Backup and Recovery Plan – 2015

A good practice is to always review your backup plan and make changes as necessary.  There were a few unfortunate events in the last few months at my workplace that put our backup plan into action.  This caused me to reevaluate my plan for the home.  My plan also focuses around device security as I have a mobile work platform.
Device Security:
My Macbook Air has the disk encrypted using File Vault which is part of Mac OS X.  You can learn more about File Vault here.
I have also installed Prey on my Macbook Air.  Prey is a piece of software (free for up to 3 devices) that allows you to track your devices and set them to modes that would help in the recovery of a lost/stolen device.  You can read more about Prey here.
Additionally I make sure to use a strong password on the machine and for any services that will support it use two factor authentication in order to access the service.
Backup Plan:
My onsite backup plan consists of an Apple Time Capsule and Time Machine from the Mac.  This creates hourly backups to the Time Capsule.  This will allow me to quickly restore a file should I need to perform a restore.  A good backup plan doesn’t keep the data in a single place thus creating a single point of failure.  That is where Amazon S3 factors into the equation.
Just even a few years ago, the idea of a home consumer being able to afford or perform a backup to a service in the cloud was new.  Popular services such as Carbonite, Back Blaze and others accomplished this for the home consumer in a simplified manner.  I have used both of these programs in the past but they didn’t necessarily play well if at all with my Time Capsule.  It left me in the situation of having this data backed up into a single location.  I then started exploring Amazon Web Services and the S3/Glacier combination.
I did some research and came across a program called Arq from Haystack Software.  Arq allows you to backup to multiple cloud storages and even a SFTP server (this factors into another part of the backup plan).  I created an account on Amazon Web Services, purchased Arq ($39.99 or $59.98 with lifetime upgrades) and started the upload process.  Amazon S3 operates on three levels of service including Standard, Reduced Redundancy and Glacier.  You can learn more about the different options here.  The backups I have created with Arq are stored at the Glacier level.  Glacier storage costs .0100/GB/Month for the data stored and has a restore time of 3-5 hours then the time to download.  I have roughly 300 GB of data that I am backing up currently which would cost me $3.00/month to store.  A cool feature of Arq and S3 is that it does versioning of your data so if I need the truly original file I could restore that file versus only having the most recent version.  It also only uploads any new files or updated files to Amazon so it is not performing a full backup every time it runs.
I went with the Glacier option because I have access to my Time Capsule if I need a file quickly.  I also figure that if I am restoring from Glacier then there was a bigger problem.  An example of a bigger problem could be my device was stolen, a hard drive failure etc.  I am paranoid so having the files just stored in Amazon didn’t set well with me so I said what else can I do to make sure I have access to my data?  I have a computer that I built a few years ago that is currently not being used.  My plan for this device includes setting it up as a SFTP server and having Arq backup to this server.  After the initial backup has been completed, this device will be transported to my parent’s house and setup there.  It will receive a copy of any changes each night.  This is incase there is an issue with accessing the data from Amazon or the unthinkable happens and Amazon closes up shops.
There is one other issue at hand and that was how do I quickly get backup and running should I have a hard drive failure in my machine or I need a new machine?  I did some more research and came across two products which allow you to create a bootable image of your machine at that point in time.  One product is called SuperDuper! and the other is Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC).  They appear to do the same thing the only thing I am seeing that is different between the two programs is that CCC is able to copy the 650 MB recovery partition that is part of OS X and allows you to download from the Internet if you have to restore the operating system.  I am going to test both of these out and figure out which one I will include in my backup plan.

