It starts innocently enough: I launch my Twitter app.

This is how I get most of my news these days, to be honest. I follow a variety of journalists from varying points on the political spectrum, as well as academics and politicians. But it can get bleak quite quickly.

Like this morning, when I read several pieces about Donald Trump before 10 a.m., and all I could think was, “this is what Suzanne Collins would write in a prequel to ‘The Hunger Games.'”

So I hop over to Facebook where life can be a bit more pleasant, until I go into one of the groups that, yes I asked to be part of, only to read complaint after complaint about everything from road construction to graduation ceremonies, and all I could think was, “Does anyone know how to be happy anymore?”

I spent most of my day today with a friend and her two sons, driving 90 minutes to Homestead National Monument. We took our time there. Watched a film about homesteaders. Looked at the museum. Ate lunches that we packed. Hiked a swampy, boggy trail to the education center. Looked at duct tape art. Visited a one-room schoolhouse. Stopped for a treat, then drove home.

I did check my email a couple of times, as I was hoping for an answer to a tech question before close of business, and I posted a photo to Instagram. But I shot most of the photos of the day with a Canon T5 and stayed away from Twitter and Facebook. It was a wonderful day, unencumbered by vitriol and dread.

When I got home, after checking for ticks, showering, and eating dinner, I opened Twitter and Facebook again, saw more of the same anger that I saw this morning, and all I could think was, “Maybe if we spent more time in nature, more in-person time with friends, more time away from social media, maybe we wouldn’t be as angry.”

It’s worth a shot, right?

My Five Tech Must-Haves.

For the month of April, I am participating in the Blog A Day Challenge for educators. All prompts are provided by Meredith Towne (@BklynMeredith), an educator from New York.

Throughout this blogging challenge, I’ve reflected quite a bit over the past 15 years and how much teaching has changed. How much I’ve changed. How much technology has changed.

My first year teaching senior English, I was given free reign to teach pretty much whatever I wanted. So I taught a film unit, and I queued up a stack of VHS tapes to show clips of films that demonstrated different lighting, angles, editing, and other cinematographic elements. That was my technology 15 years ago.

The tech I use is much different now. Here’s my five tech must-haves.

1. Google Classroom. I know there’s a Schoology camp that I am fairly certain I’m going to have to migrate to, but for now, I have set up shop in Google Classroom. I love the interface the integration with other Google products. I love Google Classroom so much that last year I presented a session on it at an ed tech conference. It’s my favorite.

2. Google Drive. I started using Google Docs five years ago, when it had all of five font choices and if I used Firefox it destroyed the formatting. I didn’t care. I loved the collaborative element. When I taught AP, I even had writing conferences with students in late evenings–for those who couldn’t come in before or after school. Now I can’t imagine my life without Drive.

3. Evernote. I subscribe to their premium service, because their web clipper is, hands down, the best way to save resources I find online. Their “simplified article” option is a great way to workaround blocked websites at school, because it saves just the text, and since it creates a note, the note is preserved and accessible at school. The search function is top-notch, too.

4. Some kind of accessible device. I’m fortunate enough to teach with iPads and in an iMac lab. But even with the iPads, I have students who would prefer to work on their phones. As long as the network is functional (and ours has improved tremendously over the past four years), that’s fine with me. The past two days, students have been working on an assessment and most of them pulled up the assessment requirements on their phones and created on the iPads. Some worked in the converse scenario–created on their phone with their assessment on the iPad. As long as it gets done and is good quality, I don’t care what they use.

5. An open mind. Sometimes I’m good with this, sometimes not. Sometimes my students are good with this, sometimes not. But having an open mind is often an overlooked essential technology ingredient. Without an open mind, I can’t envision possibilities for my students. Without an open mind, I might become frustrated and give up when things aren’t working right. Without an open mind, the technology I use isn’t really leveraged for student learning–it’s just replacing pencil and paper.

Could I have been a bit fancier with my must-haves? Sure. But with the subjects I teach and the skills I need my students to have, these are the most foundational to student learning in my classroom.

He Knows Me Well.

My Uncle Brent called me last weekend, just to chat. During our conversation, he asked me what my summer plans were.

“Oh, I’m taking this summer off. I’ve had two really busy summers in a row, so I deserve a summer in which I do nothing,” I said.

He laughed. “You? Do nothing? Come on, you’re doing something, going somewhere, right? Utah? Come to California!”

But I was insistent: “No, I really am just going to relax and not do much this summer.”

I’ve been thinking about that conversation all week, and my uncle is right–I’m just not the type to do nothing. So I’ve done a little research into what I can do this summer, and I think I found a perfect plan:

  1. Become a Google Certified Teacher. There’s some webinars and an exam to take, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and summer would be a good time to do it.
  2. Explore Nebraska.  It’s time for me to accept that I am a Nebraskan, and as such, I need to know more about my state. This program looks absolutely delightful, plus ripe for blogging fodder.

So there you have it, my summer plans. Should be a good time.