Monday, December 18, 2017

2017 Smartphone Photo Tips

Just in time for the holidays! Here are six smartphone photo tips to make your holiday photos unforgettable.

Turn That Phone

Banish the vertical black bars on each side of your photos. Every time you take a photo or video with your phone, take a moment to turn it to the horizontal position.

Hold Steady

Avoid blurry pictures by keeping your elbows close to your body. Better yet, prop your elbows on a steady surface, or purchase an inexpensive tripod like this one.

Get Close

Try not to use the zoom feature on your phone. A better option is to get close to your subject. Trust me, you'll be happier with the results.

Try a New Perspective

Think outside of the box. Instead of taking a picture of your subject straight on, move to the side, above, or below your subject to get a different perspective. You'll make your photos much more interesting this way.

Take Action Shots

Posed pictures are fine, but try taking action shots. Children and pets typically do not like posing for pictures. Catch them in action instead, and you will be delighted with the results. Rule of thumb - take pictures, lots of pictures!

Ditch the Selfie Stick

Selfie sticks are so 2014. Want to take an awesome group shot?   Set up the shot using a tripod or a pop socket on a steady surface. Then, either utilize the timer feature on the phone, use that fancy new smartwatch or a Bluetooth remote. 
Here are instructions to use the timer feature on Android or iPhone
Own an Android watch? Instructions for using your Android watch as a remote here. Have an Apple Watch? Instructions for using your Apple Watch as a camera remote here
No smartwatch? Purchase a Bluetooth remote for your smartphone here.

There you have it. Six tips to make your 2017 holiday photos the best ever!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 11, 2017

2017 Techie Gift Guide

Looking for some last minute tech gifts? Being a huge gadget fan myself, I always check the list of techie gifts at the Tom's Guide.
Last year's list featured the wireless Selphy printer. I use mine all the time. I keep this grandma's refrigerator covered in all the latest pictures of the family. Best gift ever!

The list of 250+ items is nicely organized for every budget. You are sure to find something for even the toughest people to buy for on your list!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Protect Your Online Life

Social Media isn't going to go away.
According to Pew Research Center in 2005, just 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform, by 2011 that share had risen to 50% of all Americans, and today 69% use some type of social media.

Source: Surveys conducted 2005-2016.


For educators, using social media has many benefits including keeping in touch with colleagues and enhancing the learning process. However, it is a very different landscape in the world of social media today. It seems that it is growing more difficult to protect yourself and your privacy. Below are a few general guidelines for anyone that works in education on how to use social media safely and wisely.

Professional Dos and Don'ts for Social Media

  1. Never use your school email for personal social media accounts
  2. Do research your school, county, and state’s social media guidelines for employees. (Board Policy 5:125)
  3. Do not “friend” or “follow” students on your personal social media accounts. Implement a rule that students can follow or friend you only after they graduate.
  4. Check your privacy settings regularly. Privacy settings change frequently, make sure your settings are up to date.
  5. Keep your profile pictures clean. Even if you have your profile locked down for privacy, your profile picture can still appear on search engines.
  6. Do not affiliate yourself with your school on a personal profile. 
  7. Do not geo-tag your posts with your school location. This will lead students right to your posts.
  8. Never mention your school or district in any post. Even with privacy settings, your post could be found via search engines.
  9. Never complain about your job online. This is a good practice for all professionals, not just educators!
  10. Never, ever, ever post photos of students on social media. Each parent has their own personal beliefs about posting their child’s picture online. Some parents overshare while others don’t want their children online at all. It is not your place to post their children online. You are also violating a student’s privacy by doing this. 

A word about specific social media sites:


Remember, it is possible to take a screenshot on Snapchat. “Snaps” or Snapchat posts can last forever.


Set your Instagram account to private. That way, you must approve of anyone who views your posts. And remember, if you link your Instagram account to your Twitter or Facebook accounts, students may be able to see individual Instagram posts without accessing your entire profile.


Twitter can be a great way to communicate with parents and students. If you are using Twitter for this purpose, you should use your District 50 email address to create a professional account. On your personal Twitter account, you may have to block students from following you. To control who can follow you and see your tweets, enable Twitter's "Protect my tweets" option.

Here's how to do it:

1. Click the gear icon in the top right-hand corner of your Twitter page and choose the "Settings" menu item.
2. In the "Account Section", scroll down to the "Tweet privacy" section.
3. Check the box that reads "Protect my tweets" and click the "Save Changes" button at the bottom of the screen.

