Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Making the Most of the Holidays With Social Media~Part 1 Thanksgiving

I have never been one for surprise parties. One reason is I like to know what to expect, but the other reason is because I feel "robbed" of the process. The planning part of any occasion is honestly my favorite part. Deciding on every detail, searching what's out there, and watching it all come together.So this holiday season, I am going to utilize social media to give a boost to the process.

For Thanksgiving, I am going to record the planning, decorating, preparing, and moments of the day with Instagram and Pinterest. My favorite combination. Then share those pins through Facebook with friends and family. Why am I doing this? Because not only is social media a great way to connect and share with others, it enhances life experiences.

We are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time and are having a small family get together. So I created a board on Pinterest to hold all the things I came across that I might use for Thanksgiving such as cocktails, side dishes, decorations, and so on. It has been a way to organize my thoughts and choose things with no real commitment to practicality. Pinterest has also been a great resource for finding food and drinks related to Thanksgiving. When I feel inspired, I add more to the board. I love looking at all the images and considering all the options in a visual way.

Today when we start preparing for Thursday, I will start Instagraming and Pinning the preparations. My son and I will be working on Thanksgiving crafts and preparing the table. Thursday will be photos of the food, table, and guests enjoying the day. These will be shared through out the day. Documenting the events and details of the day actually helps me appreciate everything more. I think about how everything looks and feels and I stop and enjoy the moment. It also extends the holiday for me. Instead of being a one day, quick meal that goes by in a flash, it is now a series of memories recorded for me to enjoy as long as I like.

Even if planning and analyzing details is not your thing, social media can still elevate your holiday experience. I believe it makes people enjoy the holidays more than ever before. We know what are friends and family are doing and are given the opportunity to share special events and connect with people on a deeper level.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Are You Getting The Most Out of Your Instagram Experience? I Am and Here's How

I will come right out and admit it..I'm in love. It has been awhile since I have felt this excited about something. My new love is Instagram. Even though Instagram has been around for awhile, I just recently started using it. Why did it take so long? I have to admit that I didn't really get why this app was so great. I didn't think the pictures my friends were posting looked any better through the Instagram filters, with the exception of a Facebook friend who is a professional photographer. Then I altered my first picture, and I was hooked. Instagram not only makes images look the way I want them to, but it has added real value to my life. It has given me the ability to take a decent photo of myself for my social media sites, helped me connect better with others on Facebook, and has given me a new hobby on Pinterest that is incredibly satisfying.


I have always been interested in how real life looks compared to pictures. In some situations, pictures capture a moment and make it look more beautiful and pleasurable than it was to experience it first hand. However, there are other times when the picture doesn't capture what you saw and felt when you experienced it. That is always a disappointment. You want to capture that moment in time and relive the experience when you look at that photo. With Instagram, I have the ability to alter a picture to communicate what I want it to. ~~ Instagram gives me the tools to make a moment special and artistic.

Before Instagram
After Instagram

This is a picture of my son the first time when went to the pool this summer. The difference between the pictures is subtle but importantThe first splash of summer is a great moment and you want to capture the excitement. The Instagram picture shows the ripples of the water, light penetrating through the water and bouncing off. It allows the viewer to focus on my son's smile and pleasure in the pool. The first picture, without the Instagram effects, makes your eyes focus on the blue of the water more than my son. When I shared this photo on Facebook, those added Instagram effects communicated that a special moment was captured instead of an every day event in the pool. My Facebook friends didn't just "like" the picture. A lot of friends made very specific comments about the great smile or what a sweet boy he is.


First impressions online mean everything. Instagram gave me the ability to create a decent photo of myself without spending a lot of money and time. Instagram helped me give my hair the color I wanted and subtracted "my age" from my photo with the lighting effects. When I posted this photo as my new profile picture, I had so many comments about great this picture was.

Before Instagram
                                After Instagram

INSTAGRAM MEETS PINTEREST                                                                                         

My friend turned me onto Pinterest awhile ago. I knew it was a great place to exchange ideas about recipes or crafts or whatever you were into, but she helped me connect with Pinterest in a different way. Pinterest allows me to create these boards where I can live out my "fantasies." If the sky was the limit, what would I want my world to look like. To be able to go through and choose images that represented what I would buy or wanted to see was a great outlet for me.
Bulthaup | Showroom | Pawson
Here's an example of what I would love my home interiors to look like (which I will never be able to afford):

Then comes Instagram. Now I have a board that I can pin images I create. I have always wanted to be a photographer about town and take pictures of people or things I think are beautiful and inspire me. Instagram has allowed me to do that because I can add the special filters or lighting that optimizes the photos.

Here's a picture of a sculpture in Milwaukee. It is so amazing to see first hand. When you look at it in person, you stare at two things: the form and the letters. The rest of your surroundings disappear. When you photograph it, it loses that impact. Instagram helped me translate what I saw as I saw it.

Before Instagram                                                          After Instagram


INSTAGRAM MEETS FACEBOOK                                                                                          

For as much as I think social media is so fun and such a great way to connect with others, Facebook has been an obstacle for me. I am a very private person. So when I have a great moment or experience, I want to keep it private. Almost, like if I posted it, it wouldn't mean as much. Instagram has given me a way to connect on Facebook that finally feels right. Instead of posting a slew of pictures to show an event like I used to, I am trying to pick just one selective photo that captures an aspect of a time. Instagram then helps me tweak that picture so it conveys the message I want it to convey. 

On a recent trip to Chicago, we stopped to eat at Pordillos. This place is a classic Chicago eatery that captures days gone by. Here is a picture of my son eating a Chicago dog there. The first picture is pretty basic. After applying the right filter, I am able to make this photo look like he ate there at a time that the restaurant holds onto its look. People who love to eat there really connected with this picture after I posted it.

Before Instagram
After Instagram

IT'S A WIN/WIN SITUATION                                                                                               

There are those people who can take a picture and translate so much thought and emotion in it. It looks so spontaneous and effortless. I have always wanted to capture pictures like that. Well, now I am getting that pleasure from Instagram. Even if others don't see what I see in my pictures, I am getting personal satisfaction from seeing my photos look the way I want them to. It's not about the number of followers on Pinterest, or if others think I am an artist, it's about finding an outlet that allows me to express myself. So if people connect with images, wonderful. If not, I have a hobby I wouldn't otherwise have if Instagram hadn't come along. My world just looks better through Instagram.

IF YOU ARE NEW TO INSTAGRAM: THE BASICS                                                                 

Instagram is a mobile app that lets you take, edit and share photos. There are many options that you can choose to create whatever aesthetic you want including:   

~~ Filters that create a certain look or "mood"
~~ Borders that compliment the filter 

~~ Blur effects 
~~ An auto enhance feature

This post covers a VERY detailed overview of what Instagram is and how to use it. This post will be especially helpful to those of you who have never tried Instagram or who have it, but don’t know how to use it.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Social Media May Be a Good Career Fit for A Jack of All Trades (Me)~~Especially in a Superstar Economy

I never thought of myself as a "Jack of All Trades" because I have never been very handy or able to create things with my hands. However, during a discussion with a friend about an article I read about web designers, it occurred to me that I could be that type of personality. This article described how web designers usually fall into one of three categories: programmer, marketer, or graphic artist. It said how the programmer focused on functionality, the marketer on who the website should target, and the graphic artist on how the website should look. The article went on to say that you really should look for someone or team of people who focus on all three things. I told my friend that I would naturally focus on all of those things equally and not really gravitate toward any one of those. That is when my friend said to me, "That's because you are a jack of all trades."

I went on to think about this idea and asked myself was that really true. Teaching was such a great fit for me for so many years because I liked the variety in the job. I was able to teach so many different subjects and design my day according to my students' needs. We could start the day with science and experiments, transition into a discussion about books during reading, and then explore and discuss mathematics. All the while I could analyze my students' learning and the content, plan and research teaching units, and work with other teachers on a variety of school teams including data analysis or planning a school carnival. Then I thought about the way I differ from other programmers. I know I love to code like other programmers do, but I find myself wanting to not only code but use and embrace many aspects of technology. I also want a job where I am really connecting with others.

The more I think about it, the more I see working in a career in social media as being the best fit for a jack of all trades. So I made it a point to reflect on all the social media out there and how I have been using it to satisfy all the parts of my personality.

Twitter is the place where I share and review tech news of all kind. It is a great way to connect with people from all over about any topic. I love Twitter. It is my favorite of the social media sites. Twitter feed is fast and informative.

Google+ is where I can connect with others through Google's communities. I get questions answered, find out what projects people are working on, and get specific instruction on a variety of tech skills from programming to social media. I found making connections with others in programming the most productive on this site.

Pinterest is where I feel that I can dive into my other interests outside of IT. I enjoy the beauty of clothing, architecture, and nature. Aesthetics provide me with much stimulation and serenity. I connect with friends and strangers alike on Pinterest all based on what we are into. I have also begun to use Pinterest as a site where I can post my own images that I find beautiful in my everyday life. Those are my hashtag boards. 

The potential for Instagram is limitless. I use Instagram to help me project a certain feel that I want to come through in my pictures. Then I share the pictures with my Instagram followers, on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter whenever it is appropriate.


I have been a member of Facebook for some time. Facebook is a place where I can connect with family and friends about the personal things in life. I am able to keep updated on what is happening with people I care about but don't have the luxury of seeing very often.

While this is more of a professional connection site, it is a great place for me to organize what I have been doing to develop professionally in the world of IT. It allows potential employers to view what I have to offer. However, it also allows me to connect with different groups about the things I am interested in like running and theoretical physics.

This is a great app to connect with others about where you are and what you are doing. For example, I like to connect with people I work out with at the gym even when we aren't there at the same time. Here's me checking in and getting ready to run with my neon running shoes!

Vine is an app I have only recently started using. It is incredible fun and the potential for teaching is great. I plan to use it in a future blog post to teach the difficult concepts of programming.

I read the other day about the idea of the superstar economy and that we are currently living in an economy of this type. A superstar economy occurs in a global economic situation where employers can choose from a variety of candidates from around the world. Therefore businesses have the best and brightest to choose from and won't hire just competent people. You must be the best and brightest. That situation presses the issue that you better be exceptional at what you do.

I really do want to do it all. It's not that I am unfocused. I'm a multitasker by nature. I love programming. I want to design apps from the bottom up. However, I also love reading and learning about all aspects of technology. I enjoy the aesthetics of graphic design. I love using and exploring different apps and thinking about the possibilities of use for those apps in meeting different people's needs. I love connecting with others and sharing ideas. I also love educating people about technology.

So maybe in this global, superstar economy, social media is the right fit for me after all. I know a lot of students feel maybe programming isn't right for them but don't want to give up on it because of the promise of job security. However, when the stakes are high for what's expected of you in any given field these days, it might just be better to find the absolute perfect fit for your personality instead of just one part of it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Is It Really Possible To Become A Programmer After One Year of School?

I started on Codecademy a couple of weeks ago and what greeted me is what at this point seems like an urban legend. This woman, aged 55, worked in a manufacturing job all her life making 12 dollars an hour and the company closed. Then she realized she had a knack for programming while taking a SQL class. So she decided to learn all sorts of languages on Codecademy and now she is a programmer. Codecademy was apparently perfect for her because she has ADD and needs to learn small bits at a time. I am sure this story is true, and I am happy for this woman. But the notion that you can just get a few basics and become a programmer is not the reality that I am currently faced with.

The last few weeks have been some of the most stressful weeks of my life. Everything has come to a head. Last August, I quit my career of 17 years to go back to school and become a programmer. I love programming and the job demand in the Milwaukee area is huge. It was the right decision, clearly.

It has been a difficult balance, however. I have a child. That, of course, is my first priority. Children consume a huge amount of time. When they are home, there is no such thing as "study time." They make too much noise. They also get sick, have school functions, and need to be taken care of. There are also the many home and personal responsibilities to juggle on top of that. In addition to that, I am 40. It is not easy going back to living without a steady income. My husband started his own business this year, and is doing well, but it is hard to make "real" money at your own business. So I have tried to supplement our income with substitute teaching. This also has consumed a large amount of time.

Last semester it was easier. I devoted my whole time to my Java course. The other courses I was taking were introductory courses or courses that didn't require a lot of programming. The Java course took almost my whole study time in order to complete the assignments. The book was like most of our other text books. They are written for someone who already knows a programming language. They don't explain things well or even use good coding structure when they model programs. I know it is not just me. This has been a topic of discussion among many programming students.

This semester has been far more of a challenge. I am enrolled in Intermediate C#, Data Structures with C++ (which is an older language and more confusing to understand), Mobile App Development, HTML/CSS/Javascript, and Systems Analysis and Design. Here's what I am finding. It is not possible to become good a programmer when you are spread too thin and you are only being "introduced" or "exposed" to a topic. Time is extremely important in becoming a good programmer. This is not a skill that can be rushed.

