Ecosystems and Widgets









By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The term ecosystem is normally used in reference to biological communities. When people think about ecosystems they often visualize the different organisms and activities that coexist to maintain a balance of sustainable life.

As human beings, we model from what we know. When creating new things, humans often start with a single widget[1], and then expand until there is a system of widgets all interacting.

Thus, the cycle of widgets evolves. Some last for many years, others have a short-term existence. Popularity often determines the life span of a technology widget.


Schools using technology have an ecosystem of widgets. Very few people in a school seem to have a complete understanding of how all these widgets come together to form the web communication and processing which is essential for the day-to-day success of school life.

Unlike the biological complexity in a square meter of a rice paddy, the edtech ecosystem is a knowable system. It is a system everyone can learn, can discuss, and can protect.

Read More at The International Educator

Software in a Suitcase vs The Learner Profile










By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

The Problem

Curriculum in a Suitcase, this is a common term and point of discussion in international schools. For anyone not familiar with the reference, it addresses the common practice of teachers arriving at a new school and bringing with them a curriculum they are comfortable delivering.

The current practice around curriculum planning and mapping is to avoid this practice. A school should have a curriculum that students and families can depend on, regardless of the staffing.

In Educational Technology there is similar practice known as Software in a Suitcase.Using the word software is being simplistic. Software, subscriptions, services, and even computer brands and operating systems are included.When teachers move from one school to another, they often try to avoid the new school’s technology plan, and attempt to implement an ad-hoc technology plan they are familiar with.

Technology plans can be flexible, but if a school is a Windows 10 Tablet school, or if they are using PowerSchool, those core structural pieces are not flexible. In fact, they are required from the first day. Usage is not negotiable.

Read More at The International Educator

What is Important is Seldom Urgent


By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Before jumping into this post, here is some background on former President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower who developed the methods discussed below. I found an excellent synopsis for those unfamiliar with his legacy and prominence:

Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, serving two terms from 1953 to 1961. During his time in office, he launched programs that directly led to the development of the Interstate Highway System in the United States, the launch of the internet (DARPA), the exploration of space (NASA), and the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

Before becoming president, Eisenhower was a five-star general in the United States Army, served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France, and Germany.

At other points along the way, he served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Commander of NATO, and somehow found time to pursue hobbies like golfing and oil painting.

Eisenhower had an incredible ability to sustain his productivity not just for weeks or months, but for decades. And for that reason, it is no surprise that his methods for time management, task management, and productivity have been studied by many people.

How to be More Productive and Eliminate Time Wasting Activities by Using the “Eisenhower Box” ,By James Clear | Decision Making, Productivity, Simplicity

Step Into the Matrix

There are many methods used for time and project management. President Eisenhower group things into simple categories so that he could efficiently and quickly prioritise his work life. Because of his great success, a model was developed from his methods and applied to the business world. The model is known as The Eisenhower Matrix.

matrixThe original model is reflected in the four quadrants above, and it is self explanatory.

The bottom right category would require those items to be removed completely. Although I am no Eisenhower, I did take it upon myself to alter the bottom right corner. Instead of using it to DELETE tasks or to categorize tasks as “useless”, I use to to track personal projects or 20% Time Projects. After all, if something is useless, it stays outside the box.

My box looks like this:

matrix22Reading the Matrix

The most important thing to remember is that everything cannot be urgent and important. If the majority of your day-to-day work-life is in the upper left quadrant, then something is wrong and out-of-balance.

Most tasks that fall into a person’s normal set of responsibilities should be in the upper right quadrant. Tasks or jobs in the lower left quadrant are often things assigned by a superior, that fall outside of the normal set of responsibilities or favours you might be doing for others.

Examples From My Personal Matrix

Important Not Urgent:

  • Develop a new class schedule before March 20th
  • Create a new html template for Power School effort reports by March 18th
  • Review email branding process before April 15th

Notice all of the above have due dates that fall within the next 7-30 days of this post’s publication. I have had them in the list for awhile. The deadline is approaching but these were all planned.