Other Resources:

Social Media Fact Sheet
neaToday: Six Ways to Avoid Those Social Media Landmines

Monday, November 27, 2017

Email Overload - Suppressing "Reply All"

Reply-all is probably one of the most sinister functions to deal with when using email. There are long, annoying email chains that you’ve accidentally been added to; your name being included in the recipients, and inevitably someone accidentally hits reply-all and then the next person does the same and so it goes. Suddenly, everyone on the list is dealing with an email avalanche. Luckily, Gmail has easy ways to deal with all of the nightmare scenarios that can be spawned by reply-all.

If you are the sender:

Email overload can be avoided by simply using the Bcc field, one of the most underused tools in a sender’s arsenal. If you use it correctly, you can put all the people you are writing to in there, and each one will seem to get an individual e-mail from you without knowing who else was on the list. Put your own address in the To field. The real perk here is that in Gmail, recipients won't have a Reply All option. Problem solved.

If you receive group emails:

You can use Reply All if you are absolutely sure that "All" will be interested in the content of your reply. Simply because there is a list of names on the email, that does not indicate other's interest in your response or commentary.

If you are the recipient of Email Overload:

Simply open the conversation, select the “More” button above your messages, and select “Mute”. You will no longer see any of these messages. Ever. Again. Unless, of course, someone does the same thing to you again – but now you know how to handle it.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Managing Multiple Google Accounts

Many people have more than one Google account. Perhaps you have a work account and a personal account, or multiples of either. I happen to have 4 accounts I work with regularly.
Before I saw this tip, when I was at home and toggling between accounts, I often mistakenly saved work stuff to my personal account or vise versa. How frustrating! This tip was a life saver.
Thanks to Kasey Bell from Shake Up Learning for this resource.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Email Overload - Create Filters in Gmail in a Flash!

Overwhelmed by emails?

Everyone's got their own tricks for diffusing this stress. One trick that's worked like a charm for me is to set up Gmail's automatic filtering, so those annoying notifications automatically skip my inbox and land in a dedicated folder. Landing page submissions that need to get monitored every month or so? Those go into another folder. By weeding out emails like that, I can focus on the conversations that matter.

Want to start clearing out the fluff in your inbox? Here's how you can set up automatic filters in Gmail.

Start a new filter

Labels are a way to sort emails in Gmail since there is no folder feature. Labels allow you to categorize your emails and keep your inbox from overflowing.

Step 1: Check the box next to the email that you want to filter.
Step 2: Click on More at the top right
Step 3: Choose Filter Messages like these
Step 4: In this dialogue box, click on Create filter with this search

Configure the filter

Step 5: Now you decide what you want this filter to do. Then, click "Apply Label.
For example, if you'd like to get emails with the given search criteria to not pop up in your inbox, but have it be in an easy-to-access place, select "Skip the Inbox (Archive it)" and then "Apply Label."

Step 6: Click the drop-down under "Apply Label," and either select a label you already have or click "New label...". After you've selected or created the label you want, if you'd like to include previous emails in this thread, you can check "apply filter to matching conversations." Then, click "Create filter."

Voila! Then, you'll get a folder in your sidebar with all of the previous conversations automatically routed in there. Then, you can check it at your convenience.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Be an Email Etiquette Ninja

Email has become an integral part of how we communicate as professionals. As with any form of communications, we occasionally get a bit lax in following the basic rules. I'm as guilty as the next person. (i.e., I tend to use lots of exclamation points!!!!)
To ensure that your emails are effective, communicate simply and directly. Here are some refresher tips to help you step up your email etiquette skills.

Subject Line

  1. Always use a subject line.
  2. Be clear and specific about the topic of the email.

Salutation and Closing

  1. A salutation is respectful and courteous to the recipient.
  2. A salutation and closing sets the tone of the email.

Signature Line

  1. Email signatures should be under ten lines.
    • Full Name
    • District
    • Building
    • Phone Number
    • Social media account links (if they are related to your position)
  2. Avoid using quotes that are irrelevant to your job. 
  3. Use the 11-point Calibri font - it translates best across multiple platforms. 

Replying to Emails

  1. Avoid using Reply All 
    • Reply all is reserved for special cases only. It should only be used if you need to send the same message to every single recipient in the group.
    • "Here’s one situation in which I would consider it absolutely necessary to reply to all: just as a company-wide email has landed in your inbox, you’ve noticed the office is on fire, and you don’t have time to compose a new all-staff email (“Subject line: Fire”)." From: 


  1. Keep exclamation marks to a minimum. 
  2. Emoticons may divert your email to a spam filter or junk mailbox.

Keep Emails Short

  1. Stay on topic.
  2. Keep your audience in mind.
  3. Remember the first sentence rule: Recipients will only read the first line or two before they decide to keep or delete an email.