Using the Tools Around Us

I enjoy tinkering with systems.  I enjoy building a computer from the ground up.  I enjoy exploring and asking the question of “What If…”.  I enjoy making a system or systems do something that it wasn’t originally intended to do.  That is where this blog post starts.  It starts with taking a system (Illuminate Data and Assessment) and using it to fit a need we had at work.  It starts with asking that age old question of “What If…”.
Illuminate Data and Assessment is a powerful application that allows schools to track data and assessment results about their students.  You are able to tie standards to questions within a quiz and subsequently you can design instruction around the areas which need improvement and more.  The preceding two sentences does not do the system the justice it deserves.  I really enjoy this product and when I enjoy a product, I get overly excited about it and wordy trying to explain just how awesome it is!  We have supported the application and it’s implementation in 19 charter schools in Ohio over the last three years with close to 5,500 students.  The work we are doing was submitted as part of a Straight A Innovation Grant and was awarded almost $2 Million dollars as we work to bring 17 charter schools together to collaborate and use the system.
Illuminate has a feature within the Data and Assessment application called OnTrack.  The idea behind OnTrack is to combine multiple areas that you measure into a single report and set boundaries to determine if a student is on track to meet the desired goal.  The idea for using On Track outside of the box came via a conversation we had with a school leader who had a desire for the students to own their data and work.  As I was reading books on rubrics for a presentation I am giving in June, the idea to use OnTrack came together so we could assess how the 19 schools we work with in Illuminate are progressing in their implementation of Illuminate other items.  We want the schools to become owners of the implementation process and become owners of the system.  We have tracked this data previously using a simple Google Spreadsheet but we had two major flaws with this approach.  The first flaw was that our scoring of these areas was subjective.  The second flaw was that we allowed our selves to starting awarding half points.
In response to these identified flaws, I built two OnTrack configurations after discussion with my team.  We identified that in the first semester of the year, we evaluate different items than we do in the second semester which was our driving factor in creating two configurations.  We also developed a rubric so our scores could become objective instead of subjective. Our rubric goes from 0 – 4 which are then translated within On Track to a point value.  We set the On Track scale for each of the configurations to be a total of 1,000 points possible.  One of the metrics within our grant was that we would have 80% or higher of teachers at the school using Illuminate on a monthly basis.  We assigned this 300 (30%) of the 1,000 points.  The idea behind this thought process was that if the teachers are using the system, the other 700 points would come together.  We also assigned lesser point values to other areas that we deemed were important but not necessarily 100 points important.
1st Semester:
  1. Illuminate Site Setup/SFTP
  2. ITC/SIS Configuration
  3. Data Cleanup
  4. Nightly Data Loads
  5. Implementation Meeting
  6. Illuminate Training
  7. Data Team Schedule
  8. Data Teams Training
  9. Communication
  10. Admin Check-In Schedule
  11. Logins
2nd Semester:
  1. Data Cleanup
  2. Training
  3. Data Teams Schedule
  4. Admin Checkin
  5. Next Year
  6. Communication
  7. Data Binders
  8. Logins
  9. Online Testing
As we developed the summary assessments and reports that would become our OnTrack configuration, we started asking the question of how powerful of a resource would this be if we had our schools evaluate themselves on the same rubric that we evaluate them on?  Illuminate has a feature that allows you to compare two or more OnTrack configurations next to each other in a single report thus the school response configuration was born.
We selected three schools as part of the pilot for this idea.  On May 13th 2015 one of the schools provided their scores to me and the values were thrown into the reports and the configurations ran.  In quickly observing the data, we found that the school awarded themselves 775 total points out of 1,000 while we had awarded the school 725 total points out of 1,000.  The difference in 50 points though came in different areas which is interesting to us.  The score though while different places the school into the same performance band.  I personally can’t wait until next week when we have our check-in meeting with the school leader so we can really get down to the details and talk about the differences in scoring.  At this point the school hasn’t seen yet how we have ranked them so I am sure there will be discussion.
We hope to generate discussion between us and the school leader after they assess themselves on the same rubric we use.  When you start out with a project, goals and ideas which were not thought of previously come about through the work.  This is what happened in this project with adding the school assessment piece but we also had another goal that we hadn’t thought of it when we started this project.  We are now able to take this OnTrack system and show it off to a school leader which is a starting point for discussion with the school leader on how they could possibly use the OnTrack system within their school.
We plan to submit this work as a presentation topic at the Illuminate Users Conference in 2015/2016.

I Built a Desk

I recently graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Master’s of Education in Classroom Technology along with a K-12 Online Teaching and Learning Certificate.  There will be a post later summarizing this experience as I did it all online.  As a graduation gift for myself, it was decided I needed a desk and would turn my spare bedroom into a home office.  I didn’t want the regular run of the mill desk and went out searching for a standing desk.  The price points for entry into a standing desk were a bit high until I found a site that gave directions and a kit for building a standing desk that was under $200.
The materials were bought and I started building the desk.  The desk was from Ikea built with directions found via  The directions from IKEA are similar to the directions you would find in a Lego kit.  The directions are all in pictures with no words.  This style of learning is great for those who can process a visual but for the rest of us it is a challenge.  I am the type of learner who needs words and pictures.  I cobbled my learning style together for this project by utilizing the Internet and finding others who had done this project.  It was a reminder for me as an educator to create projects that utilize aspects of both styles.
While I enjoyed the design from, I wasn’t satisfied with my desk at that point.  While browsing the Internet I found the site  The site is a great resource and led me to the hardware store so I could purchase a piece of white tile board.  I had the tile board cut so it fit the desk surface and then was left over with two additional pieces.  The white tile board has allowed for me to create a desk with a writable surface!  I can scribble down notes, ideas and more on the desk and then take a picture of the creation.  I can then take the picture and throw it into Evernote and it will become searchable.  The two pieces of white tile board that were left over after cutting the desk surface have also been put in use.  One piece is hung just off to my left and can be another surface for writing or anything else that comes to mind.  The other piece has been divided into five sections, one for each day of the week.  It is hanging on the wall across from my desk and will be used to track major projects or milestones that are do that week.
The white tile board cost a whopping $14.00 and comes in 96″ x 32″.  If I was in the classroom or had influence in a school over the design of a classroom, I would strongly recommend that the white tile board be adhered to the desk surface and a pack of dry erase markers be required.  You will also want multiple bottles of expo white board care cleaner on hand.  The ability to quickly take a note, draw an idea or diagram and capture it with a phone or camera is beyond valuable.  I quickly drew the water cycle on my desk and threw it into Evernote.
Pictures of the setup are below: