I completed the ID of about 15 iTouches on Thursday afternoon and finished the process Friday morning.

After all 25 were ID’d I plugged in the cart to sync the first 20. The cart holds 20 in a drawer with each drawer having its own USB cord to connect to the computer. This is the step where I realized that I should have read the manual. When I plugged in the USB and turned on the cart, every single application in my iTunes account began loading into the iTouches. This was an issue, because I have my daughter’s apps on my Macbook too. My high school students did not need letter tracing and beginner puzzles on the iPods. I had to go back in and reset the application tab to “Sync only selected apps.” This allowed me to pick and choose which applications I wanted on the school iTouches. It was not a major problem, but I should have done this when I named each iPod.

At this stage, I also made adjustments for podcasts,which I will be using often in class. I set the iPods up for selected podcasts. At a later date I will push podcasts over to the iPods for the students to use. I repeated the process for the remain 5 iPods in the bottom drawer.

I now know to read directions, but more importantly, I realized that I can use the iPods to differentiate instruction for my students. I can adjust the content on each individual iPod depending on the student, then I can push information through, or sync up to 20 at a time. It is a pretty cool set up.

So overall, if you set up the iPods properly from the beginning, it should take about 10 minutes to ID an iPod and set the upload criteria for all apps, photos, and podcasts. It is still a small amount of time for a major benefit. I lost a bit of time doing things my way, but in the end, I learned a fairly good bit of knowledge about the iPods.

iPods in Education Project Overview

I am going to take a step back and outline the project I will be blogging about over the upcoming school year. This year we are piloting a project that will utilize iPod Touches as a computer in the classroom. I believe we can use them in place of a laptop, for the most part.

I have been researching mobile technology for learning for the last cpuple of years in graduate school. I believe it is the next step in integrating technology in the classroom. Many colleges and universities already use them for educational purposes, as do several school districts in Pennsylvania. There a number of my colleagues throughout the country who are also working on such initiatives, so I have a strong network for support. Our representative from Apple is also a huge help with this project. If I get permission to use her name, I will name her later.

Our set-up consists of twenty-five iPod Touches, 8 Gig, and one cart to synch them all together. The iPods are engraved with an ID number for tracking. I have researched many apps for student use, there are many and they are all free, you can pay for an upgraded version, but for now we are working with the free levels.The nice thing is that we control all of the material that goes onto the iPods, they will be synced to my account. This will prevent the students from downloading content to them without permission.

We are going to purchase over the ear headphones for the iPods, they are relatively inexpensive, but students will be encouraged to use their own earbuds. I will purchase about ten microphones so we can record onto the iPods. The way the iPods will be set up will allow students to surf the Internet, create documents, create audio files, upload and save content to the district’s Google Domain. They will also be able to access content that I place on the iPods at their own pace. If a student needs to review a video or audio file, a picture, or some other multi-media they will be able to do so on the iPod Touch. Students will also be able to take notes in class, using Evernote, and synch all information to any computer they use.

This is the basic plan, more details will follow throughout the year.

iPod Set-up Day 1

Today I went in to work on setting up the iPod Touches and cart for my classes. I did not get them synched, but I did get the cart ready for class. All iPod touches are engraved on the back, I added a printed label for an easier read. I also labeled the slots in the cart for the iPods. This will enable me to hand the iTouches out to the students and replace them quickly. I am betting I will lose at least ten minutes of class time to sign them in and out per period at first. I am hoping that this time decreases as we go through the year. I am also hoping for our school converting to block scheduling eventually…someday…it would make the time loss of setting up the technology minimal.

The district’s Technology Director and I finalized the sign out policy, I will have the students initial a sheet, printed out from my grade book, when they pick up and return their iPod. This will help keep tabs on who gets each iPod, a simple check mark could easily lead to sloppiness. The initialling will keep everyone, focused on tracking the iPods during the period.

I also looked over the cart and the procedure for syncing the iPods, it looks easy enough, just a bit time consuming. The manual approximated 20 minutes for 1 Gig of info for 20 iPods. The next step will be the most tedious, it is also the first step. I have to give each iPod a name and set it up with my Macbook. Once this is done, I will be able to sync 20 at a time. Over the next several days I will get this done and begin synching all of them with my computer.