Important and Urgent:

  • Buy music software for upcoming performance
  • Develop new Sharepoint email workflow for Human Resources

These items are IT support items which have been assigned to me from other departments.
These need to be completed immediately. I am required to do these tasks, but they were not planned, and the notice was short. If I could not complete these items, or if I thought they would negatively impact items in the upper right quadrant, I might have to delegate them or exclude them.

Not Important but Urgent (Delegate):

  • Telescope delivery
  • Hand out ID cards
  • Documents archive packaged for accreditation team

These are all jobs anyone in my department can do. All are very time consuming. I need to make certain they are finished, but I should not be doing these myself. Occasionally this quadrant contains a task I am required to do, but that task literally has nothing to do with my job.

Not Important / Not Urgent /Ideas / 20% Time

  • Redesign interface for Moodle
  • Improve code for iTunes based video streaming

These are projects I enjoy doing. If they never get finished, no one will be the wiser. The systems impacted are already fully functional. The skills learned from working on projects like these often transfer to other areas. 20% time projects are excellent for professional development and often lead to exciting random discoveries.

Tools for Getting Started

A simple way to apply the Eisenhower Matrix is to use Evernote or OneNote. Office software also works. However, keeping a record of all the data and reflecting on it after the school year can be tricky. I recommended using software like Priority Matrix. The interface is simple, and the software links to Evernote.

priority matrix Appfluence Priority Matrix

Last year I produced a list of all the scheduled items I had completed from January to June. I was amazed not only at the variety of projects and jobs I had been involved with, but also how many should have been placed in that lower left quadrant (Delegation). I have used that data to consciously delegate more tasks.

Before beginning, I recommend organising your team together to discuss what types of projects, jobs, etc. would fall into each quadrant. Have each member bring a list of everything they have been working on for the last thirty days. Use that data to fill in the box by reaching group consensus.

If nothing else, the Eisenhower Matrix makes the mind slow down and focus. The matrix forces reflection and constantly reminds users that most things are not urgent, nor important. Stress and circumstance can often cloud judgements and shift focus away from where it should be- Students & Learning.

Tony DePrato

Schedules, Scheduling, and Scheduling Software Don’t Make Sense

I have spent the last few weeks implementing a new school management system. I will not mention the system by name but it is very popular among schools and it is considered extensive in features.

As I was working through the scheduling features, I began to compare them to the previous system I had to administer. I realized quickly that these systems are setup to be mostly manual. The scheduling logic and algorithms are very simple. Why do I say that? Because in a world where people are programming and producing Skyrim, Minecraft, Military Logistics software, Auto-tuning software, Mars rovers, and landing Jade Rabbits on the moon – we should be able to make the scheduling of classes at a K-12 school artificially intelligent and visual.

Imagine if scheduling were more like one of those shifting puzzles. You would start with blocks of classes or groups of students, and you would move them around until they fit into your constraints. We should be able to gamify the process. After all we know how many items are involved, how long each of those items needs to be used, and when those items have expired and need to be leveled-up or removed.

Instead we approach scheduling in such a way that all classes and blocks for classes are seen as the same thing. They have to be defined individually by a person. Sometimes they can be grouped and some rules can be applied, but for the most part, it is an inflexible hardcoded system.

The problem is not money either. The revenue that is generated by 10 schools would be enough to hire 2-3  developers to fix the problems found in nearly all the scheduling software that schools use. The problem is that schools seem  to let the tail wag the dog. I think, and maybe I am being paranoid, that school administrators like having nice even blocks more than educational objectives. I think they like to say, “We only have 45 minutes for Art because we have to have 45 minutes of Math right after Art, and we have to then have 45 minutes of something else.”

Looking at K-12 scheduling in terms of Monday to Friday time slots or even blocks of time is a mistake. We need to look at the numbers of hours required for the average student to master concepts, and what concepts should logically come before others. Then look at the time available in the year and make a plan.

But then the unspeakable will happen. Some students will finish early, and they will have NOTHING TO DO! That is not my paranoia, that is what I hear often when speaking to people about scheduling and time usage.

There are models all over the world where students manage their own time in greater amounts as they get older. I think that is called life or growing-up or something. All I know is a change needs to come, and I am tempted, very tempted, to kickstart it.

 Tony DePrato