I get weekly job postings sent to me via email from and Jobs2Careers which sends me at least 10 programming jobs posted per week. I would say that 5% of those posting would be jobs I could actually apply for based on what I have learned so far. It's not that the teachers aren't doing their jobs. Some of my teachers are great. It's that to be a programmer you have to learn  A LOT, and it takes time for what you are learning to really sync together. There is so much more to learn outside the basics. The languages and their APIs are extensive. The developing environments also take time to get comfortable with and really know how to utilize them. So to really know one language well you need to dedicate a lot of time and play with the language.

So in answer to the question, Is It Really Possible To Become a Programmer After One Year of School?, for me personally, the answer is "No." Does this mean I am going to give up? No. It just means that I need to start being more realistic and dedicate huge chunks of time programming.  Knowing how to code a class, some methods, and write a few if/else statements does not make someone a programmer. Discovering this reality has been a true adventure in programming.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Educational Apps Don't Do and What I Plan to Do About It

Every school district, at least locally, has been all fired up to get iPads for their students and rightfully so. iPads and Android devices provide the potential to meet so many needs. School districts have the opportunity to raise test scores and provide support to students, without providing an actual teacher or aide, which equals cost savings. Teachers have a resource for students, who are struggling or performing way above the rest of the class, to meet their individual needs with something students are actually motivated to use. Students are excited to use anything that is the latest in technology.

When I was a teacher, I couldn't wait to get iPads in the room. I saw the potential for reaching my students and accommodating so many different needs with something extremely motivating. The problem came when I tried to find apps for my fourth grade students. The apps that met the most needs were for younger students. Why? It is so much easier to make apps for a younger student. They are the most basic, and we as adults who understand the basics perfectly, observe the students moving objects around and think they are really learning. However, a lot of the time the students aren't learning the way we think they are because they are lacking the fundamental understanding of what they are doing.

Don't get me wrong. There are some really great apps out there that are creative and inventive. The problem was that my students didn't have the skill level to use them without me really knowing the app, the content inside and out, and how to modify the app for the particular student. Even students who are gifted and talented need a person when they are working with an app, because if anything provides an extension of their learning they can't do it independently. This is still the same problem that existed without the app. A teacher does not have the time to do this individualized research and instruction for 25 different children. The apps need to take the place of the teacher in order for the app to be really valuable and do what we all expect them to do. Furthermore, the apps are just like their website predecessors. There is no difference between playing a game on a website or using an app, except the app offers touch screen interaction and might produce something in 3-D. Other apps are simply an electronic version of a worksheet, but now a student can slide and manipulate the images instead of writing it out. It is still an abstract task that the struggling student doesn't understand. It might look impressive but the actual growth and learning isn't taking place.

The bridge in the classroom between the student trying to learn a concept and actually learning the concept is the teacher. The teacher knows the student, how they learn, what might be "missing" from their understanding of the material, and then provides the support they need to learn it. The great news is that iPads and Android devices offer the opportunity to offer what is missing. Unlike books, websites, and worksheets, apps offer a level of interaction that might be the bridge between the student and the content in a way that a teacher can be. In order for apps to effective they have to be individualized. The apps, like a teacher, need to compensate for the brain of the child and do what the child's brain isn't doing naturally.

Clearly, it is not possible for a programmer to write an app for every single student. However, the student "profiles" repeat themselves. Why not develop apps for a student and then make the apps for a group of students that fit that profile? That student's "profile" will no doubt be repeated. How many students can benefit from apps that help their attention, behavior, and learning? This describes a huge portion of the student body.

This might be my calling. A merge of the two professions I have chosen in my lifetime, or at least an interesting and challenging venture.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Back to School- Judge a Man By His Questions Not His Answers

As we begin this semester, I am remembering last semester. I am thinking about learning and remembering my impressions of being a student again for the first time in a very long time....

I'm sitting in class and the instructor is teaching a concept I know that no one is really "getting". The students might understand the words, or think, "I'm not confused by what you are saying." But there is no way, they would be able to apply what they just learned to what they already know or take that information and actually do something with it. No one says anything. It is silent. The instructor goes on to the next concept and the next asking, "Does this make sense?" No one says anything. Everyone in this class wants to know what is being taught. I know they are extremely motivated to learn because they want to better their situation. So why aren't people speaking up, talking about what is being discussed, and asking detailed questions? This is a classroom and that is what learning is supposed to be all about.

Learning should be one of the best experiences anyone has. Instead, I think it fills people with dread because there is always that worry that they will be that person that looks stupid. The person who didn't understand while everyone else did. This can be the only explanation for why no one is saying anything or asking questions. Then there are those few brave people that ask a question. That is the moment of truth. The teacher makes all the difference in how they answer those first few questions. It sets the tone for the class. When students feel that any question is okay to ask, suddenly you start to hear everyone asking the questions that pop into their minds without filtering them. Of course, there are those people that even when everyone feels free to ask questions will say nothing. They like to pretend that they understand while the whole time they are listening and learning from the questions that other people are asking (personal pet peeve).

Here is my viewpoint. Every category, or concept, exists on a continuum: A starting point of understanding that gradually increases to the point of real understanding, where you stop "learning" a concept and start taking it in directions that stretches the information. So when you begin to learn something new, you should be asking every question you can think of in order to advance yourself along the continuum. How are the things you are learning connecting with what you already know? What doesn't make sense? What confirms the information you understand about a topic? It's not about whose smart and who isn't. It's about where you are on the continuum of learning.

Are there going to be points where you hit a "wall"? Yes. Everyone has them, and I mean everyone. I can't tell you how many times I have heard someone say, "So and so is having a hard time with this and they are really smart." Like I would automatically think that if someone didn't understand something it means they aren't smart. Where does that come from? Not understanding something right away is to be expected. Those are the points that are tough and you have to work hard to get past. But once you get past them, you have a rewarding experience and confidence that the next time you hit a wall, which you will, that you will get past it.

So this semester, everyone ask a lot of questions please. When you are taught something that you have no idea about, remember that is okay. It's brand new to you. You are at the beginning of learning that particular concept. The only way we will ever learn all that we have to learn is by asking questions.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If You Have Doubts, You Are Not Alone.

Ah, time. Finally, right? It's only two days after the New Year and I finally have the time I have been wanting for so long to do all the things I have been thinking about. I am working on my husband's website, trying to write my own programs, researching topics I have no idea about like Ruby on Rails, and I just finished requesting a handful of books to read to make me a better programmer. This all sounds great. Even as I type this post, I think to myself this is the life you have dreamed about for so many days. So why do I feel so nervous, on edge, uncomfortable on the inside?

One reason is the more I learn and dive into programming the more I think, "This really is a lot to learn. What if I can't do this?" Don't get me wrong. I knew learning to program would be a huge learning experience. The depth to programming is one of the reasons I picked it as a new career. Yet, it can feel overwhelming at times to learn all there is to know to really be a programmer. This and knowing that there are people in programming that have been programming and learning this trade since they were young feels incredibly intimidating. These people have many years on me, and here I am, a beginner at 40.  I keep seeing people online who are working with all these different languages and learning the newest developments while I just completed my Java SE6 course(2007 textbook). It feels impossible to catch up. This makes me think, "What was I thinking when I made the decision to leave my career as a teacher and start all over again from scratch?!?"

Then I try to remind myself of what I felt when I first started learning to be a teacher. I felt surprised at how much I needed to know; so I worked hard to read and learn everything I could. My hobbies for the first four years of teaching consisted of reading research and taking extra classes. I gained my skill set from watching teachers and speech and language pathologists that were very talented and copied from them. Working with special needs students was a daunting task on top of learning the art of teaching. The analysis that went into understanding how my students' brains worked and the rules that their brains operated under was a real challenge for me for a very long time. That took me many years to really understand, but I did. I left that career feeling very confident in my skills as a teacher.

So the reality is, this is what it feels like to learn something new and take a huge risk. There are many other people in my classes doing the same thing, and I think we all must feel this way. There are many days life feels too hard to try and take on learning a new career. We have families that need us and things that arise that we don't plan for. These are the times we have to keep going, even though we think we might end up being a failure in the end and all this work won't get us to where we want to be. This is the time when we pay our dues. Nothing comes with a guarantee and there are no shortcuts.

So for the next few weeks, I am going to try and turn my brain off. This time after all is invaluable to have and doesn't come around very often. And if I have a hard time doing that, I have to remind myself that everything good I have in my life I have had to work really hard for and did pay off in the end.