For now I will be using all free applications for the iPods, I want to see how far we can go before we have to start spending money for them. A list of the applications I will be using can be found at the following link, https://nbasdcff.wikispaces.com/iPod+Apps+for+Sal%27s+Class. This page will be kept updated with which apps we are using and which we have dropped and why.

I plan on keeping a running journal on the project stating the good, the bad, the ugly, and the how did we adjust over the course of the year. More will follow later this week once I try to name and synch the iPods.

Fireside Reflections

The recently completed “Fireside Chat” project seemed to be a success. It will need a few tweaks for next year as the “State of the Union Project” but things went well overall. My students procrastinated in a big way and many were afraid of Audacity as a program to use.

Once the sat down and used it they were amazed at how easy it was to create their assignments. Most were looking forward to creating more assignments this way, which they will have the opportunity to do.

I had a large number of students use webcams or cell phones to create their projects which was fine, I learned a lot about the cell technology from them. The technology will be another form they can use if their do not have access to updated computer technology.

The major change will be to set a cut-off date for helping them record in school. It will be especially important if CFF funds are cut off next year, since that would probably not give me any free time to work with students one on one. I can help them turn in projects the day they are due, but recording must be completed in advance.

Overall, the students did seem to enjoy creating a project like this rather than writng an essay. Most of the projects were of a good quality, only a few were “ast minute just to hand something in” types of projects, which unfortunately occurs with any type of project.


Hello, my name is Dominic, and I am a packrat. I have been for many years, and although I admitted this before, I am finally working on doing something to “fix” the situation. The other day while working on some online tools for my students, my Twitter network, names will remain anonymous just so I do not become a name dropper,  ran amok with discussions on educators who have way too many paper files around the home and classroom. I jumped in whole-heartedly, gleefully if you will, at the thought than I now have evidence that I am not alone in my predicament. The issue was possibly a continuation of a post brought up earlier in the week when a contact mentioned that he was scanning all of his hard copy documents into electronic .pdf files.  The idea hit me that my attempts to convert my hard copy files by typing is a futile endeavor, I never paid attention in 9th grade typing class…scanning will be the way to go.

This is not a cop-out, but I have reasons for  being this way. I am a second generation Social Studies teacher, I inherited my father’s file cabinet and added a couple of my own. I was brought up seeing how Social Studies teachers collect information. Later in college, my professors embedded the concept of “you never know what your budget at school will be, so collect all you can while you can!” Reinforcement at it’s best…I am a digital immigrant, I remember my first stint in grad school, we took notes on this new tool, the I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T. In fact I know I still have my notebook from that class with my notes on how to search this new tool. It contains all of the helping and control words necessary to search correctly.

This brings me to something that made me laugh yesterday in class and unfortunately disrupt my intern’s class. I had a student cleaning out my book cupboard to make space for my Econ books. No big deal, student did not want to stay in study hall and asked to help. The student came across a notebook from 1986, it contained notes from when I was my fraternity’s contact for the homecoming parade at IUP. Names and numbers leapt from the pages, which brought back a bunch of thoughts I don’t normally keep active. They were great times, but it is not efficient to have those thoughts active with everything else going on in life…22 years later.

The last example I have is one I use with my senior Econ classes. It deals with opportunity costs and how personal the concept is. When I was around 6 or 7, my Grandpap gave me a little pen knife, maybe it is an inch or so long, along with one he got for working at U.S. Steel in Duquesne, PA for many years. It is about the same size. I was so proud of them until I hit adolescence, then they became just toys. I wanted bigger knives like my friends had so my Grandpap’s presents to me were relegated to a drawer in my room.

I forgot about them until much later in life. I did not remember seeing them when I moved to my own house. My Grandpap was much older and for some reason the thoughts of those knives hit me. At first I thought they were gone, one of those spiteful adolescent purges when told to clean your room. It took awhile, but after some time I found them. They were then moved to the bar my Grandpap gave me when I bought my house, it too had been his. After realizing how important those items are to me, I would not let go of them for anything in the world. When I tell my students about the knives, they laugh I could not even sell them at a garage sale for $1.00, but they mean a lot to me, even before my Grandpap left us a few years back.

Because of this incident I was unrepentant about compulsion to be a packrat. Now I realize I need to tier my compulsion, personal mementos, no matter how corny will be kept, information that can be digitized will be sent into the great digital cloud of information that now surrounds us all. My only question now is, what will I do with all of the flash drives I will need?